"Set in Stone"
Author's Note: This is set towards the beginning of season four, after Kir’shara. Softyfluff is responsible for the plot, she sent me a synopsis and asked me if I’d write it. She asked so nicely that I couldn’t refuse. I’ve never tried something like this before, so this is a completely new experience for me.
The grav plating failed on B deck and that was almost the final straw that sent Trip running screaming out of Main Engineering. It came on top of a failed warp drive and numerous other problems. Unfortunately as much as he would have liked to have kicked the bulkhead and thrown stuff, he couldn’t, because he was the Chief Engineer and he had appearances to keep up. Instead he sighed and resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn’t be able to go for that hot shower that he’d been promising himself for the last twelve hours just yet. He was already working a double shift and it looked like it had just turned into a triple.
This mission was turning into a nightmare. It had seemed like a walk in the park after their exploits on Vulcan, but as always nothing went to plan.
“Hey guys, just go and contact these nice aliens that we haven’t heard from in years. Should be a piece of cake for the “heroes of the Expanse”,” muttered Trip, his voice steeped in sarcasm, as he looked for the root of the latest problem. Obviously no one had bothered to tell Starfleet Command about the nebula that they needed to navigate or the raiding parties that frequented this area of space.
To make it even more ironic, this mission was supposed to be a reward for the Captain for his achievements with the Xindi. He’d been given full control of the mission and consequently anything which happened would be his full responsibility. Trip knew that Archer wanted to do his best and prove that Command’s trust in him was well founded, but currently that was translating into expecting one hundred and twenty percent from his crew twenty-five-seven and it just wasn’t possible to keep to that standard for weeks on end. Everyone was tired but Engineering seemed to be getting the worst of it.
“Commander Tucker?” asked Lieutenant Hess.
Trip looked up to see his Second in Command standing in front of him, and she looked as if she’d been standing there for a while. Lack of sleep was beginning to effect his concentration and he made a note to watch that. And get more coffee.
“Sorry Anna, what is it?”
“We’ve got another two crewmen come down with the Tauran ‘Flu. It means we’re going to be short handed on Alpha shift again.”
Trip took the padd from her hand. Another problem that he really didn’t need. Tauran ‘flu wasn’t life threatening if treated promptly, but it was completely incapacitating. He’d be lucky if those affected would be back at work in less than two weeks. “How many does that make?”
“In total, twelve, including Lieutenant Kaspera,” replied Hess.
“Nothing we can do about it. We’ve reworked the rota so many times that I’ve lost count. We’re just going to have to live with being down a few men. Get anyone still standing to pull doubles, but make sure everyone gets proper down time between shifts.”
“Maybe you should follow your own orders, sir,” said Hess. “You look like you could use some sleep.”
“When this damn grav plating is back online, I promise I’ll get some sleep,” replied Trip. It was an empty promise and they both knew he didn’t plan on keeping it. They’d worked around the clock to get Enterprise back in shape before now, and they probably would have to again. “I need someone to go up to B deck and look at the gravity matrix interchange.”
Hess took the padd back from Trip and scrolled through the task list and crew assignments. She shook her head. “We’ve got teams out repairing the breach on C deck, another team in the Armoury working on the tactical systems, the EPS grid is out in section 5 of E deck, Chen and Duval are assisting Ensign Sato with the communications console malfunctions, everyone else is working on the warp engine. I could maybe pull someone off that…”
“Nah, getting the warp engine back on line is the priority, you know we’re on a tight deadline for this one. We’ll have to maintain at least warp four once we’re up and running again or we won’t make that appointment. A lot’s riding on this for the Captain and he’ll be as angry as a bear if we don’t get warp drive back soon. Guess I’d better go up to B deck myself.” Trip was already reaching for his tools as he said it. “Keep me informed about what’s going on down here. If anything else goes wrong you know where I am.”
“Yes, sir,” said Hess.
The com sounded. “Bridge to Engineering.”
Trip groaned and went to the com. The Captain had been calling down to Engineering every hour or so ever since warp drive had gone down. “Tucker here, go ahead Captain.”
“Any news on the warp engine?”
“We’ve repaired the internal damage and got a team out on the hull to repair the breach, but it’ll be another couple of hours yet,” said Trip.
“I want to know as soon as we have warp drive.”
Trip didn’t have a chance to say anything else as Archer had already signed off. He really needed to talk to the Captain about the Engineering staffing issues but so far he hadn’t found the time. The Captain saw the sickness and injury reports so he knew that Engineering was short handed.
He checked his tool kit and headed out of Engineering towards B deck. They’d only left Vulcan two weeks ago but it seemed like so much more time than that had passed. Trip thought back to the briefing at the start of the mission, it really hadn’t seemed like things were going to be so difficult when they’d been standing around talking it through.
“We’ve been asked to contact a race known as the Thackerites,” said Archer to the assembled senior staff. “They’re offering to trade with us. According to the information that they provided, their planet is rich in minerals and their technology is more advanced than our own. It’s an opportunity that we can’t miss and Starfleet want Enterprise to be the ones to make contact.”
“Vulcan encountered this race over forty years ago,” said T’Pol. “At that point they were reclusive and refused to open discussions with us. Since then they have refused advances from anyone who has approached them regarding trade relations.”
“Well, we’ve just got one up on the Vulcans,” said Archer, not hiding his smug grin.
“Are we sure that their intentions are honourable?” asked Lieutenant Reed.
“We don’t have any reason to think that they’re not,” replied Archer.
“But why contact Earth, and why now, after all this time?” Reed continued.
“It does seem a might strange that they want to open trade relations with Earth now, when they haven’t exactly been outgoing in the past,” added Trip. For some reason he was getting some bad feelings about this mission, but for the moment he couldn’t quantify why. He put it down to the stress of their Vulcan mission, and a lack of proper down time.
“We’ll take all the usual security precautions when we get there, but Starfleet seemed to think there wasn’t any reason to be concerned. Given what they’re offering to trade, it’s worth the risk,” said Archer. “The only immediate problem is that we need to be there in less than four weeks.”
Trip looked up sharply from the display of the known attributes of the alien planet. “Captain, that doesn’t give us much room for manoeuvre. We’ll need to be at a constant warp four or above.”
“I know, but I’m sure that your team can cope, Trip,” said Archer.
“Captain, we’re short staffed because of this flu bug that’s going around, and after that beating we took from the Vulcans, I don’t know if we can do it,” said Trip.
“We don’t have a choice here. These people have never invited anyone else to open trade negotiations. If we blow this then it’ll do huge damage to Earth’s reputation and could mean we gain a new enemy. We’ve been entrusted with a huge responsibility.”
Trip wasn’t exactly happy at the prospect of continuous warp four for nearly four weeks, and his face showed it. Archer however continued on with the briefing, oblivious to Trip’s obvious concern. The Captain kept forgetting that it wasn’t that long ago that Enterprise had needed a complete refit and then Trip had taken them into the middle of a fire fight between the Vulcans and the Andorians. There had been enough damage to give Engineering a full workload for at least a couple of weeks, and now they were being asked to head off to an unknown planet at short notice. They were already overworked and this would just make things worse.
The briefing had continued with more information about the Thackerites themselves and everything that they knew about the planet, but Trip had slightly lost focus by then. He was already thinking through everything that would need to be done to make sure that the warp engine could sustain warp four for such a long period of time. Enterprise’s usual cruising speed was warp three and there was a good reason for that. They could reach higher speeds, Enterprise wasn’t known as the first warp five ship for nothing, but it was hard on the engine and definitely not easily sustainable. However, if the Captain wanted a continuous warp four, then, as Chief Engineer, it was his job to provide it.
He certainly had only been half paying attention by the time they got to navigation. That wasn’t exactly his thing anyway. Star charts and course plotting were left to astronavigation, and he’d never been particularly interested in that aspect of flying a starship. The mention of the nebula did bring his attention back to the meeting.
“I can’t see a way of getting round that without adding an extra couple of weeks to our ETA,” said Travis.
“Is it safe to go through it?” asked Archer.
Obviously the deadline they were working to was foremost in their Captain’s mind. Given that Starfleet had given Archer full control over this mission he was bound to be extra worried about it going well.
“The nebula is composed of inert dust and debris, there shouldn’t be anything harmful within its composition,” said T’Pol.
“It could be a problem with the engines depending on the density,” pointed out Trip. “Nothing like dust clogging the plasma exhaust to cause trouble. Even if that doesn’t happen, dust can do a lot of damage at the speeds that we’ll be travelling at. I’d recommend that we polarise the hull plating when we enter the nebula.”
Trip was so glad that he’d made that recommendation now, as he hurried towards B deck. If the hull plating hadn’t been polarised already then they would have been sitting ducks when the raiders emerged from their hiding place and attacked Enterprise. The rocks and dust of the nebula had masked their arrival and caused the sensors to miss the contact. Even so the attack had been prolonged and hull plating couldn’t hold forever, which was why he now came to be knee deep in engineering emergencies.
Trip finally reached B deck and immediately identified the section where the grav plating had failed. It was rather obvious because of the items floating in the air. A couple of loose screws were doing a slow pirouette in the air. The grav plate in the next section was obviously functioning absolutely fine, which deepened the mystery as to what had actually gone wrong. It was very rare for a single piece of grav plating to fail, they had been built with triple redundancies and usually the problem was in the power supply. Obviously that wasn’t the case here or the whole deck’s gravity would be off line.
Trip realised that the panel he needed to get to was in the affected section. He checked that his tool kit was properly secured and stepped into the gravity free section, immediately feeling himself float upwards. He’d had plenty of low gravity and weightless conditions training so moving himself along the corridor wasn’t a problem. A couple of touches on the wall were enough to keep him moving towards the maintenance panel he needed to reach. He detached the panel and set it floating in the air beside him. He started to investigate the wiring behind the panel. He pulled out his screwdriver and began taking out the relays, checking them one by one. He found the problem on the last relay.
“Always the last one you check,” muttered Trip.
The relay was burnt out. Trip gripped it by the edges and pulled it out of the housing. He let go of it with a flick of his wrist and it floated away to hit the wall on the other side of the corridor. He kept spare relays in his toolbox and found a new one easily. He checked the connectors were all good and pressed the new part into the vacant slot. Pain coursed through his hand and down his arm.
“Son of a bitch!” yelled Trip as he let go of the relay, which was now smoking.
He looked down at the burnt tips of his fingers and stuffed them in his mouth to try to dull the pain. He peered at the burnt relay and used his left hand to pull out the second destroyed relay. Obviously the relay itself wasn’t the problem either, something else was causing it to short. He plucked the screwdriver out of the air where it was hanging beside him. He’d need to remove the complete board and check what was going on behind it. He stopped sucking on his fingers, gripped the two handles on either side of the board and pulled. The board detached and behind it he found a mess of shorting wires, it looked like a surge had been through here. Most of it was holding but there would undoubtedly be more malfunctions in the section if they didn’t replace the whole wiring bundle.
“Well that explains it,” said Trip. “First things first, let’s get some gravity back and then deal with the rest of this mess.”
Trip had already decided that the quick any dirty approach would be the best way to deal with this. They would probably need to send out a welding team onto the hull to deal with the shrapnel strike and at the moment getting gravity back was the most important thing. Trip found the worst of the damaged wires, cut out the sections which were causing the trouble and spliced the ends back together.
Trip replaced the board, ignoring the throbbing pain from his fingers and fumbled in his tool kit for yet another replacement relay. He inserted the relay into the socket and as he did so, he remembered that he should have got himself closer to the floor before he did so. Gravity made its presence known and Trip landed in a pile of bruised limbs on the deck.
Trip swore. This was definitely a situation that called for a few bad words. He was so tired of everything going wrong and he reckoned the he really deserved a break. He hadn’t slept for over twenty-four hours and it was beginning to show in the simple mistakes he was making, like not making sure he was nearer the floor before turning the gravity back on. Now he was going to have to make a trip to sickbay to get a burn treated and probably a painkiller for his bruises.
He picked himself up carefully from the deck and located the covering panel and his toolbox, which had also hit the ground in spectacular style. He replaced the panel and picked up his slightly dented toolkit. He went to the nearest com unit and let Hess know that the gravity problem was fixed but they’d need to send someone down to replace the wiring bundle.
“I’m heading back, but I got a bit singed on a shorting relay so I’m going to pop into sickbay on my way down,” said Trip.
“Yes, sir. Maybe you should consider getting some rest after that,” said Hess.
“Wish I could, Lieutenant. When I get back you should go and get your head down, though. You’re heading into a triple.”
“Yes, sir. Hess out.”
Trip cradled his burnt hand and limped to sickbay. He walked through the double doors to find Phlox already had two Tauran Flu victims occupying the biobeds. It wasn’t as busy as Trip had expected given the number of his staff going down with the virus. Mostly they’d been sent to their quarters and told to stay there until they felt better, it was only the really serious cases in sickbay.
“Commander Tucker,” said Phlox. “What brings you here?”
“I fried myself on a shorting relay,” said Trip, holding out his burnt hand.
Phlox indicated for him to take a seat on the remaining biobed, and Trip caught the doctor noticing his stiffness of movement.
“What else have you been up to?” asked the doctor.
“Just a stupid mistake with some grav plating. I turned it back on before I had my feet on the floor.”
Phlox already had his scanner out but his blue eyes seemed to be taking in everything about Trip’s appearance.
“Hmm, second degree burns on your middle finger, index finger and thumb. Deep tissue bruising on your right side as well. When did you last sleep?”
Trip raised his left hand and scratched his head. “Erm, I guess before the raiders attacked.”
“Commander, that was over twenty-four hours ago. We’ve spoken about this before,” said Phlox.
“Yeah, but I’m the only one holding this ship together,” said Trip.
“With a perfectly capable staff,” said Phlox.
“Who are all down with Tauran Flu. We’re so short handed that I’ve got the whole of engineering working double shifts and it still isn’t enough. If you can magic a few more engineers out of thin air then I’ll go and hit the sack, but for the moment I can’t afford the time out.”
“I could relieve you of duty,” said Phlox, as he treated the burn and gave Trip an injection of pain killer. Finally he dressed the burns, applying a bandage that allowed air to reach the injury but protected it from dirt and infection.
“That’s up to you, Doc,” said Trip. “But you can be the one to explain to the Captain why we won’t make it to Thacker on time.”
One of the doctor’s assistants appeared at that moment. “Doctor, Ensign Javier is much worse,” she said.
“I’ll just be a minute, Commander,” said Phlox.
“No problem, Doc,” said Trip, knowing he’d just been saved from a difficult conversation.
Phlox was certainly more than a minute and Trip began to get restless, thinking about the time he was wasting by sitting in sickbay. He looked down at the various vials of liquid that were resting on the treatment tray that Phlox had pulled up next to Trip’s biobed. Trip idly toyed with them, picking up Phlox’s medical scanner, he was able to identify them. Mostly they were painkillers and antivirals but the clear one on the end of the row was something else. This one was a stimulant, usually called “go juice” in Starfleet slang. A thought suddenly entered Trip’s head and once it was there the temptation was too great. He loaded the clear vial into the hypospray, checked it was set to the correct dose and pressed it to his neck. He carefully removed the vial so that Phlox wouldn’t know that it had been used, and jumped off the biobed feeling better than he had for some time.
****End of Chapter One****
The stimulant Trip had taken would keep him going for the whole of the next shift and beyond, no doubt about it. Trip stopped noticing the aches and pains from his fall and his fingers. Suddenly a hundred things were running through his head and it was as if his thoughts were like lightning strikes. He felt like he could take on the day ahead of him and solve every problem.
He reached engineering in record time and immediately let Hess know that she could go off duty. His second in command was a little surprised by his new found energy, but she was obviously too tired to pursue the matter. Trip spent the next couple of hours racing around Engineering, talking nineteen to the dozen at his staff who didn’t seem to be able to keep up with him, and when there wasn’t anyone else available, he talked to himself. He found he could scan schematics far more quickly and getting to the route of the problems they were having seemed to be easier. The only problem was he just couldn’t stay still and he always had to be in motion, but given that he had a whole shift of staff to supervise that wasn’t too difficult to incorporate into his work.
Lieutenant Reed entered Engineering about two hours after Trip’s visit to sickbay and found Trip muttering to himself while examining a routing diagram on one of the engineering display screens.
“Good morning, Commander,” said Reed.
“Is it morning?” asked Trip, turning his head quickly to towards Reed.
“Well by ship’s time it is, yes.”
“We’re about to reinitialise the warpdrive. I’m just checking the last of the circuits. Everyone ready?” Trip shouted across to his team who were all in place ready to start the warp engine. “Okay, monitor those injectors, don’t let the pressure go over five. Make sure those couplings are all good to go. David, watch that intermix ratio.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the engineers.
Trip dashed up the short flight of steps to the main controls for the warp engine. “Okay, on my mark. Ready, three, two, one, engage.”
The engineers went to work on Trip’s signal, while Trip pressed buttons and adjusted switches. The warp engine leapt to life. Trip clapped his hands together. “Damn, that’s a beautiful sight. Let the bridge know that we’ve got warp drive back!” He turned and leaned over the railing to look down at Reed. “What can I do for you, Lieutenant?”
“I just came by to ask for your help with some repairs to the armoury,” said Reed.
“Right, right. Of course. Come on over, Malcolm,” said Trip, taking the stairs two at a time and moving towards his workbench. The bench was covered with half finished projects, which Trip just shoved out of the way to make room for the padd that Lieutenant Reed was carrying. Reed had never known Trip to keep his workstation anything other than completely tidy. “So what is it you want to talk about?”
“The aft phase cannon took a direct hit from the raiders and I think the dissipating energy caused a few problems in the circuitry.”
“Yeah, energy doesn’t normally travel that way through there. I guess it’s the primary array that’s gone or it could be the accelerator relays. They’re pretty fragile. Of course if you want a quick fix you could just tie the whole thing through the main EPS grid on F deck.”
“And blow half the other circuits out on F deck the first time we fire it? No thank you,” said Reed.
“It’s just a matter of replacing the accelerator relays, I’ll bet you anything. Are these the scans you took?”
“Yes, Commander,” said Reed.
“And the energy readings too. You know we need those before we can shut the system down and start the repairs,” said Trip.
“Trip, are you feeling okay?” asked Reed. Trip never normally rambled like this and he was talking far more quickly than Reed had ever heard him before. If he didn’t know better then he’d say the Commander was a little manic.
“I’m fine, Malcolm. Better than fine, I’m in top shape and ready for anything.”
“When did you last get any sleep?”
“What’s that got to do with anything? Hey, Ensign Jenner, make sure you don’t forget to cap off the valve before you start working on section seven’s plasma conduits.” Trip was suddenly distracted by a passing member of his staff.
“Trip, look at me,” said Reed catching his friend by the arm and pulling him round so that he could see his face. He looked directly into his eyes and realised that something was very wrong. “You idiot. What have you done?”
“Nothing. I haven’t done anything. What exactly are you accusing me of, Lieutenant, because I don’t like your tone.”
“Your eyes are the give away, Commander. We are going to sickbay, now.”
“Sickbay? But I’ve already been there once today. At least I think it was today. Could have been yesterday.”
Reed bundled Trip out of engineering and down the corridor, unashamedly making use of some of his prisoner control techniques to get his friend where he needed him to be. He pushed Trip down the corridors while the engineer continued to babble on about everything and anything that came into his head. Finally they reached sickbay and Reed pushed his charge through the doors.
“Doctor,” called Reed, as Trip found something shiny to investigate.
“Yes, Lieutenant, Commander, what seems to be the problem?” asked Phlox.
“The Commander has done something stupid,” said Lieutenant Reed. “Look at his eyes.”
Phlox persuaded Trip to turn around and look at him. “I see what you mean. Commander, what did you take?”
“Well it was just sitting there and I was so tired and you were busy with another patient.”
Phlox went to the treatment tray and scanned the contents. “There’s a dose of stimulant missing.”
“I’ve been getting twice the amount of work done,” added Trip.
“And when you come down from this, you’ll be more tired than ever,” said Reed.
“There’s another complication, I gave him a painkiller when he came in here earlier and it’s probably making the stimulant more potent. I don’t think I can just let him come down from this naturally.” Phlox had his scanner out and was examining Trip. “I’m not happy with his neurotransmitter levels at all. Would you mind taking a seat on the bed, Commander?”
“Come on, Doc, I need to get back to Engineering and my fingers stopped hurting. You don’t need to look at me again.” Trip was twitchy and fidgeting with the cuff of his uniform.
“Trip, do what the doctor says,” said Reed, taking Trip by the arm and leading him to the vacant biobed.
Trip shrugged off the arm but got onto the biobed, glaring at both Phlox and Reed. “Fine, but I’m not lying down.” He crossed his arms over his chest in a gesture of defiance.
Phlox took out a hypospray. “It would be better if you lay down, Commander.”
Trip shook his head. “You just want me to get some sleep and I’ve already told you, I’ve got too much to do.”
“Lieutenant, if you wouldn’t mind standing on the other side of Commander Tucker,” said Phlox. Reed suspected that he knew what was coming next and moved himself into a suitable position.
Before Trip had even noticed it, Phlox had injected him with a hypospray.
“Hey! What was that?” He barely had time to realise what the doctor had done before his eyes closed and he felt hands catching him to lower him to the bed. After that there was just blackness and very deep sleep.
“What the hell was he thinking?” asked Reed, as he helped Phlox pull a blanket over his sleeping patient.
“That he had another full shift to work probably,” said Phlox.
“How long has he gone without sleep?”
“At least twenty-four hours but I suspect longer than that,” replied Phlox.
“He’s not superman. No one expects him to keep the ship together single-handed,” said Reed.
“No, but the Captain is placing a lot of importance on this mission and Commander Tucker will always try to live up to the Captain’s expectations.”
“Does the Captain even know what he’s been doing?”
“The Captain has been very busy himself.”
“Yes, obviously too busy to take time to find out how things are going in Engineering and check on the Chief Engineer. What about T’Pol? Why didn’t she see this coming?”
“I believe that Commander Tucker and Commander T’Pol are having some difficulty communicating at the moment.”
“In other words, they’re avoiding each other,” said Reed. “So no one noticed that our Chief Engineer was running himself into the ground. Again.”
“You did,” Phlox pointed out.
“A day too late, and I can’t order him to sleep. If things hadn’t been so busy in the Armoury then I might have noticed sooner. Damn those raiders. That attack was the last thing we needed. He’s been under too much pressure ever since the Vulcan incident. Making the call to get between the Vulcans and the Andorians was tough, and being acting Captain is a hard enough job at the best of times.” Reed sighed. “How long is he going to be out?”
“Several hours,” said Phlox. “He and I will be having a serious discussion about taking medication not prescribed to him when he awakes.”
“I’ll let Engineering know that Commander Tucker is getting some rest,” said Reed. “I have to get back to the Armoury, but maybe you could let me know when he wakes up.”
Trip’s dreams were vivid and peculiar. He found himself wandering through a network of rock caverns. They didn’t remind him of anywhere he’d ever been, but somehow he seemed to know where he was going. He walked through the rock passageways and came to a large open cavern. Light was coming from somewhere but there didn’t seem to be any lamps or openings in the rock.
“Hello,” said a voice. It was a beautiful voice that sounded like the wind rustling leaves in summer.
“Uh, hi there,” said Trip looking for the source of the voice.
“You’re human,” said the voice again.
“Yes, I’m definitely that,” replied Trip. He caught a glimpse of movement towards one side of the cave, but wasn’t quick enough to turn and catch it. A shuffling sound alerted him again to the location of the mystery voice, he tried to follow the movement, but once again only succeeded in catching a blur of motion.
“You’re on the ship that’s coming to our planet.”
“That depends which planet you’re on,” said Trip, turning quickly as he saw a shape move out of the corner of his eye.
“Th’ayk’ah is the name of our planet.”
“Thacker? You’re on planet Thacker.”
“That is what the others call it. They are not to be trusted. You must be careful.”
“Others? Aren’t you the Thackerites?”
Suddenly a slender figure appeared in front of him, a dim blue glow surrounding it. If Trip could have compared the alien to anything then it would have been the elves out of his story book from when he was a kid. She didn’t have pointed ears, but she was the same willowy figure with light bone structure. Her eyes were dark black pools, large almond shapes on her pale face, and they had the same blue glow to them as the rest of her body. Her hair was a mop of tight black curls which shined like dark metal and stood out against pale skin and white clothing.
“We are not Thackerites.”
“Wow, you’re beautiful.” Trip was mesmerised for a moment.
“You are the only person on your ship that we have been able to contact. We need your help.”
“My help? Help with what?”
The alien in front of him turned suddenly as if she’d heard a noise. “Someone’s coming.” Then she closed her huge eyes and disappeared, leaving only a fading blue luminescence behind.
“Hey, wait a minute,” shouted Trip to the empty air. The cave darkened and he suddenly didn’t feel at all safe there. He could feel an irrational fear of the dark beginning to settle inside him.
He jerked awake and realised quickly that he was in sickbay. It didn’t take long for the memories to reorder themselves in his head and remind him of the probable reason that he was in sickbay. He let out a long groan and covered his eyes with his hand hoping that this was just an extension of his weird dream. He really couldn’t have been so stupid as to think that stimulants were a good idea.
His head was pounding and he felt more worn out than he had even before he’d taken the stimulant.
“Ah, Commander Tucker, I’m glad to see that you’re awake.” Trip recognised Phlox’s voice without even having to open his eyes.
He decided that he’d better face the music and looked up at the doctor. “Hi, Doc.”
“Hmm, your heart rate is a little elevated. Bad dreams?”
“Weird dream with a bad ending. Strange glowing aliens and some dark caves.”
“Vivid dreams are a side effect of stimulants,” said Phlox. “Given that you mixed the stimulant that you took with a painkiller I’m surprised you haven’t experienced other side effects. What you did was extremely stupid.”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” said Trip. He pushed himself up from the biobed. He felt a little fuzzy which he could at least put partly down to whatever drug Phlox had given him to counteract the stimulant. “How long was I out?”
“Eight hours,” replied Phlox.
“Eight hours! I’ve got to get back to Engineering.” Trip swung his legs over the edge of the biobed, but was stopped from standing by Phlox.
“You’re off duty for the next twenty-four hours,” said Phlox.
“I can’t afford to take any more time off,” began Trip.
“Nonsense, your crew are quite capable of managing without you for a day. They, unlike you, have been sleeping between shifts. I seem to remember Lieutenant Hess saying that you have given strict orders for no one to work more than a double shift without a break. It’s a shame that you didn’t include yourself in that.”
“Look, Doc, can you save the lecture, my head is pounding and, since you won’t let me go back to work, I might as well go to my quarters, get a shower and go to sleep.”
“That is the idea,” said Phlox. “You realise that I could bring charges against you for misusing a medical substance? You are a very intelligent man, Commander and I really thought you knew better. As the circumstances were exceptional, and I suspect your judgement was clouded by fatigue, I’m prepared to let it go. However if I ever find out that you have taken unauthorised medication again, I will not be so lenient.”
“Understood, Doctor. It won’t happen again,” said Trip, and he really meant it. He couldn’t quite understand it himself, except that he had been tired and stressed. It was a bad combination and he never did well on it. Trip would have got away with a lecture from the doctor but Captain Archer took that moment to arrive at sickbay.
Archer had spent the last twenty minutes tracking down his Chief Engineer, only to be told that Trip was in sickbay. No one seemed to know why, anything that needed fixing in sickbay wasn’t a priority, and they hadn’t seen him be injured. Archer had immediately headed to sickbay, all the time aware that Trip’s absence from Engineering would delay their repairs and perhaps their reaching Thacker.
“Trip, are you okay? What happened?” He saw Trip sitting on the biobed and assumed that he was there as a patient.
“Nothing, I’m fine.” Trip dismissed Archer’s concern, but the guilt in his stance was unmistakeable.
“I want an explanation and I want it now. You’ve been away from Engineering for over eight hours.”
“That was my fault,” said Phlox. “I sedated the Commander.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Doc. I did something stupid.”
“I don’t care whose fault it was, I want to know why my Chief Engineer is in sickbay,” said Archer crossly.
“I came down here earlier to get a burn seen to,” said Trip. “Nothing major, just got a little toasted on a shorting relay. I was about halfway through a triple shift and dead tired, so when I saw the stimulant just lying out I had an idea. I thought I could just take some to perk myself up. I forgot that the Doc had already given me a painkiller and mixing medications is usually bad news.”
“I had to sedate the Commander to get him to calm down and prevent his neurotransmitter levels from becoming dangerously unbalanced,” said Phlox. “A side effect of the stimulant is that the Commander is now more tired than before. He needs at least a day’s rest before he should go back on duty.”
“What the hell were you thinking?” shouted Archer. “We’re trying to get to Thacker as quickly as we can and the last thing I need is my Chief Engineer putting himself out of action.”
“Well if I hadn’t needed to work a triple shift then I wouldn’t have needed to resort to drugs to keep myself awake.”
“You have staff, Trip. They are quite capable and you need to learn to delegate better.” Even as the words left his mouth Archer wished that he could have taken them back, Trip was known as a skilled manager of his workforce. If he was working long hours it was because he really needed to, but at the moment Archer was too angry to notice the untruth of his statement. He just couldn’t believe that Trip, who knew the pressures placed on him as Captain, could be so thoughtless.
“I delegate just fine when I have staff to delegate to. I’ve got a third of my men down with Tauran flu. The raiders ripped the ship to pieces and I’m expected to put it back together again with almost no crew. I told you that sustaining warp four was going to be too much and you didn’t listening to me. We can’t keep this up until we get there. My crew are good but they’re not miracle workers and they’re all tired and under pressure. Why do you think so many of the Engineering crew are down with this virus? Something has to give and I guess this time it’s me.”
“I don’t want to hear your excuses, Commander. Starfleet assigned us this mission because they thought we could handle it, and I’m damned if I’ll prove them wrong. This is our first chance to prove that the Vulcans were right to change their policy and leave us to do things on our own.”
Phlox stepped between the two men. “Gentlemen, this is not the time or the place for this discussion. There are sick people here who should not be disturbed. Commander Tucker needs to rest in his own bed for at least twelve hours and I am removing him from duty until that has happened.”
Trip hung his head for a second in defeat and then slid off the biobed. He realised that his enforced rest had made his bruised body stiff again and he tried hard to hide the soreness. “I’m going to get some sleep. I’ll be back on duty in twelve hours.”
Trip limped out of sickbay and towards his quarters.
“What the hell is up with him?” asked Archer. He’d watched an angry Trip limp out of sickbay and knew that this wasn’t just an ordinary disagreement between them. There had been a building tension in their previously strong friendship since the start of their mission in the Expanse. That tension had yet to be resolved and was manifesting itself in small disagreements and now full blown arguments.
“He is very tired. Before his adventure with the stimulants, he was on the point of exhaustion and, if he hadn’t left sickbay before I could finish treating him, I would have removed him from duty then.”
“He was in here before?”
“He burned his hand and landed heavily after an incident with some faulty gravity plating. Mistakes which I would suggest he would not have made if he had not been working a triple shift. Commander Tucker was correct that he and his whole department have been under undue strain.”
“And I wish I could let up on the pressure, but we need to get to Thacker on time. I can’t ignore our orders from Starfleet.”
“I’m not asking you to ignore your orders, but you cannot expect the crew to give their all every minute of the day. Commander Tucker is a conscientious officer, but he isn’t a robot. He also respects your leadership and he would rather that his health suffer than let down this ship or its crew.”
Archer nodded. “Trip is one of the finest officers I’ve ever served with, and he knows that sometimes we have to work hard to get the job done. I know I’m asking a lot, but it’s just for another week and then we’ll be at Thacker. T’Pol and I will be handling the trade talks so Trip and Engineering can get some down time. If things go well, we may even be able to give the crew shore leave.”
“I hope you’re right, Captain, because stress is just as serious an illness as any virus or bacterium, and I’m seeing far more cases at the moment than I would like.”
Trip went back to his quarters. They almost felt alien to him, he’d spent so little time there recently. He stripped off his dirty uniform, which could almost have walked on its own by now, and dumped it on the floor where it landed. His underwear followed the uniform and he headed into the bathroom to take his planned shower. He’d been really looking forward to this. He turned on the water and let the hot droplets beat down on him until they had washed away every trace of his triple shift. He stood under the water for longer than he really needed and let the warmth soothe his aches from his fall. Bruises were already turning dark purple along his side.
The bandage on his burnt fingers was soaked by the time he’d finished, so he stripped it off and exposed the angry red skin beneath. He contemplated fumbling in his first aid kit for a new dressing but by this point he was too tired to attempt anything as complicated as bandaging a finger, he decided that it should be okay over night. He dried himself off and pulled on a pair of shorts to sleep in, before stumbling back into the main cabin. He turned down the lights, pulled back the bedclothes and fell into bed. He had the presence of mind to set the alarm before he fell asleep, but that was it. The dirty uniform was left on the floor to be dealt with later.
Sleep came only seconds after his head hit the pillow and he found himself back in the cave again.
“Hello!” he shouted, “anyone here?” The cave was darker than before but there was a slight glow from the stone now. He could see strange rock formations, including one that looked a little like a horse’s head.
“My name is Xy’an,” said a voice from behind him.
Trip whirled around and saw the same small figure that he’d seen before in his dream, outlined in a blue shimmer of light. She blinked her black eyes at him.
“I’m Commander Charles Tucker III, but you can call me Trip.”
The girl made a trilling noise that sounded a little like a giggle and smiled. “We are in danger, Trip.”
“You said that before, in danger from what?”
“The Thackerites are not to be trusted. You must be careful. They are not what they seem.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“I’m sorry, you are a long way away from us and communication is difficult. If I am caught trying to contact you then I will be in trouble.”
“Why are you talking to me?”
“You are the only one we have been able to contact. Your mind is different from the others.”
“I am not sure. I can still only reach you when you sleep, and your sleep is different from the others.”
“Yeah, the last time I fell asleep it wasn’t exactly voluntary,” said Trip, more to himself than the alien. “Maybe the drugs are still making me loopy.”
“I don’t understand these words.”
“Never mind,” said Trip. “You said before that you needed help.”
“You must be careful. There is danger here. I cannot talk any longer.”
“Wait, I need you to give me more to go on.” Trip reached out towards Xy’an. She raised a hand, her palm open and faded into the darkness.
Once again the cave became completely dark and the darkness was oppressive. “Hey, I wasn’t finished talking to you!”
The cave had seemed almost homely when Xy’an had been there, but now Trip could feel the danger in the air. He wasn’t normally afraid of the dark, but he knew it was a primal fear. Primal fears had a way of finding the most annoying times to manifest themselves. Panic was setting in again and there wasn’t anything that he could do about it. Something in the cave was causing this unnatural fear in him. Trip threw his head back and screamed.
He awoke screaming and covered in sweat. The scream stopped and he pulled air into his lungs. He fell out of bed as fast as he could, dragging the covers with him and ran for the light controls. He turned the lights up full and tried to still his breathing. He ran a hand through his hair and leaned against the wall.
“Damn. What the hell is going on with me?” he asked the empty room.
He looked over at the clock and noticed that he’d only been asleep for a couple of hours, if this carried on he’d be back to his days of insomnia. He took a deep breath and bent down to pick up the blankets that had fallen to the floor. For the first time in years he went to bed with the light on, but sleep wasn’t forthcoming.
****End of Chapter Two****
T’Pol walked into Engineering and after a few seconds located the person that she’d come to see. She stepped around a couple of engineers that were welding some new plating on the deck and avoided sparks flying from more repairs further along the engine. Trip was lying under one of the injector assemblies.
“Whatever it is, I don’t want to hear it,” said a muffled voice with a southern accent. “We’re already working our asses off down here and I can’t squeeze even another point one out of the warp engine.”
“That is not why I am here,” said T’Pol.
Trip pushed himself out from under the injector assembly. “I don’t have time to chat, T’Pol.”
“We are having trouble with the forward sensor array,” said T’Pol.
“Great, just what I need,” said Trip. “I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get someone to you.”
“We are still getting some data, however the range and clarity is greatly reduced.”
“Sounds like dust from the nebula’s got in somewhere. I’ll add it to the list.” Trip attempted to get up and forgot that the injector assembly was still above him. His shoulder came into contact with the metal and Trip sat down heavily. “Ouch.” He rubbed his sore shoulder, as T’Pol helped him to stand up.
“Are you seriously injured?” asked T’Pol.
“No, just gave myself a good bruise to add to the others,” replied Trip.
“When did you last sleep?”
“Don’t you go doing the mother hen routine on me. Last time you set Phlox on me and I don’t have time for games at the moment. I’m doing okay for sleep.”
“Lieutenant Hess mentioned that all Engineering staff are currently working double shifts.”
“Yeah, we are.”
“If your previous behaviour is anything to go by then you are probably working longer hours than the rest of your crew. I have also spoken to Doctor Phlox and he was concerned about your decision to self-medicate.”
“God damn, Doctor Phlox has a big mouth. What happened to patient confidentiality?” Trip straightened himself up indignantly.
“He asked me to speak to you. He was concerned that your insomnia had returned.”
“Yeah, insomnia. He’s just trying to find an excuse for me to talk to you. The problem isn’t that I can’t sleep, it’s that I don’t have time to sleep, and I probably won’t until we reach this damn planet.”
“Doctor Phlox relieved you of duty two days ago. Have you slept since then?”
“Some,” replied Trip. For some reason, lying to T’Pol was just something he couldn’t do, being economical with the truth was about the best he could manage.
“Not enough, okay? Is that what you want to hear? This whole place is being held together with spit and bailing wire, and the Captain wants a constant warp four out of us, sleep is a luxury I can’t afford. On top of that every time I do try to get some shut-eye, I get these weird dreams. Why are you so interested anyway? I thought understanding your Kir’shara thing was more important that wasting time with me.”
“The Kir’shara is important, however I also have a duty to the ship and that includes the wellbeing of its crew. You are the Chief Engineer and part of that responsibility.”
“Great, I’m a responsibility. Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got work to do and you’re holding me up.”
“My apologies, Commander,” replied T’Pol, stiffening.
Trip stalked off to work on one of the other injectors. Lieutenant Hess approached T’Pol and held her hand out for the padd that T’Pol was holding.
“I’ll take the work request, Commander,” said Hess. “I’m afraid Commander Tucker is a bit cranky at the moment.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” said T’Pol, handing over the padd which detailed the symptoms of the sensor malfunction. “I also need the Engineering status report for the Captain.”
“The Commander has it on his desk I think.” Hess went over to Trip’s workbench, retrieved the correct padd, and handed it to T’Pol. “It’s a shame you couldn’t persuade him to go off duty. He’ll end up with Phlox taking him off duty again if he carries on like this. I think he’s running on coffee and adrenaline.”
“He hasn’t been to the mess hall?” asked T’Pol.
“The most I’ve seen him eat is a couple of sandwiches from a batch that Chef sent down. At least the rest of us are making it to dinner at the end of our shifts. We’re all working hard but he’s trying to do the work of three people. I hope we reach this planet soon, we all need the down time.”
“We expect to arrive in seventy-two hours,” said T’Pol.
“It can’t be soon enough as far as we’re concerned, Commander,” said Hess.
“Perhaps we could persuade him to sleep if he was to remain in Engineering,” said T’Pol.
“You mean set up a cot for him down here? It would be pretty noisy,” said Hess.
“It would eliminate one of his excuses. He could remain in Engineering and be on hand if he is needed. Given his level of fatigue I doubt the noise will be a factor.”
“Okay, Commander, I’ll set it up,” said Hess, already eyeing up a suitable corner where a bed could be set up.
“I will also ask Chef to send more sandwiches,” said T’Pol. “I expect that many of your staff have skipped meals.”
“Thank you, Commander,” said Hess, meaning it from the bottom of her heart. If anything could be done to make the journey to Thacker a little easier she would support it completely. Being second in command of Engineering had its good points and bad. Unfortunately upward management of her boss was one of those bad points, especially when he was behaving like he was at the moment.
T’Pol left Engineering and, after stopping in at the mess hall to ask Chef to send some food down to Engineering, she made her way to the Captain’s Ready Room. She pressed the door buzzer to indicate her presence and heard the Captain shout for her to come in.
“What can I do for you, T’Pol?” asked Archer.
“I have the status report from Engineering.”
“How are the repairs going?”
“Satisfactorily. I am concerned about the workload on Engineering. They have been most badly affected by the Tauran Influenza and Lieutenant Hess mentioned that many of them are skipping meals rather than taking the time to go to the mess hall, Commander Tucker included.”
“I know this schedule is tough on everyone, T’Pol, but it’s just for another three days. Then you and I take over for the diplomatic stuff, and everyone else can get some downtime.”
“You are assuming that the Thackerites are not hostile and everything will go well. If that is not the case then an exhausted crew will not be able to deal satisfactorily with any developments in the situation.” T’Pol clasped her hands behind her back.
“I know that you’re sore because the Vulcans tried to make contact and failed, but there’s no reason to assume that these people are anything other than friendly. They contacted us.”
“Which makes it all the more likely that they have an ulterior motive. I do not understand why they would want to open trade negotiations with an alien species after all this time and the many advances from other species that they have had prior to this. If their technology is as advanced as they claim it to be then we should tread very carefully.”
“Earth is becoming a serious player in the intergalactic arena, T’Pol. We’ve helped broker treaties between the Andorians and the Vulcans, we’ve prevented wars and probably saved everyone from an invasion by the Sphere Builders. Given all that, it’s no wonder that we were the ones that they picked to open trade negotiations with.”
“It is more likely that they chose Earth because deep space exploration is relatively new to you. You are also the race most likely to be interested in technology.”
Archer smiled and shook his head. “I guess we won’t know why they wanted to talk to us unless we ask them.”
Trip had been a little surprised when the cot arrived in Engineering, but as usual these past few days, he was asleep on his feet. It hadn’t taken much persuasion from Hess to get him to accept the gesture and lie down for a nap. His crew had even hung a blanket from the walkway above to give him some privacy.
He had fallen asleep easily, but he knew that the dream would come back. They had been getting more confusing, frequent and draining. Xy’an seemed to be more scared and the darkness after she left the cave was even more black and full of fear. He wondered if it was actually Xy’an’s fear that he was feeling. She could never talk to him for long because she was afraid of being caught and what she said circled around the same point again and again. She kept on saying that she was in danger and that the Thackerites were not what they seemed. He guessed that it was just his subconscious manifesting his doubts about the mission. He hadn’t failed to notice that the dreams had become more frequent now that they were nearing the planet. Why it had picked this format, he had no idea but the brain was a strange thing.
Luckily he hadn’t woken up screaming since the time in his quarters, that would have been a bit embarrassing now that he was sleeping in Engineering. To his shame he had been sleeping with the lights on, something he’d never admit to anyone. He often did jerk himself awake and once he was awake it was very hard to shake the disquiet that the dream produced and go back to sleep. Not that he had to worry too much about getting back to sleep, he never managed more than a couple of hours, something was always happening in Engineering that needed his attention.
Trip lay on his cot and stared up at the bare steel of the ceiling above him. Tucked under the walkway, to the side of the warp engine, he was still in the middle of the action. He closed his eyes and tried to let the sounds of Engineering lull him back to sleep. He desperately needed every minute that he could get, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been able to catch more than four hours continuously. When Engineering was up and running properly again, he might just have to go and plead with Phlox for some sleeping pills.
Then someone was shaking him awake, he felt like he’d been asleep for only seconds although his watch told him that he’d managed another hour. “Commander Tucker, we’re about to enter orbit around the planet.”
Trip threw off his blankets. “About damn time,” he muttered. “Thanks, Ensign, I’ll be there in a second.” He sat up and pulled on his boots.
“Everyone get ready for dropping out of warp,” said Trip. This wasn’t going to be their usual easy move from warp to impulse. They’d been running at warp four for days and they needed to shut down in increments, otherwise it would be like pouring cold water on hot glass. The engine had been damaged in the earlier fight and a cooling engine had a habit of showing up a whole new set of problems that hadn’t been there before. Ensign Mayweather knew what to do, but it remained to be seen if the procedure would prevent further engine damage.
Trip took up his position at the warp engine controls. Mayweather had already made the step down to warp three and things seemed to be holding.
“Tucker to bridge, how’s it looking at your end, Travis?”
“So far so good, Commander. All readouts are holding steady,” replied the helmsman. “I’m going to take us down to warp two.”
“Looks fine here too, go ahead Travis,” said Trip. Pressure gauges were holding. Field variance was looking stable as well. Then he spotted a small anomaly. “Travis, we’re going to have to take this a bit faster. I need you to drop down to warp one now and then back to impulse in quarter factor steps. As quick as you can.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Travis.
“Lieutenant,” shouted Trip to his second, leaning over the railing, “we’ve got a problem with the intermix ratio. Looks like one of the injector assemblies has a malfunction.” Trip jumped down the steps.
“I’ve got it,” Hess shouted back, already examining the malfunctioning injector.
Trip was halfway towards the injector when the explosion happened. It threw him backwards, jarring his shoulder against the warp core. Hess had been a lot closer. “Anna!”
Trip rushed over to the prone form of Lieutenant Hess. Her uniform was burnt and so was her skin underneath, mainly on the upper left part of her body.
“Medical emergency, get Phlox down here now!” he shouted to the nearest crew member, who was already running for the com. Other crewmen were extinguishing the fire that had started.
“Anna, can you hear me?”
Hess rolled her head from side to side a little as if she could hear Trip.
“Anna? Come on, Lieutenant, just open your eyes and let me know that you’re still in there.”
Hess’s eyelids flickered. “What happened?” she murmured.
“That’s my girl. One of the injectors failed in spectacular style while you were standing in front of it.” Hess began to drift off again and Trip knew that keeping her conscious was imperative at the moment. He was almost certain that she had a head injury, probably from hitting her head on the deck plating. “Oh no you don’t, come on, stay with me. That’s an order, Lieutenant.”
Hess winced. “Hurts like hell, sir.” Her voice was almost inaudible.
“Phlox will be here any minute.”
“Bad?” asked Hess.
“I’ve seen worse. You’ll be back on duty in no time.”
“You’re a horrible liar, sir,” replied Hess, and her eyes closed again.
“Anna? I gave you an order, Lieutenant.” Trip kept trying, but Hess obviously wasn’t coming round any time soon. He felt for a pulse and was pleased to find one, a little fast but still strong. He looked up to see Phlox rushing into sickbay and breathed a sigh of relief.
“I’ll take over from here, Commander,” said Phlox, kneeling down beside his patient. He quickly assessed the situation and beckoned for the gurney so that he could get Hess to sickbay. His assistants lifted her gently onto the stretcher so that she could be wheeled to sickbay. Phlox was already working on his patient as they began to take her towards sickbay.
“How is she?” asked Trip, worriedly.
“She has severe burns and some internal injuries. You need to let me work, Commander, her condition is serious.” Phlox bustled away with his team.
Trip followed behind the gurney feeling completely useless, as they rushed Hess towards sickbay. He did his best to stay out of the way as the medical staff worked on his second in command. All he could do was hover by the door, waiting for any news, his shoulder throbbing from where he’d hit the side of the warp engine. He leaned back against the wall and sighed. They had been so close to getting to the planet and being able to shut down and do the complete overhaul that the engine so desperately needed.
The sickbay doors slid back once again and Captain Archer came in.
“I heard there was an explosion in Main Engineering,” said Archer.
“Are you afraid that we’re not going to get those last few miles to Thacker?” said Trip, crossly. “Don’t worry, the impulse engine is just fine.”
“I don’t care about the engine. I heard that someone had been hurt.”
“Someone was hurt,” said Trip. “Lieutenant Hess got caught in the explosion.”
“I’m sorry, Trip,” said Archer, shaking his head.
“You’re sorry, well ain’t that just great. One of my crew is seriously injured, and you’re sorry.” Trip spat the words venomously. “Why don’t you tell that to Lieutenant Hess? She’s lying in there fighting for her life. Then you can tell her why it was so damn important for us to get here on time at the expense of her life. I told you that the ship couldn’t take a constant warp four after the damage it sustained, but you wouldn’t damn well listen.”
“I know you’re upset so I’m going to forget that you just insulted a superior officer. I really am sorry that Lieutenant Hess was injured, but you know that we had to get here on time,” said Archer.
“No, I don’t know, and to be honest, I really don’t care. All I care about is the fact that my second in command is lying in sickbay because her Captain wouldn’t listen to advice. If she dies then it will be your fault, Captain.”
Trip brushed past Archer and out of sickbay before he could reply. He stormed down the hallways, not noticing the crewmen he passed and ended up back in Engineering. He stepped through the doorway and looked at the blackened area where the malfunctioning injector sat. His crew were good, they were already working on the damage. He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself down. He knew he had a temper and sometimes his anger got the best of him, but damn it, this really hadn’t needed to happen. However, Archer would be within his rights to write him up for disrespect of a senior officer, but at the moment, Trip just couldn’t bring himself to care.
Phlox would call him when there was some news about Hess’s condition, until then he was best off keeping himself occupied, and it wasn’t like there wasn’t plenty to do in Engineering.
Archer hadn’t moved from where he stood since Trip had left, too stunned by his words to follow him. A curtain had been drawn around Hess’s bed and Phlox and his staff were still working away to help her. Trip’s words had stung, without a doubt. Over ten years of friendship and Trip had just accused him of not paying proper attention to the needs of his crew. It was about the worst thing a starship captain could be accused of. He’d never expected Trip to turn on him like this and certainly he’d never expected to be blamed for Hess’s condition.
He couldn’t ever remember seeing Trip like this. He’d seen him angry, upset, tired and a whole range of other emotions, but Trip had never turned on him and torn into him like today. The rank structure admittedly made it difficult for a blazing argument between two officers of unequal rank, but that didn’t mean they had never disagreed before. It was one of the things that Archer liked about Trip, he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. Archer had been telling his friend for years that it would get him in trouble one day and had even witnessed a couple of occasions when exactly that had happened.
Maybe he should just put Trip’s behaviour down to tiredness and stress. Things had been tough in Engineering lately and Hess’s injury wouldn’t help matters. Even looking at it objectively, it would mean that they were down another crewman, but that didn’t even begin to take into account the fact that Trip had known Hess for years, even before she was posted to Enterprise. Hess had been the perfect choice for second in command of Engineering, she and Trip worked well together, complementing each other’s styles of command. She was also an excellent engineer, and Archer had had no problem approving her posting to Enterprise.
Perhaps though there was a core of truth to Trip’s words. Everyday they put their lives on the line by simply being on Enterprise, but there were ways of minimising risk. He had pushed everyone hard and he had expected a difficult task from Engineering, but he had truly believed that his crew were capable of succeeding. Maybe he was expecting too much from people who had already given everything that they had.
The com sounded and broke his thoughts. “T’Pol to Archer.”
“Archer here, go ahead T’Pol.”
“We are being hailed from the surface of the planet. They are asking for you by name.”
“I’m on my way, Commander,” he replied. He took one glance back towards the curtained biobed and left for the bridge.
Trip dashed towards the launch bay, hoping to catch up with T’Pol before she joined the away team. He really was playing to his irrational fears now. The dreams had definitely got to him, and he knew he was being foolish but he couldn’t help it. Everything about this mission seemed to be going wrong and now his second in Command was badly injured. He’d never really been superstitious or believed in bad luck, but it didn’t bode well for their first contact with the Thackerites.
He saw her a little way ahead of him along the corridor. “T’Pol!”
T’Pol stopped her brisk walk and waited for Trip to catch up. “Can I do something for you, Commander?”
Trip stopped beside T’Pol and tried to catch his breath. “This is going to sound really dumb, but I’ve been having these really strange dreams.”
T’Pol was looking at him with an icy expression and he was pretty sure that she was wondering why he was wasting her time with this. “How does this relate to our mission to Thacker?”
“I don’t know,” replied Trip, honestly. He was wondering why he had even mentioned the dreams, something like that was guaranteed to make T’Pol think he was nuts. The dream seemed important though, he just couldn’t think why. “Maybe it doesn’t mean anything, but I know one thing, something feels really wrong about this mission. I don’t think you should go.”
“You have been under considerable stress recently, perhaps this is colouring how you think about this mission,” said T’Pol.
“Things have been busy lately, and I know I’m tired, but that isn’t why I’m asking you to stay here. I know me having strange dreams isn’t exactly a normal reason for you to stay behind, but you’ve got to believe me when I tell you that I’m not making this up. I have a really bad feeling about these Thackerites.”
“We have no evidence that there is any danger and the Captain requires my help with the diplomatic side of the mission.” T’Pol began walking again.
“Don’t you think it’s weird that they isolate themselves for all this time and then they suddenly call us up and invite us to visit?”
“It is possible that they have simply changed their policy in relation to alien contact. We have discussed this already. If you still have reservations then you should talk to the Captain.”
Trip shook his head. “He’s way past listening to me. He’s trying to prove something and it’ll take more than a bad feeling to get him to change his mind. Look, just find an excuse to stay here. At least if there’s any trouble you and the Captain won’t both be away from the ship. Say you don’t feel well or something.”
Trip was telling himself that he was doing the sensible thing by trying to get T’Pol to stay. They needed either the Captain or the First Officer on board if something was going to go wrong. He told himself that it had nothing to do with any feelings that he might have or have had in the past for T’Pol. He wasn’t trying to keep her safe, he was doing this for Enterprise.
“The Captain has assigned me to the away team and I am uncomfortable lying to him, or cancelling the mission without good cause.”
“T’Pol, this is important,” said Trip.
“But you cannot give me a good reason why I should not accompany the away team.”
Trip sighed. “No, I guess I can’t.”
“Then this discussion is closed,” said T’Pol, sounding just a little impatient. “I will see you when we return.”
T’Pol strode away towards the launch bay and Trip was left standing alone in the empty corridor. He wondered if T’Pol knew that he was trying to protect her and if she’d actually be more angry with him if she did. He doubted that she’d be very happy at the idea of his chivalry. He knew as well as anyone that she could take care of herself and had an independent streak a mile wide. She could be infuriating, annoying and downright rude at times, but he still worried about her. He kept on thinking that if he told himself enough times that he didn’t love her, then maybe he’d eventually start believing it. So far that didn’t seem to be happening any time soon.
The away team to the surface consisted of Archer, T’Pol and Reed, from the senior staff. Archer had thought about inviting Trip along as well, but with Hess in sickbay, Engineering was even busier than before, if that was even possible. Archer also had no wish to confront Trip about their recent argument. He had decided that they probably both needed a little time to cool off and given the sensitivity of the mission they really didn’t need any more visible disagreements. For similar reasons, Archer would only allow Reed to take two of the MACOs with them, saying that too much security would offend their hosts before they even started negotiations. Reed certainly didn’t agree with his Captain, but of course had no choice except to follow orders.
Thacker was a rocky planet without may areas suitable for landing a shuttlepod. The away team were given co-ordinates at a designated landing pad near the capital city. The capital seemed to be one of the areas that the Thackerites were particularly proud of and they were anxious to show their visitors around.
The Thackrites themselves had tough grey skin, mottled with darker grey patches. Their features were very human looking, eyes, nose and mouth all in the expected places. The only things which really made them seem different were the black scales that covered their shoulders and ran in a line down their arms, giving them the appearance of an intelligent armadillo. Archer couldn’t help thinking that Phlox would have been fascinated by the evolutionary journey behind this species.
They were met by one of the high ranking Thackerite officials. The Thackerites were ruled by a council of officials who were each chosen for their areas of expertise. The council members had a term of office of several years before their successor was chosen, normally by a general vote of the people, although some of the council members were appointed by their peers. None of the council members really included trading with aliens in their remit, so it had been decided to send the Council Member for the Economy as the closest they could get.
“My name is Targer,” said the Council Member for the Economy. “I am… pleased… to meet you all.”
“I’m Captain Jonathan Archer, this is my First Officer, T’Pol, and my Tactical Officer, Lieutenant Reed.” Archer indicated each officer in turn.
“Really, a Vulcan, how…interesting,” said Targer.
Archer couldn’t help but pick up the distaste in Targer’s tone. Obviously he didn’t like the Vulcans very much. In fact Archer got the impression that Targer wasn’t exactly pleased to see anyone, which was a little peculiar since they were here at the Thackerites’ request.
“I thought that we could start with the tour of the city and then go to observe one of our mines in action. I expect you are anxious to get on with our business quickly,” said Targer.
“There’s no rush, Council Member Targer,” said Archer. “We have come to make new friends as well open trade negotiations between our two peoples. I’m hoping we can build a lasting alliance here.”
“Well, we will see about that. Please come this way,” said Targer.
Again Archer detected something frosty about the official’s tone. Perhaps not all of the Thackerites had been willing to break their self-imposed isolation. This mission looked as if it might be tougher than it had originally seemed.
They were taken around the city and shown all the wondrous sights that the Capital had to offer. Targer was glued to their side the during the whole tour, not letting the Enterprise representatives out of his sight for a moment. Everywhere they went the Thackerites had come out to welcome them, small children holding up banners in alien script and waving Starfleet emblem flags, all accompanied with loud cheering. They were shown around the power plant, the public gardens, the museum, the Council chambers and, finally, the university. The city and surrounding area were heavily industrialised and it seemed that everywhere they looked were grey buildings populated by grey aliens.
It was obvious that Targer was very proud of the city and all their achievements, however their level of technology didn’t seem to be that much more advanced than their own. It was definitely different and Archer had no doubt that Trip would have fallen over himself to get a closer look at exactly how the power plant produced its energy, but it wasn’t particularly ground breaking.
When they were finished with their tour of the capital, Targer left them briefly to arrange transport to the mines.
“Did you notice something strange about the people who came out to welcome us?” asked Reed, as soon as they were alone.
“Nothing particularly. They seemed very pleased to see us,” said Archer. “Why?”
“I’m sure that I saw the same people in the crowd,” said Reed.
T’Pol nodded. “I noticed the same banner on display at two separate locations.”
“I expect it’s just a few people decided to follow us. We’re probably the first aliens that they’ve ever seen,” said Archer.
“No, I mean the whole crowd were the same people. I don’t think this was a spontaneous demonstration of how pleased they are to see us. I think it’s all been laid on for our benefit.” Reed kept his voice low but his tone was urgent.
“I’m sure that they’re just trying to make sure that we feel welcome. Maybe the Thackerites don’t go in for spontaneous displays of appreciation,” said Archer.
“Or they are not as pleased to see us as they are pretending to be,” said T’Pol.
“I keep getting the feeling that they’re hiding something,” said Reed.
“T’Pol, you’re always telling us that we should respect cultural differences. This could just be that.”
“Perhaps,” T’Pol agreed grudgingly. Reed didn’t look as if he believed a word of it.
“Captain,” said Targer, returning from his errand, “the transport to the mines is now ready. Please follow me.”
They followed their guide to a large hover vehicle that was waiting for them and left the capital behind. They moved through rocky terrain to the closest and largest of the mines which was only a few minutes journey away. Targer explained as they travelled that mining was the most important industry on Thacker and a lot of investment had been made in the infrastructure of the mines.
The city had been open and spotlessly clean, the mines were the exact opposite. Every surface was covered with a fine layer of pinkish red dust, the same colour as the rocks around them.
“We mine tons of ore every day from these mines,” explained Targer and went on to list the various commodities that the Thackerites mined for across the planet. “This mine has a particularly rich seam of dilithium.”
“Dilithium crystals?” asked Archer. They were always interested in new sources of dilithium to run the warp engines of the latest class of ships that were now being built.
“Yes, we haul the raw crystals to the refinery near the capital. The processed crystals are used in our power plants and homes for various functions. Let me take you further into the mine and show you how they are extracted.”
The Enterprise group followed the, now enthusiastic, Targer further into the mine, passing workers in protective gear as they moved further in. Targer stopped them and handed out face masks and hard hats before they proceeded to the working face of the mine, far underground.
“We have several mining machines that remove the crystals from the bed rock,” said Targer, as they came around the corner into one of the main chambers. The sight that greeted their eyes was of a huge mining machine, bigger than any type of machinery that Archer had ever seen before. He estimated it to be at least three floors high and it was obviously well used, with numerous scratches and dents in its dark metal surface. It was also covered in the same layer of dust that pervaded the whole mine. Archer couldn’t exactly tell how, but it seemed to be making inroads into the rock face and kicking up large amounts of red dust in the process. There was then various conveyor belts that took whatever was being mined out of the innards of the machine and away to other areas of the mine, but these looked as if they were a later addition to the machine.
“Each of these machines not only removes the rock from the face, but also removes the crystal from the rock and tests the crystals for viability. It then divides up the remaining rock into any useful components and sorts them for us. Unfortunately we are currently running the mine with only one of our three mining machines working. As you can see, these machines are very old and run almost constantly day and night, ten days a week. We are having difficulties repairing the two others and if this one also breaks down it could effect the economy disastrously.”
“I could ask my Chief Engineer to take a look at them for you. He’s never met an engine that he couldn’t fix and he’s had plenty of experience working on non-human technology,” said Archer.
“At this point we would be willing to try anything to get the other two machines up and running,” said Targer. “We would be very pleased to see your Chief Engineer.”
“I’ll contact Enterprise and ask them to send him down as soon as possible,” said Archer. He missed the look of worry which passed between Reed and T’Pol. Trip’s workload had just been increased again, without even consulting him. Archer, meanwhile, continued chatting to Targer about the dilithium mining operation and Earth’s interest in purchasing any surplus that they had.
Trip missed T’Pol, and he hated himself for it. She’d been gone from the ship for less than a day and he was already worrying and hoping that she’d be back soon. It was one of the most bizarre situations to be in because when T’Pol was on board he was avoiding her. They hardly spoke at the moment, and when they did speak it invariably ended in an argument. Not the kind of argument that he used to enjoy either, these had taken on a bitter edge. They didn’t mention T’Pol’s wedding or subsequent divorce, but it was a constant tension between them.
Enterprise felt different when T’Pol wasn’t on board, and he found himself daydreaming about her on the planet, or at least how his imagination saw her on the planet. Thacker had none of Vulcan’s stark beauty, but it seemed to be similar in a lot of ways. It had low rainfall and rocky terrain, although no fire plains. Thacker’s geology was rather more settled and less explosive.
Trip was stuck on Enterprise for the time being and had enough to do without daydreaming about T’Pol and how she was getting on down on the surface. The nightmares of the dark caves and glowing children (he’d upgraded them from dreams) were still plaguing him and he was surviving on about two hours sleep a night. He could really have done with some Vulcan neuropressure at the moment, but he guessed that was definitely out, even if T’Pol had been available.
“Bridge to Engineering,” the com sounded.
“Tucker here, go ahead,” replied Trip.
“Sir, the Captain has asked you to join the away team on the surface. The Thackerites have some mining machines that the Captain thinks we might be able to help them repair.”
Trip closed his eyes for just a moment and took a deep breath before he replied. “Okay, Hoshi, just let me get my tools together and I’ll take Shuttlepod Two down to the surface. I’ll leave Ensign Jackson in charge down here.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Hoshi. “Bridge out.”
Trip sighed and looked around Engineering for Ensign Jackson. He didn’t particularly want to leave the young Ensign in charge but he was the highest ranking officer available. He finally spotted who he was looking for tucked under the main engineering console.
“David, I’ve got to go down to the surface. You’re in charge until I get back,” said Trip, crouching down beside the Ensign.
Ensign Jackson’s eyes widened. “Me, sir?”
“Don’t get all excited, it’ll probably just be for a few hours and then I’ll be back to take over again. The schedule of repairs is all worked out, and even this short staffed, you shouldn’t have any problems. I expect the injectors to be online by the time I get back. If there’s anything urgent, get Hoshi to put you through to me down on the planet. I mean that, don’t go thinking you can handle stuff you wouldn’t normally.”
“Understood, sir,” replied Ensign Jackson.
“I’d like to find my engine is one piece when I get back too,” added Trip.
“Yes, sir,” said Jackson, slightly worriedly.
“That was a joke, Ensign,” added Trip, since his subordinate was clearly taking things too seriously.
“Of course, sir.”
Trip got up from crouching down by the console, shaking his head. His remaining staff were far too inexperienced to be left alone, but what choice did he have at the moment. He grabbed his tool kit and headed out of Engineering, but not towards the launch bay, he still had one other errand to perform before he left Enterprise. He made his way down to sickbay.
He stepped through the double doors apprehensively. Phlox had called him earlier to let him know that Lieutenant Hess was out of immediate danger but she was still seriously injured, in Enterprise’s equivalent of intensive care.
Phlox saw Commander Tucker enter and immediately went over to him. The doctor would know why he was here. Phlox had realised early on in Enterprise’s mission that the Commander took the safety of his crew very seriously and was genuinely concerned when they were injured or ill. He’d already been by on several occasions to visit sick crewmembers who were suffering from the Tauran flu, so much so that it was a wonder that he hadn’t caught it himself yet. Phlox was beginning to suspect a natural immunity on the part of those members of the Engineering staff who hadn’t come down with the flu yet. He’d already asked Trip to come in for testing when he had a moment, but he was well aware of the pressures on the Engineering team at the moment and the tests could wait.
“How’s she doing, Doc?” Trip asked.
“About as well as can be expected,” replied Phlox.
“Has she woken up yet?”
“No, but that’s not unusual given the injuries that she sustained. It’s also probably for the best given the extensive burns to her upper body.”
Trip nodded. He’d had his fair share of bad burns in his time and knew they hurt like a son of bitch. Pain medication could only do so much without sending you to la la land, and drug induced fuzziness wasn’t something Trip ever enjoyed. Hess was better off sleeping through the worst of it.
“The Captain’s asked me to go down to the surface and look at some mining equipment, but I want you to let me know if there’s any change.”
“Of course, Commander. I hope you will be getting some rest in your own quarters once you’re back on board,” said Phlox, adding the last comment pointedly. “Engineering is not the best place to get an uninterrupted night’s sleep.”
“Believe me, Doc, no one wants to get an uninterrupted night of sleep more than me, but it’ll have to wait until at least the basic repairs are complete.”
“Well at least you are getting some sleep,” said Phlox.
“I’ll catch you later, Doc,” said Trip, eager to leave before Phlox decided that the sleep he was getting wasn’t enough.
Of course the doctor didn’t know about the strange dreams that he’d been having, and Trip aimed to keep it that way. He knew Phlox’d have a field day if he found out how regular and similar the dreams were. Probably dreaming about caves indicated something about his psyche that Phlox would really enjoy getting to the bottom of. He really didn’t have time for psychoanalysis at the moment, on top of everything else.
Trip took the shuttlepod down to the surface of Thacker and was given coordinates to land near the mine. He was met by the Enterprise landing party and some of the Thackerites. He stepped out of the shuttle into dry heat and bright sunlight.
“Hi Trip,” said Archer in greeting.
“Sir,” replied Trip, formally. He certainly wasn’t going to pretend that everything was okay between them when it wasn’t.
“This is Targer, our liaison with the Thackerite government, and this is Krale, the mine foreman,” said Archer, indicating each of the Thackerites as he introduced them.
“Nice to meet you. So where’s this machine you want me to look at?” Trip asked. He was determined to get this done as quickly as possible so that he could get back to Enterprise.
“This way,” said Krale.
Everyone followed the foreman towards the mines. Reed fell in beside Trip, while Archer and T’Pol talked to Targer.
“Any news on Lieutenant Hess?” asked Reed, keeping his voice low.
“The Doc says she’s stable but can’t say much more than that. She was pretty badly burned. I guess we just have to wait.”
Reed nodded. “Look, tread carefully with these people. I don’t trust them.”
“You don’t trust anyone,” replied Trip.
“This time there’s a good reason. There’s something strange going on here.”
Reed didn’t get a chance to elaborate further as they had reached the mine mouth and there was protective gear to be put on. After that Krale wanted to talk to Trip and Reed found that he only understood every second word of their conversation, which had quickly moved beyond his engineering knowledge. Reed moved away from the main group to have a look around the mine entrance while the others talked. He knew that people considered him to be paranoid, but nothing felt right here and he wanted to get a better feel for the lie of the land. There wasn’t much to see, mainly rock and more rock, and he didn’t want to wander too far. He kept an ear tuned into the sound of conversation behind him, he had learnt that the cessation of talking was as good an indicator of trouble as raised voices.
He heard a sharp intake of breath behind him and noticed that Trip had stopped abruptly in his tracks. The engineer appeared to be staring ahead of him into the mouth of the mine. Reed didn’t think that anyone else had spotted Trip’s unusual reaction, except perhaps T’Pol who was also now looking in his direction. Reed moved back towards the main party, casually ending up just beside Trip.
“What is it?”
“It’s just like in my dreams. This can’t be happening, Malcolm. I’ve never been here before, how I could I imagine it in my dreams?”
“All rocks look pretty much the same, perhaps you were just dreaming of something like this.”
Trip shook his head. “I remember that exact rock formation. I remember thinking that it looked like a horse’s head. This was real.”
“Maybe you saw some pictures of the surface. You’ve been under a lot of stress lately not to mention your flirtation with prescription drugs, who knows what side effects that could have.”
“Drugs can’t make me predict the future, Malcolm, and you know as well as I do that there aren’t any pictures of Thacker, because no one’s ever been here before.”
“There has to be an explanation,” replied Reed, unwilling to accept that anything supernatural had occurred.
“Yeah, well I wish I could think of it, because this is just damn scary.” Trip really did look worried. Reed had never known Trip to be alarmist or flighty, in fact down-to-earth was how he would have described his friend. Trip didn’t worry without good reason and he wasn’t easily scared, which made Reed wonder whether there really was something more to this than overwork and an active imagination.
T’Pol moved over to join them. “The Captain and I will be returning to the city with Targer to finalise negotiations. We have Ensigns Scott and Hooper with us for security, perhaps Mr Reed should remain here while you conduct your repairs.”
“I don’t need a babysitter, T’Pol,” said Trip.
“Protocol does dictate that all away party members should have adequate protection,” replied T’Pol. Reed knew that T’Pol shared his concerns about Thacker and the dangers here. She was giving him the opportunity he needed to stay and perhaps poke around the mines a little and see if the Thackerites had anything to hide.
“I think it would be for the best, Commander,” added Reed.
“Commander Tusser!” called Krale.
“It’s Tucker, sir,” replied Trip as he went over to the mining foreman.
“Whatever,” said Krale, obviously without really caring about the proper pronunciation of Trip’s name. “I was against asking for alien help in the first place, but now that you’re here you should at least do some work. The broken machinery is this way.”
Krale started off down one of the mineshafts without checking to see whether Trip was following him.
Trip shrugged back at Reed and T’Pol. “I guess I’m going to work. You coming, Malcolm?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” said Reed, somewhat ruefully.
Trip gave T’Pol a brief nod and then the two men went to catch up with Foreman Krale.
****End of Chapter Four****
After Trip had got over the size of the machine that they wanted him to work on, he realised that this was going to take a lot longer than he’d hoped. The machine was a long way into the mine, down winding tunnels and Trip knew that they were some distance under ground. At least the cavern was well lit, but the heat felt oppressive. He had only brought limited water with him and, after his disturbing dreams, the cavern felt unpleasantly familiar.
Foreman Krale gave Trip a brief explanation of the inner workings of the machine but Trip got the distinct impression that he really didn’t know that much about how the thing worked. He didn’t seem to think that it could be repaired at all, the Thackerite engineers had already tried and failed. He had very little faith in Trip’s ability to do anything, mainly because he was an alien and therefore obviously not competent. Another Thackerite, introduced to them as Raggen, was assigned by Krale to keep an eye on them and make sure they didn’t wander anywhere that they shouldn’t. Then the foreman left them to get on with the repairs, stating that he had better things to do than baby-sit aliens in his mine. Trip was actually quite grateful when he left, as he found Krale’s gruff personality and open hatred of aliens difficult to bear even in the short time that he’d been with him.
He dropped his tools on the ground tiredly and began his inspection.
“What do you make of it?” asked Reed, ignoring the large Thackerite guard who was watching them from a discreet distance.
“You know, it’s one thing being volunteered to help out with our alien friends’ engine trouble, and it’s real nice to know that the Captain has faith in my abilities to repair anything mechanical, but this isn’t exactly what I’m used to working on. All those hours spent learning warp physics and I end up repairing a glorified power drill.” Trip opened what he assumed was an inspection hatch and surveyed the inside with his scanner. “I guess a circuit is a circuit anywhere.”
“Anything that I can help with?”
“Not unless you picked up a qualification in the repair of mining equipment somewhere,” said Trip, craning his neck to get a better view of something. He was already engrossed in the unfamiliar machinery in front of him. “You could hand me a hyperspanner,” he added.
“I’m here for your safety, Commander, not to be your lackey,” said Reed, a little annoyed.
“You did ask, Malcolm,” Trip pointed out. He stopped his inspection and looked around the cavern that the mining machine resided in. All of the Thackerites in this area were hard at work, apart from Raggen who was watching them with a slow intensity. None of the aliens showed any sign of causing them any trouble however. “It doesn’t look like you’re going to be needed much otherwise.”
“Something still doesn’t seem right about these people,” said Reed. “I’m happier with someone here to watch your back while you work, especially with our large friend hovering over you.”
“I didn’t realise that you cared,” replied Trip, turning back to his inspection, this time gripping a penlight in his mouth to shed some light on the dark interior of the machine.
Reed sighed, opened Trip’s tool kit and took out a hyperspanner. “I suppose I can hand you tools while I keep guard.”
Trip gave Reed a quick grin around the penlight, and accepted the spanner from his friend’s hand, before turning back to the machine.
“It’s weird,” Trip said, trying to form his words without dropping the penlight held in his teeth. “This machine is old, worn out and hard to repair. I would have thought that they’d just get a new one in here.”
“Maybe it’s still cheaper to repair it,” said Reed.
“Can’t be cheaper if they don’t know how to do it,” said Trip.
“You’d think that they’d have someone on site who knew how to repair it and maintain it,” said Reed.
“Or at least have some sort of maintenance contract with the company that built it. If I was the engineer in charge of this machine I’d never have let it get into this state in the first place,” said Trip. “There’s a damn sight more corrosion in here than any engineer worthy of the name would allow. I’m guessing that’s at least part of the problem and I’ll need to clean it out before I can really get to work. Pass me the sonic scaler, that should deal with it.”
Trip passed Reed the hyperspanner and was given the sonic scaler in return.
“How long do you think this is going to take?” asked Reed.
“Assuming I can even fix it, a lot longer than I’d hoped. I’d get some help down from Enterprise but we can’t spare anyone,” said Trip.
Trip and Reed worked together for the next few hours to clear out the corrosion and find out exactly what the problem was. It was hot in the mine and the size of the machine meant that it was difficult work.
Trip wiped his forehead on his sleeve and sighed. “There’s at least another day’s work here and that’s assuming that I’ve actually found the problem.”
“I think we should take a break,” said Reed, passing Trip a water bottle. The mine’s heat was oppressive and very little air circulated in this area. Raggen hadn’t moved from his sentry spot and didn’t seem to be affected by the temperature.
Trip dropped his tools back into his kit and slumped down with his back against the machine. “Good idea. Do you think they do room service down here? I’m starving.”
“I doubt it, but we’ve got ration packs back in the shuttlepod. It’s about time for us to check in with Enterprise anyway.”
“Great, just what I wanted.” Trip would have rather tried out whatever the local cuisine was than make do with ration packs, but it didn’t look like anyone was going to be offering them dinner anytime soon. He levered himself up from his sitting position. He collected up his tools from where they lay around his working area. “Hey Raggen, we’re calling it a day.”
“I will take you to the surface,” said Raggen, already walking towards the passage to the surface.
“After you, Malcolm,” said Trip, as he watched Raggen lumber away down the path, oblivious to whether he was being followed or not.
Reed nodded and set off down the tunnel. Trip could feel his muscles starting to ache as he followed Reed down the dimly lit passage ways. He was tired and turning over the workings of the machine in his mind as he walked. He certainly wasn’t really paying attention to his surroundings, but caught the edge of movement out of the corner of his eye. There was tinge of blue light to it. He turned to try to follow it, but missed a dip in the pathway and stumbled, catching himself against the rock wall. Reed turned swiftly and caught Trip’s other side to prevent the stumble becoming a fall.
Raggen had stopped and was waiting for them a little way up ahead. “Keep moving,” he growled.
“We’re right behind you,” said Reed, as he picked Trip up. The Thackerite grunted and only started walking again when the two officers had started up the tunnel again.
“Did you see something moving in the rocks?” asked Trip, quietly.
“No. When did you last get any sleep?”
“It was late evening on Enterprise when I got the call to come down here.”
“That isn’t an answer,” replied Reed, tersely. “Come on, let’s get you back to the shuttle and you can get some food and rest.”
“Yeah, that sounds good right about now,” said Trip.
They made it back to the shuttle and realised that while they’d been below the surface, night had fallen. Raggen grudgingly left his charges at the shuttle door, but sat down on a rock a few feet away, still obviously intending to watch them. Reed closed the hatch and Trip slumped down on the bench in the back of the shuttle.
“Do you think he’s going to stay out there all night?” asked Trip, indicating Raggen’s general direction with a thumb.
Reed shrugged. “Maybe Thackerites don’t sleep.”
“I could have sworn I saw something on that path,” said Trip.
“Probably just another miner,” said Reed as he got out the ration packs.
“Nah, moving too quickly. It reminded me of those dreams I’ve been having.”
“Trip, they’re just dreams,” said Reed. “What do you want to eat? We’ve got chicken with noodles or beef stew.”
“Give me the chicken,” said Trip, tiredly accepting the package offered to him.
“You should talk to the Captain about getting some help down here. Maybe he could get Krale to give you some of his mining engineers.”
“Krale didn’t seem to be very willing to help us and he sure as hell doesn’t trust us. Besides, I doubt the Captain is worried about how much work I’ll have to do here to get the thing going again. He just wants me to fix the damn thing so that he can use it to prove what great guys we are.” Trip picked at his dinner, not really feeling particularly hungry now.
“I think you’re being a little hard on him. He just wants this mission to go well and prove to the Vulcans that we can do it on our own. Admittedly he isn’t playing things the way that I would…”
Trip cut him off mid-sentence. “I know, you’d have a security team armed to the teeth down here and probably a platoon of MACOs as well.”
“Well, maybe not quite that level of firepower,” said Reed, a small smile acknowledging Trip’s teasing. “But there is something going on here that we’re not being made aware of.”
Trip nodded. “What we need is to get a look around without our escort.”
Reed was shaking his head. “Oh no you don’t, Mr Tucker, I am not following you on some harebrained scheme that will probably get us kicked off this planet and reprimanded by the Captain.”
“You’ve got to be curious.”
“Yes, but not curious enough to get myself court-martialled. Besides I doubt we’ll find anything down a mineshaft.”
“We won’t find anything if we don’t look,” replied Trip. “And we can’t get reprimanded if we don’t get caught.”
“We are not poking around in an alien mine looking for something that we don’t even know is here.”
Trip gave an exaggerated sigh. “Your problem, Malcolm, is you’ve got no spirit of adventure.”
“Eat your dinner, Commander, we’ve got another long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
Trip gave his head a rueful shake as he dug into his food. This wasn’t a lost cause yet, he had all of tomorrow to persuade his friend and Reed couldn’t resist a mystery any more than he could leave his favourite phase pistol at home.
After dinner Trip did his best to make up two beds at the back of the shuttlepod and Reed checked in with T’Pol. It sounded as if the trade talks were going reasonably well but it looked as if there was at least another day to go on them. That suited Trip fine and meant that he’d be left alone to fix the mining equipment. Reed signed off and the two of them settled down for the night on makeshift beds.
Trip fell asleep almost immediately but it wasn’t long before he found his sleep interrupted.
“You’re here,” said the voice he now knew so well. This time he was walking down a dark tunnel towards a blue light and the voice echoed off the walls around him.
“Xy’an?” he asked in an equally echoing tone.
“Trip, you are here. We need you so much. We need you to help us.”
Trip stumbled into the illuminated cavern. “What do you need my help with?”
Suddenly Xy’an was in front of him and she was surrounded by other figures, children, who were almost identical in build and features. Xy’an grasped Trip’s hand. “They’re hurting us. They’re killing us.”
Then Xy’an cried out what seemed to be a warning to the others, it was an ear-piercing wail with an unearthly quality. A shadow had entered the cave and the figures shrank away from it.
Trip knew that the shadow was bad without even needing to ask Xy’an. “Look out!” he shouted towards the children around him. He went towards the shadow to try and stop it but it slipped past him and towards the children.
One by one the figures disappeared as the shadow came closer to them, flickering out until Xy’an was the only one left and then she too disappeared in the single blink of an eye. This time a small pool of blue glowing liquid was left behind and Trip had the horrible feeling that it was blood. He knelt down and extended a hand toward the liquid, and his fingers touched the slightly warm substance. The dark around him was becoming oppressive again and he jerked himself awake.
“Trip?” asked Reed, and Trip turned to find that Reed was already kneeling beside him.
“Sorry, did I wake you?”
“You were talking in you sleep, more shouting actually,” said Reed. “Is this what’s happening every night?”
Trip looked guiltily down at his hands. “Well not exactly like this but, yeah, I usually manage to wake myself at least once.” Trip looked up at Reed and realised that he had worked out that it was often a lot more than once. The Lieutenant knew him far too well these days.
“No wonder you’re not sleeping,” said Reed, sitting down on his own bed. “This is as bad as when we were in the Expanse.”
“Worse, actually,” replied Trip, truthfully. “At least then I knew why I couldn’t get any sleep. Half the time I don’t even remember the dreams, and when I do remember them, all I get are flashes of what I dreamt.”
“You have to talk to Phlox about this.”
Trip shook his head. “He’ll just tell me to go and see T’Pol for more neuropressure.”
“There are members of the crew that would jump at that chance.”
“Yeah, well they don’t have an engineering department to run with half the staff off sick. I don’t have the time to go and see T’Pol for a couple of hours of neuropressure every other night.”
“The charms of T’Pol versus another shift in Engineering,” mused Reed. “I’m really not seeing the problem.”
“Drop it, Malcolm,” said Trip in reply. “I’m going back to sleep.” He rolled over so that his back was to Reed and pulled the blanket up around him. He could almost hear the Armoury Officer smirking behind his back but ignored him and closed his eyes. He pleaded silently to Xy’an to leave him alone and let him get some real sleep for the rest of the night. Luckily, this time she seemed to listen him.
Trip woke to find the sun up and that Reed had already been awake for some time. He caught the end of his check in with T’Pol and the rest of the team.
“We’ll check in again in four hours,” said Reed.
Trip threw off the blanket. “Everything okay in town?”
“Apparently the Thackerites put on some kind of feast for them last night,” said Reed.
“So they got to eat out while we got rations?”
“Yes, it looks like we drew the short straw with this assignment.”
Trip ran a hand through his hair. “Raggen still there?”
“Well someone is out there. I assume that it’s still Raggen, but to be honest I’m having trouble telling the Thackerites apart.”
“I know what you mean,” said Trip. “Come on let’s get back to work, we’ll take breakfast with us. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can get off this rock.”
Reed nodded and collected a pack together, while Trip found his tool kit. They opened the hatch and Raggen immediately got up from the small boulder that he’d been sitting on. The heat of the day hit them immediately, despite it still being early.
“Morning,” shouted Trip to their escort. “Sleep well?”
“We’re ready to get back to work. You going to lead the way for us?” asked Trip.
Raggen waved a hand in a gesture that definitely couldn’t be described as friendly and headed towards the mine.
“I suppose that means we should follow him,” said Reed, starting the trek down into the mine.
“You know someone could teach these guys a few manners,” said Trip as he too followed.
The mine was at least as hot as it had been the previous day and the air was dry. For some reason Trip had expected it to be cooler underground, but without even a breeze, it felt much warmer. The walk down to the machine was easier than the walk back had been the night before, mainly because it was all downhill, but of course that just meant it would be all uphill to get out.
They reached the machine after a few minutes of walking and Raggen took up his position once again, his steely eyes watching their every move with annoyed disinterest.
“I get the impression that he doesn’t like us very much,” said Trip, turning to open his tool kit and get started.
“I can sympathise a little, guard duty is never one of the more interesting parts of a security officer’s job.”
“Do you think that’s what he is? A Thackerite security officer?”
“I can’t imagine why they would ask anyone else to watch us,” said Reed. “A miner wouldn’t have the experience and he’s not exactly dressed in the same way that everyone else is. It could be a uniform of some type.”
Trip gave Reed a slightly worried look.
“You weren’t still thinking about going exploring, were you?” asked Reed.
“We’ve still got a lot of unanswered questions about this place,” said Trip.
“Let’s just concentrate on fixing this bloody machine so we can get back to Enterprise,” replied Reed.
Trip sighed. “Anything you say, Malcolm.” Although his curiosity was peaked, he hadn’t forgotten that he was needed back on Enterprise, and he wished he’d thought to ask T’Pol if she’d been given an update on Lieutenant Hess’s condition at her last check in. Their communicators wouldn’t be able to penetrate solid rock so he’d have to wait now until they left the mine again.
He turned back to the machine and began working once more to get the huge machine running. He fell back into an easy routine with Reed. The morning passed quickly as Trip began to make real progress in getting the machine fixed, until he finally hit a problem that couldn’t be solved by stripping out the corrosion or rerouting the circuits.
He pulled out the offending part. “This capacitor has had it, we’ll need a new one. Now that’s a problem, because I sure as hell don’t have one, and I’m not entirely sure that Krale will either.”
“I’ll talk to Raggen and maybe he can get Krale down here,” said Reed. He got up from where he had been crouching beside Trip.
Trip nodded and wiped his forehead with the back of his sleeve. He stood and stretched his aching muscles. He’d spent too long in one position again, something that he was prone to do when he got wrapped up in his work.
“Yes?” said Trip, automatically looking over towards where Reed was talking with Raggen, but Reed hadn’t spoken. He was having an animated conversation with the Thackerite guard.
He looked around again but couldn’t see anyone who would be calling him. It sounded as if the voice was coming from further into the mine. Trip checked briefly to see if Raggen was watching him and headed out of the chamber that held the great mining machine and towards the sound of the voice.
“Trip!” The calling was definitely getting more urgent and he broke into a run. He dashed down a passageway, skidded around a corner and came to a halt. In front of him was a room full of children like those in his dream, and Krale had hold of one of them by the arm. He was shaking the small girl and shouting at her. The other children were working with mining equipment on the rock face, although some of them now cowered away from the much larger Thackerite.
“Hey, what are you doing?” said Trip, as he moved to stop Krale. The Thackerite hit the girl sending her flying across the room. Blue blood with a slight glow leaked from her wounds, as she attempted to rise again. “Xy’an,” whispered Trip, as he recognised the girl from his dream.
“Leave now, alien,” said Krale.
“What the hell is going on here?” asked Trip angrily as he grabbed Krale by the arm.
Krale shook himself free. “That is none of your business.”
“They’re just kids,” said Trip.
“They’re vermin,” replied Krale. “Only good for working until they get too old to be of use.”
“Then what happens to them?”
“They’re culled, like all animals,” said Krale, obviously angry at having to explaining himself. He grabbed hold of the girl again, ready to start beating her and Trip once more grabbed hold of his arm to stop him. This time Krale put all his strength into throwing Trip away, and the much larger Thackerite threw the human against the rock wall. Trip was stunned momentarily and as he shook off the fuzziness, he saw that one of the older children had grabbed a mining tool from the ground.
The boy approached Krale from behind and as the foreman bent to hit Xy’an again, the mining tool connected with the Thackerite’s skull. The boy hit out again and again, until Krale lay on the ground and he would have continued if Trip hadn’t stopped him. He slumped to his knees beside Krale, and Trip gently removed the weapon from his hands.
“He was going to kill her. She’s my sister,” he said.
“Maybe you can explain why she’s been making an appearance in my dreams,” replied Trip, not really expecting the boy to know. He knelt beside him and reached down to the Thackerite’s neck to feel for a pulse.
“You’re Trip,” said the boy. “I’m S’vin. Xy’an said you would come.”
“You know who I am?”
“Of course, Xy’an told us about you.”
Trip found this new information hard to take in, but S’vin seemed to accept it as normal to know people he had never met before. Trip mentally pulled himself back to the current situation. He didn’t have time now to worry about this, he needed to see if anything could be done to salvage this situation. The boy was shivering and probably going into shock, while Xy’an lay shaking on the ground, blue abrasions across her skin.
“Help your sister,” said Trip. Doing something would take S’vin’s mind off what had just happened and Trip didn’t have any idea how to even begin to treat Xy’an’s wounds. He had to hope that S’vin would at least know some basic first aid. S’vin blinked his large eyes once in what Trip took to be a gesture of agreement, and went to his sister.
That left Trip to see if anything could be done for the Thackerite. He was in far worse shape than Xy’an, it looked as if his entire skull had been crushed by S’vin’s blows and Trip wasn’t surprised when he couldn’t find a pulse. Dark red blood now covered his hands and still flowed from the wound, pooling on the floor beneath the Thackerite. S’vin was obviously stronger than he looked, especially given the tough Thackerite anatomy.
S’vin helped Xy’an into a sitting position. “He said that she wasn’t working hard enough, and that he’d make an example of her.”
“Yeah, well, he’s dead now,” said Trip. S’vin stiffened beside his sister.
“If they find out S’vin killed the foreman, we’ll all be culled in retribution,” said Xy’an shakily.
“All of you?” asked Trip. “Do you want to tell me what the hell is going on here? You’re obviously not Thackerites and you look an awful lot like some people I’ve been seeing in my dreams.”
“You’re right we’re not Thackerite,” said Xy’an. “We’re Thaisen. The Thackerites make us work here and hurt us if we don’t. We need your help. You’re the only one on your ship that I could contact and even then it was intermittent and blurry. I couldn’t get messages to you, only images of what I wanted to say and most of the time I didn’t know if I was getting through.”
“Oh you got through all right. You gave me some really horrible nightmares, but I’m beginning to see why. I’m guessing that you’re telepathic.”
Xy’an closed her eyes and nodded. Trip heard a voice in his head. “We can communicate with our thoughts, yes, but I am the strongest amongst us.” She opened her eyes and continued out loud. “The Thackerites know about our ability and if they catch us trying to talk to each other we are punished. That was why I couldn’t ever stay long.”
“You’re slaves here? Where are your parents?”
“We think that they’re all dead. None of us have ever seen an adult of our species. The Thackerites bring us here from the nursery when we’re very young and then kill us when we’re too old to control. They’re worried that we’ll rebel against them if they let us get strong enough. We’re the only ones who can mine the substance in this area, it makes the Thackerites sick if they try. Otherwise they would have killed all our kind long ago. You have to help us, Trip.”
“I’m not sure that I can. Last time I tried to offer someone asylum it didn’t end too well. Right now we need to do something about our dead friend here. Any ideas?”
Xy’an, S’vin and the rest of the children just looked scared, their black eyes open wide in fear and the blue glow to their skin seemed dimmer. Trip desperately tried to think.
“Hide the body,” suggested one child.
“If they find him then they’ll suspect us anyway,” said S’vin.
“He’ll be missed soon,” said Xy’an.
Unfortunately that was as far as their conversation got. Suddenly there was the sound of feet on the rock of the entrance to the cave.
“Look, get out of here, all of you,” said Trip, quickly.
“But they’ll blame you,” said Xy’an as her brother helped her to her feet.
“Yeah, better me than you. If they think you and the other Thaisen were involved then you’re all dead. It’s better that I get the blame for this. Don’t worry, I’ll think of something, or maybe the Captain can invoke diplomatic immunity or something. I promise I’ll get this all straightened out. Now, come on, go!”
Xy’an gave a quick nod of gratitude and the Thaisen scuttled from the cave, taking their comforting blue glow with them.
“What the hell have you gotten yourself into this time, Tucker,” murmured Trip as he desperately tried to think up ways to make this look better than it was. At least Xy’an and her people were safe for a little longer, which gave him time to think of something, but if anyone realised that they had been involved, he knew what would happen. Krale had already proven that the life of a child slave was unimportant to him and he doubted any of the other Thackerites would hold differing views. That meant he’d have to deny any knowledge of ever having seen the Thaisen, because he wasn’t supposed to know that they existed.
He was still thinking about it a few seconds later when Raggen entered the chamber, followed by Lieutenant Reed and a couple of Thackerite miners.
“Trip, we’ve been looking everywhere for you…” said Reed, tailing off when he saw the foreman lying on the ground, covered in dark red blood. Shock and surprise registered in equal amounts on Reed’s face, and Trip realised that he was still holding the mining tool that had killed the foreman.
He didn’t have much more time to contemplate the gravity of situation because he found himself snatched off the ground and pushed up against the rock face by Raggen.
“You dirty alien scum,” said Raggen. It was the most that Trip thought he had ever heard the Thackerite say. Raggen dropped him to the floor and turned to the miners. “Get pictures of the crime and call the Guard out. I’m taking this murderer where he belongs.”
“Wait, I’m sure this is all a misunderstanding,” said Reed. “Isn’t it Trip?”
“Don’t get involved, Malcolm,” said Trip. “Just call T’Pol and the Captain and let them know what happened.”
“Trip, what are you saying?” asked Reed. Trip could hear the disbelief, and perhaps a little hurt, in his voice.
“I’m not saying anything, just do what I asked you to, okay?”
“No, it’s not bloody well okay. I want to know what happened here,” said Reed, frustration finally getting the better of him.
“Enough,” said Raggen, and dragged Trip out of the cave, up the passage towards the surface. Trip stumbled but Raggen didn’t seem to care and wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Reed made to follow but was stopped by the two miners who had accompanied Raggen, effectively bringing any further conversation to a close.
****End of Chapter Five****
“What happened?” Archer asked Reed. Reed himself looked worried and was pacing in the room where they’d been told to wait. He seemed very relieved to see his Captain and apparently had had some difficulty persuading the Thackerites to contact them. It had been several hours now since the actual incident had occurred.
“To be honest I’m not entirely sure. Trip needed a new part to fix the machine, so I went to talk to Raggen, the guard who’d been assigned to us, to see if they had one. When I turned around Commander Tucker had disappeared. Raggen was furious. I explained that he’d probably just wandered off to inspect another part of the machine, but he sounded the alarm. I went with Raggen to search for the Commander and we found him in a side cave, kneeling beside Krale’s body. He had blood on his hands and clothes and was holding what I presume to be the weapon that killed him.”
“No one else was present?” confirmed T’Pol.
“No, just Commander Tucker and Krale,” said Reed.
“Didn’t he explain what had happened?” asked Archer.
“No, he just told me to leave it alone and call you. I was ready to help him, but he wouldn’t give me any information. There was nothing I could do when Raggen hauled him away except contact you and T’Pol. I’m sorry, sir, I did what I could to stop them but without any idea of what happened there wasn’t much I could say in his defence.”
“It’s okay, Malcolm. You did the right thing. I just don’t understand why Trip wouldn’t say anything about what happened. Why wouldn’t he put up any defence?”
“I don’t know, but there has to be more to this than the Thackerites are claiming,” said Reed.
“Have you been able to see the Commander since he was brought here?” asked T’Pol.
“No, they won’t let me speak to him,” said Reed. “You might have better luck trying to persuade them but they aren’t being very talkative.”
“I will see if I can find Targer,” said T’Pol and left the room.
“How have the talks been going?” asked Reed, trying to distract himself.
“Mostly fine, but it feels like they’re not telling us everything. Mining seems to be their whole economy and they’re happy to trade raw materials with us but there’s no mention of the technology that we were promised. The miners and their council control everything. I’m beginning to think that you and T’Pol may have been right, they’re hiding something.”
“The question is what,” said Reed, nodding. “What do they want to trade for?”
“They’ve asked for access to our library database, they’re mainly interested in agriculture, mining techniques and some medical information. Nothing particularly dangerous or that we’d be unwilling to give them. They’re not interested in our technology but they want a report from Trip when he’s fixed their mining machine.”
“It all sounds very reasonable,” said Reed.
“Yes, apart from one rather unusual request. They want to open a new shaft to a deeper vein of dilithium and they have asked Enterprise to use its phasers to do it. Apparently it would go a long way to alleviating some of the rough spots in the economy that they’ve been experiencing lately.”
“Can’t they open the new shaft?”
“Not as easily or as quickly apparently,” said Archer.
“It’s a strange thing to ask when their technology is supposedly more advanced than ours. Are you considering it?”
“They’re offering us a lot of dilithium in return, more than Enterprise can carry in its cargo hold. Although Trip being accused of murdering one of their mining foremen could mean the whole thing is off.”
T’Pol entered the room again, followed by Targer.
T’Pol didn’t look exactly pleased with what she had discovered. “They have agreed to allowing us to visit the Commander, however he has already been moved to a secure facility some miles from here.”
“What kind of secure facility?” asked Reed.
“A prison where our criminals await trial,” said Targer.
“You’re putting him in with the general population?” Reed’s eyes shone with concern and urgency.
“Of course, that is standard procedure,” replied Targer.
Reed turned to Archer. “Sir, they can’t do that.”
“Malcolm, it’s their system. We don’t have any say in what happens,” said Archer.
“Captain, they’ve been doing their best to hide it but the Thackerites are a bunch of prejudiced xenophobes. Trip will be torn to pieces by the other prisoners.”
Targer looked a little offended but he didn’t vocalise it, perhaps, Archer wondered, because he knew that Reed was right. Equally it could be because he didn’t care about the fact that the Thackerites had just put Trip in incredible danger. Add to that Trip’s tendency not to keep his mouth shut when he should and Archer knew his fears were more than justified. People like Trip wouldn’t survive long in a Thackerite prison.
“I want Commander Tucker isolated from the other prisoners,” said Archer. “At least until we can get to the bottom of this mess.”
“I don’t think you understand the situation, Captain Archer,” said Targer. “We can’t be seen to be showing favouritism to an alien and our prisons are crowded. We don’t have room to isolate anyone. This is not your concern in any case. The murder took place on our world and therefore the perpetrator is subject to our justice. The Commander will be tried and convicted within the week. Most likely he will be sentenced to death thereafter and will no longer be a problem to any of us.”
“He’s innocent,” said Reed. “You can’t convict him when he hasn’t done anything.”
“There are no innocent prisoners in our judicial system. We haven’t found a prisoner innocent at trial for over three hundred years. Your Commander was questioned extensively and nothing he said indicated that he was not responsible for Krale’s death. I’m told he opted to remain silent, which we are allowed to take as being an admission of guilt.”
The shocked expression on Reed’s face reflected how all three of the Enterprise officers felt about that news.
“So you’re saying he’s as good as convicted,” said Archer. “What exactly is this trial for if there’s no chance of acquittal?”
“It determines the extent and level of the crime so that a suitable punishment can be arrived at. He will be tried in the usual manner, at the location where the crime was committed and if the death penalty is his punishment, he will also be executed there. The family of the deceased are allowed to decide the method of execution in most such cases.” Targer hadn’t shown even the slightest emotion while explaining Trip’s probable fate.
Archer turned away from the Thackerite, unable to hide his anger any longer. “I want to see him as soon as possible.”
“I will arrange it,” said Targer and left the room without saying anything further.
“We need to know what really happened in that mine,” said Archer, urgently. “Lieutenant, I want you to investigate, discreetly, but get to the bottom of this. I won’t see Trip executed for something he didn’t do.”
“If we try to interfere in their judicial system, we are putting the trade deal at risk and possibly destroying any chance that we might have of peaceful relations with this world,” said T’Pol.
“I’m not suggesting that we break Trip out of prison, but there has to be some way that we can use the trial to prove his innocence,” said Archer. “We need evidence first and I need to know if there’s anything helpful in the Thackerite judicial code that I can use. Get Targer to give you a copy and then Hoshi can help you go through it.”
“I will see to it,” said T’Pol. “Perhaps we should also consider asking Doctor Phlox to join us. Commander Tucker may be in need of the services of a doctor.”
Archer hadn’t wanted to think about that, but T’Pol was right, having Phlox on hand would be a sensible precaution. “Yes, get Phlox down here. You have your orders. Let’s go and see if Targer has made arrangements for our visit with Trip yet.”
Trip knew things could only go from bad to worse and his outlook on his situation was confirmed after Raggen had dragged him to the local police station. His treatment so far had been fairly rough at the hands of the Thackerite guard and he didn’t expect any better from the Thackerites who arrived to interrogate him. They punctuated their questions with kicks and punches and refused to acknowledge his requests to see someone from Enterprise. He got the distinct impression that the interrogators were carefully holding back on beating him too hard because they didn’t want to damage him permanently. They needed him to be alive for trial, even if they didn’t care what condition he was in.
They gave up on the interrogation after they realised that Trip wasn’t going to tell them anything that they didn’t already know. They left him alone for a short while, before returning with restraints, which presented a few problems as Thackerites were a large race whose wrists were obviously bigger than those of a human. After a little adaptation they made the handcuffs fit but they were heavy and pinched. Trip hoped he wouldn’t be wearing them for long. Then he was bundled out of the building and into a waiting transport that took him to a much larger facility about half an hour’s drive away.
He was stripped of his uniform and given a prison issue grey overall that was far too big for him. He had to turn up the sleeves and legs in order to be able to see his hands and feet. They didn’t have any shoes that even remotely looked as if they would fit him so he was forced to go barefoot as the guards wouldn’t let him keep his boots. The laces had been stripped from them at the police station in any case, some things were apparently standard procedure no matter where you were in the galaxy. They did at least remove the restrains to allow him to dress but put them back on once he had the overalls on.
Then there was some sort of decontamination procedure in a room with bright lights and foul smelling gasses that made him cough, feel light headed and a little sick. Finally he was thrown into a sparsely furnished cell and the restrains were removed. He immediately went to the basin in the corner and threw up his breakfast. He hoped that whatever had been in that decontamination gas wasn’t poisonous to humans. He didn’t think the Thackerites would care if they found him dead in his cell but he sure as hell did. He slumped down on one of the beds, feeling every bruise and cut that the interrogators had inflicted on him. It didn’t feel like anything was broken but it still hurt like hell. No one had suggested that he should see a doctor so he guessed that medical attention for prisoners wasn’t something that the Thackerites went in for in a big way.
“You’ve really done it this time, Trip,” he muttered to himself.
He had a lot of faith in Captain Archer to get them out of most situations, but this time he wasn’t sure what the Captain could do. Given their current ragged relationship he wasn’t even sure that the Captain would even want to try that hard, after all, his Chief Engineer was nothing but trouble lately. He’d be better off accepting his fate and consoling himself with the fact that he’d saved the lives of Xy’an, her brother and the other kids. He hated to think what would have happened if he’d told Raggen what had really happened. He needed time to think about everything that he had found out, formulate some kind of plan, but he hadn’t had a moment to himself since he’d been arrested.
There was movement outside his cell and it looked as if the rest of the inmates were returning. Trip roused himself and prepared to meet his cell mates. There were two bunk beds in the cell so he thought he could expect another three inmates to be put in his cell. It didn’t give any of the prisoners much space.
“We aren’t getting in a cell with a stinking alien,” said a voice.
“You’ll do what I say, Crag. You’re not that much better than him,” replied the guard, shoving a prisoner in front of him.
“I’m not a damn alien,” said Crag as he entered the cell, followed by two other inmates, none of whom looked very happy to be sharing a cell with Trip.
“It’s only temporary. He’s up for murder,” said the guard, slamming the iron bars of the door closed. He walked away from the cell and Trip was very aware of the three prisoners looking at him.
“Look, I don’t want any trouble,” said Trip.
“Get on the floor, alien,” said Crag.
“There are four beds, room for everyone,” said Trip.
Crag grabbed Trip and slammed him against the bars of the cell. “You do what I say, alien, and I want you as far away from me as possible. This is my bunk and I don’t share it with anyone, least of all a dirty alien. You understand that or do I need to beat it into you?”
“No, I’ve got it,” said Trip. He was well aware that all the Thackerites were bigger than he was and he’d gained enough bruises for one day.
Crag threw Trip into the corner of the cell and then kicked him to make his place in the pecking order clear.
“Do I get a blanket?” asked Trip.
“If you want to live through the night then you’ll shut your mouth,” said one of the other prisoners.
Trip decided to cut his losses, getting himself beaten up again wouldn’t help anyone, least of all himself. The floor wasn’t very comfortable and the cell was getting cold as the sun set. Trip curled up as best he could, rolling down the sleeves of his overalls to cover his hands and try to keep in what warmth he had. The lights in the hallway went out and Trip realised he needed to try to sleep. He was hungry, bruised and sore, but it had been a long day, and if he didn’t sleep then tomorrow would be worse than it was already going to be. It took a while but eventually he drifted off, sleeping fitfully at first but eventually he began to dream.
He once again found himself in the dream caves of Xy’an and the Thaisen children. Now, as the children gathered around the cave, he was able to recognise them from earlier in the day. He easily picked out Xy’an and her brother, S’vin, as they walked towards him.
“You were arrested?” asked Xy’an.
“Yeah, but I’m okay. What about you? Have they asked you any questions about Krale’s death?”
“No, we are fine. They mostly ignore us and I don’t think they realise that we were there with you. You are hurt though.” Xy’an gently reached up and laid a hand on Trip’s bruised cheek.
“Nothing’s broken and it’ll all heal. I couldn’t just stand there while he hurt you and the rest of the kids. We’ve got to find a way to get you and the rest of the Thaisen out of here. You said that all the adults were dead. What happened to them?”
“The Thaisen used to live in the mines peacefully, while the Thackerites occupied the surface. The rock is our home. We would mine the elements they needed and trade with them for supplies, but the Thackerites became greedy and demanded more. Our ancestors would only mine what they needed and refused to give the Thackerites what they wanted. The Thackerites were angry. They killed almost all of the adults and stole their mining equipment. They kept some of us, mainly children, to mine what the Thackerites could not without damaging their health.”
“You’re saying that the Thackerites committed mass genocide of your people for some mining rights?”
Xy’an didn’t answer but just gave him a single blink of her large eyes, which he knew somehow was an affirmative gesture. Trip shook his head unable to think of anything else to say about the wholesale slaughter of such a beautiful people. It did answer one question that had been bothering him.
“If the Thaisen built the mining machines that explains why they’re so old and no one round here seems to know how to fix them,” said Trip.
“The majority of the Thackerites now believe that the Thaisen were mythical creatures, spirits that lived in the mines, but never really existed. The miners keep our existence a secret so that no one can challenge how we are treated. However, more seriously, the over mining and industrialisation has damaged their environment so much so that they now face a crisis. The soil is depleted of any useful elements. They haven’t been able to produce enough food for their people for some time now and soon they will begin to starve. That is the real reason that you have been asked to come here. Earth is a fertile world and they need your help desperately.”
“Why didn’t they just tell us that from the beginning? We’d have helped them anyway.”
“They hate aliens and distrust you all. They believe if they show weakness then you will take the dilithium and offer them nothing in return. If you refuse to deal with them then they will take by force what they need from your ship.”
“But if the Thackerites die then won’t you just be able to take back the planet?”
Xy’an shook her head. “We don’t eat the same food but we need clean air to breathe. Th’ayk’ah was a beautiful planet once, not the hot, dry place that it is now. We wouldn’t survive any longer than the Thackerites. At the rate they cull us, we may have even less time than they do.”
“Hang on, there must be adult Thaisen still alive or there wouldn’t be any children,” said Trip.
Again Xy’an shook her head sadly. “There are no adults left. Follow me and I’ll explain.”
Xy’an took Trip’s hand and led him further into the network of caves. Finally, after walking for several minutes, they reached a huge rock chamber. Trip assumed that they entered it on a level about half way up but to be honest if was dark near the top and bottom so he had no idea how far it extended in either direction. It was certainly a very long way down however and several metres across to the other side. The walls of the chamber were pitted with inlets, small hollows some of which glowed with a familiar blue light.
“This is our nursery,” said Xy’an. “Our parents used this chamber as an incubator. It was heated naturally by geothermal vents then. The Thaisen infants are born in cocoons and take time to mature to a point where they hatch naturally. The Thackerites discovered that they could send the cocoons into hibernation if they lowered the temperature of the incubation chamber, so they blocked the geothermal vents. After that, they no longer needed the adults. They simply remove cocoons and warm them enough to hatch as they need them to replace slaves that have died.”
“But eventually there won’t be any of you left,” said Trip, horrified. He had counted hundreds of blue glowing cocoons, the offspring of an entire race of people, but it wouldn’t be long before the supply ran out. Perhaps only a few years. He shuddered to think how many children had already died in the mines.
“That is their plan, I believe. They hope to take mining expertise from aliens like you to allow them to perform the tasks that we now do. When they no longer need us, we will all be culled.”
“I bet that’s what they want to trade for,” said Trip. “Somehow I’ve got to sour the deal and let the Captain know what’s been going on here without putting you and the rest of the Thaisen in any more danger.”
“We need to destroy the mining machines,” said Xy’an. “The Thackerites keep large stocks of explosives in the mine.”
“That figures, but do you know how to use them?”
Xy’an shook her head. “They don’t normally let us anywhere near them.”
“I don’t want you blowing yourselves up. I have to get back to the mine somehow.”
Xy’an blinked. “They will hold your trial here. It is Thackerite custom to try a man where the crime was committed, but it may be several days before the trial.”
“That suits me fine. You’re going to need time to get the explosives and plant them in the right places. I could really do with Malcolm’s help on this one, but I guess we’re on our own. Describe the explosives that you saw.”
Xy’an flashed an image in Trip’s head and he saw detonators and chemical explosives. They were of alien design but he thought he recognised the type. He did some quick mental calculations based on his assumptions and relayed the instructions to Xy’an. “I’m not an expert, and this is going on stuff that I’ve picked up from Malcolm along the way, but hopefully that should get the job done.”
Xy’an blinked in acknowledgement. “It will all be in place in time for the trial.”
“Great, now all I have to do is survive a few days in this hell hole and we’ll be fine.” Trip had barely uttered the words in his dream when he was pulled out of his communication with Xy’an by someone shouting at him and bashing loudly on the metal bars of the cell.
“Get up,” shouted a guard loudly and Trip barely had time to rouse himself before Crag was pulling him to his feet.
“You make sure that you pull your weight today, alien,” said Crag, angrily. “Any shortfall from you and we have to make it up. That happens and we’ll take it out of your skin later.”
The cell door was opened and the prisoners began to line up outside their cells. Crag dropped Trip back to the floor unceremoniously, without waiting for a reply, and took up his position in line. Trip just had time to dust himself off and follow before the guard returned. He watched as some of the slower prisoners were pulled from their beds by the guards and given a few swift blows to remind them who was in charge. Then they were all marched to a large hall and lined up to be served breakfast from a huge vat of green lumpy liquid. Metal bowls and spoons were handed out from a hatch and then the prisoners moved along to receive a ladle full of the green substance. Finally they took their seats on benches at long tables.
Trip looked down at the green, pea soup like substance that he was supposed to eat. It didn’t smell very good, but he was hungry after eating little the previous day, and then throwing up what he had eaten. He dipped the spoon into the bowl and gingerly took a sip. He didn’t know how to describe the taste, it was like he would imagine stagnant pond water tasted, if he had ever been foolish enough to drink water from a stagnant pond. Perhaps with added pond weed for the lumpy bits. Once again he had to remind himself that he needed the nourishment, no matter how bad it tasted. He’d sat through the Starfleet training lectures about what to do if he was ever captured by the enemy and he figured this was pretty close to that scenario. One of the things that had been stressed was the need to keep energy levels up and that included eating any food available, no matter how bad it seemed. Trip took a bigger spoonful and set about trying to eat his breakfast without gagging on it.
No one talked during the meal and Trip was too intent on actually eating to make comment himself. The hall was very quiet apart from the chatter from the guards and the sound of metal on metal as the inmates ate. Everyone around him seemed to be downing their meal far more quickly than he was, and Trip wondered whether it was because the prisoners didn’t receive much food. If the Thackerites were having trouble producing enough food to feed everyone then the prisoners rations would probably be the first to be cut. Trip noticed a couple of the prisoners looking longingly at his bowl when they had finished their own and that bore out his theory. He finished the rest of the green liquid as quickly as he could, mindful of the fact that it could be a while before they were fed again if food was scarce.
With breakfast over, some of the prisoners were detailed off for kitchen cleanup duty while the rest were ushered out of the hall by the guards. Trip would have preferred to work in the kitchen but he was shoved along by a guard to join the rest of the prisoners. They were taken outside and walked a short distance down a dusty road which was fenced in with high metal walls on both sides. It was already getting warm although the sun was just coming up and Trip knew it was going to be another hot day.
The prisoners reached their destination, a huge rock face, where mining tools were handed out under careful supervision. The guards all held fearsome looking weapons so really there was no chance that a prisoner might think of turning one of the tools on a guard. Trip also had the feeling that the guards would shoot first and ask questions later if anyone did try anything. It was obvious what was coming next, they were going to be put to work mining the rock face, and Trip’s heart sank. He would never be able to keep up with the much larger and stronger Thackerites, and in the hot sun the day’s work would be unbearable. It wasn’t as if he could do anything about it, either, he’d just have to put up with it and hope that it didn’t take long for the Thackerites to set up his trial. Except he needed to give Xy’an time to steal and set the explosives. He had to get through this for their sake.
The guards were splitting everyone into small teams and chaining their feet together. He found himself sent with Crag to break up rocks that had already been quarried. He almost laughed at the irony, here he was, on a chain gang, breaking rocks. The Thackerites couldn’t have been any more clichéd if they’d tried, but of course being aliens they weren’t familiar with his own cultural stereotypes, so he suppressed the hysterical giggle he felt forming in his throat. He got to work with the other prisoners and tried to block out the aches that set in as he worked.
The night spent on the cold floor hadn’t helped his bruises from the previous day and he found that he was stiff and sore after only a few strokes of the hammer. Old injuries were next to remind him that he wasn’t used to this sort of physical labour, including his bruised shoulder from the explosion in engineering. He’d left sickbay after his argument with the Captain and hadn’t ever thought to ask Phlox to have a look at his own injury from the blast. He’d never been afraid of hard work and he considered himself to be reasonably fit, but he hadn’t ever expected to be doing hard labour in a prison camp.
The day wore on and the sun climbed higher. Trip felt the sweat slicked skin on the back of his neck turning red and stopped briefly to adjust the collar of his overall to protect the area. Occasionally one of the older prisoners would come round with a bucket of dirty looking water and each prisoner would be allowed a sip. Trip’s mouth was still dry and he knew he really needed more water than he was being allowed, but it seemed that the Thackerites dealt with the heat better than he did. They probably didn’t get sunburn either, he mused ruefully.
His inactivity had been noticed and a guard was already poking him with the muzzle of his gun after a few moments to get moving again.
“Keep your shirt on,” said Trip, picking up the hammer once again, “I’m working. You know, some more water would make things go a bit faster.”
“Shut up, alien,” said the guard and hit Trip in the shoulder with his gun butt. The hit was hard and drove Trip down to his knees. His first reaction was to hit back, or at least give the guard a piece of his mind, but he stopped himself and clamped his jaw shut. Now was not the time to make his situation any worse than it already was.
“You’re not working fast enough,” added the guard, picking up Trip’s hammer and smacking it down perilously close to where Trip had placed his hand on the ground. “The rest of your chain will have to make up your quota today.”
A siren wailed and the prisoners on the other chain lengths put down their tools. Trip watched as a group of guards pulled out large padlocked boxes and from them handed the prisoners what looked like chunks of bread, except that once again it was a dark green colour.
The guard who had taken his gun butt to Trip’s shoulder noticed that his chain had also put down their tools. “Not you lot, keep working until you make up the morning quota. If there’s any rest time left, then you may get to eat.” There were groans from the other prisoners. “Blame the alien,” added the guard and aimed a half-hearted kick at Trip’s calf, which Trip dodged before it could connect.
Trip could hear the other prisoners muttering complaints in his direction and knew that this wasn’t good. As soon as they got a chance he was sure that they were going to take their displeasure out on him. They continued working for a while longer until finally the guard pronounce the quota of broken rocks complete for the morning and they were allowed a rest. Trip dropped down to sit on the ground gratefully. He received his chunk of green bread and a tin mug of water, that he downed quickly before realising that the others were dipping the bread in their own water ration. When he bit into the bread he realised why, it was hard and tough to eat dry. Once again he reminded himself that he needed the nourishment if he was to keep going.
The break was all too short and soon the guard was shouting at them again to get back to work. The afternoon was the same as the morning except hotter and Trip found it even more difficult to keep up with the work gang. They continued working until late evening. Trip was beginning to wonder if they would ever stop when the guard finally called a halt. Days on Thacker were longer than those on Earth and Trip knew that the sinking sun meant they had worked far longer than he would on a normal day. Every muscle in his body seemed to be burning with overuse and exertion.
The prisoners were herded back inside for the evening meal which Trip hardly registered at all. He ate on automatic pilot, too tired to even care that the grey substance they were served had the consistency of a slimy porridge. It was followed by the prisoners being directed towards the communal shower rooms where they stripped off their overalls briefly and were given a few seconds under a lukewarm shower to get the worst of the dust off. There was absolutely no privacy and Trip was very conscious of the fact that he was naked and being watched by the other prisoners who were poking fun at his strange alien anatomy. He dried himself off as quickly as he could and got back into the overalls that were dirty from the day’s work. He was aware that his skin had flushed bright red despite the fact that he was telling himself it was ridiculous to be embarrassed in front of aliens who had never even seen a human before.
After the showering the guards pushed the prisoners into a yard and left them to their own devices for a few hours. This was when Trip expected there to be trouble and he wasn’t disappointed. Crag was definitely the ring leader and the other prisoners seemed to listen to him. He grabbed Trip and pushed him up against the high bars of the fence that surrounded the yard.
“You didn’t meet your quota today, dirt alien,” said Crag. “That means we all suffer and you are going to pay.”
“Hey, it was my first day,” said Trip. “I’m really not trying to cause you any trouble.”
Crag hit him across the mouth and Trip felt blood trickle down his chin from the corner of his mouth.
“I’m sorry, okay, I’ll try harder tomorrow,” said Trip.
“You only get one chance with Crag,” said one of the other thugs.
Trip saw a guard walking around the yard and decided his only chance of getting out of this was to draw attention to what was going on.
“Hey!” he shouted in the direction of the guard. “I could do with some help here.”
Crag answered his call with another punch, this time to his gut. The guard had heard his shout however and was coming towards them.
“What’s going on here?” asked the guard.
“Dirty alien didn’t meet his quota today,” said Crag, still holding onto Trip.
“I see,” said the guard. “Maybe you and the boys should teach him a lesson.”
Trip realised with horror that the guard wasn’t going to help him and in fact was far more likely to join in. He watched the guard unclip a whip from his belt and pass it to Crag. He struggled in Crag’s grip, trying desperately to get away from what he knew was going to happen next. Crag didn’t even have to try very hard to hold on and just grinned at the new toy he’d been handed.
“Strip his back and hold him against the fence,” Crag told his two fellow cellmates.
They tore the overall from Trip’s back and tied the sleeves around his waist, grinning at Trip’s continued struggles. A small crowd was now gathering to watch what was happening and everyone seemed to be very amused by the feeble alien trying to get away. The whip cracked on the ground as Crag tested it out and Trip flinched involuntarily at the sound. The next time Crag used the whip it bit into the skin of Trip’s back and he clenched his teeth against the cry that wanted to escape. Crag continued with more strokes and each seemed worse than the last, laying his flesh open with burning strikes until finally he cried out with pain. Fresh wounds landed on top of older strokes and his back became a mess of blood and excruciating cuts. His legs gave way but Crag wasn’t stopping, the other two prisoners simply held him up. He felt near to passing out and all he was capable of now was moaning in agony as new strokes fell.
“I think that’s enough for today,” said the guard, reclaiming his whip from Crag.
They dropped him to the ground and he just lay there, unable to even think about moving.
“Take him to his cell,” said the guard and the same Thackerites who had just flogged him, picked him up and dragged him inside, under the watchful eye of the guard. He was unceremoniously dumped on a bunk, and even Crag seeming to realise that they couldn’t leave Trip to bleed on the floor with a guard watching. Most likely the guard had given his whip to Crag to use rather than just flogging Trip himself because, even though Trip was universally hated in the prison as an alien, the guard was aware that the establishment couldn’t be seen to participate in any overt abuse of a prisoner who potentially had powerful friends.
“He bleeds a funny colour,” said Crag.
“Leave him,” said the guard.
The Thackerites left Trip alone, slamming the cell door behind them.
Trip just lay on the bunk and breathed in and out carefully. His back was on fire, and every little movement hurt. He could feel the blood beginning to dry and pull on the wounds. It felt bad, but they hadn’t killed him, and the guard had known to stop them before he lost consciousness. He doubted that he’d bleed to death and he was grateful for that at least, but he couldn’t clean the cuts and there was a high risk of infection.
He pushed himself onto his side and from there was able to sit up with his legs over the side of the bunk. The pain hit him again and he had to stop there for a moment. He took shallow breaths, trying not to aggravate his wounds any more than necessary. He waited until the pain lessened again and then stood carefully, already feeling the skin pulling across his back, but he made it the couple of steps to the sink. He ran the cold tap and splashed water on his face. Then he did the best he could using his cupped hands to pour water over his shoulders and down his back. It was agony and it probably wasn’t enough, but in his current situation it was all he could do.
He tore off a strip from the sleeve of his overall, wet it and wiped off the blood that he could reach. The stretching made the pain worse though so he gave up trying to reach around. He stumbled back to the bed and lay back down on his front, trying to minimise his movement. He closed his eyes, well aware that the best thing he could do was sleep and let his body heal. He tried to remember everything that T’Pol had told him about Vulcan relaxation techniques. They weren’t exactly intended for this sort of situation but he reckoned that he could make do, and after a while he fell into a fitful sleep.
****End of Chapter Six****
It had taken Archer three days to be allowed to visit the prison where Trip was being held. Despite Targer’s initial agreement, apparently there was a lot of bureaucratic red tape to be got through, forms to be filled in and approvals to be gained. Archer was angry and worried by the time he and Phlox arrived at the prison. At first the Thackerites had refused Phlox access to Trip but Archer had persuaded them to let the doctor at least check Trip over while they visited. Apparently the Thackerites had no such thing as a prison infirmary, so it was the best they could do.
It was early morning when they arrived and were ushered into a bare room with a table and four chairs. The room looked as if it was a seamless piece of concrete into which a door had been set and there was no natural light. If this was what the rest of the prison was like then it made Archer shudder to think how they treated their prisoners here. It was oppressive even in structure.
The door swung open and a guard entered pulling a dishevelled shuffling figure with him. The grey overall he wore was dirty and obviously two big for him. One cuff had been torn off and the other rolled up to make it fit. The blond hair was ruffled and he hung his head, not really looking where he was going.
“Trip!” said Archer, alarmed by his friend’s state.
Trip didn’t reply but looked up at the sound of his name. He revealed a bruised face, including an impressive black eye, underneath a couple of days of beard growth. He had some misshapen manacles around his wrists that looked heavy and obviously cut into his skin. The guard pushed Trip down into the chair that was waiting for him, and Archer caught the wince that Trip immediately tried to hide.
“You have twenty minutes,” said the guard.
“We need longer,” said Archer.
“I have my orders,” said the guard and left the room, shutting the door behind him.
Phlox already had his medical scanner out and was looking worriedly at Trip.
“What happened to you?”
“They don’t like aliens much here,” said Trip, quietly.
“Who did this?” asked Archer, barely hiding his anger.
“Does it matter?” asked Trip.
“Of course it matters. Someone hurt you and they should answer for that.”
“If you go to the Thackerites about this, you’ll just make things worse for me. I’m only here for a few days before the trial. I can deal with a few beatings.”
“Commander, you have sustained more than a simple beating,” said Phlox looking at the readings on his scanner. “I need to see your back.”
“It’s okay, Doc, I’m fine,” said Trip.
“What is it?” asked Archer.
“Nothing, just drop it,” said Trip.
“Commander, my scanner doesn’t lie,” said Phlox. “It must be extremely painful so please let me take a look at it.”
Trip just held up his manacled hands. “I’m going to need a hand.”
“I think we can manage that,” said Archer. Trip slowly undid the overall to reveal more bruises on his upper body. He stood and Phlox and Archer were able to pull the overall down to his waist, the sleeves folding around the manacles on his wrists. Archer exchanged a concerned look with Phlox when he saw the full extent of the wounds on Trip’s back, but managed to suppress any exclamation.
Phlox filled a hypospray and injected it into Trip’s neck. “That’s a painkiller and this is an antibiotic to prevent infection, although I’d be happier with you in sickbay.” A second injection followed the first.
“Believe me, Doc, on this occasion, I’d rather be in sickbay too,” said Trip.
“I also need to clean these wounds and it’s going to hurt. I’m not sure that the painkiller I gave you is going to be sufficient but I don’t have anything stronger with me.”
“That’s okay, Doc,” said Trip, resignedly. “Just get it over with.”
“Very well,” replied Phlox and began. He damped a cloth with a disinfectant and cleaned away the dirt and caked blood as gently as he could.
“Trip, you need to tell me what’s going on,” said Archer, while Phlox worked. He hoped that talking would take Trip’s mind off Phlox’s work. “They’re saying that you killed the foreman of the mine, and he’s a man with some powerful friends in the government here.”
“And I suppose you believed them,” said Trip, annoyance evident in his tone.
“I know you better than to think you killed another being in cold blood, at least give me that much credit, but you have to tell me what happened if we’re going to get you out of this.”
“Don’t you think I would have said something by now if I could have?” Trip winced involuntarily at Phlox’s ministrations but was quick to cover up the momentary lapse. Archer had spotted it however, this was obviously a very painful process, but as usual Trip was refusing to let them know how much he was hurting.
“To be honest I don’t know what to think anymore. You won’t defend yourself or even tell me what happened. Why are you putting yourself through this? They’re threatening to execute you and you won’t lift a damn finger to prevent it. I thought I knew you, but ever since we set out on this mission you’ve done nothing but question my decisions and now you’ve managed to jeopardise the trade agreement that we came here to make.”
“Screw the trade agreement,” said Trip. “There are more important things going on here than us buying a few dilithium crystals, and if you’d open your eyes you’d see that.”
“Then help me understand what’s going on here,” Archer argued back. “If I can’t see it on my own, tell me where to look.”
“I can’t,” said Trip, equally vehemently. “If I tell you, then I’m as good as condemning them to death.” Trip clamped his mouth shut and looked guilty.
Archer realised that Trip had said more than he intended to. “Condemning who to death? Who are you protecting?”
Trip bit down on an exclamation of pain and would have fallen forward if Archer hadn’t caught him.
“I’m sorry, Commander,” said Phlox.
“Not your fault, Doc,” said Trip, his teeth gritted against the pain.
Archer kept his hand on his friend’s arm. “Who are you protecting, Trip?”
Trip shook his head. “I can’t say.”
“That wasn’t a request. I’m giving you a direct order to tell me who killed that foreman,” said Archer.
“I made a promise, and I’m not about to break it,” said Trip.
Archer looked Trip in the eyes and saw only determination. He knew that Trip could be stubborn but he’d never seen him this set on anything. “Trip…”
“There’s nothing that you can say that’s going to make me change my mind,” Trip cut in before Archer could argue any further.
“I’m finished here,” said Phlox.
“Thanks Doc,” said Trip, quietly. He shrugged his overalls up with the doctor’s help.
“There’s nothing more that I can do until we can get the Commander back to Enterprise,” added Phlox.
“How’s Lieutenant Hess doing?” asked Trip.
“Much better. She has been awake for short amounts of time,” said Phlox.
“Don’t change the subject,” said Archer.
The door to the cell banged open and the Tackerite guard lumbered in. “Time’s up.” He grabbed Trip by his arm and pulled him towards the door.
“Wait, we’re not finished,” said Archer.
“This one has work to do,” said the guard. “Aliens don’t get special treatment here and you’ve had your twenty minutes. I suggest you don’t complain or you may be joining him here.”
“See you at the trial, Captain,” said Trip.
Archer nodded. “We’ll be there.”
With that the guard escorted Trip roughly from the room and all Archer could do was watch his friend’s back recede down the concrete corridor.
Shaking off their Thackerite minders had been difficult, but T’Pol and Reed had eventually managed to lose them in a maze of backstreets. It hadn’t been easy to persuade their hosts to take them for a more extended tour of the city either, but somehow, by cajoling and pretending not to hear instructions, they had eventually made it off the beaten track. Reed would have viewed his own performance as a security assignment, had he been the one assigned to watch over them, as most challenging.
Both T’Pol and Read wore hooded cloaks that covered their unusual clothes and prevented their alien features from drawing immediate attention. They weren’t really tall enough to be Thackerites but they could pass for older children or teenagers, and grey cloaks seemed to be worn universally, so their disguise was plausible. The desert could be very cold at night and in the early hours of the morning, but equally the cloak kept the worst of the sun off later in the day, and so was a very practical garment.
They moved through the near empty streets at a brisk pace, trying to remain inconspicuous.
“I would have expected more people to be about,” whispered Reed to T’Pol as they stopped in a doorway.
“Indeed. A population of this size should be more visible. There also seem to be very few shops open,” agreed T’Pol.
“That one over there seems to be doing a brisk trade,” Reed indicated a shop where a queue was forming. “And those look like guards or police.” As they watched a small disagreement broke out in the queue and the guards dealt with it quickly. The perpetrators were quickly subdued and dragged away by the guards. Reed was beginning to see why the Thackerite prisons were so full.
The signs on the building were all in Thackerite script so they had no idea what the shop was selling, and there were also a lot of new signs pasted up on the outside of this shop. T’Pol pulled out her universal translator, after checking that they were still unobserved, and began to decipher the script.
“I do not believe it is a shop,” said T’Pol, tapping buttons to refine the translation. “It appears to call itself a food distribution centre. Many of the signs mention rationing and forms of authorisation that should be made available to claim certain types of food.”
“Rationing? That would suggest they either have a food shortage or are expecting one,” said Reed.
“The Thackerites have asked for agricultural information from our database,” reminded T’Pol. “However they have not mentioned anything in this regard during our negotiations.”
“It would explain why they suddenly decided to seek trade relations with Earth,” said Reed. “It doesn’t explain why Trip isn’t talking however.”
“I don’t believe that we’ll find what we need to solve that mystery here,” said T’Pol. “We should return to the mines.”
“I agree, but how do we get there?”
T’Pol once again looked down at her UT. “That transport over there is taking workers to the mines. We should be able to get on board without undue attention.”
The transport was already looking busy and had no seats, so everyone was packed in. It would be easy to slip on board with everyone else. They left their doorway and dashed to join the crowd boarding the transport. They mixed in with the milling Thackerites and found themselves on board the transport simply by being carried along with the others. No one noticed a couple of extra bodies in the crush.
It took them some time to reach the mine and the journey was uncomfortable. The transport was hot and being squashed among the Thackerites was unpleasant. By the time they got to the mine, Reed was pleased to get some fresh air, even if it was air that was hot and dry. Once again they mingled with the crowd of workers and moved towards the mine. The miners continued down the passage ways towards the open, working face of the mine, but T’Pol and Reed took the opportunity to duck off down a side passage.
“Where was the foreman killed?” asked T’Pol, her voice lowered so as not to attract attention.
“This way,” said Reed and led T’Pol towards the cavern that housed the mining machine.
They had to discard the cloaks as no one in the mine wore them, but relied on staying in the shadows to hide their movements. They passed through the cave where the mining machine sat, still not working but now with a team of Thackerite workers around it. They didn’t seem to be making much progress with parts being littered around the area.
“It looks like they’re taking it to pieces,” said Reed.
“Perhaps trying to work out what Commander Tucker did,” replied T’Pol.
“If they execute Trip then they’ll still know what he did and be able to fix the other machines,” said Reed.
“Indeed,” said T’Pol.
They watched the Thackerites for a few more moments and then carefully made their way towards the cave where the foreman had been murdered.
“This rock face has been worked recently,” said T’Pol, examining the read outs from her scanner.
Reed nodded. “That would explain why the foreman was in here, but not why he was killed. What’s being mined in this area?”
“Something unusual,” said T’Pol. “My scanner is having difficulty identifying it. However I would suggest that we don’t remain here long. The substance is emitting energy that could be damaging to us.”
“How long can we stay?”
“An hour, at the most. I would prefer that we leave before then to allow a margin for error,” replied T’Pol.
“We need to work quickly then,” said Reed and took out his own scanner to examine the dried blood that was still visible on the ground. He took note of the spatter pattern and where the blood had hit the walls. The attacker had hit their victim at least twice and it had been violent. The scanner took in all the data so that Reed could build a picture of the crime scene later. The dust on the ground showed numerous large footprints and it would be impossible to use that evidence to tell how many people had been present at when the crime had happened.
“This would be easier if there hadn’t been a herd of Thackerites through this cave,” Reed complained.
“If the perpetrator of the crime was easy to find, we would not be here,” said T’Pol, and stopped her scanning sweep as she noticed something interesting. “Lieutenant, I believe I have some important evidence.”
Reed came over to her side. “What is it?”
There several dark patches on the wall near to the ground. “I believe that a silicon based life form was present in this cave. This substance seems to be blood and contains hemocyanin and silicon based proteins.”
“A protein containing copper that is able to bind oxygen in the same way that haemoglobin does in humans. It is also how Vulcan blood carries oxygen.”
“The Thackerites are carbon based life forms,” said Reed.
“This is proof that someone else was here in addition to Commander Tucker and the mining foreman,” said T’Pol
“It could have been an animal,” suggested Reed.
“Commander Tucker would not have a reason to hide the presence of a non-sentient life form,” said T’Pol.
“Good point,” replied Reed. “This cave is riddled with deep cracks and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of these were actually deep enough to lead to other parts of the mine. It would have been easy for the murderer to escape without passing us on the main path.”
The sound of voices echoed down the passageway and around the cave.
“We need to get this data back to Enterprise for analysis,” said T’Pol.
“Yes, I think we may have overstayed our welcome,” said Reed.
T’Pol gave Reed a nod of agreement and they quickly exited the side cave, just making it back into the shadows before a group of Thackerite miners came around the corner. They made it all the way out of the mine and then they saw Targer coming towards them from a ground transport.
“I think we’ve been discovered,” said Reed.
“That seems likely.” T’Pol stiffened.
“Commander T’Pol and Lieutenant Reed,” said Targer. “I understood that you were touring the city today.”
“We decided to see some more of the mines,” said T’Pol.
“It really isn’t safe for you to wander around alone. I believe I made that clear when you first arrived. I think it might be best if you returned to your ship.” Targer indicated the shuttle pod that still sat outside the mine. They hadn’t had time to move it since Trip had been arrested and it had been their planned escape route in any case.
“Very well,” said T’Pol. “Allow me to contact our Captain first so that he knows that we are returning to our ship.”
“Of course, be my guest,” replied Targer, obsequiously. “You may also like to inform him that we will be beginning Commander Tucker’s trial tomorrow.”
Reed stepped up beside T’Pol and lowered his voice. “That doesn’t give us much time.” The data they had just collected would be useless if they couldn’t analyse it in time and every minute they wasted here was one that they could be spending getting back to Enterprise.
T’Pol pulled out her communicator. “I will inform the Captain. We are all anxious to resolve this matter.” She had a feeling that Archer was not going to be pleased by this latest development.
****End of Chapter Seven****
Archer decided that the best thing to do was reconvene on Enterprise. There was nothing more that he could do for Trip at the moment. He’d spent several hours arguing with the prison authorities about Trip’s treatment but they didn’t seem to care about the beatings and the idea of giving prisoners medical care was alien to them. He and Phlox had taken the remaining shuttle back to Enterprise, accompanied by the two security officers who had been assigned to the landing party.
The news that the trial had been moved forward didn’t surprise him that much. Targer was obviously trying to stop them from poking around too much or finding out something that could help Trip. He wished that Trip had felt able to confide in him and let him know exactly what was so important that he was willing to be executed for it. He had known that Trip was innocent, but at least he now had confirmation from Trip’s own mouth, even if it was accidental and didn’t identify who was responsible.
He entered the Command Centre and found T’Pol, Hoshi and Reed hard at work.
“What did you find?” he asked, getting straight to the point.
“A great deal,” replied T’Pol.
“This a blood spatter pattern from the cave where the murder took place,” said Reed and brought up a schematic of the cave on the big screen. It showed the body on the ground and the spray of small droplets of blood from consecutive hits to the Thackerite’s head. Each layer of droplets built up on the schematic and revealed a picture.
Reed continued his commentary. “The places where there are no blood droplets indicate that something was blocking the spatter.”
“I’m aware of the theory, Lieutenant,” said Archer. “What are we looking at?”
Reed turned his attention back to the keyboard and outlined the voids in the blood spatter pattern. “I’d say that there were quite a few people in that cave when Foreman Krale was killed. Counting heads, I’d assume about fifteen people.”
“Other Thackerites?” asked Archer.
“Only if they were juveniles or very short,” said Reed.
“We also found other blood evidence at the scene,” added T’Pol.
“What other evidence?”
“We detected the presence of blood from a silicon based life form,” said T’Pol.
“A silicon based life form? Is that even possible?”
“Very possible but extremely unusual. I would theorise that there are actually two races living on Thacker,” said T’Pol.
“Couldn’t they just be other visitors like us?”
“We have detected no space traffic since our arrival and given their dislike of aliens it seems unlikely,” said T’Pol.
Archer nodded. “So Trip isn’t just doing this for one person.”
“It would seem not,” said T’Pol.
“But what do we do about it?” Reed sounded frustrated. “The trial’s tomorrow and Targer has already said that Trip is as good as executed.”
“Ensign Sato has been researching the Thackerite legal code and she may have a solution to this problem,” said T’Pol.
Hoshi took over the screen controls. “I’ve been through all the Thackerite legal manuals provided by their authorities. There isn’t much here to help us. Targer wasn’t lying when he told us that there aren’t any innocent prisoners in their judicial system. Their whole judicial process is geared towards convicting prisoners. They have no concept of innocent until proven guilty, everyone is guilty. I couldn’t even find any way of presenting new evidence at the trial or defending the accused. However, they do have a concept of judicial misconduct and I think we can use that.” Hoshi brought up the relevant passage on the screen and highlighted part of the Thackerite’s spiky, copperplate script.
“Judicial misconduct?” asked Archer. “How does that help us?”
“If Trip is innocent then that means that the authorities didn’t do their job correctly. We can raise our own prosecution against the Thackerite Guard and it must be heard before the main trial can begin. The only problem is that if we lose, whoever brought the prosecution is considered guilty of wasting court time and has to face punishment.”
“What sort of punishment?” Archer stared thoughtfully at the screen and the translation of the passage that it now showed.
“Imprisonment and hard labour. Typical sentences are at least five years,” said Hoshi apologetically.
“I doubt an alien in a Thackerite prison would survive that long,” said Reed.
Archer nodded solemnly. There was only one person on Enterprise who could bring a prosecution against the Thackerite Guard on behalf of Trip, and that was the Captain. If he brought the prosecution he could save Trip’s life, but if he lost, Enterprise would be without her Captain and Trip would be executed anyway. There really was no choice. It was their only chance to save Trip and he had to take it. Perhaps they could also get to the bottom of the mystery of the silicon based life forms at the same time.
“Inform Council Member Targer that we’ll be bringing a counter prosecution against the Thackerite Guard,” said Archer. “Make sure you follow any procedures that they need you to and then I want you and T’Pol to help me with the best way to present our new evidence.”
Trip arrived at the mines in time to see the Enterprise shuttle land, but he was ushered inside before he could see who was on board. Another day of breaking rocks in the sun hadn’t made his body feel any better and some of the cuts on his back had re-opened despite Phlox’s ministrations.
In the back of his mind he could feel Xy’an’s presence. They had talked again the previous night and he knew that she was ready, but the big question was whether any of this would work. What they were doing was dangerous and he hadn’t forgotten that the Thaisen were only children. He didn’t like placing them in this situation, but he knew that there wasn’t much choice. It was either this or let their whole population die out as the Thackerites killed them from overwork in the mines or culled them as they got too old to be controlled.
The Thackerites led him deep into the mine and his heart sank as he realised that they were taking him towards the cave where the mining machine was housed. This was going to cause some problems. Xy’an couldn’t communicate with him telepathically unless he was asleep or close to her position and at the moment she was in different part of the mine, putting another bit of their plan into action. He couldn’t warn her but he had to hope that she’d realise and change things accordingly.
He was positioned in the centre of the cave with two Thackerite guards, one on either side of him. They removed his manacles and he rubbed at his sore wrists. Gathered around the edges of the cave was an audience of curious miners and in front of him was the board of judges who would be deciding his fate. He watched the Enterprise officers, Captain Archer, T’Pol, Reed and Hoshi, file in behind the judges. Hoshi gave him a small smile and he immediately knew that they had something planned. In any other circumstances this would have filled him with hope but now his heart sank. He prayed that whatever it was, it wasn’t going to interfere with his own plans. If he failed in this all the pain he had gone through and sacrifice that he had made would go to waste.
The chief judge banged some sort of ceremonial hammer, that looked like it had only recently stopped being used for mining, on a rock plinth on the table in front of him. The cave fell silent.
“We are convened today to judge Commander Tucker of the Earth ship Enterprise for the murder of Mining Foreman Krale. However we have another case to hear first. Captain Archer of Enterprise wishes to bring a case against the arresting Guard officers. Arresting officers should please step forward.”
Two Thackerite Guard officers stepped into the centre of the cave.
One of the other judges spoke up. “Chief Judge, I must protest this. Captain Archer is not a Thackerite and should not be allowed to use our legal system.”
The Chief Judge turned to his colleague. “Unfortunately the legal code has no provision for excluding the testimony or approach of aliens, however undesirable that may be. This is of course something that we will have to rectify if we continue to have relations with outsiders, but for the moment we must uphold the legal code as it was written or face setting dangerous precedents.”
The dissenting judge looked annoyed. “Of course, Chief Judge, but I would still like to register my disapproval of how this court is being run.”
“Duly noted, Judge,” replied the Chief Judge and turned back to the arresting officers. “Are you convinced that the convicted is responsible for the murder of Foreman Krale?”
“Yes, Judge. He refused to defend himself and was the only one at the scene,” said one of the two guards.
“We have evidence that indicates that other people were present,” said Archer.
“No,” said Trip, loudly. “I was the only one there.” If they mentioned the Thaisen then the whole plan would be destroyed.
“The convicted has no right to speak here,” said the judge. “Be quiet or you will be removed. However as we have already established, unfortunately, your Captain however does have a right to bring his evidence. Proceed Captain Archer.”
Archer stepped forward.
“Captain, please don’t do this,” pleaded Trip. He hoped that his eyes conveyed just how important this was to his Captain but he doubted their previous rapport was still in place.
“I can’t let you be executed for something you didn’t do,” said Archer and then turned to the board of judges. “My Security and Science Officers examined the crime scene yesterday. They were able to look at the blood spatter pattern on the walls of the cave. The pattern indicated that there had been multiple blows to the victim's head and that this was not a cold, premeditated murder. More importantly there were gaps in the pattern of blood droplets on the cave wall. These voids were caused by other people standing in the way, between the blood and the wall. Finally, Commander T’Pol found traces of a second blood type that did not belong to foreman Krale. This blood is from a silicon based life form and obviously not Commander Tucker’s or any Thackerite’s.”
Trip remembered Xy’an bleeding her slightly glowing blue blood after the struggle with Krale and realised that T’Pol had discovered that there was a second race of aliens on Thacker. There certainly hadn’t been any time to cover up the evidence, but he had assumed that the Thackerites wouldn’t even look for anything that might clear him. He should have realised that Reed and T’Pol would uncover the truth somehow, even if he wouldn’t tell them. The cat was well and truly out of the bag now and the only thing that remained was to hope that his plan worked.
A murmur rose from the miners around the cave. The Chief Judge banged his hammer on the table once again to bring silence.
Councilman Targer stepped forward out of the crowd. “Chief Judge, obviously this evidence has been fabricated. What Captain Archer is describing is impossible.”
“What exactly am I describing?” asked Archer. “What do you know about a silicon life form?”
Targer paled visibly and began to stutter out an answer, but the Chief Judge stepped in. “Councilman Targer is referring to a Thackerite myth regarding a race of fairies that inhabit the mines. It is a story that we tell to our children, nothing more. I expect that Councilman Targer is correct and you have fabricated this evidence after hearing this myth from one of our people.”
T’Pol stepped into place beside Archer. “I can assure you it is not a fabrication. I have here the samples that we took and the trace evidence is still present in the cave, if you care to look. Your own scientists can easily verify my analysis.”
“Chief Judge, we are wasting the court’s time,” Targer spoke up again. “The Thaisen do not exist.”
“Indeed,” replied the Chief Judge. “Your case against the arresting officers is found to have no substance, Captain. We will proceed to sentencing.”
“No, wait,” said Archer. “You can’t just throw out our evidence because it points to something you don’t like. Councilman Targer knows something about these Thaisen. Even without that, you have to acknowledge that other people were in the cave.”
“We have to acknowledge nothing that comes from a dubious alien source,” said the Chief Judge.
Trip had closed his eyes while this argument was going on and tried to locate Xy’an with his mind.
“Yes, Trip,” said Xy’an. Trip could see her setting the last of the explosives, deep within the mine. The other mining machines, including the one in the room where the trial was being held, had already been dealt with and they just awaited his signal.
Across the telepathic link he showed her the situation. “Our cover’s blown. The Captain did some investigating of his own and worked out that there was someone else in the cave. Get all the kids clear, we’re going to have to move our timetable forward.”
“Understood, the first one is set to detonate in twenty seconds,” replied Xy’an. “We are on our way.”
“You remember what I told you to do?” asked Trip, already knowing that she did but needing the reassurance of hearing it again.
“I remember. This will work, Trip. Please do not worry about us.”
Trip gave a small nod and opened his eyes to hear the Chief Judge’s final pronouncement.
“Regardless of your outrage at this court, Captain, we are the authority on this planet. Commander Tucker committed a terrible crime by killing Foreman Krale. As the Commander will not speak in his own defence we are not able to establish his motive, we can only assume that it is because of his troubled alien psyche that he chose to murder Foreman Krale. He is obviously a dangerous individual and we must deal with him accordingly. Commander Tucker, this board finds you guilty and sentences you to death.”
Once again a murmur arose from the crowd around the cave. Councilman Targer looked very smug at the verdict, however the look was short lived. There was the sound of distant explosion, more of a dull thud from where the court was convened. It was followed by a nearer one that shook the cave, bringing dust down from the ceiling. There was uproar in the cave now as miners dashed around trying to find out what was going on and security guards tried to maintain order.
“We are not legends,” said a voice that filled the whole cave. “We are not myths. We are the Thaisen and you have trespassed long enough in our mines.” A blue glow entered the cave and Trip saw a huge group of Thaisen children coming down the passageway, at their head was Xy’an. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked towards the new arrivals. As Trip looked closer he could see that every child carried a cocoon or a baby Thaisen.
“We will not be your slaves any more. You will not kill our brothers and sisters. We will be free.” The voice echoed and reverberated around the cave and minds of everyone present.
Trip smiled. Xy’an was using the Thaisen group’s telepathy to bolster her own mental powers and throw her voice into the minds of everyone present. It was enough to scare the hell out of the assembled Thackerites. His own guards were equally frightened and he knew this was his opportunity. He threw a punch at the first one whilst his guard was down and kicked out at the second before he could react. Neither guard had expected the attack and he broke away while they were dazed, running toward the approaching group of Thaisen children.
The third explosion was much closer than the previous two and when it triggered it was enough to shake the whole cave. Some small rocks fell from around the cave walls and Thackerites ran from their path. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the cave could come crashing down at any moment and now was the time to leave.
“Our machines do not belong to you and we have decided that you shall not use them. This machine, like the others, has been rigged to explode and we suggest that you leave.”
At this announcement there was panic throughout the assembled Thackerites as they scrambled to leave the cave. Trip wasn’t surprised by this as Xy’an had attached to her thought message a picture of the ensuing explosion. The Chief Judge was at the front of the queue of people trying to leave, unfortunately the Enterprise officers weren’t being fooled by Xy’an’s mental visions and were heading towards Trip’s position. Their progress was being impeded by the crowd going in the opposite direction.
Trip reached Xy’an. “Nicely done.”
“We have a problem,” said Xy’an. “S’vin went back for the last group, but they were stopped by some miners.”
“You got everyone else out?”
“The guards were distracted,” replied Xy’an with a small smile.
“Where’s S’vin’s group?” asked Trip. Xy’an sent him a mental map. “I’ll go and get them, you just make sure that you get everyone else out.” Suddenly Trip felt a hand on his shoulder.
“I guess I know who you were protecting now,” said Captain Archer.
“Yeah, and now you know why,” said Trip. “They’ve been making these kids work in the mines and then killing them when they got old enough to use their telepathic powers. Xy’an has been hiding her abilities just so she can stay alive. Xy’an’s brother, S’vin, killed Krale because he was attacking her. It was self-defence, Captain.”
“Captain, we need to leave,” said Lieutenant Reed.
“There’s some more kids trapped in the mine,” said Trip. “I’ve got to go back for them.”
“Lieutenant, T’Pol, make sure these children get out of here safely and nothing happens to them. Hoshi go with them,” said Archer.
“Sir, what are you going to do?” asked Reed.
“Trip and I need to rescue some missing children,” said Archer.
Trip couldn’t hide the surprise he felt at Archer being willing to help. He had been sure that the Captain would try to talk him out of it. Then his surprise broke into a smile. “Well come on then, we don’t have much time before the last explosion.”
“Lead the way,” said Archer.
“Captain, perhaps I should come with you?” said Reed.
“You have your orders, Lieutenant,” said Archer, and he and Trip took off down the passage towards the children at a run.
Reed simply shook his head and began helping T’Pol and Hoshi heard the huge numbers of Thaisen children out of the mine before the final set of explosives detonated.
Rocks and dust continued to fall from the roof of the passageway. It was becoming obvious that the explosions had destabilised the whole mine and they needed to make this rescue mission as quick as possible.
Archer followed Trip, who seemed to know where he was going, deeper into the mine, until suddenly they rounded a corner onto a group of Thackerites guarding a scared looking crowd of Thaisen children. The children were locked in a side cave behind an iron grid. S’vin was pleading with the guards to let them out, but the guards were squabbling among themselves about who should stay to guard the children and who should go to find out what was going on.
“I think you guys should leave,” said Trip. “It looks like the whole mine’s collapsing.”
“We can’t leave these slaves unattended,” said one of the guards. “It’s more than our job’s worth. Groups of slaves have been escaping for the last few hours and no one knows how. If I let these ones go, I might as well just resign because I’ll be out of a job by the morning.”
“I don’t think you understand,” said Archer. “The mine is collapsing and you’ll all be killed unless you leave now. Isn’t your life worth more than your job?”
The guards looked worried now. The one who had been doing all the talking turned and quietly conversed with the others. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s go.”
“What about the slaves?” asked Archer.
“As long as they don’t escape that’s all we care about,” said the guard.
“But they’ll be killed,” said Trip.
“Not our problem,” said the guard, as they quickly began to make their way back the way Trip and Archer had just come.
“Hey!” said Trip, angrily, “at least give us the keys to the door.”
The guards just ignored him. Trip grabbed hold of the arm of one of the guards as they were going, but he just shook Trip off. Trip landed on the ground hard and it was obvious to Archer that he was hurting. He hadn’t forgotten that Trip had been flogged only the previous day and had yet to receive proper medical attention for his wounds. Archer also tried to stop one of the guards but also found himself ignored and thrown to the ground.
Trip picked himself up and went back to the iron grid that imprisoned the Thaisen children. Archer dusted himself off and followed.
Trip examined the lock. “What happened?” he asked S’vin.
“Apparently some guards are too stupid for Xy’an’s telepathy to work on them,” said S’vin, “and I’m not strong enough to use mental images on them.”
“That was how you all got free?” asked Archer.
“My sister has been hiding her talents for some time. She used telepathy to make the guards think that they had been ordered to free us, but without Trip’s help we couldn’t have completed the plan. He told us how to use the explosives and where to place them to destroy the machines.” S’vin looked worried. “Can you undo the lock?”
“If I had some tools, maybe,” said Trip, looking equally worried. Any tools that had been on him when he was arrested had been confiscated.
“I’ll look around,” said Archer. “This is a mine, there has to be something.”
The two officers scanned the area for anything that might help. Archer finally found a mining tool that had been left out and swung it at the lock. After four swings the lock gave in and the door swung open, releasing the children.
“Come on, we haven’t got much time,” said Trip.
S’vin led the children towards the surface at a sprint with Trip and Archer taking up the rear and making sure no one fell behind. Trip grabbed one of the smallest children and hoisted him over his shoulder so that he could keep up. They dashed through the cave where the mining machine was housed and headed up the path towards the surface.
They were near the mouth of the mine when the explosion detonated, bringing down tonnes of rock and shaking the earth beneath them. Archer was a few paces ahead of Trip and turned back to see him lose his footing on the path and go down, the tiny Thaisen child clinging to him. He ran back to help him.
“Take the kid,” said Trip. “I think I broke the ankle.”
Archer looked down to see that Trip had caught his foot in hole that had opened up in the ground. S’vin was suddenly beside them. Archer handed him the small child and got under Trip’s shoulder and began pulling him up.
“Get going,” said Trip urgently, to S’vin, who closed his eyes in affirmation before running to catch up with the other children. He turned to Archer. “You’ve got to leave me and get out. I’ll just slow you down.”
“I believe we’ve had this conversation before. You don’t give the orders here.” Archer finally pulled Trip up, supporting him under the shoulder.
“You’re one stubborn son of a bitch,” said Trip as they hopped forward.
“Yeah, well maybe that’s your bad influence on me,” replied Archer, through laboured breaths.
A secondary explosion sounded deep in the cave behind them and the ground rumbled. The two men fell, Trip rolling to the right and Archer towards the cave entrance. Archer turned to see a rocks falling from the ceiling both in front and behind him.
Something hard hit Archer’s head and drove him into unconsciousness.
****End of Chapter Eight****
Archer came to gradually and looking up at rock. It took him a few moments to remember what had happened. His head was throbbing and he felt blood drying stickily on his forehead. He carefully sat up and took an internal inventory of his aches and pains. Apart from the head wound and a few bruises he didn’t seem to be too badly hurt. He looked around him and realisation hit that it was dark. Only small shafts of light penetrated the cave and he couldn’t see an entrance anymore. The mouth of the cave was completely blocked by rocks from the roof and in fact he’d been lucky not to be buried alive. It seemed that he’d fallen under the lip of the edge of the passageway and that had protected him from the worst of the falling rocks.
“Trip?” he asked, desperate to hear any sort of reply. He tried to orientate himself and remember which way Trip had fallen. He hadn’t been that far away, but there were rocks everywhere. His eyes were having trouble focusing, which he knew probably meant he was suffering from a concussion. Suddenly he caught a glimpse of flesh colour among the dark red of the rocks, dragged himself to his feet and stumbled drunkenly towards it. “Trip?”
There was no answer to his calls. He reached the spot he had been aiming for and found a mound of rocks half burying the Engineer. He kept calling Trip’s name as he removed the rocks which pinned one arm and a leg. He couldn’t remember which ankle it was that Trip had broken as they fled from the explosion, but he suspected that he had now broken the other. He felt down the limb and confirmed it. Then he did the same with the arm that had been under the rocks and found another break. Various cuts and grazes bled but there didn’t appear to be any deep wounds.
However the breaks in his arm and legs were not the worst of it. A large boulder rested against Trip’s torso and was too heavy to move, pinning him where he was. The boulder rested on other rocks which had stopped it from crushing him completely, but it was still pressing down on him. Archer didn’t like the sound of Trip’s breathing at all. It came in short, laboured, shallow gulps and Trip’s drawn face indicated the pain that every single breath caused him.
Archer pulled out his communicator and was relieved to find it undamaged. He opened it.
“Archer to T’Pol.” He was met with static.
“This…T’…” came a reply. “What…it…ion?”
“T’Pol, I don’t know if you can hear this. You’re breaking up, probably the rock interfering. We have a medical emergency. We were caught in a cave in. Trip’s injured and I need you to get to us as quickly as possible.”
“Ca…You… breaking up. Pl…confirm…On…ay.”
Archer took in a deep breath and hung his head in defeat. This was getting him nowhere. “T’Pol, confirm medical emergency.”
This time he didn’t even get a broken reply, just the fuzz of static. He closed the communicator and turned back to Trip. There wasn’t very much he could do at the moment to help. He had no medical supplies and couldn’t even begin to shift the boulder that was pinning Trip without the risk of causing him further injury and pain. He examined the wounds that he could see and applied pressure to the worst of the bleeding. He heard a groan and looked over to find blue eyes blearily looking back at him.
“Hey there,” said Archer.
“What happened?” asked Trip, his voice breathless and pain filled.
“One of the explosions triggered a cave-in. I’m afraid we’re trapped until T’Pol can get us dug out.”
“I knew I should have paid more attention to Malcolm when he was lecturing me about the dangers of explosives. I guess I used too much.”
“It seems that way,” replied Archer, trying to keep his tone light.
Trip seemed to concentrate on breathing for a moment. “What’s the damage?”
“I can’t be certain until Phlox gets here but you’ve definitely broken that ankle, plus a couple of other bones. The big problem is going to be the boulder on top of you.”
“Yeah, definitely not breathing right,” Trip grated out and paused again to catch enough breath to continue. “What about you?”
“Apart from a bump on the head, I’m fine.”
“I told you to leave me.”
“And I told you that I give the orders around here,” said Archer. “Not that you’ve been paying much attention to that lately.”
“Didn’t have much choice…with the kids’ lives at stake,” replied Trip and broke into a weak bout of coughing. He closed his eyes in obvious pain.
“I’m not sure you should be talking. Save your strength until Phlox arrives.”
Trip shook his head. “We need to talk,” he croaked.
“Not here, not now and not about this.”
“Wrong…on all…three counts,” Trip gasped.
“Have I ever told you that you’re a stubborn son of a bitch?”
“All the time,” Trip smiled.
“Why didn’t you tell me about the children?”
“I couldn’t. The Thackerites…would have killed them. As far as the rest of the…population is concerned, they don’t even exist. We had to…make sure that they were seen by…as many people as possible.” The long sentence left Trip gasping for air. He was definitely getting worse.
“Damn it, Trip, you could have been executed. I’m still not sure how we’re going to deal with all this. Why couldn’t you trust me?”
“You didn’t trust me,” said Trip, his voice barely audible, and his eyes fell closed.
“Trip?” asked Archer. The Engineer was obviously unconscious. He felt for a pulse and after several tries he found a weak one. “Damn it, don’t do this to me.”
He carefully undid Trip’s overalls just below where he was trapped and saw a darkening red bruise. Archer felt helpless. He knew what this meant. Trip was bleeding internally and there was nothing that he could do about it. Trip was barely breathing now and time was definitely running out. Archer struggled to his feet again and moved towards the cave entrance. Laboriously he began to move any rocks that he could lift. He felt dizzy and sick and knew that he wasn’t going to be able to dig his way out on his own, but he couldn’t sit by and do nothing while Trip bled to death.
Suddenly he heard noise coming through the rock and stopped while he listened. There was scraping and then, more importantly, shouting.
“Captain Archer? Commander Tucker?” came a familiar, but rather faint, voice.
“T’Pol? We’re here!” Archer shouted back.
Rocks moved and suddenly Archer could see light through the rocks.
T’Pol’s face appeared in the gap. “Captain, are you well?”
“I’m fine, but Trip needs help. He’s trapped under a rock, having trouble breathing and I think he’s bleeding internally.”
T’Pol handed Archer a medical scanner. “Doctor Phlox is here and we are ready to transport the Commander back to Enterprise as soon as possible. If you could provide the Doctor with scans then he can start preparing treatment.”
Archer took the medical scanner and went back to Trip to take the readings that Phlox needed. Meanwhile more rocks were removed from the entrance. A party of Thackerites were helping the Enterprise officers and making short work of moving the larger rocks that Archer couldn’t have moved on his own. With the scanner readings taken, Archer returned to the entrance and handed the instrument back to T’Pol.
“He’s not looking good, T’Pol,” said Archer worriedly. He thought he saw a look of concern briefly cross T’Pol’s face. Suddenly some of the rocks moved, destabilising the surrounding ceiling and bringing down a small shower of soil and stones. Archer reflexively covered his head but mostly the falling debris was only dust.
Archer couldn’t see Lieutenant Reed but he heard his pronouncement on the situation clearly. “The explosion has made the cave system unsafe. This area could collapse at any time. We’re going to have to work quickly.”
“Indeed. We need to make sure that the cave is stable before we can send in rescue personnel,” said T’Pol.
Phlox appeared at the ever growing gap in the rocks. “Nonsense, I need to get to my patient. These readings require my immediate attention and I believe I can squeeze through this opening.”
“That is inadvisable, Doctor,” said T’Pol.
“T’Pol! I need to get to the Commander now,” said Phlox in exasperation.
T’Pol seemed to realise that the Denobulan would go whatever she said. “Very well, Doctor, but I will accompany you.”
“That isn’t necessary,” said Phlox. “I would prefer not to put you in danger as well.”
“I would be neglecting my duties if I let you go alone,” said T’Pol.
“Both of you stay where you are,” said Archer. “I don’t want anyone else coming in here.”
“Captain, I believe you have a head injury and are not thinking clearly,” said T’Pol. “After you, Doctor.”
If Phlox protested further then he did so under his breath. He handed Archer his medical kit and then clambered head first through the small opening that had been created by the rescue team. Archer helped him through and then to get his legs under him. T’Pol followed closely behind, finding it considerably easier to negotiate the rocks due to her slighter build.
Phlox wasted no time in going to his patient and comparing the reading that Archer had taken with those he was currently taking. T’Pol held up a torch so that Phlox could see Trip to examine him.
“It’s as I feared. He has a pneumothorax, and you were right, he’s bleeding internally.” Phlox started preparing medical equipment.
“Pneumothorax?” asked Archer.
“Air from his lung is leaking into the chest cavity. His left lung has collapsed, making it hard for him to breathe. I need to insert a valve to vent the escaping air or further damage will be done. I doubt I’ll be able to re-inflate the lung as I suspect it is punctured.”
“What can I do to help?” asked Archer.
“Come here and hand these to me when I ask for them,” replied Phlox, rapidly. His concentration was focused on Trip as he undid the grey overalls and located the area of skin that he needed. He handed T’Pol a portable oxygen tank and mask, which she put over Trip’s nose and mouth. Archer got into position and took the tools from the doctor.
“The valve, please, Captain,” said Phlox, and Archer passed him the required piece of equipment. “They used to use a needle for this procedure in the past. I’m pleased to say that we have rather more sophisticated equipment now.”
Archer watched as the Denobulan cleaned the area of skin he needed and placed the valve in the correct location. The doctor then activated the valve which punctured the skin and inserted itself to the correct depth with a rush of escaping air. Phlox took his scanner from Archer and checked that the valve was positioned where it was supposed to be.
“Good, the air is being removed. That’s all we can do for the moment. The hypospray, please, Captain.”
Archer handed over the hypospray which Phlox loaded with one drug and then a second before injecting the mixture into Trip. “Anti-inflammatory and painkiller,” Phlox explained and then turned a critical eye towards Archer. He picked up the scanner and checked over the Captain’s injuries. “What about you, how do you feel?”
“I’ve got the mother of all headaches, but apart from a few bruises I think I got off lightly,” said Archer.
Phlox nodded. “You have a slight concussion but the other injuries are superficial. I’ll scan you properly when we get back to Enterprise. For the moment a painkiller should be all that is required.” The doctor loaded and administered a hypospray before Archer could comment and then turned his attention back to his more critical patient.
Behind them they heard the sound of more rocks falling and Reed appeared in the, now enlarged, entrance to the cave, followed by more rescue personnel. Phlox didn’t even look up, his concentration focused completely on Trip.
“I’m going to have to ask you all to clear the area while we remove the rocks trapping the Commander,” said Reed. “This is dangerous work and could easily bring the rest of the roof down.”
“I’m needed here, Lieutenant. I’m afraid you’ll just have to work around me,” said Phlox.
“I think that goes for all of us, Malcolm,” said Archer.
Reed nodded in understanding. “How is he?”
Phlox sighed. “The sooner we get him back to Enterprise the better. His condition is very serious. We’ll need the backboard when we move him.”
“I’ll get it,” said T’Pol.
The Thackerite miners were already beginning to set up the equipment that they needed.
“I didn’t expect the Thackerites to be this cooperative,” said Archer.
“Cave ins are an occupational hazard for the miners,” said Reed. “Many of the miners are trained in rescue techniques and they have teams and equipment on stand-by. Chief Judge Krallen ordered them to help and made it clear that the Thaisen were under his protection.”
“So they really didn’t know that the Thaisen were being used as slaves in the mine?”
“It seems not,” replied Reed. “The judge appears to have suffered an embarrassment and is trying to make amends. He has cleared Trip of all charges.”
Archer nodded in approval. “I guess he didn’t have much choice.”
The Thackerites began the process of removing the rocks around Trip. They moved equipment into place to begin lifting the large rock that was trapping him. T’Pol returned with the backboard and crouched down beside Phlox.
“When you’re ready, Doctor,” said Reed.
“He’s as stable as he’s going to be Lieutenant,” said Phlox.
Reed gave a nod to the Thackerites to begin the lift.
“We’re going to need to keep him completely rigid as we roll him on to the backboard. I’ll need your help,” said Phlox.
T’Pol and Archer got ready as Phlox monitored his patient while the rock was lifted. An alarm sounded on Phlox’s scanner and the doctor quickly injected his patient with a hypospray full of medication. There were small shifts of the rocks around them and it was obvious that shifting the boulder had unbalanced the rest of the rock fall.
“He’s clear,” said Reed. “The cave is becoming more unstable. We need to get out of here now.”
Archer, T’Pol and Phlox quickly, but carefully, rolled Trip up so that he could be shifted onto the backboard. They slid the backboard underneath and strapped him down. A dribble of dark blood trickled out of the corner of Trip’s mouth. They lifted him clear of the rock and Phlox snapped on a cervical collar before inserting an IV line.
“Quickly now,” said Phlox. “Let’s get him back to the shuttlepod.”
Archer and T’Pol each took an end of the backboard and carried Trip out of the cave. They were followed rapidly by Doctor Phlox, Lieutenant Reed and the rescue team, more rocks began to fall behind them. A few seconds later the opening that the rescuers had created had disappeared in a cloud of dust and stone.
Archer and T’Pol placed Trip on the floor of the shuttlepod and Phlox joined them moments later. Archer briefly left the shuttlepod to give Reed his orders while T’Pol made abbreviated pre-flight checks. T’Pol started up the engines as Archer returned, and they were soon lifting off to head back to Enterprise.
Phlox sat on the floor next to the stretcher and Archer took the other side. T’Pol didn’t need his help to fly the shuttle and he wanted to be near Trip.
“I think he’s regaining consciousness,” said Phlox in a slightly surprised tone, as he added another bag of something to the hastily rigged up IV stand.
“This is good, right?” asked Archer.
“It’s neither good nor bad at this stage,” said Phlox.
Trip blinked up at Archer and tried to move his head, but he was tightly strapped down. Archer could see the panic begin behind Trip’s eyes as he struggled to move. Waking up strapped to a backboard was something that would make anyone panic and Archer knew it was better for Trip to be calm in his current state.
“Trip, can you hear me? Everything’s okay. We’re on our way back to Enterprise.”
“Why can’t…I move?” Trip’s voice was shaky and breathless, his eyes worriedly searched the faces of those looking down at him.
“You’re strapped to a backboard. It’s just a precaution until I can check you over with the full body scanner,” Phlox explained calmly. “The hand scanner didn’t pick up anything but you can never be too careful, and it’s standard procedure for this type of injury.”
“I can’t feel any pain.” Trip’s eyes were blinking slowly and there was a blurred edge to his words.
“I’m glad to hear it. I have given you some very strong painkillers.”
Trip closed his eyes again and didn’t show any signs of opening them again.
“Trip?” asked Archer. He looked up questioningly at Phlox.
“His blood pressure is dropping again. I need to get him into surgery as quickly as possible.”
“We will be docking with Enterprise in a few minutes,” said T’Pol from the cockpit. Her acute Vulcan hearing had obviously been keeping up with their conversation.
“As fast as you can, T’Pol,” said Archer. Trip’s skin was pale and sickly looking.
Finally the sight of Enterprise filled the shuttlepod windscreen and T’Pol landed the small craft in the docking bay. A medical team was already waiting for them. All Archer could do was stand out of the way while Trip was lifted onto a gurney, still strapped to the backboard, and wheeled away rapidly to sickbay. He followed a short distance behind, feeling a huge relief that Trip was back on Enterprise at last, but the relief was still outweighed by the sharp edge of fear that the injuries were too severe for Phlox to deal with. Archer knew that Phlox was the closest thing to a medical miracle worker that he would ever find, but even the Denobulan couldn’t fix everything.
Archer watched as Phlox rushed Trip into the side room that he used for operating and quarantine.
“This will take several hours,” said Phlox over his shoulder. “One of my assistants will be along shortly to see to your head injury, but there’s no point in waiting once your treatment is complete. I’ll call you when I’ve finished the surgery.”
“How many hours?”
“At least five.”
The door slid shut behind Phlox and Archer was left standing alone in the middle of a quiet sick bay.
Archer went back to his Ready Room once his head wound had been treated. The Ensign who was assisting Phlox had wanted to keep Archer in sickbay for observation but there was nothing to keep him occupied there. He had bullied the Ensign into letting him go and then found the most boring, mind numbing paperwork to do that he could to stop him thinking about Trip. Unfortunately it wasn’t really working and his mind kept drifting back to the image of Trip crushed beneath the pile of rocks. Worse than that he couldn’t shake the guilt brought on by Trip’s last coherent words before he lost consciousness in the cave – you didn’t trust me. The fact that he felt guilt suggested that Trip had been right and looking back he remembered how he had pushed him to run the engines to their maximum despite all his warnings.
The doorbell sounded and he shouted for whoever it was to come in. T’Pol entered holding a padd.
“What can I do for you, T’Pol?”
“Has there been any word on Commander Tucker’s condition?”
Archer made a show of checking the chronometer on his desk, although he had actually been clock watching almost constantly whilst working. “Phlox said at least another two hours before he’d be finished with the surgery.”
T’Pol nodded and looked down at her padd. “The Thaisen have requested asylum. In total their population consists of two thousand five hundred and twenty two individuals, including babies. Their leader, Xy’an, indicated that Commander Tucker had suggested they pursue this course of action.”
“Well that presents us with a few problems,” said Archer.
“Indeed. Lieutenant Reed has requested extra security personnel to protect the Thaisen while we decide how to deal with their request.”
“Fine, let him have as many people as he needs, but I don’t see how we can do what they’re asking. Enterprise can’t even carry half that many people, and we’re talking about children and babies.”
“Maybe a solution involving the Thackerites would be the best way forward,” suggested T’Pol.
Archer nodded. “Get hold of Targer and we’ll open discussions.”
“Councilman Targer has been relieved of his post. Our new liaison is Councilman Rettrag. He appears to be more sympathetic towards the Thaisen and it seems that the majority of the Thackerite government were genuinely unaware that the Thaisen were enslaved in the mines.”
“I find that hard to believe,” replied Archer. “What about S’vin? Is he being charged with murder?”
“It has been declared self-defence. Chief Judge Krallen was keen to close the case and he also offered an apology for their treatment of Commander Tucker. He has suggested that they will be reviewing their legal system following this incident.”
“I should damn well hope so,” said Archer vehemently. “If they can wrongly convict one man then it makes me wonder how many other innocent people are in their prisons.”
T’Pol inclined her head in agreement. “There is still the issue that the Thackerites lied to us. They do not have the vastly superior technology that they claimed and they did not tell us the real reason for asking us here.”
“If they’ll give us half the dilithium that they promised us they can still have access to the areas of the database that they requested. If they’d been upfront with us then we would have helped them anyway. That’s what I don’t understand about all this. There was no need to hide anything.”
“They are an extremely xenophobic race,” replied T’Pol.
“That’s not a reason, it’s an excuse,” said Archer.
“Something I have observed is that beings do irrational things when they are frightened. The Thackerites were afraid that their weakness would lead to being attacked and this made them irrational.”
“Prejudice is inexcusable, T’Pol,” said Archer.
“Perhaps,” replied T’Pol. “I must return to collating the data that we promised the Thackerites.”
Archer nodded. “I’ll let you know if Phlox contacts me.”
T’Pol left Archer’s ready room and he was alone once again with his thoughts. The seconds and minutes dragged by as he tried to concentrate on the report in front of him and suddenly Archer realised that he was tired. He hadn’t had any sleep for over twenty-four hours now and it was beginning to catch up with him. He put his head down on the desk, intending to get a brief nap before continuing with his work, but his body had other ideas, within seconds he was soundly asleep.
He was awoken by Hoshi trying to contact him on the com. “Go ahead,” said Archer, blearily.
Hoshi spoke. “Captain, I have Lieutenant Reed for you.”
“Patch him through, Hoshi.”
A few seconds later Reed was reporting on the situation on the surface which seemed to be fairly stable. “Xy’an has requested that she visit Enterprise. She wants to see Trip. Apparently they have some sort of telepathic link. She’s been talking to him through his dreams, which was how this whole mess got started. He did mention to me that he had been having strange dreams, but I have to say I thought it was the after affects of over work and stimulant abuse,” said Reed.
Archer suddenly felt a pang of jealousy that Trip hadn’t even mentioned any dreams to him, but once again he was aware that he probably only had himself to blame for Trip not trusting him.
“I’d like to talk to her about the situation with the Thaisen and the Thackerites,” said Archer. “Bring her up.”
“Understood, sir. We’ll be with you shortly, Reed out.”
Archer glanced down at the chronometer on his desk and was shocked to realise that three hours had passed since he had spoken with T’Pol. Trip was due to have been out of surgery over an hour ago. Perhaps Phlox had called while he had been asleep. He rose from his chair and decided to make the trip down to sickbay, he couldn’t wait any longer for news.
****End of Chapter Nine****
Phlox enjoyed his work on Enterprise most days. It was varied and challenging, but had also afforded him the opportunity to make many new friends amongst the crew. Unfortunately being a doctor meant that he often saw those same new friends injured or sick and it was up to him to put his skills to use to help them. When he had entered the cave to treat Commander Tucker he had known what he was likely to find in the way of injuries, but it hadn’t really prepared him for seeing his friend so badly hurt, buried under a pile of rocks. All he could do was put aside his feelings and fall back on his professionalism as a doctor. It was a skill which he was very practiced in but not one that he enjoyed using.
There had been a long ride back to Enterprise in the shuttlepod during which he had battled to keep his patient stable, and then an even longer session of surgery to mend internal injuries and stem blood loss. The Commander had further surgery sessions ahead of him to deal with pinning broken bones, but for the moment the emergency had been dealt with and keeping him anaesthetised for longer would have been dangerous. It was better to wait until he was stronger before dealing with the non-life threatening injuries.
Phlox supervised as two of his assistants transferred the Commander from the operating room to a biobed. He was just checking the monitors, chest drain and IV lines when Captain Archer entered sickbay. Phlox was not surprised to see him. The surgery had gone on longer than he had originally thought that it would and Captain Archer would have expected to have heard from him well before now.
Archer approached the bed apprehensively and Phlox could see him steeling himself for the worst, counting up the obvious injuries. Large bruises were beginning to form across the Commander’s body and they looked particularly angry against his currently pale skin. Both legs and one arm were in plastic casts of varying sizes and two fingers on his left hand were splinted. To a lay person the visible injuries must have looked severe but Phlox knew that it was the injuries that couldn’t be seen that were the real problem.
Archer looked up at Phlox and met his eyes. “How did the surgery go?”
Phlox shook his head. “I’ve stopped the internal bleeding and re-inflated the lung, but his heart stopped twice during the surgery. He’s slipped into a coma. At least there were no injuries to his spine, although I don’t think that there’s a single inch of skin on his body that isn’t bruised or scraped.”
“A coma?” asked Archer, “but he was conscious in the cave and the shuttlepod.”
“His condition deteriorated during the operation. He’s currently unresponsive. You must remember that the internal injuries are very serious.”
“When is he likely to wake up?”
“I can’t give you a timeframe. It could be today or tomorrow or next week, next month or…”
“Never?” Archer looked worried and Phlox thought maybe even slightly panicked.
“It is a possibility that we should be prepared for, and the longer he remains unresponsive the more likely there is to be damage to his cognitive abilities.” Phlox never liked to be the bearer of bad news, but this was especially upsetting for him. He was well aware that the Captain and his Chief Engineer had been having their differences lately, and Archer had obviously been hoping for the opportunity to talk them out. If Trip was in a coma then those issues would remain unresolved between them and it was a very real possibility that they might never be given the chance to set things right.
Archer nodded, but his expression was grave. “I’d like to sit with him for a while.”
“Certainly. I’ll give you some privacy. You might find it interesting to know that many doctors believe that coma patients can still hear people talking to them. In fact some studies suggest that it aids recovery.”
“I’ll bear that in mind, Doctor,” replied Archer, as he pulled up a stool and sat down beside Trip’s bed.
Phlox finished his checks and then drew the curtain around the biobed. Privacy in sickbay was rather an illusion as curtains didn’t stop sound from travelling but Phlox did want to give the Captain as much space as he could.
“Hey, Doc?” came a question from the only other occupied bed in sickbay.
“Yes, Lieutenant, what can I do for you?” Phlox went over to Lieutenant Hess’s bedside.
“I heard what you said about Commander Tucker,” said Hess. “You must have some idea of when he’s going to wake up?”
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant, but comas of this nature are impossible to predict. He is a strong young man, but he was also very badly injured and his body needs time to heal itself. I assure you that I’m doing everything in my power to help him.”
“I know you are, Doc, I know you are,” replied Hess, tiredly.
“If his condition changes I’ll let you know, but you need to sleep, Lieutenant. You’re still recovering from serious burns.”
“The last thing I remember before waking up in here is Commander Tucker trying to keep me conscious. He’s done more for me and my career over the last few years than anyone else. He’s the best commanding officer I’ve ever had, and a good friend. I can’t imagine working on Enterprise without him. You can see why I’m worried about him,” said Hess.
“I understand completely, Lieutenant,” replied Phlox, as he checked the monitors above his patient’s biobed, “but currently the only thing any of us can do is wait.”
Archer sat looking at Trip, wondering how he could begin to talk to someone who couldn’t answer him. Trip looked like he was only a few shallow breaths away from death. His bare, bruised chest was covered in bandages and medical monitoring equipment. He really needed a two way conversation. He needed Trip to answer some of the questions that he had and the broken man in front of him was not going to do that any time soon, judging by what Phlox had said.
Trip had been ill before, and Archer had always been worried about his friend when that happened, but something made this time different. With horror Archer realised the difference was that he felt responsible, not for the accident itself, but for placing Trip in the situation that had led to him being hurt.
He couldn’t bring himself to look at Trip any longer, so he studied his hands as he talked.
“Trip, I’m not good at this sort of thing, and I guess its only because you’re in a coma that I can say this, but you mean a lot to me. I’ve never had a friend like you and I’m sorry that I’ve been acting like a horse’s ass recently. I could blame it on the pressure of being Captain or the Xindi war but that’s only part of it. We’ve been drifting apart for a while and I know it’s mostly my fault. I wasn’t there for you when your sister died and ever since the Expanse I’ve had precious little time for my friends. I threw everything that I had into saving Earth and now that we’re out here exploring again, it’s as if I can’t find my way back to how things were before. Maybe too much has changed about who I am.
Given half a chance you’ll sacrifice yourself for a good cause and, yes, saving a nation of children is a good cause. But did you have to go it alone? Couldn’t you have told someone what you were up to? If you didn’t trust me then at least you should have said something to T’Pol or Malcolm. I guess you did and we just didn’t listen.
I know that you felt you couldn’t trust me to do the right thing. I wish that wasn’t… I promise that I’ll never ignore your advice as an Engineer again. I’ll promise anything you like, Trip, you just have to wake up. I know I’m being selfish but I need you here. Enterprise needs you here. Please come back.”
Archer hung his head. No amount of pleading was going to make Trip wake up. Even though Phlox put a lot of store in talking to coma patients, he was pessimistic about how much Trip could actually hear. In any case this needed to be a two way conversation. He was wasting his time being here. Archer got up from his seat and pushed aside the curtain around the biobed. Phlox was tending to his animals and everything was quiet except for the small chirps from the menagerie.
The sound of the com interrupted the quiet. “Reed to Captain Archer.”
Archer went to the com. “Go ahead Lieutenant.”
“Sir, I have Xy’an with me,” said Reed.
“Meet me in my ready room, I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Archer activated the door. He paused before exiting and turned back to Phlox. “Call me if there’s any change in his condition.”
Phlox simply gave a small nod in reply.
“The Thaisen are grateful to you Captain,” said Xy’an.
“Grateful to me?” asked Archer. Xy’an sat in the chair in front of his desk. Her thin frame was far too small for the chair. It was a stark reminder that the leader of the Thaisen was only a child, along with the rest of the Thaisen population.
“You sent us Trip and without him we would not have been able to escape. His trial allowed us to show ourselves and make the rest of the Thackerites aware of our existence. Everything will be different now.” Xy’an blinked her black eyes. Archer found the wide dark eyes against the grey skin slightly unsettling. This creature in front of him was completely alien, without even the same basic building blocks of life that humans had.
“I didn’t exactly send you Trip, Commander Tucker. The Thackerites asked us for help fixing the mining machines and Commander Tucker was the most qualified to go. I didn’t know that you’d been communicating with him.”
“He was the only one of you that I have been able to contact. You were some distance away at the time and your minds are alien to us. Perhaps it was because his mind was more vulnerable.”
“Vulnerable in what way?”
“It is hard for me to explain to someone with no telepathic ability, but his mind was at an emotional low. I felt great worry and tiredness.”
A cold feeling settled in Archer’s stomach. He recognised the signs of the stress that he had placed Trip under as Xy’an described them. That rested this whole situation firmly on his own shoulders. However he had another concern. Telepathy was disturbing at the best of times but the terms that Xy’an used to describe how she had come to talk with Trip suggested more of an invasion than that he had let her in. Could she even do more than just talk to Trip, perhaps control his mind and make him do the things that he had? Archer almost hoped that was the case but he knew deep down that it wasn’t. Trip was the kind of person who would sacrifice himself if he thought the cause was good enough.
“You were only able to appear in his dreams at first?” asked Archer.
“You were a long way from our planet,” replied Xy’an. “I know you are concerned that I was controlling him in some way but that is not the case. I assure you that I cannot control anyone. I can read some thoughts to a limited degree. I can pick up on your concern about my ability but in order to communicate I need the other person to project their thoughts to me. Our telepathic ability gets stronger as we grow older. This was one of the reasons that the Thackerites would kill us when we reached a certain age. I am very close to that age, but my telepathic ability is unusually strong.” She paused. “I did not come here to discuss this, Captain.”
“I’m sorry, you’ll have to forgive my curiosity. You asked for asylum for you and your people, which presents us with a problem.”
Xy’an blinked again. “Trip told me that your ship can not carry all of us, however he wanted us to be under your protection. He knew that he had placed himself in great danger with what he planned and wanted there to be someone to look after us. We had something different in mind.”
“It sounds like you and Trip have thought about this a lot.” Archer hoped that Trip hadn’t given them false hopes or promised something that he wouldn’t be able to deliver.
“Apparently breaking rocks is dull and Trip was able to spend some time communicating with me while he worked.” Xy’an then actually gave him a smile.
“So what was it that he communicated to you?”
“He showed us a planet. It was uninhabited and had similar terrain to Th’ayk’ah. He suggested moving us there.”
For a moment Archer wasn’t quite sure what to say, but he tried not to let his surprise show. He thought back to the various survey missions that they’d been on. He knew exactly the planet that Trip had been thinking of. It was a couple of light years away back towards Earth and had a very similar landscape to Thacker with plenty of caves for the Thaisen to make their new homes in. It was also completely uninhabited. There was still one problem though.
“We could relocate you, I’m sure, although it would take a few trips to ferry all of you there, but I don’t like the idea of leaving a group of children alone to look after themselves. You need some form of adult guidance. You’re the oldest of your people and you can’t be more that twelve years old.”
Xy’an gave a small shake of her head. “Having spoken to Trip, I can see why you think this, but you are wrong in several ways. We are children because we are immature in terms of our people but there would be no need for adult supervision. You see the Thaisen live a lot longer than you. I am forty-five next season.”
This time Archer really was speechless. The child that sat in front of him simply couldn’t be that old. It was impossible. At least it seemed to solve one of his problems. He wondered if Trip was aware of just how old these “children” were, not that it would have made any difference, he was certain that he would have helped then anyway.
Xy’an broke the uncomfortable silence. “I would like to see Trip if it is possible. I know he was hurt very badly.”
“Yes, he was, but I think we can arrange for you to visit,” said Archer, slightly subdued by Xy’an’s revelation. “I’ll call someone to take you down.”
“Don’t you want to visit Trip also?”
Archer stopped with his hand halfway toward the com. “I was there earlier and I have a lot of work here...”
“You should still be the one to accompany me,” said Xy’an.
“I should?” asked Archer. “That sounds like you know something that I don’t.”
“Take me to see Trip and I’ll explain it once we have seen him.”
Archer looked into Xy’an’s dark eyes trying to read her expression and determine something about why she wanted him to see Trip with her but there was nothing there to read. Her face was like a blank page to him. The only way he was going to find out why he needed to be there was if he went with her. He rose from his seat. “Okay, follow me.”
Phlox turned towards them as they entered sickbay. He was obviously a little surprised to see Archer back so soon.
“We came to see Trip,” said Xy’an.
Phlox smiled at Xy’an an indicated Trip’s corner of sickbay. “Of course, he is over here.”
Xy’an went towards Trip’s bed and Archer followed a couple of steps behind her. She reached the bedside and stood looking down at Trip.
“He is capable of waking, but he chooses not to,” said Xy’an.
Phlox moved towards them, suddenly interested in what Xy’an was saying. “He chooses not to?”
“He is very badly injured, that is a physical fact, but he doesn’t want to wake up.”
“How do you know that?” asked Archer.
“He told me,” replied Xy’an.
“He told you?” asked Archer, in disbelief. “He’s in a coma.”
“I made a telepathic bond with Trip and it is not easily broken. Even unconscious I can still pick up thoughts from him.”
“Why doesn’t he want to wake up?” asked Archer.
Xy’an rounded on Archer. “He is tired and doesn’t believe he is valued here. You told him this on several occasions.”
“Trip and I have had our differences but he knows that I value him… Doesn’t he?”
Xy’an looked directly at Archer. “You tried to talk to him before but he didn’t hear you. Perhaps I can help you to get him to listen. ”
“How could you help me?”
“I can act as a conduit for a telepathic bond between you and Trip,” replied Xy’an.
Archer shook his head. “I don’t see how that will make any difference to Trip’s condition.”
“If you can resolve your differences then he will want to wake up. He doesn’t feel that there is anything here for him at the moment. You started to heal your differences by helping him to rescue S’vin and the others but that single act isn’t enough to take back everything that you have said and done over the last few months.”
Archer turned to Phlox. “Do you know anything about what she’s suggesting?”
“A little. I have read examples of healing through some kind of telepathy, persuading the patient to heal themselves almost. I’ve never heard of it working for such a severely injured patient or through a third party,” said Phlox. “I can’t see any harm in trying however. It can’t make the situation any worse.”
The worry was clearly visible on Archer’s face. He didn’t like the idea of telepathy or Xy’an poking around in his head but, if it would help Trip, then what choice did he have.
“Okay, what do I have to do?”
Xy’an looked Archer up and down. “In theory, nothing, but I seem to be having trouble making a link with your mind. Maybe you should try to relax and open your mind more to me.”
“Perhaps lying down would help?” suggested Phlox.
Archer gave a shrug but headed for a biobed and laid himself down on it. He closed his eyes and tried to relax himself into a frame of mind where Xy’an could telepathically connect with him. He felt Xy’an take his hand and he waited. He felt something, almost imperceptible, touch his thoughts and then it was gone again. It came and went three or four times more before Xy’an let go of his hand.
“It isn’t working,” she said. “Your mind is not like Trip’s and I can’t penetrate below the most superficial level.”
“You told me his mind was more vulnerable when you made contact,” said Archer, sitting up on the biobed. “You described it as an emotional low. Can you tell me when you first made contact with him?”
“By Thacker time, about two weeks ago,” said Xy’an.
Archer did a quick mental calculation. “About the time of the pirate raid on Enterprise. Trip was working flat out to repair the damage.”
“Indeed,” said Phlox. “Now I come to think about it, I remember that after the Commander took the dose of stimulants, I sedated him so that he could sleep, he woke up very suddenly having had a bad dream. At the time I suggested it was a side effect of his stimulant use but perhaps it had something to do with the telepathic contact you had made with him?”
Xy’an nodded. “He said my contact gave him nightmares. The combination of drugs and lack of sleep might have been enough to place his mind in a state where I could contact him.”
“Then I have to do the same,” said Archer. “Do you know how long he was awake for before he took the stimulants?”
“He told me twenty four hours, but he has a habit of lying to me about things like this. At a guess I would say it was more like three days without proper sleep,” said Phlox. “Going without sleep is not something that I would recommend for a human patient. It is amazing how quickly it can affect your cognitive abilities and general health, especially if you exacerbate things with a dose of unauthorised stimulants.” Phlox gave a knowing look back towards Trip.
“If that’s what it takes to help Trip, doctor, then that’s what I have to do. Three days without sleep and a shot of stimulants.” Archer let out a sigh, this was not going to be easy and it brought it home to him just how much Trip had been abusing his body lately for the sake of Enterprise.
Phlox shook his head. “Very well, if that is what you must do I insist on monitoring you twice a day and you are not to leave sickbay once the stimulant dose has been administered.”
“Okay, I’ll see you back here tomorrow morning,” said Archer, sliding off the biobed. “I’ll be handing over command to T’Pol until this is all over.”
Phlox nodded. “Very wise.”
“I would like to stay here,” said Xy’an.
“I don’t see any harm in that,” replied Phlox, turning towards Archer.
“I suppose that would be okay,” said Archer. “I have to go and see T’Pol.”
Archer found T’Pol and Reed discussing the relocation of the Thaisen in the Command Centre.
“T’Pol, I’m turning over command of Enterprise to you for the next few days,” said Archer.
T’Pol and Reed both stopped what they were doing and looked at Archer.
T’Pol straightened up. “Can I ask why, Captain?”
“Xy’an thinks she has a way to bring Trip out of his coma that involves making some sort of telepathic bridge between the two of us. The only problem is that she couldn’t make a connection with me. Apparently she can only make contact with humans if they’re in a vulnerable mental state.”
“She seemed to be able to connect with Trip,” said Reed.
“Apparently that was because he hadn’t sleep for three days and took stimulants,” said Archer.
“Ah,” said Reed, in realisation of the problem that Archer faced.
“You’re planning to stay awake for three days and then abuse drugs,” said T’Pol, an almost questioning tone to her statement.
“It doesn’t sound like such a good plan when you put it like that,” said Archer.
“That is because it is not a good plan,” replied T’Pol.
“I can’t think of any other way to do this.”
“Are you sure that Xy’an can be trusted?” asked Reed.
“She doesn’t have anything to gain. T’Pol will be in command anyway, so messing with my mind won’t get her anywhere. I think she genuinely wants to help Trip but, just in case, I want you to change all the access codes, effective immediately. Even without Xy’an doing anything to me, lack of sleep can affect judgement and that’s before I take the stimulants.”
“Of course,” T’Pol nodded. “I will take care of it.”
“Thank you.” Archer turned to leave. “I have a date with a huge pile of paperwork and a big pot of coffee.”
“Sir, if you want any help staying awake, I’d be happy to assist you. Perhaps a sparing session in the gym…” started Reed.
Archer turned back to his armoury officer with a half smile on his face. “Thank you, Malcolm. I may well take you up on that offer.” With that he left his officers to their work.
Archer had been awake for nearly twenty four hours and was already feeling like he could drop dead asleep on the spot. It wasn’t as if he had never stayed awake for such a long period, he’d had his fair share of sleepless nights and double shifts, but usually he was working. This time there was no pressing task for him to perform, all he had to do was remain awake long enough that he could help Trip. As Captain he had plenty of demands on his time but usually they involved long hours of reading and now he wanted something hands-on to keep him occupied. To top things off he had asked T’Pol to relieve him of command so there were no big decisions to be made and all his command codes had been changed.
He decided to do the only thing he could. One of his departments was still short staffed due to the Tauran flu outbreak and various injuries. So he went down to engineering. It wasn’t his specialism, but he knew enough to be of assistance. You couldn’t be the son of Henry Archer and not understand the basics of warp engines.
He found the recently recovered Lieutenant Kaspera in charge and handing out assignments as quickly as people completed them.
Archer approached the young Lieutenant. “Lieutenant Kaspera, T’Pol tells me that you’re in charge of Engineering until Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Hess are back on duty.”
“Yes sir. I just returned from sick leave – Tauran Flu. Can I help you?” The Lieutenant seemed a little nervous.
“You can find me something to do,” replied Archer.
“Sir?” asked Kaspera, rather baffled by his Captain’s request.
“I need to stay awake for the next…” he checked his wrist chronometer, “forty nine hours. If I try to sit up reading that whole time I’m not going to make it. You’re short staffed down here so there has to be some task you can give me.”
Kaspera looked slightly bemused by Archer’s explanation, but he didn’t question further. “We always have plenty of work on but mostly it’s low level stuff, like resetting the grav plating on C deck, installing replacement relays, repairing the hull plating polarisation matrix. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do, sir.”
“In this case, no, I don’t. What’s the next task on your list?”
“Erm, purging the exhaust manifolds,” said Kaspera.
Archer nodded. It wasn’t a difficult task, but it was a two man job. “Who else were you going to assign?”
“Myself, sir. Everyone else is busy with more critical repairs.”
“Okay, let’s go,” said Archer.
“Yes, sir,” said Kaspera, a little more surety in his voice now.
The two officers spent the next six hours purging the exhaust manifolds. Archer noticed that Kaspera would be interrupted at regular intervals for further task assignments from his staff and reporting of problems, which he duly logged for further task assignment.
“Is it always like this down here?” asked Archer.
“It isn’t normally this bad. Usually we’d be assigned tasks at the start of the shift but with so few of us we have to take on multiple roles. As command officer I should be free to trouble shoot but I can’t currently afford for any of my staff not to be working on fixing something.”
“How long have you been working like this?”
“Ever since we left Vulcan. We took some damage after the incident with the Andorians. Both the Commander and Lieutenant Hess were working flat out before the Tauran flu outbreak. Then people started to get sick and so they both had to start taking on extra duties along with the rest of us. The Commander already has a pretty heavy work load so I’m not sure how he found the time to do the extra repairs, as well as all his usual duties.”
“I think I have an idea,” grimaced Archer as he finished checking the last circuit in the batch he’d taken as his half. Part of the purge routine was checking the warning system attached to exhaust manifolds.
Trip was always more hands on than a Chief Engineer was really supposed to be. It was both a strength and a weakness; he always knew what was going on in his department but it meant he had a full schedule even without unexpected pirate raids. As Chief Engineer he was expected to oversee all work being done through out the department, then sign off on it, attend briefings, manage the well being of his crew, and go on away missions as necessary. Trip also chose to write papers for scientific journals in his spare time and act as a consultant to Starfleet Research and Development about the new generation of warp engine designs. Somehow on top of that he found time to go to the gym, play computer games with Malcolm (actually Malcolm called them simulations but it was the same difference as far as Archer was concerned) and, until recently, have neuropressure sessions twice a week with T’Pol.
Trip had been a workaholic for as long as Archer could remember. He loved what he did. Archer just took it for granted that Trip would make time for what he asked him to do. He had always been confident that Trip could tackle anything that he threw at him, and if he said he couldn’t, that was just Trip being Trip. He could perform miracles. However that was something that Archer hadn’t ever really thought about. Just because every time Archer pushed Trip, he coped, didn’t mean that he always would be able to. In fact the more he thought about it the less he ever remembered Trip saying something couldn’t be done and then doing it. He had said things would be hard or difficult, and then managed to do them, but he’d never given Archer incorrect information. He’d never told Archer anything that wasn’t true. Archer had taken advantage time and time again of the fact that Trip Tucker would always give Jonathan Archer one hundred and ten percent. And then wondered why he didn’t get one hundred and twenty percent.
Archer almost dropped the scanner in his hand in realisation. He had been taking advantage of his friend all this time without even a thought about how it might affect him. He had taken advantage of Trip’s good nature and his inability to say no to him because of over ten years of friendship. He shouldn’t have been surprised when Trip finally snapped and told him where to stick his orders.
He shook his head and closed the panel that housed the circuits that he had been working on. “What’s next?”
Lieutenant Kaspera checked his padd. “I need someone to look at the EPS grid between C and D deck, section 7. It should just be a matter of replacing some malfunctioning circuit boards, but it could take a few hours.”
“I think I can handle that,” said Archer.
Kaspera nodded. “I really appreciate you taking the time to come down here.”
Archer waved off the compliment with a hand. He certainly didn’t deserve any compliments, he had vastly underestimated just how busy things were in Engineering despite Trip informing him. “I’ll let you know when I’m done.”
Archer had to go for his scheduled check in with Phlox before he could do anything else, otherwise he could bet that the doctor would come looking for him. The doctor scanned him and did a little tutting, otherwise it was uneventful and successfully killed another hour. With that over with he was able to get back to his assigned task.
Archer was very thankful that the task Kaspera had assigned to him was in a Jeffries tube some way from the beaten track. Trip had once told him that he enjoyed working down in the Jeffries tubes every so often as it gave him a chance to think in peace and quiet. Archer wouldn’t normally agree with him, working in the Jeffries tubes was a cramped and hot experience but today he needed the solitude. T’Pol however tracked him down easily only a few hours later.
He didn’t hear his second in command coming until she was right behind him. To be honest his mind was having enough trouble concentrating on the circuits he was replacing, so it didn’t surprise him that he jumped when T’Pol greeted him.
“Good morning, Captain.”
“T’Pol!” Archer relaxed again after the initial shock. “What are you doing down here?”
“You are not answering your communicator,” said T’Pol.
“I must have left it in my tool box,” said Archer indicating a little further back along the Jeffries tube where the tool box still sat.
“You are supposed to carry a communicator at all times when out of range of com points.”
Archer just gave T’Pol a tired look. “What can I do for you, T’Pol?”
“I need your sign off on the fuel consumption figures,” said T’Pol.
“I handed over command to you. You can sign off on anything that I could.”
“I assume that you would prefer Starfleet Command not to know what you are doing?”
Archer nodded. “I suppose so.” It would probably be hard enough to make his report on everything that had happened on Thacker without adding in his personal issues with his Chief Engineer.
“In order to prevent that, I need you to sign off on the fuel consumption figures. It is something that only the commanding officer is authorised to do, under normal circumstances.”
Archer reached for the padd that T’Pol handed him and scrawled his signature. It was messier than usual, another sign of just how tired he was.
“I really don’t know how Trip could do this to himself,” said Archer. “I’m ready to drop and I’m only just over halfway through.”
“He was already well practiced,” replied T’Pol.
“Why didn’t I notice, T’Pol?”
“Commander Tucker is also well practiced at keeping hidden what he does not wish others to see.”
“I’m meant to be his best friend. I should have listened to him,” replied Archer, tersely.
“That is something that you will have to discuss with him,” said T’Pol.
“I wish I could,” said Archer, turning back to his work. “You know, all of this, makes me wonder why he didn’t talk to you about it.”
“I believe he tried to,” said T’Pol. “However the Commander and I have not been on the best of terms.”
Archer turned back to look at T’Pol for a long second, before hanging his head. Having two of his friends turn their backs on him at the same time would be enough to drive anyone to burying themselves in their work, even without the extra pressure Trip had been under.
“I must return to my duties,” said T’Pol. Her voice seemed quieter and perhaps a little guilty, but maybe Archer was projecting that on her from his own feelings.
He rubbed a hand across his tired eyes. They felt gritty and hot. He reached out to replace a breaker on the circuit and accidentally touched a live connecter. He snatched his hand back with an exclamation of pain, swearing loudly.
“Captain? Are you injured?” T’Pol was immediately beside him.
“Just an electrical burn,” said Archer, examining his injured fingers.
“I will accompany you to sickbay,” said T’Pol. It sounded like a non-sequitur to Archer, for a moment he couldn’t understand why T’Pol would want to go to sickbay. Then he worked out that he was the one T’Pol thought should be going to sickbay. It wasn’t a serious burn, but he supposed he should get it looked at. It was part of the regulations to get any work related injuries logged and examined. Trip would have made a joke about not letting his engineers get blood on the wiring.
“I must be getting a little tired.” Archer gave T’Pol a lopsided smile.
“No doubt,” replied T’Pol, as she turned to go back the way she had come. Archer obediently followed his second in command.
Sickbay hadn’t changed much from when he had visited it earlier. Trip was still lying curtained off from the rest of the room. Other curtained off biobeds held ever decreasing numbers of victims of the Tauran flu and the injured Lieutenant Hess. Phlox didn’t even comment or tut when Archer presented his burned fingers. T’Pol hovered while Phlox worked, seemingly wanting to keep an eye on her Captain.
“Has there been any change in Trip’s condition?” Archer asked. He half hoped that Phlox would tell him that all of this lack of sleep was unnecessary and Trip was showing signs of improvement. Then he could have fallen asleep on the surprisingly comfortable biobed that he was sitting on and everything would have sorted itself out. That wasn’t going to be the case though, and Archer really already knew that since Phlox would have called him if there had been any improvement.
“Unfortunately not,” said Phlox. “Xy’an has been attempting to use their telepathic connection to talk with him, but she is finding his deep level of unconsciousness difficult to communicate with.”
“That doesn’t sound like it’s going to make it any easier for me to talk to him,” said Archer.
“Indeed. Although she has expressed the opinion that she finds it more difficult simply because he is an alien to her. A fellow human might have better luck.” Phlox changed the subject. “Captain, perhaps working in Engineering is not the best place for you to be at the moment. As I’ve already said, extreme fatigue can hinder concentration and dexterity, which leads to accidents.”
“On the contrary, doctor, I think it’s done me the world of good.” Archer was now aware that he should probably have headed down to Engineering several weeks ago and then he might have realised why Trip was giving him the advice that he had.
“Even so, I would prefer that you find another way to spend your time until we are ready to give you the stimulants.”
Archer considered it slightly ironic that Phlox was warning him to stay away from Engineering which was exactly the place that Trip had spent most of his time when suffering from sleep deprivation. Lieutenant Reed walked into sickbay just as Phlox finished his suggestion.
“Captain, this explains why you didn’t arrive for our sparing session,” said Reed. He was obviously a little surprised to see Archer in sickbay.
Archer groaned. “Sorry, Malcolm, I’m afraid it doesn’t. I have to confess to forgetting our appointment.”
Archer could almost hear Phlox ticking off yet another symptom of sleep deprivation: deterioration of memory.
“Not to worry, sir. We can reschedule for another time.”
“Are you free now?” asked Archer. Phlox had just finished tending to the small burn.
“Are you sure that would be wise?” T’Pol asked.
“Well I haven’t got anything better to do,” replied Archer.
“I was going to visit Commander Tucker,” started Reed, “but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind waiting until after our session, assuming the doctor is happy.”
“As long as you go easy on the Captain, Lieutenant.” Phlox had an amused sparkle in his eye.
“I think I can manage that,” said Reed, and Archer wondered if he was about to regret taking Reed up on his earlier suggestion of a sparing session.
Twenty minutes later they were in the gym and he knew it had been a bad idea to take on his Security officer whilst so tired he could happily fall asleep where he stood. His whole body felt brittle and dry, as if the lack of sleep had made him older. Usually he could have at least given Reed a run for his money but today nothing was working. Every thought in his head took twice as long to get from his brain to his muscles. Simply put, Reed was kicking his ass. Adrenaline was beginning to take up some of the slack and lessen the tiredness, but he was far from on top form.
The eighth time he hit the mat he held up a hand. “I think that may be enough of that.”
Reed reached down to help his Captain up again. “Perhaps we should just practice a few blocking moves.”
Archer nodded and the two of them went at it again, a little more carefully this time.
“How much longer have you got to stay awake?” asked Reed.
Archer checked the gym clock. “Another ten hours, give or take.” His reply was breathy from the exertion. “I’m beginning to understand why Trip thought that taking stimulants was a good idea. Being awake for sixty hours is hard enough without planning to follow it up with fixing a warp engine.”
“Fixing a warp engine whilst whacked out on “go juice”,” Reed added.
Archer recognised the Starfleet slang term. Combat pilots were authorised to use stimulants on a strictly controlled basis but he’d known a few that had got hooked on them. One of them had been a good friend until the stimulants had taken over his life. Maybe that was one of the reasons he’d been so cross with Trip about the misuse of the drug, but he couldn’t put it all down to that. His feelings about this mission were complex and even he couldn’t untangle them easily.
“At the moment I’d give anything to feel better than I do,” said Archer. “And I’m about to do exactly what I chewed him out for doing.”
“I chewed him out before you even got to him, Captain. My apologies for adding bruises to your troubles,” said Reed.
“I should have known better,” replied Archer, with a smile. “If I can just keep going a few more hours…”
The sound of the com interrupted them. “Sickbay to Captain Archer.”
Archer and Reed exchanged a worried look. A call from sickbay couldn’t be a good thing. Archer straightened himself out of the fighting stance that he had adopted and went to the com. He leaned tiredly against the wall as he pressed the button to answer the call.
“Go ahead, Doctor.”
“Captain, we need you in sickbay. Xy’an seems to think that Commander Tucker is slipping deeper into his coma.” Phlox didn’t sound worried but Archer knew that he was. His voice always had a slightly flatter tone when he gave out bad news.
“On my way.” Archer grabbed a towel and headed out the door, Lieutenant Reed on his heels.
The gym was on the same deck as sickbay so they didn’t have far to walk to get to their destination. T’Pol was already there when they entered.
“What happened?” asked Archer.
Xy’an replied. “He gave up.”
“Gave up?” asked Archer.
“Trip wouldn’t…” started Reed.
“My readings confirm that his condition has indeed deteriorated slightly,” Phlox added.
“He’s weak and doesn’t have any reason to fight,” said Xy’an. “We need to give him a reason.”
“Doctor, we’re going to have to cut this sleep deprivation experiment short. Give me the stimulant,” said Archer.
Phlox nodded and prepared a hypospray. He paused before he gave Archer the injection. “You are sure about this, Captain?”
“Do it,” replied Archer.
Phlox pressed the hypospray to Archer’s neck and a small hiss indicated that the drug had been released into his bloodstream. It took a few seconds for the effects to kick in, but suddenly it was as if the tiredness dropped away from him. It wasn’t the same feeling that he would have got if he’d actually had a good night’s sleep, this was definitely artificial. He still knew that he was very tired but somehow that didn’t matter and everything was bright and shiny.
“Wow, this is great,” said Archer.
“I’m sure it is at the moment,” said Phlox. “However, the come down is not pleasant and stimulant use carries huge risks.”
“Maybe we should go back to the gym and I’ll give you a rematch,” said Archer.
“Another side effect is over confidence,” said Phlox.
“Yes, doctor, I’m aware of that,” said Reed. “Perhaps another time, Captain.”
Archer had already begun examining the lab benches with great interest and looking for something to do.
“I can’t give him the sedative yet,” said Phlox to Reed and T’Pol. “I suggest you take him for a walk around the deck and by that point I’ll be ready.”
Trip was in darkness. He was in a room that was slowly filling with cold, black water. He had to keep himself afloat and working to do that was making him tired. So far he hadn’t managed to find a way out of the room. Trip could almost feel the water soaking his clothes, but he knew it was only his well developed imagination that was placing the sensations and visions in his mind. The sound of water lapping against the sides of the room could be heard in the background and he wondered what part of his psyche had dredged up this dreary place.
He vaguely heard Archer trying to talk to him but it was a long way off. He was remembering past events and each one reminded him just how unhappy he had been these past few weeks. His own Captain had made it very clear that he didn’t value his opinion or even his life when compared to the overall mission. If the mission had been life or death then he would have understood, but, until they got to the planet, it had been nothing more than a first contact situation. It was the lack of trust that had hurt him the most. He couldn’t continue to work in circumstances like this.
The blackness continued and the water kept rising. Every so often he would hear far away voices and try to reply but it didn’t seem to be working. His energy was ebbing away and he didn’t know if he could keep fighting to stay on the surface much longer, or even if he had a reason to. Finally he gave in and started the process of drowning in earnest.
“Trip?” said a small, far away, voice. He almost didn’t hear it at first, but it was enough to get his attention and make him scramble back to the surface.
It got louder and eventually he couldn’t ignore it. “Trip?”
“Yes, what?” Trip asked irritably.
“Trip, it’s Xy’an.” The face of the Thaisen girl appeared in front of him out of the darkness.
“Xy’an!” said Trip in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“Our telepathic connection is still functioning,” said Xy’an, “although I need more effort to reach you in this unconscious state.”
“Are the other kids safe?”
“Yes, we are all safe. You saved us. Now I am returning the favour.”
“I don’t need saving,” said Trip.
Another face appeared beside Xy’an’s. This time it was Captain Archer’s.
“Especially not by you,” added Trip, for the new face’s benefit. “I’m in a god damn coma, you’d think I could get some peace.”
The faces added bodies to themselves and all three of them now swam in the water. Somehow a little of the water had drained from the room since Xy’an had arrived and Trip could put his feet on the floor once again.
Archer scanned his surroundings with trepidation. “Trip, we need you to come back to us.”
“I don’t want to talk to you. How are you even doing this?” Trip shivered. His clothes were soaked and the room was freezing cold.
“Xy’an helped me make a connection through her, after I achieved the proper mental state,” replied Archer.
“Proper mental state?” asked Trip. He noted that Xy’an was sort of fading into the background as he and Archer talked. She didn’t seem to want to be part of this conversation, but then again maybe she just didn’t want to stay in this miserable place.
“When Xy’an first made contact with you it was after the attack by the raiders. You worked three straight days and then…”
“I took a dose of Phlox’s stimulants,” finished Trip, with a guilty shake of his head. He looked up at Archer. “You didn’t…”
Archer nodded. “It was the only way.”
“Do you realise just how stupid that was?”
“Look who’s talking.”
“I didn’t have any choice!” shouted Trip.
“Neither did I!” Archer shouted back. “You don’t have the monopoly on stupid stunts. At least I had medical supervision.”
“Well you wasted your time, I still don’t want to talk to you.”
“Then why don’t you try listening to me instead,” said Archer. “In the cave you said that we needed to talk. What’s changed?”
“I guess I thought that I was going to make it and that there was some point to us patching things up. I’m tired, Captain and I really don’t have the energy for this. You know, I guess I’ve finally had enough. My best friend doesn’t trust my judgement anymore, the closest thing that I have to a girlfriend has…” Trip searched for some way of describing what had happened between himself and T’Pol, “…got religion. And, even if I wake up, I’ve got a long, painful recovery ahead of me. Again. Remember the heatstroke, brain injury, radiation poisoning…”
The water was rising again and up to Trip’s neck now.
“I know you’ve been through a lot these past few years, but that’s not an excuse to give up on your life. I’m not saying that it won’t be tough but we’ll all be there to help you through your recovery.” Archer appeared to be genuine about this, but Trip still wasn’t convinced.
“Yeah, well you haven’t been there for me much lately. It took us being trapped in a cave-in to get you to start talking to me and even then it was mostly to humour me. How am I supposed to function as Chief Engineer if you don’t take what I say seriously?”
Trip couldn’t keep his feet on the floor any longer and keep his head above water. He began swimming and a few seconds later Archer joined him.
“I’ve spent the past two days in Engineering helping Kaspera out with the repairs. I know what things have been like down there. Believe me when I say that from now on I will take what you say very seriously and I apologise for ever giving you the impression otherwise.” Archer got a mouthful of water as he said this and had to spit it out before he could continue. “I promise that things will be different from now on.”
“Really?” Trip asked sarcastically. “And in a few weeks, when this is all forgotten, we’ll be back to the way things were before. You’ll be telling me we need to get somewhere fast and ignoring my advice all over again. Do I have to remind you that Anna Hess nearly died because you didn’t listen to me?” The swimming was making him tired again and he was breathing heavily. In contrast, Archer didn’t even seem to have even noticed the physical exertion.
“You don’t have to remind me. Don’t you think I realise now that I should have paid more attention to what you were saying? Taken more notice of the number of people you had off sick? I made mistakes, Trip, and as Captain of Enterprise that’s something I’m not allowed to do, because when I make mistakes people get hurt. I’ve got a crew of good people and if I listen to their advice and let them do their jobs then there’s a good chance that I’ll make the right decisions. That’s why when I say things will be different, it’s true. What do I have to say to get you to trust me on this?”
“I guess trust is what it comes down to,” said Trip, tiredly. He really didn’t know how much longer he could continue this swimming.
“You didn’t trust me either. I would have helped you free the Thaisen if I’d known about them.”
Trip shook his head. “Maybe I should have come to you when I first started having the dreams. I knew there was something weird about them but you were so busy with this trade mission and I was trying to hold the ship together. I just never found the time and I guess I figured that you wouldn’t understand anyway. I tried talking to T’Pol and Malcolm but they didn’t seem to think there was anything in it.”
“I’ve had my fair share of weird dreams, and some of them have turned out to be more than just dreams,” said Archer. “I’m sorry that you didn’t feel you could come to me to talk about it and I know that I’ve let this mission become more important than it should have been. The Expanse changed more about me than I like to admit and I know I’ve been pushing my friends away. I said this to you a few days ago but I don’t know if you heard me because, well, you were in a coma.”
“I’m still in a coma,” Trip pointed out.
“Yes, I know, but what I’m trying to say is that you mean a lot to me and I need you to come back. I know what you went through to keep this ship together and I don’t want you to ever have to do that again. You shouldn’t have to, if I’m doing my job properly. I’ve abused our friendship and I’m sorry.”
“You can be as sorry as you like, but I’ve got no proof you really want things to change.”
“I have no choice but to change. If I don’t then the whole ship suffers. A captain is only as good as the staff under him and you’re a fine Chief Engineer, Trip.” Archer paused, finally settling on the one thing that Trip couldn’t contest. “This telepathic bridge has to work both ways. You’ve got to know that I mean what I say.”
Trip cocked his head to one side and gave Archer a long scrutinising look. He reached out probing thoughts and found genuine intention to change in return. He was surprised to feel respect and friendship radiating from the form of his Captain, and at the centre of it all was a small hard nucleus of trust in him and his abilities. There was no way Archer could have faked this.
Trip took in a deep breath. “Yeah, I guess I do know now.” He looked around himself at the metal box his mind had put them in and realised that he had no idea what to do now that he actually wanted to leave. “So how do I get out of this place?”
“To be honest, I don’t know. It’s your mind,” replied Archer. “All I can tell you is that you need to keep fighting.”
“I’m not sure I can,” said Trip. It was as if he could feel his body in the real world shutting down around him. He was finding it harder and harder to keep his head above the water. Suddenly his head slipped beneath the surface and he took in a lungful of cold water. He could vaguely hear Archer shouting his name as he sank further under. Then just as quickly as he’d gone under, he was being pulled back up to the surface. He came up spluttering and coughing, with Archer holding him up.
“Trip! Listen to me. You have to fight,” said Archer, sounding more worried and anxious than Trip had ever heard him sound before. He was limp in Archer’s arms and still coughing up water, unable to hold himself up and his strength almost gone. “Trip, you are not allowed to die, do you hear me?”
“I don’t think I can do this,” replied Trip, between coughs. “I’m just too tired to fight, Captain.”
“God damn it, do I have to make it an order? You are not allowed to die, Commander. I didn’t go through all this for you to give up now.”
Trip pushed wet hair out of his eyes. “You might as well leave. It’s too late to save me.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Trip. This is your mind. You can control what happens here.”
Trip shook his head. “It’s just reflecting what’s happening to my body.”
“No, you just need to start fighting again. This water isn’t really here. You’re not in this room, you’re not going to drown, you’re in sickbay and you are going to get better.”
“You can be damn bossy,” replied Trip, weakly.
“And you give up too easily. I thought you were supposed to be tough as nails. Now get rid of this water.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Trip. Finally the water started to go down around them until they both collapsed in a soggy heap on the floor. Trip was still exhausted but gradually the scene around them became lighter and morphed into the muted greys of Trip quarters on Enterprise’s. Archer helped Trip get to his feet and move to his bed.
Xy’an faded back into existence.
“Hey there,” said Trip.
Xy’an smiled a little. “We have to go now.”
“We do?” asked Archer.
“I can’t maintain the bridge forever,” said Xy’an, “but I think we have done enough here that Trip stands a good chance of full recovery.”
“Don’t worry,” said Trip as Archer glanced back at him. “I’m not planning on deciding to die as soon as you leave. I think you’ve proven that I need to keep living.”
Archer nodded. “I’ll be there when you wake up. Just promise me you won’t take too long about it.”
“You got my word on that, Captain. I’ve got work to do and hanging around here won’t get it done.” Trip gave Archer the first genuine smile that he had given anyone in some time.
Archer woke up in sickbay six hours after he had formed the telepathic connection with Xy’an. His first thought was that he had a terrible headache and his second was that he had to check on Trip immediately. Unfortunately the headache made him a little disorientated and when he tried to rise quickly from the biobed he found his limbs weren’t exactly cooperative. The sound of his body hitting the floor and subsequent exclamations of pain brought Phlox, Reed and T’Pol to his bedside in less than half a second. He brushed off their enquiries about his health and helping hands.
“Trip? How’s Trip?” he asked, urgently.
“Doing much better,” said Phlox. “I will give you the full details as soon as I have checked you over.”
“The only thing that’s wrong with me is a splitting headache.” Archer pushed himself up off the floor.
“Stimulants tend to have that side effect,” said Phlox. His scanner was in his hand and he was poring over the readings. “I’m afraid that I can’t give you anything for it until the sedative has completely left your system.”
“What happened?” asked Reed. “One moment the Commander’s vitals were plummeting and the next he’s on the mend.”
“Let’s just say that Trip’s mind is an interesting place to visit,” said Archer.
For a moment T’Pol met his eyes and it was almost as if she was agreeing with Archer. She looked away with what Archer could have taken to be a slightly guilty expression, if she had been human.
“Where’s Xy’an?” Archer looked around sickbay and couldn’t see her. He had fallen asleep holding her hand, in the hopes that it would make the connection easier. It had obviously worked.
“Asleep in my quarters,” said T’Pol. “The creation of the telepathic bridge tired her considerably.”
Phlox closed the scanner. “I’m pleased to say that you don’t seem to have suffered any serious ill effects from the sleep deprivation or stimulants, Captain.”
“Good, now will someone please tell me how Trip is doing,” said Archer.
“His level of consciousness has increased dramatically,” said Phlox. “I’ve observed several indications that he is entering a more responsive state.”
“He has moved his fingers a number of times and his EEG readings are much improved. Obviously he is not as you would say, “out of the woods” yet, but I don’t believe he will be unconscious for an extended period of time.”
“So he’s going to wake up soon?” asked Reed.
“That is still up to him but I would say days rather than weeks,” replied Phlox.
“That’s good news,” said Reed.
“Indeed, his condition has improved amazingly over the past few hours. Really all we can do now is wait.”
And Trip being Trip did make them wait. Archer was beginning to wonder if Trip had broken his promise and descended back into the depths of his unconscious brain, but Phlox continued to assure him that his patient was making steady progress. In fact the doctor was so confident about Trip’s condition that he took him back into surgery and placed the necessary pins to repair the broken bones in his left leg.
Archer had reassumed command of Enterprise after being declared fit by the doctor and his first act had been to arrange passage for the Thaisen to Elthen II. So now, five days later, they had a hold full of passengers and were heading back to Elthen II at a reasonably sedate speed, as advised by Lieutenant Kaspera, so that Engineering could catch up on repairs. Archer wasn’t needed on the bridge much due to the routine nature of their current mission so he spent most of his time down in sickbay talking to Trip, who had been showing further signs of coming round but hadn’t had the good grace to open his eyes yet. When Archer wasn’t at Trip’s bedside his place was taken by T’Pol or Lieutenant Reed or countless other visitors.
Five long days after Archer’s foray into Trip’s mind, he still hadn’t been showing any special signs that he was intending to wake up on that day. Which was why Archer got the shock of his life when he looked back at Trip from the padd he had been working on and found open eyes staring back at him, blinking furiously.
“Trip?” asked Archer.
“Captain?” came the slightly baffled and very weak reply.
Archer hit the call button by the biobed to summon Phlox. “Do you know where you are?”
Trip nodded feebly. “Sickbay.” He seemed to be looking down at his body and taking in all the wires and tubes. A worried frown clouded his features.
Phlox pulled back a curtain that surrounded Trip’s biobed. He took in the situation at a glance. “Commander, it’s good to see you awake. Don’t be alarmed by the IV lines and chest tube. I’ll be happy to explain what they’re all for if you like, but for the moment I’ll just say that they’re all helping you to get better.”
Trip nodded again, still obviously a bit bewildered. He blinked his eyelids and seemed to be getting ready to go back to sleep again. “How long have I been here?”
“Eight days,” said Archer, unable to stop himself smiling down at his friend despite the seriousness of his condition. “You made us wait.”
“Sorry,” replied Trip, tiredly.
Archer laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder .“You’ve got nothing to apologise for, Trip.”
“What happened?” asked Trip, barely getting the words out.
Archer’s heart sank. If Trip didn’t remember the cave-in then the chances were that he wouldn’t remember their telepathic conversation either.
“There was a cave-in in the mine,” said Archer.
“The kids okay?”
“They’re all fine and we’re on our way to their new home.”
“I’m afraid the Commander needs his rest,” said Phlox.
“He’s just woken up,” complained Archer.
“Yeah,” said Trip, “but I feel like I could sleep for another week.”
“That is only to be expected, Commander,” said Phlox, checking the readings on the monitors above the biobed. “You will probably feel quite fatigued for a while yet.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Captain,” said Trip, a touch of a smile curling his lips.
“I know, Trip, but I’m just glad to see you awake. For a few days we really thought that we might have lost you,” said Archer. He didn’t add that even after that he’d worried that Trip might not come back to them. He still worried that Trip would have forgotten everything that they had talked about through Xy’an’s telepathic bridge.
“You can’t get rid of me that easily. I’m like a bad penny, I always turn up.” Trip’s eyes closed as he said the last few words of the sentence. His head dropped to the side slightly and his breathing became more even.
Phlox ushered Archer away from the curtained off area around the biobed when he saw that his patient had indeed fallen asleep.
“I’m sure the rest of the crew will want to know that Commander Tucker has awoken, however briefly,” said Phlox.
A curtain around another biobed was pulled back suddenly. “The Commander was awake?” asked Lieutenant Hess, half into her uniform.
“Yes, Lieutenant,” said Phlox, a slight note of exasperation in his voice which made Archer think that perhaps Lieutenant Hess had been a difficult patient now that she was more recovered. “He is asleep again now however and won’t be taking visitors for a little while.”
The red haired Lieutenant pulled up the jumpsuit over her arms, rather more gingerly on her injured side. “You should have given me a shout, I’d like to have said “hi” before I leave sickbay.”
“You can all come back another time,” said Phlox, pointedly.
“Yes, sir,” said Hess, with a mock salute to the doctor. She finished doing up the zip of her uniform with jerk and headed towards sickbay’s double doors.
“Lieutenant, if you have a moment, I’d like to walk with you,” said Archer.
Hess paused a moment. “Of course, sir. I’m just on my way back to my quarters.”
Archer gave Phlox a quick nod of thanks and followed Hess out of sickbay. They walked for a few minutes in silence, acknowledging junior crewmen as they passed them in the corridor.
Finally, Archer spoke. “Lieutenant, I believe I owe you an apology.”
“Sir?” asked Hess, perplexed by Archer’s pronouncement.
“It’s my fault that you were injured, at least indirectly.”
“I don’t see how, sir. We were decelerating from warp and we knew that the engine had taken damage. It was just bad luck. Wrong place, wrong time and all that garbage.”
“That’s what I need to apologise for, Lieutenant. You should never have been in the wrong place. Accidents like that are preventable and if I’d paid more attention to what Commander Tucker was telling me then you wouldn’t have been injured.”
Lieutenant Hess didn’t know how to reply for a long moment. It was very rare that a Captain ever apologised to his crew. Captains, by definition, didn’t make mistakes. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“Go ahead,” said Archer.
“I don’t think I’ve ever served under a finer engineer than Commander Tucker, and he deserves better than you gave him these past few months. I’m not saying that he’s perfect, but he’s damn near when it comes to fixing Enterprise. If you don’t patch things up with him, we all lose.”
“Message understood, Anna.” Archer used his subordinate’s first name to let her know that the criticism was taken as constructive. He had always been very aware that the engineering staff were loyal to Trip first and himself second. It wasn’t something that he’d ever worried about and he’d been glad to have someone who engendered such loyalty amongst his staff serving under him. “I’m doing my best to mend bridges, and I think we’re getting there. I promise you that whatever happens I’ll give Commander Tucker the respect he deserves.”
“That’s all I needed to hear,” said Hess, with a smile. “Apology accepted.”
When Trip awoke again it was to find T’Pol sat beside him. He felt considerably less fuzzy this time which probably meant that Phlox had slightly decreased his pain medication, he was certainly feeling his injuries more.
“Hey, T’Pol,” he said, weakly, and was alarmed by how croaky and unlike him his voice sounded.
T’Pol put down the padd that she had been reading and looked over at him. “You are awake, I’ll get Doctor Phlox.”
“Don’t bother. I’m fine.”
“Your statement is illogical. You are obviously not fine.”
“I’m as fine as I’m going to get for the moment,” replied Trip.
The argument was rendered null and void when Phlox appeared at that moment. “Ah Commander, you’re awake.”
“I think I’m ready for the damage report, Doc. How long am I going to need to stay here this time?” Trip had already resigned himself to a lengthy stay in sickbay but he hoped that at least everything would heal given time.
“Well, we’ll see how you do. Hopefully not more than a week or so. As for the “damage report” as you put it, I’m afraid you broke your right ankle, left tibia in two places and left fibula.”
“Both legs, great,” sighed Trip.
“And one arm, a clean break across the humerus, as well as two fingers. I had to pin your left tibia, but hopefully it should heal satisfactorily. I don’t expect any problems as long as you follow the physiotherapy regimen that I intend to set you.”
“I wasn’t unconscious for eight days because of a few broken bones. My chest hurts like hell,” said Trip.
“Ah yes, I’m afraid I was saving the worst until last,” said Phlox. “You suffered a punctured lung due to several broken ribs and had extensive internal bleeding. I repaired the internal injuries, re-inflated the lung and set the ribs.”
“Thanks for fixing me up, Doc,” rasped Trip. “Wasn’t the Captain here? And Xy’an?”
“They were earlier,” supplied T’Pol. “Would you like me to get him?”
Trip was pretty sure that he had something to talk about with Archer but for the moment he couldn’t remember what it was. Apart from anything the discomfort that he had had been feeling a little earlier was turning into something more. He gave an involuntary wince as he drew breath in to talk. “Maybe later.”
“Do you need more pain medication, Commander?”
Trip didn’t like how pain medication usually made him feel, dozy and fuzzy, but it was often a necessary evil. However if he could avoid he would. “I’m fine.”
“We discussed your use of the word “fine” earlier,” said T’Pol. “I believe the Commander is in considerable pain.”
Trip glared at T’Pol, but at the same time wondered how she had picked up on just how bad he felt.
Phlox gave Trip a stern look. “I need you to be honest with me, Commander.”
“It hurts,” said Trip, “but, like you said, I had surgery and I’ve got, let’s see, six broken bones.”
“Eight,” corrected Phlox. “You forgot to count the ribs.” Trip shot him a cross look at being reminded about his further injuries and Phlox seemed to decide that discretion was the better part of valour. “I’ll get you some more pain medication.”
Trip was left alone with T’Pol for a moment.
“I am pleased to see that your condition is improving,” said T’Pol. “It is good to have you safely back on Enterprise.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t want to have the engines break down without the Chief Engineer being on board,” said Trip. He hadn’t meant to be so biting in his reply but he was tired and in pain. He figured that previous events gave him an excuse to be snappy, after all T’Pol hadn’t exactly gone out of her way to support his views to the Captain.
“That was not my primary concern.”
Trip knew that this was tantamount to T’Pol admitting that she had been worried about him. Vulcans weren’t supposed to worry but then Vulcans weren’t supposed to do a lot of things. T’Pol’s hand rested on the edge of the bed and Trip covered it with his own. T’Pol waited a minute and then gently withdrew it.
“This is not the right time. I should return to my duties.” T’Pol rose from her seat.
“You don’t have to go,” said Trip, his tone hopeful.
T’Pol hesitated and Trip was sure that he saw regret in her eyes. When she answered her voice was quiet but certain. “Yes, I do.”
With that she was gone, brushing the curtain around his biobed out of her path. Trip pushed back into his pillow. He and T’Pol obviously still had a lot to discuss, but perhaps she wasn’t as lost to him as he’d thought. Then again he could be reading her wrong. Why were things with T’Pol always so complicated? Trip put that thought to one side as Phlox returned with further pain medication. Whatever Phlox gave him, it was enough to make him sleepy again and he was fast asleep in less than hour, banishing all his musings about T’Pol to another day.
When he woke up again, Archer was back at his bedside.
Trip blinked the sleep out of his eyes. “What is it with you guys? You got a roster or something? Or does Phlox just com you when he thinks I’m waking up?”
Archer looked a bit sheepish. “Actually, we do have a roster. I’ve just relieved Malcolm.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Trip couldn’t hide the surprise he felt, as he tried to raise his head up so that he could look at Archer’s eyes and see if he was actually joking.
“You’ve been through a lot and I didn’t want you waking up alone.”
For a long moment Trip couldn’t believe what he was hearing. First T’Pol and now Archer, both telling him that they were concerned about him. Concerned about him as a person and not just as someone to get them to Thacker on time. Something had changed in his feelings towards Archer but he wasn’t sure why. It was as if a barrier had been removed from between them and they were almost back to the way things had been, but Trip still remembered everything that had happened and he wasn’t quite sure why he suddenly felt different about things.
“You want to help me sit up?” asked Trip.
“Don’t you think you should wait a bit?” asked Archer in reply, looking a little worried.
“I don’t think my insides are going to fall out if that’s what you mean.” Trip had been through this before with Archer. The Captain had a tendency to mother hen and believe that Trip was made of glass while he was recovering from whatever injury he had sustained. This had always amused Trip in the past since Archer hated to be fussed over when he was hurt. At the moment he wasn’t quite sure where he stood with him though and that made him uneasy. Was Archer just doing this because he felt sorry for him?
Trip started the painful process of sitting up. On reflection this had probably been a bad idea but he hated talking to people while lying down, and now he’d started he couldn’t give in. Archer stood to give him some help, placing a hand under one arm. Suddenly déjà vu hit him. It was as if they had been in this position before, very recently. Trip allowed his brain to search through his jumbled memories for a few long moments. Archer had been holding him up…out of the water. With a flash he remembered a room filling with water and Archer had been there with him, talking to him and keeping him above water. Unfortunately the shock of the flashback meant that he also lost his balance at the same time. Archer caught him before he could tumble off the biobed but it still pulled at his injuries. It took Trip a moment to regain his composure and balance.
“You okay?” asked Archer.
“Just give me a minute,” said Trip.
“Do you want to lie down again?”
“After all this effort? No thanks,” replied Trip. He rested his weight on his good arm and looked up at Archer. “Did you save me from drowning?”
“In a manner of speaking,” said Archer, raising the head of the bed so that Trip could lean back again.
“And what manner of speaking would that be?” asked Trip.
“You were unconscious at the time. Please tell me that this means that you remember at least some of our conversation.”
Trip thought back. “The year before I started at Starfleet OTC I spent the summer fixing engines on boats. One of them needed a shake down cruise and I volunteered to go along to keep an eye on some repairs that I’d made. A couple of hours in we started taking on water. I was down in the engine room at the time. The whole place started flooding and the hatch was stuck. I ended up taking a wrench to the hinges but by the time I was done, I was up to my neck in water. For a little while I really did think I might drown.”
“That’s where you were when I was…” Archer searched for the appropriate phrase, “in your head?”
“I think so. Metal room, lots of water, it’s just like I was back on that boat.” Trip gave a little shudder at the memory. “Somewhere to drown myself, because I thought nothing mattered anymore.”
“You know that isn’t true, don’t you?” said Archer.
Trip looked into Archer’s eyes and saw genuine concern. “Yeah, I know that now.”
“I apologised to Lieutenant Hess and got told off for taking you for granted. You’ve got a good Second there, Trip.”
“Hang on a second, you apologised to Hess? And she told you off? Did I hear that right?”
“I don’t know what’s more weird, that you apologised for something or that Hess told you off. You’re not reprimanding her for it, are you?”
Archer gave him an incredulous look.
“Right, of course not. This is the guy who let Malcolm call him, what was it? “Lax in discipline”?”
Archer smiled at his friend good-naturedly. “Cute, Trip, cute. At least she asked for permission to speak freely first.”
Trip gave him a tired grin in reply.
Archer paused before continuing. “Friends again?”
Trip lifted his hand to shake on it, and Archer grasped it. “Yeah, friends again.”
Enterprise reached Elthen II and despatched its passengers a week after they left Thacker. Enterprise was planning to stay a little while to help the newly formed colony get settled and it had already been agreed that they would be back in a few months to check on the settlers. More ships would be arriving later to bring the rest of the Thaisen from Thacker to Elthen II, and Enterprise itself would be making another round trip to pick up more Thaisen. Even by converting the cargo holds into living space they hadn’t been able to take even half of the Thaisen population on this run.
Xy’an was scheduled to be in one of the first groups to go down to the surface. Trip was still too ill to be allowed out of sickbay so Xy’an made the journey to E deck before heading for her shuttle.
“So I hear you’re all being taken down to your new home today,” said Trip. He sat propped up on pillows, looking pale and bruised, but otherwise on the mend. Despite Phlox’s best efforts to keep him quiet and shielded from ship’s business, he had too many visitors not to be well informed about what was going on.
“In shuttle relays,” confirmed Xy’an. “My own transport will leave in about half an hour.”
“Are you sure that you kids are going to be okay down there?” asked Trip. He knew that T’Pol had checked the world out thoroughly for any dangers before allowing them to go down. He had even read her reports himself trying to spot any omissions and found none, but he still worried. He somehow felt responsible for Xy’an and her people.
“We will be fine, Trip.” Xy’an added a mental echo. “We will be fine.” A picture of smiling elfin features accompanied the words. A sea of happy faces turned towards him in gratitude. “Without you and Enterprise we would still be slaves to the Thackerites.”
“You did most of it yourselves.”
“You put your life in danger for us. You protected us and gave us the courage to act. You are a hero to us and whatever happens, you will always be welcome on Elthen II.” Again a mental image accompanied her words and he knew that she was implying that his friends on Enterprise had not treated him as well as she would have expected. Xy’an saw him as someone special and talented, she couldn’t understand why he wasn’t treated that way by everyone. “You could stay with us here, if you wanted.”
“I can’t leave Enterprise. The Captain and I are just starting to sort things out between us and he needs me here. Besides, it wouldn’t be right for me to barge in on your new home. You need time to get settled in and make it your own before people like me start interfering.”
“You wouldn’t be interfering,” said Xy’an, but they both knew this was where they parted ways. “But you are right, you are needed here on Enterprise. You should not underestimate just how important you are to people here. I saw Jonathan Archer’s mind and he has great respect for you, as does T’Pol.”
Trip gaped for a moment. “You read T’Pol’s mind?”
“She broadcasts,” explained Xy’an. “I assume that Vulcans are telepathic to some degree.”
“They’re supposed to be touch telepaths,” said Trip. His curiosity got the better of him. “Did you get anything else from T’Pol?”
Xy’an put her head to one side, her shining black hair catching the light. “If she has not told you herself then I don’t think I should say anything more. Her thoughts are her own.”
Trip nodded. Invading T’Pol’s thoughts would be worse than reading her mail, and that had got him into enough trouble.
“I should go,” said Xy’an. “There are many children to be taken down to the surface and some of them are considerably younger than me. Everyone is excited and a little scared.”
“I understand. You have to be there for them.” Trip felt a little awkward, he had no idea what the traditional gesture of farewell was for the Thaisen or if they even had one. Xy’an had spoken a little of how the children tried to keep the culture of their people alive amongst themselves but it had been a struggle with the Thackerites beating them for any transgression. Xy’an seemed to understand his thoughts and lent over the biobed and gently hugged him, being careful of his damaged ribs.
Trip allowed a smile to tug at the corners of his mouth. “Goodbye, Xy’an.”
He watched the small figure as she walked through sickbay and out of the double doors, and as she left, he felt her touch his mind for what he knew, inexplicably, would be the last time.
“Remember, without you, we would not be free.”
Eight broken bones took quite a while to heal, and Trip had never been good at lying still, even when he wasn’t feeling well. His bruises were now fading to a rather sickly yellow and green, which left his skin looking slightly mottled, but he was feeling his injuries less and less every day. He did still have both legs and one arm in plastic casts which made moving around a bit difficult, but in general things were looking up. Despite frequent visits by many members of the crew Trip found himself to be utterly bored. Unfortunately for Phlox, a bored engineer meant trouble.
The doctor had been getting more and more exasperated with Trip’s requests to be released from sickbay. The final straw had been when he had returned from tending to one of his last Tauran flu patients and found pieces of a medical scanner scattered all over Trip’s bed while the Commander tried to track down an intermittent fault that Phlox had made the mistake of complaining about earlier. Phlox wouldn’t normally have minded, after all anything that kept his patient occupied was good, but this particular scanner was the only one he had brought with him from Denobula. Trip did put it back together again but it had taken him a full day during which Phlox had been without his favourite scanner. Insult was added to injury when a visiting Hess had offered to help and Trip told her to leave it to him. Trip was, of course, working one handed due to having his other hand splinted up and therefore taking twice as long as anyone else would have done. Not surprisingly, Phlox didn’t leave any more electronic devices lying within Trip’s reach.
After that he had begun to operate a day release plan. This involved getting Trip settled into a motorised wheelchair and sending him out with a chaperone, usually to the mess hall for some food. The task of chaperone had mostly fallen to Lieutenant Reed, although occasionally Captain Archer took it on. They were apparently the only two people who Phlox thought could handle a wayward Chief Engineer. Trip had been very annoyed to discover that firstly his chaperone wouldn’t let him anywhere near Engineering, secondly that, when he was able to slip away from said chaperone, he couldn’t get his wheelchair over the lip of the hatchway into Main Engineering, and thirdly his staff had been ordered not to help him. In fact the last time he’d turned up down there Hess had shopped him to Phlox, and she was so going to pay for that when he was back on duty. This all meant that mostly Trip spent his time reading or watching movies, although even he admitted that he was still sleeping a lot. Today, Trip had other ideas.
“This really isn’t a good idea, Trip,” said Reed. “If Phlox catches us we’ll never hear the end of it.”
“Where’s your sense of fun, Malcolm,” replied Trip.
“I lost it when I remembered that I’m due my annual medical next week,” replied Reed. “I would have thought that someone with as many broken bones as you wouldn’t want to annoy their doctor any more than they already have.”
Archer entered sickbay just as Trip was about to reply. “See, the Captain’s up for it. Phlox can’t get mad at us if the Captain’s involved.”
“You invited the Captain?” asked Reed in a whisper, half shocked and half horrified. To be honest, he didn’t think the Captain’s presence would save them from Phlox’s wrath.
“It wouldn’t be as much fun with just the two of us,” Trip pointed out.
“Is the coast clear?” asked Archer, as he approached Trip and Reed.
“Phlox is out for lunch with Liz Cutler,” said Trip. “We’ve got at least an hour.”
“So, where are they?” asked Archer, obviously very enthusiastic about the whole thing.
“In their usual place, the storage compartment opposite sickbay,” said Trip.
“What are we waiting for then?” asked Archer, “let’s go and test them out.”
Archer made for the doors, Trip following in his wheelchair and Reed traipsed behind them. Archer got to the storage compartment first and heaved open the door. He and Reed pulled out the items that they had come for, two more motorised wheelchairs. While they were doing that, Trip had flipped open the covering on the control box of his own wheelchair and was making some minor adjustments. He snapped the box shut with a triumphant click.
“There, all ready to go,” said Trip, with a grin.
“How did you ever find time to do this?” asked Reed.
“Phlox can’t watch me all the time. Besides it may come in handy to have three turbo powered motorised wheelchairs at some point, you never know,” said Trip.
“Yes, when the Romulans unleash their dreaded wheelchair attack we’ll be ahead in the arms race,” said Reed, sarcastically.
“Gentlemen, when you’re quite finished, we have a race to get started,” said Archer, positioning one of the chairs and sitting down. He began experimenting with the controls to see how they worked. Trip was also testing out his modifications and was already halfway down the corridor.
“What if one of the crew sees us?” asked Reed.
“We’re in the middle of the shift, everyone’s either at lunch or at work,” said Archer. “It’ll be fine, Malcolm, and Trip really needs the distraction.”
Reed knew that all too well. He had been the one who’d had to explain to Trip that, no, he wasn’t allowed to check on the warp engine, or anything else related to Engineering, and that included getting Hess to sneak him status reports. It also meant that he wasn’t allowed to threaten members of his staff with cleaning the plasma conduits if they didn’t bring him hourly updates on how repairs were going. When Phlox said Trip should have complete rest for at least another week, he meant it. Unfortunately for everyone, Trip didn’t seem to know the meaning of the word rest.
Reed rolled his eyes and gave an exasperated sigh. “I still don’t know how he managed to talk me into this.”
“The same way he always does,” said Archer, with a grin, “by appealing to your inner child.”
“Are you guys going to stand there all day?” asked Trip, returning in his own wheelchair.
“My apologies, Commander,” said Reed, amusement in his tone. He got the other wheelchair into place, and Archer and Trip lined up beside him.
“Okay, when I say go,” said Archer. “The course is down to the end of the next bulkhead.”
Both Reed and Trip nodded, their hands poised on the controls.
“Ready, set, go!” shouted Archer, and the three wheelchairs set off at an impressive pace, considerably faster than they were designed to go. It still wasn’t terribly fast however and Archer was taking advantage of this to cheat by pushing Reed off course with an outstretched hand. Reed was doing his best to fend him off with his own flailing arms. The racing wheelchair tilted slightly before Reed was able to rebalance it, but he had lost valuable seconds that had let Archer and Trip move past him. The manoeuvre had also cost Archer some time as well though. Trip edged slightly ahead and crossed the finish line first.
“Yeeha!” Trip punched the air in victory, and then remembered why sudden movement was still currently a very bad idea as he jarred his healing ribs.
“Trip, are you okay?” asked Archer, seeing the flash of pain cross his friend’s face.
Trip waved him off, but he was still breathing heavily. “I’ll be fine in a second.” He moved his hand to brace his side where the incision for the chest tube had been made. It still twinged and pulled when he moved wrong, but it was healing, along with the scars on his back. A week in a coma meant that the injuries he had sustained in the Thackerite prison were already much better by the time he woke up. Phlox had promised to do something about his scars but they’d never be gone completely, and he was beginning to consider just keeping them. The whole experience was part of his memory now and getting rid of the scars wouldn’t make it go away.
“I knew that this was a bad idea,” said Reed.
“Nah, let’s race back again,” said Trip.
“Don’t you think we should quit while we’re ahead?” suggested Archer.
“Awe, come on, one more go,” Trip pleaded.
Archer shook his head indulgently. “I suppose one more go won’t hurt, but after that you need to get back to sickbay.”
“Deal,” said Trip.
They set up again, facing back the way they had come, Trip in the middle this time, so that there would be no cheating. It was very hard with one arm in a sling to push someone and drive at the same time, and Trip’s injuries obviously precluded any pushing from his friends.
“Go!” shouted Archer and the three of them set off at top speed back down the corridor towards the sickbay doors.
Reed was ahead when there was a sudden bang and blue smoke began to escape from the control box on his wheelchair.
“Bloody hell,” Reed coughed as his wheelchair slowed and then came to a halt.
“Uh oh,” said Trip, pulling up beside Reed. “Phlox is not going to be happy.”
Which of course was the moment that the doctor to chose to return from lunch early. Three pairs of eyes turned towards him, all looking as if they had just been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
“Commander, Captain, Lieutenant, what is going on here?” Phlox sounded rather annoyed.
“I thought you said an hour,” whispered Archer to Trip, before turning to Phlox. “We just thought that Trip needed a bit of cheering up.”
“Cheering the Commander up is one thing, Captain, but I fail to see why three wheelchairs are required. It appears that you have also managed to break one of them.”
The broken wheelchair flew a few more sparks out to accentuate the point. The three men continued to look uncomfortable.
“It was just a bit of fun, Doc,” said Trip.
“These are not toys, Commander. What did you do to them?”
“I removed the speed limiters,” said Trip, guiltily. “I guess it overloaded the circuit.”
“I’m sure that Trip can put the limiters back in and repair the damage,” said Archer.
“Commander Tucker shouldn’t even be out of bed,” pointed out Phlox. “I did not provide you with a wheelchair so that you could carry on in this way. We agreed that you would be allowed out of sickbay for limited periods.”
“Well, what do you expect, Doc? I’m bored out of my skull,” said Trip, heatedly.
Phlox looked as if he was getting more and more angry. “Let’s get these put away and you back to bed, Trip,” said Archer. Reed decided to help defuse the situation and began to put the two extra wheelchairs back in the storage compartment.
“Bed?” asked Trip. He crossed his arms over his chest as best he could, but gave up when he realised it was going to cause him more pain than the gesture was worth. “I’m not going anywhere. I want out.”
“We have had this conversation several times before,” said Phlox. “You are not leaving sickbay until I am ready to discharge you. You had major surgery less than two weeks ago.”
“Yes, and I’m feeling better.”
“Trip…” began Archer.
“Whatever you’re going to say, I don’t want to hear it,” said Trip.
“Well, you’re going to anyway,” said Archer. “Do I have to remind you what you’ve been through in the last three weeks? You were accused of murder, beaten up, flogged, and nearly buried alive. Which might not be so bad if you were in good shape to begin with.”
“The Captain is right, Trip,” said Malcolm. “You need to listen to Phlox.”
Trip sighed. “Great, you’re all ganging up on me.”
Archer took the handlebars of Trip’s wheelchair and pushed him back into sickbay. “Sorry, Trip, but it’s for your own good.”
“And it’s only until tomorrow,” said Phlox.
“Tomorrow?” asked Trip, in surprise. “I thought you said another few days at least.”
“I think this has shown that you are indeed ready to return to your quarters, as long as you make me some promises. I am not completely unaware of your feelings, Commander and you have proved that you are reasonably mobile without assistance.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you for the last three days, Doc.” Trip smiled as Archer and Phlox helped him back into bed. He didn’t like to admit that the doctor was right, but he was tired and maybe another day wouldn’t hurt. His ribs and side were aching fiercely after his earlier exertion. He lay back and settled himself against the pillows.
“I’ll come by tomorrow, Trip, to take you back to your quarters and make sure you’re settled in,” said Archer.
“You don’t need to do that,” said Trip.
“I know. I want to.”
“Okay then, I guess I can stand to be fussed over a little,” said Trip.
Reed approached the biobed. “I’ve stowed the wheelchairs and let Lieutenant Hess know that one of them needs some repairs.”
“She’s never going to let me live this one down,” said Trip.
“Perhaps you should have thought of that before modifying them,” said Phlox, but there was no anger in his voice this time. “Now I think everyone should leave and let the Commander rest.”
Archer nodded. “See you tomorrow, Trip.”
Trip gave a half hearted wave as Reed and Archer left sickbay. Tomorrow was going to be hard work. He’d already done a lot of work to get this far in his recovery but that was only the start. He still had weeks before the casts came off and then lots of hard physiotherapy sessions. He was under no illusions that being back in his quarters was going to be easy, at least until he was more mobile. For the moment though he could rest and know that his friends were there when he needed them, even if that meant incurring the wrath of their resident physician. Trip closed his eyes and fell asleep dreaming of perfectly functioning warp engines.
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