"Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, personal log: I still haven't done it. It would be easy if I didn't fancy him so much. Then, I could just ask him out, he'd say yes or no, and we'd go on from there. Sure. It's easy to ask a question when you don't give a damn about the answer."
He sat at the foot of his bed, began removing his boots. "For a while," he continued, "I was beginning to think there was something between him and T'Pol. I'm certain something happened while Travis and I were on that comet. There seemed to be a connection between them that wasn't there before. I wouldn't call it affectionóDoes that count as an emotion to Vulcans?ómaybe an affinity? And why not, really? I'm sure she's a striking woman, if you like that sort of thing. But after the way he directly opposed her orders on the bridge the other day, perhaps I was wrong.
"I'm still not entirely certain what to make of T'Pol. I've had my doubts about her, especially after that debacle at P'Jem, but I've come to believe she had no more idea what was going on there than we did. And while I don't always agree with her methods, she's proved herself to be a strong officer, capable of command decisions, maintaining discipline." He paused for a moment, remembering Trip's outburst when he thought T'Pol was going to abandon the captain on the Akaali homeworld. "Well, usually. Trip seems to be an exception to a lot of rules. Computer, end log entry and seal with advanced personal code 'Reed Alpha'."
Reed was just tying the drawstring on his pants when the door chimed. "Come in," he called. The door slid open to reveal Ensign Travis Mayweather. He was dressed similarly to the lieutenant in workout gear, a towel draped over one shoulder.
"You ready to go?" the young helmsman asked.
"Just about." Reed grabbed his own towel and a roll of cloth tape from the lavatory counter. "Let's go," he said.
They entered the gym, both laughing at a terrible joke Mayweather had just made. Travis stopped laughing abruptly when he saw the figure sprawled on the floor.
"Oh my god!" he exclaimed, starting to rush toward her. Reed grabbed his arm, held him back. "What are you doing? She's probably hurt!"
"She's fine," he assured him in a quiet voice. "She's doing yoga."
"What? She's lying there like she just got run over."
"It's called the dead man's pose. She's just relaxing." He sat on the bench, began taping his feet and hands in preparation for his bout with the heavy punching bag.
Still glancing dubiously at the supine form, Travis sat beside him. "I didn't know you knew yoga."
"I don't. But I know Ensign Cormack. She's here about as often as I am."
Cormack slowly rolled to one side and sat up, letting the towel fall from where it rested over her closed eyes. Eyes still closed, she sat lotus, hands together as in prayer.
"Told you," Malcolm said, nodding in her direction.
Mayweather studied the woman's face for several seconds. "She's familiar," he said softly enough he was sure only Reed would hear, despite the fact that the woman appeared to be oblivious to her surroundings.
"Everyone's familiar after a few months on board ship," Reed answered equally quietly.
"No, I mean from somewhere specific."
"She helped unload the specimens you brought back from the N-class planet the other week," offered Reed. He shivered at the memory of the planet where Trip had been injured. The Chief Engineer was fine now, but Reed could never erase from his memory the image of Tucker, unconscious and badly burned, being rushed off to sickbay.
"No, that's not what I'm thinking of." Mayweather thought hard until realization struck him. "I know! She was with Ensign Cutler in the mess hall that time."
"Remember? Just before we got to that N-class planet?"
"How could I forget? I was just talking about it," Malcolm said dryly.
Mayweather continued, ignoring the lieutenant's tone. "She was with Cutler when she was checking you out in the mess hall."
"You're not going to bring that nonsense up again, are you?"
"Huh, maybe it wasn't Cutler who was interested in you. Maybe it wasówhat's her name again?"
"Malcolm," Cormack said then, smiling at him. "Namaste. I didn't hear you come in." She unfolded herself and rose smoothly to her feet.
"Hi, Stephanie. Good workout?" Reed replied.
"Excellent. I'm feeling very Zen now." She used the towel she had to dry the back of her neck where several long curls had escaped their bonds and were sticking to her damp skin. "Admittedly, Zen and yoga aren't actually from the same culture, but sometimes you just have to go with it. Hi." She turned her attention to Mayweather. "Stephanie Cormack," she said, putting out a hand.
Travis took it and shook it. "Travis Mayweather," he answered.
"Pleasure to meet you. So, did Malcolm trick you into joining him for one of his torture sessions, or did you come here voluntarily?"
"My torture sessions?" Reed said. He looked at Mayweather. "You should see some of the convoluted positions she gets herself into. That's torture."
"Into and out of," protested Cormack, quickly running her towel over her yoga mat before rolling the mat up. "Besides, you're just jealous you're not as bendy as me."
Malcolm and Stephanie laughed; Travis wasn't quite sure what to make of the exchange. Reed was pretty relaxed around him, but he'd never seen the lieutenant so completely at ease with anyone before.
"I better hit the showers," Cormack said. "Hey. Have you gents had dinner yet?"
"I haven't," answered Reed. "Travis?"
"Why don't you join me and my bunkmate after your workout?" she said.
"It's going to be a while. Sure you want to wait?" Malcolm asked.
"We weren't planning to hit the mess hall until about 2030. Liz is still on duty."
"Liz Cutler?" asked Mayweather.
"Sure. I'll be there. Malcolm?" He gave Reed a look of mock innocence.
The lieutenant didn't bother to dignify it with a response. "All right," he said to Cormack, instead.
"Great! See you at 2030." Stephanie smiled again and left the gym.
Travis studied Reed as he finished taping up his hands. Malcolm noticed his scrutiny, returned the look, saying, "What?"
"You seriously expect me to believe that neither she nor Cutler is interested in you? That was a set-up if I've ever seen one."
Reed sincerely wondered if the helmsman had ever seen one. "Cormack is just a friend, and she's also a member of my tactical team. I'm sure she knows as well as anyone the problems that can arise when people on the same team become involved," he said, neatly skirting the real issue.
"I told you before: I don't know Ensign Cutler." He emphasized the last, hoping Mayweather would let the damned subject drop. The ensign hadn't brought it up for several days; Malcolm was a little fed up to discover it was still an issue.
"Well, you'll get your chance to get to know her tonight."
Malcolm stood and approached the punching bag, looking forward to taking out his growing annoyance with his friend on the uncomplaining bag. "Why is my personal life so important to you?" he asked, taking a few warm-up jabs.
"I don't know," Travis admitted.
"Then let it go. Please."
Travis looked at Malcolm, surprised at the tired, almost sad tone in his voice. "Okay," he said simply.
Dinner turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant affair. The four of them chatted easily about work, their families and homes back on Earth. Reed found Ensign Cutler to be intelligent and funny. If he'd had any interest in women, he would have found Mayweather's earlier suggestions intriguing, although he still doubted they were accurate. He'd gotten no impression that Liz had any romantic interest in him. If anything, he thought she'd spent quite a bit of time talking with Travis.
Good. A chance to do a little teasing of my own, he thought, and filed his observations away for use at a later date.
There were few people left in the mess hall when the ship's comm chirped and they heard, "Armory to Lieutenant Reed."
Sighing, Reed stood. "Excuse me." He went to the nearest comm panel, punched up the connection. "Reed here."
"Ensign Young here, sir. Sorry to bother you, but we're having some trouble with the targeting scanners," the disembodied voice on the other end said. "We think it's a misalignment in the relays, but we can't seem to track it down. "
"I'll be right there."
"Thank you, sir. Armory out."
Reed returned to the table long enough to make his apologies before heading off to the Armory.
"Sure you don't need an extra set of hands?" Cormack asked.
"No, thanks. No point in interrupting two dinners," he answered.
"Let me know if you change your mind. You know I know those targeting scanners inside and out."
It was nearly 0200 when Reed finally got back to his quarters. Having spent the better part of the last five hours going through every relay in the ship's tactical systems, he'd begun to wish he'd taken Ensign Cormack up on her offer of assistance. If nothing else, she was smaller and more flexible than he was; it would have been easier for her to crawl through some of the smaller jefferies tubes.
At least we got the bloody thing sorted out, he thought, sighing. He collapsed into the desk chair, pulled off his boots. He stood back up, unzipped his uniform and stepped out of it. He was pulling off his shirt when he felt a twinge in his back, just under one shoulder blade. He reached over with the opposite hand, trying to massage the cramp out, but couldn't get himself twisted enough to reach it.
"Splendid," he snarled caustically. He considered his choices: a quick trip to see the duty nurse in sickbay would relieve the pain immediately; or he could try to ignore it and go to bed, hoping it would hurt less in the morning. Since the first option would have required getting dressed again, he opted for the second.
Carefully, so as not to jar his back further, he finished getting ready for bed and climbed thankfully under the covers. "Computer, set alarm for standard time," he said, waited the brief moment for the chirp as the computer complied.
He didn't sleep well for a number of reasons. The pain in his shoulder woke him every time he tried to roll over. When he did manage to sleep, his dreams were full of jefferies tubes, each one smaller than the last. It was almost a relief when his bedside alarm went off.
Wincing, Reed sat up. "Computer, alarm off." If anything, his shoulder was hurting worse now than when he went to bed. "I must be getting old," he muttered. "I never used to have a problem with late nights." He made his way across the cabin, used the lav and shaved. He ran cold water in the sink, scrubbing sleep from tired blue eyes. When the sink was full, he shut off the tap, plunged both hands in and splashed the water on his face several times.
He let out the breath he held in a heavy sigh, watching the water spiral down the drain. That's a hell of a wake-up call, he thought. He dried his face with a nearby towel.
Shoulder still aching, he dressed more slowly than usual. As a result, he left his quarters later than he was accustomed and barely had time to grab breakfast before going on duty; stopping by sickbay was out of the question.
He walked into the Armory and had to sigh. "Déjà vu," he mumbled.
Ensign Cormack, among others, was already there. She glanced up when he came in. "Morning, Lieutenant. I hear you had a rough night."
"You could put it that way," he agreed. "Young and I were here until nearly oh-two-hundred."
"That explains the note on the duty roster," Cormack said. "You okayed him to come on duty late."
"Yet for some reason you didn't feel you could allow yourself the luxury of a lie-in?"
"I've got a lot to do today."
"Okay, but you have to admit, you look like you could use a couple more hours of sleep."
"I don't know whether I should be flattered at you concern, or offended at your assessment of my appearance," he said, his light tone taking the sting from his words.
"Take your pick," she joked back.
"Well, since I'm here, why don't we get to work on one of the torpedoes? The modifications were your suggestion, after all."
"You're going to hold that against me, are you?"
"If they work, you'll want the credit."
"True enough," Stephanie grinned.
The two went to the large weapons locker where torpedoes were stored. Reed keyed in the access code and opened the locker. Carefully, they removed one of the unarmed weapons and placed it on a nearby work table. Malcolm hissed in pain at the pressure put on his sore shoulder.
"You okay?" Cormack asked.
"Fine," he answered through clenched teeth.
"Yeah. I believe that," she replied, obviously not believing him for a second.
"It's just pinched a nerve or something, that's all. I'll stop by sickbay after we're done here. Let's get the panel off this torpedo. Hand me that screwdriver."
She did as ordered, and watched as he took it and began awkwardly undoing the screws that held the panel in place. He was having a hard time just holding onto the tool, and she wondered how long it would take him to ask for assistance. When she finally realized he wasn't going to ask, she broke down.
"Let me do that, Lieutenant," she said, putting out her hand to receive the screwdriver.
"I've got it."
"Sir, it's going to take all day this way. Please, let me help." Reed continued with the task, ignoring her outstretched hand. "Lieutenant, with all due respectó"
"I've found that phrase is usually followed by something rather less than respectful," he said, cutting her off.
Duly chastised, Cormack made no further comment, letting her hand fall to her side. She waited until he removed the last of the screws, then she reached over and pulled off the panel, setting it aside. When she looked back, Reed had set down the screwdriver and was reaching carefully into the weapon to remove the power cell. It caught on the edge of the opening, and he nearly dropped it.
Cautiously, the ensign reached out and took the cell from his hand. She looked at him across the table, concern showing on her face. He met her gaze and said, "I think I'll make a quick trip to sickbay. You continue working on this, and I'll be back in a few minutes."
He was half way back to the Armory, feeling so much better he wondered why he hadn't made the trip to sickbay sooner, when the page came over the ship's comm.
"Archer to senior staff. Report to the Bridge."
Reed found the nearest comm panel, acknowledged the page, and changed direction. He hailed the lift and was pleasantly surprised to find Commander Tucker already aboard when it arrived.
Malcolm stepped in. "Good morning, Commander," he said.
"Mornin', Lieutenant," was Trip's amiable reply.
"Any idea what's going on?" Reed asked as the lift resumed its upward course.
"Not a clue. I was hip deep in engine parts when I heard the page. Naturally, I left Dillard in charge of cleaning up the mess," the Chief Engineer added with a mischievous grin.
The lift doors opened and the two men stepped onto the bridge. "Gentlemen," Archer said, spotting them. "Come take a look at this." He gestured to the main screen where three ships hung suspended in the vacuum of space. Two were roughly the size of Enterprise; the third was at least twice as big. All appeared to be adrift.
"Derelicts?" asked Tucker, taking his post at the engineering station.
"Not exactly," answered the captain. "T'Pol?"
The Vulcan looked up from her scanners. "Energy scoring and impact damage are evident on two of the vessels. Clearly, they were involved in battle. The third vessel appears to be undamaged, but abandoned. I'm reading no life signs on any of the ships."
"How about ion trails or warp signatures?" asked Reed from tactical. "Can we expect whatever hit them to show up unannounced?"
"Unlikely. I've found no energy signatures of any kind within range of our sensors."
"Is everyone else forgetting what happened the last time we encountered an apparently abandoned ship?" asked Hoshi. Her memories of the occasion were the least pleasant of her entire life.
Reed, too, remembered all too well. He'd handled it better than Sato, but he would freely admit it was something he never cared to experience again.
"All ships' life support systems are down, and I'm not reading any active power cells." said T'Pol. "It is logical to assume there is nothing nefarious going on aboard."
"Do you recognize the ship design?" the captain asked.
"Both are unfamiliar to me."
"Hoshi." Archer turned to his Communications Officer. "Double check the Vulcan database for anything that might identify these ships."
"Yes, sir," she said.
"If we send a team over, we might be able to recover some information from their computers to tell us what happened here," Archer continued. He looked inquiringly in Trip's direction. "Any volunteers?"
"I'd sure like to take look, sir," said the Chief Engineer, recognizing the set-up.
"I thought you might." Archer smiled at his old friend.
"Captain," said Sato, "I've completed a check of the Vulcan database. There's nothing there that matches these ships."
"All right. Trip, Malcolm, Hoshióget suited up. You're taking a little ride."
"Sir, I really don't thinkó" Sato began, but stopped herself. Fighting back her fear, she said simply, "Yes, sir."
"Captain," said Reed, "request permission to add another tactical officer to the landing party. We'll be able to check the ship over more efficiently with two, while the commander and Ensign Sato work on the computers."
T'Pol spoke up again. "I recommend you try the undamaged ship first. Its infrastructure is likely to be more stable, and there is a greater potential of accessing its systems."
Archer nodded in agreement, and the three officers left the bridge.
The fourth member of the party was Ensign Cormack. As Tucker piloted the shuttlepod toward the derelict ship, she checked and re-checked the weaponry they'd brought. There were plenty of surprises in space; just because sensors said the place was empty didn't mean it was true.
They docked, got a solid seal around the airlock. Reed took the lead climbing into the alien ship, followed closely by Cormack, Sato, and Tucker.
It was dark inside, and each activated the headlamps on their EV suits as they emerged onto the deck. Any artificial gravity the ship might have had was as dead as the rest of the systems. Reed and Cormack floated several feet ahead before activating the maglocks in their boots. Gently, they were pulled down to the floor.
"I'll take the forward sections," said Malcolm through the comm. "Cormack, take the aft."
"Hoshi and I'll try to find the bridge," Trip said. "You two keep your comm lines open to each other," he ordered the tactical officers. "Alone is one thing, out of contact is another."
They divided up and headed out. Reed slowly worked his way toward the bow. Something was odd about this place; he couldn't put his finger on what it was until he reached the engine room.
"Reed to Commander Tucker."
"Go ahead, Lieutenant," came Trip's voice.
"I think this ship was deliberately scuttled, sir. I've found what I believe to be the engine room, but the engine core is gone."
"Yes. The control panels have all been blasted by some sort of energy weapon. The engine looks undamaged but empty."
"Sir," Cormack's voice joined in. "I'm finding the same thing here. I'm in sickbay, I think. There's a lot of weapon scoring, but all very precise. There's even a shelf of petri dishes, each with a distinct scorch mark in the center."
"All right," Trip answered. "Hoshi and I are on the bridge, and it looks like we have the same story here. We'll check out the computer, see if we can find anything. I'll notify Enterprise. Tucker out."
Twenty minutes later, they were back aboard the shuttlepod empty-handed.
"Tucker to Enterprise."
"Go ahead, Commander," said Archer.
"Nothing, sir. Whatever happened here, looks like the people on this ship got out of it in one piece. They even had time to wipe the computer clean. I'd like to check one of the others vessels, see if we have any better luck there."
"All right. T'Pol says you should try the smaller of the two. From what we can tell, it sustained less damage and so should be more stable than the larger one."
"That's encouraging," muttered Sato, too quietly for Archer to hear, but not the rest of the landing party in the small shuttlepod. Tucker gave her a reassuring smile before answering the captain.
"We're heading that way now. I'll let you know what we find. Tucker out."
It was a different story on the second vessel. There was widespread damage on every deck, and bodies scattered, drifting, in violent poses around the ship.
"I'm really not liking this," Sato said, trying not to look too closely at the dead aliens, mummified by time and the vacuum of space.
"We'll get what information we can here," said Reed. "I expect Dr. Phlox would appreciate anything we can learn about this species."
"Right," Tucker agreed. "We'll get to the bridge, see if these folks left anything behind to tell us what happened." He and Sato moved off, leaving Cormack and Reed alone with the corpses.
"I've collected what I can with the scanner, sir," said Cormack. "For what it's worth."
"Maybe there's another option," Reed said then. "We might be able to use the transporter to send one of these bodies back to Enterprise for Dr. Phlox to take a look at."
"Is that really a good idea, sir?" asked Cormack dubiously.
"Possibly not, but we can suggest it, see what the captain thinks."
After a brief consultation with Enterprise, they decided against it. "Let's see what we can learn from their records," Archer had said, "before taking that step."
Reed and Cormack split up to check the rest of the ship. It was clearly the same design as the first, and it didn't take Reed long to make his way to the engine room and then the armory. Even with all systems dead, it was impressive. He wished he could spend the next six months studying it. As best he could tell, the weapons were plasma-based, but much more advanced than anything Earth had; he'd never seen anything like it.
Suddenly, he felt the floor shudder slightly. It lasted only a second or two, and once it stopped, the comm panel on his suit chirped. "Tucker to Reed. Did you feel that?"
"Yes," said Malcolm. "Apparently, the ship isn't quite as stable as we thought."
"It feels steady again now, but I think we better speed things up. Hoshi and I have just about got their computer figured out. With a little luck, we'll have access and be able to get the data downloaded in the next few minutes."
"Right. I'll check in with Cormack. Reed out." He hailed Ensign Cormack who responded immediately.
"I'm fine, Lieutenant," she assured him. "I lived through the Vancouver quake of 2146; a little rumbling doesn't bother me. I've completed my sweep of the aft section, and I'm working my way back toward you now."
"I'll meet you at the docking hatch."
"Aye, sir. Cormack out."
That was the moment Cormack realized she'd spoken too soon. With a deep rumble more felt than heard, the ship began to shake once more. Hands out instinctively for balance, she fought her way awkwardly across the shifting deckplates.
"Reed to Cormack," came over her headset.
She managed to tap the panel on her suit to respond. "Go ahead, sir."
"Where are you?" he asked urgently.
"Still two decks away from the docking hatch, but so far no problem."
"I've got you on my scanner. I'm coming to meet you."
"No! Get yourself to the shuttlepod. I'll be rightó"
The comm line went dead.
"Ensign?" shouted Reed into the silence. "Stephanie!" Getting no response, he hailed Trip. "I've lost contact with Ensign Cormack," he said.
"Can you find her?" asked Trip.
"Yes." He was fighting to keep his balance in the rapidly collapsing corridor. "I know her location. I've just got to get there."
"You need a hand?"
"No. Just be ready to get out of here as soon as we reach you."
"Hoshi and I are back in the shuttlepod. We'll be ready when you get here."
"Reed out." He was finding it increasingly difficult to navigate on the sloping floor. Finally, he gave up trying and deactivated the maglocks in his boots. Quickly and carefully, he maneuvered his way through zero-g to where sensors said he would find Ensign Cormack. Sensors were correct; she was just where he expected her to be.
It was an eerie sight. She would have been floating amidst the debris but for the maglocks' hold on the deck plating. She was clearly out cold, and there was damage to her EV suit. Including, he realized as he reached her, a long crack in the faceplate of her helmet. He could see a thin line of blood along the crack. Quickly, he released the locks on her boots and took hold of her.
"Reed to Tucker. I have her, but she's unconscious. I don't think she's breathing. We're on our way to you now."
"Better make it quick," Trip urged him. "This ship's about two minutes away from complete collapse."
Hoshi pulled the airlock hatch shut and secured it behind them. "We're clear, Commander!" she called out.
Not bothering to respond, Tucker fired up the thrusters and blasted away from the collapsing alien vessel.
"How is she?" Sato asked, kneeling next to Reed and the unconscious Cormack.
"I don't know." He'd removed his own helmet and was just releasing the catches to remove Stephanie's as well. His hands brushed against blond hair, sticky with half-dried blood, as he carefully pulled off her helmet. "Help me get this off her," he ordered. He and Sato quickly removed Cormack's heavy EV suit. Malcolm pressed his fingers against her neck, searching for a pulse. "She's not breathing, and I can't feel a pulse. Get an oxygen mask while I start CPR."
Up on his knees, he began rhythmic compression against Cormack's still chest. Hoshi grabbed an oxygen mask from the emergency equipment, placed it over the unconscious woman's nose and mouth, started the air flow.
After two of the longest minutes imaginable, Cormack gasped, the sudden intake of air shocking her system and sending her into a spasm of coughing.
"Get the mask off!" shouted Reed. Hoshi pulled the mask away as Stephanie curled onto one side, her coughs punctuated by the choking, dry heaves of someone with too much air in her stomach. Reed held onto her until the spasms subsided and she relaxed back onto the deck.
He gestured to Sato who handed him the oxygen mask, which he carefully placed back over Cormack's face. "How do you feel?" he asked gently, once she'd taken several deep breaths. He moved the mask aside again so she could answer.
"Awful," she rasped in reply. "What happened?"
"I was hoping you knew."
She thought for a minute, lines of concentration wrinkling her forehead. "Not sure. Think a wall hit me."
"We're taking you back to Enterprise. Dr. Phlox will take care of you."
"I know. You're going to be all right," he assured her.
End Log 5
As of 1 Sept 06: