Malcolm is alone and trapped in a damaged shuttlepod that's sinking to the bottom of an alien ocean.
Slash > Tucker and Reed Characters:
Archer, Mayweather, Other, Phlox, Reed, Sato, T'Pol, Tucker
Genre & Keywords:
Action, Angst, Drama, Drown Malcolm Month, Unresolved Sexual TensionStory Type:
July 12, 2011 Updated:
November 02, 2011
Disclaimer: Star Trek is not the property of the author; no profit made.
The idea for the situation Malcolm ends up in is inspired by a Stargate Atlantis episode, "Grace Under Pressure." When I watched it, I kept imagining what it would be like if Malcolm had experienced a similar visual phenomenon, under similar circumstances. SGA fans will probably recognize much of the plot here.
There are also spoilers for the Enterprise novel, The Good That Men Do. Trip's situation here is inspired by that novel and, though one major change makes it slightly different than Martins & Mangels canon fix, it is partially here as an homage to them for giving us Trip back, and to Mangels specifically for including a minor gay character.
This is my first slash fic. Special thanks to Mistress Euclid for giving me the courage to just write this puppy. Hopefully this is the first of many.
1. Chapter 1 by Section69
2. Chapter 2 by Section69
3. Chapter 3 by Section69
4. Chapter 4 by Section69
5. Chapter 5 by Section69
This is set sometime after the episode Terra Prime, and events similar to that of the novel The Good That Men Do.
"The transporter is offline. Again."
Malcolm sighed and rubbed his face. "Understood, Ensign." He blew out a frustrated breath and sat down heavily in the pilot's seat, letting the open communicator dangle in his hand as he stared at the comm. system's tangle of wires to the right of the helm. He thought for a minute then lifted the communicator again. "I'm going to try shutting off the guidance system. Maybe the problem originates there."
"Acknowledged. Standing by."
He set the communicator down on the co-pilot's seat and got to work entering the necessary codes.
The away mission had seemed simple enough when they'd discussed it around the situation table that morning. The Kreetassan government was expecting them, so it'd have to be a fast operation. Get in, get the medicinal plants and get out.
That's when their chief engineer informed them the transporter was offline.
Fine. Shuttlepod Two's engine was disassembled while a team was trying to figure out what was wrong with it, so they'd just take Shuttlepod One. Everything was proceeding smoothly until the away team had returned to the pod, and it refused to budge. The engine whined and the helm lit up cheerily, but something wasn't sending signals to either the thrusters or the controllers. To make matters worse, a loud pop and the smell of burning plasma accompanied their attempt to use the comm. system.
Luckily they had their communicators and Enterprise was within range. Teams had been scrambled to get either the transporter or Shuttlepod Two operational. In the end, the transporter won long enough to get Doctor Phlox and Ensign Mayweather back aboard Enterprise.
Malcolm swiveled in the seat to reach the auxiliary system controls, his frustration mounting. The clock was ticking away and the captain refused to do the obvious and leave his tactical officer behind until they'd successfully met with the Kreetassens. This could cost them a treaty and a badly needed supply route near the Klingon Empire's borders and Malcolm couldn't help but feel responsible. He punched one button a little too hard and the plastic cracked. He closed his eyes and swore lightly under his breath. Ever since Trip had left, it seemed that systems were failing left and right.
He knew that wasn't fair. Commander Tucker's replacement was a competent and dedicated engineer, doing his best with battle damaged and aging equipment. But it was also obvious the man was overwhelmed. Trip's "death" had dimmed some of the enthusiasm of his former department and, Malcolm guilty admitted to himself, he was avoiding the need to work closely with their new chief engineer. Trip had been a popular supervisor and, Malcolm could feel a lump rising in his throat, a good friend. It didn't help that he knew the man was still alive; he couldn't talk to anyone about it, save for the captain, T'Pol and Phlox.
Damn the man and his need to get involved.
Malcolm paused over the helm and cleared his throat. Where the bloody hell had that train of thought come from anyway? He took a deep breath to ease the knot in his chest and got back to work feeling as worn out as the equipment he was trying to salvage. Maybe it was the lack of even a scrap of information on Trip's status or whereabouts that was getting to him. Or maybe it was the way their Vulcan First Officer seemed so ... vulnerable lately. He paused. Maybe it was the pained expression in Hoshi's eyes this morning in the mess hall when Malcolm had chosen a slice of pecan pie to go with his cup of black tea.
He stabbed again at a suddenly blurry console button. Or maybe he was just feeling guilty about having been the one to set Trip on this path in the first place by introducing him to Harris. He took another deep, steadying breath, then glanced around at the familiar lines of Shuttlepod One. A flood of memories besieged him and he smirked unhappily.
Maybe he just missed his best friend.
A warning light blinked on the helm, indicating that the guidance system had been shut down successfully. A quick check confirmed that it had worked; whatever was causing the short in the thruster control system was gone. Maybe now he could get off this planet.
Malcolm reached for the communicator once again. "Shuttlepod One to Enterprise. That worked. I'm taking off."
The small craft took a sharp dip to port and Malcolm swore as his shoulder connected hard with a bulkhead before the inertial dampeners compensated for the sudden rotation.
"Malcolm?" He'd known Enterprise's comm. officer long enough to hear a hint of worry under the professional calm.
"I'm alright, Ensign. It's just a bit of turbulence."
As if to make a lie out of his words, a shower of sparks rained down on the co-pilot's seat and the smell of vaporized plasma suddenly filled the tiny craft. The fumes immediately made his eyes itch and throat burn, and a thin wisp of smoke curled out of the starboard side of the helm.
"This can't be good," Malcolm coughed. He started to stand and reach for the emergency fire equipment when the shuttlepod lurched heavily to one side, the engines squealed and the floor seemed to fall away from his feet, along with his stomach. The communicator slid out of the co-pilot's seat and skittered across the floor, snapping shut as it came to a halt against a rear bench.
With an effort, he pulled himself back into the seat and desperately tried to regain control, then blanched when he looked up through the window. "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!" he yelled, forgetting that communications were now effectively cut off.
But neither solace nor salvation was forthcoming, and he fought a rising panic at the thought of what was about to happen.
"No, no, no, no, no ...," he stabbed desperately at the controls.
It was no use. With a force that the inertial dampeners could only partially contain, Shuttlepod One hit the ocean's surface, skimming and scraping the surface like a stone before coming to a listing stop and slowly sinking into the depths.
Archer launched himself out of the captain's chair towards the view screen, as if he could simply reach out and pluck the vanished shuttle out of the water. "T'Pol! The transporter!"
"A team is working as quickly as they can to get it back online." T'Pol's tone was calm but urgent. "However, the shuttle is sinking faster than would be expected."
Travis glanced up from the helm, "One of the thrusters looked like it was locked into position. Maybe it's forcing it under."
Archer looked at the ensign. "How long would a thruster remain operational under water?"
The helmsman shook his head, concern clouding his usually sunny disposition. "On one of our shuttles, sir? I don't know. I've never tried it. We used the Xindi pod the only time I've taken one underwater."
A soft swear from the communications console prompted everyone to look at Hoshi. Oblivious to her sudden audience, she continued to stab intently at her board, one finger holding a comm device firmly in her ear. When she finally did look up, she shook her head and gave Captain Archer a horrified look. "Malcolm's communicator isn't responding."
Archer gave the communications officer his best, I-have-faith-in-you look. "Keep trying, Hoshi."
"You don't understand, sir," Hoshi said. "It was responding. Lt. Reed just wasn't answering. I think it might have been damaged," she said as her eyes went to the view screen and the bits of Shuttlepod One floating on the surface, "when the shuttlepod hit the water." She didn't give voice to the other concern that floated in the air of the bridge - that the lieutenant himself had been ‘damaged' or even killed in the impact.
T'Pol turned her gaze to Hoshi. "The shuttle's communication system is still malfunctioning?"
Hoshi nodded. "Yes."
As the two women began to discuss possibilities for getting around the shuttle's inoperable communication array, Archer glanced once again at the view screen. He couldn't help but think back to Lieutenant Reed's confession years ago.
"I was raised on the water. I knew how to handle a boat before I could ride a bicycle. Studied all the great naval battles. I don't know. I suppose I thought I'd just grow out of it."
"Grow out of what?"
"You're afraid of the water?"
"More precisely, afraid of drowning."
"So instead of a life on the sea you chose a life in the vacuum of space?"
"I had a great-uncle who suffered from the same problem, but he faced his fears. Joined the navy, had a distinguished career ... all you have to do is attach it to the cylinder on your upper right. It's working. Start with the topmost component. Use the caliper to lift it a few millimetres and then turn it clockwise three hundred and sixty degrees, and then gently reinsert it ... He was something of a hero to me, my great-uncle."
"The one with aquaphobia?"
"Indeed. He signed up with the submarine service."
"Talk about facing your deepest fears."
"He was a brave man. Wasn't long before he'd worked his way up through the ranks. Made chief engineer on the HMS Clement. Do you know the story of the Clement, sir?"
"I don't think I do."
"They were on a routine patrol when they had an accident. Now, there's a beautiful irony for you. They hit a mine left over from some world war. There they were, trapped underneath an ice shelf, several compartments flooding, including Engineering. Can you imagine? My great-uncle, the man afraid of drowning? The ship was sinking, losing power. According to his lieutenant, my great-uncle sealed himself in the engine room and kept the reactor online long enough for his crew to make it to the escape pods. He went down with his ship. He did what he had to do to save his crewmates."
"I appreciate what you're trying to tell me, Malcolm, but I was hoping you'd be able to save your heroics for another time."
"I just want you to know, sir, that I am prepared."
It hadn't been necessary for the stalwart lieutenant to sacrifice his life for the sake of the crew that day. "Not today either, Malcolm. Not today," Archer murmured, then clapped Ensign Mayweather on the shoulder. "You're with me Ensign. I have an idea."
He didn't like this bar.
Malcolm blearily squinted at a dull gray ceiling that was being lit intermittently by a sickly strobe effect. No, he didn't like this bar at all. The décor left something to be desired and the strobe was giving him a pounding headache. The music was even worse. And why was he on the floor?
A gentle pitch and yaw of said floor brought a sensation of nausea to the party. Some party. Why had they come here? What he wanted right now was a good solid pub, not some modern moving dance floor. Some place quiet - would someone shut that bloody music off?! - some place with comforting dark wood walls and ancient leather booths and ...
... a sudden violent roll of the room slammed him into something hard and metallic. The impact instantly brought him back to reality and he recognized the underside of the co-pilot's chair of Shuttlepod One. A portion of the helm hung precariously next to his head and he realized the god-awful cacophony of sounds wasn't some modern Andorian rock band but multiple alarms screaming for his attention. He blinked, clutched at the support beam of the chair, and tried to focus.
The air in the devastated spacecraft hung heavy with scorched plasma and burning electrical conduits. The lighting system was creating the strobe effect as it flickered on and off and, from the darkness between flashes, Malcolm guessed he'd been out for sometime. It was pitch black when the lights were off.
The shuttlepod pitched and rolled again, and another wave of nausea hit him. His arms tighten around the chair's support beam while the room seemed to spin around him. Only when the nausea passed did he loosen his grip. Letting out a shaky breath, he rubbed his eyes and felt something sticky. He pulled his hand away to stare at it in confusion, trying to focus on the sticky substance despite the transient nature of the shuttle's shattered lighting system.
The sticky stuff was red. Red? He blinked. Blood.
Oh. Right, then.
With his other hand, he reached out and dragged himself up to a sitting position on the deck plating. The minor effort surprisingly took everything out of him and he paused to rest his head against the seat of the chair, his brain foggy, his vision swimming and his stomach turning with every gentle roll of the shuttle floor. At least the strobe effect had slowed and now the shuttle's lights simply dimmed to nothing, then flashed on for a moment before fading away again.
Med kit. He needed the med kit. No. Wait. Status. Status first. What was his situation? Dammit, why was it so hard to think?
Somehow he managed to stagger to his feet. And then he saw it ...
Trapped pockets of air slowly crawled up the shuttlepod's front windows, making the water outside the panes of glass seem to come alive with a menacing fury. The liquid was like the tentacles of an alien creature, searching, scanning, crawling over the exterior skin of the pod, looking for a way in to extinguish the bubble of life left inside.
Malcolm could feel his body freeze in the darkness. The shuttle had sunk. A brief surge of power in the lighting system illuminated the watery beast clawing at the front windows again. He was trapped. As the lights dimmed once again to blackness he could feel his breath coming faster. He was trapped in a duritanium coffin slowly sinking to the bottom of an alien ocean! If he was lucky, he'd run out of air first. If he wasn't and the pressure caused the windows to fail ...
Malcolm fell back down heavily onto the deck plating and closed his eyes against the darkness, desperately trying to fight off the old familiar feelings. But it was no use. The rational side of his mind was still fighting its way out of the obvious concussion and his subconscious was running wild with fear. He was going to die this time. He was going to die in the worst way possible he could imagine. The panic set in as he sat there, and he began to hyperventilate.
Malcolm clenched his hands and fought to control his breathing. Get a grip on yourself, man.
"Breathe. It's gonna to be alright."
He tried to imagine that it was simply the vacuum of space outside, but every mental image he could conjure reminded him of a submarine, and one with increasingly little air.
What? He blinked. That wasn't his own voice, but it was as recognizable to him as if it was.
A brief flash of the shuttle's lighting system revealed a figure kneeling next to him, and the source of the familiar voice. He caught sight of a warm but concerned expression just before the lights faded away again.
"You're goin' to be okay," the voice said from the darkness.
For a few seconds, Malcolm forgot about the damaged shuttle, the smell of burning plasma, the blood trickling down his face and every ache and bruise. For a moment he even forgot about the water outside. He couldn't help but smile, though the rational part of his brain was doing a fair bit of frowning in confusion for him as he reached out in an attempt to grab an arm in the dark.
"Trip? What... what are you doing here?" His hand found nothing but another surge of light revealed casual clothing and the strangely calm demeanor of his friend. "Did they fix the transporter?" Even as Malcolm asked the question he knew how ridiculous it sounded.
Trip smiled. "What do you think?"
Malcolm closed his eyes and leaned back against the helm, trying to clear the fog that was taking over his brain. "I think," he took a deep, disappointed breath, "... I think you're still a million miles away."
"That's one way to look at it."
Malcolm opened his eyes, stared straight ahead and added, "And I'm hallucinating. You couldn't possibly be here." He could prove it too, by reaching out again and waving a hand through the nothing that seemingly filled his peripheral vision, but he didn't. He knew that if he was hallucinating things must be bad, but he couldn't bring himself to dismiss the vision by proving it wasn't real. The water was still outside the shuttle window, waiting for him, but the presence next to him seemed to be keeping the panic at bay. He'd take the hallucination over that paralyzing feeling any day.
"C'mon. Get up."
Malcolm frowned. Except this hallucination seemed to think it still out ranked him. Did Trip still out rank him if he'd faked his death and was undercover Harris-only-knew-where? That was a curious thought. Technically, the Section was a part of Starfleet so ...
Malcolm turned his glazed expression on the curiously insistent hallucination before responding. "I don't take orders from a figment of my imagination. Besides, I don't think happy thoughts are going get me out of this one, Commander. At least it's not freezing cold... " he trailed off.
Trip didn't move. "You need to check the air scrubbers. Carbon monoxide levels are too high, that's why you can't think."
"You do it. You're the engineer," Malcolm mumbled.
"Malcolm! Get up!" Though Trip made no move to haul the disoriented tactical officer to his feet, the voice alone was like a shove and was enough to force Malcolm to his feet.
He didn't stay on his feet long though, tumbling into the pilot's chair like a lead doll. Keeping his eyes on the helm and not the window, he could see that his insistent vision was right. Carbon monoxide levels were dangerously high, as was carbon dioxide for that matter - he was slowly being poisoned. The oxygen tanks looked intact, and full, but the scrubbers looked like they were having trouble with the smoke from the electrical fires. Thrusters were dead, as was the engine, but the pod's hull was intact and life support was still online.
Every movement an enormous effort, he slowly keyed in a sequence to increase the scrubber's operation, taking power away from the circuits that kept the external thrusters from freezing up. Once his task was complete, he clutched the edge of the helm and watched the readings to see if it had any effect. Slowly, but surely, the levels began to drop. He could actually feel a flow of oxygen from the vent by his forehead and he breathed deeply.
"That's one problem down," Trip said.
Irrational relief flooded him just like the oxygen as he realized his hallucination hadn't gone anywhere.
"Now you need the med kit."
"Right, right." Malcolm swiveled in the pilot's chair, took a deep breath and stumbled to the back of the shuttlepod to open one of the benches. As he made his way through the pod he could see, when the light would let him, that Trip was now standing up, arms folded and disturbingly steady on his feet despite the occasional pitch and yaw of the sinking pod.
Something about the whole situation struck Malcolm as inappropriately funny and he smirked. "You would have to wear that shirt," Malcolm nodded at the garish tropical print, before rooting around in the bench for the medkit.
Trip lifted his chin in an amused expression and leaned against the shuttle's wall. "I'm your hallucination. What do you want me to wear?"
The combination of the engineer's casual smile and the tone in which he asked the question sent an unexpected jolt through Malcolm. He turned away quickly as the tropical shirt seemed to lose some opacity. Why the bloody hell had his friend so often ended up in his underwear? That was not the image he needed right now ...
A furtive glance in a reflective surface of polished metal revealed only a different casual outfit -- the red and gray T-shirt and sweat pants that Malcolm also remembered from many an evening over pretzels and beer.
There was a moment of silence before Trip commented to no one in particular, "You are alone you know."
Malcolm yanked a blanket out of the way to reveal the med kit. "You're here."
"I'm a figment of your imagination. Your subconscious speaking to you." Trip looked around. "Honestly, I would have expected more Orion dancing girls."
Malcolm couldn't help a chuckle at that and glanced up at his friend. Hallucination or not, he couldn't help but think of it as Trip, as his friend that he missed so much. "Perhaps I just needed an engineer more than I needed a half-naked green female." He smiled.
Trip just returned the smile with an expression that brought an embarrassed flush to Malcolm's face, so he focused on the med kit instead. "It's an engineering problem," he clarified. "The comm. system's down. The thrusters are out, there's damage to the engines, power, heat, light." He pulled out a bioscanner and dared a quick peek at Trip. "My brain just conjured up someone who could help. Someone I trust."
Trip said nothing for a moment then nodded. "Fair enough." He didn't move and simply looked around the cabin. "So, air scrubbers and life support. Now medical attention. What next?"
Malcolm frowned at the bioscanner in his hand. Effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, but a hypo whould take care of that. A few cuts, bruises. He'd been lucky. The one broken rib would be problematic but he'd just have to work through it. He treated the cut on his forehead and contemplated painkillers before responding. "This blasted lighting first," he said. Fixing it would mean illuminating the scene outside the window but he needed the light to work on anything else, and his hallucination seemed to be helping with his aquaphobia. He frowned. Though right now the actual sight of Trip seemed to be more disconcerting than just hearing the engineer's familiar drawl...
A small object rolled out from a corner and hit his leg, disrupting that train of thought. It was the remains of his communicator, crushed beyond repair by something, probably as the pod hit the water. He let out a frustrated breath. Now he truly was cut off from Enterprise.
"Then the comm.. I think we ... I ... need to work on establishing communications," he said as he staggered to his feet.
Trip just nodded again and said softly, "I agree."
The song here is a traditional sea shanty called "Whisky-O". I've also seen it called "Whiskey Johnny" even though there is another, different chorus for that song title. Parts of the chorus are sung with each verse, but I left that out so that it looks a bit neater and the impact of the verses is a little more obvious.
Travis poked his head out of the shuttle hatchway. "We're ready sir."
Archer nodded and surveyed their work on Shuttlepod Two. It was a patch job but it'd have to do. I hope you were right about this new technology, Malcolm, or there'll be three Starfleet officers at the bottom of that ocean very soon.
He turned to Crewman Michael Rostov. "Tell your boss to keep working on the transporter. We may need that as a backup plan."
Rostov nodded, "Aye sir."
Archer entered the shuttlepod, closing the hatch behind him. Travis was already in the pilot's seat, running through the pre-flight checks, so Archer slid into the co-pilot's seat and hit the comm. button. "Bridge, we're ready."
"The shielding is working?" came T'Pol's voice.
Archer looked at Travis, who nodded. "Energy shielding is at ninety-eight percent Captain, and holding."
Archer nodded and turned back toward the comm. speaker. "It's working. We're taking off."
"Understood. Good luck, Captain."
Then the shuttle bay doors opened and they dropped into space, then the clouds of the upper atmosphere of the planet, until finally the surface of the ocean parted to swallow a second Starfleet vessel.
Malcolm chuckled. "That's not how it goes."
"The lyrics are made up as you go," Trip argued with a mischievous smile.
Malcolm snorted, "Yes, but there are always a few verses that are traditional, and I don't think there's anything about shape-shifting pirates with plasma weapons in sea shanties from the nineteenth century."
"Well, there should have been."
Malcolm laughed, then shook his head and adjusted a circuit in the open panel in front of him. With Trip's encouragement he'd managed to adjust life support to a comfortable level. If he didn't think too hard about it, they could have been in space, just waiting to rendezvous with Enterprise.
He searched his memory for another song and considered a few of the more bawdy ones he could recall. They certainly would have been appropriate, considering the direction of the conversation for the past twenty minutes. But then he smirked, a trace of irony on his face as another came to mind.
"This next one would have been appropriate the last time we were both stuck in this shuttlepod," he said as he stopped his tweaking for a moment. Then he leaned back and sang:
Whiskey is the life of man,Always was since the world began.
Whiskey-o, Johnny-o,Rise her up from down below...
With a startled expression, he stopped abruptly before he'd finished the chorus. Singing the words out loud had sent a chill through him. "On second thought, it's eerily appropriate for the current situation," he murmured to himself as a shiver went up his spine.
Turning back to the open panel of wires, conduits and circuit boards, he could feel all the amiable good spirits that had developed over the last hour vanished in a mere moment. "I hope the captain has more luck ‘rising us up from below' than I've had with this bloody mess," he snapped at the mangled comm. system. "I'm certain salt water's gotten into it somewhere but I don't know what to bypass..." he waved a hand at the helm in frustration, "...since half the diagnostic systems are shot as well." He could feel the anxiety starting to bubble up again. How was Enterprise going to be able to find him if he couldn't help the efforts from his end at all!
Before he could turn to glance at a watery grave waiting outside the shuttlepod window, a warm southern drawl continued the unfinished chorus:
Whiskey, whiskey, whiskey-o,Up aloft this yard must go.John rise her up from down below.
Oh whiskey straight and whiskey strong...
When Trip didn't finish the next verse, Malcolm hung his head and sighed. The mental shock had reminded him that the enjoyable company wasn't really real and singing along seemed vaguely ridiculous all of a sudden. He rubbed his face. It felt vaguely of something else too, but he was loath to name it. He thought he'd gotten over this. He'd spent two years getting over it!
He shook his head to clear the thought. This was just his mind keeping panic at bay. He'd had a concussion after-all, had been nearly suffocated and was only functional now because of the ready-made cocktail of pain-killers that'd been in that hypospray. That's all this was. Unfortunately in the last hour, every time he caught the other man's eyes he felt the stirrings of another kind of vague panic, and he was beginning to welcome every possible task that'd keep him from looking in that direction. His hallucination hadn't made avoidance easy, somehow always remaining in his peripheral vision, and, whether nearer or farther, it had the same effect upon him.
The silence hung there, waiting for Malcolm to decide.
In the end he surrendered to what he wanted apparently more than rescue, set down the hypospanner, looked over at Trip, and finished the verse:
... give me some whiskey and I'll sing you a song.
Trip smiled and continued on to the next verse:
I thought I heard the first mate say...
Malcolm smiled and finished the traditional line:
I treats me crew in a decent way!
That brought to mind a unexpected vision of T'Pol with a tankard of Klingon blood wine, Phlox's Pyrithian bat on her shoulder, saying ‘me crew'. The open panel completely forgotten, it took Malcolm a minute of choked laughter before he turned his back on the panel, sat down and looked up at Trip again. Thinking of someone's Starfleet blues, he offered up another verse with a wicked smile:
Now whiskey made me pawn me clothes,
And whiskey gave me a broken nose.
Trip grinned and sat down next to Malcolm before adding another:
I like whiskey hot and strong,
I'll drink whiskey all day long.
With no trace of irony, Malcolm sang:
Some likes whiskey, some likes beer,
I wish I had a barrel here.
Trip's laughter filled the small space before he added:
Oh whiskey here and whiskey there,
Oh I'd have whiskey everywhere.
Suddenly feeling warm, content, and a little drunk even without a drop of the oft-mentioned whiskey, Malcolm finished the song with the chorus again and this time Trip joined in.
Whiskey-o, Johnny-o,Rise her up from down below.
Whiskey, whiskey, whiskey-o,Up aloft this yard must go.John rise her up from down below.
Malcolm leaned back with a smile and closed his eyes. To his surprise, the gentle rocking sensation of the sinking shuttlepod felt soothing now. The interior space was quiet and comfortable, the atmosphere recyclers having done their job over the last hour to clear the air and, with a deep breath, he realized just how tired he was. Though he couldn't feel the other man's presence, he knew Trip was there, sitting shoulder to shoulder with him. Real or not, it was enough to permit him to relax and give in to the exhaustion.
An hour later a sharp thud rocked the shuttlepod and shook him from his doze. He blinked the sleep out of his eyes and tried to focus.
The rocking sensation had vanished and the floor of the shuttle had a more solid, stable feel to it. He scrambled to his knees, then hauled himself up into a chair to check what little status indicators still worked on the helm. The one that had ticked away the meters as the shuttle sank now rested on a number: 7,000 meters.
"This is not good." Trip's tone was dark.
Malcolm rubbed a shoulder and shook his head. "The shuttle can easily handle that depth and pressure. And we've stopped - we're no longer sinking. That's a good thing."
"No, it's not."
Malcolm frowned, "Why not? Look, I really don't want to argue with you right now."
"Technically, you're arguin' with yourself."
Malcolm sighed. "Trip." He'd made his decision. He refused to acknowledge the fact that he was speaking to thin air. Not when things were looking up and he'd seemingly managed to beat his phobia to the farthest corners of his mind. In fact, he hadn't felt this content in a long while. The war was momentarily forgotten, as were status reports, endless repairs of battle damage, and worries about friends near and far. He just wanted to enjoy the company, the closeness and the absence of everything else, even if it wasn't real.
"It's not good," Trip repeated, his tone laced with urgency.
Malcolm stubbornly refused to be deterred from his previously good mood. "Happy thoughts, " he prodded. "Remember? Let's just think happy thoughts."
His answer was nothing but silence, so Malcolm turned his head to give his phantom companion a pleading look. He was startled to find Trip just inches from his own face and his heart beat faster as he stared into clear blue eyes, a warm, tropical-waters color he always thought fit the man they belonged to.
Water. Malcolm blinked. Trip's gaze went to the floor and, heart in his throat, Malcolm's own eyes followed.
The floor of the shuttle was covered in an inch of water. With a shock, Malcolm realized that the impact of the landing must have fatally weakened the already damaged hull.
The shuttlepod was leaking.
The end is near! Just two more chapters. Thank you for hanging in there with me - and Malcolm. :)
It was useless.
Every time Malcolm patched a breech in the hull, a new one would appear. The latest one had sent water gushing through the life-support system, which meant he'd had to work with his arms stretched overhead, salt water running down his face and neck as he tried to rip through conduits and plasma packs in a hurried attempt to reach the breech.
The water was up to his knees now and even an occasional glance at his hallucinatory companion wasn't enough to keep the raw edge of panic from clawing at the back of his brain. In fact, it was starting to bother him that he could still see Trip.
First he'd tried rationalizing the illusion away as a manifestation of his subconscious desire to know Trip was okay. Then it was because of the need to know he was going to be okay, that he wasn't going to drown. But it was all starting to break down. Panic and rational thought fought for control of his mind and, as the situation became increasingly desperate, he was beginning to second-guess his own mental state. Were the breeches real? Was he really underwater? Was he even conscious or awake? Was anything real?
He took a deep breath. The situation had to be real. He could feel the water running down his face and neck. He even could feel the resistance of the water as he walked through the flooded compartment. He grimaced in pain and clutched his side. Yes, even the broken rib was real. He could feel that too, since the drugs were starting to wear off.
Still clutching his side, he glanced again at Trip's disturbingly casual expression. It was starting to gnaw at him that there was only one thing in here that wasn't real, that wasn't solid, and that he couldn't touch. The one thing he really wished was real, wasn't.
"You can't even help me here," he muttered as panic launched a new offensive against the small victory of rational thought. His emotions and frustrations were bubbling to the surface as fast as the compartment was flooding. "The real Trip Tucker is somewhere out there, playing at being a spy!" He reached overhead again and twisted a hyperspanner with more force than necessary. "Doing things he's not trained for. Just..." he shoved a metal plate into place, "because..." he tightened the bolts to within an inch of their stress tolerances, "... he has to get involved. Dammit!" Malcolm swore as the hyperspanner slipped from his hands, dropping into the water below.
"Well, isn't that bloody obvious," Malcolm growled.
"Why not?!" Malcolm continued to - unnecessarily - hold the plating in place, but turned an angry glare on Trip. "How could you do this? To your family? To your friends?" He blinked through the water running down his face. "And what about T'Pol? How could you do this to her?" He let go of the plating and pointed a finger at the other man. "Do you know what it's like to walk into engineering and ask for someone else? Did you think about your crew? Did you think about them?" He clutched the side of his chest again in pain. "Did you think about me?"
There was a beat of silence before Trip answered, clearly unperturbed, "You were the one that put me in touch with Harris."
Guilt and regret flooded Malcolm and his shoulders sagged in defeat. "I don't want to talk about this anymore."
"You brought it up."
"Let's just focus on the problem at hand?"
A loud pop, like the sound of an ancient projectile weapon made the already tense security officer jump. For a moment he thought it had come from the electrical system but there was no smell of burning plasma or scorched insulation. He turned slowly in the water - it was up to his thighs now, so he must have missed another breech somewhere - scanning for the next crisis to deal with, until he was facing the forward windows above the helm ...
... and saw the spidery crack slowly inching along one of the panes.
His mind raced for solutions, but his gut knew this round was going to be a victory for panic. He couldn't fix the window. He didn't have plating large enough to solder to the windows and he couldn't remove one of the interior ones in time. This was it. If the window failed ...
"What's really botherin' you, Malcolm?"
Incredulous, Malcolm let out a snort, half-laugh, half-annoyance and waved a hand at the window without turning around to face Trip. "Isn't it obvious?"
Trip seemed unimpressed by the impending doom. "No final thoughts? You might die in here you know."
That did cause Malcolm to turn around to stare at the other man. "I thought you were supposed to make me feel better!"
"That's not how this works."
"What do you want from me!?" Malcolm shouted, immediately regretting his outburst when his head started throbbing.
Trip was suddenly right next to him. "Any regrets?" he asked.
"Other than introducing you to Harris and getting you embroiled in a intergalactic mission that could get you killed?" Malcolm smirked unhappily, the damaged shuttle forgotten again. "None." He paused, and then added without sarcasm, "I made amends with my father, so there's no regrets there this time." A brief smile crossed his face. "There was nothing really to amend. We were both just stubborn gits."
He swallowed hard. Yes, there was something else.
Trip waited patiently for an answer. The man's expression was warm, gentle and non-judgmental.
Malcolm closed his eyes and tried to regain some semblance of control. This time the painful knot in his chest had nothing to do with his physical injuries, but the more he tried to focus and shove the feeling down into the depths, the more the panic surrounding his situation rose to the surface. It was going to have to be one or the other, it seemed, so he let himself sag to lean against the bulkhead, his forehead against the cool metal. The words came flooding out of him the same way the water had been rushing into the compartment.
"For most of my life, I held people at arm's length. ‘He's hard to get to know' was how others would describe me. That was by design. I never liked letting people get too close. ‘Close enough' was perfectly fine with me."
Oddly, the admission felt good, so he soldiered on. "I let relationship after relationship fail when I was young. Don't get me wrong, they were all lovely girls... rather, women. I loved each and every one of them in some way. But I'd never intended to give all of myself away. I don't know if they realized that, and perhaps I still regret it. Every time one of them got too close, I left. It was a ... a ... let's call it a tactical decision. Those were the unwritten rules of the game, whether they knew it or not. The occasional skirmish was fine, but if one stepped into the neutral zone, the treaty was broken."
He backed away from the bulkhead slightly. "That was the nature of any relationship I had. My girlfriends, my friends, even my family. And then along comes this job, and this crew." He paused, feeling overcome for a moment.
After a long pause he straightened up and continued, "They became like family. More than family. I had friends," his voice broke, "like I'd never had before. And ..." he paused, suddenly having trouble speaking. With effort, he continued, "By the time I realized that my carefully constructed fortifications had been breeched, that I'd fallen in love with someone, that I wanted to say something ... I was too late. That someone I was in love with," he turned to look Trip in the eyes, "was in love with someone else."
"I'm sorry," was all that the other man said.
"I wanted to do the honorable thing - to be a good friend. To ... them both." Malcolm's voice dropped. "I just wanted them both to be happy."
It would have been so easy, had the face in front of him been real, to simply reach out and kiss him breathless. It would have been easy to plead his case and bargain for a piece of someone's heart that so obviously belonged to someone else. And right now, if this had been real, he would have done anything to win the situation, honorable actions be damned.
Malcolm closed his eyes, fists clenched. But this wasn't real. He was alone, in a damaged spacecraft, running out of time and quite possibly going to die, spending his last moments having a fantasy about someone unobtainable in every sense of the word. This was making him crazier than his phobia about drowning and there was only one thing he could think of to do.
"Go away," he whispered. "Please, just ... go away."
When the silence roared louder than the rushing water through the breech, he opened his eyes. Except for himself, and a lot of water, the shuttlepod was empty.
He was utterly alone.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed. Minutes? Hours? It felt like days.
He'd found a pocket of air near the useless comm. speaker, but it wasn't going to last much longer. Staring at the visible edges of the spidery crack in the windshield, teeth chattering because of the freezing water, a strange sense of calm washed over him. The fear of drowning had given way to a dark notion emerging in the back of his head that it'd be simply easier to sink into the water and get it over with.
It was beginning to sound like the only rational prospect. He was hearing multiple voices now -- muffled voices that sounded like they were coming from outside the shuttle which, of course, was impossible given the vast alien ocean that had swallowed him up. It could only mean that he'd gone mad. Stark raving mad. So much for beating his phobia. The fear had won by slowly making him crazy.
The voices were insistent, and they accompanied their muffled shouts with banging on the hull. He shivered. A tactical officer who sees things and hears voices is useless. The thought had occurred to him when the water had first started pouring into the shuttle. What if this had happened in the middle of a battle situation?
The voices continued their muffled cries, but he ignored them. There was only one voice he wanted to hear right now, and he was regretting his decision to face reality.
Oh good. He might be crazy but at least he wasn't going to die alone.
"Open the hatch." Trip's voice was calm but insistent once again.
What? Malcolm sighed. No,no. That would just flood the compartment. But did it really matter anymore? There was only about a foot of space left, so his time was up. Why not just open the hatch and let the inevitable happen?
He shifted his frozen grip on the support beam and hardened his jaw. Because he wasn't that kind of pessimist anymore. And as damaged as he might be, the crew of Enterprise still needed him. They'd lost too many; they couldn't afford to lose another. He didn't want to just give up and give in, either. He knew if there was air left in the shuttle, there was still hope because a certain, persistently optimistic engineer had rubbed off on him that way.
"Open the hatch."
Very persistent. Bloody hell.
Malcolm opened his eyes and tried to smile at the illusion while simultaneously ignoring the rising water and the cold. "I can't open the hatch. I'll drown."
"The hatch is damaged from the outside. You need to open it so they can rescue you."
Trip's persistence had always been at once both annoying and endearing to him, and he decided to find it endearing now. "The voices aren't real, Trip. It's just an illusion," he said patiently, and then paused. "Like you."
"Malcolm." Blue eyes held his with a steady gaze. "Think about it. I'm not real, but have I pointed you at anything that wasn't?" The eyes were unwavering. "Have I told you anything yet that wasn't true?"
Malcolm blinked. It was true. The carbon dioxide poisoning, his injuries, the comm. system, the leak... even his feelings... had it been his subconscious speaking past the panic? Whatever it was, all of it had been real.
Malcolm swallowed, his heart beating faster with renewed fear. "The hatch release is underwater."
Trip nodded. "You can do it. Open the hatch."
Taking a breath that was neither steady nor deep, Malcolm clenched his fists and then sank under the water before he could change his mind, pushing his way to the fully submerged half of the shuttle. Frozen fingers struggled with the mechanical override for the hatch, and for a moment he stopped breathing. His vision wavered, and he was certain this was the moment he was going to die, but just then the hatch popped open easily.
He nearly slipped forward and out the hatch as the water inexplicably rushed out of the shuttle. Two sets of hands grabbed his shoulders and kept him from cracking his knees on the door frame as he fell, and he looked up in confusion. Ensign Travis Mayweather's bright smile greeted him first, "Sir!"
He smiled weakly back at Travis and turned his head as the other set of hands lifted him up off the deck plating. He couldn't help but notice that both the captain and Enterprise's helmsman were dry. They weren't even wearing EV suits.
Archer interrupted his train of thought with an expression of concern. "Lieutenant! Are you okay?"
Malcolm nodded, and finally found his voice as he struggled to his feet, "Yes ... yes, sir. I'm a little battered and bruised," he managed through chattering teeth. "But I'm fine..." his voice trailed off as he looked up.
There was the ocean, several feet above his head, forming a giant dome above Shuttlepod One and, he looked past Archer, Shuttlepod Two. He looked up again at the ceiling of water in confusion, and then dawning understanding. He turned back to the captain just as Travis settled a warm, and blessedly dry, blanket over his shoulders, a half-smile growing on his face.
Archer grinned back at him as they stepped into Shuttlepod Two. "It worked, Malcolm. The energy shielding... I looked up your reports on your work on it. Travis and most of the engineering crew managed to get it into the shuttle's system." As if to confirm the captain's words, the corridor created by the shielding crackled with streaks of blue.
The mention of engineering caused Malcolm to pause just inside the door as Archer closed the hatch and Travis slid into the pilot's seat. Through the pane in the door he could see a hazy figure standing casually in Shuttlepod One's open hatchway. The figure smiled, then wavered and vanished. Moments later the ocean rushed in to fill the space between the two spacecraft. It was only then that Malcolm sank into the chair behind the helmsman.
Archer remained standing, like a energy shield himself. "We'll retrieve One in a couple of days. The Kreetasans said they had some salvage equipment that could help." He paused. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Malcolm nodded, relief flooding him as the realization that his ordeal was over became more real. "I'm alive, sir."
Travis turned from the helm for just a moment his usually sunny personality suddenly serious and earnest, "We're glad you're still with us, Lieutenant."
"As am I, Travis. As am I."
As they broke the surface of the water, and then the atmosphere of the planet, he couldn't help but think that the stars too were welcoming him back home.
Almost done! Just one more chapter and a surprise in store for Malcolm.
This is where I make a major deviation from the novels, having to do with the way Trip is undercover. More info in the end notes.
"I've invested far too much time trying to figure you out, Mister Tucker.
I'm not about to accept that it was all for nothing."
Malcolm let his head fall back against the pillow, and the book he'd been reading drop against his chest. He stared up at the ceiling of his bunk; he'd read the same bloody sentence three times now. Obviously, his mind was elsewhere.
He thought back to the conversation in sickbay earlier this evening. Maybe the doctor was right, and his experience in the shuttlepod this morning had left a little psychological damage. Phlox, of course, simply thought that hours of having to fight a phobia had made the tactical officer more subdued than a few cuts, bruises, and a broken rib would seem to warrant. He'd suggested that Malcolm would feel better if he talked about it.
Well, he bloody well didn't feel like talking to anyone about his experience right now, even though he knew he probably should. He didn't seem to be hearing voices or seeing things since he was rescued but he was still rattled by the entire experience. And truth to be told, he was worried about what it meant if he had to think quickly in another tactical situation.
Malcolm sighed and shut the book with one hand, pushing himself up into a seated position, feet on the floor of his quarters. Tossing the book aside, he rubbed his face with both hands and then sat there, staring across the room for a long moment. Normally he'd take a turn on the exercise equipment in the gym whenever a good brood didn't quite suffice to deal with whatever bones were rattling around in his brain. Other times ...
He groaned lightly and rested his face in his hands. Other times he'd simply comm. Trip to see if he wanted to come on over and chat, or watch a movie over a couple of cold beers.
That knot in his chest was back, worse than before the accident this morning. He tried a couple of deep breaths and briefly contemplated a late night jog to the gym before his broken rib reminded him that he'd have to take it easy for a while. Mixed emotions started to well up inside him ...
Suddenly he grimaced and stood up, marched across his room, and slid into the chair at his desk. There was only one thing that was going to make him feel better right now, and that was knowing whether Trip was still alive or dead. He needed information, and he knew there was one person who might just be able to give it to him.
Checking the duty log, he winced. Hoshi was still on the bridge. So much for doing this quietly. He could try to bypass the comm. station but she'd still see it -- probably before he'd even gotten the message out.
He got up and went to the door to press the comm. button, "Hoshi," he said crisply, and waited.
"Malcolm. Is there something I can do for you?" came the reply.
Malcolm smiled to himself. He wondered if Hoshi knew that Chang, Ramirez, and Kemper regularly argued about who could win Ensign Sato, but only when they thought their boss wasn't listening.
"I need to send an encoded subspace message on a non-standard frequency. Incoming will be routed directly to my quarters on the same encrypted channel. If the captain asks about it, you can let him know I'll brief him as soon as I have more information."
There was only a moment's pause before the voice came back, clear and professional. "Of course, lieutenant. I appreciate you letting me know." He knew she'd understood the unspoken, ‘this is classified - don't listen in', and he felt terrible not telling her the truth.
"Thank you, ensign."
He slid back into his chair and started typing until the Starfleet logo disappeared and he was sure it was on the correct frequency. His message was simple: "Request status on a field agent. Code name: Lazarus. Reply asap. - R."
A few minutes later his terminal beeped with the arrival of an encrypted packet: "Message received. Will confirm status. - Harris."
All he could do now was wait. It might be days before he'd hear anything back.
He had just slid the book back into its place on the shelf above his bunk, intending to finally turn in for the night, when his terminal beeped.
Malcolm hurried back to the desk and slid into the seat, fearing bad news. This had to be a bad sign; he didn't expect Harris would have been able to get a report on Commander Tucker's status this quickly unless Trip had been compromised. It was a video comm. link request, so he typed in the necessary codes and initiated the link to his terminal.
And for the second time that day, he stopped breathing for just a moment.
"Malcolm!" The voice was the same, but the face that grinned back at him was flesh-and-blood this time and the blue eyes were real. "Damn but it's good to see you!"
For a moment, Malcolm couldn't say anything or do anything other than smile. He could feel a flush rise to his face as everything that had happened that day rushed through his mind at warp speed, and just as the eyes on the screen in front of him started to shift from joy to confusion, he found his voice again.
"Trip!!" Malcolm choked out the name when he could speak again. "How are you? Are you alright? Where are you? Are you safe?" He knew he was staring and probably had a ridiculous grin of his own, but he didn't care.
Trip's expression changed imperceptibly, a touch of seriousness mixed with bemusement. "I'm okay ... now." Before Malcolm could ask, Trip quickly added, "I'm fine. Really. I gave them the slip. I'm..."
Malcolm interrupted just as quickly as a tactical sense started to shift his brain out of the surprise-induced fog. "No, no. Don't tell me where you are." It was one thing to have the fact that Trip was still alive leak if this frequency was intercepted - it was another for his location to fall into the wrong hands.
His time undercover seemed to have had an effect because Trip simply nodded. "Let's just say I'm in friendly territory for the moment." He lifted a glass full of a blue liquid. "A bar in fact." So that was what all that background noise was. Trip swirled the alien liquor around in the glass. "Too bad we can't share some of this."
Malcolm chuckled, suddenly feeling himself again as the moment held a hint of old times. "Perhaps not, but ..." he said as he leaned over and popped open his small stasis unit under the desk. He pulled out a beer, pried the top off on the edge of the desk and then held it up to the screen, " ... that doesn't mean we can't drink together."
Trip grinned again and touched his tumbler to his screen. They both downed a few swallows of their respective beverages and for several minutes there was nothing but an amiable and slightly awkward silence as both stared at their drinks and then at each other.
It was Malcolm that broke the silence first. "This is quite the coincidence. I just put in a message to Harris for an update on your status."
"Yeah I know," Trip replied. "It's not a coincidence. I've been watching the sub-space frequencies and saw a ping go past on the one I used a month ago. I figured it was either you or the cap'n." He paused and smiled. "You, more likely, since you'd know who to call."
Trip glanced around his environment and then lowered his voice enough that Malcolm had to turn up the volume on his own terminal. "I found somethin' and I wanted the cap'n to see it first before anyone else." He held up a small data disk.
Malcolm nodded as he caught Trip's meaning. I want Archer to see it before Harris and the rest of the shadowy Section does. "Understood. Give me a moment and I'll initiate one of Hoshi's newer encryption schemes for the data transfer." He set to work securing another frequency, feeling for the first time in days like he was doing something useful. The small inset on his terminal screen allowed him to surreptitiously glance at Trip from time to time while he worked.
Trip waited patiently, occasionally sipping on his drink. However, unlike Malcolm's illusionary companion for most of the day, this man wore a look of real-world weariness. The smile on Trip's face had faded, and he occasionally looked up and glanced around his surroundings. With every passing moment Malcolm was fervently wishing he was right there with Trip, a hidden phase pistol handy under a jacket.
He stabbed the last keystroke in place. "Okay. Go ahead and start the transfer."
Trip did so and then raised his glass again, took a sip and swirled the remaining liquid around for a moment. When he looked up, the tension in his jaw and the shine in his eyes made Malcolm's heart clench.
"Trip? Are you alright?" That knot in his own chest was back.
There was a pause before the other man nodded. "I'm just ... not sure if I made the right decision, takin' this mission." Trip huffed a short, humorless laugh. "Not that I can do anythin' about it now. It's a little too late for regrets." The words made Malcolm startle but Trip was staring into his glass. "The thing is, I'm flyin' by the seat of my pants out here, and I don't know from minute to minute if I'm doing the right thing. Dammit, I trained to be an engineer, a warp specialist! Not this!"
The echo of Malcolm's earlier thoughts brought him no satisfaction. On the contrary, the desire to be there by Trip's side, to throw an arm around his shoulders, was overwhelming. It was killing him to know that though Trip was real - painfully real this time - Malcolm still couldn't reach out and touch him. The thought occurred to him that he'd love to find whomever had come up with the phrase ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder' and shove them out an airlock.
At least he could offer moral support. "None of us really knows if we're doing the right thing until it's done. You've already saved lives, Trip. Don't discount that."
Trip went on as if he hadn't heard, "I feel like I'm in over my head. And very much alone out here."
That did it. Malcolm could feel that knot expand through his chest and reach up his throat as if to strangle him. "You could come back," he said softly.
There was a long stretch of silence. "Maybe. But not right now. I've got to follow up on this." Trip finished his drink. Malcolm grimaced. He felt the coward for not saying anything, and for a fleeting moment he considered it.
Then the rational side of his brain intervened. I know you're trying to simultaneously save the world and keep one step ahead of the bad guys out there, alone and outnumbered, but I thought I'd let you know that I've got a thing for you, my friend. So, not to be distracting or anything of the sort, but, think about that, T'Pol, the war, Terra Prime, the baby, you know - everything - and get back to me? Malcolm rubbed his face. Trip didn't need that kind of emotional burden right now.
"Malcolm? You okay?"
Given the trajectory of his thoughts, the echo of that voice from the shuttle earlier today made Malcolm jump, and Trip's already concerned expression grew deeper. "Malcolm! Hey, what's goin' on?"
More than you know. Malcolm settled again in his chair, took another swallow of his beer to cover his discomfort and shook his head. "I'm fine." Liar.
Trip looked unconvinced.
"Really. I'm okay." He took a deep breath and misdirected, "Had a bit of a situation this morning when the shuttle I was in crash landed in an ocean and then sank but, as you can see, I made it out in one piece."
"Yikes. I know how you feel about the water."
"Yes. Well. Someone helped by talking me through it," Malcolm replied quietly.
"Glad to hear it." As Trip spoke, the data port on the terminal beeped; the transfer was complete. Much as he wanted to stay up all night chatting with Trip like old times, Malcolm knew that the longer they talked the more likely someone was going to pinpoint the engineer's location.
He took a breath and looked his friend in the eyes. "The data transfer's complete."
Trip nodded, eyes shining again. It was obvious the man was thinking the same thing: he had to go. But he made no move to sever the connection.
His heart feeling like it was gripped in a vise, Malcolm leaned forward. "I hate to say it," and indeed he did because his voice broke a bit, "But you'd better go. The longer you stay on this channel the more likely that those you gave the slip to will find you again."
Trip nodded again and rubbed a hand across his eyes. "Yeah. You're right." He frowned off into the distance. "Okay. Tell everyone ... well, no, you can't tell everyone." He paused, obviously having a hard time speaking, "Tell Phlox I'm okay. Tell the cap'n... tell T'Pol... I..." Trip stopped, his eyes filling with tears.
It was only concern for Trip's safety that kept Malcolm from doing the same. "I understand," he replied calmly. "I'll tell them." And for the second time that day, he let the words rush out of him in a flood. "It was good to see you again, Trip. I can't really begin to tell you how good it is. I miss you and I ... we all... love you... and miss you. Just finish this bloody business and come back safe?"
Trip nodded silently, slowly - and for a moment Malcolm wondered if he'd given too much away. It didn't seem to rein in his tongue though, since he babbled right on, "And if you ever feel alone, or if you ever need some advice or just a friendly face in the dark, and you can find a secure channel... call me. You know you can call me? You know I'll be there for you?" He winced inwardly at his own words, but he couldn't seem to stop himself.
Trip nodded again, then finally found his voice again. "I know. Thanks." He took a deep breath. "I think I just really needed to see ... to see a friendly face again."
"Believe me, I know the feeling."
"It's good to see you again. You don't know how much."
Malcolm just nodded, unable to respond for fear of losing what control he had left.
Trip smiled weakly. "Alright. I'll talk to you again soon. I hope."
"You will." Malcolm choked out and managed a forced smile, "You'd better, or I'll come out there and kill you myself." That earned him a chuckle from the other man, and he felt momentarily better.
Trip tilted his empty glass. "See ya," he murmured, then turned away, and the screen went dark.
"God speed," Malcolm whispered to no one. And for the next few minutes he fought back his own tears despite the fact that he was -- he looked around to check -- actually alone.
When he felt the moisture in his eyes finally subside and the knot in his throat loosen a bit he got up slowly from the desk and went to the comm. button at the door. "Bridge." He waited until a youthful voice answered, "Yes, lieutenant?" Hoshi must have long since gone to bed.
"I realize it's late crewman, but I need you to wake the captain. Tell him I'll meet him in the Ready Room."
"Aye sir," came the tentative reply. The poor lad was not looking forward to being the one to wake Captain Archer in the middle of the night. "Is there anything else?"
Malcolm paused and considered for a moment before answering. "Yes. Put me through to Commander T'Pol's quarters."
"Aye sir." Probably grateful that he wouldn't have to wake both senior officers, the crewman quickly routed the call, and a moment later a female voice came through the comm.., "Yes?"
"I apologize for the late hour commander, but I've just received some sensitive intelligence that you and the captain should be briefed on immediately." He could have simply told her at the start of the briefing, but as one emotionally reserved individual to another, he knew she'd appreciate a moment to regain her composure before meeting with them. "It was sent to us by someone we both know. Code name Lazarus."
There was a long, not unexpected pause from the other end of the comm. before the voice replied, soft and with a hint of gratitude, "Understood, Lieutenant. I will see you in the captain's ready room momentarily."
As he changed into a uniform, Malcolm deliberated on the rattling bones that still lingered in the back of his mind. He was a man of action, and he'd just been presented with a situation that he would have to deal with, sooner or later. The thing was, he had no idea what to do. If a tactical situation was where he shone, relationships left him floundering.
Just as he was about to open the door and step out into the corridor, he realized where he needed to turn. If there was anyone on Enterprise who understood the complicated nature of relationships ... he hit the comm. button once more. "Sickbay."
"Lieutenant Reed," came the cheery reply almost immediately. "You're up late. What can I do for you?"
"I was thinking about what you said earlier today, doctor. And I... suppose I could... use someone to talk to," Malcolm admitted, somewhat uncomfortably.
"Of course. Why don't you drop by sickbay tomorrow at lunch time. There's no need to schedule an appointment."
And thus alert everyone that I'm seeking some counsel. Bless you, Phlox. "Thank you, doctor. I'll see you tomorrow."
As he opened the door, Malcolm took one last look around the empty room. The knot in his chest was still there, but the idea that he had a problem to solve had taken some of the weight off his shoulders. Trip would have to be back, safe and sound before that weight was entirely gone, and achieving that outcome would take some thinking. In the meantime, he could at least share some good news with a handful of others who'd be equally as grateful for it.
He smiled at the darkened computer terminal. And, with any luck, he'd see and hear from Trip again. That thought alone was enough to loosen that last bit of tightness inside and he stepped out into the brightly lit corridor with a smile.
The End! Thank you to my readers for hanging in there with me. Hopefully soon I'll have an idea for the next story that gets the two together so that Malcolm can have a truly happy ending.
Oh, and my note here: As far as Trip's undercover appearance is concerned, for this work (and any subsequent stories) I didn't want his spy-look to be as semi-permanent as the novels imply. (I.e. no surgical procedures.) Whatever he may be using, it's something more along the lines of what Phlox did to Malcolm to make him look Suliban when Travis and Archer were being held in that camp in "Detained". Or I might come up with another idea. I really wanted Trip to look like Trip when he talked to Malcolm. (And for it to possibly be a problem later on if I write more to go along with this fic.)
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.