Author's Note: This is a prequel to “Sleeping Dogs.” I broke my rule. There just wasn't any meaningful way to fit much of anything between Trip and T’Pol into that script, so I decided that instead I’d try to show how T’Pol might have developed just a little more sensitivity to Hoshi and Malcolm before those events unfolded. So this takes place the night before they find the disabled Klingon ship orbiting the gas giant.
And thank you very much, reviewers! It is very much appreciated. I hope you won’t mind the reappearance of those pesky valve seals this time. After all, it can't all be romance and pecan pie.
After she finished her Bridge shift, T’Pol stopped by the science lab. Ensign Rao had left his work for her to double-check, as she had requested, even though she knew from Commander Tucker that he believed the Ensign had resolved the matter to his satisfaction.
T’Pol didn’t doubt this – but she preferred to confirm that herself. As she had expected, Rao’s microscopic scans were precise and his conclusion fit the evidence. The work was sound.
In pulling the files Rao had tagged for her, T’Pol noticed that the ensign had recorded the proceedings, although that file was not part of his report. Rao made a peculiar habit of recording his conversations with superiors. She had once asked why, and he had explained that he used them while preparing his final reports, and that he also wished to have an objective record of his performance available in case anyone were ever to question it.
She did not know why he imagined that would happen. She considered him a competent officer, and she had made this clear on numerous occasions. However, he still struck her as being quite wary of her.
Curious to see how Commander Tucker and Ensign Rao worked together – and especially whether Rao’s wary attitude would be present there too – T’Pol opened the recording. She noted that Tucker began with a question about Rao’s family, followed by an anecdote about his sister’s recent visit to Tamil Nadu for an architectural assignment. After a full ten minutes expended in this utterly non-task-oriented way, Tucker finally produced his samples and outlined the problem.
Perhaps this was a technique designed to allay fear, or to engender cooperation? It struck T’Pol as extremely inefficient, but Rao did appear more relaxed with the commander than he generally was with her. He immediately suggested that a sub-molecular scan of the items would be helpful, and proceeded to carefully review each seal. He reported his findings to Tucker, who cross-referenced the results with a list he was keeping. Two of the seals, according to Rao, were exhibiting signs of damage consistent with exposure to excessively cold temperatures. Tucker noted that they had been removed from systems that carried liquid nitrogen.
Tucker looked puzzled. “According to the product specs, these seals fall well within the temperature parameters.”
“This kind of material was developed specifically to handle extremely high heat,” Rao said. “I think someone may have oversold the low end of their temperature range.”
“So it was definitely the exposure to cold that did that seal in, not a flaw in the manufacture?”
“Yes, sir. The other samples from the same lot look fine.”
“Well, good. That’s a relief, really. I was afraid we were going to have to replace every single seal on the ship. We’ll have to keep an eye out for a better part going forward, but for now I’ll just put the cold-environment systems on a … what? Six-month replacement schedule? Or maybe every four months?” He frowned. “Some of those lines are a real pain to access.” It was not clear to T’Pol whether Tucker was asking Rao for his advice or just thinking out loud.
“I would assume that six months would be safe, sir – if, as you say, these conduits were actually functioning in that cold environment for over a year.”
“Yeah, it would have been at least a year by now.” Tucker sighed. “Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the more mundane aspects of this girl when she was being put together. But I was smitten with her lovely engines.”
Rao smiled. T’Pol had noted before that many of the males on board, in particular, seemed to delight in speaking of the ship as a female, though she had also observed a few females doing the same. She hypothesized that it must have something to do with Human sexual customs, or perhaps gender roles, though the precise nature of the link escaped her.
Tucker said, “Thanks for your help, Ensign. I’ll tell your boss you did a great job.”
Rao scowled. “As long as we're speaking of cold environments…”
T’Pol drew her hand back from where it had been about to shut off the recording.
On the screen, Tucker looked distinctly uncomfortable. “Is this the first time you’ve worked with a Vulcan, Raj?”
“No, sir, it’s not, but I’ve never had to report directly to one before. I’ve actually been thinking about requesting a transfer into your department.”
T’Pol’s mouth tightened. Her staff was quite small to begin with, and Rao’s expertise was valuable.
Tucker said, “Not that I don’t think you’d be an asset, Ensign, but I think you might just need some time to adjust to Subcommander T’Pol’s management style. She’s smart and she’s fair. She’s also had a lot more experience in space than anyone else on board. You could do a heck of a lot worse.”
“I’m not sure about that, sir. I’ve never had such low job ratings in my life.”
“Let me guess … she says you’re ‘satisfactory’ in every category?”
“Not a single ‘exceeds expectations’. And she lists many areas in which she feels I should expand my knowledge.”
Trip smiled. “She does the same thing with me. But you have to understand, Raj – from a Vulcan, ‘satisfactory’ is high praise.”
“That’s all fine and good, sir, but what happens when Starfleet compares my job ratings to someone else who’s being rated by a Human who does notice when someone’s doing a great job?”
T’Pol frowned. Were her ratings truly out of line with those of other supervisors in Starfleet? She had read the guidelines very carefully. It was true that her staff’s previous ratings were generally higher, but she had assumed the new challenges they were facing in space might have caused some reduction in their performance. But perhaps that was not it. Perhaps, rather, their former supervisors had attempted to encourage cooperation or friendship by unduly inflating their ratings.
On the screen, Tucker looked conflicted. “Well… maybe I’ll give the captain a heads up about that issue. But I wouldn’t get too disheartened. Jefferies was notoriously stingy with his ratings, too, but when he recommended me for this post, Starfleet took him very seriously, even though my record also had a few…well, let’s be kind and call them glitches.”
“I can’t imagine Subcommander T’Pol ever recommending me for anything.”
“Nonsense. She recommended you for this.”
“And made it clear she’ll check my work later.”
“That doesn’t mean she doesn’t trust you to do it well, Ensign. She’s just … being Vulcan. It’s just in her nature to be extremely thorough. You can’t expect her to act exactly like a Human would.”
“No, sir. But respectfully, sir – it’s well known that working in your department is a lot more fun.”
“Oh, that’s just to balance it out, Raj – Engineering also pulls a hell of a lot more double and triple shifts than most departments. Give it time. We’re all still settling in here. Who knows, the subcommander might even work her away around to having a little fun someday.”
T’Pol raised an eyebrow. That would most certainly never happen.
Tucker patted the young man on the shoulder. “In the meantime …it might not hurt to get together with your colleagues and try to make some of your own fun. Off duty, of course.”
Raj’s face closed in, and Tucker’s head cocked in concern. “Raj?”
“The science department just isn't a very cohesive group. Sato and Baird pretty much just hang out with Operations. Cutler spends every free moment on her studies with Dr. Phlox. Kimball is always brooding about her marriage. And Novakovich hasn’t been the same since that first planet we visited. And Naiman…” Rao scowled. “Well, she interprets any friendly overture I make as something more than I intended.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t be whining.”
“Don't worry about that. What do you mean when you say Novakovich hasn’t been the same?”
“He’s very withdrawn. I know he plans to resign if we ever get home. That’s how he puts it. ‘If we ever get home’. Pretty depressing way of looking at it, huh?”
“And Sally’s having issues too?” Tucker definitely looked worried now. “Is anyone else aware of this? Like Phlox, for example?”
“I don’t know,” Rao said. “Normally, I might mention it to my department head, or the XO, but…” he shrugged and gave Tucker a meaningful glance.
T’Pol knew what the glance meant. A Vulcan wouldn’t understand emotional difficulties.
It was a reasonable supposition. She didn’t. The recording ended. Rao obviously had not expected her to watch it, and normally, she wouldn’t have.
Now what should she do?
There was most peculiar music coming from Commander Tucker’s quarters, which stopped abruptly when she buzzed.
“Subcommander?” Tucker asked. He had a small metallic instrument in his hands. She looked down at it, surprised that something so tiny could produce so much noise.
“It’s a harmonica,” he said. “Would you like to come in?” He was dressed extremely casually in sweats and a t-shirt; clearly, he considered himself off-duty.
“I have something to discuss with you, but it can wait for tomorrow if you would prefer.”
“Nah, might as well do it now. I’ll be a lot harder to find tomorrow.”
“I reviewed Ensign Rao’s work. It was sound.”
“Yes, I was quite impressed.” Tucker smiled. “Was that it, then?”
“Oh." Tucker looked taken aback. "Well, come on in. Have a seat.” He quickly pulled out his desk chair, then sat down on his bunk facing her.
She sat. The room was neatly kept but rather pungent with the odor of the man, though T’Pol no longer found it as sharp and unpleasant as she once had. The décor was fairly utilitarian, though he had placed a number of photographs around the room, as well as a large metal object she couldn’t identify. Of course, she was not here to analyze Tucker’s personal decorating style. “Ensign Rao recorded his conversation with you, although I do not believe he intended for me to see it.”
Tucker’s face developed the most peculiar expression. “But you did see it.”
“Well... if you were Human, I’d expect that you might be a little pissed off with him… or with me … or with both of us.”
“As you quite sensibly pointed out to the ensign, I am not Human. I must confess I am somewhat perplexed by the issues he raised with you.”
Tucker raised his eyebrows. “Which ones?”
All of them, T’Pol thought, but she decided to start with what had seemed to most concern Tucker. “Am I expected to continually monitor the emotional well-being of my subordinates?”
Tucker grimaced. “I wouldn't put it quite like that, but yeah, crew morale matters. You also have to consider the possibility of suicide in a depressed crewman, and the younger ones who haven’t been out on a long mission before could be especially vulnerable to that. However, I think the cap’n and I know you’re out of your element there, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I already asked Phlox to investigate a little further.”
“Of course, if you notice that anyone seems different than usual, you might want to take it up with me or the Cap’n. We don’t want to lose anybody out here.”
“Then you believe I should monitor them. What signs should I look for?”
Tucker smiled. “You know, I'll tell you what I’d do. Liz Cutler may not be an officer, but she’s the natural leader in that group. I’d try to check in with her periodically and ask her how she thinks people are doing. She seems open to working with you, and she has a good eye for other people’s moods. And it also fits well with her current interest in medicine. Hoshi’s another one you could ask. She’s pretty observant, and she may know when people are hearing bad news from home, or just not hearing anything from home, which can be just as bad.”
“I see. Those would appear to be a logical strategies, Commander. Thank you.”
“And my job ratings…perhaps you could explain where I diverge from common practice?”
Tucker held up a hand. “I don’t think I should. You’re following the guidelines. They have to get used to you on that, not the other way around. Maybe if you can find something, anything, that you really feel someone’s doing exceptionally well, you could point it out, but don’t put yourself into contortions to do it. Rao is probably one of those guys who had straight A’s in school and never had a bad review in his life. He’s just not used to the real world yet. Of course, Cap’n Archer might have different advice for you. In that case, you’ll want to pay attention to him, not me.”
“Rao is a capable scientist. I would not wish to lose his services.”
“And you won’t. Not to my department, anyway.”
T'Pol decided she might as well address the last issue puzzling her. “It appears he feels that my department is not ‘fun’ compared to yours.”
Tucker grinned. “I doubt Malcolm’s crew think he’s a barrel of laughs either. We didn’t come out here to party. Either they’ll find their jobs fulfilling or they won’t. If I were a young scientist, I’d be pretty pleased to be working for someone who can teach me so much. With time, I’m sure they’ll get used to you. And if they can't, that's their problem. You can’t be anything other than what you are.”
She was somewhat surprised that he hadn’t taken the opportunity to tell her she needed to ‘loosen up.’ He’d certainly suggested as much on earlier occasions, but that had perhaps fallen into the category of "teasing." This appeared to be more serious advice. “I appreciate your help, Commander.”
“Any time, T’Pol.”
She stood up. “I will leave you to your…harmonica.”
“So did you hear any of it? What do you think? Don’t quit the day job?”
“That would be rather difficult at this distance from Earth.”
“Good point. Guess I’ll stick it out as Chief Engineer, then.”
“I’m sure that would be best for all concerned. Good night, Commander.”
“Good night, T’Pol.” He smiled warmly at her.
T’Pol retired to her quarters. There was nothing urgent on the agenda for the next day. Perhaps she could implement Commander Tucker’s suggestion about Crewman Cutler in the morning. As inefficient as all these Human emotions swirling around her were, she had begun to realize that she was going to have to account for them in order to do her job effectively.
No doubt it would be an interesting challenge.
Next installment: Shadows of P'Jem.
Like it? Hate it? Just want to point out a typo? Join the discussion now.
Disclaimer: Star Trek in all its various forms and its characters are the property of CBS/Paramount. No copyright infringement is intended by the authors of this site, which is solely for the purpose of entertainment and is not for profit. This site is owned by CX and was opened to the public in February 2008.