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."