Dr. Phlox had his hands full when the sickbay doors slid open.
"Don't move!" he ordered the unseen arrival. Carefully, he secured the lid on a small, clear tank. The tank was moving erratically, and he looked to be having some difficulty controlling it.
"There, there," he cooed to the contents. He turned on a bright light at one corner of the desk and set the wriggling tank beneath it. Almost immediately, the tank stilled. He turned to the waiting figure of Lieutenant Reed who stood just inside the room.
"My apologies, Lieutenant," Phlox said. "What can I do for you?"
"What is that?" Reed asked, pointing to the tank.
"Indosian sea worm," replied the doctor. "Nervous, fidgety little creature, but incredibly useful when treating certain viral infections. Fortunately, they become docile when exposed to bright light. Now, was there something you needed?"
The lieutenant pulled his eyes away from the strange thing in the tank. "Yes," he said a little hesitantly. His resolve had been firm, but having actually arrived at the moment he suddenly felt reluctant to make his request.
"Are you feeling all right?" Phlox asked solicitously. "No residual pain from your bullet wound?"
"Oh, no. Nothing like that. It's just that I'm having trouble sleeping."
"Please, have a seat." The doctor gestured to the diagnostic bed and Reed reluctantly sat on its edge. "What kind of trouble?" Phlox pulled out a small, hand-held medical scanner and began sweeping it slowly up and down in front of Reed.
"Nothing serious," Malcolm said quickly. "Just " He was finding this harder than he'd ever expected. Coward, he thought, just ask him. "I wondered if you had something that could inhibit REM sleep?"
The doctor looked surprised, at least as far as Reed could tell. He was still learning to interpret the doctor's expressions through his strange, Denobulan features.
"You've been troubled by dreams?"
"Not 'troubled' precisely." He sought for a way to explain the problem without having to actually explain it. "It's just my dreams have been rather vivid lately. They leave me feeling agitated when I wake up." He hoped Dr. Phlox wouldn't notice the hesitations in his voice and jump to any conclusions. It's what he would have done, if the circumstances were reversed; it was human nature. Fortunately, Dr. Phlox wasn't human.
"REM inhibitors can be dangerous, Lieutenant. The human brain needs to dream, to release subconscious thought, or it will eventually go mad."
I'm already well on the way, Reed thought, but kept his mouth shut. "I'm sure it's nothing that will last. I'm just looking for a short-term treatment," he argued, instead.
"Still, I'd prefer not to use a REM inhibitor unless absolutely necessary. Perhaps if you could come to a conscious understanding of the source of your dream images, it would help you to put them to rest, so to speak. I understand the human psychologist Jung did extensive studies in dream interpretation. Tell me, what have your dreams entailed?"
Reed stood abruptly. He knew what the source of his dreams was and what they meant, and he wasn't about to share them, doctor-patient confidentiality notwithstanding. "Never mind. I have to go on duty," he said, heading toward the door.
"But, I'd like to help—"
"Thank you. Maybe later." The door slid quietly shut behind him.
Dr. Phlox was left with an empty sickbay and a puzzled expression.
Reed's dreams had gotten—he hesitated to say "worse" because in so many ways they'd just gotten better and better. He settled on "more intense." He'd had no idea he possessed such a creative and adventurous subconscious. He had dreamed things that ranged from unlikely to downright dangerous; a few were simply impossible. However, there were some things that continued to pique his curiosity even under the light of day. He'd actually gone so far as to do a little research into the possibility of temporarily disengaging the artificial gravity in his quarters without affecting any other part of the ship. He wasn’t certain yet if it could be done.
I bet Trip could figure out how to do it, he thought as he stepped into a lift. He nodded briefly at the two crewmen already inside, then tapped a panel and requested the Bridge. But if I brought it up, his mind continued, he'd only ask why. And what would you say then, Malcolm? "Well, Commander Tucker, I thought you might like to join the Zero-G Club with me"? He shook his head slightly at the absurdity of it. Not likely.
The lift paused to disgorge the two crewmen, and he was left alone for what little remained of his trip.
It was at times like this he felt as if he were a student again. Occasionally, he even wished it. At least back in school sticky sheets and constant erections were status quo, and one always had a datapad on hand in case of any untimely arousal. While he could probably come up with an excuse for constantly carrying around a datapad, he didn't really want to have to.
The lift doors opened and he stepped onto the Bridge. Maybe I'll be lucky, and we'll find something to blow up today.
It was better than he could ever have wished. A comet. The largest comet ever encountered by humans, and he was going to get to walk on it. Not only that, he was going to get to do some explosive excavation work. He couldn't have asked for a better diversion.
He felt a split second of regret that Trip wouldn't be joining him, but under the circumstances, he knew the presence of Ensign Mayweather would make for a safer mission. The comfortable camaraderie they shared was far less of a distraction than the constant presence of the Chief Engineer. And, Reed reasoned, he wouldn't have to keep worrying if Trip was safe; Trip would be on Enterprise.
Mayweather's enthusiasm was contagious. Reed was excited about the comet-walk, but Travis was almost like a kid, he was so giddy.
"I've only seen snow twice in my life," the younger man admitted eagerly, as he piloted the shuttlepod toward the comet.
Malcolm smiled. "Well, then it's only fitting that we commemorate the occasion."
"You mean plant a flag?"
"Nah, too predictable."
"EV suits would take all the fun out of that." Reed considered some options as he completed a final check of their equipment for the comet-walk. "We'll just have to see how the spirit moves us when we get there." He knew what he'd want to do if Trip were with him, but once again, the EV suits would take all the fun out of it.
The snowman was pretty good for someone who'd only seen snow twice before, but it needed a little something more.
"Hand me the plasma torch," Reed said, laughing. He quickly melted two eyes and a smile into the packed snow, then used the torch itself as the snowman's nose. He and Travis were still laughing when the Captain's voice came through their headsets.
"Archer to Lieutenant Reed."
Malcolm had barely a split-second to put on his "professional voice" as he hit the button on his EV suit to open the comm line. "Go ahead, sir."
As reprimands went, it was a mild one. In all honesty, he'd forgotten about the Vulcan ship until the Captain reminded them about the "observers." They'd been caught playing truant, and it didn't help that their small transgression had most likely been witnessed by the Vulcans.
"So, tell me," Archer said, "who's the sculptor?"
Reed cleared his throat a little nervously. "It won't be there long, sir," he assured him.
Reed closed comms and exchanged a look with Mayweather. Without a word, the two returned to work.
Despite Archer's little reminder, Reed couldn't help but take a few minutes to add some final touches to the snowman. This was an important mission, but that didn't mean he couldn't enjoy it, too. Planting a charge at the base of the sculpture, he took a brief moment of silent pride in his mischievous additions. He made one last, quick visual sweep of the area before returning to Mayweather.
Travis looked up, noticed the snowman. "The ears are a nice touch," he said.
"I thought so," Malcolm agreed. The outline of a standard Vulcan hair-cut had been the final touch; he believed in focusing on the details.
He hailed Enterprise, apprised them of their status. Reed bit back a smile when two of his favorite words came from the Captain: "Blast away."
"Understood," he replied.
The two men settled themselves in the shelter of a nearby ice stand, and Reed blew the charges. It was an impressive sight—like a heavy snowfall played first in reverse then forward. They waited for the debris to settle, then made their way to the edge of the crater.
"Impressive," said Mayweather.
Reed made a noncommittal sound. "I was hoping for a bit more symmetry," he answered, demonstrating with a gloved hand.
Travis grinned. "I'll get the drill."
It didn't take long to set up the drilling equipment, but the drilling itself was another matter. An unexpected layer of magnesite cracked the first drill bit, and there was a lengthy delay as they replaced it. Reed informed the Captain of it when he hailed.
"You may want to pick up the pace a little," Archer told him.
"Sir?" Reed listened as Archer explained the problem, but he wasn't unduly concerned. Other than the cracked drill bit, everything was running smoothly. He had no doubts as he told the captain, "We'll be done with time to spare, sir." He hadn't considered the possibility of an accident.
They'd finished collecting data and were about to clean up the site when Travis slipped climbing out of the crater. It was impossible to know how much damage was done to Mayweather's knee, and there was no way to do anything about it where they were. At Travis's insistence, Reed grabbed the core sample they'd taken, then help the injured helmsman out of the crater.
"Almost there," Reed assured him as they made their slow but steady way back to the shuttlepod.
"Might be faster without the suits," Travis said, trying to lighten the mood.
"Yes," the lieutenant agreed, "and a lot colder."
The view as the comet turned to face the nearby star was breathtaking. Reed wished he had time to enjoy it, but he and Mayweather both knew time was of the essence. They picked up the pace. Suddenly, there was a low rumbling sound, and he knew they were about out of time.
"What's that?" Travis barely had time to ask before the ice below them began to crack.
The cracks spread, like a giant, sprawling jig-saw puzzle, in all directions. They redoubled their efforts to get to the shuttlepod. The pair stumbled more than once as ice fissures opened up randomly around them. But finally, they made it to the shuttlepod and climbed inside.
Malcolm had barely sealed the door and was getting out of the bulkiest pieces of his EV suit when Travis, at the pod's helm, ignited the thrusters. Reed fought his way across the shuddering pod to the co-pilot's seat just as the ice under them shattered and gave way. The sinking feeling of the pod was echoed in his stomach as they careened down into the chasm. The two were thrown from their seats as the shuttlepod crashed backward into solid ice.
He climbed awkwardly to his feet, reached over to remove the collar of Mayweather's EV suit, asking, "You all right?"
"We should have never ignited the thrusters," the ensign said.
"Ah, it's not like we had a choice."
The comm beeped then, and Reed just managed to haul himself into the pilot's seat and respond. "Reed here."
The brief conversation with Archer did much to reassure him. He had faith in the Captain; he'd gotten him safely out of the tunnels on Terra Nova—he would do so again here.
That faith was tested as the pod lifted up, stopped abruptly, and lowered again slightly. Then they were thrown across the cabin as the pod fell once more.
He helped Travis back into a seat yet again, exchanged a look with the ensign. Bruised as he was from being tossed about, Reed knew it must be worse for the injured Mayweather. The younger man looked scared, but was hiding it well.
"How are you holding up?" he asked him.
"I'm okay, sir," Mayweather said through clenched teeth. "Just really looking forward to getting home."
The shuttlepod shook again as the grapplers contacted with the hull. Or so they thought.
"They've got us," Mayweather said with relief.
The comm beeped, and Reed hit the panel to respond. "Go ahead, Enterprise." They were both shocked to hear the unfamiliar voice that answered.
"This is Captain Vanik of the Vulcan ship, Ti'Mur. Stand by to ignite your engines and return to your ship."
Reed was pretty sure Travis would have tried to fly the shuttlepod back to the ship had he given him the chance. But since he was injured, the lieutenant was quicker getting to the controls.
"Stay put, Ensign," he said when it looked like Travis was going to protest. "I'll get us home. Besides," he teased, "I never get to fly these things when you're around. It's my turn." He flashed him a quick half-smile and was rewarded with the same.
"Can you blame me?" Mayweather joked back. "If you were me, would you trust you at the controls?"
"Too late to argue about it now. We're almost there." He hailed the ship. "Reed to Enterprise."
"Enterprise. Sato here," came the response.
"We're about ready to dock."
"Landing Bay is standing by."
"Ensign Mayweather is injured. Please notify sickbay; we're going to need a gurney."
"I can walk!" protested Travis as Hoshi was saying, "Understood. I'll let the doctor know."
"Reed out." He kept his eyes trained on his target as the landing bay loomed ahead, the docking arm extended in wait for them. "We'll be back to full gravity on board. Do you really want to walk all the way from the shuttle bay to sickbay?" he asked reasonably.
"When you put it like that " Mayweather admitted. But he had to get a dig in in return. "Just try to take it easy on the landing, okay? I know you're not real used to flying."
"Of course. Oh. I wouldn't worry about seeing the doctor. I'm sure he won't need to use any eel therapy on you." He knew he had his friend beat; Travis knew it, too, and so said nothing. Malcolm allowed himself just the barest of smiles at the victory.
As promised, they were met by a medical team, complete with gurney, as soon as the landing bay was sealed and repressurized. They quickly cleared the bio-scan before Travis was helped onto the gurney and whisked off to sickbay. Reed tried to get out of joining him, but his protests were fruitless, and he found himself flanked by two med-techs as they escorted him to sickbay, as well.
"It's really not necessary," he insisted. "I just need to grab a shower and a rest. I'm fine."
"Sorry, sir," the med-tech on his right said. "Dr. Phlox wants to do a full check of you both."
"I really don't see why."
"Please, sir," the young woman continued. "It's not up to me."
Malcolm realized there was no point in arguing; the woman was only carrying out her orders. He also realized his only real reluctance was at having to face Dr. Phlox again after their brief encounter that morning. With any luck, the good doctor would be too busy with other things to bring up his earlier request.
In the end, he was glad he'd been forced to stop at sickbay. His muscles were sore, and he was more battered than he'd realized from being hurled back and forth in the shuttlepod. There were a lot of sharp corners inside a shuttlepod, and he was coming to the conclusion he'd hit just about all of them. Still, he was in better shape than Travis.
The helmsman had done extensive damage to himself between the fall and the subsequent race back to safety. Add to it all the tossing about, and Phlox said he'd be off his feet for several days.
"Days?" Travis complained from the diagnostic bed. He'd been stripped of the remains of his EV suit, and now lay there in his blues with a substantial, immobilizing brace around the damaged knee. He sat up enough to lean on his elbows, gestured with his head to where Malcolm sat across the room, equally at a loss for clothes. "He got shot back on Terra Nova, and he was up the next day."
"His was a simple wound," Phlox explained. "The damage to your knee will require extensive repair. You didn't think you were done here, did you?"
"Once the repairs are made, you'll need to stay completely off that leg for the next four days."
"I can fly without standing up," he argued.
"No," said Phlox with finality.
"Malcolm." He tried another tactic. "You talk to him."
"Do you really think I'm going to have any better luck?" Reed asked him. "I'm not even injured, and somehow I ended up here in my knickers."
Mayweather gave up with a sigh and laid back on the bed.
"I wouldn't say you're uninjured, Lieutenant," the doctor said. "Not according to my scans."
"What?" said Reed, surprised. "I'm fine. Just a bit bruised and sore."
"Take your shirt off," the Denobulan said. Puzzled, Reed complied, pulling off the tight tank shirt and wincing at the unexpected pain caused by the movement. "This," Phlox continued, indicating the lieutenant's ribcage, "is more than 'a bit' bruised."
Malcolm looked down, surprised at dark purpling of the skin over his right side. "I didn't even feel it happen!" he protested.
"Likely not, considering the circumstances. But I guarantee you you'll feel it tomorrow."
"You," Reed stabbed a finger at the chuckling Mayweather, "just keep your mouth shut."
"I didn't say a word," the young man protested, clamping down on his growing laughter.
"Fortunately, you didn't crack any bones," the doctor continued, ignoring the exchange. He retrieved a fist-sized tub of something from his desk. "I've synthesized some ointment for you. You'll want to apply it three to four times daily until the contusion fades. It shouldn't take more than a week if you use it regularly." He emphasized the last, making eye contact with the lieutenant.
"Understood," Reed complied, taking the ointment from him. "Will it work on the other bruises as well?"
"Absolutely. Just stop by if you run out, and I'll synthesize more."
"Thanks. Am I free to go now?" he asked.
"You are. But you might want to get dressed first," Phlox added lightly.
Travis couldn't hold back the snort of laughter.
"And what's so funny?" Reed demanded, not really angry but worn out and a little fed up.
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing," Travis lied, still chuckling.
"Doctor Phlox?" Malcolm asked as he dressed. "Will you be using eel therapy in Travis's treatment?" He was rewarded with silence from the direction of the diagnostic bed.
"No reason." He smiled a too innocent smile. "Just curious."
"Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, personal log: I've walked on, built a snowman on, and drilled into the heart of a comet. Makes for rather a full day. A thankfully full day." He was sitting on his bed, gently rubbing ointment onto his bruised ribs. "I've hardly had a moment to think about other things. Ow! Computer, pause recording." He'd hit a particularly tender spot just below one rib and was having a hard time forcing himself to continue. He grit his teeth and finished applying the salve.
"At least this stuff doesn't stink," he muttered. One never knew what one was going to get from Dr. Phlox. He used a large variety of unusual organic compounds in his medicines, some of which were reputed to be less pleasant in the short term than the malady they were intended to treat. Reed considered himself lucky; the ointment had a pleasant, lightly musky scent. He found he actually liked it.
"Damn," he said tiredly. "This would be a whole lot easier if I had someone to help Huh. So much for not thinking about 'other things.'" He was trying with limited success to massage the stuff into one shoulder blade when the computer chimed at him. Forgetting about log entries seemed to be becoming a habit. Resolving to pay more attention in future, he said, "Computer, end log entry." The resultant chime as the computer complied was followed immediately by the chirping of the ship's comm system.
"Tucker to Reed."
He tapped the comm panel, wincing at the extension of aching muscles. "Go ahead, Commander."
"Hey, Malcolm," came the engineer's pleasant twang. "We've got the initial test results back on that core sample you and Travis picked up. Thought you might want to take a look."
The offer was tempting for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the opportunity to see Trip for the first time since that morning. Ignoring the sensible part of his brain, which was telling him it was late, he was off duty, and he really should get some sleep, he replied, "Sounds good."
"T'Pol and I are in the Science Lab now. We'll see you here in a few."
"Right. Reed out." He dressed quickly, foregoing the tight blue tank and going straight for the soft black shirt worn under his standard cover-alls. The less contorting he had to do the better. Also, he didn't want to put excess pressure on any bruises; they were painful enough on their own.
As promised, Trip and T'Pol were waiting in the Science Lab when he arrived. The Vulcan turned abruptly at his entrance.
"Sorry," he said, misinterpreting the movement. "I didn't mean to startle you."
"You didn't," she replied flatly. "In fact, I was warned of your approach by a distinct and unusual odour."
Trip sniffed the air experimentally. "You're right," he said to T'Pol, then turned to the Lieutenant. "Smells like cologne. You got a hot date tonight or something?" he teased.
"I wish," replied Malcolm and immediately regretted it. Hoping the others hadn't noticed the slip, he continued hastily, "I got a bit knocked about in the shuttlepod. Dr. Phlox gave me some medicine for the bruises. I'm afraid it's rather pungent."
"Actually, I think you smell pretty good," Trip said good-naturedly. "The doc could bottle the stuff and sell it. I bet he'd make a small fortune."
"I find I cannot agree," T'Pol said. "If you'll excuse me, I'm sure Commander Tucker can provide you with the information we've gathered on the core sample without my assistance. Gentlemen." She made a decorous, if hasty, exit.
Trip chuckled. Giving Reed a quirky smile, he said in a mock-conspiratorial tone, "Must be past time for her to take her nasal numbing agent."
Malcolm didn't care what the reason was—he was simply happy for the excuse to spend time alone with the Chief Engineer.
The information from the comet was fascinating, but there was a lot of it, and Malcolm was yawning more and more as they went through all the data. He was trying to be subtle, but Trip couldn't help but notice. "Maybe you should hit the sack," he suggested finally. "You must be pretty wiped out after that comet-walk."
"No, really. I'm fine," said Reed, stifling another yawn.
"Sure you are. You're like my nephew when he was little. Never wanted to miss out on anything. He'd be asleep in your arms and still muttering about how he wasn't tired."
Reed's exhausted mind latched onto the image of Trip holding a little boy who's head was cradled on one strong shoulder. "Sounds nice," he said. It wasn’t until Trip responded that he realized he'd spoken aloud.
"Huh?" Trip gave him a quizzical look.
"The image. Family," Malcolm added hastily, although it wasn't the whole truth. In his heart, he knew he'd meant more than that; his mind was spinning, thinking how he'd like to be held in those arms, his head resting close to Tucker's heart. "I think you're right," he said then. "I am pretty tired. I should get some rest."
Trip gave him a concerned look. "You sure you can make it there on your own? You look like you're about to drop where you stand."
"I'll be fine. Thanks." He turned to the door, almost walked into it before one hand found the frame and fumbled for the control panel.
"I think I'll walk with you," Trip said, stepping quickly to the smaller man's side and opening the door. "The rest of this stuff can wait until morning."
"It's not necessary," Reed protested lamely. "I'm fine."
"Right. Try telling the doc that when you have to explain how you broke your nose walking into a door."
Malcolm had neither the energy nor the inclination to argue. He allowed the commander to escort him back to his cabin. It was funny, really. Trip was quite the gentleman; he hailed the lift, requested the deck, opened any doors for him. If Reed hadn't been so out of it, he'd have been almost embarrassed. As it was, he was so tired, he hardly noticed.
They reached his cabin, and he stood for a moment, staring blankly at the door, until Trip said, "You have to open this one yourself."
"Of course." Malcolm pulled himself together enough to look at Trip. He forced tired eyes to focus on the Chief Engineer's blue eyes and handsome face, then forced his mind back from that path to the present. "Sorry to pull you away from work," he said, finally.
"No big deal," Trip assured him. "You get some sleep. I'll see you in the morning."
"Right. Thanks." He turned back to the door, keyed in the code. The door slid open, and he stepped inside. "Good-night."
"G'night, Malcolm." Trip waited for the door to close, making sure the exhausted Tactical Officer was safely inside, before heading off on his own errands.
"Bloody hell," sighed Reed. He sank onto his bunk feeling completely knackered. "Someday," he declared wearily, "I'm going to be whole, healthy, and awake, and I'm going to ask that man out on a date. I have no idea where we'd go, but I'm bloody well going to ask him."
End Log 3
As of 1 Sept 06: