"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.