Log Rhythms - Season Three
It was twilight in the jungle. She watched the three people before her in fascination. Archer, Reed, Sato—but at the same time not them. They were changed, mutated, no longer human. They moved in a way that made her think of Earth's great apes, loping and ready to move any direction at a moment's notice.
She raised a hand towards them and saw that she, too, was different. She had become something unknown and alien. And yet she was not the same as the others. They spoke to each other and to her, but she couldn't understand them. She tried. She listened intently, focused her all her attention on understanding, but to no avail. Suddenly, Archer grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, frustration and anger clear even through his alien features.
T'Pol jerked out of her meditation so swiftly it was almost painful. She took several deep breaths, calming the swift beating of her heart. Her head ached in a way she recognized too well. Phlox called them tension headaches, and she found she could only agree with his diagnosis. For weeks she had been unable to find the inner calm at her core. Whether the pain was a result of that failure or part of the cause was unclear. She only knew that the two were connected.
She took time to think logically about the vision her meditation had brought her. It wasn't the first time she had witnessed the scene, and that suggested there was more to it than uncontrolled imagination. The alien species was entirely unfamiliar to her and research into both Starfleet's records and the Vulcan database had provided no clue to its identity. The Xindi database might hold a clue. She made a mental note to explore that option next.
Until she understood what she saw, she couldn't bring her concerns to the Captain. She needed evidence of genuine danger. Without facts there can be no hypothesis, she thought. She resettled herself before her altar and looked intently at the small candle flame, but T'Pol didn't begin the silent mantra meant to unify her fractured concentration. Instead she focused her inner eye on the vision, deliberately recreating it as precisely as she could. If she could consciously guide her meditation, she should be able to control what she saw. Then perhaps she could gather enough information to form her hypothesis.
"Commander, hi," Stephanie said. She gestured him to the blue yoga mat that lay perpendicular to her own.
"Evening," he replied as he crossed the gym towards her. He slipped off his shoes and stepped onto the mat.
"So how did it go after last time?" This was their second yoga session and they'd not seen one another to discuss things since the first.
"Okay." He nodded thoughtfully, as if affirming his words to himself as well as to her. "I slept better that night than most nights—not counting the ones where I had medical help."
"That's good." She smiled at him. "If you find it's really helping, we can add more sessions. I'm here at least three times a week, and more when I can manage it. You're welcome to join me anytime." She didn't add that she needed the yoga to sleep lately, too. Her dreams of transformed crewmembers were far too vivid for her comfort, and she found that relaxing before bed reduced their frequency and intensity.
"I've seen the way you bend," said Trip, breaking into her thoughts. "I don't think I could keep up." He gave a rueful chuckle that suggested he was more than half serious.
She laughed a little. "I didn't start out that bendy, I guarantee. Every pose can be modified from its simplest form to its most difficult. I can show you some if you want."
"Maybe," Trip hedged. "But not today."
"Fair enough. Is there anything specific you want to start with?"
He shook his head. "Whatever you say. You're the boss."
Stephanie sighed melodramatically. "If only more people realized that, life would be so much easier," she bemoaned, and was rewarded with an amused smile from Trip.
"Easier for you or for them?" he asked.
"Easier for everyone!" she replied, wide-eyed with the obvious simplicity of the idea. He laughed and Stephanie was happy to have loosened up the atmosphere. ""All right. Let's start with the tree pose."
Stephanie returned from the gym warm and relaxed. Her session with Tucker had ended after half an hour, but she'd stayed behind to continue on her own. Now she was shiny with sweat and feeling very loose. She grabbed her toiletries kit, towel, and robe from her locker and headed back out of her cabin. A shower was just what she needed.
As she entered the empty shower room, her thoughts turned to Bonnie. If only She stopped herself there. There was no point in following that train of thought to nowhere. Unless She set her things in one of the cubicles and crossed to the comm unit by the door. "Cormack to Fraser." It was early enough that her lover might be up for nice hot shower before going on Gamma shift.
"Fraser," came the reply through the comm. "What's up?"
"The heat and humidity," Stephanie replied coyly. "Care to join me?"
There was the briefest of pauses as, presumably, Bonnie checked the time. "Your shower room or mine?" was her sly response.
"Mine. I'll save you a spot. Cormack out." She closed the connection then went to the stall she'd selected earlier. Knowing Bonnie would find her very soon, she left the Plexiglas door a fraction ajar and stripped off her workout gear. She turned on the shower and stepped under it, reveling in the hot water.
It wasn't long before she felt first cool air on her back and then slender arms around her waist. A lascivious smile spread across her face. "You're fast," she murmured as Bonnie pressed the full length of her naked body against her.
"It's amazing how easy it is to get out of a uniform when your sexy lover calls you from the shower," Bonnie replied hungrily.
"I'll remember that." Stephanie turned in her arms to face her and nuzzled her neck, nipping gently at tender flesh. "You're so tasty," she purred.
Bonnie smiled and kissed the top of her lover's bent, wet head. "So are you," she murmured in her ear, and then nibbled the ear teasingly.
"Mmm." Stephanie closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation. Slowly, they began exploring one another's bodies as the water washed over them.
Doctor Phlox looked up from his work as the sickbay door opened. "Ah, Lieutenant Reed," he said in cheerful greeting. "Have a seat. I'll be right with you."
Reed sat on the nearest biobed and unzipped his uniform to the waist. It was a ritual he was familiar with, although it didn't happen often. He pushed up one sleeve of his black shirt.
Phlox finished what he was doing and rose, bringing a datapad with him as he crossed to his patient. "How are you this morning?" he asked.
"Fine," Malcolm answered.
"Good, good. No increase in symptoms last time?"
"Good," the doctor repeated. He consulted the pad. "Two injections today." He set down the pad and went to a medicine cabinet across the room.
"I hate to admit it, but I've lost track of which ones."
"It's on the screen," Phlox called over his shoulder, looking through the small vials for the correct ones.
Reed felt oddly reluctant but common sense won out. It was his own medical record, after all, and the doctor had just given him permission to look. He picked it up and read what was on the screen.
"I understand that Chef has put pineapple upside-down cake on the menu this week," Phlox commented as he returned with two bottles and a hypospray.
"Then his timing is impeccable," smiled Malcolm. One of his scheduled allergy shots for that day was for bromeline and other plant enzymes.
Phlox measured the dose of the first injection and pressed the hypo against Reed's arm, and then did the same with the second. "I trust you remembered to bring some entertainment," the physician said as he put the meds away.
Reed reached into a pocket and pulled out a pad. "Right here."
"What are you reading this month?"
"Simon Winchester. The Professor and the Madman."
"Ah! A thriller!" commented Phlox eagerly. Malcolm smiled and chose not to contradict him. "Well, make yourself comfortable and I'll check on you in half an hour."
"Right." Malcolm settled back and turned on his book.
Hoshi was in luck that morning; Romero and Bowman were alone at one of the mess hall tables. She steeled herself, got a good grip on her tray, and approached them. She smiled broadly and hoped her nerves didn't show through it. "Good morning. May I join you?"
"Hi!" replied Maggie readily. "Have a seat." She felt more comfortable around Sato since joining in on girls' poker night, and she knew how much Carlos wanted to get to know the comm officer. "Have you two met?" she asked, looking from the ensign to her fellow MACO corporal.
"Only once," Romero said. "Hi again." He reached a hand across the table to Hoshi. She shook it, and he couldn't be sure but he thought there was a bit of hesitation before she let go.
"Hi," replied Hoshi, and then fell silent.
There was an awkward pause, and Maggie decided to fill it. "So how is the translation of the Xindi database going?" she asked.
"Slowly. But we're getting there." Sato was relieved to have been rescued by the other woman. I'll have to thank her later. "We should be done in a couple more days."
Romero piped up over his steaming cup of bica, "You can speak Xindi?"
"A little more every day," she answered with a smile. "Although 'speak' isn't really accurate. I'm learning to read it for translation pretty well, but the pronunciation is anyone's guess. There are very few audio files in what we got."
"Does that make it harder to translate? Or just harder to pronounce?"
"That depends on how you learn. I'm finding it a bit more challenging than I usually would, but Donnelly isn't having the same trouble."
As the two chatted amiably, Maggie smiled to herself behind her cup of tea. I wish all missions were that easy to accomplish, she thought.
"What do you mean, 'what power would I choose'?" Startled into replying, Ari turned in his chair and looked at his bunkmate. The question had come out of nowhere, distracting him from his studies.
"I'm trying to read."
"Read later. It's just one question. Humor me." Ian eyed him expectantly, willing him to turn around again. He got his wish as Ari swiveled the chair and faced him.
"I don't know. Telepathy."
"Yeah? Cool. Why?"
Ari pursed his lips in a mildly annoyed smirk. "So I could read your mind and find out why you ask such weird questions."
Ian laughed and sat up, resting his elbows on his thighs. "Good one," he chuckled. "You know what I'd pick?"
"Since I can't read your mind, the answer's no."
There was a short pause. Then Ian asked, "You want to know why?"
Before Ari could answer, the door chimed. He gave a small sigh of relief. Hoping it was someone coming to take his friend away somewhere, he called out, "Come in!"
The door opened and both men were surprised to see Mae standing there. More surprising still, she had a bottle of vodka in one hand and two glasses in the other. She spoke without preamble. "Hi, Ari. Can we talk?"
He'd thought Ian's question was the most unexpected he'd hear that evening. It turned out his was wrong. "I guess. Sure."
"You want me to leave?" asked Ian a hair too quickly. He had a lot of reasons for wanting to leave the two alone, some less altruistic than others but all of them valid.
"No," Mae answered before Ari could. She looked at the dark-haired man uncertainly. "I thought we could talk in the aft obs lounge."
Ari didn't have to be a psychologist to recognize that she was seeking neutral ground. He didn't know what to make of that exactly, but he wasn't going to argue. "Sure," he said again. He rose and after giving his bunkmate a quick glance, he left with Mae.
Neither of them spoke until they were alone in the observation lounge with the door closed behind them. "Drink?" offered Mae even before sitting down.
She poured him one and handed it to him as he sat. Then she poured one for herself and took a swallow. The liquor warmed her throat. "Stephanie said it would be smooth."
Ari sipped at his glass and nodded. "It's good," he agreed. He wondered how Stephanie would know and why she'd given Mae advice on vodka. He shook off the irrelevant puzzle. It seemed that Mae was finally ready to talk to him and that was the only thing that mattered at that moment. He waited to see what she would do next.
She took another swallow of vodka. Mae saw him watching her and felt compelled to explain. "I know alcohol's not going to solve our problems," she said bluntly, "but it will help me say what I need to say." She drank again and refilled her glass. She offered the bottle to him, but Ari shook his head; he still had plenty.
Deciding to follow her candid lead, he asked, "What's so hard that you have to be drunk to say it?"
Mae sat at last and faced him. "I'm sorry."
Ari waited. That couldn't be all of it. He was right.
"I've treated you like shit. You didn't deserve it, and there wasn't anything you could have done to stop it. It was completely unfair of me and I'm sorry."
"Okay." Ari thought carefully, sipped his vodka before replying. "I'm not sure I'm ready to accept your apology."
Mae's stomach sank, but she simply nodded. "I understand." There was another short silence. "Can I explain?"
"I'd appreciate it if you would."
One more swallow of vodka and Mae began to feel its effects. It wasn't much, but it was enough to embolden her. "It started when you almost died. Did you know that? That I was freaked out by that?" He shook his head. He'd had no inkling. "Yeah. And then, before I could really deal with almost losing you, Earth was attacked." She took a breath, took a swallow, went on. "I didn't deal well with my mom's death. I thought I could handle it once I saw Dad and August, but it was worse after that. Seeing them made everything too real. I guess I didn't really believe she was gone until they confirmed it for me. It felt like the world had fractured and I couldn't hold the pieces together." She looked at him, her brown eyes sharp and intense. "Do you know what I mean?"
He tried, but Ari had to shake his head. "No. I'm sorry."
Mae shook her head in response. "No. I didn't really think you would. Or anyone would," she added. "That's why I didn't say anything. I felt I had to control something. And I had to find something to make me feel like I was still alive."
That was something Ari could relate to and he nodded encouragingly. "I get that."
She gave him a small, appreciative smile. "That's why I took you out back at the 602 Club. And why I kept finding you once we were back on Enterprise."
It made sense, but only up to a point. "You picked the times, the places, the positions," Ari mused out loud. Mae's cheeks flushed. He wondered if it was the vodka. "Did it work?"
"Sure. For a while."
"Until I wouldn't go along with it anymore." Ari was surprised when she shook her head.
"No. It stopped working before that," she said. "But that didn't stop me from trying. Have you ever felt dead inside? Numb, I mean. Emotionally?"
He couldn't lie to her, not even to make here feel better. "No."
"No. That's good. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Especially not you." She looked at him again and despite the flush in her cheeks and the alcohol brightness in her eyes, he believed her. Ari was shocked to discover how deeply that touched him. His heartbeat quickened and he felt the heat of tears behind his eyes.
"Thanks." It was wholly inadequate, but the huskiness he couldn't keep from his voice wasn't lost on her.
"The thing is," she went on hesitantly. "The thing is that all that time that I was feeling dead inside, there was actually life inside me."
Now Ari was confused. He looked at her quizzically. "I don't understand."
Mae looked at the glass in her hands and drained it in a swallow. She met his eyes. "I was pregnant." When he only stared at her in silence, she added, "With your child."
He blinked at her as his mind tried to process this revelation. This time when she poured herself another measure of vodka and offered him the bottle, he nodded. She filled up his glass and he downed half of it in a single gulp.
Finally, Ari found his voice. "So, what did you do?" He knew the options as well as any medical personnel, and the terrifying thought that a suspended zygote was tucked away somewhere in sickbay nearly caused him to panic. He took a deep breath and forced himself to remain calm. Another swallow of vodka helped.
"I aborted it," Mae answered, and waited to see what he'd say.
Ari felt a wave of relief followed closely by a wave of disgust at his own cowardice. Mae watched the emotions play across his face. She had her answer before he ever spoke, and she was glad of it. "I'm glad that's not a problem for you."
"I'm so sorry!" exclaimed Ari, misunderstanding her. "I'm just I didn't mean to " He took a swallow of vodka to calm himself and looked shocked as Mae actually laughed. Not a wry chuckle, not a snort of sarcasm, but an honest-to-goodness laugh that made her shoulders shake.
His expression only made her laugh harder, and she had to gasp for breath just to say, "Sorry!" The thing she'd feared most turned out to be nothing at all. The relief made her giddy. When she got herself under control, she spoke more calmly. "I'm sorry. I'm just so glad you're not upset."
"I never said I wasn't upset." Ari's tone was flat, but with a heat to it that threatened to surface at any moment.
All mirth drained from Mae's face. "What?"
"Don't misunderstand. I'm not upset about your decision. I'm upset that you didn't tell me before you made it."
"You just said you agreed with me," said Mae, suddenly on the defensive.
"I do. That doesn't mean I'm okay with the fact that you didn't talk to me about it first! Damn it!" Ari took a breath and let it out slowly. He kept his voice as calm as he could despite his growing anger, but the challenge in his words was unmistakable. "What did you think I was going to do?"
"What are you talking about? I didn't think you were going to do anything."
"Say, then. What did you think I'd say?"
"It doesn't matter now what you'd have said! I did what I felt I had to, and you agree with me. You said so! What does it matter that I didn't tell you before now?" Mae demanded. She was completely surprised by his anger and her confusion only made her angry, too.
"What does it matter?" echoed Ari incredulously. "You didn't trust me! I could have been there for you. I could have been a sounding board, a sympathetic ear, a shoulder to lean on. Instead you--" He stopped short. All of a sudden anger gave way to jealousy. "If you couldn't trust me, who did you turn to? Who knew when I didn't?"
"No one!" She thought of Bonnie, but knew somehow that wasn't what he meant.
"Bull! Which of your friends did you trust more than me?!"
"None of them!" shouted Mae.
A dead silence fell like lead and only then did the pair realize they were on their feet, shouting in each other's faces. Mae had a horrible feeling of déjà vu and sat shakily in her chair. Ari sat, too, and leaned towards her, all anger gone.
"None of them?" Mae shrugged and Ari grew perplexed. "But Who went to Phlox with you? Who held your hand?"
"No one." Mae's tone was quiet but steady, firm.
Ari's face softened and his shoulders slumped. "My God, Mae, that's awful."
"Why? Did you think I couldn't handle it on my own?"
"No! No. I just mean you shouldn't have had to handle it on your own. Why didn't you tell me before?" he asked, knowing it was pointless.
"I had to do this my way," Mae said, trying to make him understand why it was so important. "I couldn't spend my life wondering whether someone else's opinion had influenced me." She met his gaze with openness born of absolute truth. "I couldn't ask for help because I couldn't allow myself someone else to blame if I was wrong." Tears welled in her eyes despite her outward composure.
Ari's heart ached. He reached out a cautious hand, not wanting to upset her further but needing to touch her. He laid his hand gently on her own in her lap. "You couldn't be wrong. Whatever choice you reached, it would have been the right one."
"You really believe that?"
Mae turned over her hand and took his in it, fighting tears. She looked at their fingers entwined on her lap, then looked across at Ari. "I love you."
"I love you, too," he said. Rising, he pulled her to her feet and into an embrace. Unable to keep her emotions in check any longer, Mae wept freely, her face on his shoulder. "I love you," he said again, holding her close and running a tender hand over her hair. But inside him there was a tinge of something else. It hurt him that she hadn't trusted him enough to tell him what she was going through. He wondered how long that hurt would last and how much it would color his dealings with Mae from now on. But I do love her, he thought. I hope I love her enough.
It was the tail end of a long day and Malcolm was tired. He wanted nothing more than to sleep through a solid seven or eight hours—but the thought of climbing into a cold, empty bed yet again was distinctly unappealing. Even at that late hour he was sure the bed, and indeed the cabin, would be empty when he arrived. I wonder if Travis might be up for a beer, he thought, but then reconsidered. Better just to spend half an hour in the gym. Tired as he was he knew he could use some time on the treadmill or stationary bike to burn off some of his continued frustrations. It was a healthier option than drowning them in malted beverages. It would help him sleep, and it would give Trip that much more time to get in before Malcolm went to bed. That plan in mind, he headed towards his quarters to change.
He knew better than to expect anything upon arriving home. It had been a long time since Trip had even been there when he came in for the night, let alone greeted him with a kiss or an embrace. It sucked, but he was used to it. Or at least that was what he told himself. If he could file it away as ordinary and expected, it didn't hurt quite so much. So he entered the cabin fully expecting to find it vacant and dark. To his surprise, Trip was there. Malcolm smiled at him as the door slipped closed behind him. "This is a pleasant surprise." He sat on the end of the bunk and removed his boots.
Trip looked up from the computer screen. "Yeah," he said, although there was little enthusiasm in his voice. He knew it and forced himself to offer something like a smile to Malcolm. He tried hard to be present in the conversation. He knew he needed to make a better effort if he expected Reed to continue to be there for him. He'd fallen out of the habit of listening to his lover, and he wanted to rectify that. A small sensible part of him recognized that he'd needed the other man all the time he'd allowed his anger to push Malcolm away. "I figured I'd be in Engineering late again tonight, but for once there's nothing there that needs me."
Reed nodded in understanding while simultaneously recognizing Tucker's skewed perspective. Every department head thought there were things that no one else could handle, and occasionally it was true. More often than not--and particularly frequently in Trip's case--it was a matter of the Chief's inability to let others deal with problems, even when those others were entirely competent to do so. "I wish I'd known," he said aloud. "I'd have asked you to join me for a late dinner."
"I thought of it earlier, but you were working."
I'd've taken a break for you, Malcolm thought, but instead just nodded again and smiled ruefully. "Next time," he said.
"Yeah. Next time," echoed Trip.
Malcolm rose and took his boots to the closet. He began to undress, a change of plans in his mind. "Since we're both here and awake at the same time, I feel like we should do something to honor the occasion. Perhaps a movie?" he suggested, trying to keep the pressure light when what he really wanted was to fall naked into bed with his lover and spend the evening making up for lost nights.
"I was thinking about hitting the gym actually," Trip said, dashing Malcolm's hopes. Still, it meant he could follow through on his original plan, but with company instead of alone. And there was potentially something else to be gained.
"More yoga?" he asked.
Trip shrugged noncommittally. "Maybe. It depends if Cormack is there or not. We didn't schedule anything for tonight, but she said she's there a lot, so maybe."
Malcolm wondered why his partner couldn't do yoga on his own, but again kept the thought to himself. If I had a credit for every time I've kept my mouth shut "You certainly slept better after yesterday's session," he said instead.
"Yeah, and so did you," Trip said with what he hoped was a mild tone. He was annoyed with the other man and at the same time knew it was unfair of him. Of course Malcolm would benefit when Trip slept better. He couldn't blame him for enjoying it.
"I won't deny it." He hung up his coveralls and changed into a t-shirt and sweatpants. "I'll join you, if that's all right."
"For yoga?" asked Trip skeptically.
"Perhaps. I suppose I'll see when we get to the gym." He shut the closet door and sat on the bunk, bent to tie the laces on his sneakers.
"I'd rather you didn't."
Malcolm stopped short and sat up, laces forgotten. "What do you mean?"
"I'd just be more comfortable without you there is all." Tucker knew how it sounded but couldn't think of a better way to put it. He saw the walls go up behind Malcolm's eyes and suddenly wished he could take back the words. Instead he tried to explain. "I feel like--I don't know. I'm not good at it. I don't want people around when I know I must look as awkward as I feel."
Malcolm's defenses eased at that. "Trip, that's ridiculous," he said, and watched his lover's expression harden just as his own had moments before. Damn. "I don't mean that like it sounds."
"No. I get what you mean." But Trip's tone wasn't as relaxed as his words suggested.
"If you don't want me to go with you, then I won't."
"You can do whatever you want, Malcolm," Trip sniped, growing frustrated and his frustration making him angry. "I told you I don't even know if Stephanie'll be there."
"If she is, I don't want keep you from doing what you need to do." Malcolm took off his shoes and took them in one hand.
"What're you doing?"
"I'm staying in. There's no reason I have to work out tonight."
"If you want to, you should."
"It's not important," argued Malcolm, his own annoyance beginning to swell.
"Yeah it is. I don't want you to change your plans because of me. You keep tip-toeing around me like I'm gonna break or something. It's gettin' old." Trip glared at his lover, brows furrowed in irritation.
Malcolm grew suddenly cold. "It's getting old?" he echoed, his voice chilly. "Pardon me if my caring about you is getting old. I'm awfully sorry it's so tiresome for you!"
"Malcolm, I--" Trip tried to protest. He knew too late that he'd finally pushed too Malcolm far.
"No, no! Far be it from me to stop you wallowing in your self-centered pity party."
In a split second Trip ceased to care that he'd finally dropped the straw that broke the camel's back. "That's not fair."
"Nothing is fair, Trip!" snapped Malcolm. All his frustrations of the past months boiled up and over in an instant. The little voices that told him to watch his words and tread lightly were silenced in the bursting of his emotional dam. "It's not fair that your sister is dead. It's not fair that the Xindi are trying to exterminate us when six months ago we'd never even heard of their species. It's not fair that you've been treating me like an annoyance to be tolerated only when it suits your own needs! For your information, Trip, I'm not worried that you're going to break because you're already broken, and as hard as it is for me to face it, the fact is that I can't fix you. No matter how hard I try--or how tiresome you find it," he added bitterly. "You have to do it yourself." He stood sharply and stormed to the door, sneakers forgotten in his hand, loose shoelaces flapping unnoticed against his leg.
Trip sat stiffly without speaking. Malcolm's words hurt, but he wasn't going to admit it. He wasn't going to admit that his lover was right on all counts: right about Lizzie; right about the Xindi; and most of all right about Trip.
Malcolm paused in the doorway, waiting and silently wishing that Trip would say something, anything that might keep him from walking out the door. Even if it meant yelling at each other, at least it was communication. But Tucker said nothing and Reed nodded. "Fine. Good night."
Trip watched in mingled horror and satisfaction as the door slipped shut behind Malcolm. The charged air of the cabin sustained him for two frozen minutes before abruptly dissipating and leaving the room and his heart feeling empty and cold.
Malcolm stalked along the B-deck corridor with no destination in mind. He was too wound up to think in terms of where he was going and what he was doing; he only knew he wasn't going back to the cabin. Before long he became aware of the shoes he carried and he stopped abruptly to put them on. I was going to go to the gym. I might as well, he thought as he tied the laces. It would be a chance to burn off some of his anger and it would give him time to think.
He rode the nearest turbolift down and entered the empty gym. For several moments he simply stood inside the door, fuming, glaring at the arrayed equipment. Then he chose one of the treadmills and turned it on, starting at a brisk walking pace. His thoughts continued to flutter about furiously, battering against each other in his brain like caged birds trying to escape, until one practical little thought landed squarely in front of the others.
Where the hell am I going to sleep tonight? He stepped up onto the unmoving sides of the treadmill and brought it to a halt. "Shit," he muttered. I am not going back to Trip tonight. I can't. It would take time for both of them to get over this fight. Malcolm was angry and hurt, and all the British stiff-upper-lippedness in the galaxy wasn't going to make him pretend otherwise. But it did leave him with a dilemma.
He stepped off the treadmill and went to sit heavily on one of the weight benches. I could ask Travis. I was best man for his wedding. He wouldn't begrudge me a bit of floor and a blanket. The idea of explaining to the helmsman why he needed it was unappealing but ultimately manageable, and he'd have done it under other circumstances. But he couldn't bring himself to intrude on not only Travis but Liz, too. Imposing on a friend was one thing. Imposing on a friend and his wife was quite another.
He thought next of Stephanie. She would certainly have taken him in for the night. Of course she'll want to know why, and no matter what I say she won't let it go until she gets the truth. I can hear her now. He imagined the inevitable argument.
"Of course you can crash here, but why do you need to? What happened? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." He would try to play it down. "Nothing happened. Trip and I just had a bit of a disagreement. That's all."
"That can't be all. If that was all, you could sleep in your own bunk. What did he do?" she would demand.
"He didn't do anything. We just had an argument."
"Bullshit. Do I need to kick his ass? I will. I will so kick his ass. Don't think I won't."
He could see her in his mind's eye, pulling on trainers and tying back her hair, prepping for a knock-down, drag-out fist fight. Malcolm shook his head in bitter amusement. It wasn't an unpleasant idea, the thought of Stephanie trying to beat the crap out his stubborn, thick-skulled partner, but that didn't mean he wanted or needed her to try. And of course she has a bunkmate, too, he thought. Admitting to his friend that he was homeless due to his own rash behavior was bad enough. He couldn't bring himself to admit it to her and her MACO roommate.
Phlox would probably let him have a bed in sickbay. It wasn't as if the place was lacking empty beds. Again, though, explanations would be necessary. At least he wouldn't try to leap to my defense. Unfortunately, he'd probably keep me up all night with questions I have no intention of answering.
I could always sleep in my office, he considered. The tiny space had been storage for the first two years of his tenure and it was still little better than a box with a desk in it. He could probably stretch out on the narrow patch of floor. It would be awkward but not impossible. The crewmen on duty overnight would wonder, but he was under no obligation to explain his behavior to them. But if I don't explain, they'll wonder what's going on, and wondering leads to guessing, which leads to rumors. That was the last thing he needed.
That left him with one realistic option. "Madeline." She could be infuriatingly inquisitive at times, but she was intuitive enough to know when to ask questions and when to simply offer support. And he knew she wouldn't tell a soul. For the first time since discovering she was on Enterprise as it headed into unknown danger, he was genuinely glad of her presence.
With a definite course of action in mind, he stood. He would make a quick stop at the quartermaster for a toothbrush, and then another at the laundry stores for a blanket and pillow. First though, the mess hall. There had been butterscotch pudding for dessert that night and he figured the least he could do was bring his sister a bribe. I hope there's whipped cream.
The darkness erupted in flames around her. Within moments the lush jungle vegetation was consumed. Fire sprayed like a fountain and she couldn't escape it. It struck her in the chest and she was burning
"Fire! Fire!" screamed Stephanie, thrashing like a wild thing. She tried desperately to tear the fire from her skin. Someone shouted at her as she felt her body being smothered by something heavy. Arms held her, and tangled as she was in blankets, she could only writhe about helplessly.
"It's out! It's out! Calm down!" The voice was in front of her, on top of her. She stopped fighting, and the voice spoke again. "Everything's all right. There's no fire. Okay?"
Stephanie's hazel eyes finally cleared and she recognized the face of her bunkmate. "Maggie?" she asked uncertainly, trying to regain both her breath and her sense of reality.
"Yeah. Are you okay?"
"I think so."
"Good." Maggie rolled off of her and stood next to Stephanie's bunk. "You were thrashing around something fierce. I hope I didn't squish you," she said, straightening her pajamas.
"No, I'm fine." Still somewhat stunned, Stephanie worked her way out of the tangled covers. "I thought I was on fire." She sat up and looked around warily, as if she expected flames to suddenly shoot from the walls.
"Yeah, I know. That's what you said, anyway." Maggie shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. "Do you know ? I mean What was it?"
"I'm not sure. I was in that jungle I keep dreaming about, but this time I didn't see anyone else--human or alien."
Maggie nodded and sat down on her bunk, tucking her hands under her legs and rocking just a little. Stephanie had told her about the dreams, and she knew they'd been coming more frequently lately. "Uh huh," she encouraged her bunkmate to go on.
"Then the whole place just burst into flames. Like Have you ever seen the movie of Fahrenheit 451?" Again Maggie nodded. "You know the scene where the firemen burn the woman's library and her with it?"
"Yeah. I hate that scene."
"It was like that, only with trees and me instead of books and her."
Maggie shuddered. "No wonder you were screaming." Memories came to her and she shuddered again. "Horrible."
Stephanie stretched her back and shoulders, rolling her head around to try to loosen the tension that had gathered in her neck. "Very," she agreed. She looked over at Maggie, noticed how she rocked back and forth ever so slightly. "Are you okay? I'm sorry I freaked you out."
"It's okay," said Maggie, although it obviously wasn't.
Stephanie massaged the back of her neck with one hand, frowning in the light of a single bedside lamp. "Are you sure? You don't look okay."
Maggie shook herself and pulled her hands out from under her. "It's okay, really. I was just thinking of something else."
"Something this reminded you of?"
"I'm really sorry."
"It's okay," said Maggie yet again, and this time Stephanie almost believed it. The young woman seemed to shake off whatever it was that had so disturbed her. She smiled with her usual brightness, but winced just a split second later. "You owe me one," she said lightly and fingered her jaw. "You cracked me a good one."
"Did I?" Stephanie made a face. "Damn. Sorry."
Maggie chuckled; a full on laugh would have hurt. "It's no big deal. I've had worse."
"Your MACO friends are going to think I'm abusing you," Stephanie half-joked.
"Maybe I like it rough. They wouldn't know," quipped Maggie. That made Stephanie laugh.
"If you can live with the rumors, so can I. I just need to tell Bonnie what really happened or we'll both be hurting." She smirked as she settled back into her bunk.
Maggie climbed into her own bed. "Are you going to be all right for the rest of the night?" she asked.
"I think so. Not even any migraine coming on, I don't think."
"That's good." Stephanie's migraines worried Maggie, and like the strange dreams they'd been coming with greater frequency. The amount of analgesics it took to deaden the pain was disturbingly high, in Maggie's opinion. So far she had simply kept her feelings to herself and remained vigilant. If it kept up or got worse, though, she would have to bring it to someone's attention.
"Yeah," agreed Stephanie earnestly, unaware of her bunkmate's concern. She yawned hugely. "Good night."
"Night." Maggie turned out the light and both women soon fell asleep.
Pain blossomed in T'Pol's chest, licking like flames outward and into her limbs. She yanked herself from her meditation, gasping for breath. The sensation was so real it left her skin tingling with residual heat. Once again she had found herself on an alien world and half-transformed. Archer, Reed, and Sato were absent from the vision this time. Instead there were others. Aliens, although not the kind her shipmates had become. They wore EV suits and carried weapons that they had fired at her.
The images were clear in her mind, but she continued to find herself at a loss as to the location. She was, however, convinced the place and the threat were real. She rose from the floor and put out her altar candles. Sitting at her desk, she added tonight's data to her files, deciding that even without hard facts she would bring her concerns to the Captain.
The comm chirped softly and she rose to answer it. "T'Pol," she said into the wall-mounted comm unit. Archer's voice came back through its small speaker.
"This is the Captain. I'd like you to join me in the Command Center right away."
The bruise on Maggie's jaw had swollen and stiffened overnight. She touched it carefully thinking she'd better get it taken care of if she wanted to eat today. Entering sickbay she looked around before calling out. Speaking was high on her list of things that it hurt to do. "Hello?" she said, and winced.
Immediately Ensign Cutler appeared from around a corner. "Maggie, hi. What's the trouble?" By way of answer Bowman tilted her head so the other woman could see. "Ow," said Liz in sympathy. "Have a seat." She ushered the MACO to a biobed and pulled over a prep tray. She picked up a medical scanner and pointed it at the injury. "That's an impressive contusion. What happened?"
Moving as little as possible, Maggie said, "Accident."
"I should hope so." She set down the scanner and chose a hypospray, measuring medicines into it.
"What's that?" Maggie asked tightly.
"Anti-inflammatory and an analgesic. The usual cocktail," quipped Liz, trying to ease Bowman's obvious tension. To her surprise, the MACO leaned away from her rather than relaxing. Liz's expression went from joking to reassuring. "It's all right. I know from your file that you're sensitive to certain meds. That's why I'm only giving you two milligrams of the decominal. That's the pain-killer," she added in case Maggie was unfamiliar with it.
"I know." Maggie considered, eyes skipping from the hypo to Liz's face and back again. Finally she relented. "Okay."
Liz applied the hypo and Maggie felt the pain recede. "I'll give you a topical solution to rub on the bruise itself. Now that it doesn't hurt so much you shouldn't have a problem applying it." She fetched a small tube of ointment from a nearby medicine cabinet. "It'll help keep the swelling down and cause the bruise to fade quicker than it would on its own," she explained, handing it over. "Feeling better?"
Maggie nodded and spoke more easily. "Yeah. Thanks." She squeezed a dab of ointment onto her fingers and began massaging it into her jaw.
"Then can you tell me more about what happened?" The inquiry was pleasant enough, but there was an undercurrent that Maggie was too sharp to miss. It was no secret that relations were still strained between some of the MACOs and the security Fleeters.
"It was an accident."
"You said that already."
It was clear that Cutler wasn't planning to let her go until she got a satisfactory answer. Again Maggie considered carefully before replying. She knew Liz was Stephanie's previous bunkmate. Maybe she would understand. "Off the record?" she asked.
Liz frowned but nodded. "Off the record," she confirmed.
"Stephanie had a nightmare last night." Liz's expression changed subtly and Maggie went on. "She's been having them a lot lately, but this is the first time she's gotten violent. Not at me," she added quickly. "She was sort of flailing and I got hit when I tried to calm her down. And she's been having migraines, too."
Liz openly frowned at that. "She hasn't said anything to me. And she hasn't been to see Phlox that I know of."
"I didn't think so. But If you check the records, I think you'll see that the pain-killers in the first-aid kit for our cabin have had to be restocked a lot lately. She said something the other week about wanting 'the big drugs'." Without a word, Liz moved to the nearest computer console and called up the first-aid supply lists. Her frown deepened. Maggie saw and pressed her lips together, her suspicions confirmed. "How bad is it?" she asked.
"It's definitely beyond what's recommended," replied Liz grimly. "She hasn't broken any rules yet, but you're right that this is unusual--even if both of you were taking the meds." She turned her back to the screen, crossed her arms over her chest, and fixed the young MACO with a stern look. "What else can you tell me?"
Maggie started with the first time Stephanie had inadvertently woken her while searching for pain meds for a migraine. Then she listed each subsequent incident up to the screaming nightmare that had lead to her injured jaw. Cutler's expression grew grimmer as she spoke.
"I have to talk Phlox," said Liz when the young woman finished. She held up a hand to forestall any protest. "What you just told me is still off the record, but I can bring the med requisition to his attention. Okay?"
"Okay." Maggie wondered if she should voice the fear that had been nagging at her. The opportunity was there, couldn't have been more convenient if she'd planned it. "Do you think--" She stopped and then tried again. "She said she has a high tolerance for pain-killers."
Liz nodded. "She does, which is why I'm only concerned right now, not alarmed."
Maggie phrased her question carefully. "Do you think she could have built up a resistance over time?"
"I suppose it's possible. Why?"
"That's the way addictions work."
"Some of them, yes," agreed Liz cautiously. "Do you think that's what's going on?"
Maggie shrugged, hoping the other woman wouldn't just dismiss her concerns. "I've seen it before. Not exactly like this, but " She trailed off, afraid Cutler would think she was overreacting due to a bad experience in the past.
It was obvious to Liz that there was something she wasn't saying. Sensing the young woman's reticence, Liz decided not to pursue the matter right then. Instead she focused on Maggie's allegations. "I'll talk to Phlox, and he or I will talk to Stephanie. I promise your part in this will stay secret."
"Okay. Thanks." There was a short silence. "Can I go?"
"Sure," Liz nodded and smiled, and Maggie rose from her seat on the biobed. "Just stop in anytime if you need more of that ointment. Anyone can get it for you."
"I will, thanks. And thanks for other things."
Liz nodded again. "You're welcome." Her eyes followed Maggie as the MACO left sickbay. She glanced at the nearest chronometer. Phlox would be in soon and she had a lot to tell him.
"Good morning, Lieutenant," Cormack said as Reed entered the armory. "You look well this morning."
He shot her a wry smile. "As opposed to most mornings?" he teased. In fact he had slept surprisingly well last night, considering it had been on the floor of Madeline's--formerly his own--cabin. To her credit, Maddy hadn't asked any questions beyond whether he wanted one pillow or two.
"I wasn't going to say it," Cormack joked back, unaware of what had passed overnight. Getting down to business, she said, "I understand we changed course in the middle of the night."
"Yes," he confirmed, joining her at the main console. He called up the star charts Archer had presented at the morning's meeting. It hadn't been a comfortable gathering even by recent standards. He and Tucker hadn't said word one to each other, and had only made eye contact twice by accident. Reed was sure the others must have sensed something had changed, but no one said anything. He'd been especially grateful for Madeline's discretion.
"The Captain has found the last planet the Xindi ship visited before being attacked by the Osaarians."
"Any idea what they were doing there?"
"None. We'll be there by morning. Perhaps a landing party can shed some light on it." Before she could say anything, he added, "Captain Archer will be choosing the team."
Cormack cursed her luck, both the good and the bad since they were inextricably intertwined at that moment. Arriving at the planet Archer had found, he had chosen himself to lead the landing party and he'd taken T'Pol, Sato, and Reed with him in Shuttlepod One. Now all of them were suffering from a bizarre mutation, an airborne virus that the ship's sensors hadn't detected. Only T'Pol had escaped a complete transformation, and they had yet to determine why.
Left in command of Enterprise, Tucker was about to hand that command over to Mayweather and head down to the planet himself. Cormack strode along side him down the corridor leading to the EV locker room, trying both to keep up with his long stride and make her case.
"Sir, with all due respect, four command officers have already been compromised. We cannot afford to lose you, too."
"We're not losing anyone, Ensign," he said tightly. "I'm taking another team--in EV suits with bio-hazard protocols--and we're going to get them back."
"I agree with your plan, sir, just let me or Ensign Young lead the team. Enterprise needs you up here."
"Not gonna happen, Ensign."
Cormack played her last card. "Then let me come with you. I have training in jungle terrain tactics and search and rescue."
"No. You're staying here, you're going back up to the Bridge, and you're going to keep this ship secure until I come back with the others. Got it?" They turned the corner and entered the staging room where Chang and Palmer were already suiting up.
There was no more arguing. "Yes, sir. Be careful," Cormack added, speaking to the MACOs as well as the Commander.
"Count on it."
Romero caught up to Chang between sickbay and the mess hall. "Andre, man, what happened down there?" he asked without preamble. "Are you okay?"
They fell into step and Chang shook his head. "It was ugly. I don't remember much after Lieutenant Reed jumped me. My head's still ringing. It's damn lucky he didn't bust open my EV suit or I'd be in the same shape he is." He shuddered at the idea.
Romero didn't notice. He was intent on his objective. "But did you see the others? Did you see Hoshi?"
Chang almost laughed. "You are as transparent as they come, man. You've got it bad for her, huh?" Romero said nothing, and his fellow MACO shook his head again. They stopped at the intersection of two corridors. "I didn't see her. Sorry. Ask Palmer." He broke off and turned down the cross-corridor.
Determined, Romero continued on his route, past the mess hall and down another corridor. He made several turns until he reached the interior cabin Private Palmer shared with one of the engineering Fleeters. The door opened at his chime and he found himself facing Palmer's bunkmate. He was clad in workout gear and sneakers, a towel tossed over one broad and muscular shoulder. Carlos wracked his brain for the man's name and came up blank. "I'm Corporal Romero," he introduced himself.
Rostov nodded once. "Yeah, I know. Are you looking for Jeff?"
"Come on in." Rostov stepped back to let him into the cabin. He caught Palmer's eye from the open doorway. "You've got company. I'll see you later." He slipped out the door and it closed behind him.
Palmer started to rise at his superior's arrival. "Sir." Romero waved him back down and the younger man sat.
"Don't get up. I just wanted to see how you're doing. I heard it was pretty hairy on the planet."
"Yeah." Then Palmer's pale eyes grew secretive and a little fearful. "I had to stun Lieutenant Reed."
"I heard. Don't worry about. You were doing your job." Palmer's expression eased at that. "In fact, from what I heard, you made it possible to capture the Lieutenant and bring him back. So it's a good thing."
"Thanks. You wanna sit down?"
"Thanks." Romero pulled out the single desk chair and sat in it. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "So, did you see the others down there? The Captain, T'Pol, Hoshi?" There was the slightest hesitation before he said the Comm. Officer's name, and he was sure he'd given himself away. But if Palmer noticed, he said nothing about it.
"I saw Captain Archer and Doctor T'Pol, but not Ensign Sato. They looked weird."
"Yeah. I've heard that, but I haven't seen it. They've got the Lieutenant in quarantine."
"Good," Palmer said emphatically. He could picture Reed as he'd laid unconscious on the shuttlepod floor. "They're not human anymore. It's creepy."
"Doctor T'Pol never was human," Romero reminded him, more to distract himself from other thoughts than to correct him.
"Yeah, I know. But she wasn't right either. Like a cross between a Vulcan and something else."
"So you didn't see anything else?" Romero asked, trying not to be as obvious as he felt.
Palmer shook his head. "Nah. T'Pol stayed behind. She said something to Commander Tucker about keeping her eye on the others."
"Others," echoed Romero involuntarily. He tried to hide it by standing up and pushing the chair back under the desk. "I should go. I'm glad you and Chang are okay."
"Thanks again, sir."
Romero paused in the doorway. "Did Major Hayes debrief you yet?"
"Not yet." Palmer looked worried again at the thought.
"Don't sweat it. You were doing you job," the Corporal reassured him.
Romero gave him an encouraging nod and left the small cabin. Immediately his thoughts turned back to his own worries. He said T'Pol is keeping an eye on the others. That means Hoshi's still with them and that she's okay--as far as that goes. It wasn't much comfort, but he took it. He and Hoshi had just started to hit it off. He didn't want to lose her before he even got to know her. He breathed a silent prayer that Phlox and his staff could find a cure for what had affected her and the rest of the landing party.
Travis stood at the window of the decon chamber, arms crossed over his chest. Inside was the man who used to be Malcolm Reed, and whom he hoped would be again soon. He rested an arm on the wall and leaned in for a closer look. Reed never stopped moving, never stopped looking for a way out of quarantine. Frequently he would hiss or growl, but he never said anything the Universal Translator identified as words.
Liz approached and stood next to Travis, lightly putting a hand on his arm. "Hey," she said softly. "Are you okay?"
He shrugged, stood back a bit from the window. "I'm fine," he replied, his voice heavy, belying his words. "I just wish I could do something."
"I know. Phlox and Ari are working on decoding the mutagenic virus that's transformed Malcolm and the others."
"Is that what it is? Biological weapons." The horror of it made his stomach turn. He shook himself to dispel the feeling. "Why would someone create something like that?"
"We don't know for sure that it's a weapon."
He looked at her uncomprehendingly. "What else could it be?"
"An accident. An illness that mutated. There are all sorts of possibilities."
"Would knowing that make it easier to reverse?" Travis asked.
"Probably not." She moved closer to him. Feeling the need to touch him, reassure herself of him, she wrapped her arm around his waist. "It's just not like you to leap to the unkindest conclusion." Liz felt Travis lean into her embrace and she squeezed gently.
"I guess it's harder to think the best about one unknown alien race when there's another one trying to exterminate your species."
Liz said nothing; she could only agree, but didn't want to have to say it out loud.
"I should get back to the Bridge," Travis said eventually.
"And I should see if Phlox and Ari need my help." Liz released him reluctantly and rose up on her toes to kiss him. "I'll see you tonight."
Madeline wished she could be down in sickbay even if she couldn't do anything to help Malcolm. He was still her brother. In spite of that bloody virus. Unfortunately his well-being had to be second to that of the entire crew's at the moment. With two hostile alien ships hanging off Enterprise's stern, her concern and attention had to be there. She sat at the Bridge Science Station, feeling both in and out of place at the same time. The woman who should be occupying that seat was still on the planet surface, keeping an eye on Archer and Sato, but in her absence it was the best place to observe Tucker and the alien captain's interactions.
The alien was nothing new to her. Although she didn't recognize his species, his attitude was all too familiar. Among all the varied wonders of the universe, there's nothing so firmly clamped shut as the military mind, she thought ruefully, recalling a line from her favorite old TV show. Centuries later the truth of it had never lessened. She paid as close attention to Tucker as she did to the alien. It seemed to her that Tucker was teetering even worse than she. There was tension in every one of his muscles, and she suspected that tension was the only thing keeping him from falling apart. She could see the dark circles under his eyes even from a distance. She'd only known him since the death of his sister, but she could recall a few photographs Malcolm had sent. It was obvious the engineer had lost weight since the Xindi attack; he looked haggard, his cheeks beginning to grow hollow. She wondered how much of his state at that moment was due to the fight he'd had with Malcolm. Madeline only knew that the men had quarreled, not why or what about. Whatever had passed between them, however, it was clear that Trip was as anxious about Malcolm as she was and he was having more difficulty containing it.
"That 'infected organism' is a member of my crew," Tucker snapped through clenched teeth.
"Does he still look like a member of your crew? Does he recognize you, or even speak your language anymore?" the alien captain asked. "We've been studying the mutagen for sixty years. The only course of action is to neutralize the outbreak."
"There isn't any outbreak," stated Tucker firmly. "Lieutenant Reed is in medical isolation."
"We won't allow your vessel to leave orbit with the contagion aboard."
Madeline watched Trip physically rein in his anger, wondered if the alien on the viewscreen could interpret his body language, too. She guessed not, or he'd have chosen his words more carefully. She prepared herself to step in if Tucker should lose control.
"Look, we've only been dealing with this virus for one day. So forgive me if I don't take your word for it that the only option is to neutralize our Tactical Officer. You want to come over to discuss the situation, fine. But if you try to force your way onto this ship you're gonna have one hell of a fight on your hands." He shot a look to Aghababyan at the comm and the ensign immediately closed the line. The viewscreen was filled with the aft sensors' image of the two ships.
Tucker seethed silently and paced the deck in front of the captain's chair. Madeline spoke up. "Commander, may we have a word in private?"
He stopped abruptly and looked at her, nodded once. "In the Captain's ready room," he said shortly.
She followed him inside. "What's on your mind?" he asked almost before the door had closed. Madeline noticed that he didn't sit down in any of the chairs but instead leaned on the edge of the desk. He crossed his arms over his chest. Is it a defensive gesture or is he trying to keep his hands from throttling something? Could be either or both, she considered analytically.
"The same things that are on yours." She perched on the arm of one of the two soft chairs in the corner, strategically placing herself slightly below his level so as not to appear adversarial, but no so low that she had to look up much to meet his eye. "Primarily those two unfriendly ships out there and Malcolm."
For the first time it occurred to Trip where Malcolm was most likely to have gone when he left their cabin the other night. He wondered just how much he'd told Madeline and what she thought about it. His tone was defensive and cautious. "What about Malcolm?"
"I'm worried about him, too, Commander, but we cannot let that color our dealings with Captain Tret."
"How can I not do that?" snapped Trip. "The son of a bitch wants to murder Malcolm!"
"No. He wants to contain the contagion," she contradicted evenly. "The who of it is irrelevant to him. I have no doubt that were it one of his own crewmen his behavior would be the same." Trip nodded unwillingly, but didn't disagree. He'd gotten the same impression. Madeline was glad to see they were on the same wavelength. "Would you like my recommendation?"
"Invite Tret over--more officially than you already did. Take him to Phlox. He said it's the K-cells in T'Pol's blood that are giving her a resistance to the virus, right?" Again Trip nodded. "Tell Tret that. We have to try to make him understand that we can find another way to deal with this problem."
"Do you really think he's going to listen to me? Or to Phlox?" Tucker scoffed.
"Not particularly, but it will buy us time."
"I'm only making educated suggestions. I can't predict what Tret will do."
"All right." Tucker could see the sense in what she said; it was what he'd been thinking, too, although not as dispassionately as the negotiator. "But I'm keeping a security guard on him."
"I wouldn't even consider suggesting otherwise," agreed Madeline.
Tucker watched as crewman Zabel escorted the alien captain from sickbay. "I knew he wouldn't listen," he muttered angrily. Suddenly the limited time they'd bought by inviting him over was expended. Tret's ship had spotted the rest of the infected Enterprise crewmembers on the planet and were sending a team to "examine" them. "Examine, my ass."
"Commander," said Phlox, urgency in his voice. "If I don't complete the anti-virus within the next two hours, it'll be too late. There won't be enough of their original genome left to re-sequence."
"We can't launch a shuttlepod. They'd detect it." Tucker crossed to the viewscreen showing the interior of the decon chamber. He forced himself to look in on his transmogrified partner, thinking hard. "Do you think T'Pol's contagious?"
"That rules out the transporter. She'd infect the entire crew."
"Whatever you do, Commander, do it quickly. I need that DNA sample."
"I—" Tucker stopped short as an idea dawned. Without a word, he moved to the nearest comm. "Tucker to Cormack."
"Ensign, go to T'Pol's cabin and see if you can find a hairbrush."
His reply was sharp; this wasn't the time for questions. "Phlox needs DNA. You can use your security override to get into her cabin. Go!"
There was the briefest of pauses before Cormack responded. "Yes, sir!"
He'd barely closed the comm when it chirped again and he heard Mayweather's voice. "Bridge to Commander Tucker."
"One of those ships just launched a shuttle, sir. It's heading toward the surface."
"Keep an eye on 'em," Tucker ordered tensely. "Tucker out."
Moments later Cormack burst into sickbay, a hairbrush with a few smooth dark hairs wound into its bristles in her hand. "Sir!" She handed it over. It was obvious she'd run the whole way. She took a moment to catch her breath. "Is it enough?"
"We'll see," Phlox replied cryptically, moving to the neutron microscope.
Tucker shot one last glance at Reed though the decon chamber window before turning to Cormack. "Come on."
"Bridge to Commander Tucker." It was Mayweather again.
Tucker opened the comm in the EV locker room. "Go ahead."
"The alien shuttle has landed, sir. According to our sensors they're within two kilometers of our landing party."
"Understood. Tucker out." He closed the comm and opened another. "Tucker to Engineering."
A female voice answered. "Engineering."
"Hess, get to the transporter chamber now." He shot Cormack a quick look as she zipped up the front of her EV suit. "Ready to go?"
"As ready as I'll ever be," she replied, taking two helmets from the shelf and passing him one.
"You've never used the transporter before?" he asked as they strode quickly down the corridor.
"No, sir." She'd hoped never to have to, but kept silent.
As if he'd read her thoughts, Tucker said, "It's not my favorite thing either, but 'he needs must go that the devil drives'."
"Marlowe. Doctor Faustus," Cormack said, surprised. A tight, amused smile quirked Trip's mouth, making her think of Malcolm.
"Actually I learned it from watching old Red Dwarf discs. Wasn't until years later I found out where they'd gotten it."
"What's Red Dwarf?"
Hess was waiting for them when they reached the chamber. "Can you get a fix on our people?" Tucker asked her. She turned to her instruments while he and Cormack secured their helmets. They stepped onto the transporter platform, phaser-rifles at the ready.
"I have them, sir, but they're moving. And there are numerous other biosigns in their vicinity."
"Put us down as close as you can, Lieutenant."
Cormack saw the room shimmer before her eyes, to be replaced moments later by lush jungle and the mouth of a cave. It took only a split second to see and understand the danger. She and Tucker fired at the people surrounding Archer and Sato, taking down the four silver-clad aliens in short order. Cormack covered the surrounding area as T'Pol rose from the ground to the left of the others and quickly approached the Commander.
"You all right?" he asked her, his voice thin through his suit's comm.
T'Pol nodded once. She and the others were alive; she decided that was an acceptable interpretation of "all right".
"There are more of them in orbit. We'd better get to the shuttlepod before they realize anything's wrong."
T'Pol turned to Archer and Sato, and Archer stepped in front of Hoshi protectively. "Captain, you can't stay here." She held out a hand. "You'll be safe on Enterprise."
He cocked his head, considering her words, then the pair followed the others to the shuttlepod.
It was a race between Phlox and the alien ships. Fortunately the doctor and Enterprise had a head start. Tucker tried to reason with Tret as his ship pursued Enterprise at warp speed. "Look, we both want the same thing. A cure for this virus, right? Our doctor thinks he's found one, but he needs a little more time." Unless Phlox comes up with it pretty damned quick, he added to himself, he'll never get the chance. We are out of time.
"I won't warn you again, Commander," answered Tret militantly. "We're going to contain the outbreak whether you cooperate or not."
The turbolift swept open at that moment, forestalling any reply from Tucker. Archer stumbled onto the bridge with Phlox and Sato close behind him. He was clearly exhausted and the effects of the virus hadn't entirely gone yet, but the signs of it were fading. "Why are you firing at my ship?" he demanded, his voice rough.
Tret remained intractable. "There are four infected people on board. We won't allow you to leave this system."
Phlox spoke up, as severe as Tucker had ever heard him. "This is Captain Archer and Ensign Sato. They're the people you nearly incinerated on that planet. As you can see, they're responding quite well to the anti-virus I synthesized."
Trip was no expert on alien mannerisms, but he recognized a dumbfounded look when he saw one. "That's not possible," Tret said in disbelief, but there was an air to his denial that indicated a crack in his armor. He wanted to believe.
"Run scans. See for yourself."
"Like I said," put in Trip, unable to resist the tiniest 'I told you so'. He stepped in closer to Archer, a visual sign that he trusted in his safety near the healing man. "He just needed a little more time. I'm sure we'd be happy to share the anti-virus with you, but that'll be impossible if you destroy our ship."
A tense silence fell, and finally Tret nodded. Archer glanced at Travis. "Reduce speed. Allow them to come along side."
"Yes, sir," confirmed the helmsman.
Bonnie and Stephanie lounged on the long couch in the forward observation lounge, eyes on the starfield but minds elsewhere. Even though it was a couple of light years behind them now, Stephanie couldn't get the image of the planet out of her head. Beaming in had been disturbing enough on its own, but the moment the immediate danger was past and she'd had time to look around, she'd realized that she recognized both the place and the strange alien faces of the transformed crewmembers. I've been dreaming about this whole thing for days. It wasn't a comforting thought.
Bonnie's soft voice broke her train of thought and she welcomed the interruption. "I hear you and Mae had a chat."
"Yeah, and about damned time, eh?" Stephanie sighed and held her lover closer. "You must've known what was going on." It was an observation, not an accusation.
"Yeah, but I only found out by chance and she made me promise not to tell anyone. She wouldn't even discuss it with me. She said she had to do it alone."
"Figures. Damn her for being so stubborn anyway." But her curse lacked any venom. "Hell of a day," she sighed again, then added with a smile, "but it's ending well."
"For you. My day's just starting."
"When the hell are you getting off Gamma shift?"
Bonnie snuggled deeper into her lover's sweater-clad shoulder. "That's the best news. I'm back on Alpha shift on Monday."
"Cheers for that."
The pair fell silent for a little, simply enjoying one another's company.
"How's Malcolm? Have you talked to him since he got out of sickbay?" Bonnie asked.
"No. I hope not to see him tomorrow, too." At Bonnie's inquisitive gaze, she explained, "I mean I hope the Captain gives him the day off."
"Uh-huh. You just like being in charge of all the weapons," she teased.
"Can I help it if I'm mad for things that go boom?" Stephanie joked back.
"I'm not sure how to take that."
Stephanie considered it, but she was stumped. "Just take it as a compliment. I don't quite know how that would work, but go with it."
Bonnie laughed. "I can do that."
They fell into another cozy, companionable silence that was eventually broken again by Bonnie. "I have to go on duty."
It wasn't until then that Stephanie realized she'd dozed off. "Huh?"
"I have to go on duty," her lover repeated, sitting up. "And you need to go to bed."
"Yeah." She yawned and stretched, and both women climbed to their feet. They left the lounge and parted at the nearest turbolift. "Have a good shift."
"Have a good sleep." They kissed good night, and Bonnie stepped into the lift to be whisked up to the bridge.
Stephanie yawned again and headed to her cabin. Good sleep. That'd be nice. She didn't hold out much hope, but with the current crisis behind them, at least she felt she had a chance for a painless, dreamless night.
Archer sat down on his bunk despite the call of the glowing computer screen. Porthos's warm furry form was much more appealing. He reached out and the dog happily wiggled across the bed to climb onto Jon's lap, then stood on his hind legs with his front paws on his master's chest. Jon laughed at the curious expression on Porthos's face. He rubbed a hand over his temple, which still showed signs of the Loque'eque virus and was undoubtedly the cause of the beagle's puzzlement. Finally Porthos decided matters were good enough, licked Jon's cheek, and jumped down to the deck. He barked once and sat down on his doggie bed, satisfied that all was right with the world.
It wasn't so easy for Archer and he envied the beagle's black-and-white view of life. He rubbed his temple again. In his mind's eye he could still see Urquat, the once-beautiful city of the Loque'eque gone to ruin. His dream while on the planet had been brief but powerful, burning the image into his memory. So many people. An entire dying race so desperate to survive that they created a virus to mutate others into their own species. But why did the virus still exist when the planet was empty? There were no Loque'eque left of any kind, and yet the virus persisted.
He couldn't blame Tret's people for their blind fear and destruction. They'd suffered tens of millions of casualties when the virus first spread amongst them, forcing them to exterminate a huge portion of their own population just to keep the rest safe. Sixty years of living in fear of another outbreak was bound to narrow a person's focus, close him off to the idea that there were other options.
Jon thought about the ramifications should the virus escape the planet again. Was he really right when he'd told Phlox not to destroy the sample he had in sickbay? Was it really altruism that kept him from obliterating that last vestige of a dead civilization, or was there another reason? He'd been avoiding the thought ever since it had first occurred to him. Now he allowed himself to face it, forced himself to think clinically about the possibility the virus offered. In the wrong hands, it would be a very dangerous biological weapon. Earth had outlawed all biological weapons after the Eugenics War had nearly annihilated humanity. But we have a cure for the alien pathogen. Phlox's ingenuity had saved them all once again and now humanity, at least, could protect itself from this particular menace. And they had shared the cure with Tret and his people, although what the alien doctors would make of it he could only speculate. Probably they would use it to eventually destroy the virus. All that would be left of the Loque'eque was the small vial that he had ordered Phlox to keep safe.
And what about the Xindi? Would any of their five species have a natural defense as T'Pol did? Would the insectoids or reptilians be too physiologically different to be affected?
More than that, he thought, could I really order that sort of genocidal directive? Am I really considering trying to use the Loque'eque virus against them, if we get the chance to do so? He sat still and silent for a long time until he finally shook himself from his reverie without an answer. He rose from the bunk and sat before the computer screen. He had to get everything down before he slept--wouldn't be able to sleep if he didn't. He hoped that sleep would give him distance and perspective on the whole thing. More than that, he hoped he would have the answer to his question.
Hoshi toweled her hair as dry as she could. The shower had felt wonderful, although she still couldn't quite look at herself in the mirror. The signs of the alien virus were fading, but it would be a few more days until they were completely gone. She was hungry, but she'd learned quickly that her usual favorites tasted bad on her recovering palate, and their affect on her stomach were equally unpleasant. She would have to ask Phlox what he would recommend she eat until her digestive tract was back to normal. She didn't care to fast for the next two or three days.
She pulled her silk robe over her pajamas and picked up her hair brush, brushing tangles from her damp locks. Then she sat at her computer. The message waiting light blinked at her, and she knew she couldn't sleep until she knew what the messages were. The first was a shift report from Ensign Aghababyan who had been on duty for much of the day. She marked it for later reading. The next was a brief note from Archer telling her to take tomorrow off, and the following day should she need it. She sent a quick, appreciative reply confirming it. I get to sleep in tomorrow, she thought with a thankful smile.
The last message surprised her. It was from Corporal Romero. She opened the video file and his handsome face--brow furrowed a little in what looked like concern--appeared on the screen. Hoshi hit play.
"Hi," he said. He was obviously a little nervous, and Hoshi smiled at the idea. He could go into all sorts of dangerous environments, but he was nervous when he sent her a message. She found it sweet. The recording went on. To her mild surprise it was in Portuguese. They'd learned in conversation the other day that both of them spoke the language. She wondered why he'd chosen to use it for his message and decided it didn't matter. "I--just want to see how you're doing. I want to let you know I'm glad you're back safe. I'd heard Phlox was a miracle worker, and now I know it's true. Anyway, welcome home." He winced at the words. "I hope that doesn't sound as cheesy to you as it just did to me." Hoshi chuckled and shook her head at the screen. "I'll see you later. Maybe for dinner or something? Whenever you feel up to being social again. Okay. Bye." The image froze and the screen went dark. Hoshi played the message again, found it even more endearing than she had the first time. She typed a short response--also in Portuguese.
"Thanks for your message. I'd love to have dinner with you. How's Saturday?" She signed her name and quickly, before she could lose her nerve, sent it. Satisfied, she turned off the screen and the overhead lights, and climbed into bed.
Trip tossed and turned in the bed, missing Malcolm's warm presence more than ever. Eventually he fell into a fitful sleep plagued by memories, images from the past twenty-four hours haunting his dreams.
Reed, transformed and almost unrecognizable, leapt on Chang from above. Palmer turned and fired his weapon. Reed dropped into a painful heap on the hard ground. Archer, as unfamiliar of feature as Malcolm, struck at Trip with a fallen tree branch, cracking and nearly breaking the protective face plate of his EV suit helmet. Tucker's heart pounded at breakneck pace, spurred by the fear that the material wouldn't hold long enough for them to get back, get through the bio-hazard protocols.
Malcolm laying unconscious on the floor of Shuttlepod Two.
There's got to be a way to reverse this, dream-memory Trip thought, turning his gaze back to the pod's controls. He and Malcolm hadn't spoken to each other since the argument that had sent Reed storming out. He cursed the silence that had fallen between them. He cursed himself for letting things get so messed up. I promise you, Malcolm, you get through this, and I'll make everything better. I swear I will.
He woke from the nightmare drenched in sweat and shaking. He laughed, on the edge of hysteria, as a wave of unexpected relief washed over him--relief that the horror was over and relief that for the first time in months his nightmares had nothing to do with Lizzie or the Xindi. It was bitter comfort at best, but it was genuine comfort nonetheless.
He looked at the bedside chronometer. Too early to expect Malcolm to be awake, but not too early to get up and have a shower, maybe some coffee. With a little luck and a lot of stalling, he could kill time until a reasonable hour and then seek out his lover.
An interminable hour and a half later, Trip queried the computer for Malcolm's location. To his surprise, the internal sensors put him in a turbolift near sickbay, heading upward. He waited a few minutes and queried again. This time it showed Malcolm in a B-deck cabin that Trip knew very well. It was Malcolm's old quarters from before they'd moved in together. Who has that cabin now? he wondered and input the question. Of course. He'd guessed it the other day, and it looked as though he was right. Left with no where else to go, Malcolm had turned to his sister for sanctuary.
"But is she there, too?" The answer from the computer was no. She was in the mess hall. "Good."
He left their quarters with a determined stride, following the familiar path to Malcolm's old cabin. He reached it in short order and rang the chime.
Malcolm opened the door and met Trip's gaze with well-controlled surprise. Neither man spoke for a moment until Malcolm, exhausted and still feeling ill from the effects of the Loque'eque virus, said shortly, "What do you want?"
Trip's hackles rose and he shoved them down with an iron will. "To apologize."
Malcolm crossed his arms over his chest and leaned a shoulder against the doorframe. His heart beat a little faster, a flutter of hope. He forced his voice and expression to remain impassive. "Go on then."
Again Tucker bit back an angry response. He has every right to be pissed off, he reminded himself. "I'm really sorry," he said, trying to infuse the sincerity he felt into his tone. "I've been a jerk. I've taken advantage of you. I've pushed you past the breaking point so many times that I won't blame you if you can't forgive me right away. But " Tears welled in his eyes and he blinked them back. He didn't want to win Malcolm back through pity or guilt. "But please I am asking you to forgive me, because I don't want to have to live without you in my life. I'm not strong enough to get through this without you. I need you. I love you." He fell silent. His heart pounded in fear and hope. He had no idea what Malcolm would say.
Malcolm said nothing for several moments, and then he unfolded his arms and reached out to Trip, drawing him into a strong, warm embrace. Trip gasped back a sob, and Malcolm held him tighter. Neither of them held any illusions that things were going to get any easier, but with this small breakthrough, Malcolm firmly believed things would finally start getting better. He held Trip until the other man calmed. He released him enough to step back, but not to let go.
"Come on," Malcolm said, softly. "Let's go home."
Trip nodded and they walked hand-in-hand back to their cabin.