"You're really going to do it?"
"You're going to ask him out?"
"Yes! Why do you have a problem with this?"
"Your little inquisition implies otherwise."
"I just want to make sure you know what you're getting yourself into."
"I know what I'm getting myself into, thank you."
"But he outranks you."
"I'm not going to ask him out while we're on duty!"
"But you've worked really hard to build up this friendship. Aren't you worried everything will change if you start seeing each other more romantically?"
"I prefer to date someone who's already a friend. There's none of that awkward 'getting to know you' nonsense."
"What if he turns you down?"
"I'll cry buckets and eat myself into oblivion on chocolate ice cream?"
"What do you expect me to say?"
"Okay, okay. Where are you going to go?"
"I've thought of a couple of options."
"There's the observation deck."
"Like you don't both look at stars all the time anyway."
"Not all the time. We're neither of us in Stellar Cartography."
"So, what's another option? You said 'a couple'."
"We're not far from a binary star system with two potentially M-class planets. Scuttlebutt says if they're uninhabited, the Captain's going to grant everyone shore leave. What do you think of a picnic?" Ensign Stephanie Cormack finished French-braiding her unruly blonde curls and turned to look at her bunkmate.
"There's a lot of room for failure in that second idea of yours," Ensign Cutler replied.
"Gods, Liz, you're such pessimist sometimes!"
"I don't mean you'll fail. I just mean there are too many unpredictable variables: if either planet is actually M-class, and if it's determined to be safe " She shuddered slightly at the memory of her own encounter with a new M-class planet. " and if it's uninhabited, and if the Captain grants shore leave "
"I get your point. Thanks for the support," Stephanie said sarcastically.
"I'm just playing devil's advocate," Liz protested. "I really do think it's a great idea you're asking him out."
"Then just wish me luck," she almost pleaded. "I'm planning to ask him tonight after mess."
Cutler smiled encouragingly at her friend. "Knock him dead. Lieutenant Reed won't know what hit him."
Several decks away on the bridge, Lieutenant Reed was blissfully unaware of the plans being made for him. It was for the best, as he was making plans of a similar nature himself. At the moment, however, all thoughts of dating were set aside as they collected more data from their long-range sensors.
"The third planet in the system appears to be C-class," T'Pol said. "However, there is a high probability that the fourth planet is class N."
"Earthlike, but mostly water?" said Hoshi.
T'Pol looked to the young woman. "That is correct. Approximately 97.83 percent of the surface appears to be ocean."
Malcolm knew better than to say anything out loud—Vulcan hearing was reputed to be extremely acute—but he couldn't help thinking, She calls that approximate? He glanced up, and his gaze met that of Commander Tucker. From the slight smirk on Trip's face, he made the accurate guess that he knew what Reed was thinking and was thinking it himself. The lieutenant offered a small half-smile and shrug in return.
T'Pol was continuing. "Sensors are unable to determine at this distance whether or not either planet supports any native plant or animal life."
"How long would it take us to reach the fourth planet if we were to increase our speed to, say, warp three point five?" Archer asked.
"Nine hours, thirty-seven minutes," replied T'Pol.
"Then we'll just have to pick up the pace. Travis, increase speed to warp factor three point five."
"Warp three point five, aye," Mayweather said, and carried out the command.
The excitement on the ship was palpable. Rumors had spread about the possibility of shore leave, and after three months in space, most people were ready for a change of scenery.
"Word is it's almost entirely ocean. I would love to go sailing," sighed Ensign Cormack over her plate of spinach salad. "My mom would always take my sister and me sailing on English Bay when we were kids. The best was when they held the fireworks competitions in the summer. We'd go out early in the day to get the best spot, and anchor just outside the restricted area. Once the sun set, we'd just lay on our backs and watch the show. Fantastic."
"I've never been sailing," said her bunkmate, taking a sip of peppermint tea. "Not a lot of places to sail where I'm from."
"Shame," Stephanie offered her condolences. "It's wonderful. It's what made me join Starfleet, actually." She was about to explain when the door to the mess hall opened, and Reed and Mayweather entered.
Cutler caught her sidelong glance and followed it to its resting point. "Let me guess," she said in a conspiratorial undertone. "You want me to get lost."
"Absolutely not!" Cormack insisted, equally quietly. She held Liz's gaze with her own. "If you ditch now, I'm going to be stuck here eating by myself, and how awkward would that look?"
"Don't you want to invite him over?"
"Liz, do you have any practice at this at all?" She regretted it the moment she said it. "Sorry. That was out of line. I'm just nervous and don't want to admit it."
The hurt look faded from Cutler's face. "It's all right," she said. "So, what's your plan?" The pair surreptitiously watched the two men load up their plates and claim a table.
"Simple. We finish dinner. I grab a quick shower, make myself all fluffy, slip into something more civilian, and come back here for an evening cup of tea."
"You don't drink tea," her roommate stated flatly.
"Yeah, but he does."
"How do you know?"
"I'm assuming. He's British, after all," Cormack said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"That doesn't mean anything," Liz argued.
"Work with me, Liz."
Cutler shook her head and chuckled. "You're nuts."
"No, I'm on the prowl." Stephanie gave her a mischievous grin.
Across the room, the object of their conversation was oblivious to the effect he was having on the two women. His dinner companion, however, was not.
"Hey, Malcolm," Travis said quietly. "Don't look, but I think someone's checking you out."
"Excuse me?" Reed looked at him across the table, puzzled.
"Ensign Cutler over there." He gave the slightest of indications with a tip of his head in her direction. Malcolm started to turn, but Travis hissed, "Don't look!"
"All right. What makes you think she's 'checking me out'?"
"She keeps glancing this way and then talking to her friend."
"And you don't suppose they're looking at you?"
"Well, I suppose they could be. I am stunningly good-looking," Mayweather said with a grin. "But she's definitely looking at you."
"That's ridiculous. I've only ever spoken with Ensign Cutler on one occasion," the Tactical Officer said dismissively. This was a conversation he did not want to be having. And he sincerely hoped Travis was wrong. If he wasn't, it would mean an added complication he really didn't need.
Mayweather, however, wouldn't let the subject drop. "So?"
"So? Well, to be honest, I don't even remember her first name."
"Is there a point to this?"
"Wait! They're leaving."
Malcolm rolled his eyes at the younger man's misguided enthusiasm. What on Earth would Travis say if I told him I wasn't interested because I'm waiting for the right boy? He shook his head and returned his attention to his meal. "We should be coming into obit around that N-class planet in about two hours," he said, trying to bring Mayweather back to a sensible subject.
"They're gone," the helmsman said, instead.
"Travis, let it go."
"Why? Don't you like Ensign Cutler?"
"I've already told you, I don't even know her."
"Ensign " He let the word hang in the air, exuding menace.
"Okay. Okay." Mayweather finally let it drop. "What do you think my chances are of getting the helm when we get to the planet?" he asked, proving he hadn't been completely ignoring Reed's attempt to change the topic of conversation.
"Depends. Who's on duty?"
Malcolm had to chuckle. "Not a chance in hell."
"Yeah. That's what I figured."
"Report," the Captain said, coming onto the Bridge. T'Pol relinquished the captain's chair and returned to the science station. As she did, the lift doors opened again as Reed, Mayweather, and Tucker stepped out. Malcolm and Trip immediately headed to the tactical and engineering stations, respectively, and relieved their Beta shift counterparts. Mayweather simply stayed back out of the way, wanting to be present, but knowing he wasn't going to be able to oust Ensign Chen without effort. It was easy for the others; they outranked their Beta shift officers.
"The planet is definitely N-class," T'Pol said, gazing into the scanner unit. "Nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere with other trace elements and a notable level of sulfur dioxide."
"How notable?" the captain wanted to know.
T'Pol looked up from her scanners. "Below toxic levels, but likely to be unpleasant even to human olfactory senses."
"I can think of someone who won't be joining any landing parties here," joked Tucker quietly. Reed bit back a laugh, drew an inquiring look from the captain.
"Something caught in my throat," he offered as explanation, clearing his throat to demonstrate. When Archer's attention returned to the business at hand, Reed shot a look at the Chief Engineer. Trip's lips were pressed tight as he unsuccessfully fought back a mischievous grin.
Meanwhile, T'Pol continued her report. "Diameter is 14,723 kilometers. Gravity 1.3 of Earth. There is one large landmass at co-ordinates one-zero-two mark seven by nine-three mark four-one."
"On screen," said Archer. The image of the landmass came into view on the screen. "That's the biggest piece of solid ground down there?"
"Yes. There are several smaller islands to the south, but that's all. I am reading substantial plant life, both terrestrial and aquatic. However, sensors are not picking up any animal life."
"Ensign Chen," said Archer, "bring us into geosynchronous orbit above the largest island."
"Aye, sir," Chen replied.
"So much for potential shore leave," said Archer a little regretfully.
The landing party was to consist of Archer, Trip, Mayweather, and Dr. Phlox.
"Kind of makes up for not being at the helm when we got here," Travis admitted to Reed as they were loading the shuttlepod. "Especially since I haven't gotten out since our comet-walk."
"And you won't be stuck in an EV suit this time," Reed pointed out.
"That'll be a relief. Gravity's already a little high; EV suits would just make it worse."
"You might not be saying that once you get a whiff of the air down there."
"Then you should be going," Mayweather teased. "I doubt you could smell it over that salve Dr. Phlox had you using."
"Thank you," said Reed dryly, "for bringing that up. It did what it was supposed to do. And I haven't used it in over a week, you know. Besides," he added defensively, "I didn't think it was all that bad."
"If you say so," the helmsman said, obviously not agreeing.
Trip liked it, Malcolm thought. His mind drifted to Trip and potential uses for lightly scented lotions as he handed the last case of equipment to Mayweather, who tucked it inside the shuttlepod.
"All loaded up?"
Reed jumped at the sound of Tucker's voice behind him. He was lucky he wasn't prone to blushing, or he knew he'd have been beet red just then.
"You're all set," he said, turning to face the Chief Engineer. As always, he was caught for a split-second in Trip's blue eyes. He quickly moved his gaze beyond to where Captain Archer and Dr. Phlox were entering the launch bay.
"Ready to go?" the Captain asked.
"Everything you'll need is on board," Reed answered.
"I dunno," drawled Commander Tucker. "I'm guessing we could all use a shot of T'Pol's nasal numbing agent. Sure it won't work on us humans?" He turned an inquiring look on Dr. Phlox.
"Certainly it would work," the Denobulan replied, "but on a somewhat drastic scale. Shall we go?" Not bothering to explain his statement in greater detail, he stepped into the shuttlepod and took a seat.
Mayweather climbed in next and automatically took the helm. "Shift over, Ensign," Archer said, following him in. "I feel like flying today."
"Aye, sir," Travis said, moving grudgingly to the navigation seat.
"See you in a few hours," Reed said to Trip just before the Chief Engineer joined the others.
"Stay out of trouble," joked Trip.
Trip grinned and shut the shuttlepod door. Reed exited the launch bay, watched from the control room as the bay doors opened and the shuttlepod dropped into space.
Judging from Mayweather's comments, Reed was rather glad he wasn't a part of this particular landing party.
"I swear, I don't think I've ever smelled anything so disgusting in my life," the ensign said over the comm.
"You haven't spent six hours in a decompression chamber with a load of Klingons," Trip's voice followed immediately.
Hoshi and Malcolm both chuckled. T'Pol merely raised an eyebrow. "Are you having any success?"
"Yeah," Trip answered. "Dr. Phlox is collecting samples like a madman. He's like a kid in a candy store; I've never seen him so excited. There're some interesting minerals down here, too," the Chief Engineer continued. "Stuff I've never seen before. Be interesting to get them back to the ship and run more complete tests on them."
"I will be interested to see what you bring back."
"I'll make sure you get an invitation to the unveiling," quipped the engineer. "Tucker out."
Officially, Lieutenant Reed was off duty. He only wanted to be on the bridge to be able to hear the reports from the landing party.
To hear Trip's voice, he admitted privately. What am I going to do with you? he chided himself.
He was filling the time running what diagnostics he could from the tactical station. To do the job properly, he ought to go to the Armory, but since the diagnostics weren't really necessary, he stayed where he was. As a result, he was there when the Captain's voice came through the comm.
"Archer to Enterprise. We have an emergency."
"What is it, Captain?" T'Pol replied calmly.
They could hear the roar of the shuttlepod's engines as Archer continued. "Some of these minerals aren't as inert as we thought. Commander Tucker's injured. Dr. Phlox is doing what he can, but I need you to alert sickbay to have a burn unit ready."
Sato immediately relayed the message to the duty nurse in sickbay at the same time Reed was notifying the landing bay to prepare for the shuttlepod's arrival.
"Landing Bay is ready for you, sir," Malcolm said, trying to keep his voice from revealing the fear that twisted his stomach.
"An emergency medical team will meet you there to transfer the commander to sickbay," added Hoshi.
"Good. Archer out."
"I'll meet them at the landing bay," said Reed, rising. "If there are more surprises from those samples, I want to be on hand for damage control."
T'Pol acknowledged him with a slight nod, and he made his exit.
The moment the lift doors shut and he was on his way, Malcolm collapsed back against the wall. "Damn. Damn, damn, damn!" he swore with increasing vehemence. He made a quick stop at the Armory for haz-mat containment equipment. He spotted Ensign Cormack. "Ensign," he called out. "I need a hand here."
She was at his side immediately. "What's up, sir?"
"Landing party ran into some unexpectedly volatile materials. They're on their way back. I need an extra pair of hands getting this stuff to the landing bay."
"Yes, sir." She picked up the remaining containers and followed him out. "Is everyone okay?" she asked as the lift sped on.
"No," was Reed's terse reply.
"Sir?" She looked at him with worried eyes. But there was no time to hear his answer, or to know even if he was going to give one. The lift opened and they jogged quickly to the landing bay.
The medical team was already waiting as the bay slowly repressurized. Malcolm wanted to force the doors open and dash inside. "Come on, come on," he muttered under his breath. He didn't notice the quick glance this elicited from Ensign Cormack.
After moments that felt like hours, the doors opened and the medical team rushed in, Reed and Cormack close on their heels.
Frantic medical jargon flew back and forth between the duty nurse and Dr. Phlox. All of it went over Lieutenant Reed's head. The few words he registered were lost from his mind as he watched them lift Tucker out of the pod and onto the gurney. He was soaked to the skin, and he was unconscious. Burns covered his right arm, chest and face.
Reed dumped the containment equipment he carried onto the floor, grabbed the doctor by one arm. He had to know. "Will he be all right?"
"I don't know yet, Lieutenant." The Denobulan turned back to his charge, looked at the nearest med-tech. "Let's move." And they were gone.
Reed watched them leave, his own task momentarily forgotten. It took the Captain's voice to bring him back to the present. "Lieutenant."
"Sir," he said quickly. "I have the containment equipment."
"Good. Travis," Archer turned to the helmsman, "give them a hand loading the samples. And be careful," he added emphatically, before following the medical team out the door.
Reed turned to Mayweather. "What in hell happened down there?" he demanded.
"I'm not really sure," he answered. Cormack and the two men set to work securing the vegetable and mineral samples in the heavy, hazardous materials containers. Travis continued, "We were collecting specimens. The commander was about ten meters away from me when it happened. The sensors had picked up something he wanted to check out, some crystalline formation about two meters out into the water. I was looking the other way, helping Dr. Phlox, and suddenly Trip was screaming. I looked around, and it was like he was on fire."
"Apparently, he was," Reed said, tight-lipped.
"Gods!" breathed Cormack.
"It only took us a few seconds to get to him, but he was already passed out. The doctor said it was from the shock. He'd collapsed into the water. The Captain pulled him out, or he might have drowned."
"You have no idea what caused the fire?"
"Think! For all we know, it's one of these damned specimens you brought back," said Reed sharply.
"I don't think so," Mayweather said. "Everything here was from the island. Dr. Phlox hadn't gotten to the sea life yet; and Trip was out in the water, like I said. Whatever hurt him, I don't think we brought any of it back."
"I hope you're right."
They finished transferring the sample containers in silence. When they were done, Reed was the first to speak. "Listen, Travis, why don't you go get cleaned up? Stephanie and I will get these secured and stowed in the science lab."
"You sure you don't need a hand?" Mayweather asked uncertainly.
"Yeah. Go on." As Travis started to leave, the lieutenant added, "I'm sorry I snapped at you before."
The ensign stopped at the door. "It's okay," he said. "I understand."
No, thought Reed, you don't. But that's for the best at this point.
"Sir?" Cormack said. "I've checked all the seals, and these are ready to be moved."
"Thanks, Ensign. Let's go."
They gathered up the containers and made their way to the science lab. Reed was lost in his own thoughts, and so didn't hear Cormack speak at first.
"Sorry," he said. "Did you say something?"
She looked at him, concerned. "I just wondered if you were okay," she said a little shyly. "I mean, it's none of my business, but You seem a little distracted."
Reed gave her a self-deprecating smile. "That's a very politic way to put it. Travis would have said I was out to lunch."
"Well, I didn't want to be the one to say it." She returned his smile with one of her own. "You're worried about Commander Tucker, aren't you?" she continued hesitantly.
"I'm sure Dr. Phlox is doing everything he can."
Malcolm didn't answer as they reached the science lab and unloaded their burdens. One by one, Cormack handed him the cases, and Reed secured them with warning tags. "Don't you want to start going through them now?" she asked.
"No. Best to wait for Sub-commander T'Pol. She's the Science Officer."
"Right." There was another awkward silence, which Stephanie finally broke. "Listen, I'm actually off duty. Do you want to get a cup of tea or something while you wait for word on the Commander?"
Malcolm considered the offer for a moment before replying. Part of him screamed to be alone where he could vent some of his worry over Trip, but he knew that was a dead end. Pacing around his cabin wasn't going to do the Chief Engineer any good. Better to have some company to maybe keep his mind off things. "That's a good idea," he said at last.
A thought suddenly occurred to him, and he looked across his steaming mug at Ensign Cormack. "You're off duty."
They were alone in the mess hall at this late hour, sitting in the semi-darkness and sharing a pot of Assam tea.
"What were you doing in the Armory?"
Cormack looked away awkwardly. "Nothing, really," she admitted. "My evening plans kind of fell through, so I thought I'd do some work."
"I think I understand."
"I didn't have a date or anything!" Cormack exclaimed, and immediately regretted it.
Reed looked at her a little surprised at the outburst. "Oh," was all he could say.
She quickly tried to cover her error. "I just didn't want you to think I got stood up," she said, giving a nervous little laugh. "I mean, how sad would that look, to get stood up on board a ship? Where would the other person have gone, right? I'm babbling. I'll shut up now."
"It's all right." Malcolm actually found himself smiling. "I just meant I've occasionally found myself looking for things to do, too."
Now, it was Stephanie's turn to say, "Oh. That must be why I run into you so often in the gym," she added, trying desperately to change the subject to anything else.
At that moment, the ship's comm beeped and they heard, "Dr. Phlox to Lieutenant Reed."
Malcolm hurried to the nearest comm panel and responded. "Go ahead, Doctor."
"I got the impression you wanted to be apprised of Commander Tucker's condition. Was I correct?"
"Yes." He shot a nervous glance back toward the table where Stephanie sat, waiting expectantly. He lowered his voice just slightly. "How is he?"
"That's all?" He tried with little success to keep the panic from his voice.
"Why don't you come to sickbay, and we can talk more privately."
"I'll be right there. Reed out."
"Good news?" Cormack said hopefully, standing and taking a step toward him.
"I'm not really sure. Will you excuse me?"
"Yeah, of course."
"Um Thanks for the tea."
Reed turned and left the mess hall. Stephanie sat again, wrapped her hands around her mug of tea. "Well," she muttered. "So much for that."
"Doctor," said Reed as he entered sickbay. "Where is he?"
Phlox stood from his desk and met the lieutenant in the middle of the room. "Slow down, Lieutenant. He's in Recovery."
"Will he be all right? Can I see him?"
"Eventually, yes," Phlox said gently. "It will take some time, but he'll make a full recovery."
"Can I see him?" Malcolm repeated.
"He's sleeping right now. I don't want to take any chance of waking him. He needs to rest to facilitate the healing process."
Relief washed over Reed, and he felt as if his legs were about to give out with the release of tension. Apparently, it showed.
"Why don't you sit down?" The doctor offered a chair solicitously.
The lieutenant collapsed unceremoniously into it. "Thanks."
Phlox pulled up a second chair and sat. "Lieutenant," he began, then stopped.
"Yes?" Malcolm looked at him, guessing what he was going to say.
"I'm sensing an extraordinary amount of concern on your part for Commander Tucker."
Reed made a rare snap decision. "Yes. I care about him. A lot," he said.
"Does he know this?"
"No. Is there a point to your questions, Doctor?" He didn't want to be rude, but he really wanted to know where this conversation was going. If it was going to a lecture, he didn't want to hear it.
"I suppose not," Phlox answered pleasantly enough. "I've simply had some concerns about you lately."
"I've noticed you've been overly tense. And you've been in here more than once with minor injuries from your sessions in the gym."
Reed looked down at his hands. It was true. He'd been in not two days ago with a minor sprain in his left wrist.
"I was growing worried," the doctor went on. "There are cases on record of self-destructive behavior by humans in a variety of situations, including being cooped up on a submarine or starship?" He looked inquiringly at the lieutenant. "I hope that isn't the case here."
"It isn't," Reed assured him. He made eye contact, held it. "I promise you. I'm not working out in an attempt to hurt myself. I'm working out to burn off excess energy." He hoped the Denobulan would understand so he wouldn't have to explain further. He was in luck—sort of.
"Ah!" said the doctor as if struck by an epiphany. "Repressed sexual tension! Of course! That explains so much."
"I'd appreciate it if you'd keep this to yourself," Malcolm said quickly. "If anyone else is going to find out about my feelings for Trip, it should be Trip, and it should come from me."
"Naturally, Lieutenant. Everything said here is strictly confidential, I assure you."
"Thank you." Reed stood, but hesitated for just a moment to ask one more time, "Are you sure I can't see him? Just for a moment. I won't make a sound. I just want to see for myself that he's all right."
"I understand completely, Lieutenant," Phlox said compassionately. "No."
Reed's shoulders slumped a little, and he sighed. "It was worth a try. Let me know when he's ready for visitors?"
"Of course." The doctor gave him a sympathetic smile. "You'll be the first to know."
Malcolm nodded his thanks, not trusting himself to say anything more. He turned and left the sickbay.
End Log 4
As of 1 Sept 06: