Author's Note: Thanks as always for the kind reviews! Also, I'd like to give another shout-out to Chrissie's Transcript Site, which makes this sort of thing much easier to do.
Commander Tucker met them in the shuttle bay and started reporting before they had finished climbing the ladder. “Welcome back, Cap’n. We’ve already grabbed the other pod and we’ll bring it in just as soon as we can open the doors here. Malcolm and Hoshi are trying to get a lock on the Fortune’s course, but we’re having some sensor issues. With your permission, I need to get to Engineering and see what I can do about them from that end.” He took a breath. “I’m sorry I let them get away.”
“Don’t worry about it, Trip,” Archer said. “It beats the hell out of being decompressed.” Archer glanced at T’Pol and she thought she detected some muted concern in his expression. If so, perhaps it had something to do with Commander Tucker.
It was only two weeks since the engineer had spent five days confined to quarters in the wake of his insubordination on the Bridge during the incident with the Malurians, and he had been subdued and anxious to please ever since.
T’Pol had originally considered that penalty far too light. Commander Tucker himself had suggested a reduction in rank. She felt that idea had some merit, given the seriousness of his offense and the reality that a drop to Lieutenant Commander would not impair his place in the chain of command. Captain Archer had disagreed. He had explained that such a mark on his record could ruin Tucker’s chances for a future command, which would be particularly unfortunate since he was considered a strong prospect. “Not to mention I don’t particularly want to be this far out with a chief engineer who’s going to start second-guessing himself. Trip’s already beating himself up enough. Believe me, he takes this kind of thing very much to heart. Besides, I think this is partly my fault.”
She had quirked an eyebrow, interested to hear more.
“When Trip likes someone, he’ll follow them over a cliff,” Archer said. “And frankly, it seemed to me that he’d decided he liked you. But I probably shouldn’t have relied on that. I should have emphasized the new chain of command a little more strongly.”
T’Pol said, “It perhaps did not help when you essentially exempted his department from my oversight.” She didn’t add it aloud, but she also faulted Archer for allowing a casual familiarity among ranks. Nor did it help when he disparaged her suggestions in front of Tucker and others.
“No, in hindsight it probably didn’t,” Archer said. “Well, here’s your chance to establish your authority there. You’ll be supervising Lieutenant Hess while she leads that department in Trip’s absence. See how it goes. If you encounter resentment, let me know. They’re very loyal to him, but this isn’t supposed to be a popularity contest.”
Fortunately, Hess and the rest of the staff had been cooperative. They were clearly well-trained and well-disciplined, and T’Pol’s opinion of Mr. Tucker’s management abilities had only risen during the period of his absence.
But it seemed the same could not be said of Mr. Tucker’s opinion of himself.
“I will accompany you to Engineering,” she said, and noticed Tucker’s face darken momentarily, although he quickly wiped the expression away.
“Of course, Sub-Commander,” he said politely, and headed out, walking quickly and efficiently and not attempting to engage her in any conversation as he once would have.
Apparently, if Tucker had once “liked” her, as the captain had put it, he no longer did. This was immaterial to the execution of their jobs, of course, but T’Pol found herself regretting it nonetheless. Friendships appeared to be important among the humans, a sort of social lubrication that often allowed tasks to be completed more efficiently, with a greater degree of collaboration.
Of course, as a Vulcan she merely required his respect, and in fact, he was far more formal and respectful with her now than he had ever been. There had been no more intrusive personal questions and no more of the unreasonable arguments he appeared to so enjoy. T’Pol was puzzled that she was experiencing this as a loss; she should have been pleased.
Instead, just like Captain Archer, she seemed to instinctively feel that something was amiss.
“You resent my presence in Engineering?” she asked.
“What?” He stopped dead in the corridor. “No. Why would you think that?”
“When I said I would accompany you, I observed a change in your expression that was suggestive of … negative emotions.”
He looked almost amused for a moment. “Getting better at that, aren’t ya?” He shook his head dismissively. “It’s nothing to do with you. Maybe I resent myself a little. You know – that I’ve let things to get the point where you feel you actually need to be there to supervise me.”
“That is not why I am accompanying you to Engineering.”
“No?” He started on his way again, his jaw set. She suspected that he didn’t believe her, and decided that further explanation was required. “We have worked together on sensor issues in the past, and I would like to ascertain the problem as quickly as possible since it may affect our ability to track the Fortunate.”
His jaw only tightened, and she saw his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed hard. “I should never have let them go to warp.”
“You had no reason to expect an attack.”
He just grimaced and continued walking.
“Commander,” she said, and put a hand briefly on his arm to stop him.
She hadn’t appreciated his failure to address her properly before, but she liked his newfound observance of protocol even less. “I am becoming concerned about what appears to be a significant drop in your level of self-confidence.”
His mouth twisted. “You mean I’m not acting like the sun shines out of my own ass anymore? Don’t worry, Subcommander. I can still get the job done.”
“I never had any doubt of that, Mr. Tucker.”
He gave her a long assessing look, then a brief smile that struck her as purely social, perhaps to cover some other emotion, before they continued on their way. She wondered when she had first realized that the same basic facial expression could represent so many different feelings.
They got to Engineering and he set to work immediately, taking in damage reports and assigning priorities, only glancing over at her a couple of times. She watched him focus in on the sensor problem, consulting closely with Lieutenant Hess and Crewman Taylor on possible solutions.
Perhaps the simple passage of time would help this man regain his sense of himself. Ideally, he would emerge from his current period of self-assessment wiser and more mature.
Though she was somewhat taken aback to realize that – contrary to all logic – she rather missed the Commander Tucker who thought the sun shone out of his own ass.
Next installment: Cold Front.
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