Author's Note: I have to confess I never quite know what's going to happen when I sit down to do these. In the last episode, did I know I was going to make Kov into a furniture designer who's winging it in the engine room instead of the sweet capable guy he is usually portrayed as in fanfic? Nope. But I did want to give him an excuse for having the most far-gone engine Trip had ever seen, and also his apparent lack of interest in intense geeky engineering technobabble. I mean, a Vulcan engineer OUGHT to be way ahead of a Human engineer, but that just wasn't the impression I got from Kov. So that's how that happened in the last chapter, for those of you who found it peculiar, and I know some of you did. I still think the dear boy was doing pretty well, considering. (And I believe he's a very talented furniture designer.)
As always, many thanks to my reviewers, both here and offline. I very much appreciate that extra effort you make.
Damrus said, “Captain Archer, what are the chances you'd encounter a half-naked woman who you think you know dozens of light years from your home world? Go to sleep. If you're lucky, maybe she'll visit you in your dreams.” The rest of the Eska chuckled and followed their leader off to their own sleeping quarters.
The man’s manner was not one that T’Pol considered likely to engender cooperation from the captain. Still, she was glad he had said it, if only because it relieved her from the duty of doing so.
Archer glared at her. “And I know what you’re thinking.”
“Damrus did have a point, Cap’n,” Tucker said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Reed said, “Is it possible we’re dealing with psychotropic compounds? We could all be at risk of one of these . . . visitations.”
“I wasn’t hallucinating, Malcolm!” Archer said. “But I am tired. I’m going to turn in. You guys think you can figure it out, you go right ahead.” He made an impatient sweeping gesture and stalked off to his tent.
That left Reed standing with his arms folded, exchanging worried glances with Tucker, who had his hands on his hips and a sour expression on his face.
“What do we do now?” Tucker asked, looking at her.
“Mr. Reed’s hypothesis should be tested. There was nothing dangerous in the atmosphere when we scanned it from Enterprise, but as we know all too well, conditions on the ground can change. Did the captain eat or drink anything different than the rest of us?”
“You’re the only one who ate anything different tonight,” Tucker said. “You think it might be the drayjin? Or that beer of theirs?”
“I will attempt to secure samples of each in the morning,” T’Pol said. “In the meantime, I believe it best that I keep watch to ensure that the captain does not wander off again.”
“I should be the one to do that,” Reed said.
“I believe you may need your energy for tomorrow, Lieutenant. Perhaps you will learn something salient to this situation during your expedition. Besides, Vulcans require much less sleep than Humans.”
“Yeah, go on, Malcolm, get a little sleep while you can,” Tucker said, and patted the armory officer on the back.
“You coming?” Reed said, presumably because he and Tucker were sharing a tent.
“In a little while.”
Reed grunted and left.
Tucker moved closer and lowered his voice. “Do you think we could get the cap’n to let Phlox check him out?”
“We could try. I doubt he will be receptive. As long as he persists in this irrational belief that his vision was real, one of us should endeavor to stay with him at all times.”
“He won’t appreciate that,” Tucker said. “But maybe he won’t notice if we’re subtle about it. I’ll try to feel him out tomorrow. It’s possible that after some sleep this whole thing will look completely different to him.”
“That would be ideal.” She didn’t say what she knew Tucker was also thinking: that if the captain’s delusions got worse, they might actually need to relieve him of duty.
Trip threw another couple of logs into the fire. “At least he’s not having paranoid visions of rock creatures.”
“Indeed,” T’Pol agreed. “Rather than suffering from fear of the unknown, it appears he is suffering from sexual frustration.”
Commander Tucker began to make choking noises.
“Commander?” she asked, concerned.
“I suppose that might be possible,” he said, his voice much higher-pitched than usual, “But I wouldn’t recommend sharing that theory with him. At least not in those exact words.”
“Well . . . that’s not something you bring up casually. Maybe when you’re joking around . . . or with someone you’re really close to . . . or maybe, you know, in a more abstract way that doesn’t imply anything specific about a person’s own . . . um, sex life. Or lack thereof. Doing that is a little dangerous.”
T’Pol was puzzled. “Yet if I am to judge from the content available in your databases and your entertainments, sex is an extremely popular topic among Humans.”
Tucker grinned. “Well, come on. Even on Vulcan, there’s got to be a big difference between stories and real life. And also between private and public. Sex is pretty private for most people. Likewise, there’s also a big difference between suggesting something by showing the preliminaries . . . like you know, kissing or hugging, and getting right into . . . um . . .”
“Copulation,” T’Pol suggested. “Yes, I have been briefed on the difference between pornography and what is considered appropriate sensuality in Human culture.”
“Uh huh.” His voice had gone thin again.
“I was trained in these distinctions as part of my preparation for a diplomatic assignment on Earth,” T’Pol said. “But I still find the shades of difference somewhat perplexing. On Vulcan it is much clearer. All unnecessary discussion or display of sexual matters is strictly taboo.”
“Mm,” Tucker said. He sat down in front of the fire.
T’Pol glanced at the captain’s tent, which had finally gone dark, and sat down as well.
Tucker gave her a sidelong look. “So does this mean we shouldn’t be having this conversation?”
“Hardly,” T’Pol said. “If the captain’s judgment is being affected by sexual urges beyond his control, this is a necessary discussion between his two senior officers.”
“I really doubt that’s what’s happening with him,” Tucker said. He yawned. “He’s not some sixteen-year-old boy. He’s a grown man who’s had plenty of experience . . . controlling his urges . . . for decades now.”
“You should get some sleep, Commander.”
“I’m fine. I wasn’t exactly sleeping well anyway. Hoshi mentioned some worms that llike to crawl into your ear to lay their eggs.”
“Bore Worms. The Eska warned us about them, although I have yet to find a sample so I cannot confirm their existence. Even if they do exist, they would not be able to reach you inside a sealed tent.”
“Yeah, well, I know that in theory, but every time I was about to nod off, I imagined I could feel one of them crawling into my ear.”
“Then you are also having hallucinations?” T’Pol stood up, instantly on alert. “We should wake the others and return to Enterprise before the symptoms can worsen.”
“No, no,” Tucker said. “You don’t understand. This is something very, very common. It’s really not a hallucination, it’s just . . . it’s just being scared of creepy crawly things. When you grow up where I did, chances are you’ll get stuff crawling around on you once in awhile, and when you’re a little kid that can leave a real lasting impression. So it’s just a little irrational fear that’s a little harder to talk myself out of in the dark in a strange place.”
T’Pol regarded him for a moment, then sat down again. “There is a logical solution.”
“Oh yeah?” Tucker sounded skeptical. “Meditation?”
He laughed. “Yeah, okay, that would work. Unfortunately, I don’t have any with me.”
“I do. You may have them.”
“You have ear plugs? Why?”
“I sometimes find it difficult to meditate in an unaccustomed location without adequate soundproofing from others . . . particularly those who snore loudly.”
Tucker chuckled. “Well, thanks, but there’s no need. At this point, I’d just as soon hang out.” He licked his lips. “It’s nice talking to you. You’ve been kind of reclusive lately.”
T’Pol bowed her head. It was true that she had been requiring additional quiet and meditation in the wake of Tolaris’s mental assault. Tucker had tried a few times to ask her if she was all right, but she had rebuffed his efforts to draw her out. She had no wish to discuss the matter with anyone, but perhaps particularly not with him. Between what he knew of her canceled wedding and what she had just allowed to happen with Tolaris, he could justifiably conclude that she was, as the Humans put it, “a mess.”
“Is everything all right?” he said again.
“Yes, everything is fine.”
Silence fell. The fire crackled. Tucker stared at it pensively. “Keep watch for a moment,” she said, and went to her tent. When she returned, she handed him the ear plugs. “I sterilized them,” she added, in case he was concerned about hygiene.
He smiled. “Thanks,” he said.
“Get some sleep, Commander,” she said.
“Okay,” he said softly, and left.
Next installment: Acquisition.
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