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"Walk in the Dark"
By Drogna

Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Enterprise doesnít belong to me, if it did then I wouldnít have cancelled it after only four series.
Description: Trip gets some bad news, but decides to deal with it on his own. Unfortunately the problems that this causes donít just affect him. All of which is only the beginning of a hard road for Trip.

Author's Note: This is set post season four. I really donít know where Iím going with this.


“Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens. But let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.” – J.R.R.Tolkien

****

Doctor Phlox had been extremely busy for the past couple of weeks. It was time for Enterprise’s routine crew physicals, which were mandatory for all personnel. He was beginning to tire of conducting the same tests eighty plus times, which was why when Commander Tucker walked into sick bay at the scheduled time he was extremely pleased to see him. It wasn’t because he was particularly happy to see Tucker himself who was almost as difficult a patient as Lieutenant Reed, but because he knew it signalled he was nearing the end of the physicals. T for Tucker meant he only had Ensign Vikram, Crewman Webster, Lieutenant Whittaker and Crewman Zusky to go.

Jovially he performed the required tests and then ushered the Commander onto the scanner bed. He initiated the required scan sequence, humming to himself as he did so. He was so happy to be nearing the end of the seemingly endless round of physicals that he was almost operating on auto-pilot and nearly missed it. Nearly. His discovery very quickly sobered his mood. He double checked but there had been no mistake. The scan alone wasn’t enough to make a conclusive diagnosis though. The scanner’s chamber opened and the bed bearing Trip slid out.

“Well, Doc, everything still in the right place?” asked Trip, cheerfully. Then he saw the Denobulan’s face. “What is it?” he asked.

“It may be nothing, but I’d like to take a blood sample just to be sure. I noticed a small anomaly on your scan,” said Phlox.

“An anomaly?” asked Trip.

“It probably isn’t anything to worry about. Let me take the blood sample and do some tests,” replied Phlox.

“Okay,” sighed Trip and held out his arm. Phlox took out a hypo and located a suitable vein to take a blood sample from.

“Why don’t you get dressed while I analyse this and then we can go over the results,” said Phlox.

Trip nodded and went to find his clothes while Phlox moved to the microscope. He prayed fervently that he had been incorrect and the blood sample would prove him wrong, however in his logical centre he knew that was very unlikely. Trip emerged a few moments later, zipping up his uniform.

“So what’s the verdict?” asked Trip, worriedly.

Phlox told him what he’d found and waited for the inevitable emotional display. It didn’t come however, Commander Tucker just stood in front of him looking serious.

“You’re sure?” he asked.

“Absolutely, I ran the test twice to be certain.”

“How long?” Trip asked.

“I don’t expect any symptoms will begin showing for several months. It’s impossible to say how long it will be after that before you become too ill to work. Some people have lived for years with this disease. I can probably give you drugs to alleviate some of the symptoms but, as you know, there is currently no cure,” said Phlox. “Although there is a lot of research into possible therapies that may help. We’ve caught this early so there’s time for medical science to come up with something yet.”

Trip just nodded.

“Commander, you are going to need some time to adjust to this development. You are also going to need to talk to someone about it. I’d like your permission to tell the Captain about my diagnosis,” said Phlox.

“What?” asked Trip as if he hadn’t really been listening. Then his brain seemed to catch up with what Phlox had said. “No, I don’t want anyone to know, especially not the Captain. Have everyone tiptoeing around me like I’m made of glass or something, I don’t think I could take that.” Trip could just imagine what would happen, the Captain would never send him on another away mission again. He might even have his department taken away from him.

“You will have to tell them at some point,” said Phlox.

“Not until I have to,” said Trip.

“It is up to you who you tell but I strongly advise against keeping this to yourself. You will need the support of your family and friends through what could be a difficult time. You should at least consider informing your parents,” said Phlox.

“No, it’s too soon after Lizzie. They’ve lost their daughter, I can’t tell them that they’re losing a son as well,” said Trip. “They’ll have to know eventually but they need time.”

“Very well,” said Phlox with resignation. “I am here if you need someone to talk to. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you begin to experience any symptoms, at least I can do something about that. I will want to see you once a month from now onwards so that I can monitor your condition. Remember that the better care you take of yourself the more likely you are to be able to fight this for a prolonged period.”

Trip nodded again. “Thanks Doc. Send me a reminder when its time for me to come by again.” With that he walked out of sick bay, as if nothing was wrong.

Phlox turned back to his microscope and felt his heart break. It seemed so unfair, but then when was terminal illness ever fair, especially in one so young. He worried that the Commander wasn’t seeking the help of his friends and that he couldn’t cope with this alone, but it was his decision how he dealt with this at the end of the day.

****

Trip walked down the corridor towards his quarters. He was due back in Engineering but he needed a moment to himself before he faced his team. Despite the front he’d put up for Phlox, the diagnosis had affected him deeply. He needed time to absorb what he’d just been told, although he suspected that there wasn’t enough time in the world to really take it in. They all knew he was away for his annual physical so he had a little time. He found himself wandering towards the observation lounge which he knew would be empty at the moment.

He stared out at the stars, trying to collect his thoughts. Phlox had said several months before symptoms began to show and even then it might be longer before he’d need to leave Enterprise. Trip reckoned that gave him at least a year to get himself organised. He’d need an alternative posting to Enterprise and he’d have to make sure that no one found out in that time, otherwise he’d never be able to get away quietly. He had a few favours owing to him and he was fairly certain that he could arrange a transfer without Archer knowing until the last minute. It had been easy enough with Columbia. He wouldn’t be able to stand his friends watching him decline.

It was all so damn unfair. He should have had a long career ahead of him as Enterprise’s Chief Engineer and instead it was going to be cut short. He hit his fist on the bulkhead beside him in frustration. He wondered why he hadn’t broken down, sobbing, in front of Phlox. Wasn’t that what people diagnosed with terminal illnesses were supposed to do? Instead he felt angry and all he could do was think about everything that he’d be missing. He took a deep breath and tried to pull himself together. He had to focus on the positive, otherwise he knew he’d drown in self pity and regrets.

He’d faced death so many times in the last few years that he’d lost count, but it had usually been sudden and unexpected with very little time to think about what was happening. And there had always been the hope that it would work out. Trip knew only a little of the history of the disease that he’d been diagnosed with, although he would definitely be finding out more as soon as he could find the time. The first rule of any battle, as Malcolm had told him on numerous occasions, was know thy enemy, and he sure as hell wasn’t going down without a fight. However he knew that they hadn’t found a cure in the last twenty years and he doubted that they would find it in the next twenty years. Certainly it wouldn’t be in time to help him.

For the moment he’d make the most of his time on Enterprise.

He stayed a couple more minutes in the observation lounge before he made his way back to Engineering. He stepped through the hatch and was greeted by a smiling Lieutenant Hess.

“Physical go okay, sir?” asked his Second in Command.

“Yes, thanks, Anna. Did we get those flow regulators un-jammed?” he asked, smiling in return at the Lieutenant, and it was like everything was back to normal.

****

Life for Trip seemed to be pretty normal for the next few months. He did his best to forget about Phlox’s diagnosis and get on with being Chief Engineer of Earth’s first warp five starship. Trip almost allowed himself to believe that the Doctor’s diagnosis was wrong when nothing immediately happened to him. He had been seeing Phlox once a month now for some time and so far his health had remained constant. He knew deep down that it wouldn’t last but he allowed himself to hope that it would be a long time before he started to become symptomatic. He was aware that in a few rare cases it was years before symptoms began to show.

Of course it didn’t last, as he’d known it couldn’t, but it was nearly a full six months before the symptoms began to show.

At first he ignored it. There was a faint tremor in his left hand, that only really became annoying when he was doing fine work that he needed both hands for. Occasionally his muscles in the same hand would spasm a little. He put it down to tiredness, he’d been pulling long shifts in Engineering and skipping the occasional meal. It could have been low blood sugar. It didn’t get better though, even after he’d had a good night’s sleep and seemed to worsen when he became tired. He’d read all the information that Phlox had given him and he knew that this could be an early symptom, probably was exactly that, and it scared him to death. So he continued to ignore it, hoping that it would go away, but at the same time knowing that it wouldn’t.

Until now it hadn’t been a reality. It had been something that he could pretend wasn’t happening to him. He hadn’t even taken Phlox’s advice when it came to cutting back his hours and eating more healthily. He was wondering if he should have done now, maybe he could have prolonged the onset of symptoms some more, but it was too late now to do anything about it.

He found excuses not to go back to the doctor, because he knew that when he did go to see Phlox he’d have to acknowledge the reality that he’d entered the symptomatic phase. Eventually he ran out of excuses but since he already knew what was causing the tremor, he decided that seeing Phlox wasn’t urgent. He’d discuss it next week when he went in for his usual monthly check up. By the time he’d gone through all his excuses and reasons for not seeing the doctor it had already been there for a week without causing him any extra difficulties, so he went to his shift in Engineering as usual. An hour later he found himself in sickbay with a second degree electrical burn after his shaking hand had knocked a circuit that was still live. He couldn’t hide the tremor from Phlox as he treated the burn.

“If you’re going to hide your symptoms from me then I can’t treat you,” said Phlox quietly, as he tended to the wound. Phlox being quiet was never a good sign.

“I just figured that I knew what was causing it and there wasn’t any reason to bother you with it before my check-up next week,” said Trip, sucking air through his teeth as Phlox applied antiseptic and healing cream.

“If I am going to help you then I need you to give me all the information that you have. I can treat your symptoms even if we can’t cure the disease. I still think you should talk to someone about this, you can’t do this alone,” said Phlox.

“I talk to you,” said Trip.

“We discuss the medical aspects of your case, which isn’t what I meant. I was thinking about the senior staff.”

“No, they’ve all got enough to worry about,” said Trip.

“Have you considered that maybe they would like to help you?” asked Phlox. “We are your friends. At least tell the Captain.”

“Yeah, I’m sure the Captain’s going to love watching me get more and more sick until I have to be discharged on disability,” said Trip, sarcasm dripping from his tone. “I’m not telling anyone, until I have to. Especially not the Captain.”

“You can’t hide this forever. They will find out eventually whether you want them to or not.”

“Maybe. Just let me do this my way, Doc.”

Phlox sighed and picked up a hypospray that he then injected Trip with. He then handed Trip some hypospray cartridges full of a blue liquid.

“What’s this?” asked Trip.

“It’s to counteract the tremors and muscle spasms,” said Phlox. “Take it every morning.” Phlox set the hypospray so that it would deliver the correct dosage and handed it to Trip. “No more hiding symptoms.”

Trip nodded. “Thanks, Doc,” he said and hopped off the biobed.

Phlox shook his head as he watched the Commander leave and turned back to his lab bench. He was currently reviewing all the possible research that was available on the Commander’s condition in the hopes that he could find some way of helping his patient. Unfortunately, at the moment there seemed to be very little progress being made in the field, which was extremely dispiriting for those caring for victims of the disease. Phlox did intend to begin his own lines of research and he hoped that eventually he might be able to find a cure, but at the moment that possibility seemed a long way off.

****

Ensign Sato handed Captain Archer the accident log for that week. It was procedure that the Captain always signed off on the accident log. Health and safety on board the ship was a very serious business and the accident log was a good way of making sure that any potential problems were brought to the Captain’s attention.

He scanned the entries. Engineering usually had more than its fair share of injuries as it was probably the most physically demanding area to work in, with a corresponding amount of potential accidents. Trip was, however, usually extremely strict when it came to his people following safety precautions. He’d once seen the Commander bawl out a junior officer for forgetting to put on safety goggles whilst using a plasma torch for a five second burst. Generally speaking, Trip had already dealt with any safety issues in Engineering before they ever reached the Captain.

He spotted Trip’s name on the list and noted that he’d burnt his hand on an open circuit. He’d already teased Trip at dinner a couple of days ago about that and the bizarre slime that Phlox liked to put on electrical burns. What caught his eye however was that it wasn’t the only time Trip’s name appeared. He’d also gashed his hand on a conduit casing and given himself another small electrical burn.

“Hoshi, is this right? It’s not a duplicate entry?” asked Archer.

“Yes, sir, it’s correct. I called Lieutenant Hess to make sure. I guess the Commander is just having a bad week,” said Hoshi.

“Even in a bad week he shouldn’t burn his hand twice,” said Archer. “I wonder if there’s a problem with those circuits.”

Across the bridge Reed looked up and raised an eyebrow. “He’s been working on the Armoury EPS grid this week, sir. I’m sure he would have alerted me to any particular difficulties.”

“Maybe he is just having a bad week,” said Archer.

“I don’t know if it’s just my imagination, but he has seemed a little distracted lately,” said Reed.

“I noticed that too,” said Hoshi.

“With these new phase cannons being installed he has had a lot of work to do,” said Reed.

“He’s been eating alone more recently. Chef says he gets meals sent to his quarters a lot.” said Mayweather, from the helm.

“That’s not like him,” said Hoshi.

Archer settled back in his chair in contemplation. “I wonder if something’s bothering him.”

“He’d never tell us if there was,” said Reed. After Trip’s sister had been killed it had been months before he’d been ready to talk to anyone.

“Maybe that’s just because no one’s offered to listen,” said Archer. “Hoshi, did we get any football matches in the last message packet?”

“Actually I was going to drop a data chip to Commander Tucker after my shift. Miami Dolphins versus New York Jets,” smiled Hoshi.

“Perfect,” said Archer, returning the grin.

It took most of the rest of that day between his other duties for Archer to track down Trip. He was well within the bowels of the ship in a Jeffries tube that was about as far away from main engineering as it was possible to get. Apparently he was working on something to do with the EPS grid for the Armoury but Archer wasn’t sure how this part of the ship connected to the Armoury.

“Hey, Captain,” said Trip, when Archer made his presence known, mainly from his inept scrabbling along the tight crawlspace. He knew there was a good reason why he’d chosen pilot over Engineer. “What can I do for you? Got to be pretty important to get you down here.”

“Haven’t seen you for a couple of days. You wouldn’t think that on a ship this size it would be possible not to cross paths with someone, but it seems to be. Either that or you’re avoiding me.”

“I’m not avoiding you, I’ve just been busy.” Trip continued working as he talked.

“Malcolm said that the new phase cannons have been giving you trouble,” said Archer.

“Not trouble, just a lot of extra work.” Trip carefully connected two wires and soldered them securely together.

“Think you could take a night off to keep me company. It’s lonely at the top you know.”

Trip broke off and grinned at his Captain. “Lonely at the top? When you start spouting clichés like that I know you’ve got something up your sleeve.”

“Okay you got me. Hoshi got the latest message packet from Earth.” Archer flashed the top of a data chip in his pocket at Trip. “Miami Dolphins versus New York Jets.”

“Your home state versus mine? That’s going to be a grudge match, are you sure you’re up to it? Especially ‘cause I can tell you now that Miami will be trouncing your sorry New York butts.”

“That’s not how it played out last time, Commander,” said Archer, teasingly.

“A low spot in an otherwise great season,” said Trip, turning back to his circuits.

“So we’re on for tonight then?” asked Archer.

Suddenly it was as if Trip remembered something and his expression changed. “I don’t know, I’ve got a lot on.”

“Malcolm said that you’re ahead on the installation.”

“Yeah, well Malcolm isn’t the one that’s coping with the Engineering side of this,” said Trip. “He doesn’t have to check the hundreds of EPS relays to make sure they’re linked up properly and that they aren’t going to overload under the pressure.”

“Woah there. The boss is offering you the night off. Am I going to have to make this an order?”

“Captain, I’d really prefer to get this finished,” said Trip.

“I’m beginning to see how you ended up with that burn on your hand. You’re working too hard, Trip. You need a break and you’re going to take one, even if I have to drag you out of this Jeffries tube.”

Trip sighed. “Okay, you win. Miami Dolphins versus the Jets it is.”

“I’ll see you in the Captain’s Mess for dinner and then we can go back to my quarters to watch the game.” Archer said as he moved away down the Jeffries tube, pleased that he’d gained a victory.

Unfortunately Trip wasn’t so happy about spending the evening with his Captain. Archer would undoubtedly want to know how he was, and then he’d have to lie and Trip was a bad liar. The Captain always knew when he was being less than truthful as well. He contemplated trying to get out of it, but he hit the same problem, Archer would know that he was lying. That would lead to more awkward questions that Trip didn’t want to answer. The easiest thing for him to do was go along and pretend that nothing was wrong. It had worked so far.

****

“I swear that last play was straight out of the text books,” said Trip, lifting his beer bottle to his lips.

“As much as I hate to say it, your guys are on form this season,” said Archer, he was smarting from the loss but he was pleased to see Trip smiling. That was something his friend hadn’t been doing much these past couple of months.

“Well you gave us a run for our money,” replied Trip. He drained the dregs from his beer bottle. “Anyway, I guess I should get going. Got a long shift ahead of me tomorrow.”

“You can stay for another beer,” said Archer, already opening another and passing it to Trip.

Trip couldn’t exactly argue now that he had the beer in his hand.

“We haven’t had much chance to talk lately and you’ve kind of seemed down lately,” said Archer.

Damn, busted, thought Trip, but he decided to bluff it out. “I’m fine. Just been a bit tired lately and I got a letter from home. It would have been Lizzie’s birthday next week.”

Archer nodded in understanding, pleased that he’d worked out what was bothering Trip. His sister had been very important to him and her birthday would just remind him how much he missed her. It would certainly explain why Trip hadn’t felt much like socialising lately, but, if that was the explanation, why was it that Archer felt there was more to this.

“How are your parents doing?” asked Archer.

“Pretty good, I guess. It’s been two years now and they’re coming to terms with it.”

“Are you coming to terms with it?” asked Archer.

Trip thought about it for a second. “Yes, I suppose I am.”

Archer suddenly had an overwhelming feeling that Trip wasn’t just talking about his sister’s death.

****

Phlox’s medicine was keeping the symptoms at bay and Trip’s life continued as it had before his diagnosis. When he remembered to take his medicine he was fine, but if he forgot then the tremors returned. It wouldn’t have mattered but the tremors often resulted in some sort of injury, steady hands were useful in Engineering. Phlox had already noted that he was spending too much time in sick bay due to forgetting to take his medicine and Trip had promised to be more conscientious about it. He was sure that his crew had noticed that he was becoming more clumsy and he knew he’d give himself away if he wasn’t more careful. After Archer’s attempt to find out what was wrong, he was sure that his friends had realised that something was different.

He wondered if he forgot to take the medicine because his subconscious didn’t want to believe that he was sick, it was certainly a possibility. Half the time he consciously didn’t want to believe he was sick and taking medicine just reminded him of what was going to happen to him. Or maybe it was because he didn’t want to leave the hypospray out in plain sight in case someone came into his quarters and saw it or asked him about it. As it was shut away in the bathroom cabinet he didn’t have a visual reminder to take it. However his new resolve not to end up in sickbay went a long way to making sure that he got into a routine in the mornings of have shower, brush teeth, take medicine.

Of course the one day for several weeks that he’d forgotten again, was the day that they arrived at Colchis. He remembered just as he entered Engineering but he was already five minutes late for his staff meeting so he couldn’t spare the time to go back to his quarters. He’d only been running late in the first place because he’d been so tired the night before that he’d fallen into bed and forgotten to set his alarm. He found he’d been getting more tired recently but he’d shrugged it off, they’d been busy lately.

He held the staff meeting, briefing his team on their latest mission and what to expect, but was interrupted by the com calling him to the bridge. They had arrived at Colchis and Trip was needed to go play diplomat. He decided that he could divert to his cabin to pick up his hypospray on the way to the shuttle bay. He wasn’t sure how long they were going to be on Colchis for and he needed to be prepared. It would undo all his work if the Captain found his condition out because Trip got the shakes on an away mission. So far he’d always been able to pass it off as low blood sugar on the few occasions that people had caught him out.

It was only Archer and Trip who would be going down to the planet. The Colchans were a jumpy race and had stipulated that only two people would be allowed to visit and negotiate the trade agreement. The trade agreement was the main reason that Enterprise and Trip were at Colchis, which was otherwise a fairly unremarkable planet. Colchis was a hub for the dilithium trade. Dilithium was a crystalline substance used to focus energy in the warp engine and therefore part of Trip’s area of expertise.

Trip was there to verify the quality of the crystals, their worth and exactly how much Starfleet would be needing, and Archer was there to negotiate the deal. In actuality any of Enterprise’s engineers or scientists could have done Trip’s job in this partnership, but it sounded more impressive when Archer introduced him as his Chief Engineer. Trip also had a sneaking suspicion that Archer had been trying to get him off the ship so that they could continue their heart to heart, which was of course the last thing that he wanted to do, but he couldn’t exactly refuse to go or Archer would have wanted to know why.

Trip rapidly packed an overnight bag, shoved his hypospray of medication into his pocket and set off towards the shuttle bay. He met Archer there, who was giving T’Pol some last micro-management instructions which she was taking good naturedly. She bid goodbye to them and left to resume her duties, while Archer climbed into the pilot’s seat and Trip secured the hatch.

The journey down to the planet was uneventful and they arrived in plenty of time for their rendezvous with the Colchan Trade Minister. The formal greetings were completed pleasantly and everything seemed to be going well as they were taken into the official residence of the minister. At that point the Colchans insisted that the humans be searched before they could be allowed into the inner sanctum of the official residence. Archer protested that it smacked of distrust but the Colchans refused to back down. Archer knew that they weren’t carrying any weapons so had no real reason not to submit to the search. He lodged his formal protest and allowed the search to go ahead.

They searched Archer and found nothing of note, only padds which contained his crib sheet for the trade negotiations. Trip was searched as well and after emptying his pockets, not an easy task given what was in his pockets, they found the hypospray filled with his medication. Archer hadn’t really been paying attention to what was going on, so when a commotion erupted and the Colchans suddenly became very angry, Archer had no idea why. Trip was trying to explain something to the Colchans but he was having a hard time making himself heard.

The Colchans drew their weapons and fired on the two humans, which was when everything went black.

****End of Chapter One****

Archer awoke from the stun they had received and was surprised to find Trip was still out cold. Trip was younger and generally fit, it should have been him who was awake first. Instead Archer waited a little over half an hour before Trip stirred and then painfully levered himself up off the floor with a groan.

“What happened?” he asked, groggily.

“The Colchans weren’t as friendly as we thought,” replied Archer, who was feeling around the door frame to see if he could spot anything which might give them a way out. “Are you okay? You were out a while.”

Archer saw wheels turning behind Trip’s eyes before he answered, and he immediately knew that his friend was hiding something from him.

“Been working hard lately,” supplied Trip. “Guess I needed the rest.”

He gave Archer one of his best smiles, the kind he reserved as a distraction from what he’d just said. Archer wasn’t fooled for a moment but he didn’t have time to pursue the line of questioning. The door to the room opened and two Colchans came in bearing weapons.

They indicated to Archer and Trip that they wanted them out of the room without a single word being spoken. Since both humans knew better than to tackle two armed guards they made their way out into the corridor, guns at their backs. Archer exchanged a brief look with Trip which he hoped the Engineer recognised as “don’t do anything foolish”. They were ushered into another room a little further down the corridor and on the table was their equipment. Two communicators, their Universal Translator, padds, Trip’s scanner and a hypospray filled with a blue liquid that Archer hadn’t seen before.

“Which one?” asked an official looking Colchan.

“This one,” said one of the guards and gave Trip a push forward. “The Engineer.”

“Who sent you?” asked the official.

Trip looked baffled. “You know who sent us. We come from Earth.”

“You’re carrying poison. You’re obviously here to assassinate one of our officials. Probably the Trade Minister.” The official picked up the hypospray and waved it at Trip.

“No,” said Trip. “You don’t understand. It’s not poison, it’s medicine.”

The Colchan struck Trip across the face. Archer made to stop the Colchan but was prevented by the guards holding him back.

“Do you take me for a fool. Tell me the truth,” said the official.

“That is the truth,” said Trip and was hit once again and this time the guard helped. Trip fell to his knees.

“He’s telling the truth,” said Archer. Even though he had no idea what was in the hypospray, he was certain that Trip wasn’t lying. He would have no reason to poison the Colchans, they’d only just met. “Call our doctor. He’s Denobulan. He can verify it. Our physiology isn’t the same as yours.”

The Colchans didn’t seem to believe Archer anymore than they had believed Trip. One of the guards held Trip while another Colchan beat him every time he answered their questions with something that they didn’t like. Only when Trip was unconscious did they give up their interrogation and return them to their cell. They had ignored all of Archer’s pleas to stop hurting Trip and that he, Archer, was the ranking officer. It seemed that they were only interested in whether Trip had any information and not who was in Command.

Archer was very worried now. Trip was taking even longer to return to the land of the living. He’d done the best he could with the wounds, but mostly Trip was bruised rather than cut and anything serious would be internal. That worried Archer more than the visible injuries because there was nothing he could do about anything internal. He needed to get Trip back to Phlox.

Finally Trip groaned and opened his eyes carefully, blinking while he tried to clear his vision.

“Hey,” he said softly, as Archer moved into his line of sight. Trip tried to get up but Archer stopped him.

“Just stay down,” said Archer. “I don’t think they broke anything but I don’t want to take any chances.”

“That bad?” asked Trip.

“I just watched you take one hell of a beating, I’m being cautious. Do you want to tell me why you had that hypo that seems to be causing so much trouble?”

“No,” replied Trip.

“That wasn’t a request, Commander,” said Archer. “Tell me why you have a hypospray full of Colchan poison.”

“Like I said, it’s medicine,” said Trip. “Ask Phlox.”

“I will,” replied Archer. “Medicine for what? Does it have anything to do with why you took so long to come round after being stunned?”

“Maybe,” said Trip, with a sigh.

“If you’re sick then I need to know,” said Archer. “As captain of Enterprise I need to be in possession of all the facts. If you’d told me you were ill then I would have left you on the ship.”

“Which is exactly why I didn’t tell you,” replied Trip.

“Why doesn’t Phlox have you signed off anyway?”

“It’s complicated. I can still do my job. I just have to remember to take my medicine every twelve hours,” said Trip. Then he realised he might have said too much and was quiet again.

“Trip, I’m your friend as well as your Commanding Officer. Is this something serious?”

Trip looked at his friend for a moment. He realised he couldn’t get away with keeping this a secret any longer. He was going to have to tell the Captain and then deal with all the pain that was going to cause both of them.

“It’s Clarke’s Syndrome,” said Trip, quietly. He didn’t have to tell Archer what that meant. Archer had watched his own father die from it, slowly and painfully, not even knowing who his son was at the end of his life. The same thing was in store for Trip. It was a degenerative disorder that would first take his motor functions and then follow that by taking his mental skills. The tremors in his hand were just the start. The speed of its progress varied but its outcome was always the same.

“Trip, I’m so sorry,” was all Archer could manage in reply.

Trip held up his shaking left hand. “The medicine is for this. I’m overdue for my next shot.” Trip looked up at Archer and saw the pain that this news caused. “I didn’t want to tell you yet. I know that you went through hell with your Dad and I was hoping I could at least spare you a bit of that. I was going to put in for a transfer back to R and D once this tour was up. Phlox thinks I’ll be okay for maybe a year with the right medication. Might even find a cure before things get really bad.” He was trying to be cheerful but it sounded hollow even to him. He’d just told his best friend of over ten years that he had a terminal illness, nothing was ever going to be right again. He was going to die young and he probably wouldn’t even remember his own name.

“How long have you known?” asked Archer.

“About eight months now,” said Trip.

“Eight months?” Archer repeated in surprise.

“Phlox found it at the last round of annual medicals,” said Trip.

“Does anyone else know?”

“No, just Phlox. I wasn’t ready to tell anyone else.”

“You’ve been dealing with this alone for eight months?” asked Archer in disbelief.

Trip nodded.

“Trip, you didn’t have to, shouldn’t have had to do this for me. You need someone to help you through this and I promise I’ll be there for you when you need me,” said Archer, sincerely.

“Thanks Captain, but I don’t want to cause you anymore trouble,” said Trip.

“Look, let’s shelve this for the moment, we can talk about it more when we’re back on Enterprise.”

“If we get back to Enterprise.”

“I didn’t recruit my Armoury Officer to sit around doing nothing,” said Archer. “I’m pretty sure that he and T’Pol are working on getting us out of here right now.”

Trip tried to move into a more comfortable position but the pain stopped him. He bit down on a gasp of pain and hoped Archer hadn’t noticed.

There was arguing in the corridor outside their cell, which was followed by two Colchans opening the cell door.

“On behalf of the Colchan government I would like to apologise for your treatment. The men responsible will be punished. Your men are here to take you back to your ship.”

Lieutenant Reed and T’Pol entered the room followed by two security guards. Archer caught the look of shock on Reed’s face when he saw Trip before he hid it behind his professional exterior again.

“Trip is going to need some help,” said Archer tersely.

“Yes, sir,” replied Reed. Both men knew that there would be hell to pay for this but now was not the time to shout about things. They needed to get Trip back to the ship before the Colchans changed their minds. Given the political situation here that could happen very easily.

The two security men carefully helped Trip to his feet. The Enterprise party then made their way slowly back to the shuttle, while they were watched carefully by the wary Colchans.

****

Archer stormed into sickbay just behind the stretcher that was carrying an unconscious Commander Tucker. Phlox immediately assessed the Commander’s injuries and decided that Trip would need surgery in order to deal with some internal damage caused by the beating. He assured Archer that it was a routine matter and nothing to worry about.

Archer sat down to wait, trying to keep his emotions in check while he tried to digest the new information that Trip had just given him. He was still finding it hard to take in that his friend had a terminal illness. An illness which had killed his own father. It opened old wounds as well as creating new ones. In their job they expected there to be danger but he had never expected it to come in this form, a silent killer that they could do very little about. Not for the first time, Archer wished that Earth would allow genetic research of the type that would have eradicated Clarke’s Syndrome.

He tried to remember how old Trip was, he thought maybe he was thirty seven last birthday. It was certainly too young to be faced with this sort of news and most definitely too young to know that you’d be dead in a few years time. Then there was Trip’s career to think about which was also going to be cut short, first because eventually he’d be too ill for active duty on a starship and then because he’d be too ill to work at all.

If Archer had been in the privacy of his own quarters then he might have allowed himself to shed some tears for all that Trip would lose and all that he would lose because of Trip’s loss. But because Archer was in sickbay he remained stoic. He knew he had to deal with his feelings as best he could for the moment, once Trip was awake then his friend would need him to be strong for him.

It was two hours before Trip was out of surgery and resting comfortable on a biobed that was curtained off in a quiet corner of sickbay.

“Doctor, when you’re finished here, I’d like to see you in my Ready Room,” said Archer, as he watched Phlox tending to Trip.

“Of course, Captain. I should only be another few minutes. I will meet you there,” replied the Doctor amiably.

Archer stalked away to his Ready Room to await Phlox’s arrival. The doctor arrived a few minutes later, as promised.

“Why the hell wasn’t I notified?” were the first words out of Archer’s mouth as the door shut behind Phlox. Archer was pacing angrily.

“I assume you’re talking about Commander Tucker’s illness,” said Phlox.

“Damn right I am,” said Archer. “You let me send a sick man on an away mission.”

“It isn’t that clear cut, Captain. You know from your own experience that it is quite possible to function normally for months or even years in some cases before symptoms become so severe that they effect a patient’s life style. So far the Commander has only experienced some minor tremors in his left hand which I have successfully been able to control with drugs. As you know, as long as a condition does not affect a patient’s ability to perform their duties I have no obligation to report it and Commander Tucker specifically asked me not to tell anyone else.”

“Don’t try to make this Trip’s fault. He’s been diagnosed with a terminal disease and isn’t exactly thinking straight. At first it won’t affect his ability to perform his duties, but it may well do soon.”

“I don’t believe I broke any regulations. I am monitoring the Commander’s condition on a monthly basis and if it had deteriorated to a point where it would have affected his work then I would have followed procedure and reported it to you. I still would not have been under any obligation to tell you why he was unable to perform his duties.” Phlox sighed exasperatedly. “The Commander knows that your father died of this disease and he also knows something about how much distress that death caused you. He didn’t want to cause you any unnecessary pain. I tried to persuade him that he would need the support of his friends through this difficult time, but he refused me permission to let you know.”

Archer gave up his pacing and flopped down dejectedly into his chair. Trip had put Phlox in a difficult, if not impossible position and it was true that no regulations had been broken. Patient confidentiality trumped almost every regulation in the book. Unless Trip had been a danger to himself or the ship, Phlox didn’t need to say anything to the Captain.

“I’m sorry, doctor, you’re right. You only did what Trip asked you to. I suppose my feelings are clouding my judgement at the moment. What’s your estimate for how long Trip will be able to work?”

“That is difficult to say. Given the current progression of his symptoms, I would estimate it will be at least a year, maybe two, before the symptoms become so severe that he can’t remain on Enterprise. He may have to cut back or alter his duties before then, but that is my best estimate. In fact, I have already been trying to persuade him to cut back on the amount of overtime he does. After that I can’t be sure how much longer he will have before the deterioration becomes enough to stop him working entirely. It varies from patient to patient immensely.”

“Why has it hit now? I mean, has anything triggered it?”

“There is a reason it’s also known as the Engineer’s Disease. Very few people get the disease. It’s caused by a recessive gene, that usually remains inactive. In the Commander’s case it has become active. He must have always had the gene that causes the disease but usually we find that patients have spent some time in close proximity to a radiation source. In this case I’d say the warp reactor would be the cause. It doesn’t have to be a high level of radiation, nothing that would be dangerous in normal circumstances.”

“So you’re telling me that he has this because of his job?”

“Well he had to have the propensity for it, otherwise every single person working in Engineering would also have it, but essentially that is true. I expect the same was true for your father, since he also spent most of his life working with warp engines,” said Phlox.

“I was twelve when my father died, I don’t remember much of the technical aspects of the disease, just how ill he was. I think I need you to tell me more about what to expect and if there’s anything I can do to help Trip.”

Phlox gave Archer the facts. It was a debilitating neuro-degenerative disease, that progressed at a relatively slow rate, over the course of years rather than months. It would eventually rob Trip of the ability to perform even the most basic tasks and both his short and long term memory, finally it would affect his autonomous nervous systems, resulting in his death. It was not an easy or swift death. However, a lot could be done to control the symptoms and slow the onset of the worst of the symptoms. Phlox gave Archer a long list of everything that Trip should be doing to make sure he gave himself the best chance.

****

Trip didn’t remember much about the shuttle ride back to Enterprise. Archer had radioed Phlox and been given instructions on giving Trip drugs from the first aid kit. He had been given a dose of painkiller and after that everything became fuzzy and far away. He either passed out or fell asleep, he didn’t know which, soon after that. It wasn’t until he awoke the next day that he had any coherent thoughts about the previous day’s events. He opened his eyes and found Archer sitting beside his biobed. He tried to move and was immediately stopped by a hand on his shoulder.

“Not so fast,” said Archer. “You had some internal bleeding which Phlox repaired so lying down is the best thing for you at the moment.”

Trip nodded and settled back. “I’m sorry, Captain.”

“For what?” asked Archer.

“Not telling you what was going on,” replied Trip. “Causing so much trouble. Getting hurt.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Trip. We had no idea they’d search us or think that your medication was poison.”

“I should never have gone. I’m just a liability. I’ll put in my request for transfer back to Earth as soon as Phlox lets me out of here.”

“You know that’s not necessary and I don’t want you to leave,” said Archer.

“What choice do I have?” asked Trip.

“I spoke to Phlox while you were asleep. He told me that there’s nothing to stop you from staying on active duty on Enterprise. At least for the time being. He thinks it could be up to two years before the illness means you’ll have to take a desk job. Until Phlox tells me otherwise there’s no reason for you to go anywhere. But we are going to set down some ground rules.”

“What sort of ground rules?” asked Trip.

“Phlox gave me a run down of what to expect. He also told me you have good days and bad days. I want to know when the bad days are and, if you’re not a hundred percent, then you’re not going on an away mission.”

“But I can still go on away missions if I’m okay?” asked Trip, hopefully.

“I don’t see why not, but you’re to be honest with me about your condition. If I find out you’re not telling me the truth then I’ll be re-evaluating. Phlox says that you’re less likely to have bad days if you aren’t pulling twelve hour shifts, so that stops now. I’m putting a ban on you doing overtime.”

“But I can’t do my job if I can’t work late on the odd day,” said Trip, plaintively.

“You and I both know that it’s not the odd day. I’m prepared to compromise and say that you can work late once a week but you’re to get my permission.”

“Permission? But Captain…”

“Just a quick call to okay it with me, that’s all. Just something to stop you forgetting our agreement.”

Trip sighed. “Okay, I suppose I can live with that. I’m guessing there’s more.”

“There is. You’re to take the medicine that Phlox gives you and I don’t want to hear any excuses. If you don’t take it then you’re not a hundred percent and if you’re not a hundred percent you shouldn’t be climbing around Engineering.”

“But I do take it,” protested Trip.

“No, you forget. Phlox knows, so there’s no denying it. If you can understand advanced warp theory then you can remember to take your medicine on time.”

“Fine, I’ll be more careful about taking my medicine,” said Trip.

“And I never want to see your name on the accident log two days in a row again. If that happens I’ll know what it means, and I promise I’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks.”

“Understood,” replied Trip.

“Final thing. We’re going to have to tell some other people.”

“How many other people?” asked Trip.

“Well T’Pol, for starters, but I think Lieutenant Reed and Lieutenant Hess need to know too. If you’re on an away mission then at least one other person on the team should be aware of your condition. If something were to happen to you then someone needs to know that you’re on medication.”

“If we can keep it within the senior staff then I guess that’s okay. I just wish we didn’t have to tell Hess, she’s going to start treating me like glass.”

“She has to know, Trip. It’s a safety precaution more than anything. It’s up to you as her commanding officer to make sure she doesn’t treat you differently,” said Archer.

“Easier said than done,” replied Trip.

“You’re good at your job, Trip. I know that you can make this work. I’m certainly not changing the way we work together.”

“I just want things to go back to the way they were,” said Trip. “I want this never to have happened to me. It’s just so damned unfair.”

“I know, I know, but we have to work with the cards we’re dealt,” said Archer. “Please, just remember that you’re not alone. I know that this isn’t easy for you, I can’t imagine going through what you’re experiencing, but at least I can offer moral support.”

“Thanks, Captain. I’ll try to remember that,” said Trip. “I just figured that after everything that you went through with your Dad that you’d rather not go through it again with me.”

“At least I have an idea of what to expect. I’m your friend and if you need me then I’m here for you.”

“You don’t have to do this. I’ve got this far on my own,” said Trip.

“Yeah and look where it got you. From now on, you’re not going it alone. Understood?” said Archer, sternly.

“Understood,” replied Trip.

****

Archer called a senior staff meeting. That in itself wasn’t unusual but on this occasion one important person was missing. Lieutenant Anna Hess had been slightly baffled when she’d been summoned and her Commanding Officer hadn’t. Commander Tucker was still officially on sick leave, but he was now well enough for light duties, so she would have expected him to attend the meeting. When she’d asked the Commander about it he’d just said that the Captain had already spoken to him about what was to be discussed and if she had any questions afterwards then he’d be happy to answer them. None of which made any sense.

So Lieutenant Reed, Commander T’Pol, and Lieutenant Hess entered the briefing room, each wondering why they had been summoned and Trip had not.

The Captain was the last one to arrive, and when he did arrive he seemed worried.

“I’m sure you’re all wondering why I’ve called this meeting,” said Archer.

“More wondering why Commander Tucker wasn’t also invited, sir,” said Reed.

“Logically that either means we are here to talk about something that does not concern the Commander, which is unlikely given his responsibilities, or about the Commander himself,” said T’Pol.

“Trip asked me to talk to you,” said Archer. “What I’m about to tell you is strictly confidential and is not to leave this room.”

He receive nods of acknowledgement from the assembled officers.

“Trip has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Specifically Clarke’s Syndrome.”

Hess and Reed both registered shock on their faces at the news. Everyone knew that Archer’s father had died of the uncommon disease and exactly what that had meant.

“I’m not familiar with that disease,” said T’Pol.

“It’s a neuro-degenerative disease. The first symptoms have already started to show but Phlox is keeping them under control so far.”

“How long does he have?” asked Reed.

“It’s almost impossible to tell. Phlox thinks perhaps two years before the symptoms become severe enough that he can’t work on board a ship any longer, but that’s only an estimate.”

“I assume that the Doctor is working on finding a treatment for the disease,” said T’Pol.

“He’s able to treat the symptoms for the time being and he’s doing his best to see what else can be done. We have to face facts, no one’s found a cure in the past fifty years, baring a miracle, it isn’t likely it’s going to be found in time to help Trip.” Archer didn’t like putting it so bluntly, he himself had asked Phlox how likely it was that he could cure Trip, but there was no point in giving them false hope. Medical science had moved on a lot since Henry Archer had died of the same disease nearly forty years earlier, but genetic research was forbidden after the Eugenics War, and that was what would have helped Trip.

“Does this have anything to do with what happened on Colchis?” asked Reed. “They mentioned something about you and Trip carrying poison, but we thought it was a trumped up charge.”

“Trip was carrying a hypospray of some medication that Phlox had given him. They found it on him and decided that he was planning to assassinate the Trade Minister with it.”

T’Pol raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

“This explains all those accidents that he’s been having,” said Hess.

“You mean he’s known about this for months and didn’t say anything?” said Reed.

“Trip had his reasons. Partly he was trying to protect us.” Archer sighed with frustration.

“The Commander can display poor judgement at times,” said T’Pol.

“Yes, he can, but we know now,” said Archer.

Archer outlined the ground rules regarding working hours and away missions that he had set with Trip. “If you have any questions then Phlox has told me that he’s happy to answer them. He wants everyone to be as well informed as possible. Trip doesn’t want anyone else to know and only you, myself and Phlox are currently aware of his illness.” Implicit within Archer’s statement was that he would know if word got out who had let slip. “He’s in for a tough time and I know I can count on all of you to make his life easier.”

The officers around the table were subdued but murmured their agreement. If anything could be done to make Trip’s remaining time on Enterprise better, then it would be done.

****

Lieutenant Reed pressed the doorbell beside Commander Tucker’s cabin door and waited.

“Come in,” came a shout from inside and Reed entered. Trip was sat at his desk, working at his terminal. He still displayed the signs on his face of the beating he had taken down on Colchis. His movements were slow and deliberate, indicating that he was still feeling his injuries. For a moment Reed didn’t know why he’d come or how to begin. Luckily Trip jumped in before Reed could even begin to form a sentence.

“So you’ve stopped talking about me and come to get the story directly from the horse’s mouth, huh? I was wondering which of you three would be battering down my door first. Take a seat, Malcolm.”

“I just wanted to offer my support,” said Reed, taking the indicated chair. “I really don’t know what else to say.”

“There isn’t anything else to say, Malcolm. There’s nothing anyone can do, so moral support is all you can give. I don’t want to be pitied or treated any differently.”

“You’re not the kind of person who attracts pity, Trip, and I’m sure you’ll let me know if I start treating you differently.”

“You bet your ass I will,” said Trip.

“I wish you’d told us before, what you were going through,” said Reed. “If I’d known about the medication I might have been able to avoid the incident down on Colchis.”

“Phlox tried to persuade me that I should let you guys in on the secret, but I guess I just wasn’t ready. I couldn’t deal with it myself, let alone expect you to.”

“I thought you knew us better than that,” said Reed, gently, before he added more lightly. “Of course, I expect you didn’t tell us because you didn’t want anyone else knowing about Phlox’s instructions that you do less overtime.”

Trip gave a small laugh and immediately wished that he hadn’t when pain lanced through his side. The Colchans had been pretty thorough in their beating.

“Most people would be pleased to have an excuse to bugger off early,” said Reed.

“Yeah, says mister workaholic himself. You sleep in that Armoury of yours, don’t you?”

“Hoshi tells me that there’s a pool going on how many hours we log for the week between us,” said Reed. “Lieutenant Hess has won the last two weeks in a row.”

“She has, huh?” asked Trip. “I think I need to have a chat with my Second about the dangers of gambling.”

“That might be a good idea,” replied Reed, with a smile. He suddenly became serious again. “How are you really, Trip?”

Trip looked at his friend for a moment, trying to gauge if the query was genuine, before he spoke. “There are good days and bad. Phlox has the physical stuff under control pretty much. Mostly I just wonder, why me? I know it’s selfish, but I guess when it comes down to it, I’m a selfish guy.”

“No one wants to be ill, Trip,” said Reed.

“I’ve been doing a lot of reading about other people with CS. Phlox thought it might help to see how other people dealt with it. There’s so many brave people out there. There was this one woman, she was diagnosed when she was twenty eight, she’d just had her first child and she knew that her baby was going to grow up without a mother…” Trip paused almost unable to continue. Reed just waited quietly while his friend took a deep breath. “She was really philosophical about it. She just said that she was making the most of spending time with her daughter. For her, that baby was all she needed to have made her life worth while. There are so many other amazing stories of people dealing with this thing. Me, I’m just spending my time complaining about my career being cut short and asking why me? Maybe I should be asking why not me? After all, I’ve got a lot less to lose than a lot of other people.”

“Your life is worth just as much as anyone else’s,” said Reed. “You were going to do this on your own to protect your friends, I think that makes you pretty brave. Stupid, but brave. Don’t forget that you have some good friends, Trip.”

Trip nodded, thoughtfully. Silence stretched for a moment. “Hey, do you want a beer?” asked Trip. “I missed movie night because I was in sickbay, so I was thinking about a private showing. Wouldn’t mind a bit of company though.”

“I’d be happy to join you,” replied Reed, and at that moment he realised that he’d probably just had his one and only conversation about Trip’s illness that he was going to have. Trip’s way of dealing with this was to make everything as normal as possible, no special treatment, no pity and no discussion of his feelings. Only when things were impossible would Trip give up and admit defeat, and even then it would probably take some persuasion. Reed knew Trip couldn’t will the symptoms of his disease not to exist but he certainly wasn’t going to stop him trying. As far as Reed was concerned, Trip was the bravest man alive at this moment, no matter what his friend thought himself.

****End of Chapter Two****

The attack had come swiftly and out of no where. A race of aliens, calling themselves the Lacadaemonians had appeared and attacked Enterprise for a perceived border violation. There had been no warning and they had taken a lot of damage in the fight. It was only Lieutenant Reed’s skill in the Armoury and Trip’s quick thinking that had got them out of a nasty situation. Unfortunately Trip’s solution to get Reed extra power for his phase cannons had resulted in even more damage in the shape of blown relays and a partially burnt out EPS grid. Luckily the show of force had been enough for the Lacadaemonians to back off and leave them alone, but only after a terse exchange between the Captains of the two ships.

For the third day in a row Trip reached for the com and called Archer. “Tucker to Archer.”

“Archer here, go ahead Trip,” replied the Captain.

“Permission to work overtime, Captain,” said Trip.

“Given the state we’re in, I guess I don’t have any choice but to let you,” said Archer. “Do you have a status report for me?”

“We’re about there with replacing the relays and getting the last parts of the EPS grid up and running. The warp engine’s probably going to be another eight hours work. I can’t guarantee that we’ll get much above warp three but at least we’ll be moving.” Trip looked around him unhappily at scorched bulkheads and the general disarray that was usually his efficient engineering department.

“When did you last get some sleep?” asked Archer.

The one question that Trip had really hoped Archer wouldn’t think to ask. “I got a few hours last shift.”

“In your bed or at your desk?”

Trip braced himself for a telling off, knowing that it would be hopeless to lie. Archer could easily check up to see if he was telling the truth if he really wanted to. “At my desk, but I can’t really leave here at the moment.”

Trip heard Archer sigh and realised that he was going to get away with it because the situation was so desperate. Until they got the warp engine up and running again, they were sitting ducks. Although the Lacadaemonians had backed off, there was no guarantee that they wouldn’t come back with reinforcements.

“As soon as the warp engine is repaired I want you to take a shift off and get some rest. Phlox is already mad at me for letting you work this long. Please tell me that you’ve at least eaten.”

“If you count coffee and sandwiches on the run,” said Trip.

“I guess that will have to do until this mess is dealt with. Archer out.”

Trip thumbed the com unit closed again and realised that the shakes were back. He ducked into the cupboard off Main Engineering that was known as his office; it was just big enough to contain a desk and chair and still be able to shut the door. He pulled out the hypospray of blue liquid that he always carried with him. Phlox had upped the dosage again at his last check up and prescribed some other medication so that Trip now had a small collection of hyposprays in his quarters. The cartridge in the hypospray was empty so he went to his desk draw to get out a new one, but found that the draw was full of tools and electronics but no spare cartridges.

“Damn,” swore Trip, now he’d have to take time out from the repairs to go and see Phlox. It was either that or risk an injury and end up in sickbay anyway. An injury would of course go on the accident log and then the Captain would know too, and probably never let him work overtime again. The fifteen minutes that he would lose to a trip to sickbay were worth sacrificing given the alternatives.

Trip let Hess know where he was going and then headed to sickbay. There hadn’t been any major injuries in the attack so although sickbay had been busy dealing with burns, cuts, concussions and a couple of broken bones, it was now almost empty.

“Hey, Doc,” greeted Trip, pulling out his empty hypospray. “Do you think you could do me a refill of mirezatan?” He was becoming well versed in drug names after using them every day for nearly a year now.

“Of course, Commander,” said Phlox. “Just wait one moment and I’ll get you some replacement cartridges.” Phlox disappeared behind some shelves.

Trip took a seat on a biobed while he waited. The sickbay doors swooshed back and T’Pol entered the room.

“Hi T’Pol,” said Trip, putting on his best disarming smile.

“Commander,” replied T’Pol in acknowledgement. Trip had expected her to make some sort of conversation but she remained silent.

“What brings you to sickbay?” asked Trip.

“I sustained a minor injury during the encounter with Lacadaemonians. The doctor asked me to return for further treatment today,” said T’Pol.

It didn’t sound as if she wanted to talk about it so Trip changed the subject. “I haven’t seen much of you lately.”

“We have both been busy,” said T’Pol.

“Yeah, we have. Why don’t I save a seat for you at movie night next week?” said Trip. “We should be clear of all the repair work by then.” He was getting the distinct impression that T’Pol didn’t want to talk to him and he wondered if she’d actually been avoiding him.

“I will not be available for movie night,” replied T’Pol.

Trip was about to ask why when Phlox returned with the hypospray and new cartridges. “Remember, Commander, no more than three doses in a twenty four hour period and please do try to get some rest once the repairs are complete.”

“Will do, Doc,” said Trip, hopping off the biobed. His left leg landed a little awkwardly and he had to grip the biobed to stop himself losing his balance. Phlox had his scanner out before Trip could even make a start on protesting that he was fine.

“You have some weakness in your left leg,” said Phlox.

Trip nodded. “I’ve noticed it’s been a little weaker when I’ve been down in the gym.”

“I can begin a course of physiotherapy with you and there are other treatments that we can try.”

“Okay, Doc, let’s talk about details later. I’ve got to get back Engineering,” said Trip.

“I will hold you to that,” said Phlox. “Now, T’Pol, let’s have a look at that burn.”

Trip glanced in T’Pol’s direction, hoping to catch her eye but she wasn’t paying any attention to him. He made his way back to Main Engineering, all the way wondering if T’Pol really was avoiding him for some reason and what he could have done to make her mad at him.

****

Archer had known that it was going to happen sooner or later. Trip would want to do something and Archer would have to turn him down. Not because it was dangerous, or against regulations, but because his health wasn’t up to it.

“You said that you wouldn’t stop me going on any away missions,” said Trip crossly. He stood in front of Archer’s desk in his Ready Room, his posture defensive. A tantalising view of the planet Arktos below was a back drop to their conversation.

“I said that I wouldn’t stop you going on any away missions as long as Phlox gave you the all clear. The Doctor’s worried that you’ve been overdoing things,” replied Archer.

“I’ve been following the rules,” protested Trip.

“I know and it’s partly my fault. After that run-in with the Lacadaemonians we needed the warp engine back up and running as quickly as possible. I let you work more than I should. Phlox says that you’ve been getting dizzy spells.”

“He’s given me something for that…” started Trip.

“I know but it needs time to work, and we’re going down to the surface tomorrow morning. It’s just an ice bound city, Trip. You wouldn’t have had much fun anyway.”

“But Captain, I wanted to see the thermal energy plant. They have a whole geothermal energy thing going down there. It powers the whole damn city. I’ve been in touch with their Engineer and he promised me a tour.”

Trip looked so miserable and Archer hated this. He didn’t want to stop Trip doing anything, after all none of them knew how much longer Trip might be able to go on away missions and he hated reminding his friend of the illness that he was fighting. However, it had taken Trip a long time to recover from his beating at the hands of the Colchans, longer than it should have done, and Phlox had told him that it hadn’t helped Trip’s condition. Archer didn’t want to make things worse for Trip by allowing him to wear himself out and that would only speed up the progress of the disease. The better Trip’s general health was, the longer it would take before Trip had to give up his position on Enterprise.

“It’s been planned for weeks, sir. If you’ll let me go then I promise I’ll take things easy.” Trip pleaded and then it was as if he suddenly thought of a way that he could get what he wanted. He grinned, his voice cheering up. “And if you could give me a couple of days shore leave…”

“You’re unbelievable, you know that, don’t you?” replied Archer.

“Hey, everything has to have an up side,” smiled Trip.

“I’ll talk to Phlox,” said Archer, but they both knew that Trip had won this time. For some reason Archer felt comforted by that.

****

Trip might have been allowed to go down to Arktos, but only on the proviso that he actually rest. To be honest he hadn’t needed much in the way of persuasion on that front this time. He had felt drained recently and he had to agree with Archer that the long hours in Engineering hadn’t helped. There were days when he felt more like eighty than thirty-eight, and those days seemed to be becoming more numerous. Once he was done with his tour of the geothermal energy plant, he’d be taking things easy in a nice looking hotel that Hoshi had picked out and booked for him at one of the hot springs.

He bundled a spare uniform, cold weather gear, casual clothes and the small pharmacy of drugs that Phlox had him taking, into an overnight bag and headed for the shuttle bay. He knew he wouldn’t be going down to the surface alone, lots of the crew had plans for shore leave or research work, but he hadn’t expected T’Pol to be waiting for him. She hadn’t spoken to him except during the course of her duties for weeks, in fact ever since Archer had informed the senior staff about his illness.

“Hey,” said Trip.

“The Captain has asked me to accompany you down to the surface. I have a meeting with some senior Arktoan scientists,” said T’Pol.

“Babysitting duty, huh?” asked Trip offhandedly as he entered the shuttle, throwing his bag in front of him. He’d expected something like this. His Captain was well meaning but sometimes he wished he’d just leave him alone. “I told the Captain I’d be fine on my own.”

“I am not “babysitting”, I simply need to go down to the surface and so do you. It would be impractical to make two trips.”

Trip shook his head. “Do you want to drive or shall I?”

“I will take the controls,” said T’Pol, slipping into the pilot’s seat.

Trip sighed and took the navigator’s seat behind her. They both concentrated on the consoles in front of them as T’Pol lifted them off the deck and set their course down to the planet.

“Haven’t seen much of you lately,” said Trip, making conversation.

“I have been occupied,” replied T’Pol, concentrating on the controls.

“You’ve been avoiding me.”

“I have not been avoiding you.”

“Sure felt like you were avoiding me,” said Trip.

“If that was the case, then I apologise,” said T’Pol.

“Clarke’s Syndrome isn’t contagious,” said Trip.

“I am aware of the attributes of Clarke’s Syndrome. I have conducted extensive research.”

“Then what’s wrong? Why aren’t you talking to me? After the Captain told you and Lieutenant Reed and Lieutenant Hess, they both came to see me to talk it over, but you stayed away. I thought we were friends, T’Pol.”

T’Pol set the shuttlepod’s auto-pilot and turned to face Trip. She suspected that she had misjudged this situation badly and if that was the case then fixing that misjudgement could not wait any longer.

“On Vulcan a disease of the nature of Clarke’s Syndrome is a very private matter. Most Vulcans would be unhappy discussing it with anyone other than their physician. It would be considered disrespectful to mention the illness to the person who is ill. Obviously as your crewmates, we needed to know your circumstances, however I did not think you would want to discuss it further.”

“You’re not on Vulcan T’Pol and I don’t have pointed ears,” replied Trip and almost immediately regretted his remark. This wasn’t easy for any of them to deal with, but at least Hess and Reed had some baseline human emotions to work from. T’Pol hadn’t got the advantage of cultural home turf. “Maybe you should explain a bit more,” suggested Trip.

“For a Vulcan, their ability to control their emotions is the most precious thing that they possess and it is acutely embarrassing to lose that control. I contracted Pa’nar’s Syndrome some years ago. At that time, many Vulcans were unwilling to even acknowledge the existence of such a disease of the mind that might strip us of the emotional control we possess.”

“What’s Pa’nar’s Syndrome?”

“It is caused by an improperly performed mind-meld. It leads to degeneration of the neural pathways of the brain and loss of emotion control. Such loss of emotional control is very distasteful to a Vulcan and we find it hard to witness in others.”

“But you’re okay now?” asked Trip, concerned.

“T’Pau was able to repair the damage through a healing mind-meld. However the stigma attached to the disease is still prevalent, despite changing attitudes towards mind-melds and new interpretations of the teachings of Surak.”

“So you never told anyone?”

“I informed the Captain but, other than that, only Doctor Phlox was aware of my condition,” said T’Pol. “There are other neurological diseases that affect Vulcans and usually are not discussed openly.”

“So you assumed that I wouldn’t want to talk about it either?”

“That was my belief. I did not want it to seem that I was being disrespectful of your illness by discussing it with you. Obviously it was incorrect.”

“I don’t know if I want to go into an in depth discussion, but I wouldn’t mind you coming by like you used. I just want things to be normal, like they were before I found out about the CS.”

“It seems that humans don’t attach the same stigma to diseases of the mind that Vulcans do,” said T’Pol.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” said Trip. “Humans can be pretty uncomfortable with mental illness. There are going to be people who don’t understand and think I’m just plain crazy. I guess I’m going to find out who my friends are.”

“You already know who your friends are,” said T’Pol.

“Yeah, I suppose that I do. Hey, do you want to join me at the hot springs later? Hoshi said they have plenty of space, I’m sure that we could get you a room too.”

“I have meetings planned with various scientists. I doubt that I will have much free time.” She returned her attention to the controls as they approached the planet’s atmosphere.

“Come on, T’Pol. Even you need a break now and then,” said Trip, refusing to take “no” for an answer.

T’Pol glanced back at Trip, and he knew that he had tempted her. “I had planned to find accommodation for this evening on the planet. There is no reason we shouldn’t stay in the same place.”

“It’s a date then,” replied Trip, not letting T’Pol rethink her decision. He hadn’t spent any quality time with her for a while, it was time to put that right and make her realise that he’d forgiven her for avoiding him. He couldn’t blame her for a cultural misunderstanding.

****

T’Pol found herself swimming in a hot spring, surrounded by melting ice. The cold air hit her skin as she emerged from under the warm water. Steam rose around her and she felt at peace. The pool was quiet and a comfortable temperature to her Vulcan sensibilities. She allowed herself to relax into serenity and enjoy the water. Her peace was broken by a body diving into the water. Water sloshed around her and got in her eyes. A blond head emerged from the water beside her and grinned at her.

“Sorry, I’m late,” said Trip.

“I would have appreciated some notice of your presence,” replied T’Pol as she blinked water from her eyes.

“You have to live a little, T’Pol.”

“Living does not require the excessive displacement of water,” said T’Pol.

Trip gave an exaggerated sigh. He set off down the pool, doing an effortless front crawl. T’Pol thought she detected a little unevenness in his stroke, almost as if he was slightly stronger on his right side. He did a few lengths of the pool and then dived under the water and came up beside her again.

“Aren’t you going to swim?” he asked.

“I have already completed several laps,” replied T’Pol. “Whilst I enjoy the water, Vulcans are not natural swimmers.”

“I love swimming. Where I grew up you learnt to swim when you learnt to crawl. Did I ever tell you that I taught the Captain to dive?”

“I do not believe so,” said T’Pol.

“He wasn’t real keen on the whole thing. You’d have thought that being on Stanford’s water polo team he’d have jumped at me teaching him, but it took a hell of a lot of persuasion.”

“I have come to realise that you are nothing if not persistent,” replied T’Pol.

Trip smiled. “Yeah, I guess I am. Come on, I’ll race you to the end and back, then we can dry off and go and get some dinner.”

“I do not believe we need to race.”

“Do I have to explain the concept of fun again?” asked Trip teasingly.

T’Pol cocked her head. “You only wish to race because you know that you will win.”

“Now where would the fun be in that? Come on. Ready, steady, go!” Trip set off down the pool once again, T’Pol launching herself into the water behind him.

Trip was ahead as they turned around at the end, but not by much. T’Pol had caught his grin at her as she too turned to go back down the pool. She felt sure that if she put on a burst of speed she could equal his finishing time. She put all her strength into her strokes.

Suddenly Trip disappeared under the water in front of her. She assumed that he was just diving under to disorientate her and put her off her stroke, but he surfaced a moment later, gasping for breath before sinking under again. T’Pol realised that Trip was in trouble. She dived under the water herself and swam towards her companion. She grabbed him under his arms and kicked hard upwards, pulling him upwards. They broke the surface together, Trip spluttering and coughing, T’Pol gasping for breath. She dragged her charge to the side of the pool and deposited him on the side with some difficulty. Trip was mostly muscle and therefore quite heavy.

Trip lay on the edge of the pool and drew in oxygen as quickly as he could between coughs and spitting out water. T’Pol pulled herself out of the pool and noticed that his left leg twitched, the muscles in spasm. It was obviously causing some pain and had been the reason why he had disappeared under the water.

“Is there anything that I can do?” asked T’Pol.

“Just a bit of cramp,” Trip got out through clenched teeth and watery coughs. “There’s a hypospray, with my towel.” His eyes closed as another wave of pain hit.

T’Pol noted that Trip was beginning to shiver in the cold air. She went to where he had left his towel, next to her own, throwing both over her arm before she located a small drawstring bag that contained two hyposprays. She returned to Trip and helped him sit up, wrapping a towel around his shoulders.

“Which one?” asked T’Pol.

“Blue one first,” Trip indicated, shivering. T’Pol administered the hypospray, noting that it was already set to deliver a specified dose of the drug. “Then the red one,” Trip continued. T’Pol pressed the second hypospray to Trip’s neck. She noted that the muscle spasms began to subside and Trip’s breathing eased as the pain also receded.

“Sorry,” said Trip. “I didn’t mean for that to happen. I guess when Phlox said gentle exercise he didn’t mean racing up and down the pool.”

“Perhaps not,” said T’Pol. She would have chastised Trip for ignoring the doctor’s instructions but he had already realised his own mistake. Her main priority was to get him inside and warm again. “We should not remain outside. You are becoming cold.”

Trip nodded and T’Pol helped him to stand shakily on his weak left leg. He leaned on her a little as they went back into the hotel. T’Pol helped Trip to get to the changing room and then left him to dress himself, acknowledging that he required his privacy, however she kept an ear attuned to his movements in case he should require further help. He emerged a few minutes later, dry and dressed tidily in casual clothes.

“What do you want to do for dinner?” he asked, and before T’Pol could mention the incident again, he was already making suggestions for restaurants that they could try. T’Pol thought that perhaps Trip was more like a Vulcan then he was willing to admit. He was doing a good job of ignoring his emotions. However, she couldn’t fail to notice how drained and tired he looked, that was something that even the charming smile couldn’t hide.

T’Pol realised that she was witnessing first hand the toll that the disease was taking on Trip. She had wanted to ignore it and pretend that her friend wasn’t ill, but that was impossible. Avoiding him wouldn’t make the disease any less real or prevent Trip’s death. Trip was human and because he was human he needed emotional support. T’Pol wasn’t certain that she was the best person to provide that support but she could only try.

They tried to have a quiet, sociable dinner together but Trip was obviously tired. He didn’t really seem up to conversation and almost fell asleep in his soup. They left the restaurant before dessert and Trip’s left leg was noticeably dragging by the time they made it back to the hotel through freezing blizzards of snow.

“Why were you late to meet me at the hotel?” asked T’Pol as they entered the lobby.

“The tour took longer than expected,” replied Trip.

“That seems unlikely,” said T’Pol. They reached the elevator and T’Pol pressed the button for their floor.

She gave Trip a look that demanded truth and he caved under her glare. “Okay, so they had a problem with the transfer circuit. It looked easy enough to fix so I gave them a hand.” Trip leaned against the railing as the car moved upwards.

“You are meant to be resting. The last month has been stressful, especially for the Engineering department.”

“Yeah, yeah. It wasn’t exactly taxing, I mean, I knew what had to be done and I don’t mind getting my hands dirty. It just took a little longer than I thought it would.”

“Which would explain why you are now more tired rather than less,” pointed out T’Pol.

“You’re not going to tell on me, are you?” asked Trip.

“I don’t believe I will need to. You will be reporting this matter to the doctor yourself.”

“T’Pol…”

“If you don’t report it yourself then I will be forced to do so on your behalf.”

“You don’t play fair,” replied Trip.

“On the contrary, I believe that I am playing more than fair. However, we can discuss that when you are rested,” said T’Pol. The elevator stopped at their floor and the two officers disembarked.

“Why can’t you all just see that I want things to be normal?” said Trip.

“Normal is relative. I have yet to experience normality whilst serving aboard Enterprise,” said T’Pol.

“Yeah, well I liked the way things were,” replied Trip.

“Nothing remains the same,” said T’Pol.

“Is that some sort of Vulcan philosophical statement? Because it doesn’t help me.” They were finally at the door to Trip’s room.

“You are tired and need to rest. We can continue our discussion in the morning,”

Trip nodded half-heartedly. “G’night, T’Pol,” he said and shuffled through his door. Not waiting for T’Pol to reply, Trip shut his door behind himself. T’Pol stood outside the door listening for a moment in case Trip needed her, but after a few minutes she moved away to her own room. An extended meditation session would be required to deal with today’s events. She wished with all her heart that she could do something to help her friend, but other than assisting Phlox in his search for a cure there wasn’t much to be done. That in itself would add twenty minutes to her usual meditations.

****

Trip threw his key card down on the bedside table, removed his shoes, and flopped down on the bed. He felt worn through to the bone, as if he was paper thin and would break at the slightest movement. He knew he’d blown it, he and T’Pol finally got a chance to spend some time alone and he’d been grumpy, tired and sullen. She certainly hadn’t seen him at his best. The swimming had been such a bad idea, but he really hadn’t thought that he was so tired that it would be a problem. Swimming was something that he’d done for as long as he could remember and he’d rarely, if ever, cramped up as bad as this afternoon.

There were things to do before he could sleep and the most important of those was medication so that he could get up in the morning. He could already feel the weakness in his left leg that was made worse by fatigue. Phlox’s drugs improved things and helped his brain to send the right signals again to get his muscles moving. Whenever he got tired it was always the left side of his body that started misbehaving first. It still wasn’t anything that he couldn’t deal with, or at least Phlox’s hyposprays couldn’t deal with, but it was becoming progressively more intrusive on his life.

He peeled himself off the bed and towards the bathroom where he’d stowed his hyposprays. He pulled out the padd that he carried with his medication and ran a finger down it to check what he needed to take. Then he remembered that he’d already taken some pain medication and the anti-spasm medication. He couldn’t take any more unless he checked with Phlox first and that would mean calling the ship. Trip sighed. He turned to go and find his communicator but his left leg didn’t quite move quickly enough, catching on the long carpet in the hotel room. He went down hard, putting a hand out to stop himself and immediately felt pain lance down his arm.

He lay on the floor and swore. It just wasn’t his day. This was meant to be a relaxing holiday and so far it was nothing but trouble. He righted himself enough that he could lean against the wall. He had no right to be this tired. He remembered when he and Malcolm had partied the night away on shore leave only just last year. There had been a lot of drinking and some female company, there had even been singing. That had been when he’d discovered that Malcolm did a good impression of the Captain, something that he denied vehemently when he was sober again. They had gone back to the ship without even having slept and then he’d worked a full duty shift. He’d been tired, naturally, but he’d been fine. He certainly hadn’t ended up on his ass on the floor.

Now he was on the floor he had to work out how to get off it. He had no strength and his wrist was throbbing. All he really wanted to do was sleep, but he was on the floor of a hotel room. His communicator was on the bedside table and it really wasn’t that far away. He could walk two steps, get the communicator and call Phlox. Then Phlox would come and sort him out and he’d be lectured about trying to have a good time.

Really, he decided, he was just tired and that didn’t need a call to Phlox. If he took the rest of his medication, he’d probably be fine. His wrist was hurting but he’d probably just jarred it in the fall. He used the wall to support himself and he got to his feet. The room whirled around him and he leaned against the wall. Anti-dizziness medication, thought Trip, so far he hadn’t taken it today and that was probably why he felt so bad. He was meant to be taking something else as well, anti-inflammatory or something. There were other things that he had to take every six hours. Things for his balance, to stop the aches, to improve his muscles and drugs that were supposed to help with his brain chemistry. Trip lost count, which was why he had the padd to keep track of them all.

He got himself into the bathroom and found the hyposprays that he needed. He injected the two into the upper arm and the one that went into his neck, then he turned to go back into the bedroom. Suddenly he felt sick and before he knew it he was throwing up in the toilet.

“Just what I need,” mumbled Trip as he carefully stumbled to the bed. He didn’t even bother to undress properly, he just pulled off his jeans, lay on the bed and passed out.

****

Someone was knocking loudly on his hotel room door. Very loudly. It sounded as if they would beat the door down. Trip sat up a bit too quickly and the room spun around him. He tried to stand but his bad leg gave way under him and he quickly discovered that his wrist had swollen over night and become even more painful. He fell to the floor tangled in his bed sheets, unable to stifle the exclamation of pain caused when he hit his wrist.

Trip heard the sound of raised voices arguing. Finally the door was opened and Trip found himself staring up at T’Pol, Archer, the hotel concierge and Phlox. His unexpected visitors looked rather surprised that the person that they had come to see was on the floor.

“Hey,” said Trip, weakly. Archer thanked the concierge for opening the door, as if nothing was wrong, and the Arktoan bowed politely before disappearing.

“Trip, what are you doing on the floor?” asked Archer. Phlox was already approaching Trip with a medical scanner.

“I fell over trying to get to the door, okay. Now are you just going to stand there, or is someone going to help me up? What are you doing battering down my door anyway? It’s not like I’m supposed to be anywhere.”

“I knocked on your door earlier and there was no answer,” said T’Pol. “I became worried and contacted the Captain to check whether he had heard from you.”

“We tried to wake you, but you still weren’t answering,” said Archer as he positioned himself ready to give Trip a hand up. “What happened to you wrist?” Archer had noticed the swollen joint and Trip knew that he wouldn’t be getting out of an explanation.

“I hit it last night. It didn’t seem so bad then,” replied Trip. He carefully didn’t exactly say how he’d come to injure his wrist. Archer took Trip by his elbows and pulled him into a sitting position while T’Pol sorted out the tangled covers. Trip saw them both notice that his left leg was twitching and curled in towards his right leg, but Trip refused to comment on it. They all knew that he was sick, verbal reminders were not necessary.

“I’m afraid that it’s badly sprained. There’s a small tear in the ligament,” said Phlox, looking from the wrist to his scanner.

“It doesn’t hurt that much,” replied Trip.

“You are taking pain medication, so I would hope that it isn’t as painful as it could be,” said Phlox. “Speaking of medication, I assume that you haven’t taken anything yet this morning?”

“I’ve only just woken up, Doc,” replied Trip.

“If you wouldn’t mind retrieving the Commander’s medication, T’Pol? I believe it’s in the bathroom.” said Phlox. T’Pol inclined her head in the affirmative and went to find the bag of pills and hyposprays.

“How on Earth did you sprain your wrist?” asked Archer. “T’Pol said that the two of you went to a restaurant and then came straight back.”

“We did. I was just a bit tired and I tripped on the carpet coming out of the bathroom,” said Trip. “I must have put my hand out to stop myself.”

“T’Pol told us about the swimming and the work at the geothermal plant,” said Archer.

“I didn’t break any of the rules,” said Trip, quickly, knowing where this conversation was going.

“Let’s see, so far you have worked overtime without permission, failed to take your medication on time, and you lied to us about your condition.” Archer didn’t seem at all happy.

“Okay, maybe I did break a couple of the rules,” Trip admitted grudgingly.

“Tell me exactly what happened last night after T’Pol left,” said Archer.

Trip sighed. “I was tired so I lay on the bed for a bit and then I realised that I needed to take my medication. I went into the bathroom and then I remembered that I’d already taken my analgesic and anti-spasm medication at the pool. I know I’m supposed to call Phlox if I need to take more, to check that it’s okay, so I went to get my communicator. I guess I turned a bit too quickly and my foot caught and I went down. I put my hand out to stop myself and that must have been when I hurt my wrist. I sat on the floor for a bit and eventually I got the strength up to go and take the rest of my medicine like a good boy. Then I went to bed. The exciting story of my evening. I took medicine, and I fell on my ass.”

T’Pol returned with Trip’s medication. Phlox looked through it and pulled out what Trip needed to take.

“You took your sercol after the cramping at the pool?” asked Phlox.

Trip nodded. Phlox examined the hyposprays that he had removed from the bag and checked his notes.

“Commander, how did you feel after you took your evening medication?” asked Phlox.

“Kind of nauseous. Why?” Trip wondered how the doctor had known to ask him that.

“According to my records there is too little analgesic and too much mirezatan in these hyposprays. I suspect that means you took more analgesic last night and no mirezatan. Perhaps in your tiredness you confused the hyposprays. You must be more careful, Commander. If this had been one of the more potent medicines then I might now be treating you for an overdose,” said Phlox. “Luckily it simply meant that you slept longer and more soundly than usual.”

“Sorry, Doc, I’ll be more careful next time,” said Trip. He couldn’t believe that he’d taken the wrong medication, usually he was more attentive than that. The small collection of drugs that he took were all that stood between him and a posting to Research and Development.

“You don’t need to apologise to me. I’m only your doctor. If you had called me last night then I could have told you how much extra coretine you could safely take. You would not be experiencing this level of tremors.”

The last thing he needed now was a guilt trip, but the Doctor seemed determined to give him one. “Coretine, mirezatan, sercol, half the time I can’t remember which medicine is for which symptom.”

“Which is why you have them all written down,” replied Phlox, not allowing Trip to make excuses. “With dosages, timings, what they’re for, side effects and which ones you should call me about to change the dosage.”

“Yeah, I know, I was just tired and not thinking straight,” said Trip.

“You can’t do this sort of thing, Trip,” said Archer.

“I told you that I was just tired. It’s not like I planned for this to happen,” said Trip. Did they really think that he’d done this to himself on purpose? He certainly hadn’t enjoyed waking up to find his Captain, T’Pol and Phlox all standing outside his door because he’d overslept. If he could have avoided this scene in the hotel room then he would have.

“This is why it’s important that you don’t tire yourself out. You have to look after yourself,” said Archer.

“We need to get the Commander back to Enterprise,” said Phlox. “I need to re-assess his medication and brace his wrist.”

“Oh no, I’m on holiday, I’m not going back to Enterprise. Just give me my meds, tape the wrist and I’ll be fine.”

“Don’t start, Trip. You’re hurt, we’re going back to Enterprise,” said Archer.

Trip glared at his Captain and gave an exaggerated sigh. “Fine, whatever you want.”

Archer gave Trip a pat on the shoulder and he helped his friend to stand rather shakily. They collected Trip’s belongings, got him dressed and departed the hotel. It was the worst ending to his shore leave that he could possibly have imagined.

****

****End of Chapter Three****

It had taken a little time to get Trip sorted out in sickbay after their return from Arktos. By the time Phlox had taken blood and analysed the results, Trip was almost asleep on a biobed. Archer had remained with his friend to keep Trip occupied and to make sure that he didn’t try to escape. He watched as Phlox loaded hyposprays and injected their contents into Trip’s bloodstream. Then Phlox took care of the sprained wrist, fitting it with an firm, but elastic, brace.

“I’m already giving you anti-inflammatory drugs for your CS so that should be all you need for the injury to heal. I expect it will take a couple of weeks but we’ll see how you do. That’s all for today but I think we should consider a brace for your left leg if this weakness persists.”

“A brace?” yawned Trip. “Can I hide it under my uniform?” He was still worried that the crew would find out that their Chief Engineer was ill. Trip had mostly given up fighting Phlox on treatment options because he knew that Phlox’s medicine was all that stood between him and a disability discharge. He’d sighed when Phlox had presented him with another hypospray for dizziness but that was more because he didn’t want to have to remember more medication.

“I’m sure that will be possible.”

“Let me think about it,” said Trip. “I don’t want to get a brace until I absolutely have to.” Getting a brace really felt as if he was giving in to the CS. It was an indication that the illness was winning.

Archer accompanied Trip back to his quarters after Phlox had dismissed him with orders to rest. The dizziness was bothering him again and Archer occasionally had to put out a hand to steady his friend.

“Can I get you anything?” asked Archer, once Trip was sitting on his bed looking tired.

“I think I’m just going to sleep,” said Trip, pulling off his t-shirt.

“You should at least drink some water,” pointed out Archer.

Trip nodded and made to get up.

“Stay where you are, I’ll get it,” said Archer and headed into Trip’s bathroom.

He found a glass in Trip’s bathroom cabinet. Archer thought that the cabinet itself looked like it was an extension of Phlox’s sickbay. Archer noted that the many hyposprays had individual paper sticky labels stuck to them with names inscribed on them in Trip’s scrawling handwriting. Taped to the wall was a complicated chart of what he had to take and when, a ruled grid of drug names against times and dosages. The cold reality of dealing with terminal illness.

Archer filled the glass with water, returned to the main room and handed it to Trip.

“I’m in trouble, aren’t I?” said Trip as Archer gave him the glass.

“No, not trouble, I just wish you’d take better care of yourself. You know you’re pretty much fine when you take your medication properly, and get plenty of rest, so why do you do these things?”

“It’s a big adjustment for me, you know. When Phlox first told me that I had CS, I promised myself that I wasn’t going to give in and let it rule my life. I’m used to working eighteen hour days and surviving on six hours of sleep, it’s just how I’ve always lived.”

“Acknowledging that you have to slow down, isn’t giving in. You physically can’t do it. It’s time to admit that you have a serious illness.”

Trip hung his head. “Yeah, I guess it is.”

“I want you to see someone,” said Archer.

“Someone?”

“A professional. You’re not coping, Trip.”

“You think I’m going crazy?”

“No, I just think you need more help with this than we can give you.”

“Phlox is doing just fine.”

“He’s dealing with your symptoms, yes, but you don’t talk to anyone about how you feel. This has got to be causing you a lot of stress.”

“I’m dealing with it,” replied Trip, tersely. “It’s not affecting my work.”

“Not yet. I discussed this with Phlox and he agrees. I’ve arranged for you to talk on subspace to someone at Starfleet Medical’s psychology staff.” Archer could tell that Trip was getting angry about being backed into a corner like this, but he couldn’t think of any other way for his friend to get the help he obviously needed.

“Is this a condition of me staying on Enterprise?”

“If it has to be, but I’d rather you did it because I’m asking you to.”

“You’re not giving me a lot of choice here,” said Trip. “When do I talk to this person?”

“I’ve set up your first appointment for a couple of days time. I think you’ll like her.”

“Her?”

“Her,” replied Archer with a smile.

****

“I don’t know what you want me to talk about,” started Trip.

“Whatever you like,” replied the too young looking woman in front of him on the screen. Her name was Lieutenant Catherine Francis and she was supposedly an expert in thanatological psychology, or the psychology of death, grief and dying. They had already discussed her qualifications for talking to him and Trip couldn’t fault her on her credentials. She’d helped numerous Starfleet officers over several years at Starfleet Medical and was one of the top researchers in her field. However, she did seem far too young to be talking about such morbid subjects as dying from terminal disease.

“I’m coping fine,” said Trip. “I don’t need to talk to some shrink to work through this.”

“You don’t have any problems with being diagnosed with Clarke’s Syndrome?”

“Of course I have problems. I’m dying. I’m going to lose my job because I’m sick and then I’m going to lose my life. It’s not going to be pretty, either. I guess the only thing is that I probably won’t know who I am by the time I get sick enough to die.”

“Does that scare you?”

“Yeah, it scares the hell out of me, but it’s a long way down the road,” said Trip.

“Two years isn’t that far away and it may be less before you have to leave Enterprise,” said Catherine.

“Don’t you ever get fed up of talking to people about how they’re going to die?”

“If I can help people come to terms with their illness and live the best life they can for the time they have left then I have made someone’s life better.”

“And I bet you get a lot of research papers out of people like me,” said Trip sarcastically.

“I do write research papers, but they help other psychologists to help people and I never include anyone in my research without getting their permission,” said Catherine.

“If the Captain hadn’t asked me to talk to you then I wouldn’t even be here.”

“You have friends who worry about you.”

“Yeah. I wish I knew why,” said Trip.

“Because of who you are. You’re a good man, someone that they value and respect,” said Catherine.

“Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m dying,” said Trip. “They can worry all they want and it won’t make a damn bit of difference.”

“Except to them,” replied Catherine. “They want to help you with this but you shut them out. Why don’t you want to talk to me?”

“Talking won’t help me. It changes nothing. I keep telling people that I’m fine, but they don’t listen.”

“They don’t listen because you’re not very convincing,” said Catherine.

Trip laughed. “You’re good.”

“I’ve had a lot of practice. Have you ever cried because of your diagnosis?”

“No. Why would I cry? I’m not sad, I’m angry. It pisses me off. I had plans, and now I’m sick, and the Captain wants me to slow down and everyone keeps expecting me to bare my soul. I don’t want to cry, I want to shout and scream at how unfair the whole damn thing is.”

“So why haven’t you?”

“It wouldn’t accomplish anything.”

“Why don’t you try it and find out?”

“If this is some kind of therapy, you can forget it, because I’m not going to scream at you over subspace,” said Trip, with a half smile.

“I’m not saying now, I’m just suggesting that you don’t bottle up your feelings. You need an outlet. If you want to shout at me, then I’m fine with that.”

“Maybe another time,” said Trip.

Catherine looked as if she realised that this wasn’t progressing anything. “I know that your Captain suggested these sessions, but I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me.”

“You seem like you’re a nice person and I know the Captain picked someone that he thought that I would open up to, but really you’re wasting your time on me. I’m fine. I’ve got a lot of friends here and they’re all watching out for me.”

“But being on Enterprise isn’t what is scaring you. I get the feeling that you’re more worried about what happens when you have to leave. You’ve already told me that you don’t want to lose your job. What are you going to do when you have to leave Enterprise and your friends behind?”

Trip took a deep breath. “I don’t know. I guess I hadn’t thought that far.”

All his efforts had been focussed on staying on Enterprise and he hadn’t really gone past that. Maybe it was time he did that and stopped ignoring the facts of his situation. Catherine offered her help with anything practical that he might need support in and they agreed a time for his next session before he signed off, leaving him alone with his thoughts. He stared at the blank screen and realised that he had a lot to contemplate and resolve. Thoughts kept going around his head about what Clarke’s Syndrome meant for him and everything he’d been pushing down within him bubbled up to the surface. In the end, out of everything, it was the thought of leaving Enterprise for good that made him cry, and he never would have believed that of himself if it hadn’t happened.

****

Trip held out for a whole month before he let Phlox fit the leg brace. By that point the muscles in his leg had become considerably weaker despite his physiotherapy sessions. Physiotherapy had been just another regular part of his day for some time now. Lieutenant Reed would accompany him to the gym and they would go through the exercises. Phlox had put together a program for him that was supposed to maximise the strength that he had and help to maintain his muscles. The problem was that they never made any progress, everything was just forestalling the inevitable. The times when he’d had to endure physiotherapy before, there had always been gradual improvement, every session he would be able to do more with the affected limb. Now he was fighting to stay still. No matter how hard he worked, he never improved, only got worse or remained the same.

Trip hid the limp he had started to develop, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that something was wrong. Eventually Archer asked for his permission to tell the rest of the crew that he was ill and Trip had no choice but to give it. The department heads were briefed and told to tell their crewmembers. The information being given was minimal. It explained that Trip had Clarke’s Syndrome but Phlox was controlling the symptoms. Apart from some minimal allowances regarding the Commander’s working hours, everything else would remain the same, but Trip would eventually be leaving Enterprise.

In some ways everyone knowing what was going on was good. It meant that he could schedule his physiotherapy sessions at more sociable hours, he didn’t have to worry about hiding his symptoms or find excuses for his frequent sickbay visits. It did make him feel very self-conscious, knowing that the rumour mill was working and spinning out tales about him. There were also a few awkward moments with crew who didn’t exactly know how to react around him. A couple of members of his Engineering staff had attempted to do things for him and been growled at for their trouble. After that everyone in Engineering realised that it was business as usual.

Trip was working on a refinement to the warp field when he received a call to come to the bridge. Enterprise had picked up a distress signal about an hour ago, and changed course to try to find its origin when no one answered their hails.

“The distress signal is emanating from a crashed craft on the surface of the third planet in the system,” said T’Pol to the assembled officers. They stood in the situation room around the table-top display.

“Anyone we know?” asked Trip.

“The ship type is not present in the database,” replied T’Pol. “They have sustained extensive damage but I am detecting life signs. From the condition of the craft I believe the crash is recent.”

“How recent?” asked Archer.

“Less than twelve hours,” replied T’Pol.

“Is there any evidence of weapons fire or other ships in the area?” asked Reed.

“Not that I was able to detect,” said T’Pol.

“I’ve tried every frequency and language that I can think of, but they’re not answering,” added Hoshi. “Either their radio’s broken or they just don’t want to talk to us.”

Archer nodded. “Let’s send down an away team, see if we can lend a hand and make some new friends. T’Pol, Trip and Malcolm, you’re the away team. Take Phlox and two of the MACOs with you.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the three officers before leaving the bridge to get their gear together for the away mission.

They took Shuttlepod One down to the surface. The mystery ship still wasn’t answering their attempts to communicate with it. They landed the pod as near as they could get to the crash site and disembarked. They weren’t taking any chances and all of the officers were armed.

The ground resembled a rocky shoreline without the sea and was difficult to walk over. They approached the downed ship cautiously. T’Pol detected life signs and the occupants should have heard the shuttle landing but so far no one had come out to meet them.

“What do you think?” asked Trip.

“Either they’re shy or they’re too badly wounded to move around,” said Reed.

“I guess we have to go and knock on the door,” said Trip.

“We should approach with caution,” said T’Pol.

“Agreed, something doesn’t feel right,” said Reed. “I’ll take point.”

Reed moved to the front of the group, looking around him. They reached the ship and found the hatch open.

“That’s convenient,” said Trip.

“Or a trap,” replied Reed.

“I assure you that we’re very pleased to see you,” said an echoing voice. “You are welcome to enter our ship.”

“Identify yourself,” said T’Pol as she stepped inside.

“I am Captain Lo Pico of the Theran ship Dionas.” A humanoid figure stepped out of the shadows.

“I am Commander T’Pol of the Earth ship Enterprise, we have come in response to your distress call. Do you have wounded? We brought our ship’s doctor.”

“Yes, a number of my crew are injured,” said Lo Pico. “If you would follow me, I’ll take you to them.”

Reed put a hand on T’Pol’s arm as she was about to follow the alien Captain. “Are you sure about this?”

“No, but we came to render aid, we should at least attempt to do so,” said T’Pol.

“She has a point,” said Trip.

“If there are wounded then it’s my duty to treat them,” added Phlox.

Reed sighed, shaking his head. T’Pol simply turned and led the way down the corridor. Trip pushed past her and caught up with the Captain.

“I’m Commander Tucker, Chief Engineer of Enterprise. Have you any idea what brought you down?”

“We currently don’t know what the malfunction was that forced us to land, however my crew are working on that.”

“Maybe I can take a look and see if we can get you back in the air.”

“That would be most helpful and appreciated,” said the Captain. He led the Enterprise team into a more open area of the ship where several injured alien crewmembers lay on obviously makeshift beds. They were being tended to by other members of the crew.

“You certainly look as if you need my services,” said Phlox.

“Indeed we do, doctor. Your arrival was most fortuitous,” said Lo Pico.

The Captain introduced Phlox to the ship’s doctor and before long the two were comparing notes on the treatment of the casualties. Then the ship’s Engineer was summoned and he accompanied Trip to their engine room, Reed following behind them looking worried. He couldn’t have told anyone why he was so jumpy if they had asked, but he had a distinct feeling that something was wrong. There was a smell to the air that he couldn’t place, but it screamed trouble to him.

“So you any closer to working out why you crashed?” Trip asked the Engineer as they entered the engine room. There was evidence of fire and explosions around the engine, and there seemed to be considerable damage. The question which Trip was eager to answer was how much of the damage was superficial and how much was serious.

“Well I think we had an overload in the auxiliary drive loops,” said the Engineer.

“Why don’t you show me and I’ll have a better idea of how the system fits together,” said Trip.

Reed watched as Trip was shown around the rather battered looking engine. His friend was already engrossed in the problem and that meant Reed had to be on his guard for the two of them. Once Trip got stuck into his work he was completely focussed. Reed was happy to pass Trip tools and continue to keep one eye on his surroundings.

“So what do you make of this?” asked Reed to his friend who was lying on his back under a warp coil assembly.

“These are some weird malfunctions, that’s for sure,” said Trip, as he unscrewed a component. He handed it to Reed for the Armoury officer to inspect as well. “Look at the carbon scoring on this, it almost reminds me of…”

“Weapons fire,” finished Reed. Trips eyes widened at Reed’s confirmation of his guess. Reed wondered why he hadn’t seen it before. All around the engine room there was evidence of weapons fire. Some of it was covered by the damage from the crash but now he knew what to look for it leapt out at him. There had definitely been a battle in the engine room of this ship.

“Why would there be weapons fire down here? We didn’t detect any other ships in this area,” said Trip.

“No and they didn’t say anything about being boarded. It makes me wonder about the Captain’s credentials,” said Reed.

“You’re saying they’re mutineers?” Trip looked worried.

“Can you think of any other reason to fire weapons on a ship? I think we need to go and talk to T’Pol.” Reed got up from his position crouched on the floor beside Trip and then offered a hand to his friend. Reed automatically steadied Trip as he regained his feet, he’d worked out a while ago that sudden moves often increased the dizziness Trip felt. As expected Trip wavered slightly but the supporting hand from Reed was enough to steady him.

“We’re just going to go and have a word with our Commanding Officer,” said Trip to the Engineer by way of explanation. “I think we might have a part like this back on Enterprise.”

The Engineer didn’t seem bothered about them leaving Engineering which made Reed wonder if they’d got it wrong completely, or perhaps he just didn’t realise what they could infer from the charred engine part. They were able to find their way back to the main room of the ship and locate T’Pol without incident. She was assessing the supplies situation and comparing it to what Enterprise might have to spare. Phlox was still treating wounded and being assisted by the two MACOs.

Reed quietly reported his findings to T’Pol with Trip backing him up on the technical details.

“If it is the case that there was a mutiny on board this ship, then the injuries sustained should also reflect that.” T’Pol managed to catch Phlox’s eye and indicate for him to join them.

Phlox listened to their concerns and thought for a moment before speaking. “Certainly if this was just down to an engine malfunction I would expect more shrapnel injuries, but the majority of patients here are suffering from energy burns. It is quite possible, in fact likely, that they were caused by weapons fire. My apologies, I should have realised this earlier.”

“That’s okay, Doc, you’ve got a lot of patients and I expect you’re more worried about treating their injuries than how they got them,” said Trip.

“The question is, what do we do?” asked Reed.

“We make our excuses politely and leave,” said T’Pol. “Once we are back on Enterprise we can consult with the Captain on how we proceed from here.”

“You will not be leaving,” said a voice behind them. The four officers turned to find their exit cut off by several aliens holding guns. Trip recognised the engineer he had been working with as one of them, and Captain Lo Pico was at the front of the group. “From your conversation I can tell that you’ve guessed our secret.”

“You are not the legitimate Captain of this vessel,” stated T’Pol.

“I am now,” replied Lo Pico. “Although maybe Captain Tau might disagree with me, considering how we took this ship. I can assure you that he was not worthy to be Captain and if he had handed over command rather than trying to hold on to it we would not have crashed.”

“Captain, the engine is irreparably damaged,” said the engineer.

“The hell it is,” said Trip.

“I see what you’re getting at, Engineer Mot Wa. They have a perfectly good ship and we have six hostages. They can be exchanged for parts or even the whole ship.”

“Captain Archer will never agree to that,” said T’Pol.

“He might if I start killing you one by one,” said Lo Pico. “For now, lock them in the brig. Apart from the Doctor and the Engineer they can still be of use.”

Trip and Phlox were separated from the group at gun-point before the other Enterprise officers were roughly herded to the brig.

****End of Chapter 4****

The first thing that Reed and T’Pol did after they were thrown into the cell was look for weaknesses in the security system, but they found none. They had been searched thoroughly and all their equipment removed, so they had very little to work with. Reed was very concerned for Trip and Phlox’s safety and he didn’t like the fact that they had been separated from the rest of them. Unfortunately all he could do for the moment was wait and hope that Lo Pico gave them an opportunity to escape.

It was impossible to tell how much time passed but it seemed like hours. T’Pol had given up her examinations of the cell and now seemed deep in meditation. She sat cross-legged in a corner. The MACO’s had begun a complicated game that involved an imaginary small furry animal and some dangerous situations for the furry animal to be rescued from. Reed got the impression that they spent a lot of time sitting around waiting and had done this before many times.

The cell door was abruptly pulled open and Trip was roughly shoved through the opening. “Hey, you don’t need to push,” said Trip crossly. Their captors ignored him and firmly shut the door again with a loud clang, jerking T’Pol from her meditation. “Hi honey, I’m home,” Trip added, leaning against the wall. He slid down carefully so that he was sitting with his legs splayed out in front of him.

Reed noticed that Trip seemed tired and he had a new angry looking bruise on his right cheek. He fetched the jug of water that they’d been given and sat down beside Trip. He poured a cup of the liquid and handed it to him. Trip just gave him a nod of thanks and drank deeply.

“I take it that engine repairs are not progressing satisfactorily,” said T’Pol.

“I guess I don’t work fast enough for them,” said Trip. “So any ideas how we’re going to get out of this one?”

“None, as yet,” said Reed.

“Did you see Doctor Phlox?” asked T’Pol.

“No, they brought me straight here from the engine room,” said Trip.

Reed noticed that Trip’s hands were trembling. “How are you holding up?”

“I’ve had better days,” replied Trip.

“Trip, if we’re going to get out of this I need an accurate assessment of your condition.”

“My meds are still in the shuttlepod and I’m well overdue for most of them. I’m slightly dizzy, sore and I’m getting muscle spasms.”

“If you needed to, do you think you could make a run for it?”

“Depends how far we’re going,” replied Trip, and he added mentally to himself, whether there was anything to hang onto.

“All we need to do is get to the shuttlepod,” said Reed.

He went through the route in his mind. Inside the ship should be fine, but there was an area of open ground between the exit and the shuttlepod where he wouldn’t have anything to support himself. “I’ll do my best,” said Trip. “Have you checked the door locks?”

“Yes, no luck there. We couldn’t even get into the circuitry,” replied Reed.

Trip levered himself into a standing position with some effort and a little help from Reed. He went to examine the door himself. “I think I might be able to open this,” he said. “The only problem is that I’m going to need some parts from my leg brace and if I take the brace off then I’m not sure I’ll be able to make a run for it.”

“We’ll carry you if we have to,” said Reed. “If you can get us out of here then we’re one step nearer freedom.”

“The Lieutenant is correct. Getting out of the brig is our current priority,” added T’Pol. “We will work around your disability.”

Trip sat on the floor again and rolled up the left leg of his uniform to reveal the brace beneath. It was a lightweight construction that included servos to help Trip walk, padding and metal supports. Trip unclipped it and set about dismantling it. When he had the parts that he needed he moved back to the locking mechanism and began to work. He was able to detach the protective panel by using a couple of the brace supports as levers and get at the wires beneath. Once the mechanism was exposed, he made use of the servo circuitry to unlock the door by hooking up some wires and cross connecting others. It certainly wasn’t pretty but he was fairly certain that it would work.

“How many guards were there when you were brought back?” asked Reed.

“Two,” replied Trip, “but they were both armed.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We have the advantage of numbers if nothing else,” said Reed. He signalled to the MACOs to join him beside the door. T’Pol moved to beside Trip in case he needed support.

“Ready?” asked Trip.

Reed and T’Pol acknowledged with a nod.

“Okay, here goes.” Trip touched the two wires together that would open the door and the hatch slid back.

The two baffled guards outside obviously weren’t sure what to make of this. They peered into the dimly lit cell, and failed to spot the occupants pressed against the wall by the door. To them it seemed as if the brig was empty. They ventured inside, perplexed by the apparent disappearance of their prisoners, which was when the Enterprise contingent made their move. Their guards soon found themselves on the wrong end of their own weapons after some swift disarming by Reed and the MACOs. Trip reset the lock and they shut the aliens in their own brig.

“We need to find Phlox,” said Trip.

“No doubt he is still in the main area tending to the wounded. The MACOs and I will go to retrieve Doctor Phlox, you and Lieutenant Reed will go back to the shuttle and warn the Captain.”

“Commander, are you sure that’s the best division of tasks?” said Reed.

“I don’t need a bodyguard,” said Trip, quietly terse, intending that only T’Pol hear him, but Reed had good ears.

“If we divide into two groups then we will accomplish more,” replied T’Pol, ignoring Trip’s comment. “We will rendezvous back at the shuttle.”

Reed realised that T’Pol had made her decision and she wasn’t going to change her mind. He gave a nod of assent and then helped a reluctant Trip towards the way out of the ship. His friend’s limp was pronounced and he knew that, despite his protestations, Trip wasn’t well enough to be in this situation. Without the benefit of his medication, the tremors and muscle spasms were becoming worse. Reed was also well aware that CS patients required constant pain management and he could already detect the drawn look to Trip’s face that signalled hidden discomfort.

“God damned Vulcan nursemaid,” complained Trip, almost so quietly that Reed hadn’t caught it.

“Someone needs to get a message back to Enterprise,” replied Reed, not saying what was on both their minds as he unconsciously steadied Trip. They were well aware that splitting the team was a risk and Trip’s condition was why that was necessary. Reed was certain that Trip would have made the same decision had he been in T’Pol’s position but it didn’t make it any easier for him.

T’Pol had long since disappeared with the MACOs in the opposite direction into the central areas of the ship. The metal corridors reflected the light harshly, creating dark corners as the corridor twisted towards the exit. Reed wasn’t stupid enough to believe that they would meet no resistance on their way back to the shuttlepod. He only hoped that it would be minimal and the single stolen weapon that they had between them would be enough to prevent their recapture.

The two officers moved as swiftly as they could. Trip wouldn’t slow down despite his obvious pain in moving. He used the ship’s bulkheads for support, refusing anything other than an occasional steadying hand from the Lieutenant. Reed decided that if Trip was ignoring the problem then he could as well and concentrated on getting both of them past any resistance that they met. The crew of the crashed ship was spread thinly, no doubt because not all of them could be trusted by the new captain. That was always a problem with a mutiny, a new Captain couldn’t be sure that his crew’s loyalty could be trusted. Reed stunned anyone who got in their way easily.

They came to a fork in the corridor and Reed caught the sound of voices coming further down the corridor to the right. He signalled to Trip to take cover while he went to investigate. Trip looked as if he might object for a moment, but he gave Reed a nod and crouched down behind some crates. Reed edged further down the poorly lit area of corridor and came to an open hatchway. Inside he caught a glimpse of communications equipment and a large view-screen. Captain Lo Pico had hailed Enterprise and Captain Archer was clearly visible on the screen. Reed kept himself hidden but close enough to the door to hear what was said inside.

“We do not negotiate with hostage takers,” said Captain Archer.

“Then your men will die,” replied Lo Pico. “I place the blame entirely on you, Captain, if I am forced to kill them.”

“I’ve offered passage to the nearest habitable planet, I can’t give you more than that.”

“I want your ship, Captain. You can have mine in return. It’s a fair exchange.”

“I’d be signing the death warrant of my crew.”

“Or you can sign the death warrant of your away team. Perhaps you need a demonstration of the seriousness of my intent.”

“No,” said Archer, quickly. “No demonstrations are necessary, I’m certain you mean what you say. I need time to consult with my crew.”

“You can have an hour, no more. After that your crew members will die, starting with your first officer.”

Captain Lo Pico indicated that the connection should be terminated and the screen went blank.

“We’ll give them some time to stew over our proposal. If Archer doesn’t agree we’ll kill four of the hostages and put the engineer and the doctor to work. Otherwise we get their ship. Either way we will come out of this game better than we went in.” Lo Pico looked pleased with himself.

Reed decided that he’d heard enough and quietly made his way back to Trip’s hiding place. He crouched down beside the Commander and gave him a summary of what he’d just heard.

“It sounds like the Captain’s playing for time,” said Trip.

“Yes, I thought so too. At least it means that they don’t know that we’re gone yet.” Reed got to his feet and offered Trip a hand up, which he accepted gratefully. “I think we should probably avoid that corridor, however. I don’t want to push our luck too far.”

“What luck would that be, Lieutenant?” asked Trip. “I don’t think we’ve had much.”

“I thought I was the pessimist,” replied Reed.

Trip shrugged. “I’m just pointing out that we could do with things going our way for a change.”

“Then we’d better get moving again and let the Captain know that he doesn’t need to send a rescue party for us. How’s your leg doing?”

“As long as I’ve got someone to hang onto it should be fine.”

“Good. Let me know if you need a break.”

“Okay,” Trip agreed grudgingly and Reed knew how much it cost the Commander’s pride to admit that he wasn’t at full strength.

They continued down the other corridor and circled round back towards the entrance to avoid going past the communications room. It didn’t take long to make the detour but it did mean they had to walk further than Reed would have liked. Trip had been tired when they started, having been made to work on the Therans’ engine for hours without a break. Fatigue always made his symptoms worse and now he was flagging badly, his body wracked occasionally by muscle spasms.

Reed was relieved when he saw the hatchway ahead of them. They edged closer warily. There were no guards visible.

“This has got to be a trap,” whispered Trip.

“It does seem unlikely that the entrance wouldn’t be guarded,” replied Reed.

“Maybe they’re outside.”

“Or they’re waiting for us to show ourselves.”

“I don’t like this.”

“Join the club, Commander.” Reed was on full alert and his nerves were singing with the danger in the air. “But this is our only way out.”

“What do you think we should do?”

“Proceed with caution,” replied Reed. They crept to the entranceway and Reed carefully peered around the edge of the doorframe. He couldn’t see anything except the shuttle parked a few metres away. He waved Trip forward behind him and stepped out into the daylight of the planet. The lack of movement was eerie and very unsettling, but Reed would take it over a pitched battle any day.

The rocky terrain between the Theran ship and the shuttle caused them some problems. Trip stumbled and fell several times before he gave in and let Reed support him on his weak side.

“Not far now,” said Reed.

“Easy for you to say,” replied Trip, breathlessly.

They finally made it to the shuttle and Reed pulled open the hatch while Trip lent against the hull. Reed’s eyes went wide as he was met with the muzzle of Theran pistol. He rolled sideways quickly and fired at the alien who was coming towards him. He saw Trip drop to the ground as well but didn’t see what happened after that because he was on the move again. The first Theran went down but there were others in the shuttle who had used their colleague as a shield and were firing their own weapons. Reed got himself behind a large boulder and returned fire, trying to catch sight of where Trip had hidden himself.

“Hold it, Lieutenant,” shouted one of the aliens. “We have Commander Tucker. Drop your weapon and come out or we will kill him.”

Reed looked around the boulder in the direction of the shout and saw Trip lying on the rock strewn ground, hands held up above his head. Two Therans pointed weapons at him. Reed could easily imagine how they had caught him. Trip just couldn’t move very quickly at the moment and the rocky ground made life even more difficult. Reed had no choice but to surrender. He tossed the weapon out and then raised his hands as he got to his feet.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” said the Theran.

Reed vaguely registered Trip shouting and the flash of a gun firing, then pain exploded on his upper body. The ground was hard when he hit it.

“You bastard!” Trip was shouting and being held back by two Theran guards. “He was surrendering!”

“The Captain’s orders were clear about what we should do if you tried to escape. We don’t need him, but you can be of use to us. Leave the body here.”

Reed saw them drag Trip, who was struggling as hard as he could, back towards the ship, and then the pain became too much to deal with and his brain refused to stay conscious any longer.

****End of Chapter Five****

T’Pol and her group encountered only empty corridors on the way to free Phlox. The ship seemed to be down to a skeleton crew with so many injured and undoubtedly some dead after the mutiny and ensuing crash. T’Pol led the way down the corridor. They reached the area where the wounded were being treated and noted that this was heavily guarded. They saw two Therans carrying weapons coming in their direction and had to withdraw before they were spotted. T’Pol signalled to the two MACOs that they needed to find somewhere to hide. They quickly backtracked along the corridor and found a hatch. It was locked but Corporal Vincent was able to break the code pad and open the door. They stumbled into the dimly lit room, shutting the door behind them and came face to face with another group of Therans.

“Who are you?” asked one of the group.

The MACO’s turned their stolen weapons on the Therans, however the Therans weren’t armed.

“And what are you doing on my ship?”

T’Pol raised an eyebrow, and indicated to the MACOs to lower their weapons, which they did grudgingly. No soldier liked to be at a disadvantage even against unarmed opposition. There were at least six Therans in the room against only three of them.

“I am Commander T’Pol of the starship Enterprise. We came to offer aid to your ship.”

“And became caught up in our internal politics,” said the Theran.

“I assume that you are loyal to the former Captain of this vessel,” said T’Pol, examining the Theran in front of her carefully. These people had been locked in this room and had to be the loyal members of the crew.

“I am the former Captain,” replied the Theran. “My name is Ro Tau. This is my first officer Commander Den Ohn and the members of my crew who refused to join Lo Pico.”

“Lo Pico has captured our Doctor and I need to free him before I can return to our ship. If you help us then I can arrange for transport off this world.”

“I would prefer to take back my ship. I am not a coward who runs from his enemies. But I will help you free your Doctor. Where is he being held?”

“The main area of your ship has been turned into an infirmary. Our Doctor is treating your injured there. Lo Pico has posted a number of guards.”

Ro Tau nodded. “He is defending an important area of the ship as well as keeping an eye on any of the wounded who remain loyal to me. There is a weapons locker down the corridor. If we can arm ourselves then we stand a chance of reclaiming this ship and rescuing your Doctor.”

“Lo Pico seems to have very few men. We were able to get this far without significant resistance.”

“Good, then we will be able to get to the weapons unobstructed.”

T’Pol nodded. “I suggest that you show us their location.”

Ro Tau stepped up to the hatch and cracked it open enough to be able to observe the corridor and check that it was clear. He slipped out followed by T’Pol, the MACOs and the rest of the captive Therans. The former Captain led the way to a metal cupboard attached to wall. He pressed his hand against a plate on the front of the cabinet and there was an audible click of a lock disengaging. He opened the door and passed out the weapons that were inside to T’Pol and his men. He also passed out communication devices which fitted around the wrist of the wearer. He briefly instructed the Enterprise team on how to use the communicators and then outlined his plan to take back the central atrium of the ship.

T’Pol was aware that Ro Tau knew the lay out of the ship far better than she did and she had little choice but to accept his plan. However, on the face of it, what he proposed seemed reasonable. Ro Tau wanted to split into two teams and approach from two sides, using a maintenance passage to get round the room to the other side.

T’Pol and the MACOs waited with Ro Tau while Den Ohn led the other Therans through the maintenance passage. Den Ohn contacted them on the communicator when they were in position. This would be a delicate operation with wounded and Doctor Phlox in the room. The deposed captain promised T’Pol that his men were good marksmen and none of the non-combatants would be hurt.

T’Pol nodded to Ro Tau that she and the MACOs were ready. The signal was given and both teams stepped into the room. T’Pol shouted for Phlox to get down and the doctor was smart enough to do so without waiting to be told a second time. A split second after Phlox took cover, they opened fire on the four mutineer guards who stood around the make-shift infirmary. They were surrounded and taken down easily.

The firing ceased and Phlox poked his head up above the empty bed he had taken cover behind. “I am very glad to see you, T’Pol,” said Phlox.

“Thank you for your help, Commander,” said Ro Tau as he approached her. His men were currently tying up the stunned mutineers, bundling them into a corner until they awoke and could be moved elsewhere.

“Your assistance was also appreciated,” said T’Pol.

“I think we can take it from here. We have a little more work to do yet though,” replied Ro Tau.

“I understand,” replied T’Pol and turned to Phlox. “We should leave. Ro Tau will be taking back his ship and I do not wish to be caught in the cross fire.”

“Indeed,” said Phlox, gathering together his medical bag rapidly. “Where are Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker?”

“Commander Tucker was experiencing some fatigue so I asked Lieutenant Reed to accompany him back to the shuttlepod.”

“T’Pol!” said Phlox in alarm, “I heard Lo Pico talking about sending men to the shuttlepod to investigate it. They may have walked into a trap.”

T’Pol didn’t wait for further explanation from Phlox. She left the room at a run, the MACOs and Phlox following her towards the exit.

****

Trip’s reserves of energy were waning and the fight was draining out of him by the time they reached the Dionas’s engine room. He couldn’t struggle and walk at the same time while his balance was playing up. His nerves were reminding him that he was overdue for his anti-inflammatory and pain medication. Overriding all of his physical pain was the emotional pain of knowing that his friend had died for him, or at least because of him and the illness he was afflicted with. A harsh spasm wracked his body and his guards pulled him to his feet when it caused him to stumble again.

“Look, I’m sick and my medication is in the shuttlepod. You have to let me get it if you want me to do any work for you,” said Trip, desperately hoping that he could find a way of escaping.

“You’re not going anywhere. You’ll work or we’ll kill you,” replied the guard and Trip realised that they weren’t going to make this easy for him.

“I’ll tell you where the medication is and you can get it for me.” Trip tried to sound reasonable, as if he was making a concession and really wanted to help. If he was going to stand any chance of getting out of this, he needed to take his medicine. He was beginning to wish he’d been able to reassemble the brace for his leg before they had to leave the brig, at least his leg wouldn’t be buckling under him when he tried to put weight on it.

“We have re-captured your team. There is no point in trying my patience further,” said Lo Pico, walking into the engine room. “Fix the engine or I’ll kill the rest of your team.”

“No! I’m telling the truth. I really do need that medication to work. Look,” Trip held up his shaking hand.

“Get his medication,” said Lo Pico to one of the guards. “He’s no good to us sick.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the guard, leaving the room at a run.

“If you’re tricking me, Tucker, then I can guarantee you’ll be in a lot more pain than you are now,” snarled the alien Captain. “Your Captain didn’t seem interested in trading you for his ship so it’s looking like you’re my only way off this rock. How does it feel to know that your Captain has abandoned you?”

Trip didn’t trust himself to speak so he glared at Lo Pico and remained silent. He couldn’t tell if Lo Pico was telling the truth or not about recapturing the others, but Trip couldn’t take the chance that he was. He’d seen Reed shot for no reason and didn’t doubt that Captain Lo Pico would kill again if he felt he needed to. He couldn’t get the image out of his head of Reed’s blood spilling onto the rocks and above all he wanted to avoid another death. He was sure that Captain Archer wouldn’t abandon him willingly, but then Archer had to think of the rest of the crew as well. Sheer numbers of lives in the equation meant that Archer might have to abandon the away team rather than agree to Lo Pico’s terms.

The ship’s com unit sounded.

“Captain, to the bridge,” said a voice.

“Get to work,” said Lo Pico and strode out of the engine room, leaving Trip to the mercies of the remaining guard and Mot Wa the Theran Chief Engineer.

****

T’Pol and the rest of the Enterprise away team had not been captured and were, in fact, nearing the ship’s exit hatch. T’Pol kept her eyes open for potential enemies as she led the way at a run down the deserted corridor. Ro Tau was obviously providing sufficient distraction because so far their route had been deserted. It was as T’Pol stepped out into the hazy daylight that she saw the prone form of Lieutenant Reed lying near the shuttlepod.

It was clear that Reed was badly injured, but she was still cautious about approaching the shuttlepod. She signalled the two MACOs to cover her and used the larger boulders to stay hidden as she made her way towards the injured man. She reached Reed and felt for a pulse. It was weak but it was there. She applied pressure to the large wound on Reed’s chest with one hand and waved the others forward. T’Pol kept watch while Phlox moved across the rocky, open ground and arrived at her side.

“I have a medical emergency,” said T’Pol as Phlox got closer.

The doctor saw Reed and immediately went to work.

“What about Commander Tucker?” asked Phlox.

T’Pol scanned the surrounding area; she too had been puzzled and concerned by Trip’s absence. “He is not in the immediate vicinity. It is likely that he has been recaptured. For now we must concentrate on Lieutenant Reed.”

“We need to get him back to Enterprise now,” said Phlox. “He was hit in the chest by an energy beam and I need to repair the damage as soon as possible. The heat from the weapon partially cauterized the wound, but he’s still lost a lot of blood.”

“There may still be Therans holding the shuttlepod,” said T’Pol.

“He won’t last long without proper medical attention and I don’t have the supplies or equipment here,” said Phlox.

“I’m aware of the problem, Doctor,” said T’Pol. She had already calculated the difficulties that an injured man added to the equation. “Stay here with Lieutenant Reed,” she added to Phlox and then gave the MACOs the signal to cover her as she moved to investigate the shuttlepod.

T’Pol reached the hatch and indicated to the MACOs to take up position. She grabbed hold of the handle and pulled open the door. She rolled to the side as the hatch swung open and avoided the gun shot aimed at her previous position. The MACOs didn’t need her to give the order, they were already on the move. The Theran soldiers went down before they even knew what had hit them.

“Tie them up,” said T’Pol, picking herself up from the ground. She turned on the Theran communicator and alerted Ro Tau to the extra prisoners. T’Pol helped Phlox gently carry Lieutenant Reed to the shuttlepod, where the doctor settled his patient in the back.

“What are you going to do about Commander Tucker?” asked Phlox, while he tended to the pale skinned Lieutenant.

“The MACOs will take you back to Enterprise. I will return to the ship and attempt to retrieve Commander Tucker.”

“Maybe we should contact the Captain…”

“When you are on route back to Enterprise you should inform the Captain of the situation. My responsibility is to ensure the Commander’s safety,” replied T’Pol, cutting Phlox off before he could finish.

“It is easier to seek forgiveness than ask permission,” said Phlox, knowingly.

“I am simply correcting an error in my judgement,” said T’Pol.

“You didn’t know that this would happen when you made your decision. Going back, alone, into such a volatile situation is extremely unwise.” Phlox’s blue eyes were sharp with worry.

“I will not be alone; it is in Captain Tau’s interests to help me. I must carry out my duty, Doctor.”

Phlox sighed. “Well, if I can’t talk you out of it, you’d better take the Commander’s medication with you. He will no doubt need it urgently by the time you reach him.”

T’Pol retrieved the medical kit that Trip always carried with him and had stowed in the shuttlepod earlier. After the farce with the Colchans it had been decided that, in first contact situations, Trip shouldn’t carry his medicine with him. This time that policy had backfired and Trip had been left without his much-needed medication for far too long.

“I will contact Enterprise once the situation is resolved,” said T’Pol and with that she left the shuttlepod to return to the Theran ship, stopping only to convey her orders to the MACOs.

She heard the shuttlepod take off as she re-entered the ship, but her sensitive ears had also picked up the sound of two voices moving nearer along the corridor.

“I don’t understand why we need him,” complained one.

“To fix the damn ship so we can get off this forsaken rock,” replied the other.

“He can’t be that great if he’s too sick to work without his drugs,” said the first.

T’Pol quickly realised that they were talking about Trip and knew she had just been given her way to find her missing crewmember.

****

Trip was feeling worse by the minute. His balance was poor and his coordination lacking. Neither of these things was ideal when working on a warp engine. The combination of pain, shakes, dizziness, loss of balance and nonexistent coordination were making it impossible to concentrate. He’d tried to explain that he needed to rest or just wait until the guards got back with his medication, but Mot Wa wouldn’t listen. He was working with a gun permanently at his head and the last thing he wanted was for Captain Archer to rescue a dead body. He doubted that he was doing his best work in any case and progress was slow without needing to artificially lower his rate of work.

He wondered if T’Pol had been able to rescue Phlox with the MACOs and perhaps they were already on their way back to Enterprise for help. That cheered him up slightly, until he remembered that even if he was rescued, Malcolm was still dead. He had been protecting him at the time and the guilt was overwhelming. He felt that if he had been healthy then he would have been able to do something, or the situation wouldn’t have arisen in the first place.

Trip’s weak left leg gave way as he tried to stand up and he ended up collapsing back to the ground, too sore and defeated to care what might happen to him.

“Get up,” said one of the guards, in an annoyed tone.

“You know, you’re really beginning to get on my nerves. You can take your damn repairs and shove them…” Before Trip could finish his tirade of angry abuse, he heard the sound of weapons fire. His guard’s focus immediately changed and with the last of his strength Trip pushed himself up and fell into the guard, grabbing at his gun.

All Trip’s anger at the situation, Reed’s injury and his own disabilities were pushed into his effort to subdue the guard. Adrenaline poured into his system and he found a reserve of strength. His vision narrowed to his immediate survival and hatred of the Therans. He wasn’t really paying attention to the fight, just punching and kicking his opponent as hard as he could. Finally a well placed elbow knocked the guard’s head sufficiently hard against the deck that he fell into unconsciousness.

At the moment Trip had achieved his victory, engineering became a storm of weapons fire. He didn’t really understand what was going on, he hadn’t expected to see the Therans fighting amongst themselves, but that wasn’t his primary concern. He decided to stay down and wait for an opportunity to escape. He took the guard’s weapon and crawled into cover by the side of the warp engine.

He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to aim at whoever had come around the corner of the engine.

“You took your time,” said Trip, lowering the weapon when he saw who it was.

“I came as quickly as was possible in the circumstances,” replied T’Pol and hit the deck as a shot impacted the bulkhead beside her. “I am continually amazed by your ability to get into trouble.”

“It isn’t my fault that they needed an engineer.” Trip paused a moment and then added soberly, “T’Pol, they killed Malcolm.”

“The Lieutenant is not dead and most likely back on Enterprise by now being tended to by the doctor.”

“You found him alive? But they shot him in the chest.”

“He was badly injured but alive. I will provide you with more details once we are not in the line of fire. I have brought your medication.” T’Pol took the pouch off her belt and took out three hyposprays. She noted that Trip’s hands were shaking too badly to hold the hypospray so she administered the medication. “Can you walk?”

“Not well,” said Trip, honestly. There was no point in lying, T’Pol could see the tremors that ran through his body easily. The medication would take a little time to work and they needed to move now.

“Vulcans are strong. I will be able to carry you if necessary.” T’Pol checked that the fighting was no longer aimed in their direction and pulled Trip to his feet.

“What’s going on?” asked Trip.

“The Captain is attempting to take his ship back.” T’Pol manhandled Trip towards the exit out of engineering.

“Right, of course,” said Trip, his brain had just refused to connect the dots until T’Pol had explained the situation. It should have been obvious but he was in pain and his concentration wasn’t at its best. The trip out of the ship became a blur of movement and continuous pain and weakness. Finally they were outside and a shuttlepod was waiting for them. Trip was helped on board and seated on one of the benches at the back. T’Pol sat beside him, keeping him upright. He leant his head against the hull and closed his eyes, drifting into a disturbed sleep.

****

He woke up in sickbay. That wasn’t surprising given what he’d been through and it was becoming a common occurrence. However he was surprised that he had been so deeply asleep that he hadn’t woken when the shuttlepod reached Enterprise. The events before T’Pol had found him came flooding back.

“Malcolm!” He attempted to sit up but he seemed to be hooked up to a number of monitors and medical devices. A loud beeping began and Phlox and Captain Archer were beside him in seconds.

“Easy, Trip, you’ve been out for a while,” said Archer, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“Malcolm was shot. Is he okay?”

“He should make a full recovery,” said Phlox. “He was very lucky that we found him when we did.”

“He’s in the next bed,” added Archer, pulling back the curtain so that Trip could see.

Trip sighed with relief when he saw the evidence with his own eyes. Lieutenant Reed lay in the next bed breathing evenly.

“I thought he was dead.”

“Any longer and he may well have been,” replied Phlox.

“It was all my fault. I fell, and they used me as bait,” said Trip.

“You didn’t shoot him, Trip,” said Archer, gently. “According to T’Pol, it was you who got everyone out of the cell.”

“Yeah and did you read the rest of T’Pol’s report? Did she tell you about how I could barely walk? How I nearly got everyone killed?”

“You’re exaggerating. You all came back, and that’s the main thing. Right now Phlox wants to keep an eye on you for a couple of days and we’ll talk about all of this when you’re back on your feet.”

“Bed rest?” asked Trip, miserably.

“I’m afraid so, Commander,” replied Phlox. Trip groaned, his face falling, but Phlox ignored him. “Just for a couple of days until I’m satisfied that your medication has been balanced again.”

“Get some rest, Commander,” said Archer, “I’ll drop by again tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Captain,” said Trip, but he was tiring and knew he wouldn’t be able to keep his eyes open much longer. He briefly had time to wonder if Phlox had slipped him something before he once again fell sleep.

****

Archer kept his promise and found time the next day to visit his officers in sickbay.

“Ah Captain, you’re just in time,” greeted a jovial Phlox as he entered. “Lieutenant Reed is conscious and has been asking for you.”

Archer nodded and went over to Reed’s corner of sickbay. He noted that the curtain had been drawn back on one side so that Reed could see Trip and vice versa.

“They were both restless until I made sure that they could have line of sight to each other,” explained Phlox, softly, noting Archer’s interest.

“They went through a lot on that planet,” said Archer, equally quietly.

“Captain?” asked a weak, scratchy, voice with an English accent.

“Lieutenant,” said Archer stepping up to the side of Reed’s biobed. “How are you feeling?”

“Rather numb, actually, sir. Although I expect the pain will hit as soon as these rather nice drugs wear off,” said Reed.

“You had us all worried for a while there, Malcolm, but Phlox tells me that you’re going to be fine.”

“Thanks to the good doctor patching me up,” said Reed with a smile. He lowered his voice slightly. “Trip told me that he thinks it was his fault I got shot, but he’s not to blame for this. I made a foolish decision when I allowed myself to be disarmed. I should have been able to get us both out of there unharmed. I wouldn’t have been injured and Trip wouldn’t be in such bad shape. I should have made sure that he was protected.”

“T’Pol said something similar in her report. She believes that her decision to split the team was wrong,” said Archer.

“Given the circumstances it was the right thing to do. We had a sick officer and Phlox being held hostage. She didn’t know that the shuttlepod was a trap, and I should have seen it coming. It was far too quiet when we exited the ship.”

“It sounds to me as if there were a number of contributing factors, and I can’t say that any of you did something that I wouldn’t have done,” said Archer. “We’ll have a full debrief once you’re out of here but I’m certain that you all acted properly.” What Archer didn’t say was that he had been having doubts of his own about the mission and whether he should have sent the away team down at all. That was something that he had to think about and it wasn’t going to resolve itself today.

He looked across Reed’s bed towards Trip. Reed’s gaze followed his and they both saw Trip shiver.

“Commander, are you cold?” asked Reed.

“Nah, ‘s too hot in here,” said Trip, and Archer noticed sweat beading on his forehead. Even he knew this wasn’t a good sign.

“Doctor?” asked Archer. Phlox had been hovering nearby and was now checking readings on the biomonitor above Trip’s bed.

“Hmmm, you have a slightly elevated temperature. I’d better take some blood to test.”

“Feels like I’ve got the ‘flu,” said Trip, and Archer detected a slight slur to his speech. He moved around Reed’s biobed and to Trip’s side. His skin was a little flushed and his eyes had a fever shine to them. He winced at the prick from Phlox withdrawing blood.

“It will take me a few minutes to analyse this,” said Phlox and bustled off.

Archer pulled up a stool to sit on between the two biobeds. Reed was looking concernedly in Trip’s direction and Archer knew he probably had a very similar expression on his face. Trip wasn’t supposed to be getting more ill, he was supposed to be resting and recovering his strength with the help of Phlox’s medication. The previous time when Trip’s medication had been out of sync, it had just involved a couple of days of rest while Phlox juggled things. After that Trip had been back to normal, or as normal as he could be when suffering from a debilitating terminal disease. These symptoms sent up red flags in Archer’s head and he was worried about what this meant for the progress of the disease.

Archer made small talk with Trip, telling him about the latest football game that had come in over subspace, but Trip seemed very tired. Reed attempted to join in but his voice barely carried across to Trip and he knew nothing about American football anyway. Reed fell asleep while Archer gave Trip a blow by blow account of the play as he remembered it, promising that they’d watch it together as soon as Trip was out of sickbay.

It was considerably longer than a few minutes by the time Phlox returned with the results of his tests.

“The Commander’s immune system is very low due to exhaustion from the past few days activities. He has picked up a bacterial infection, probably from the planet, and, although it wouldn’t normally be serious, his condition could make it difficult for him to fight off without help. I’ll start him on antibiotics and that should do the trick.”

“So it’s nothing to do with my CS?” asked Trip, sleepily.

“I wouldn’t say nothing to do with, but it is basically a separate infection,” replied Phlox.

Archer breathed a mental sigh of relief, and wondered when things had got so bad that he was happy to hear that Trip had an infection. The infection itself would have been bad enough to put Trip in sickbay normally, but at least it wasn’t another stage of the Clarke’s Syndrome kicking in. Archer stayed with Trip until he fell asleep again, but his commitments to the ship meant he couldn’t stay longer, however he would be back as soon as he could. Trip hated sickbay and there was no way Archer would be leaving him to get through this alone.

****

Archer spent the next few days doing his paperwork in sickbay rather than his ready room so that he could spend time with his sick Chief Engineer. The infection had worsened and Trip had fallen into delirium. He slept restlessly and often awoke from dreams only to continue them into wakefulness.

“The warp engine, Captain!” said Trip, urgently. “The shielding failed and the temperature’s rising. I need to get down to Engineering.”

“It’s okay, Trip, there’s nothing wrong with the engine,” said Archer. “If the shielding had failed we’d know about it.”

“It’s too hot, something’s got to be wrong with the cooling system.”

“There’s nothing wrong, you’re the one who’s too hot. You’re ill remember?”

“Ill?” asked Trip. “But I was in engineering, just a moment ago.”

“You picked up a bug down on the planet. You’ve been here for the past three days.”

“Three days?” asked Trip, then he seemed to see something in a corner and began quietly muttering to himself while his eyes watched whatever it was that he was seeing.

It disturbed Archer to see Trip like this, but Phlox kept on reassuring him that it would pass. Archer had lost count of the number of bags of antibiotics that Phlox had hung on the IV stand and had been dripped into his friend’s veins.

Things, of course, got worse before they got better, Trip’s temperature continued to rise alarmingly. The delirium was replaced by unconsciousness and Phlox instigated some drastic rapid cooling measures to bring Trip’s condition back under control. Cooling blankets were deployed and antipyretics were increased to levels that Phlox would have preferred not to use, but, eventually, it worked. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief that the doctor had been able to deal with the infection, but Trip remained unconscious.

Instead of the two days of bed rest that Phlox had originally prescribed, it had been over a week. Archer didn’t know what else he could do other than visit Trip whenever he could. He had passed beyond worried days ago, he had moved into anxious and he was certain that he had now reached fearful. He felt responsible for sending Trip on the away mission which had gone so disastrously wrong for everyone.

At least Lieutenant Reed had suffered no complications from his wound, and been allowed out of sickbay. Phlox had insisted on complete rest for another few days, followed by light duty, and Reed had grudgingly agreed. Archer knew that he’d be sneaking down to the Armoury as soon as he thought he could get away with it. It cheered him up slightly to know that some things didn’t change.

Archer realised that he had a staff meeting to attend in a few minutes and it was time to leave Trip’s bedside. He glanced over and realised that Trip was looking at him. His eyes were open and blinking tiredly.

“Captain?” Trip asked, his voice dry and brittle.

“Hey there,” said Archer, quietly. The words almost caught in his throat, he was so pleased to see Trip awake. He reached for the glass of water that was on the bedside and helped Trip take a couple of sips. “How are you feeling?”

“Like crap,” replied Trip, honestly.

Archer chuckled. “That doesn’t surprise me. You’ve had a dangerously high temperature for the last few days, but your fever broke yesterday.”

“I was having some weird dreams. Lots of hot places.”

“You were delirious from the fever and kept telling me that the cooling system had failed on the reactor,” said Archer, with a smile.

“It felt like it had. Even when I’m sick I’m still worrying about the damn warp engine,” said Trip, and returned the smile.

“I’d expect nothing less from the best Engineer in the Fleet,” replied Archer lightly. “I hope you don’t think you’re getting overtime for it though.”

“If I added up all my real hours of overtime it would send Starfleet bust,” replied Trip, laughing. The laugh turned into a cough and brought Phlox over. Archer excused himself to allow the doctor room to examine his recently awoken patient, and as he left sickbay he glanced back. This had been hard, on Trip and his friends, no one was ready to lose the Engineer and Archer wasn’t sure that they ever would be.

****

Archer arrived at sickbay, not to visit the sick, but to accompany his Chief Engineer back to his quarters. Trip asked about how Engineering had been doing without him, but the conversation was a bit one sided, Archer was too preoccupied to really concentrate on what Trip was saying. He had spent a lot of the last week thinking whilst he’d been sitting at Trip’s bedside and he had come to a difficult decision. He had been waiting until Trip had been discharged from sickbay, not wanting to add to his friend’s problems, but it couldn’t be put off any longer.

Archer settled Trip in bed in his quarters as per Phlox’s orders, pulled up a chair and began one of the hardest conversations that he thought he’d ever have.

“Trip, I think we need to talk about what happened on the planet,” said Archer.

“I know what you’re going to say, Captain, no more away missions,” said Trip.

Archer was stunned for a moment. Trip had done his dirty work for him by actually saying what he’d been working up to. Archer was at least spared from saying it, but the conversation still had to be had.

“We both know that a bad situation was made worse by your illness. All the decisions that were made on that mission had to take into account the fact that you were functioning at less than a hundred percent.”

“I know,” replied Trip, resignedly. “But I’m fine when I take my medication. I could start carrying it with me again.”

“Suppose you’re captured and your medication confiscated? I can’t allow you to put yourself in a situation like that again when this is what it does to you. Your leg is getting worse and your balance, and, well, you’re just…”

“I’m a liability,” said Trip before Archer could finish.

“No, I’d never say that you were a liability, I’m just worried about your safety and the safety of this crew,” said Archer. “From now on Lieutenant Hess will go in your place. She’s competent and smart, and you’ve trained her well.”

“Yeah, I know. She’s going to make a great Chief Engineer one of these days.” Trip stared at his hands. “Why do I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle?”

“You haven’t lost yet, Trip. You’re still a valuable member of this crew and don’t underestimate how much Enterprise needs you. I wish I didn’t have to do this, but I have to think of the rest of the crewmembers on this ship. I’ll do everything I can to help you, but I won’t put people in danger.”

“I understand,” said Trip.

“I want you to talk to Dr Francis about this,” said Archer. Trip was going to need the psychologist’s support through this.

“If you don’t mind, Captain, I’d just like some time to myself right now.” The voice was quiet and lost. It didn’t sound much like the outgoing southerner that Archer knew so well.

“Sure, Trip.” Archer nodded in understanding and left Trip alone.

He had never seen Trip look so dejected and it hurt him that he was the cause of that pain. Trip seemed broken, as if his spirit had just heard the final death knell and knew the end was approaching. He knew his friend saw it as a milestone on the path of his illness. It was another battle lost in the war for Trip’s quality of life, and one step closer to the day he gave up his post as Chief Engineer. Sometimes being the Captain was a lousy job.

****End of Chapter Six****

Lieutenant Reed had been back on full duty in the Armoury for only a couple of days, when there had been a failure in one of the power conduits. The failure had caused massive systems malfunctions and a lot of work for everyone. Engineering was working a double shift and looked as if it could turn into a triple.

Now Reed found himself in need of something to keep him going. Normally working late wouldn’t have been a problem, but his injury had weakened him, and he hadn’t been prepared for how tired it would make him feel. He entered the mess hall, picked up a mug and filled it with strong black tea, knowing that there was more to be done before he could go to bed. He noticed Hoshi, Travis and Trip sitting at one of the tables in the centre of the room and decided to see if they would mind him joining them.

“Is this seat taken?” asked Reed.

“No, sir,” said Hoshi, with a bright smile.

“Malcolm,” said Trip with a nod and Travis added a “Sir” in greeting.

“So is the Armoury still in one piece?” asked Travis.

Reed took a sip of his tea, considered the question and nodded. “Well at least we should be able to defend ourselves now, but we still have an inordinate number of damaged systems to repair.”

Reed watched Trip play with the piece of pecan pie that he had in front of him. The Engineer wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation and seemed to be spending most of his time staring out of the window. He’d briefly seen Trip earlier dashing around trying to fix things but hadn’t had time to speak with him about anything other than the power problems.

“The communication console was damaged as well,” said Hoshi. “I’ve had to reload the language database from the backups.”

“This is certainly one day that I’ll be glad when it’s over,” said Reed.

“Does anyone know what this week’s film is?” asked Hoshi.

“I haven’t heard yet,” said Reed.

“I think they mentioned something about a James Bond double bill,” said Travis.

“Which actor is playing James Bond?” asked Reed.

“I don’t know. Does it make a difference?” Travis glanced over at Trip obviously expecting him to jump in here with some comment. Trip didn’t notice the look and still didn’t seem to be paying much attention to the conversation.

“Personally I always thought no one was better than Sean Connery,” said Reed.

“Really? I’m more of a Pierce Brosnan fan. Better looking.” Hoshi grinned mischievously.

“Come on, you can’t beat Daniel Craig. Casino Royale was my favourite,” said Travis.

“What about you, Commander?” asked Reed, trying to bring Trip into the conversation.

Trip looked up, surprised. “Sorry, what are we talking about?”

“James Bond movies,” supplied Hoshi, looking a little worriedly at Trip.

“Not really my sort of movie. I’ve got to get back to Engineering.” Trip rose from the table and picked up his plate of half-eaten pie, missing the concerned glances that passed between his colleagues. They watched him leave the mess hall and almost bump into T’Pol as he did so. T’Pol merely raised an eyebrow at the near miss and inclined a head at Trip’s muttered apology. Reed indicated that T’Pol should join them and a few moments later the Vulcan sat down at the table with a mug of mint tea.

“What is up with Commander Tucker?” asked Travis.

“He has rather a lot on his mind, Ensign,” Reed pointed out.

“I know, sir, but he wasn’t like this before.”

Reed was glad of Travis’s direct approach to the question that had been worrying them, but it did seem to be rather strange to wonder why Trip was upset. Obviously Trip was going to be sad and depressed, they all knew what his problem was, but something was different now. His behaviour had changed recently. Trip had seemed to be dealing with his illness, albeit by ignoring it, but now he was sullen and withdrawn most of the time.

“He’s been like this ever since he was discharged from sickbay,” Hoshi put in. “I went down to Engineering today to see him about repairs to the com system and it was like talking with a robot.”

“He is very ill,” T’Pol reminded them. “However I agree that he seems to be acting differently.”

“He’s kind of just going through the motions,” agreed Travis.

“It’s almost like we have the ghost of Trip Tucker haunting Engineering,” said Reed, and everyone around the table knew exactly what he meant. The problem was that no one had any idea what to do about helping Trip.

****

Lieutenant Catherine Francis looked out of the view screen at her long distance patient. He looked a little tired and preoccupied. He wasn’t looking at her but at his clasped hands that rested on the desk in front of him.

“Captain Archer called me. He told me about your unsuccessful away mission and that you are no longer cleared for away missions.”

“Yeah, well, it’s probably for the best. I was just getting in everyone’s way,” said Trip.

“You were originally assigned to the mission because of your Engineering expertise, weren’t you?” asked Catherine.

Trip nodded and looked up for the first time during the conversation. “I know that I’m good at my job. There’s nothing wrong with my brain. Well, actually there is, but I’m still thinking fine for the moment. Phlox is monitoring that side of things too.”

“What makes you think that you were in the way?”

Trip sighed. “If I hadn’t been sick then T’Pol wouldn’t have needed to split the team, Malcolm probably wouldn’t have been shot and T’Pol wouldn’t have had to put herself in danger to get me out of there. Even when I’m back on the ship this damn illness means I’m stuck in sickbay for a week.”

“Did the Captain say that these things were your fault?”

“No, if anything he’s been going out of his way to say that they’re not. T’Pol tried to blame herself and Malcolm wanted the Captain to think that it was his fault.”

“So, they don’t think you were in the way, and they don’t think it was your fault.”

“But I’m still not going on any more away missions.”

“As far as I understand it this is more to do with the physical aspects of your illness and not because you aren’t a useful member of the crew.”

“Maybe, but I’m not exactly pulling my weight. The Captain can’t send his Chief Engineer on away missions, and that’s a pretty big problem. It’s kind of in my job description.” Trip allowed a lopsided smile to grace his lips for a second.

“Captain Archer isn’t just interested in your ability to physically go on away missions. There’s a lot you can be doing on board Enterprise.”

“But I’m getting more and more ill everyday. Pretty soon I’m not going to be any use to anyone,” replied Trip.

“You just told me that your brain works fine,” said Catherine.

“Yeah, but for how much longer?” asked Trip.

“You know the course that this disease will take, Commander. We’ve done everything we can to prepare for that and make sure that you’ll be taken care of in the future.”

“I know, and I’m really grateful for all your help there.”

“Do you remember we discussed why it was important to sort everything out?”

“Yeah, it’s one less thing to worry about, so I can concentrate on the here and now.”

“Exactly and you’re not doing it. I know that you see this as sign of your ongoing decline, but if you’re continually thinking about your death, then you’re not enjoying the time you have. You’re still the Chief Engineer of Enterprise and you’re still a valued member of the crew. If the Captain really believed you couldn’t do your job anymore then you’d be on your way home.”

“But I’m not getting any better, I’m getting worse, and eventually the Captain will have to send me back to Earth,” replied Trip. “I guess I could cope with that when it was years away, but it just suddenly got a lot closer.”

Catherine looked at him. “I can’t tell you it won’t happen, because we both know that day will come. You also knew that you wouldn’t be able to go on away missions forever. Last time we spoke you’d made good progress in accepting the changes in your life that your illness has produced.”

“Yeah, but I’m getting damn tired of accepting the inevitable,” said Trip.

****

Trip never would have believed that he could feel so disconnected to events on his own ship. They had answered a distress call from an Andorian ship and instead of being sent to help out his Andorian counterparts, Hess had been despatched. Trip had known it wouldn’t be long before another away mission came up and he would be left on Enterprise. That in itself wasn’t a problem, he didn’t always go on away missions, he wasn’t always needed, but this was an alien ship with engine trouble. While he could have stood it if it had been a planet, this was just adding insult to injury. He’d come out here at least partly to play with alien engineering, and if he couldn’t do that then he was little more than a glorified mechanic.

He was running standard diagnostics when he should have been on the Andorian ship, up to his elbows in circuits and engine parts. To make matters worse Phlox had decided that he needed some more help in the walking department and had given him a cane. It had come with strict instructions to use it, except that he was doing his best to ignore that instruction and the cane was sitting unused in his office. When Phlox found out there would be hell to pay, but that was in the future.

Trip looked up from what he was doing to see Lieutenant Reed enter Engineering.

“What can I do for you, Malcolm?” asked Trip, concentrating on the console in front of him and not really wanting to chat.

“I was wondering if you fancied a spot of lunch?”

“Too busy,” said Trip. “And I would have thought you’d be drooling over the Andorian weapons.”

“Commander Keren won’t let me anywhere near anything interesting,” said Reed. “Actually the Armoury is performing standard diagnostics.”

“Same here and that’s why I’m busy. I promised the Captain that I’d have these done by the end of the day. I’m not in the best of moods so why don’t you just let me get on with what I’m doing.”

“You’re just annoyed because Hess is getting to play with a new alien engine and you’re not,” said Reed.

“Yeah, and why would you think that, Malcolm?” asked Trip, sarcastically. “Maybe it’s because I’m stuck here doing routine maintenance instead of out there where I should be.”

Reed didn’t look sympathetic. “Feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to make the Captain change his mind.”

“If it had been to a planet I could have understood,” said Trip, a little defeated. “How much trouble can an Andorian ship be?”

Reed just looked at him as if he’d grown a second head.

“Okay, good point,” said Trip. “But it’s not like they’re unknown aliens.”

“Last time we had Andorians on board, Captain Archer ended up cutting off one of Shran’s antennae to prevent an intergalactic war,” said Reed. “Now, I don’t have all day, Commander, so let’s get a move on.”

“You’re not going to leave until I go and get some lunch, are you?”

“No, and you’ll be needing this,” replied Reed, producing Trip’s cane from his office.

Trip rolled his eyes and grabbed the walking stick from his friend. “Okay, Malcolm, let’s go.”

Trip shouted to Rostov that he was going for lunch and they headed out of Engineering. Reed adjusted the speed of his pace so that Trip could keep up easily and then started a conversation on some upgrades to the phase cannons. He had purposefully chosen a controversial topic that he knew they disagreed on how to implement. In the past few weeks Trip had shown very little enthusiasm for arguing about engineering projects. Reed had felt guilty that he was coming to Trip with ideas that he was sure the Engineer would have turned down flat in the past only to find Trip gave in with a little gentle prodding.

“I was thinking that we could route the power for the particle accelerators through the conversion chambers before they reach the firing circuits,” said Reed.

“They’re your cannons, Malcolm, you do whatever you think is best,” said Trip.

“You realise that will draw a lot more power if we do that,” said Reed.

“We can afford it,” said Trip.

Reed abruptly stopped walking and turned angrily to confront Trip. “That’s it, I’ve had it up to here with you, Mister Tucker.”

“I’m agreeing with you!”

“Exactly, you’re not putting any effort into this. If I’d suggested this two months ago, you’d have told me where to stick it.” If Reed was worried about senior officers being seen shouting at each other in the middle of a corridor then he wasn’t showing it.

“I don’t get it, Malcolm. You’re angry with me, because I won’t argue with you?”

“Yes, because I rely on you to tell me when I’m going too far and putting my own little corner of Enterprise above everything else. And because it’s been like having a pod person as our Chief Engineer for the past two weeks. You’re moping around and feeling sorry for yourself and we’re all getting tired of it.”

“Yeah, well I’ve got a damn good reason to feel sorry for myself. In case you’d forgotten, I’m dying, Malcolm. What do you expect me to do?”

“I expect you to give the best you can to this ship instead of just going through the motions. You know what makes you a brilliant Engineer? Your love of this ship and your love of solving puzzles. If you’re not going to be that person then you might as well go home now, because you’re not any use to us like this.”

Trip stared at him, mouth slightly open and Reed thought that maybe he’d gone a little too far. Finally Trip closed his mouth, swallowed and spoke at normal volume. “You can be a real asshole sometimes.”

“Sometimes,” agreed Reed.

“I can’t believe you’re asking me to route the power for the particle accelerators through the conversion chambers. Do you know what kind of feedback that would cause? You’d end up with relay failures across the starboard side of C deck before you’d even fired a shot.”

“I don’t think that will be a problem if we build in a couple of reversion buffers before the final intercept point,” replied Reed.

Trip rolled his eyes. “You were going to do that all along, weren’t you? This was just to see how riled you could get me.”

“Welcome back, Trip,” smiled Reed.

“I will get you back for this, Malcolm. So, “pod person”?” asked Trip, grinning.

“You’re not the only person who watches movies,” replied Reed.

Suddenly the ship lurched to one side and they were both sent sprawling.

“What the hell was that?” asked Trip, as Reed helped him back to his feet.

The tactical alert began to sound.

“I don’t know but it can’t possibly be good. I need to get to the bridge. Can you make it back to Engineering on your own?”

“I’m a little slow, Malcolm, not completely crippled,” replied Trip.

Reed spared Trip a small quirk of his lips before he dashed away to the bridge. Trip went to the nearest communicator and called down to Engineering. He’d learnt that finding out if he needed to walk back to Engineering or if the problem was around the corner was helpful these days and saved a lot of time.

“Any idea what’s going on?” he asked Rostov who had answered the com.

“There was an explosion on the Andorian ship, sir,” said Rostov.

“What? Anyone hurt?”

“We don’t know yet,” said Rostov. “Some debris from the explosion impacted Enterprise and I think we may have a problem with the EPS grid.”

“Damn it, we just got that fixed,” said Trip. “Start routing around the damage and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Trip would have run if he could, but the best he could manage was a fast walk. He’d discovered that he could do a sort of lollop but it required a lot of energy and it didn’t sound as if the situation was too desperate at the moment. He made it to Engineering as quickly as he could and found chaos being presided over by Lieutenant Kaspera. His engineering staff were all in action, some putting out electrical fires, others hurrying out of Engineering with toolkits to get to failure sites across the ship.

“Report, Lieutenant,” said Trip and got a run down of ship wide systems failures.

Trip looked over the visual schematic showing where the various failures had taken place. It looked like someone had thrown broken glass at their hull. Broken shards of sharp material had embedded themselves into Enterprise’s outer skin. “Son of a bitch, what the hell is their hull made of?”

“We haven’t been able to determine that yet, sir. It looks like a plasma conduit blew on the Andorian ship,” said Kaspera.

Trip pulled up the damage report. A piece of the Andorian ship’s hull had embedded itself in the port nacelle and cut through one of the primary EPS conduits. Other smaller pieces of debris had caused further disruption, but they weren’t in essential areas. If they couldn’t get power to the nacelle then they were dead in the water.

Trip suddenly noticed that the hull piece wasn’t just disrupting the power, it was building a charge. The grid wasn’t built for the amount of energy it was building and this was very bad.

“Shut us down now!”

“Sir?” asked Kaspera.

“Shut down the EPS grid, take everything off line now! If we don’t stop feeding power to that nacelle it’s going to blow.” Trip made his way to the warp engine and began to power it down.

“Yes, sir,” replied Kaspera and got the rest of the Engineering staff involved in shutting down.

Trip reckoned that they had about two minutes before everything went to hell. If he stopped feeding the nacelle power then the hull piece would stop charging, but then the power it had accumulated would need to go somewhere. It would discharge through Enterprise’s EPS grid and take out every relay it passed unless Trip could think of something.

“Tucker to the Bridge, I’m implementing an emergency shutdown, we’re going dark for a moment.”

“Understood, contact me again when we’re back up,” said Archer. Trip was once again glad that Archer trusted his Engineer and didn’t expect an explanation as to why he was about to plunge the ship into darkness. Trip heard Reed giving a report on the status of the Andorian ship in the background. He remembered his earlier conversation with Reed in the corridor and a brainwave hit.

“Kaspera, hold the shut down until I give you the signal,” Trip called out to the young Lieutenant.

“Yes, sir,” Kaspera replied from his position by the final switch that needed to be thrown to darken Enterprise.

“Everyone get back from the bulkheads in case this doesn’t work.”

He clambered down from the warp engine controls and limped as quickly as he could to the main EPS routing panel. He hit redirection keys rapidly until he finally had the correct configuration. He overrode the systems that he needed and was done.

“Now!” Trip shouted.

Kaspera pressed the final button to execute the sequence that would kill all power on Enterprise. The lights went out and they waited. Suddenly a cascade of sparks zipped across the ceiling of Engineering, illuminating in flashes engineers running for cover as it did so. Then a jolt was felt through the deck plating, followed by a second jolt and then silence.

“Bring up the power, slowly, and make sure the port nacelle’s power grid is locked out,” instructed Trip to the dark room. Someone shouted “yes, sir,” and soon the lights were back on and everyone was moving back to their stations. Trip surveyed the damage. The pulse had moved through Enterprise taking out systems as it went, but it had followed the course Trip had set out for it. It wasn’t anywhere near as catastrophic as it could have been. If the pulse had reached the warp core then he wouldn’t be standing looking at the damage; Enterprise would have disappeared in a fireball of antimatter.

Trip moved to the communicator. “Tucker to Bridge, we’re back up, Captain, but it’s going to be a while before we can assess the damage. We’re not going anywhere until we can get out on the hull to fix the damaged nacelle.”

“Why did we need to shut down?” asked Archer.

Trip gave his Captain the quick version of the problem. “I had to do something with the energy build-up, so I routed it out through the phase cannons,” finished Trip.

“Good work, Trip,” said Archer. “You’ll be pleased to know that Lieutenant Hess and her team are uninjured and will be on their way back as soon as they’ve repaired the blown plasma conduit. Let me know when you have a full damage report.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Trip. He wondered how long he’d have to wait before a certain Armoury officer stormed into Engineering to complain about overloading the phase cannons that they had been about to upgrade.

Trip smiled. Who needed Andorian engines to play with? Enterprise had enough surprises for him and she hadn’t caught him out yet.

****

T’Pol walked down the corridor towards sickbay, past teams of engineers repairing the damage caused by the energy pulse. All in all the damage was small compared to what it could have been. Only Commander Tucker’s quick thinking had saved them from a warp-core breach. The only person who seemed to be unhappy with Commander Tucker appeared to be Lieutenant Reed, and she was mystified why he should be upset that his phase cannons had been damaged.

She entered sickbay brandishing a padd.

“T’Pol,” said Phlox joyfully, “what can I do for you?”

“As we discussed, I have been researching Clarke’s Syndrome in my off-duty hours,” T’Pol stated, matter-of-factly.

She made it sound as if it wasn’t an incredibly difficult task, but Phlox knew that it would probably have taken hours of her time. Phlox had asked T’Pol to look in the Vulcan databases that she had access to and see if there was anything that could help Trip. He hadn’t really expected her to find anything but he was aware that Vulcans did suffer from mental diseases that presented with similar symptoms to Clarke’s Syndrome.

“I believe that I may have found something.”

“Let me have a look,” said Phlox. “So far my own efforts have been less than successful. The human genome is a fascinating biological construct, but it is extremely complicated. Did you know that it takes five separate mutated markers to produce Clarke’s Syndrome?”

“I am aware of that from my research,” said T’Pol, handing Phlox the padd.

Phlox tapped down and read T’Pol’s notes. His hope faded as he read about the procedure that T’Pol had found. “This could be very dangerous, T’Pol.”

“I know, but given Earth’s refusal to do the necessary genetic research, this may be our best option,” said T’Pol.

“You’re suggesting that we use an experimental Vulcan mutagen to repair his genes. It could kill him, and, even if it works, the side effects could be extremely debilitating. We can’t do it on Enterprise, either, he’d have to go to Vulcan. I’m not even sure that my medical colleagues there would be willing to treat a human patient with a therapy designed by Vulcans for other Vulcans.”

“I have contacts in the Vulcan Medical Directorate who would be willing to help us,” said T’Pol.

Phlox looked at the data in front of him and shook his head. This was the only viable option that they had found so far, but he had reservations about recommending this to his patient. It was a painful procedure with little chance of success.

“The medication cannot cure him. This is his best chance,” said T’Pol.

“Even if he does go for this treatment, the damage already done to his body won’t be repaired,” said Phlox.

“Which is why it must be done as soon as possible,” said T’Pol.

“I’m still working on a cure, T’Pol. I have several promising avenues yet to explore,” said Phlox.

“Commander Tucker’s condition is deteriorating and we both know that it could take years for your work to produce a cure. We should at least make him aware of all of the options.” T’Pol had a look of determination in her eyes.

Phlox looked down at the padd unhappily. “You’re right, we must show this data to him.”

****End of Chapter Seven****

Trip had been working in Engineering on repairs to the EPS grid when the summons to sickbay had come over the com. It was unusual for Phlox to ask to see him outside his scheduled appointments. He was in sickbay so frequently that Phlox shouldn’t have had any reason to need to see him again before his next check-up. He entered sickbay to find T’Pol waiting with the doctor.

“Do you want me to come back later?” he asked, thinking that T’Pol was there to consult with Phlox.

“No, no,” said Phlox. “T’Pol is here because this was a result of her research.”

“Research?” Trip wasn’t aware that T’Pol had been doing any research.

T’Pol clasped her arms behind her back. “I have been assisting the doctor in his attempts to find a cure for your condition.”

“T’Pol has located a Vulcan treatment for a similar disease within Vulcans,” said Phlox.

“And you think it might work for me?” Trip didn’t want to get his hopes up but this sounded promising.

“That is my theory,” said T’Pol.

“Great, where do I sign up?” asked Trip, smiling.

Phlox still looked grave however. “It’s not that simple, Commander. This is an experimental treatment even within Vulcans and completely untested on humans. It’s possible that it might not work at all.”

“If that was the only problem you wouldn’t be looking so damn miserable, Doc,” said Trip.

“It could be deadly. The treatment itself is not pleasant and uses a Vulcan mutagen to repair the damaged genes. If it were to harm other genes in the process you could die or be severely disabled. It also won’t do anything to repair the damage to your nervous system already caused by the disease.”

“So I could die and I won’t be any better off than I am now if it does work.”

“You won’t deteriorate any further,” said Phlox.

Trip leaned against a biobed, taking some weight off his weak left leg. “What are the chances of it working?”

“Current cases have seen a twenty percent complete cure rate,” said T’Pol.

Trip’s heart sank. “And the rest?”

“Another ten percent had serious physical disabilities post treatment,” said T’Pol. “A further five percent experienced serious brain damage.”

“And the other sixty-five percent?” He had to ask, but he already knew what she would say.

“Did not survive,” confirmed T’Pol.

“Could you do this treatment on Enterprise?” asked Trip.

“No, it’s too experimental and complex to be able to carry out in sickbay,” said Phlox. “We’d have to take you to Vulcan.”

“For how long?”

“It is a six month course of treatment,” said T’Pol.

“Could I wait until I’ve finished my time on Enterprise?” asked Trip. He knew he had about another six months before his disabilities would force him to transfer back to Earth.

Phlox shook his head. “The Vulcan doctors have limited resources and won’t accept patients who don’t have at least have some chance of survival. If the damage already done by the disease is too much, then you won’t be strong enough to take the therapy. Judging by your current rate of deterioration, you can’t delay more than another month or so.”

“No, no way. I don’t want to spend my last few useful months sitting around in a hospital. I want to be on Enterprise and you know as well as I do that once I leave, I’m not coming back, even if it works. I won’t be well enough by then to be allowed back onto a ship.”

It hadn’t even taken him a second to know where his priorities lay and that surprised him slightly. Only a few days ago he’d been talking to Catherine about how he hated being so useless and how much being on Enterprise hurt, seeing everything that he couldn’t have. Apparently he wasn’t prepared to give it all up for a thirty-five percent chance at life.

“I think you should consider this carefully, Trip,” said T’Pol.

He knew it was serious when she called him Trip. It had taken her long enough to start using his nickname and she only really used it now when she was talking with him about something important and personal.

“It’s not even a fifty-fifty chance, T’Pol. I’d rather have six months on Enterprise than six months in a hospital with a good chance that I’ll die or be permanently brain damaged by the end of it.”

“It is a thirty-five percent chance that you do not currently have,” said T’Pol.

“It’s not enough,” said Trip. “I don’t just want to go through the motions of living, I want to be out here doing everything I can. I know that Vulcans can see everything in percentages and odds but that’s not me. Being a part of Enterprise’s crew is the most important thing in my life and I’m not going to trade in a short life on Enterprise for a longer life anywhere else.”

“It’s your choice, Commander,” said Phlox. “We won’t force you into this, but I would like you to take the literature away with you to read through. I want to make sure that you’re fully informed before you turn it down.”

Trip nodded. “Okay, give me the data and I’ll read it through, but I doubt I’ll change my mind.” He took the offered padd.

“Don’t take too long to decide, Commander,” Phlox added. Trip just nodded in acknowledgement and left, reading the padd as he went.

****

Archer had just had a visit from T’Pol and was now on his way to see his Chief Engineer. He didn’t know what he was going to say, but he knew that he had to say something to make Trip see that this was his only chance. He walked through the grey corridors of Enterprise towards its heart, Main Engineering. He stepped through the hatch and saw Trip sitting at the workbench in the corner working on a component of some type.

“Hey, Captain,” greeted Trip, smiling as he saw Archer approaching.

“Trip, T’Pol came to see me,” said Archer. There was no point in approaching the subject gently. Trip had known Archer too long not to know when he was working up to something.

“I’m not doing it,” said Trip, turning his attention back to the component.

“She told me, and I didn’t come down here to persuade you,” replied Archer, leaning against the bench.

“You didn’t?” Trip was confused now.

“I just want to make sure that you have thought about it,” said Archer. He was slightly ashamed by the lie, but he knew Trip was blinded by the desire to remain on Enterprise. It was the prize that he was working for and everyday he stayed on Enterprise was another day he won against the disease.

“The way I see it, a thirty-five percent chance is pretty much the same as no chance. It’s not going to fix anything even if it works, I just won’t get any worse. We both know that I’m only still here because it’s a long way back to Earth, so once I leave this ship, that’s it for my Starfleet career.”

“I wouldn’t say that. Research and Development would love to have you back,” said Archer.

“It’s not what I want and it’s not what I signed up for,” said Trip.

“Can’t you wait a bit, until you’d be leaving Enterprise anyway?”

“Nah, according to Phlox, I’ll be past the point where the Vulcan doctors take patients. The more I deteriorate, the weaker I get, and I have to have some chance of getting through the therapy to be accepted onto the program.”

“Staying on Enterprise isn’t worth your chance of a cure.”

“Have you read what this therapy involves? Basically it’s six months of lying around while some alien mutagen rewrites my genetic code. If it works, which is a hell of a big if, then I get to live, if it doesn’t then I’m either dead, physically disabled or brain damaged. I can swap six months of time doing something I love, for six months in a hospital bed with the small chance I might be cured at the end of it. It’s not much of a choice.”

“No, it isn’t, but I don’t want to lose you, Trip,” said Archer, quietly.

Trip was slightly taken aback by the change in tone. If this wasn’t trying to persuade him then he didn’t know what was. He wondered if he was being selfish by refusing the only hope he had of living. He didn’t want to sacrifice his remnants of a career in Starfleet for a slim chance at life but perhaps friendship was more important. Trip was well aware how his illness tore at Archer and what his death would mean to the Captain.

“You really want me to do this?”

“It can’t be worse than what you’re already facing,” said Archer.

Trip looked directly into his eyes and Archer saw the fear there that Trip usually hid so well. “I guess it can’t hurt to ask Phlox to set up the consultation,” said Trip. “I’m not making any promises but at least we can see if they’ll take me on the program.”

Archer placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “That’s all I wanted.”

****

The Vulcan doctors answered Phlox’s request for a consultation swiftly and with the nearest that Vulcans could come to excitement. Trip’s case interested them. It would be the first time they had attempted to adapt their therapy for a new race and it would be an amazing breakthrough if it worked.

They requested Trip’s medical history and held a long subspace communication with Phlox to discuss the questions that they had. Trip guessed that might have something to do with the large number of injuries and interesting medical conditions he’d suffered over his five years serving on Enterprise. Not many men had been pregnant or cloned to produce tissue to heal a head injury or brought back from the brink of death at the hands of a silicone virus. Trip could see why the Vulcans had a lot of questions for Phlox.

After a week of discussions and subspace communications, they sent a ship to rendezvous with Enterprise. It carried two Vulcan doctors and a plethora of medical equipment to assess Trip’s condition and suitability for treatment. Enterprise altered course and would meet the Vulcan ship in three days time at their present speed. This had now become a matter of interspecies co-operation as well as a potential cure for Trip’s illness.

Archer did his best to keep Trip’s mind off the approaching consultation and his likely departure from Enterprise. Nothing was certain as yet. Trip still hadn’t given his final agreement to trying the treatment, but it was looking more and more likely that he would. Archer tried to keep everything normal, but he could see the nervousness under Trip’s falsely calm exterior.

Work was the only thing Trip had to keep him going at the moment so Archer made sure that he was kept occupied. He arranged a meeting with Trip to discuss his proposed changes to the warp engine to optimise plasma consumption ratios. The upgrades were complicated, as was the system they were trying to alter, so it was a project which needed Trip to put some thought into it. It required a feasibility study to be submitted before work could be approved, so Trip would have to prepare a report and that would definitely need his full attention.

When 1500 ship’s time arrived Archer waited in his ready room for his Chief Engineer to appear, but half an hour later he still hadn’t arrived. There had been no call to cancel or give an excuse for his lateness. This was most unlike Trip. Archer decided to head down to Engineering and find out what had happened. He entered the usual bustle of Engineering and stopped the first crewman that he saw to ask for Trip’s whereabouts and was directed to the Chief Engineer’s office.

Trip’s office wasn’t really an office at all, it was a converted storage area that Trip had co-opted during their second year out. There was barely room for the desk and chairs that Trip had installed. Space problems were made worse because Trip insisted on piling his desk high with padds, small components and random tools. It was a stark contrast to the larger Ready Room that Archer used, and felt purely utilitarian. Trip didn’t spend much time in it, except when he needed to blitz the paperwork that he kept putting off.

The main advantage it had was that it had a door that could be shut, so when Trip needed some peace and quiet he could be found in his office. Trip’s crew dreaded being told to shut the door when called into his office, because they knew they were about to get a reprimand that they wouldn’t forget. It also had the only source of coffee in the whole of Engineering, although woe betide anyone who thought about taking coffee out of the office.

Archer approached the heavy metal door and found it slightly ajar, as normal. Even when Trip wanted quiet he always left the door slightly open so that he could hear what was going on out in the main area. Archer tapped on the door and stepped through to see Trip staring into space.

“Hey, Trip,” said Archer. Trip didn’t move.

“Trip?” Archer was beside his friend in a few quick strides. He shook his shoulder and Trip blinked and turned to Archer with a look of puzzlement.

“Where did you come from?” Trip looked like he’d just woken from a dream.

“Maybe I should ask you the same question. You were miles away. We had a meeting scheduled for half an hour ago to talk about warp plasma consumption ratios,” said Archer.

“Damn.” Trip grabbed the chronometer on his desk and looked at the time. “Sorry Captain, I guess I’m a bit preoccupied at the moment.” Trip paused again for a moment. “What was it you wanted to meet about?”

“The warp plasma ratios project,” repeated Archer again.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve got the erm…thing…on a padd,” said Trip, searching his desk.

“Report?” asked Archer. Trip was very rarely distracted enough to have trouble with words.

“Report,” confirmed Trip. “It’s somewhere in this lot. Do you mind going through it here?”

Archer looked a little worriedly at Trip. His common sense was telling him that this was more than just Trip getting distracted, but he didn’t want to believe it, so he ignored it. He moved a pile of sensor report padds off the only other chair in the room and sat down to go over the plasma consumption ratios with his Chief Engineer.

****

Trip kept losing time and he didn’t know where it went. One moment he’d be doing something and the next he’d be jerking himself out of a reverie that he didn’t remember slipping into. Minutes would usually have passed but sometimes he found he’d lost more than an hour to a dark nothingness that he didn’t understand. He put it down to tiredness and the stress of their approaching rendezvous with the Vulcan ship. He certainly had a lot to contemplate at the moment and it wasn’t surprising that he daydreamt a little.

The slight tremors in his hands had become an ever-present annoyance that even Phlox’s drugs couldn’t deal with. He also seemed to be getting more forgetful. He had never forgotten a meeting with the Captain before and it worried him that he had now. It was the loss of concentration that he was most concerned about as he had never experienced such a loss of focus before, and even though he tried to blame it on stress and fatigue, at the back of his mind was that this was another symptom of his CS. If it was a symptom then it represented the first impact on his cognition and it was something that would mean he’d have to give up his post on Enterprise.

He was lost in a moment of missing time when Lieutenant Reed came looking for him in the mouth of a Jeffries tube on D deck. He came back to the real world to find Reed shaking his shoulder.

“Hi, Malcolm,” said Trip, hoping he hadn’t been too obviously distracted.

“You looked like you were deep in thought,” said Reed.

“Yeah, just got a lot on my mind at the moment.”

Reed nodded in understanding. “The Vulcan ship is arriving in two days. How much sleep have you been getting?”

“Not much,” confirmed Trip, maybe that was why his thoughts seemed so muddled lately.

“So you thought you’d get some work done.”

“Nothing else to do, and, yeah, I know Phlox is going to kill me when he finds out.” Trip turned back to the circuit that he had been trying to fix and realised that the tool he needed was on the other side of his visitor. “Hey, will you pass me that…thing.” He was momentarily lost for the word he wanted.

“What thing?” asked Reed.

“You know, metal, you use it to undo retro-bolts,” said Trip. He couldn’t for the life of him pluck the word he needed from he recesses of his brain.

“Hyperspanner?” asked Reed.

“Yeah, the hyperspanner.” Trip held out his hand, but was concentrating on the circuit assembly in front of him, so missed Reed’s worried look. “I guess I must be more tired than I thought.”

“Maybe you should call it quits for today,” suggested Reed.

“Yeah, I really need to get some… erm….” Something really didn’t feel right today and he couldn’t work like this.

He crawled out of the Jeffries tube and waited for his usual dizziness at sudden movement to subside. He felt Reed put out the normal hand to steady him. Trip seemed to be having a lot of trouble with words today. He’d already tried to tell one of his people to fix something and forgotten the name of the part that they needed. Now he couldn’t even remember the word “sleep”, which he was sure was all he needed to get back to normal. It was then that he realised that the room was doing alarming things around him, tilting and distorting at the edges of his vision. He felt nausea rising within him, and suddenly the noises of Main Engineering were louder and more intrusive.

“I don’t feel so well,” he managed and that was the last thing he remembered.

****

When Trip awoke he had no idea where he was, he didn’t recognise the bed he was on or the muted beige and cream of the décor. It took him several attempts to concentrate enough to work out that he was in sickbay on Enterprise. He felt rung out and weak, barely able to keep his eyes open, and he had no memory of why he was in sickbay. That scared him more than the fact that he was in sickbay.

“Commander Tucker, how do you feel?” asked a familiar voice.

He tried to move his head towards the voice and realised that it was just too much effort. “Not so good,” he replied.

“That’s to be expected after a seizure,” said the voice. “Don’t worry, your strength should return in a few days.”

“Seizure? What happened?”

“What do you remember?”

Trip searched his memory. He was in sickbay so something bad must have happened. “I was being forced to help the Therans with their engine repairs. Is Malcolm okay?”

“Lieutenant Reed is fine. Just rest and we’ll talk again later,” said the comforting presence.

Trip was unable to do anything but comply since sleep was already dragging him back under. He closed his eyes and soon had drifted off.

Phlox moved away from his patient’s bedside and went to report to the anxious man who had been waiting on the other side of sickbay during the whole conversation.

“Why doesn’t he remember?” asked Archer.

“Disorientation is common after a seizure,” said Phlox. “As is memory loss and weakness.”

“Will he get those memories back?”

“Most probably, although it’s always difficult to tell with his Clarke’s Syndrome complicating things,” replied Phlox.

“I don’t remember my father ever suffering from seizures,” said Archer.

“It’s not common, but it is within the range of symptoms, especially in some of the more acute cases. From your description of his dissociative state earlier, it is probable that he has been suffering from minor disruptions in brain activity for a while now. They are often known as absence seizures because it appears that the person is in deep thought.”

Archer nodded. He’d read the literature and knew that Phlox wasn’t lying to him. Clarke’s Syndrome attacked the nervous system and that could lead to seizures in a few rare cases. Trip had been one of the unlucky ones.

Phlox paused a moment and pursed his lips. Archer knew that this pose meant his doctor was about to give him some very bad news.

“What else, Doctor?” asked the Captain.

“You realise this means that I can no longer declare the Commander fit for duty,” said Phlox. “His seizures, even when not tonic-clonic, could lead to accidents and are a serious health risk. This is the end of his career as a serving officer on a starship.”

“I know,” replied Archer. He’d already worked that one out. “As soon as he’s well enough, I’ll talk to him. The Vulcan ship will rendezvous with us tomorrow and they can take him off Enterprise.”

“At least he may still be accepted onto the Vulcan mutagen treatment program.”

Archer nodded his head solemnly. The Vulcans were Trip’s one last hope and Archer’s last hope of saving his friend. The idea of Trip leaving Enterprise was not one that he had really wanted to consider, but had known it would happen. He hadn’t expected to be forced into it this soon. This had all happened far too quickly, and he didn’t really have any other choice than to send Trip away with the Vulcans.

****

Lieutenant Reed didn’t believe that he had ever been as scared in his entire life as he had when Trip began to seize in front of him. Alien boarding parties he could cope with, his friend falling over and convulsing in front of him for no apparent reason, was something else entirely. His first instinct had been to hold Trip down, but he dimly remembered that this was the wrong course of action, so he settled for making sure Trip didn’t hurt himself and calling Phlox.

The whole episode was alarming to say the least. Trip had fallen to the floor and begun shaking uncontrollably. He didn’t seem to be breathing, but once the seizure had stopped he had drawn in deep lungfuls of air. Phlox had arrived a few seconds before the seizure had ended, enough to see that Reed hadn’t exaggerated, but had done nothing until the seizure finished, much to Reed’s consternation. Once the seizure ended, Phlox had checked vital signs and moved in to get Trip stabilised before moving him to sickbay.

Reed followed the gurney to sickbay, although he wasn’t sure how he expected to be able to help. It turned out that Phlox needed to ask him questions about Trip’s state of mind prior to the seizure so it was just as well that he had decided to follow them. He didn’t know how much help he actually was, it had been very quick and Trip had seemed fine before it started. The only thing that he could tell them was that Trip seemed not to be paying attention beforehand.

He watched as Trip was transferred to a bed and attached to an IV, but there was little else to be done.

Now Reed sat beside Trip’s bed waiting for him to come round again. He’d awoken in short bursts but hadn’t remained awake, which Phlox said was normal. A seizure was debilitating and, even without the complicating factors of CS, he would still have been lain up for a few days. Reed just wanted Trip to wake up and talk to him. He didn’t care what Trip said to him as long as it wasn’t “what happened?” which had been the first thing he had asked the past couple of time. Reed needed to know that Trip really was okay, or as okay as he got at the moment.

As if on cue, Trip’s eyelids fluttered and peeled open, blinking furiously.

“Trip?” asked Reed.

“Hey, Malcolm,” replied Trip, tiredly.

“How do you feel?”

“Like I was hit by a shuttlepod. I’m in sickbay, aren’t I?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

“All I remember is talking to you in that Jeffries tube on D deck.”

“You had a seizure. You’ll have to ask Phlox for the details.”

“Damn, my nervous system has got to be one hell of a mess to make that happen,” said Trip.

Phlox appeared at the bedside and heard the end of their conversation. “That would be one way of putting it, Commander. I prefer to be more clinical in my diagnosis, however.”

Trip blinked at his latest visitor. “I already know the diagnosis, Doc, and I know that a seizure isn’t a good thing.”

“Indeed and we need to discuss medication options as soon as you’re well enough, but for the moment you just need to rest and recoup your strength.”

“Understood, Doc,” said Trip. Reed was momentarily taken aback by how easily Trip agreed to rest but he supposed that his friend was tired.

“Do you feel up to talking with the Captain?” asked Phlox.

“Sure,” replied Trip. “Might as well get it over with.”

“Get it over with?” asked Reed.

“He’s going to tell me that I can’t serve on Enterprise anymore,” said Trip.

Reed didn’t know whether to be more shocked that Trip had accepted it so easily or that he had already worked out what his seizure would mean. Reed himself hadn’t really thought about it, and Trip’s blunt verdict took him by surprise. Enterprise without Trip would feel very empty. They had stretched the rules until they broke to keep Trip on board. He was far too gifted not to keep around, even before the enduring loyalty of his staff and friends was taken into account. The physical aspects of the disease they could work around, but this was the final nail in the coffin.

****End of Chapter Eight****

The Telkara arrived exactly on time. It was a Vulcan ship of the D’Kyr class, the circular warp ring dominating the structure. A shuttle was sent across to Enterprise carrying the doctors who were to assess Trip’s condition and whether he was suitable for the experimental treatment. Phlox met his Vulcan colleagues and took them to sickbay where Trip was still residing.

“Commander, these are Doctors T’Mila and Sorek,” said Phlox.

“Hi,” said Trip, slightly self-consciously. “It’s nice to meet you.”

The doctors appeared to be unzipping his skin with their eyes. He was obviously of great interest to them.

“It is agreeable to meet you also, Commander,” said Doctor T’Mila. “I am the head researcher on the project which Doctor Phlox has told you about. We would like your permission to examine you and then we will make an assessment of your condition and suitability for the treatment.”

“You’ve got my permission to poke and prod me to your heart’s content,” said Trip.

The Vulcans looked puzzled.

“I mean, you can go ahead and examine me,” said Trip.

“Thank you, Commander,” replied T’Mila. T’Mila spoke in Vulcan to Doctor Sorek and he moved to their equipment to start getting things ready. “Please excuse my use of Vulcan, but many of the medical terms that I am using have no exact translation in English.”

“That’s okay, I understand that working in another language must make things more difficult,” said Trip.

“I have some questions that I need to ask you regarding your health prior to the onset of Clarke’s Syndrome.” T’Mila got out the Vulcan equivalent of a padd and stylus. “Is it correct that your occupation is Engineer?”

“Yeah, I’ve been Chief Engineer of Enterprise for the last five years,” said Trip.

“Were you generally fit before the onset of symptoms?”

“I caught the odd cold like anyone else. Plus I’ve had my fair share of injuries.”

“Those are detailed in your medical records,” replied T’Mila. “How long has it been since the onset of symptoms?”

“About eighteen months,” said Trip.

Phlox and T’Mila exchanged a knowing look that Trip didn’t like one bit. He suspected that it was because eighteen months was quick progression even for Clarke’s Syndrome. His condition appeared to be worsening more quickly in its later stages.

“You had a seizure two days ago. Were you working with anything unusual at the time?”

“No, just climbing out of a Jeffries tube,” said Trip.

“Have you suffered any other symptoms that you have not informed your doctor about?”

“No, it’s all in my records. I know better than to hide stuff from the guy who’s trying to help me.” Trip was glad that Phlox refrained from reminding him that this hadn’t always been the case.

“Doctor Phlox, I would like to examine the latest scans that you have taken and then we will commence the tests.”

“Very well, Doctor T’Mila,” said Phlox and bustled away to find the appropriate files.

Doctor Sorek approached Trip. “Doctor T’Mila has asked me to take scans and blood samples that I will then perform various tests upon. I will proceed, with your permission.”

“Sure, go ahead,” said Trip. He hadn’t expected the Vulcans to be thoughtful enough to check that he was happy to have the tests done. T’Mila seemed to have a good bedside manner and, although Sorek was more straight forward, he too was making sure that Trip was comfortable with being tested. Phlox had explained that consent by the patient was of huge importance in Denobulan medical ethics but somehow that fitted with his picture of Denobula. He had never considered that consent might be an important tenet of Vulcan medicine.

Trip lay back and let the Vulcans perform their tests. For the moment this was the most useful thing that he could do.

****

Archer once again wished that he didn’t have to be the bearer of bad news, but someone had to officially inform Trip that his active status had been revoked. It was one of the longest walks to sickbay that Archer had ever made. When he arrived the Vulcans were assessing the results of their tests and there seemed to be considerable activity around the various analysing devices. T’Pol was assisting and caught his eye, giving him a nod of acknowledgement as he entered, before turning back to her work.

“Hey, Captain,” greeted Trip.

“Hi there, how are you doing?” Archer approached Trip’s biobed.

“A bit tired but I think I’m on the mend,” replied Trip.

Archer took a deep breath and looked guiltily at his friend. “Trip…”

“Save your breath, Captain, I already know what you’ve come to say. I’ve been recalled.”

Once again Trip had spared his Captain from uttering the words that he never wanted to say. Trip was to be taken off Enterprise at the earliest possible opportunity, which was now, since they had rendezvoused with the Vulcan ship.

Archer looked down, unable to meet Trip’s eyes. “Depending on the outcome of the Vulcan doctors’ assessment, you’re either to go with them and receive treatment, or return to Earth and report to Research and Development. Either way you’re to leave with the Vulcans when they depart and then they’ll get you where you need to go.”

“I thought that’s what they’d say,” said Trip.

“I’m sorry, Trip.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about, Captain. We both knew this was going to happen. I just hadn’t expected it to be this soon.” Trip ran a shaking hand through his hair.

“I thought it would be easier, being forewarned, but it isn’t.”

“Now don’t you get all sentimental on me,” replied Trip, holding up a finger to emphasis his point.

Archer shrugged and changed the subject. “How are the Vulcans doing?”

“I don’t know. They’ve been analysing the results of the tests for hours. T’Pol and Phlox have been helping but I’m not sure it’s making the process go any faster,” said Trip. “I don’t think there’s a single part of me that they didn’t either scan or take a blood sample from. I was beginning to wonder if I’m just a pincushion to them.”

“Doctors tend to want to do that sort of thing,” said Archer, with a half smile. It was good to know that Trip’s sense of humour was still intact.

Doctor Phlox interrupted them. “Doctor T’Mila and Doctor Sorek have finished their analysis of your test results.”

The two doctors approached Trip’s bed, and he noticed T’Pol standing back a little behind them.

Doctor T’Mila looked at Trip without a trace of emotion on her face. “We have assessed the results of our tests. We have been unable to find a way to adapt the treatment for humans. We will, of course, continue to conduct research in this area but I do not believe this avenue of research will bear fruit within an appropriate time frame.”

Doctor Sorek then joined them. “Given your current condition, which has been complicated by your recent seizure, we do not believe that you have the required stamina to undertake treatment unless it can begin immediately.”

“So you won’t even try?” asked Trip.

“As I said, we will continue our research, but you would not survive beyond the first week of treatment unless the mutagen can be properly adapted to rewrite your genetic code correctly. It requires further research and time that we do not have. I am sorry, Commander.”

Archer didn’t think he’d ever heard a Vulcan say that she was sorry, but he was grateful for her sop to human customs. He could see disappointment flood through Trip. This had been his last hope, and if it wasn’t to be, well, fate could be unkind when she chose to be.

“So, you’ll take me back to Earth,” said Trip.

“We have arrangements in place,” said T’Mila. “We will give you time to ready yourself and leave tomorrow.”

Trip nodded, closing his eyes. “Okay.”

Archer couldn’t shake the feeling that he should have been able to come up with something more to help Trip, but so far he was drawing a blank. All their medical knowledge combined hadn’t been enough to help his friend. Andorians didn’t suffer from anything similar, Vulcans did but apparently their treatment wasn’t far enough along to help, humans refused to do genetic research, Denobulans had genetic research but their genome was too dissimilar from humans, Tellarites refused to allow their medical research to be used by anyone, even their allies, and that left only enemies who had no reason to even talk to the humans.

All they could do was send Trip back to Earth and hope that someone came up with something before it was too late. Archer knew that the odds were against them there.

****

Archer stood in the launch bay and waited. Beside him stood T’Pol, Lieutenant Reed, Ensign Sato and Ensign Mayweather, all waiting in the launch bay to say their farewells. No one was talking, and the mood was sombre. Phlox would accompany Trip to the Vulcan ship, make sure he was settled in and his notes properly transferred, before he came back to Enterprise. The shuttlepod was prepped and ready to go. All it needed was the passenger.

They heard Trip before they saw him. Phlox had insisted on putting Trip in a wheelchair for his journey down from sickbay to the launch bay. Although Phlox had Trip on anti-seizure medication, there was still the possibility that he could have another attack. Naturally Trip was complaining about this, but the doctor was arguing his case admirably. In any other circumstances, Archer would have smiled, this was so typical for Trip; today, it just reminded him how much he was going to miss his friend.

“I told the Doc that I didn’t want any fuss,” said Trip as he saw the small group waiting for him.

“We decided to ignore you,” said Archer, with a knowing smile.

“We couldn’t just let you go without saying goodbye,” added Hoshi.

“It would have been illogical to fail to wish you well on your journey,” said T’Pol.

Trip looked down at his hands embarrassedly for a moment, unsure how to take this show of solidarity, before raising his head and grinning at the assembled group. “Are you sure that you’re not just here to make sure that I leave?”

Reed rolled his eyes, obviously Trip was going to handle this the only way he knew how. “Of course, Commander. I’m making sure that you won’t be overloading my phase cannons again.”

Trip looked pseudo indignant while the Captain, Hoshi and Mayweather chuckled. T’Pol looked slightly perplexed, but approving.

“Actually we wanted to throw you a farewell party, but the doctor wouldn’t let us,” said Mayweather.

“For good reason,” intoned Phlox.

“Yeah, thanks for that Doc,” said Trip.

“I know what you’re going to say, but we got you a gift,” said Archer.

Trip accepted the rectangular parcel wrapped in dark red paper and rested it on his knees. “Engineering red?” he asked.

“We thought it was appropriate,” said Archer.

Trip nodded and tore off the wrapping paper to reveal the matt black box inside. He lifted off the lid to see a piece of jagged, flat, burnished metal, about twenty centimetres long and half that across at its widest point, resting on some plastic packing material.

“Is this what I think it is?” asked Trip, letting his eyes wander across the polished metal.

“It’s the piece of the Andorian ship’s hull that went through the EPS conduit in the nacelle. We wanted you to remember that you saved our lives that day and on countless other occasions,” said Archer.

Trip fingered the edges of the metal and looked at how light moved across its shiny surface. “Thanks, Captain, it’s beautiful. It’s a great present. I can’t believe someone kept the debris.”

“I asked them to,” said Archer. “I wanted to make sure no one forgot what you did for us.”

“I was just doing what any other engineer would have done,” said Trip, modestly.

“You’ve never done just what any other engineer would have done and that’s why Enterprise is still flying,” replied Archer.

“Can you guys let me have a private word with the Captain?”

“I’ll be waiting for you on the ‘pod, Commander,” said Phlox and disappeared inside, closing the hatch behind him. The others took that as their cue to go as well.

“It’s been an honour,” said Reed, shaking Trip’s hand warmly and giving him a friendly pat on the back.

“You too Malcolm, you too,” replied Trip.

Reed smiled warmly, turned and headed quickly out of the launch bay to let the others say their farewells. Hoshi thought that she caught the shine of tears in the Armoury officer’s eyes and that was why he had left so rapidly. Reed was a proud man and wouldn’t want to be seen crying.

“Your presence in Engineering will be missed,” said T’Pol.

“Just in Engineering?” asked Trip.

T’Pol favoured Trip with an almost smile. “I will miss you too.”

Trip levered himself out of the wheelchair and hugged T’Pol much to her surprise, but she didn’t flinch away, just allowed him to hold her. Trip finally let her go and she backed up enough to let Hoshi step forward.

Hoshi gave Trip a fierce hug, as if she could hold onto him and stop him leaving. “It’s not going to be the same around here without you. As soon as we’re back at Earth we’ll come by for a visit.”

“I’ll look forward to that,” replied Trip.

Mayweather looked a little awkward, but Trip took the initiative and turned the stilted handshake into a hug.

“I’m not expecting any dents in Enterprise’s hull next time I see her,” said Trip. “Make sure you keep flying her out of trouble.”

“You have my word on that, Commander,” said Mayweather.

The officers filed out of the launch bay and Trip turned to Archer.

“Captain, we need to talk about a few things,” said Trip, sitting back down in the wheelchair heavily and once more looking down at his hands. “My will’s in the computer, coded to your voice imprint, and instructions about what I want for my funeral. I’ll be working at R&D for as long as I can. After that, I’ve picked out a nice hospice, close to my folks so they can come and visit, although I’m not sure that they’ll want to.”

“Of course they’ll want to visit, we all will. We don’t need to talk about this now,” said Archer. He would prefer to discuss the good times, not the logistics of his friend’s decline.

Trip met his eyes, finally.

“Captain, I’ve had this all planned out for a while now, it’s nothing new as far as I’m concerned. We knew it was only a matter of time. My parents will want to take care of me, and I can’t let that happen. They don’t deserve to spend their time caring for their terminally ill son. All I’m asking is that you make it happen. I’ve given you the power to make medical decisions for me, so you can do everything that you need to. I’ll keep seeing Lieutenant Francis when I’m back on Earth.”

“Would you stop treating this as if it isn’t your death we’re talking about, and for god’s sake at least admit that it’s painful, and horrible, and unfair.”

“It’s all of those things, but I’ve been living with this for nearly two years. Who knows how long I’ve got before all this is gone, I don’t have time to grieve for what I can’t change. I’m way past that.”

“But I need to grieve!” said Archer, vehemently. He could feel tears forming in his eyes despite his best attempts. “You’re my best friend and I’m going to miss you like hell.”

“More like a hole in the head,” replied Trip with a self-deprecating, lopsided smile. His eyes were shining too and Archer knew that Trip might be putting on a good act but he wasn’t far away from tears either.

He gave up trying to talk and just enfolded Trip in a rib crushing embrace. “Look after yourself and listen to the doctors.” He cried into Trip’s shoulder and he felt his friend shudder in his embrace, finally giving in to his own emotions. Archer released his hold a little. “I want letters. You’re not getting away without writing.”

“I promise I’ll let you know how I’m doing,” replied Trip, between sniffles. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve. “For as long as I can, anyway.”

****

Trip was escorted to his quarters on the Vulcan ship by a junior Vulcan officer and Doctor Phlox. Phlox looked around the quarters, making sure that Trip would have everything that he’d need.

“You should be quite comfortable here,” said Phlox.

Trip got up out of his wheelchair and limped across to the long window that lined one side of the room. He stared out at Enterprise.

“Damn, she’s a beautiful ship,” said Trip, as he leaned against the window frame. It reminded him of the time he had decided to transfer to Columbia, except then he’d been looking out at Enterprise’s twin. He’d been spotting the differences and thinking even then that leaving was probably going to turn out to be a mistake. Now he was looking at the ship he was leaving and about the only place he’d called home for years. All his belongings had been packed up and put in crates to be loaded onto the Vulcan ship.

He knew every corner of Enterprise, her every foible and preference. Lieutenant Commander Hess would do a good job, but it still felt like he was abandoning the crew. The starlight glinted on Enterprise’s hull and he glimpsed the scar from the weld they’d had to hastily make to the nacelle after the incident with the Andorians. He’d been meaning to get that finished off properly but hadn’t had time to put through the work order. His mind went over his list of ongoing projects and hoped that he’d briefed his staff thoroughly enough. He wished that he could stay with them. He felt like he was at a loose end, not being down in the Engine Room.

He stepped back from the window, and sat down on the bed. “It’s going to be strange being a passenger.”

“You need the rest, Commander,” said Phlox. “I believe the Telkara has an extensive English literature library. You could catch up on your reading. Doctor T’Mila will keep an eye on you while you’re on board so I know that I’m leaving you in very good hands. Unfortunately, I must leave you to get settled in, Enterprise is expecting me back shortly.”

“Thanks, Doc, for everything. I know I haven’t been the best of patients,” said Trip.

“There is no need to thank me, Commander. I have come to regard all the senior staff as my friends and I hope that you consider me the same way. Even if you were not a model patient, I will, of course, miss you.”

Trip looked a little stunned and then smiled. “Take care, Doc.”

Phlox heard the underlying request to take care of everyone on Enterprise, and he would do it to the best of his abilities.

****

Enterprise received word a few weeks later that Trip had been delivered to Earth safely. It was another couple of weeks before the first communication from Trip arrived on Enterprise. It was addressed to Archer and simply said: “No intergalactic incidents all week. Should I be worried by that? Trip.” Archer laughed and then had to show the message to the complete bridge staff to explain his strange behaviour.

Subspace carried letters to and from Trip. Hoshi couldn’t remember one person ever being sent so much mail and he wrote back in the same volume. Everyone missed him and it showed in the amount of correspondence that he received. Trip told everyone what he was doing at Research and Development, corresponding about the latest upgrades and advances. The crew told their former Chief Engineer what was happening on Enterprise. It carried on for months at the same pace and then Trip’s side of the correspondence became more erratic, before it stopped entirely.

Archer received an urgent subspace call, not from Trip but from his mother. Trip had been admitted to hospital. He had been forgetting to take his medication and then had accidentally overdosed on his pain killers. He had been found by one of his colleagues at Research and Development, unconscious at his desk. It came out later that he had been forgetting to eat as well and generally hadn’t been caring for himself properly. It had taken some time to stabilise his condition and rebalance his medication.

Trip’s wishes had been very clear. His parents were not to waste their lives caring for their terminally ill son. He had chosen a hospice that specialised in neural diseases but was renowned for its standard of care. He had visited it and vetted the place himself. He knew that he would be giving up some freedoms but he couldn’t let his parents burden themselves with his care in the final stages of the disease.

Trip had asked Archer to make sure that it all happened and that was what he was going to do. Despite Mrs Tucker’s protestations that Trip could come home, Archer pointed out that Trip needed constant care. He was beginning to see why Trip had asked him to sort this out, his parents never would have been able to let their son be placed in a hospice. Archer himself didn’t like the thought of Trip being permanently in an institution, but he’d promised Trip that when the time came he’d follow his wishes. That went for the “do not resuscitate” order that had been placed on his medical file as well.

The doctors told Archer that this was the beginning of the end. He wished that he had evidence to suggest otherwise, but he knew all too well that Trip was now very sick.

He wished that he could turn around and go back to Earth. He was sure that Trip needed every friendly face he could get at the moment. Enterprise was once more exploring in deep space and they certainly didn’t intend on returning to Earth for some months. But the Romulans, as always, had their own ideas about Enterprise’s plans. Several dog fights with Imperial Romulan war-birds and two new species later, Enterprise was so badly damaged that they had to return home to make repairs. It wasn’t how Archer would have wished to go back to Earth, but he’d accept that the bad luck came with an up side.

****

It was a sunny morning when Archer arrived at the grey, unassuming building. He went through the glass double entrance doors and found a reception desk with a helpful middle aged receptionist. She directed him to the room that he needed and he apprehensively made his way down the corridors. He found that the door to the room he wanted was already open, the occupant hadn’t realised that he was there yet so he took a moment to survey the scene.

Trip sat in a wheelchair at a desk, obviously deeply engrossed in whatever it was that he was working on. The room reflected the owner, pads were piled high on surfaces and pieces of technology lay around in various states of repair. On the wall were pictures that Trip had taken and framed engine schematics. The brass diving helmet had even found a home in a corner. If Archer hadn’t known better he would have assumed that this was just Trip’s quarters, however the medical equipment and hospital issue bed gave away the fact the room was in a hospice. Trip himself was thinner than when Archer had last seen him, muscle wastage was becoming obvious, and there was now a visible tremor in his right hand as well as the left. The fingers of both hands were curled up awkwardly and Trip was obviously having to work hard to maintain a grip on the stylus he was using.

Archer knocked on the wood of the doorway.

“Can I pull you away from your important work for a moment?” he asked grinning.

Trip twisted around in surprise and returned the grin. “Captain! I didn’t think that Enterprise was due back for another month.” He clumsily activated the wheelchair controls and turned himself around to face his guest. “Grab a chair.”

“We were able to cut our last mission short and get back a bit early. We took some damage and really needed the facilities of Jupiter Station. Lieutenant Commander Hess is a good engineer but she isn’t you.”

Even though Trip was sitting completely still his hands trembled and his thin legs would occasionally twitch. There was also a slight slur to his words that probably would have been unnoticeable to anyone who didn’t know him very well.

“Missing me already then?”

“As soon as you set foot on the shuttlepod,” replied Archer. “T’Pol, Malcolm and the others are hoping that they can come by at some point as well, but it depends how the repairs are going. In fact it seems that the only person who really isn’t needed at the moment is the Captain.”

“So how’d you sustain enough damage to need to come home?”

“It’s a long story and some of it’s classified. Suffice to say that we had some more trouble with our Romulan friends. Anyway, enough of my woes, how are you doing?”

“Well my legs finally gave out last month, as you can see from this torture device they have me in. My coordination is pretty terrible and I haven’t really got the hang of moving myself around. My hands are almost useless but I can still press buttons. Plus my memory isn’t what it used to be, if you come back tomorrow I might not remember you were here today. Swiss cheese would be a good description of my brain at the moment. I write a lot of stuff down and just have to accept it when things appear on a padd and I don’t remember writing them.”

“What about the seizures?”

“Mostly under control, but the medication hasn’t stopped them completely. I seem to be deteriorating at a fairly constant rate, like Phlox said I would.”

“So you’re still working?”

“When I can. I get tired quickly and it’s really frustrating when I can’t remember something. Every so often I send a batch of stuff to R and D and they put it to good use. Occasionally they let me know that I’ve duplicated my work and then I try something else. So far I can still remember enough to be helpful and it keeps me occupied. Even if I can’t recall the correct terms for everything.”

“What about this place? It seems okay,” said Archer.

“Well the food isn’t bad and the staff are pretty nice. They mostly leave me to my own devices except at feeding time. The doctor comes round every day to check on me and one of the nurses gives me my meds. Most days I can’t remember if I’ve taken them or not, so that’s one responsibility I had to give up. If I do need someone then there are call buttons and vid cameras monitoring the room. It’s a bit of an invasion of privacy but it’s sort of a necessary evil, they don’t want their patients passing out on the floor without being able to summon help.”

“I’m glad you’re being well looked after,” said Archer.

“There are a couple of other patients with CS here so they know what they’re dealing with. I don’t feel like they’re treating me like a child or crowding me with help I don’t need. You don’t want to hear about my dull life though, I bet you’ve got far more interesting stuff to tell me.”

They spent the rest of the visit discussing the mission that Enterprise had just returned from, the bits Archer could talk about anyway, gossiping about the crew and reminiscing. If it wasn’t for the setting then it would have been just like old times and a couple of hours passed without them noticing.

“Trip, I’m sorry to interrupt,” said a nurse standing at the door. Archer noticed that she used Trip’s nickname to address him. “You’re scheduled for physiotherapy now.”

Trip groaned. “It’s not like it does any good anyway, except I suppose it stops me seizing up completely.”

“I’d better go,” said Archer, getting up from his seat. “I hadn’t meant to stay so long.”

“It sure was good to see you, Captain. Do you think you’ll be able to squeeze in another visit before you leave?”

“Like I was saying, the Captain seems to be surplus to requirements at the moment. I’ve got a hotel room a couple of blocks over. I was hoping I could come by tomorrow and they might let you out of here in my care?”

The nurse smiled. “I’m sure that could be arranged.”

“I’d enjoy that,” said Trip. “I haven’t been anywhere outside the grounds for months.”

“That’s settled then, I’ll be back tomorrow,” said Archer. He made his farewells and left Trip in the care of the nurse.

Archer returned the next day to find Trip at his desk again.

“Morning Commander, how would you like to get out of this place for a couple of hours?”

“Captain!” said Trip, in surprise. “I didn’t think Enterprise was due back for another month.”

Archer tried his best to hide the pained reaction that Trip’s greeting had produced, but he must have failed because a look of realisation and resignation had appeared on Trip’s face.

“You’ve already been to visit, haven’t you?” asked Trip.

Archer nodded. “Yes, I was here yesterday. We arranged to go out.”

“I’m sorry Captain, it’s this damn Swiss cheese effect that the CS has on my brain. I never know what I’m going to remember, but I guess I already told you that yesterday.”

“You don’t need to apologise. It’s not your fault that you don’t remember. I’m planning on being around for the next couple of weeks while Enterprise is being repaired, we’ve got plenty of time to talk. I took a hotel room in town.”

“Great, because you’re going to be telling me everything that you told me yesterday again. So do you want to spring me from this place before I forget you’re here?” Trip grinned, once more making light of his condition. Archer wasn’t exactly sure how he could do it, but it did brighten the atmosphere and he couldn’t help but grin back.

Their first outing into town went quite well. Archer pushed Trip’s wheelchair around one of the shopping malls, taking his friend to all the technology and electronics shops that Trip seemed endlessly fascinated by. However, Archer hadn’t been prepared for how easily Trip became tired or the level of pain that he was in. He constantly wore a small disc on his upper arm that dispensed pain medication and had to be replaced at hourly intervals. If Trip was in Archer’s care then he was in charge of ensuring that the disc was replaced and the nurse instructed him carefully before they would let him take Trip anywhere outside the grounds of the hospice.

Archer ended up visiting Trip every day for the next three weeks while Enterprise was in dock. Usually he just took Trip out for a walk, but occasionally he bundled Trip into the hover car and they went for a longer excursion. Some days Trip wasn’t up to getting out of bed, but then Archer just pulled up a chair and they chatted for as long as Trip could stay awake. He did have to repeat news a lot but some of it stuck and Trip didn’t always forget that he’d been to visit the previous day. More disturbing was Trip’s continuing forgetfulness when it came to common words, but Archer got good at inferring his meaning from his descriptions. Very occasionally Trip’s awareness would wander and Archer would have to pull him back from wherever he was.

T’Pol and Reed both found the time to visit between repairs and their own leave. T’Pol was planning to return to Vulcan, so only had a limited amount of time on Earth. Her single visit was lengthy but Archer got the impression that she wasn’t sure how to react to Trip’s developing disabilities. Of all of them, T’Pol had the most difficulty dealing with the mental aspects of Trip’s condition.

Reed spent a couple of days with Trip and Archer before leaving for Malaysia to visit his family. Reed and Trip bantered as if nothing was wrong, although Trip was a beat slower with his comebacks than he had been six months ago. Trip even bounced ideas off Reed for shield improvements and it was like listening to a staff meeting back on Enterprise. Archer kept expecting Trip to complain that the Armoury officer was drawing too much power for his weapons. He became depressed by the thought that Trip wouldn’t be making that complaint ever again.

Enterprise’s repairs seemed to be completed far too soon. Archer came to visit Trip one last time before he left for San Francisco and the Jupiter Station shuttle.

“You know you didn’t have to spend all your leave visiting me,” said Trip.

“How do you know that I did?” asked Archer.

“I keep a personal log and I played back all the entries for the last three weeks. You’ve been to see me every day. Plus pictures of you keep mysteriously appearing on my camera and even I can’t take that many pictures in a few days. I may be a bit forgetful but I know you pretty well, and spending all your vacation time with me is the kind of thing you’d do.”

“I wouldn’t want to spend my vacation any other way,” said Archer. “We had a great time together, even if you can’t remember it all.”

“I remember a lot of it,” said Trip. “You could have been visiting your mother.”

“My mother will understand.” Archer rose from his seat to go. “Take care of yourself, Trip. As soon as Enterprise is back home again I’ll drop by.”

“Yeah, I’ll look forward to that. Tell Hess to take good care of my engine.”

Archer left the hospice wishing that he could have found the right words to tell Trip just how much he meant to him. Trip’s CS was progressing quickly now and they were both aware that his condition could well go downhill sufficiently that he wouldn’t be able to recognise his former Captain when Enterprise returned to Earth again. Neither of them would have said it, but they knew that this could be their last real goodbye.

****End of Chapter Nine****

Enterprise had been given patrol duty. It wasn’t something that Archer had been particularly pleased about, but given the rough time that everyone had had lately, he had to admit it was a welcome change of pace. They were basically touring the outer colonies of Earth, making sure that everything was running smoothly. They had another month before patrol duty ended and they would resume their deep space exploration.

Archer felt the loss of his former Chief Engineer deeply. It had taken him months to stop himself from calling in at Engineering to talk with Trip. Even now, when he called briefing meetings he wondered for a second why Hess had come in Trip’s place. He still remembered the silence that had fallen over the bridge when he’d called down to Engineering with the familiar “Archer to Tucker”. He wasn’t the only one who had slipped up in those first weeks either, Reed had said that he would ask Trip to reassign one of his Engineers to help with the Armoury upgrades. Hoshi had suggested that Trip would be able to fix the glitch in the translation matrix. Even Hess had said “I’m sure the Chief will know how to fix it” before she’d remembered that she was now the Chief.

A day didn’t go by without Archer wishing Trip was still on board, but it was always worst when a new water polo game arrived. His first thought, before he caught himself, was to call Trip and ask him if he wanted to come over to his quarters for a couple of beers and to watch the game. They’d always made time to do things like that. Instead he now sat alone in his quarters, sipping beer from the bottle and snacking on chips while he tried to follow Stanford versus UCLA. His mind wasn’t really on it and when the com sounded he hadn’t really been paying attention to what was on the screen for a while.

“Captain, our sensors have made a contact. We can’t match it to anything on the navigation charts,” said T’Pol.

“I’m on my way,” replied Archer and was on the bridge a few moments later, glad of the distraction from his solitary contemplation. “Any idea what it is?”

“We have not been able to make an identification,” said T’Pol. “This region of space is supposed to be empty.”

T’Pol was correct. This was the closest thing that there was to a busy shipping lane in space. It was the shortest route between two of Earth’s colonies and well travelled. If this object had been there any length of time then it would already have been detected.

“Could it be a ship?” asked Archer, looking at the view screen. It was little more than a metallic dot on the screen at the moment, but it looked elongated, as if it were a spacecraft of some type.

“From what I have been able to detect it is larger than a ship. Its construction suggests Earth origins. It may be a space station.”

“A space station? Out here? That can’t be right. Starbase One is the first of the deep space stations, we don’t have any other stations this far out of Earth’s orbit.”

“Never-the-less it does appear that is what this is,” said T’Pol.

As they neared the object, Archer could see that T’Pol was right. It was too big to be a ship and had all the hallmarks of Earth engineering. What it was doing here was a mystery. There was no serial number to identify it or any symbols or flags emblazoned on the hull. It looked like two cartwheels joined together by a spoke through the middle of the hubs. The metal was grey and punctuated by small portholes at intervals around the circular frames. It spun majestically.

“There are docking ports,” said Reed. “No discernable weaponry.”

“Life signs?”

“None,” said T’Pol.

“Let’s take a shuttle across,” said Archer. “Lieutenant Reed, T’Pol, Commander Hess, Ensign Sato, you’re with me. Mr Mayweather, you have the bridge.”

“Aye, sir,” said Travis, as the away team filed out.

****

The station docking hatch had refused to open until Anna Hess attacked it with some Engineering magic that Archer hadn’t really understood. Trip had trained her well and she certainly had his flair for engine empathy. Hess then set about turning on lights and getting life support up and running, so that the away team could remove their cumbersome EV suits. It didn’t seem to take her very long to work out how everything functioned. The air that flooded the room was musty smelling but not bad, and T’Pol indicated that it was safe for everyone to take their helmets off.

The interior of the station was made of dark metal and the engineers hadn’t worried too much about hiding the way the station was put together. It was obvious that this was a place of work. Everything looked functional and spartan. It reminded Archer of some of the older bits of Jupiter station before the last refit.

“This is definitely Earth construction,” said Hess. “It even has some of the same design aspects as Enterprise. It could have been built by Starfleet given these EPS grid layouts. It all feels really familiar.”

“Then why haven’t we ever heard of a space station in this area before?” asked Reed.

“From these diagnostics, I’d say that the stabilisers failed and it drifted here,” replied Hess. “It’s obviously not where it’s supposed to be.”

“You can say that again,” said Reed.

“I’ll see if there are some logs that I can download,” said Hoshi moving to the computer console on one side of the room. She tapped away at the keys for a moment. “There are security lock outs enabled.”

“Perhaps I can assist,” said T’Pol, she moved to Hoshi’s side and assessed the situation.

“We’ll cover more ground if we split up. Malcolm, take Anna to find the Engine room. See if you can work out what happened here,” said Archer. “Check in every ten minutes. I’ll start exploring up here with Hoshi and T’Pol.”

“Yes, sir,” replied everyone.

Archer looked around while T’Pol and Hoshi tried to access the computer. He didn’t stray far from the main area where Hoshi and T’Pol were working but there was plenty to look at in close proximity.

Archer’s communicator beeped. “Reed to Archer.”

“Go ahead Malcolm.”

“We’ve found something that I think you should see.”

“I’m on my way,” said Archer. He turned to Hoshi and T’Pol. “Stay in touch and let me know if you find anything. I won’t be long.”

T’Pol nodded but they barely stopped what they were doing. Archer walked down the corridor to Reed and Hess’s position a little way into the station. Archer found the open door that indicated the room that Hess and Reed were investigating, and walked in. The sight that he was met with was unexpected. He saw rows of what were obviously incubators for babies. They were empty and definitely had lain unused for sometime, but the implication disturbed him. Reed didn’t need to speak to explain what they had found, he had seen Archer’s reaction.

Archer walked over to the nearest incubator and put a hand on the rim. “There were children here.”

“The other rooms contain medical equipment and there are what look like labs further down the corridor,” said Reed.

Archer looked around him. “This was a medical research station.”

“It’s looking that way,” said Reed.

“Then what was it doing all the way out here?” asked Hess.

“Lieutenant, contact Enterprise and get them to send over Doctor Phlox. Perhaps he can help us work out what was going on here.” Archer prowled around the room, looking at the various pieces of medical equipment in the room. Anyone who had to hide what they were doing couldn’t be up to anything good.

“Yes, sir,” said Reed and went to carry out the Captain’s orders.

Archer and Hess continued to investigate more corridors and rooms but they found nothing more enlightening. There were rooms that seemed to be treatment rooms, equipped with devices that neither Hess nor Archer recognised, and wards with biobeds. Further in there were living and recreational quarters. It didn’t seem as if the inhabitants had left in a hurry, but it did look as if they had intended to come back. Some of the beds had been left with blankets on them, but in general the rooms were bare. It was becoming increasingly clear that this station had housed a small population for some period of time.

Phlox and Reed found Archer and Hess looking at yet another piece of technology that Hess thought might be a bio-scanner of some type.

“This is Denobulan technology,” said Phlox in surprise. “It’s a full body scanner.”

“Well that explains why we didn’t recognise it,” said Hess.

“What about the rest of this?” asked Archer.

“Well it certainly looks like it’s medical equipment, but it isn’t Denobulan,” said Phlox. “Some of it is of Earth origin, but definitely not all of it. That microscope is Vulcan.”

“Any idea what they might have been doing all the way out here?” asked Archer.

“There would only be one reason to hide the presence of a medical facility, which I am sorry to say was probably because they were doing something illegal. That usually means biological weapons, organ harvesting and transplantation or, for Earth, genetic research.” Phlox didn’t look at all happy about any of the prospects.

“The incubators…” said Archer, a frown forming on his face. “Come on, maybe T’Pol and Hoshi have had some luck with cracking the computer system. We need answers and we’re not going to get them from empty rooms.”

****

T’Pol and Hoshi had found a wealth of information on the computer system but a lot of it was encrypted. Archer had decided that everyone should return to Enterprise and get some rest while Hoshi and T’Pol worked with the information that they had downloaded. They had spent hours deciphering it but, finally, they had a program that could decrypt the files. The majority of the files were medical records which were passed to Phlox so that he could see if they contained any useful information. However there were a number of other files which T’Pol insisted on decrypting personally, despite Hoshi’s offers of help.

T’Pol requested that she give her report to Archer, Reed and Phlox alone. She refused to give her reasons but said that it included a confidential matter. The four of them sat in Archer’s Ready Room and T’Pol began.

“As we suspected this facility was used for genetic research. It appears to have been founded after the Eugenics War but I have been unable to break the encryption on the files which detail who built it. The focus of research on the station was primarily on correcting genetic faults, not enhancing. They manipulated the genetics of embryos and I also found records of several births. Approximately twenty years ago the station was abandoned.”

“Why did they abandon it?” asked Reed.

“That is also unknown.”

“What happened to the children?” asked Archer. “Can we track them down?”

“They are most likely now part of the general population and so far I have not been able to find any names, only numerical designations. They would not be like the Augments that we encountered. The purpose of this research was to correct defects like short sightedness or disease. The children who received this treatment would be healthy, but not supermen.”

“In other words,” said Reed, “they could easily hide on Earth among children their own age.”

“It’s still illegal, and dangerous,” said Archer, getting up from his chair to stare at the station through the window. “All the attempts that we’ve seen at genetic manipulation have resulted in deaths. Soong’s Augments and the Klingon’s efforts to use that research all ended in failure.”

Phlox looked up at Archer, an almost sad look on his face. “It seems that these scientists had some success, especially in treating genetic diseases. I believe that they perfected a treatment for Clarke’s Syndrome.”

Archer’s head snapped around. “They found a cure?”

Reed and T’Pol looked equally surprised by this revelation.

“Yes, and various other treatments to help recovery from the disease once the genetic code had been corrected.”

“You’re telling me that we’ve had the cure, this close to Earth, for twenty years?”

“That is exactly what I’m saying, Captain,” said Phlox. “However, as you are aware, making use of this information would also be illegal, given how it was obtained. Humans died in some of these experiments. Genetic therapy is still illegal on Earth and the rules are very strict on the fruits of genetic research conducted in this way.”

“So even though we have a cure for Trip, we can’t give it to him?” asked Reed.

Phlox nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

“No, I won’t accept it,” said Archer, slamming his fist against the wall.

“We may have no choice,” said T’Pol.

“Commander Tucker’s condition was declining steadily when we last were at Earth, and even if we are able to use the cure I couldn’t guarantee that we would be in time.” Phlox was again looking unhappy.

“We have to try. Gene therapy is illegal on Earth, but we could bring Trip here,” Archer suggested.

“This is technically still in Earth’s jurisdiction, and I doubt they would release Commander Tucker to us,” said Reed.

“They were going to let us take him to Vulcan,” said Archer.

“Earth has no jurisdiction over what happens on Vulcan. I was careful never to give details of the treatment that the Commander would receive to anyone on Earth. If they had found out the nature of the treatment then I doubt the Earth authorities would have been so willing to let him go to Vulcan,” said Phlox.

Archer hadn’t even really thought about that aspect of the treatment. He had just been so glad to see a lifeline being offered to Trip that he hadn’t even considered that Phlox might have had to hide exactly what the treatment was. He hadn’t really paid much attention to the way the treatment would work or that it was a product of Vulcan genetic research. If Starfleet ever found out that they had hidden this then there would be hell to pay.

Archer sighed. “You’re certain that this is a cure, Doctor?”

“As certain as I can be without actually testing it on a human being,” said Phlox.

“We have to report what we’ve found to Starfleet,” said T’Pol.

“Maybe not all of it,” said Archer.

“You’re suggesting that we don’t tell Starfleet that we’ve found a genetic research base?” asked Reed, a little surprised.

“I won’t order you to withhold information from Starfleet, but I need your help and so does Trip,” said Archer.

“What do you have in mind?” asked T’Pol.

“We go back to Earth and take the cure with us,” said Archer.

Phlox shook his head. “That wouldn’t be possible. We need to bring Commander Tucker here, where the equipment is. Earth just doesn’t have the technical capability to perform genetic manipulation.”

“Then we bring Trip here,” said Archer.

“Captain, we would be using the results of research obtained by experimentation on human beings,” said Phlox.

“I know that, Doctor, and it’s an ethical dilemma that I can’t deal with right now. At least something good can come out of the experiments that were done here. There’s a reason why Earth has laws against places like this, but I won’t sacrifice Trip because these scientists used questionable methods.”

“You know what this will mean, if we go ahead,” said Reed. “Starfleet will work out sooner or later what’s going on. Everyone involved would risk court-martial.”

“I know, and that’s why I won’t order you. I’ll do this on my own if I have to, but it would be a lot easier with some help.”

“You do not need to ask, Captain,” said T’Pol.

“I’m in,” said Reed.

“You will need the services of a doctor,” said Phlox. “It would be very remiss of me not to care for a former patient.”

“We’ll need Hess’s help as well,” said Reed.

“I’ll talk to her,” said Archer. “I want you all to understand that there’s no going back once we start down this road.”

“We understand, Captain,” said T’Pol.

“Trip’s saved our lives more times than I care to count, it’s time to repay the debt,” said Reed.

****

Enterprise had unexpectedly suffered a series of malfunctions whilst on patrol in the outer colonies. Unfortunately the engineering staff had been unable to track down the fault and so they had returned to Earth for repairs. The crew were actually quite happy because they had been given shore leave while the problem was diagnosed and fixed. So far no one had discovered that Hess had created the malfunctions herself. Phase one of the plan had gone without a hitch, now Archer had to put part two into action and that would be much more difficult.

Once again Archer found himself standing outside the hospice where Trip was being cared for. Phlox was with him and it was late at night. They entered the hospice through a side door and made their way towards Trip’s room, avoiding the nurses doing their rounds. Lieutenant Reed had already dealt with the security systems and video feeds, but if they met anyone then it would mean answering some awkward questions. This time as they came to the open door, Trip wasn’t at his desk. Judging by how tidy it was, the desk hadn’t been used for a while.

The figure lying in the bed didn’t look much like the man that Archer knew so well, but the blond hair was still the same. His eyes were closed and he had an oxygen cannula running under his nose. An IV line ran into a port in the back of his hand. Phlox picked up the chart from the slot at the end of the bed and clicked through the padd pages.

“The IV is for pain medication and re-hydration. I won’t go into all the details but he’s getting very weak. If we’re going to do this then it has to be now.”

Archer drew up a chair beside his friend’s bed. “Trip, can you hear me?”

Eyelids slowly peeled back from blue eyes. “Hey, Commander Archer, nice of you to come by,” said Trip, blearily.

“It’s Captain now, Trip. You remember?”

“Congratulations on the promotion, Captain,” said Trip. The voice was a weak facsimile of what it had been previously. The edges of the words were slurred into each other and quiet. Every word was an effort for Trip to form and his breathing laboured.

“Trip, do you remember where you are and why you’re here?”

“In hospital, they tell me I’m sick,” replied Trip, and screwed his eyes up in pain. “Hurts like a son of a bitch.”

Archer glanced over at Phlox.

“He’s on the highest safe dosage,” said Phlox, helplessly.

“Trip, you have Clarke’s Syndrome and it’s affecting your memory. You’ve been serving on Enterprise for the past seven years.”

“Enterprise? As in NX-01?”

“The same. Trip, we’ve found a cure for your illness, but it involves breaking you out of here and you could end up being in a lot of trouble.”

Trip paused before he answered, obviously trying to persuade his less than co-operative brain to think straight. “I’d rather be alive and court-martialled than dead with a perfect record. Besides, I get the feeling that I don’t exactly have a spotless record anyway.”

Archer smiled at his friend. “Okay, we’ll have you out of here as soon as we can and then we’ll be on our way.” Archer reached for his communicator. “Archer to Reed. Malcolm, you have a go.”

“Understood, sir,” came the reply in steady English tones. Archer flipped the communicator closed. He noticed that Trip’s eyes were following something, but when Archer looked he couldn’t see anything. Trip was definitely hallucinating and Archer’s heart sank. His father had been like this shortly before the disease killed him, although Trip’s memory seemed to be slightly better. At least he knew who Archer was even if it was an Archer from over ten years ago.

“Phlox, do you have everything you need in the shuttlepod?”

“Yes, we should be fine. They have been continuing him on the medication that I prescribed, plus a few others that I had already predicted.”

Archer nodded, as Reed and T’Pol came into the room with a gurney.

“Be careful, he’s in a lot of pain,” said Archer, as the four of them got into position to transfer Trip to the gurney. Phlox unhooked the bags from the IV pole and busied himself shutting off monitors so that no alerts would sound when Trip was disconnected.

“Commander, who are all these people? And why is a Vulcan helping us?” asked Trip.

“That is a long story, Trip, but let me introduce Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, Doctor Phlox and Commander T’Pol. I know you can’t remember, but they’re your friends and they’re here to help us.”

“I have friends who are aliens?”

“Yes and a lot of humans as well.”

“Commander Tucker, are you ready?” asked T’Pol, they were ready to move Trip.

“When did I get promoted to commander?”

“About eight years ago,” said Archer.

“Damn. You’ve got a lot to fill me in on. Let’s get this show on the road.”

Phlox pulled back the blankets to reveal Trip’s hospital gown and the full extent of the muscles wastage on Trip’s limbs. Trip looked fragile, as if the least movement would damage him. Archer saw Trip brace himself for the pain as he was moved and T’Pol, Reed and Archer shifted him to the gurney as quickly as possible. Trip still winced despite the care they took. They settled him carefully and Phlox checked that all the tubes were still positioned correctly.

Phlox looked up at Archer. “We’re ready.”

Archer and T’Pol wheeled the gurney with Trip on it down the halls, while Reed checked the hallways. Phlox walked beside them, monitoring Trip’s vital signs. The shuttlepod was waiting outside the side door in the hospice’s car park, and Reed held the door open for the gurney. It took a little manoeuvring to get the gurney through the door. Trip’s eyes had fallen closed again and Archer had no idea how much of the escape he was really taking in.

“Hey, what are you doing?” said a voice from outside.

Archer had been concentrating on Trip, and looked up to see one of the nurses that he’d met when he’d visited before. She was wearing the hospice uniform and had neatly tied back blonde hair. He felt the stab of guilt at being caught doing something that he knew he shouldn’t be. The other members of the rescue party also looked worried at this new turn of events.

“I know what this looks like…” started Archer, and then wondered what it did look like.

“This man is a patient of this hospital and he is too ill to be moved,” said the nurse, and then she noticed the uniforms of the people who appeared to be kidnapping one of her patients. Her look of outrage turned to one of puzzlement. “You’re Captain Archer.”

“Yes, I am. Trip is my friend and one of the finest officers that I’ve ever served with. I can’t tell you where we’re taking him but I can tell you we only have his best interests at heart. We have our ship’s doctor with us to make sure that he’s taken care of.”

“You’re taking him out there to die,” said the nurse, her eyes flicking upwards to the sky. Archer didn’t agree or disagree, but he certainly wasn’t going to explain why they were really taking Trip. The nurse looked back at Trip and put a friendly hand on his shoulder. “Everyone here likes Trip and it’s been hard for everyone to see him getting so ill. We’ve only known him a few months, but I can understand how he’d have friends like you.”

“Then you won’t tell anyone that you saw us?” asked Reed.

The young woman seemed to come to a resolution. “No, I won’t. You’ve got until I do my rounds to make your escape. Then I’ll have to raise the alarm.”

“We’ll be long gone by then,” said Archer, with a smile. He signalled to Phlox, Reed and T’Pol to continue moving the gurney. He was about to follow them but stopped. “Thanks. I know you could still get into trouble for this.”

“I’m old enough to know what I’m doing,” replied the nurse. “Just make sure that you take good care of him.”

“We will. He’s in good hands.”

****

Hoshi and Travis were alone on the bridge when the alert sounded. Neither of them had intended to be on Enterprise. Hoshi had been scheduled to give a lecture at a Linguistics conference but had some final changes to make to her paper so had decided to stay on board for an extra day. Travis was supposed to be picking up a transport out to rendezvous with his family’s cargo ship but the transport had technical difficulties and wouldn’t be leaving for another day at least. Travis had decided to spend his spare time updating and calibrating the helm computers after the latest round of upgrades.

The bridge was plunged briefly into darkness and then the light changed to red and a klaxon began blaring loudly. They both recognised the evacuation alarm when they heard it, but neither of them ran for the exit. Years of serving on Enteprise had taught them to question everything. Instead they made for the engineering and science stations and began to trace down why the alarm was sounding.

“We’re in dock, this can’t be happening,” said Hoshi.

“I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. Reactors can go critical with very little warning if they’re handled wrong,” replied Travis. He was thinking of the army of engineers that had been despatched to Enterprise to see if they could find out what the malfunction was. He was always slightly distrustful of engineers who weren’t part of Enterprise’s engineering department.

“I’ve got power readings building,” said Hoshi. “We should go.”

Travis shook his head. “Something isn’t right here. I’m not getting a rise in radiation. The sensors aren’t agreeing with each other.”

Hoshi pressed buttons frantically. “You’re right. There are false readings in here. It looks like someone accessed the system externally and created the alert conditions. They used a command code. It’s Captain Archer’s.”

“How is that possible? The Captain would never let anyone have his code.”

“And it’s security encrypted with biometric information so that only the Captain can use it,” said Hoshi.

“Something is very wrong here,” said Travis, just as Captain Archer walked onto the bridge, Lieutenant Reed and T’Pol half a step behind him.

“Captain?” asked Hoshi, as she vacated the science station for T’Pol. “What’s going on?”

“There’s a malfunction in the warp core assembly. Everyone is being evacuated as a precaution. You two should go while we sort this out.”

“Captain, we know that something’s going on,” said Travis.

“I’m not going anywhere unless you tell me what’s really happening,” said Hoshi.

Archer glanced at T’Pol who gave him a half-shrug of her shoulders.

“We’re taking Trip to the space station we found, out in the colonies,” said Archer. “It’s a medical station that had been conducting genetic research and it has a cure for Clarke’s Syndrome.”

“I’ll lay in the course,” said Travis, moving back to his own station, purposefully.

“You’ll need me to run interference on communications as well,” said Hoshi.

“You both need realise that if you’re coming, this is a one way journey. You’ll be sacrificing Starfleet and your careers,” said Archer.

“Sir, we know what we’re doing,” said Hoshi, “we’re saving the Commander’s life.” Travis nodded from his position at the helm in agreement.

Archer could see the determination in the eyes of his junior officers. Trip had a way of eliciting loyalty from those he met. There was only one thing he could say. “Welcome on board.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Hoshi, with a grin.

“T’Pol, has everyone left the ship?” asked Archer.

“The only other life signs on board are two in sickbay and one in engineering,” said T’Pol. That was how it should be, Phlox and Trip in sickbay and Hess in engineering.”

“Hoshi, put me through to Space Port Control,” said Archer.

“The channel is open,” said Hoshi.

“Archer to Space Port Control. We are experiencing a serious malfunction in our reactor core. Request emergency docking clamp release, so that we can clear space port and jettison the core.”

There was the sound of loud metallic thunks echoing across the hull as the clamps were disengaged.

“This is Space Port Control, docking clamps have been released. You are cleared to go.”

Archer made a cutting motion to Hoshi.

“Connection closed, sir,” said Hoshi.

“Good. Malcolm, you can shut off the alarm now and go to full lock down.”

“Yes, sir,” said Reed. The wailing klaxon mercifully ceased. “All hatches are sealed and we are ready to depart.”

“Disconnecting umbilical cables,” said T’Pol. The distant sound of air escaping and valves shutting was heard.

“Take us out, Mr Mayweather, straight and steady,” said Archer. Enterprise began to move forward gently, out of the metal ribcage that held her in dock. It would take a few moments to clear space dock but now they were moving there was very little anyone could do to stop them.

“Commander Hess, are you ready?”

“Whenever you are, Captain. Just remember that it’s only me down here.”

“Understood. You have a go, Travis.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the helmsman. Enterprise had emerged from the space dock and they were now in clear space. “Engaging warp.” Enterprise leapt up the warp factors. They would be out of the solar system in minutes and on their way to the outer colonies. “Warp four and holding, Captain.”

“Sir, we’re being hailed,” said Hoshi.

“Ignore it,” said Archer. He could imagine the frantic hailing and panic in the control room at Enterprise leaving without permission.

“Yes, sir, I’ll engage a static field. It’ll make it look like our communications are being disrupted,” said Hoshi.

“Good idea,” said Archer.

“I know that you’ve probably already discussed this, but aren’t they going to send someone after us?” asked Hoshi.

Reed gave a half laugh. “We’ve just stolen the flagship of the fleet. They’re going to want their property back.”

“Let’s just hope that they decide they need it back in one piece,” added Archer.

****End of Chapter Ten****

It was going to take them a week to get to the station. Everyone took shifts on the bridge and in engineering. It was hard work because Enterprise had never been designed to be flown by such a small crew but Hess tied as many systems as she could into the bridge which made life slightly easier. The current rotation meant that at least one person was always on duty on the bridge and another person was keeping an eye on engineering. All non-essential systems had been shut down to lessen the work that needed to be done.

Archer found that the ship had taken on a eerie quality. The corridors were lonely in their emptiness and his quarters had never felt so remote from the rest of the ship. He made time everyday to visit Trip, because he seemed to be the only person that Trip consistently recognised. Sometimes his memory would dredge up the names of the others, but it varied from day to day, even hour to hour. However, even without his memory, he was still Trip and he naturally fell into old friendships.

Archer entered sickbay to find Reed sitting beside Trip’s bed chatting to him.

“I can’t understand how you can wear those hideous shirts,” Reed was saying.

“Hey, I think they’re stylish,” replied Trip, softly. His voice sounded dry and weak.

“Yes, if you’re colour blind,” said Reed.

Trip laughed, but it wasn’t his usual strong laugh, it was a pained approximation. Reed smiled in acknowledgement.

“Wish I could remember it,” said Trip. “Sounds like we had a great time.”

“I didn’t tell you what happened after the bar fight. It’s probably better that you’ve forgotten about that.”

“You know, I do kind of remember something, a basement and being tied up,” said Trip.

“That would be an entirely different incident from our sordid past,” said Reed. “Let’s just say we decided not to go to Risa again.”

Trip’s eyes held an obvious question.

“Don’t ask,” said Reed.

“Hi Malcolm, Trip,” said Archer, approaching the biobed. Trip was swathed in several sheets and blankets because he became cold easily, even in the temperature controlled environment of sickbay.

“Hey Captain,” said Trip, which meant that Archer knew this was a good day, because he wasn’t calling him Commander.

“That is my cue to take my shift on the bridge,” said Reed, getting up to leave. “I’ll see you later, Trip, Captain.”

“Sure Malcolm,” said Trip and gave him a broad smile.

Archer gave Reed a nod of thanks for talking to Trip, as the Armoury officer left. Archer knew just how difficult talking to Trip could be, because he spent a lot of his time doing it. On the bad days Trip’s memory wouldn’t retain anything and Archer would have to continually repeat himself. Some things came back to Trip, but others seemed permanently locked away. He couldn’t remember Hoshi at all, much to her dismay and Trip’s embarrassment, but Phlox he could identify about fifty percent of the time. The second year of Enterprise’s mission seemed to be a complete blank, but he often hallucinated Xindi. Of all the things to remember, Archer had hoped that he wouldn’t remember the Xindi attack.

The Xindi hallucinations were harrowing for anyone who witnessed the fear they induced in Trip. Often the kindest thing to do was sedate him while they passed, but Phlox worried about using too many sedatives. Trip was already probably addicted to pain medication, since the disease was expected to be fatal, the doctors had decided that pain relief was more important than getting their patient hooked on an addictive pain killer.

“Well, we should reach the station in about three days,” said Archer, wondering if Trip would know what he was talking about.

“Station?” asked Trip.

“We’re taking you to a medical station for treatment, so that we can cure you,” said Archer.

Trip nodded in understanding, but Archer wondered if he really knew what was going on.

Phlox appeared. “Time for lunch, Commander.” He was carrying a nasogastric feeding tube and a bag of specially formulated nutritional fluid.

“You know I hate that stuff, Doc,” said Trip.

“I know it isn’t pleasant, but at the moment your swallowing reflex is too weak to let you eat on your own. Hopefully it’s just for a few more days.”

“I’ll stay with you, Trip, while it’s in,” said Archer. “I’ve brought the latest water polo match and if Phlox will let us borrow one of his portable monitors we can watch it together.”

“I’ll get the monitor,” said Phlox, putting down the dreaded feeding apparatus for a moment while he got the monitor and table that fitted over the biobed.

“Do I like water polo?” asked Trip.

“Unless you’ve just been trying to humour me all this time, I think you do,” said Archer.

Trip, gave Archer a twisted knowing smile. “Sounds like we’ve had this conversation before.”

“Once or twice.”

“So is this game one we’ve watched before? Because it’s not fair to take advantage of the guy with the Swiss cheese memory. Especially if we’re going to make bets on who wins.”

“Did I say anything about making bets?” In fact they had watched the game before, a few months ago when Archer had visited Trip in the hospice, but that hadn’t been one of Trip’s better days. Archer was fairly certain that he wouldn’t remember.

“No, but I know that look,” replied Trip. Phlox returned with the monitor and positioned it so that his patient and visitor could both see the screen.

“Okay, no betting. We’ll just watch the game.”

Archer raised the head of Trip’s bed a little so that he could see the screen better. Trip was too weak to move on his own much. His daily routine involved physiotherapy to keep his muscles working but they were badly atrophied and Archer doubted that it was doing much to help. Trip was also turned in bed frequently, to prevent bed sores from forming, another indignity that he bore surprisingly well.

“Are you ready, Commander,” asked Phlox.

Trip gave a small unhappy nod and Phlox proceeded to insert the feeding tube. After checking it was positioned correctly he connected the bag of liquid food. It usually took about an hour to empty the bag, so hopefully water polo would distract Trip for long enough that the tube would be able to come out soon afterwards.

Archer started up the game recording and they watched water polo, making the usual comments while Stanford lost to UCLA. Archer wasn’t sure if Trip would remember that he was Stanford man, but the good natured ribbing that he was receiving soon made it clear that this wasn’t something that Trip had forgotten. Archer didn’t have the heart to complain because Trip kept forgetting who was in which colours and celebrating the wrong goals. He was glad for any vaguely normal time he could have with Trip at the moment, the lucid periods were becoming few and far between.

The game was entering the last few minutes when the com sounded. “Reed to Archer.”

Archer went to the com on the wall of sickbay. “Archer here. Go ahead Malcolm.”

“Captain, you’re needed on the bridge.” Archer glanced over at Trip who still seemed to be happily watching the end of the game, the feeding tube forgotten.

“I’ll be right there,” said Archer, closing the circuit. “Sorry Trip, but I’ve got to go. I’ll be down again later.”

“No problem, Captain, I’ll catch you later.” Trip looked a little disappointed, but he was doing his best to hide it. Archer supposed that even in his current state of confusion, being in sickbay all the time couldn’t be much fun.

Archer left sickbay and made his way as quickly as he could to the bridge. T’Pol and Mayweather were already there with Reed.

“What’s the problem?”

“We have a contact on long range sensors,” said T’Pol.

“Is it on an intercept course?” asked Archer.

“If it maintains its present heading, it will converge with Enterprise’s course in a little under four days.”

“But we’ll arrive at the station in less than seventy two hours,” said Reed.

“So if it changes course when we stop, we’ll know if they’re following us,” said Archer.

“Indeed,” replied T’Pol.

“How long will that give us once we reach the station?”

“If they maintain their current speed, approximately twenty hours,” said T’Pol.

“That doesn’t give us much time for Phlox to do what he needs to do,” said Archer. He prayed to whichever gods would listen that it would be enough.

****

Erika Hernandez hadn’t ever expected to be chasing Enterprise, but then she hadn’t ever expected Jonathan Archer to steal his own ship. Although, she remembered, Archer did have a history of stealing NX class ships, and she often wondered how he’d managed to wriggle his way out of that one, along with Trip Tucker and AG Robinson. Stealing the NX-Beta had been a stroke of genius that she wished she had been there to witness. The three of them had been rather notorious after that escapade, but it hadn’t seemed to hurt their careers any. She certainly hadn’t thought Archer would make a habit out of stealing ships.

Her coms officer had to wake her to take the call that had come through from Admiral Gardner. It was late night ship’s time on Columbia and she had been in no mood for jokes, which was what she had thought this was at first. The mere idea of Archer stealing Enterprise was just laughable, until she heard the rest of the story.

She knew about Trip’s illness, and had even made it over to visit him the last time Columbia had been at Earth. Trip had been weak and shaky, but still able to hold a conversation, a shadow of the former bright spark who had briefly been Chief Engineer on Columbia. It hurt her just to see the changes in him and she could only imagine how much worse it had to be for Archer, his best friend. He couldn’t even be there with Trip, because Enterprise took him away.

So, maybe she shouldn’t have been surprised to hear that Trip had been kidnapped from his hospital bed and, a short while later, Enterprise had been stolen by her Captain. It didn’t take a genius to put two and two together and work out that Trip was now on Enterprise with Archer. Why he was on Enterprise, now that was a question she couldn’t answer. She certainly wasn’t buying the theory that the Admiral seemed to be subscribing to, that Archer had taken Trip out in Enterprise one last time. Trip wouldn’t have wanted Archer to sacrifice his career for a meaningless gesture, and Archer would have found a way to do it that didn’t involve stealing Enterprise, if that’s what Trip had really wanted. This was something else.

She had known Archer for a long time and she had never known him to be reckless. He would take risks, every captain had to, but he would calculate those risks carefully. If it came down to it and the only way out was to be careless with someone’s life, then it was always his own he would put forward for sacrifice. Jonathan Archer didn’t do anything without a good reason.

About an hour ago they had detected a ship on the long range sensors. The contact appeared as a tiny dot in the surrounding empty universe. It was travelling in the right direction and had to be Enterprise. Reality snapped into sharp focus. She had orders to find Enterprise and return it to space dock, but the man who had stolen it was her friend. More than her friend. She was in an impossible situation, but she had to do her duty and bring Enterprise home. No one wanted to be faced with the choice of duty or friendship, but here she was.

She kept telling herself that she was doing the right thing, but if she was in the right then why did she feel like she was betraying something? She was a Judas, pure and simple. Except it wasn’t simple. She found herself angry with Archer for putting her in this position. Everyone in Starfleet knew that obeying orders was part of the job, even if you didn’t like those orders.

She wondered what Archer would do if he was chasing her. Would he place duty over friendship and fire on Columbia? If it came to it, could she fire on Enterprise? Her orders were clear. She was authorised to use force if necessary, although they would prefer to recapture Enterprise without it being damaged. Archer had once told her that he saw in her the person that he had been before the Delphic Expanse. She wondered what he would see in her now as she hunted down Enterprise.

****

Archer felt immense relief when the station came into view and became progressively larger on the forward view screen. Finally they had arrived.

“Archer to sickbay, is Trip ready for transport?”

“Yes, Captain. We are waiting for you in the launch bay,” said Phlox. They had discussed using the transporter but dismissed the idea. No one knew what effect the transporter could have on an already seriously ill patient.

“T’Pol, Hoshi, you’re with me, Malcolm, you have the bridge,” said Archer.

“Yes, sir,” replied Reed. His main duty would be keeping an eye on the approaching sensor contact which they were now sure was chasing them. The signature identified it as a Starfleet vessel and they were almost certain that it was Columbia. It had been the nearest ship to their position when they left space dock, and therefore the most likely to be ordered to find them.

T’Pol, Hoshi and Archer made their way down to the launch bay. Lieutenant Commander Hess was already there, helping to get the medical equipment that Phlox needed loaded onto the shuttlepod. Trip lay on a gurney staring up at the ceiling, wires and tubes running around his body to various medical devices. For the first time that morning, Trip hadn’t recognised Archer. It was the final insult that this disease could give to him. Clarke’s Syndrome had robbed him of his father and now it had taken his best friend as well. Except this time Archer could fight back, this time he had a weapon.

He approached Trip and eyes slid toward the movement. There was no life behind these eyes, they were only taking in the picture not really interpreting what they saw.

“We’re going to go over to the station now Trip,” said Archer, giving one of Trip’s hands a squeeze. Trip’s hands weren’t much use now, little more than stiff, bent claws. It would have been impossible to tell that these hands had once had a deft touch with the smallest electronic components.

“Where am I?” asked Trip, his words dry, quiet and slow. He was obviously disorientated and he didn’t seem to be able to concentrate on any one thing for more than a few minutes. Phlox had said that at least some of this might be the large dosages of painkiller that he was on, but it was most definitely getting worse.

“You’re on Enterprise.”

“Enterprise? What’s Enterprise?”

“It’s a spaceship,” said Archer, keeping things basic.

Trip seemed to accept that he was on a spaceship and returned to looking around him, occasionally closing his eyes when a wave of pain hit.

“Don’t worry, we’re looking after you,” added Archer, but Trip didn’t seem to be paying any attention. Suddenly Archer felt tears pricking at the back of his eyes. He had watched his friend become weaker over the months on Enterprise and then be permanently hospitalised. Now this man who lay on the stretcher in front of him wasn’t Trip. Everything that made him Trip was gone. This was a shell that was wracked with pain and delusions, who didn’t even know where he was or who he was. Trip looked so fragile and ill, and this cure was his only chance, and, if it didn’t work, these were his last days.

There it was, the stark reality that this might fail and Archer’s fear that he would have given up his career, given up Enterprise, for nothing. He hadn’t allowed himself to consider the possibility that the cure might not work and that he could still lose Trip. He hadn’t had the time earlier to think about what would happen if this failed, and he didn’t have the time now. He shoved the thought to the back of his mind again. He couldn’t afford to break down now, there was still too much to be done. This wasn’t the end. Trip wasn’t always going to be ill. It might hurt to see him like this, but he would get better. He had to.

Archer took a deep breath and saw that the medical equipment had been stowed. It was time to get Trip on board. They carefully moved the stretcher on to the shuttlepod, securing it tightly and placing straps across Trip to hold him in place. Phlox and Hoshi took seats on the bench opposite where Trip was secured. Arched moved to the pilot’s seat while T’Pol and Hess took the seats behind.

Archer clicked on the com. “Malcolm we’re ready to go, open the launch bay doors.”

“Good luck, sir,” replied Reed. “Opening launch bay doors.”

The shuttlepod flew out into space and Archer set them on a course towards the station. He spared a quick glance back towards Trip who seemed to be sleeping. Phlox was bent over his patient, checking his instruments and monitors. He returned his attention to the controls, once again find that keeping his mind on the task at hand was the only way not to allow his emotion to overcome him.

They reached the station a few minutes later, docking at one end of the central spindle. They disembarked, once again moving Trip as carefully as they could. He still seemed to be sleeping, which as far as Archer was concerned was a good thing. If Trip was sleeping he wasn’t hurting.

“We need to find the right area of the station where the genetic manipulation equipment is, and any information on how to use it,” said Phlox.

“I’ll get to work on the computer. We might need to crack the next level of encryption to get what we need. That could take a little time,” said Hoshi.

“Work as quickly as you can,” said Archer. “Columbia will be here in less than twenty hours.”

“I’ve been working on the files that we downloaded from when we were here before,” said Hoshi. “I’ve made a lot of progress. I just need to get onto the main database, and I could use T’Pol’s help.”

T’Pol inclined her head in acknowledgement. She and Hoshi began to work on the computer.

An alarm sounded from one of the monitors on Trip’s gurney. Phlox was beside his patient in seconds.

“He’s having trouble breathing. His blood oxygen level is dropping,” said Phlox as Archer came up beside him. Phlox got out an oxygen mask and slipped it over Trip’s nose and mouth. “I may have to intubate if he gets worse.”

Archer met Phlox’s eyes. “How long, Doctor?”

“Impossible to say. He’s dying and, for the moment, there isn’t much else we can do for him, apart from keep him comfortable.”

Archer could only pace while he waited for Hoshi and T’Pol to crack the encryption and find the location that they needed.

It didn’t actually take that long for them to find what was needed but time was stretching artificially for Archer. He had been watching Trip take shallow breaths and he didn’t like what he saw. Every moment they spent searching for what they needed was Trip’s life slipping through his fingers. He couldn’t bare to fail now that he was this close.

Finally Hoshi called Archer over. “I’ve found it, or at least I’ve found the suite we need.” She handed Archer a padd. “Level three, room 24. I’ve downloaded the map onto the padd, along with all the instructions and references to Clarke’s Syndrome that I could find.”

“Thanks, Hoshi,” said Archer.

“There are security locks on some of the doors that we will need to pass through,” said T’Pol.

“No problem, the Commander always told me never to leave home without my electronic lock pick,” said Hess.

“Good advice,” replied Archer with a smile. “Although I’m not sure whether I should be worried that my crew always leave home ready for larceny.”

“Less larceny and more curiosity,” said Hess, flashing Archer a quick smile.

“I’ll stay here and see what else I can get out of the computer. I know that there’s more in here,” said Hoshi. “There’s something very familiar about this encryption.”

Archer nodded. “Keep at it and let us know if you find anything.”

They left Hoshi to work her magic on the computers and moved into the main station. The lights were dim and the dark grey of the metal was oppressive. Shadows seemed to be following them, hiding unknowns in every corner. Archer really didn’t like this place. Put plainly, it gave him the creeps, but there was no basis for his feelings of anxiety, just his dislike of why this place existed. Human experimentation would always be abhorrent as far as he was concerned, no matter what good came of it. So far he had buried his ethical issues about what they were doing, but he knew he’d have to deal with the moral implications later. It was now almost certain that he would probably be justifying his actions to a court-martial as well as his own conscience, but his only concern in the present was Trip.

He wondered if Trip would be able to reconcile his cure with how it had been achieved. The others had obviously decided that the end justified their breaking of regulations, but Trip hadn’t really had a say in this. Archer had asked him if he wanted them to break him out of the hospice but he had been sketchy on the details. It was possible that Trip would live but he could still lose his friend. Trip was a very moral person and he might not like what Archer had done in his name. Another thought that he really wished he wasn’t thinking right now, and would be shut away until Trip was on his way to recovery.

Hess didn’t have any trouble breaking into the secure areas of the station, which wasn’t a surprise given the age of the technology. That made Archer wonder why the encryption had given Hoshi so much trouble, but he didn’t have time to think about that at the moment.

“This is the room,” said T’Pol. She reached out to press the button to open the door but the mechanism didn’t seem to be working.

Hess went to work on the door, ripping off the wall panel and reconnecting wires and circuits. Finally she had it and the door jerked open a few inches. Archer and T’Pol were able to prise it open the rest of the way. Inside the room was an array of medical technology. Phlox was already moving Trip’s gurney inside.

“According to Hoshi’s information, the machine we need is fairly simple to use,” said Phlox. He went to a white semi circle tubular arch, that looked a little like the Enterprise sickbay scanner. A bed was ready and waiting under the white arch, obviously put in place for the patient. He patted the smooth white cowling. “This is the one we need. I’ve used something similar on Denobula but this seems to be of alien design.”

“So what do we do?”

“Find the on switch,” said Phlox examining the machine.

Hess also began examining the machine. “I think this is it.” She flicked the switch and small lights immediately appeared on the front of the machine’s control interface.

“Well done, Commander,” said Phlox.

T’Pol was looking with interest at the display. “This is Tenebian.”

“Tenebian?” asked Archer.

“A race of beings who made contact with Vulcan approximately two hundred years ago. Following many years of space exploration, a change in their government led to their decision to isolate themselves. They have not been heard of for many years,” said T’Pol.

“Can you read this?” asked Archer. They often forgot that T’Pol spoke several languages, relying on Hoshi’s language skills in most situations. English must have been a nightmare for a logical Vulcan to learn and speak so fluently.

“Yes, I believe so,” said T’Pol.

Phlox and T’Pol worked out the controls with a little help from Commander Hess.

“Move the Commander to the bed,” said Phlox, once they were confident that they knew how the machine worked.

Archer and Hess lifted Trip onto the machine and Phlox busied himself setting the controls correctly.

“There are two aspects to the process,” said Phlox. “The first is a genetic treatment that corrects the flaw in the genetic sequence. This will effectively cure the disease.”

“If he’ll be cured then what’s the second part for?” asked Archer.

“To simplify greatly, Clarke’s Syndrome builds barriers within the brain which is why muscles refuse to work properly and memories are lost. The second part of the treatment destroys those barriers and should lead to him regaining his memories and ability to function normally. Although it will take some time to regain muscle mass and for the brain to readjust.”

“And because the genetic problem is corrected, he won’t relapse?” asked Archer.

“That is correct,” said Phlox. “I should say that this treatment is not without risk, especially in an already weakened patient, but given the circumstances…”

“We have no choice,” finished Archer.

“Exactly,” said Phlox.

“How long will the treatment take?” asked T’Pol.

“It is two sessions of six hours, with a break of at least six hours in between for the patient to rest,” said Phlox.

“Eighteen hours,” said Archer.

“We’re cutting it fine if we want to be gone before Columbia gets here,” said Hess.

“You should also note that once each part of the treatment has begun, it cannot be interrupted. If he is removed from the machine before its work is finished then it will kill him. Once we begin, there is no going back.”

“Understood, Doctor,” said Archer. “Let’s get started.”

Phlox nodded once and then turned back to the controls. The machine leapt to life and began its cycle. A white light emanated from the half ring and the bed moved slowly into the mouth of the device until Trip’s whole body was swallowed by the machine. A small view screen allowed them to see Trip’s still form lying within the machine. All they could do now was wait.

****

Hoshi continued working on the encryption. She was getting tired but they were on a tight schedule here. She hadn’t met a system that she couldn’t beat yet. It was all just language to her and language was just code. She entered another couple of numbers into the sequence and it was as if she’d just wiped the dust from a window. She could see the patterns clearly, it was easy now. A few moments later she had files in plain English.

She began to read and, as she read, she realised just how wrong they had been about the station they were on.

****End of Chapter Eleven****

Trip had been living in a dream that had occasion periods of clarity. Most of the time he had no idea where he was or who the people were around him. Life was a series of questions that couldn’t be answered or that simply made way for more questions. Sometimes he remembered that he was ill and that was why he couldn’t remember the other things. Other times he just drifted, not even really aware that he didn’t know where he was or who he was. Some days people he didn’t know talked to him about things that he didn’t remember, but he liked the people and the things sounded fun.

Then even the dream had dissolved into darkness. Something was wrong with his body. He couldn’t draw in enough oxygen and the pain was too much. He didn’t know what was happening, but he had faded out. For some reason he hadn’t expected to wake up again.

But light returned, like dawn. Except this light was definitely artificial. He opened his eyes and blinked at the white light above and around him, it hurt his eyes at first but he acclimatised. He didn’t recognise the ceiling and it was too close. He felt so weak and tired. The slightest movement was too much at the moment. Fear was taking hold of his mind. He had no idea where he was and the space he was in was small, claustrophobic. He could hear voices a long way off, and although he was barely able to make it out, he caught their words.

“He’s awake,” said one. “This is most unexpected.”

“His heart rate is increasing, doctor,” said another, this time female. The voice was calm and sure on the surface, but he could hear the panic beneath. “I’ll get the Captain.”

Trip heard movement and then nothing more for a moment. An intercom clicked on.

“Trip, can you hear me?” asked the voice. It was familiar and warm.

He realised that he was Trip and the voice was talking to him. He tried to say something but his throat was too dry and his mouth didn’t want to obey orders.

“Don’t try to talk. Just blink your eyes, once for yes, twice for no, okay?”

Trip blinked once.

“I know that this is scaring you, but you’re safe. You’re ill and this machine you’re in is going to make you better. You’ve got another few minutes to go before you can come out, but I’ll be here with you all the time. The doctor wants me to ask you a few questions, is that okay?”

Trip blinked once.

“Are you in pain?”

Trip blinked twice for no. He just felt weak and tired but he wasn’t hurting.

“Good. Do you remember my name?”

Trip thought for a moment and then blinked twice. He felt he should know this man’s name but it just wasn’t there. There was a pause and then the voice was back.

“Okay, do you recognise my voice?”

Trip blinked once. He definitely knew the voice, he just couldn’t attach it to a name.

“That’s because the disease affected your memory, but hopefully it should start to come back to you. Are you feeling tired?”

Trip blinked and almost didn’t open his eyes again, but the bright light was annoying him. He heard a muttered conversation outside the machine again. He guessed it was the voice and the doctor talking.

“Only another couple of minutes to go, Trip. Then we can get you out of this thing and you’ll be able to rest properly.” Obviously the voice had seen his reaction to the light. He heard the hesitation before the voice continued. “I’ve been looking forward to watching water polo with you again. It really hasn’t been the same lately. We really need you to get well again.” The voice continued talking, soothing Trip’s fears away, as he talked about something called Enterprise, which was waiting for Trip when he got better. Apparently there were things that needed Trip’s special touch to fix. “That squeak in my Ready Room floor’s back again. Every time I walk in there it squeaks and Hess can’t seem to work out what the problem is, it’s driving me mad.”

There was more, as well. Something about warp upgrades that required his attention, and how movie night wasn’t the same without him, and chef refused to make pecan pie anymore, and Porthos was getting thin because no one was sneaking him treats anymore (whoever Porthos was), and the last paper he’d submitted to the Journal of Warp Engineering had started a huge row in the field which only he could settle. It was almost a tirade of things that needed his attention. He knew it was meant to make him feel wanted and it did. People needed him and he couldn’t let them down. He obviously still had a very well developed conscience and a sense of duty.

“Doctor Phlox says we’re ready to get you out of this thing now, Trip. You’ll be out in a second.”

No sooner had the words been said than the bed beneath him began to move and slid him out of the white tube. He finally saw the man who had been talking to him all this time.

“Capt’n,” said Trip, in little more than a whisper, but from the smile it produced on the face of his friend, he knew he’d been heard. That smile alone was worth the effort it cost him to speak. He closed his eyes, ready to fall into sleep. He was safe and the Captain would look after him. He wasn’t drifting any longer, things were slowly coming back to him, but all that could wait for the moment.

****

“This is a good sign, isn’t it?” asked Archer, anxiously as he watched Trip close his eyes and fall asleep.

“Most definitely,” replied Phlox. “The genetic therapy is working and the neurone damage is being repaired.”

Archer allowed himself a sigh of relief.

“Now, however he needs to rest. The treatment is very demanding on his already weak body and there is still another session to go.”

Archer’s communicator trilled at him. “Sato to Archer.”

“Go ahead Hoshi,” said Archer.

“I need to see you and T’Pol in the database room. I’ve found some things that I think you need to see.”

Phlox looked a little worried by Hoshi’s message and Archer couldn’t blame him. It sounded ominous.

“I’m on my way,” said Archer. He found that he didn’t want to leave Trip, but he knew Phlox would take care of him. “Let me know if he wakes up again.”

“Of course,” said Phlox.

****

Archer found Hoshi in the main computer room. Commander Hess and T’Pol were already there and they were waiting for Archer.

“I finally managed to crack the encryption for the last section of the database,” said Hoshi, she didn’t look very happy about it. She handed Archer a padd. “Most of the information I found in the database was meant to mislead us. The station wasn’t abandoned and it hasn’t been empty for the last twenty years. They’re still here.”

“You’re not making sense, Hoshi,” said Archer.

“We didn’t detect any life signs, Ensign,” added T’Pol.

“They’re in stasis, cold sleep. Commander T’Pol can correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume it’s possible that their life signs are too weak for us to detect.”

“There were some power drains from the main reactor that I couldn’t identify on our first visit,” said Hess. “This could account for them.”

“How many people are we talking about?” asked Archer.

“Technically, one,” said Hoshi.

“Technically?” said Archer.

“It would take more than a single individual to set up a research station of this complexity,” said T’Pol.

“The files I decrypted are details of a cloning experiment. There are twenty clones of the same woman on this station in cryogenic sleep,” said Hoshi.

“And the children?” asked Archer.

“Were all attempts at producing more clones with different genetic modifications.”

Archer didn’t know what to make of this new information. “Who is the original?”

Hoshi brought up a pictures on the main computer display. “Sarina Kaur.”

Archer’s breath was taken away momentarily. “How good is your Earth history?”

“Not my best subject,” said Hess.

“It depends which period,” said Hoshi.

“You recognise her?” said T’Pol, with interest.

Archer nodded thoughtfully. “We’re looking at one of the most notorious scientists of the Eugenics Wars. Sarina Kaur was the mother of Khan Singh. Not only did she provide half of the genetic material but she helped refine the genetic manipulation of embryos.”

“Khan, as in Khan the Tyrant, Khan Noonien Singh?” asked Hoshi.

Archer didn’t answer, but the look on his face said everything as he stared at the image on the screen.

“Then you’re not going to like this. I thought the encryption felt familiar, so I asked Malcolm to cross reference it against our database. It didn’t match any of the known codes in the database, which I expected because then I would have recognised it, but it did have some similarities. It was a variation, a new generation of an existing code. A Starfleet code.”

“Are you sure?” asked Archer.

“There are too many commonalities for it to be anything else. It’s a new generation of an old Starfleet code.”

“All the documents are encoded in this encryption, if it’s a Starfleet code…” began T’Pol.

“It means that this station was built by Starfleet and they know about Sarina Kaur,” finished Archer.

“Not only that, they helped her to remain hidden,” said T’Pol. “They must have also provided resources for her work.”

“We had it right when we said that this could have been built by Starfleet,” said Archer. “It felt familiar because it was built by Starfleet.”

“None of this explains why they would break their own laws or abandon the station,” said T’Pol.

“Not everyone agreed with the ban on genetic research,” said Archer. “I’ve questioned it myself, after my father died and now with Trip’s illness.”

“Starfleet couldn’t have done all of it, most of this technology is alien,” said Hess.

Hoshi nodded. “I thought the same thing so I went looking for something that explained where all the medical equipment came from. Eventually I found a catalogue of medical equipment with a list of origins. Earth hasn’t had any contact with some of these races, but they have all had contact with Vulcan. I think they had the assistance of the Vulcans,” said Hoshi.

All eyes turned on T’Pol, who simply raised one eyebrow. “An interesting theory.”

“It also explains a lot,” said Archer. “Where are the clones being kept?”

“Level five,” said Hoshi.

“Hoshi, I want copies of all of this.”

“There’s a lot of data here. It’s going to take time to download.”

“Get as much as you can. I have a feeling we’re going to need it. Commander Hess, T’Pol, we’re going to go and investigate the clones.”

****

T’Pol, Hess and Archer reached level five of the station and began to explore. The level was one large, ring shaped room and around it were stasis caskets with sleeping bodies inside of them.

“Sarina Kaur should be over two hundred years old if she is alive today,” said T’Pol. “Humans do not live that long.”

“Maybe she’s been in cryogenic sleep all this time,” said Archer.

“That would not be possible with current levels of technology,” replied T’Pol.

“People age even during cryo-sleep, although very slowly ,” added Hess.

“Until three weeks ago we thought that we couldn’t cure Clark’s Syndrome,” said Archer.

“Indeed,” said T’Pol. She was concentrating on her scanner as they approached the stasis pods.

Frost had formed on the faceplates of the caskets and Archer brushed away the ice crystals from the nearest. He looked down at a woman who appeared to be in her early forties. “It’s definitely her.”

“Each of these clones has been engineered to have enhanced attributes,” said T’Pol. “I do not believe any of them are the original. They are all Augments, but their ages vary.”

“I guess that explains how she was able to survive for so long. The original died, but the clones continued to produce more clones.”

Archer moved around the circle, brushing away the frost from each face plate. He saw Sarina Kaur in various stages of adulthood. It took them some time to catalogue all the sleepers. Each casket had a polished brass name plate. “Sarina Thirteen ‘Rachael’, Sarina Twenty Five ‘Esther’, Sarina Eighty Four ‘Ruth’,” read Archer. Underneath each name was a list of information that Archer recognised as a sort of genetic pedigree.

“This casket failed,” said Hess, indicating the very dead looking body within the casket labelled “Sarina Fifty One ‘Naomi’”. “It looks like there was a short circuit. They’ve definitely been here a few years, but the rest seem to be functioning properly.”

“Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the clones within the chambers. Cloning is known to cause replicative fading,” said T’Pol. “All of them seem to be displaying the symptoms to some greater or lesser extent.”

“Replicative fading?” asked Archer.

“The cloning process is not perfect. Each new copy has defects and these become cumulative in each new generation. It is one of the many arguments against cloning.”

“So they’re damaged?”

“Yes, and probably would not survive revival in several cases,” said T’Pol. “That may explain the focus of this station’s research on genetic diseases. She was trying to fix damage created by the cloning process.”

Archer looked around the room at the circle of stasis pods and moved to the last one in the ring.

“Hoshi said that there were twenty.”

“That is correct,” said T’Pol.

“Then we’re missing one,” said Archer.

T’Pol came over to where Archer was looking at an empty stasis pod labelled “Sarina five ‘Rebecca’”. She pushed buttons on her scanner. “It has been opened recently.”

“How recently?”

“The reanimation cycle for this unit takes approximately four hours and was started eleven hours ago,” said T’Pol.

“About the same time that we activated the machine to treat Trip,” said Archer.

“Almost exactly. It suggests that there is a correlation between the two events,” replied T’Pol.

“Perhaps it was triggered to activate if someone started to use the station’s equipment again,” said Archer.

“That would be my conclusion.”

“Do you have any idea where she is now?”

“I can’t detect her life sign, but my scanner is not powerful enough to penetrate some of the more highly shielded areas of the station. Enterprise’s sensors may be better suited to the task.”

Archer’s communicator beeped at him. “Phlox to Captain Archer.”

“Go ahead, Doctor,” said Archer.

“The Commander is showing signs of waking again,” said Phlox.

Archer checked the time. Trip had been asleep for a good five hours, which would hopefully give him the energy needed for the next treatment cycle.

“I’m on my way.” Archer flicked his communicator closed and turned to T’Pol. “Get in touch with Malcolm and get him to do a sensor sweep of the station. She’s had at least seven hours to get a head start on us and we’re dealing with an extremely intelligent, dangerous woman.”

“We will stay here and see what else we can learn from the clones,” said T’Pol.

“Let me know the minute that Malcolm comes back with a location,” said Archer, already nearly out of the room.

****

Archer descended to level four and made his way back to the treatment suite where he had left Trip and Phlox. He entered the room to see Phlox checking Trip’s IV and Trip himself blinking sleepily.

“Ah Captain, you’re just in time,” said Phlox. “He’s just woken up this moment.”

“How’s he doing?”

“As well as can be expected. His cognisance seems to have improved a little.”

“I need to tell you what else has been going on, but give me a moment with Trip first,” said Archer.

“Of course, Captain. My patients always come first.”

Archer moved to beside Trip. He placed a hand on the near shoulder and gave it a friendly squeeze. The blue eyes slid up to meet the Captain’s and after a couple of seconds were accompanied by a grin. It still wasn’t the proper thousand-kilowatt lady-killer smile that Trip had specialised in, but there was recognition behind it.

“Hey… Captain,” said a weak voice. He seemed tired and not really fully awake.

“Hey there. I guess this means that you know who I am again,” said Archer.

“Yeah, but I… feel like there’s… more to remember.” The sentence was said slowly and deliberately as if every word was an effort to say.

“You’re only half way through the treatment and even then it will take your brain a bit of time to sort through all the information and put it in the right places. All you need to remember is that you’re among friends.”

Trip seemed to consider that information and accept it. “So, what’s going on?”

“Nothing you need to worry about, it’s all going to be fine, I promise.”

“You know by telling me not to worry, you’re making me worry that there’s something to worry about. What are you hiding?”

“Too much to tell you at the moment. You’ll just have to wait until you’re feeling a bit better.”

“Now you’re really worrying me,” teased Trip.

“We will begin the second treatment phase in another hour,” said Phlox. “You need to get some more rest before then.”

“Sleep?” asked Trip, resignedly.

Phlox nodded. Trip sighed but closed his eyes. Archer rested a hand briefly on Trip’s arm before he signalled Phlox to move out of the room with him. Archer made sure that Trip was well out of earshot before he asked his first question. The last thing Trip needed was to worry about an escaped clone and what she might be doing.

“He seems a lot better. Or is that just me?”

“He may appear to be doing well, but his body is very weak. Once the treatment is complete I’ll be able to give you a better picture. I am cautiously optimistic however.”

Archer nodded. “There are some other things you need to know, Doctor.”

He filled Phlox in on what they had found. When he’d finished the Denobulan looked concerned.

“Starfleet built this station?” asked Phlox.

“That’s right, Doctor,” said Archer.

“You realise that it must have been Starfleet Medical personnel who worked with Dr Kaur? It may have even been some of my old colleagues.”

“That’s what I’ve been assuming. This isn’t the first evidence of Starfleet performing black ops that we’ve had, but I never expected them to be part of something like this. It’s going to make telling Trip exactly how we cured him even more difficult.”

“Commander Tucker will understand, I am sure,” said Phlox.

“I hope so,” replied Archer. His com beeped.

“Reed to Captain Archer.”

Archer pulled his communicator from his pocket. “Go ahead, Malcolm.”

“I’m having problems locating your missing clone. I think she’s using a jamming device, there’s definitely an extra biosign but it keeps jumping around the station. I’ve been able to narrow the possibilities down by running it through one of T’Pol’s algorithms, but all I can give you is a general area.”

“That’s better than nothing, Malcolm,” said Archer.

“She’s somewhere in the central core, near the generator room. Captain, if you need me I can beam over…”

“No I want you on Enterprise for when Columbia arrives, we’ll deal with the clone.”

“Captain, she’s an Augment. That means enhanced hearing, sight and strength. You need your security officer.”

“She’s also probably suffering from cell degeneration due to replicative fading. Hopefully it will be enough to even things out. In normal circumstances I’d have MACOs and a full security team over here, but this isn’t normal circumstances, and we’re a bit shorthanded. At the moment it’s more important to have you on Enterprise, Malcolm.”

“Understood, sir,” said Reed, and managed to imbue the two words with obvious disagreement. “Reed out.”

“Archer to T’Pol, meet me at the entrance to the central core.”

“Acknowledged,” replied T’Pol.

Archer replaced his communicator in his pocket.

“Phlox, I want you to shut the door to the treatment room and lock it. Don’t open the door unless you get the all clear from me.”

“Of course, Captain. I’ll take good care of the Commander,” said Phlox.

Archer had known that Phlox would understand. Trip was the reason they were here and keeping him safe was their highest priority.

****End of Chapter Twelve****

T’Pol met Archer at the hatchway to the central core of the station.

“Were you able to find out anything else from the clones?” asked Archer.

“The one we are looking for is the earliest iteration, and therefore probably also the strongest. The damage to her cells from replicative fading may be negligible.”

“So she’s going to be as fast as Soong’s Augments?”

“Yes, and probably resistant to energy weapons,” said T’Pol.

Archer took out his phase pistol. “I’ll go first.”

T’Pol nodded and drew her own weapon. Archer pressed the door release and stepped through. He checked around him carefully, took a step forward and then signalled T’Pol to follow him. Before she could step through the door, it slid shut forcefully.

“T’Pol!” Archer shouted and turned to try and open the door.

“I control this station, Starfleet, put down your weapon,” said a voice behind him, and he whirled around to see a woman stood behind him. She had dark hair and coffee coloured skin. Archer could see the resemblance to Khan in her features. She was dressed in a plain black jumpsuit and pointing an old model phase pistol at him. “I mean it, Starfleet.”

“You must be Dr Kaur,” said Archer, as he laid his phase pistol on the floor in front of him. The woman kicked Archer’s phase pistol away to the corner of the room, well out of his reach.

“My name is Rebecca. I am not Sarina Kaur, she died over a century ago. She was weak, human, and made mistakes. I do not. I’ve been watching you, Starfleet. I was surprised that your ship’s crew was so small. Then I realised that you’re not supposed to be here. You need this facility to cure your crewman and I doubt that you would do that for anyone. This man is someone special to you.”

“I don’t have time for games,” said Archer.

“You know what I am, but you don’t seem afraid of me,” said Rebecca.

“You’re not the first Augment that I’ve met,” said Archer.

Rebecca walked steadily towards Archer. “You know what I can do to you. I’m more intelligent than you and more skilful. I’m faster and better.”

“You may be faster, but you’re not better.”

“Such arrogance when you are in such a precarious position, Starfleet. I could kill you just by squeezing my finger. This is my station, make no mistake, and you have trespassed.”

“We didn’t come here to take you prisoner, until a few hours ago we didn’t even know that there was anyone alive on this station.”

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

“If I had followed protocol and reported the existence of this station then you would already be dead,” said Archer.

“Yes, and isn’t that an interesting turn of events. It was Starfleet who originally built this station. Does it surprise you that there were factions within your own organisation who were willing to hide me and support my work?”

“Very little surprises me anymore. If they were supporting your work why did they abandon the station?”

“My experiment was failing. We had intended to have an army of geneticists, clones of Sarina One, the first Augmented clone of Sarina Zero. Instead I put my cloned sisters into cold sleep one by one as their genetic code began to unravel, I hoped that I could perfect treatments to save them. You see, cloning a normal human is easy, but cloning an Augment is more difficult task. Some of them died before they even reached maturity due to flaws in the cloning process, others suffered from premature aging, and some died during treatment. The ones in cold sleep are the ones who had enough genetic material worth saving. Finally I was the only one left and I was out of options. The technology that I needed didn’t exist yet, despite my Vulcan contacts who brought me equipment from their trading partners. I put myself into cold sleep to wait for technology to catch up with our ideas.”

“But our arrival triggered the process to wake you.”

“I was automatically woken when you accessed the treatment room. You were meant to be an ally for my cause and instead I find a small group of rebellious Starfleet officers who have disobeyed orders to save their friend. Very noble, but of little use to me.” A dark smile curved her lips. “However you do have something that I want.”

“I assume that’s why you haven’t killed me yet.”

“Of course. I will exchange the lives of you and your crew for your ship.”

“You need us to fly it.”

“You overestimate your importance, Starfleet. I only need to keep one of you alive. Once I have your command codes I can take your ship, and my sisters, and go wherever I want.”

“Your sisters are dying from replicative fading,” said Archer.

“You’re not as stupid as you look. Obviously you have been paying attention to that Vulcan of yours. Some of them are suffering lesser affects than others. I have enough genetic material to begin again elsewhere. I can still save my sisters.”

“So Augments aren’t perfect after all,” said Archer and the next second found himself pinned by his neck against the wall.

“We don’t need perfection to defeat humans,” said Rebecca, and dropped Archer unceremoniously to the floor. She moved away to a computer console and Archer saw her take something out of a stand on top of the console and fit it onto her left hand. She then clipped an attached metal band around her wrist, briefly wresting her phase pistol on the console. Archer would have seen it as a chance to attack, but she had already proven that she didn’t need a weapon to kill him.

With a small movement of her fingers she brought up a picture of the treatment room where Trip and Phlox were. Archer could see that Phlox had begun phase two of Trip’s treatment and the white ring was lit up once again.

She turned to face Archer again. “You will give me your ship or I will begin killing your pitiful excuse for a crew. I’m sure you know what would happen to your friend if I were to turn off the power halfway through his treatment cycle. Clarke’s Syndrome is such a nasty disease and he’s quite some way along.”

Archer picked himself up from the floor, rubbing his sore neck. “Don’t do it.” He couldn’t let her kill Trip, not after everything that they had done to get him here. He stared at Rebecca for a moment and then he realised he really had no choice. “You can have Enterprise.”

“Really, Starfleet, that was far too easy. You’re giving me so little to work with here. All you humans are such cowards.”

“Compassion isn’t the same as cowardice,” said Archer.

“You’d better try to explain that to your Vulcan friend,” said Rebecca. She flicked her fingers again and the door opened to reveal T’Pol and Hess, who had obviously been working on the lock to try to open it. They immediately reached for their weapons. “You will forgive my rudeness, but I needed to speak with your Captain alone. He has agreed to my terms.”

“Your terms?” T’Pol levelled her phase pistol on Rebecca.

“Your ship in exchange for your lives,” said Rebecca.

“Captain, she is a wanted criminal,” said T’Pol.

“I know T’Pol. She’s threatening to cut the power to the treatment room.”

“I see. What is to stop us overpowering you once we leave this room?” asked T’Pol.

“I have a device that allows me to send commands to the computer core,” she held up her wrist so that they could see a metal band that led up her wrist and around two of her fingers. Tiny buttons could be seen on her palm and Archer had no doubt that a normal human with average finger dexterity would have trouble using the device. “I was not exaggerating when I said that I control this station. One gesture and your friend is dead. Now, put down your weapons or I might decide that I don’t need him after all.”

T’Pol and Hess laid down their phase pistols on the floor.

“So what next?” asked Archer.

“We go to wake some of my sisters,” said Rebecca.

****

Rebecca herded her hostages towards level five and the cryogenics room. Archer wanted to try to communicate with T’Pol and Hess but he knew how good Rebecca’s hearing probably was. They entered the room and it lit up as Rebecca twitched her index finger.

“We will revive Leah and Abigail,” said Rebecca.

“Not the others?” asked Archer.

“Two is all I need,” said Rebecca. “Vulcan, you can do it.”

“Her name is Commander T’Pol,” said Archer.

“I don’t care about your names, Starfleet. To me you’re all the same. Inferior.” Rebecca sneered.

“Which two are Leah and Abigail?” asked T’Pol.

“Eight and nine, beside my casket.” Rebecca indicated with her phase pistol which two she meant. “Remember, Vulcan, no mistakes or your friend dies and then you do.”

T’Pol stepped forward and checked the brass plate on the first casket, before she went to the control panel on the pod. T’Pol took a few moments to familiarise herself with the controls and then pressed several buttons. Rebecca watched her actions carefully.

“The sequence has begun,” said T’Pol.

“Good, and now Abigail as well,” said Rebecca and indicated for T’Pol to move to the next casket.

T’Pol did as she was told and began the sequence to wake the other Augment clone. Archer could see her surreptitiously studying Rebecca while she worked. He doubted that Rebecca had noticed it, because without knowing T’Pol, it would be impossible to tell, her demeanour was as calm as ever. T’Pol was looking for weaknesses but she had already passed up several opportunities to attack Rebecca and Archer was sure this was because she didn’t want to risk Rebecca harming Trip. He was certain that T’Pol was hatching a plan but, unless they could find some way to get alone for a minute, he couldn’t ask her what it was.

“We have some time to kill. I want you to call your other crewmember, the one in the computer room, and tell her to meet us at the treatment room,” said Rebecca.

Archer nearly asked her how she knew about Hoshi, but he guessed that she had access to a life signs detector. He carefully pulled his communicator out of his pocket, not making any sudden movements that could be interpreted as aggressive. “Archer to Sato.”

“Go ahead, Captain,” said Hoshi, brightly.

“Hoshi, drop what you’re doing and get down to the treatment room. Phlox needs you.”

“I’ll be there in about ten minutes, I’ve nearly finished the download,” said Hoshi.

“Now, Hoshi. Leave the download.” His eyes met Rebecca’s and he hoped that Hoshi didn’t want more information. Rebecca could easily vent the atmosphere from a portion of the station or shut down life support, and he wasn’t sure that he could stop her.

Archer could hear a puzzled hesitation before Hoshi replied. “Yes, sir. On my way.”

Archer closed the communicator.

“Let’s go and meet her,” said Rebecca. “After you, Captain.”

****

Hoshi was sure that something was up, as she closed her communicator. She specialised in listening and picking up inflections in speech. She could identify any accent from any region of over twenty different countries, and emotional tone was just as easy for her to hear. The Captain had sounded strange, tense, and that was very unlike him. She flipped open her communicator again.

“Sato to Enterprise.”

“Go ahead Hoshi,” said Lieutenant Reed.

“Malcolm, something’s wrong. The Captain just told me to go down to the treatment room and leave the download.”

“Maybe Phlox needs you to translate something,” said Reed.

“He didn’t sound right, his tone was off,” said Hoshi. “It was like someone was standing there, telling him what to say. I think they were captured.”

“I warned him that he would need backup,” replied Reed. “Sometimes I wonder why he bothers to bring me along.”

“What are we going to do?”

“She’s a very dangerous woman and if we go in there with guns blazing she’ll kill them,” said Reed.

“I know that, Malcolm.”

“What I don’t understand is why she didn’t just kill them. She must want something, probably Enterprise.”

“Then how do we stop her?”

“Well we have surprise on our side,” said Reed. “I’m coming over, but I need you to buy me some time.”

“You want me to go down there and get captured?”

“It’ll make her think that we’re still in the dark about what’s going on.”

“But what good am I to you if I’m captured?”

“You’re my inside man. Leave your communicator open and I’ll be able to hear everything that’s going on. It should give me the edge I need.”

“Okay, but be careful, Malcolm.”

“That goes for you too, Hoshi,” replied Reed.

****

Archer, T’Pol, Hess and Rebecca arrived outside the treatment room on level three. Rebecca moved a finger against her palm and seemed a little annoyed when nothing happened.

“It’s locked from the inside,” said Archer.

“Get him to open it,” said Rebecca.

“Phlox this is Archer, you can unlock the door now.”

They waited a few moments as Phlox unlocked the door and it swished open with a soft hiss.

“Captain, I hope everything went well,” said Phlox, smiling. The smile disappeared from his face as he noticed the stranger holding them at gun point.

“Sorry, Doctor. She didn’t give me much choice.”

“I understand, Captain,” said Phlox, as he backed away to let them in.

“She’s threatening to cut the power to this treatment room if we don’t cooperate,” added Archer.

“I see,” said Phlox.

“A Denobulan doctor, how intriguing,” said Rebecca, entering the room and wandering over to look at the device currently being used to heal Trip. “Your people have no problem with genetic engineering, I believe, but you’re serving on a human ship.”

“That is my privilege, yes,” replied Phlox. “Denobula was fortunate enough to learn early on the limits of genetic engineering, and that it had to be tempered with morality and ethics.”

“How backward. You have the ability to create supermen but you chose not to.” Rebecca brushed a hand against the side of the tube where Trip lay. “Un-augmented humans are so weak. If my original had been allowed to continue her research then this man would never have been put through this. You wouldn’t have had to break the law to save him.”

“One of her ideas was to terminate children with genetic defects. If she’d been allowed to continue, Trip would have been killed at birth. The law is there for a reason. To prevent unethical, ruthless women like your original from damaging society.”

Rebecca’s eyes narrowed. “Be careful how you talk about Sarina Kaur, Starfleet. One finger movement and this man will die a very painful death as his unfinished DNA unravels.”

“You stay away from him,” said Archer. “You’re hiding behind a threat to harm a defenceless man, and yet you think you’re so damn superior.”

“No one decided to clone you a hundred times, Starfleet. Only superior genes demand preservation.”

Archer was about to retort when they heard the sound of approaching footsteps. “Doctor Phlox, Captain Archer said you needed me,” said Hoshi as she entered the room, and stopped in her tracks as she took in the scene in front of her. Archer doubted that Rebecca had noticed it, but he could tell that Hoshi was faking her reaction. He knew what Hoshi was like in a difficult situation and the scared person in front of him was a Hoshi of six years ago.

“Get over here, all of you.” said Rebecca, and indicated for everyone to move away from the door, before she edged around the other side of the room her gun trained on her prisoners. “Now give me your communicators.”

Hoshi reached into her pocket and quietly closed her communicator before she took it out of her pocket. The rest of the officers handed over the small devices, which Rebecca then dropped and stamped on.

“I’ll see you later, Starfleet. Remember, if you try anything, your friend is dead.”

Rebecca backed out of the room and closed the door. Then there was the sound of the lock clicking into place. Hess immediately went to the door to see if she could open it.

“She’s locked it from the outside and all my tools are still at the central core hatch,” said Hess and kicked the door hard. Luckily Engineers tended to wear steel capped boots.

“What’s your plan, Hoshi?” asked Archer.

“I don’t really have one. I called Malcolm and he told me to go along with it, buy some time and hopefully gain some intel but I don’t think that she said enough to get us anywhere.”

“At least Malcolm knows that we’re in trouble,” said Archer.

“What did she mean about if we try something our friend is dead?”

“She has a device, like a metal glove, that controls the station’s function. She’s been threatening to cut the power to this room unless we help her.”

“I hope Malcolm doesn’t try something. We thought that they were just using you as hostages,” said Hoshi.

Archer was pacing now. “There has to be a way out of here. We can’t let her have Enterprise.”

“Captain,” said a weak voice. Archer turned towards the machine.

“I must have left the intercom switched on,” said Phlox apologetically.

Archer moved toward the viewing panel in the side of the white casing. He could see that Trip was awake and blinking. “What is it, Trip?”

Trip turned his head a little so that he could see Archer through the viewing panel. “You need to jam her. That device has to be transmitting to receivers around the station.” He sounded very tired and weak, like he was about to fall asleep.

“We don’t have any equipment and we’re locked in here,” said Archer.

“Must be something. Communicators, or maybe the medical equipment. Look around.”

Hess was crouching on the floor by the pile of smashed communicators. “I might have enough unbroken parts from all of these communicators to put something together.”

“We will need to ascertain the correct frequency also,” added T’Pol.

“Unless we just block everything,” said Hoshi. “We’d be without communications but since all of the communicators are broken, that isn’t really a problem.”

Hess shook her head. “I’m not sure we have enough power for a broadband jam. Let me build it and I’ll have a better idea. I need to figure out how many undamaged power-cells we have.”

“What about the medical equipment?” asked Archer.

“I don’t even know what most of this does,” said Hess. “It’s all alien and probably incompatible with our technology. Plus without any tools, I’m not sure how we’d open it up.”

“Okay, let’s get to work,” said Archer. He turned to say well done to Trip for the idea, only to find that he’d fallen asleep again.

****

Reed stalked down the hall as quietly as he could. He had heard the electronic squawk as Hoshi’s communicator was crushed. He should have anticipated that move, of course Rebecca wouldn’t want them to be able to contact the ship. He was disobeying a direct order to stay on Enterprise, but given the circumstances he didn’t think the Captain would complain too much. As there was already a court-martial lurking in his future, a reprimand from the Captain was a minor concern.

He thought that Rebecca would probably go back to check on her clone sisters after locking up the Enterprise crew members but he couldn’t be certain of that. It made sense that she’d want them out of the way while she made ready to leave the station, prisoners would just get in the way. Even though she had hostages, she was still outnumbered by them, and her backup was still in the deep freeze.

Reed waited a few minutes, until he was certain that Rebecca had left the area, and then approached the treatment room. He found the door was locked. It was a grey metal door with no windows so there was no easy way to break it in. He knocked on the door to let the occupants know that he was there.

“Captain?” he shouted.

“Malcolm?” came the reply.

“Captain, she’s locked the door, I’m going to try to rewire the panel.” This would probably destroy the lock but needs must at this point. He hoped he wouldn’t regret this necessity later. Trip still had several hours of treatment to go and he needed protecting. “You might want to stand back, it’s probably going to short out the circuit.”

Reed shoved his phase pistol into its holster, pulled a small screwdriver out of his pocket and levered the panel off. He looked at the wires inside. This really wasn’t his area of expertise. Trip could probably have looked at the wires and immediately seen what he needed to do, Reed had to pull out his scanner and trace the circuits before he could work out which wires needed to be cut and reconnected to bypass the lock. It all took time and it was time that they really didn’t have. Finally he made the final connection and pressed the button to open the door. There was a shower of sparks and the door slid open.

“Good work, Malcolm,” said Archer. “Rebecca, the escaped clone, has a remote control that we need to disable. She’s threatening to harm Trip by turning off the power to the treatment room. Contact Enterprise and get Travis to jam it.”

“Yes, sir,” said Reed and pulled out his communicator. “Reed to Enterprise.”

Static was the only reply he got. He tried again but he wasn’t getting through.

“I believe she is jamming our transmission,” said T’Pol.

“She broke the communicators, she wouldn’t need to,” said Hoshi.

“Maybe she detected my transporter signature,” said Reed. “Or she could just be taking extra precautions.”

“This station was built before transporter technology became available to Starfleet. It is unlikely that she is able to detect transporter signatures,” pointed out T’Pol.

Reed pulled out his scanner. “I am detecting interference but it doesn’t look as if it’s a jamming device.”

T’Pol moved to beside Reed so that she could see the readings. “There is a large drain of the station’s power. Something appears to be putting out interference in the range of frequencies that our communicators use.”

“What would need that amount of power?” asked Reed.

“Whatever the it is, we’re on our own,” said Archer. “Anna, can you get that jamming device working with what you’ve got?”

Hess was sitting, legs crossed on the floor, sorting through the broken communicators for parts. “I think so. A little help from the Commander would make things go faster. He obviously had something in mind when he suggested this, but I’m not sure that he’s up to talking me through it.”

“He may well wake again,” said Phlox. “I’ll let you know if he does.”

Hess nodded and turned back to her electronic jigsaw puzzle.

“I believe I can program Lieutenant Reed’s scanner to discern the frequency that we need to block,” said T’Pol.

“Good, get on it,” said Archer.

****End of Chapter Thirteen****

Travis Mayweather wasn’t happy about being the only person left aboard Enterprise, but someone had to mind the shop. Lieutenant Reed had been the logical choice to beam across to the station, but Mayweather wished he’d been able to join him.

The whole place was too quiet and he didn’t like it. He’d grown up on a Boomer ship where you were lucky to get a cabin to yourself and usually Enterprise was no different. He was used to having lots of people around him. If it had felt empty with only the eight of them, then it was a ghost ship now. Their skeleton crew had been reduced to a single bone.

One of the sensors sounded an alarm and Mayweather jumped in surprise. He counted his blessings that no one was there to see that. He moved across to the tactical station and noticed that a ship was approaching.

“Columbia,” said Mayweather to the empty bridge. They were very close now. With everything that had been going on, no one had thought to check whether they were maintaining speed. They were at least two hours early.

He jogged across to the communication station and opened a circuit. “Mayweather to Captain Archer.”

There was no answer, just a lot of static. He looked down at the controls in front of him, trying to work out if there was something wrong with the communications at his end. Everything looked fine but he hadn’t been trained as a coms officer. He didn’t even know how to boost a signal. He took a couple of steps sideways and tried to scan the station for jamming frequencies, but the science console was a complete mystery to him.

“Come on, give me some help here. I’m a helmsman not an engineer.”

Silence was the only reply. Enterprise wasn’t giving up any secrets, even to her favourite helmsman.

The next thing Mayweather heard was, “Columbia to Enterprise.” He swore loudly, using the special swear words that he reserved for occasions when the situation was going to hell more quickly than usual.

Mayweather took a deep breath and replied in as normal a tone as he could manage. “Columbia this is Enterprise. Go ahead.”

“This is Captain Hernandez. Who are you and where is Captain Archer?”

“Ensign Mayweather, Ma’am, and I’m afraid Captain Archer is unavailable at the moment.”

“I didn’t ask if he was available, I asked where he was, Ensign.”

“He’s on the station, Ma’am.”

“It sounds like you have a lot of explaining to do, Ensign. Unfortunately it will have to wait. I have orders to recover Enterprise and arrest her crew, prepare to be boarded.”

“I can’t let you do that, Ma’am,” said Mayweather.

“Unless our sensors are wrong, you’re alone aboard Enterprise. You can’t exactly stop us.”

“I can still fire on you and do some damage. I’d rather not do that, Ma’am, but until I get orders from Captain Archer, no one is boarding Enterprise.”

“Then I suggest you contact the Captain and explain the situation to him,” said Hernandez with annoyance.

“Communications with the station are down, Ma’am. So if you don’t mind I think we should just sit tight for the moment.”

There was silence for a moment from Columbia. Mayweather imagined Hernandez discussing the situation with her bridge crew, and being told that weapons range extended further than transporter range. She was probably asking for other options right now and hoping that she wouldn’t need to fire on Enterprise. At the same time he hoped that she didn’t call his bluff, he didn’t want to fire on Columbia either and he wasn’t sure that he could do it.

“Very well Ensign, no one will board Enterprise for now. In the mean time, it sounds like you could use some help. I don’t know what’s going on here and I’m not sure that I want to, but Captain Archer wouldn’t be out of communicator contact if he could help it.”

“It’s a long story, Ma’am, and I’m not sure that I should be the one to tell it,” said Mayweather. “We could use some help though.”

****

“I’ve isolated the frequency,” said T’Pol. She and Hoshi had managed to work out the frequency that the hand device used after Trip had pointed out that the receivers had to be set to detect that same frequency. Once T’Pol had found a receiver in the corridor, it was an easy task to see which frequency was being used.

“Good, how much longer until the jammer is ready?” asked Archer.

Hess had the intact pieces of the broken communicators laid out on a table beside the genetic resequencer machine. She had improvised some basic tools from the broken communicators, Phlox’s medical kit and other items that she had found around the room. She was sitting on a stool, working on the jamming device while occasionally getting advice from her boss via the intercom.

“Just make sure you remove the signal booster from five of the circuits. Otherwise you’ll end up with a pile of smoking plastic.” Trip yawned.

“Okay, got it. Another couple of minutes, Captain,” said Hess.

“You need to rest, Commander,” said Phlox.

“Just another couple of minutes, Doc,” said Trip, echoing Hess and yawning again. “How much longer have I got in this thing?”

“About another hour,” said Phlox. He checked the vital signs of his patient and wasn’t exactly happy with what he saw. “Commander, are you in any pain?”

“A little,” replied Trip.

Phlox knew that was a lie. Trip’s blood pressure was up and his muscles were tense. Everything pointed to discomfort of much larger proportions than Trip was admitting. The various IVs were still in place but it obviously needed a boost. Phlox prepared a hypospray, and then pulled the blanket away from Trip’s legs so that he could gain access to a vein to inject the pain medication into. There was the sound of a hiss as the hypospray discharged.

“That should start to make you feel better,” said Phlox.

“Thanks Doc,” replied Trip, the tension already leaving his body as the edge was taken off his pain.

“I can finish this now, sir,” said Hess.

“You could have built it without my help.” Trip’s eyes were getting very heavy now and he knew he couldn’t stay awake much longer. His eyes closed despite his attempts to keep them open.

“It went a lot quicker with your input,” replied Hess.

Trip quirked his lips into a half smile but he was definitely too far gone into sleep to reply.

“Is he going to be alright?” asked Reed. This was the first chance that he’d really had since arriving to check up on Trip. The improvement seemed remarkable but it was obvious that they still had a very sick man on their hands.

“Another hour and I’ll be able to tell you, but he is doing a lot better. The only thing he is lacking is stamina.” The doctor turned back to checking vitals and Reed took the hint and went back to where he, Archer and T’Pol had been discussing their plan of attack.

“If Hess and Trip are right with their sums then we’ll have to get to within ten metres of her to block the signal, and we need line of sight,” said Archer. “Leah and Abigail will be awake by now, so we’ll probably have three of them to deal with.”

“Captain, given the time frame, we should also assume that Columbia is here,” said T’Pol.

“Yeah, and no doubt they’re giving Travis a hard time. We’ll have to assume that Enterprise has been captured,” said Archer.

“Which means that once this is over, we’ll be turning ourselves in,” said Reed.

“I’m afraid so, Malcolm,” said Archer. “It’s earlier than we’d planned but we all knew it would come to this eventually.”

“It’s worth it, sir,” said Hoshi, and there were affirmative nods from around the room.

“It’s done,” said Hess. “It’s not pretty, but it should work fine.” She held up the jamming device which looked like three communicators held together with surgical tape.

“Okay, let’s go,” said Archer. “Doctor, as soon as you can, get Trip out of here and back to Enterprise. Don’t wait for us.”

“Captain, I’d prefer to remain here,” said Phlox.

“Neither you nor Trip are in any trouble. They can’t court-martial someone who isn’t a member of Starfleet and Trip wasn’t exactly a willing participant in any of this.”

“I’m not worried about that, I’m more concerned about my piloting skills. I have only flown shuttles in simulation before now.”

“As soon as we get back, we’re giving you flying lessons, Doctor,” said Reed, as he checked the settings on their single phase pistol.

“I shall look forward to that, Lieutenant,” replied Phlox.

Archer nodded in agreement and slight exasperation at Phlox raising a problem with his plan. “Just get back to the shuttle and we’ll meet you there. If the worst happens then Columbia can pick you up.”

“Of course, Captain,” beamed Phlox.

****

The Enterprise officers walked purposefully down the corridor. There was no point in hiding now. They had a weapon and as soon as they used it Rebecca would know what they had done. Once they had line of sight they could activate the jamming device and her hold over them would be broken. Getting into line of sight before she realised that they were there was going to be the tricky part but, with luck, everything would go to plan.

“Hoshi, this is where you leave us,” said Archer.

“Yes, sir. I still think I could help,” said Hoshi.

“We need you to complete the download. It’s important, Hoshi,” said Archer.

“Yes, sir. Good luck.” Hoshi gave a brief nod of her head before taking the other branch of the corridor towards the computer room.

Archer led the rest of the party towards the central core. It took only a few minutes to complete the walk and take the elevator to the correct level. Now they needed to be stealthy in their approach. The main hatch to the central core was closed and locked from the inside as they had expected.

Archer used hand signals to indicate the grid covering the air duct. Reed gave Hess a leg up so that she could reach the vent and unscrew the cover. It took only a few seconds, but it was performed in nervous silence. Once the grid was off, Hess handed it back down to Reed and he boosted her so that she could climb into the exposed shaft. It was lucky that the engineer wasn’t a big woman otherwise their plan would have failed at the first hurdle, but Hess was able to squeeze in and push herself along.

The difficulty here was that none of them were sure how long it would take Hess to move far enough along the shaft that she could reach the main control room. They now needed to open the hatch and hope that they’d given Hess enough time to get to where she needed to be. Reed and T’Pol had already removed the panel from the door lock and were just awaiting Archer’s signal to short circuit the lock and open the door.

Archer counted down the five minutes that they had agreed to give Hess, and then gave T’Pol and Reed the nod to open the door. The hatch slid back and three identical women turned around.

“Starfleet, you must be more stupid than I thought,” said the central one of the three, which Archer assumed to be Rebecca. “Do you want your friend to die?”

“No and he’s not going to,” said Archer. “Time to give it up, Rebecca. You’re not leaving this station.”

“Have it your way, Starfleet. I hope you can live with the fact that you just killed your friend.” Rebecca pressed a small button on the hand device with her thumb. Archer held his breath, but realised that their plan had worked when the expression on Rebecca’s face changed.

“What did you do?” asked Rebecca, accusingly.

“Blocked the signal with a jammer,” said Archer.

“Give me the jamming device, or I will kill you all,” said Rebecca.

“Sorry, but it’s safely out of the way,” said Archer. “I suggest you put down your weapons. You’ve lost, Rebecca.”

“Not by a long way. Leah, Abigail, take their weapon and subdue them.”

“Yes, Rebecca,” chorused the two clones. The two women stood in front of the group of Starfleet officers.

“My name is Leah,” said one. “You will not win against us.”

“I am Abigail,” said the other. “You would be best to give up now.”

Reed fired his phase pistol and hit Abigail but it barely seemed to slow her down. Before any of them could react they were in the grips of the two clones. Reed’s phase pistol had been snatched from his hand, and a blow to the head had sent him stunned to the floor. Archer hadn’t been able to move quickly enough to help Reed and was now held struggling in a head lock. T’Pol had a small advantage in that she was stronger than the average human, she and Leah were exchanging blows. T’Pol wasn’t as fast as Leah but her fighting skills were superior, it was enough to make them even, but T’Pol wasn’t exactly winning.

Archer caught movement out of the corner of his eye and saw Hess kick the cover off the ventilation shaft that she had been hiding in. She was tackled by Rebecca before she could get much further however. This wasn’t exactly going according to Archer’s plan. They were very gradually losing to the clones, despite their superior numbers.

Then there were flashes of light and suddenly the odds had changed. Phase pistols fired and fired again on a higher setting. The clones collapsed to the ground, stunned.

“You always were trouble, Jonathan,” said Hernandez. Four security officers and Columbia’s Tactical Officer stood behind her, their phase pistols drawn.

Archer rubbed his neck and stepped over Abigail’s body. “I’m not sure whether I should be pleased to see you or not.”

“A thank you for saving your life would be nice,” said Hernandez.

Archer grinned. “Thank you.” For a tiny moment, it was like they’d never left that mountain top back on Earth. Unfortunately reality reasserted itself.

“Augment clones?”

“There are more on level five in cold sleep,” said Archer.

“Now perhaps you’d like to tell me what’s going on here?”

“We found a cure for Trip,” said Archer. “Unfortunately it’s a product of illegal genetic research.”

“And you knew that Starfleet would never let you use it, so you kidnapped Commander Tucker and stole Enterprise. There had to be another way, Jonathan.”

“Not that I could see. Trip was running out of time.”

“I hope he knows how lucky he is, to have friends like you,” said Hernandez.

“Personally I think we’re the lucky ones,” said Archer. “Now, do what you have to do and let’s all go home.”

Hernandez sighed. “Captain Jonathan Archer, under section twelve of the Starfleet code of justice, I hereby arrest you and your crew for the theft of Starfleet property.”

Archer gave a tired nod.

“But given your past good record, I’m prepared to let you take Enterprise home, as long as you give me your word you won’t attempt to escape. I’ll place a couple of security officers on board just to make it official. Do I have your word?”

“You have my word,” said Archer.

“Captain,” said T’Pol and two heads turned in her direction. “Archer,” she added. “The energy drain we detected earlier, that was interfering with our communications, has become more pronounced. I think we should investigate.”

Archer looked to Hernandez. She was the one in charge here now, but he hoped that he conveyed that he thought that this was important.

“Okay, let’s take a look. Where are the rest of your crew?”

“Phlox and Trip are in a treatment room on level three. Hoshi’s in the main computer room, downloading some information for me.”

Hernandez ordered a couple of her men to go to the locations given and take everyone back to the shuttle pods. “Where’s this energy reading, Commander T’Pol?”

“The lower level of the central core,” said T’Pol.

The two other Columbia security officers were ordered to keep the prisoners under guard, and Hernandez led them forward into the central core. They had to climb down a metal ladder to the lower level. They entered the circular room, much smaller than the one above it.

Filling the curved sides of the room were rows of hundreds of glass jars, each with an embryo inside, floating in slightly pink, translucent liquid. The Starfleet officers were caught between shock, revulsion and wonder.

“My God,” said Hernandez. “What were they doing here?”

“I’ll explain later,” said Archer.

“They are all Sarina Kaur clones,” said T’Pol as she scanned the embryos. “Until recently all these embryos were merely genetic material, kept in cold storage. They are now experiencing accelerated growth.”

“She was creating an army,” said Reed.

“It’s drawing a hell of a lot of power.” Hess went to the nearest control panel and began to access data. “Oh this is so not good.”

“What’s the problem?” asked Hernandez.

“It’s drawing too much power,” said Hess. “This technology has been sitting here for years without any maintenance and she just switched it on, full power, without a warm up. This is delicate equipment, drawing huge amounts of power. Some of the incubators aren’t working and it’s all acting like a great big battery, trying to store too much power. Unless we can turn it off, it’s going to destroy the whole station.”

“If we turn it off then the embryos will die,” said T’Pol.

“They’ll die anyway if the station is destroyed,” said Hess.

“Do it,” said Archer. Hernandez gave a nod of agreement and Hess turned back to the control panel.

“She’s locked it down. It’s not accepting my commands,” said Hess. “Hoshi might be able to crack it, but I could take a while.”

“How long before it blows?” asked Reed.

“Twenty minutes at most,” said Hess.

Archer checked the time. Trip would be finished his treatment by now and hopefully Phlox was already on his way back to the shuttle with his patient, possibly with the help of two of Columbia’s security officers.

“We don’t have time,” said Archer.

“Agreed, let’s get out of here,” said Hernandez.

They climbed the ladder back to the main room. “We’re leaving,” said Hernandez to the security officers which were guarding the clones. “Bring the prisoners.”

“Captain, these two are dead,” said the security officer, indicating Leah and Abigail.

“Your weapons were set to stun?” asked Hernandez.

“Yes, Captain,” said the security officer.

T’Pol had her scanner out and was examining the two dead clones. “They were suffering from replicative fading. Their bodies were unable to take the shock of repeated stun blasts.”

“What about her?” asked Hernandez, looking at Rebecca.

Rebecca’s eyes were open, fixed on her dead sisters. She sat on the floor, her hands bound by standard Starfleet issue cuffs and the security officers were watching her carefully.

“She is healthy, although also suffering from replicative fading to a lesser extent,” replied T’Pol.

“Bring her,” said Hernandez.

The security officers pulled Rebecca to her feet and everyone turned to leave. Suddenly Rebecca had pulled free from the security officers and broken her handcuffs. They fired at her but she was too quick for them and she was already out of the door before they were able to collect their wits. The security guards were a little sore from the punches from their prisoner but were ready to give chase.

“Leave her,” said Hernandez. “We don’t have time to chase after her. Come on.”

They made it to the shuttlepods as quickly as they could. “Everyone here?” asked Hernandez.

“The doctor and his patient are already on the shuttlepod, Captain,” said one of the security officers.

“Where’s Hoshi?” asked Archer.

Hernandez flicked open her communicator but was once again met with only static. “Damn this interference. Where are they?”

There was the sound of running from further down the corridor. Hoshi and her escort came into view, both running flat out.

A breathless Hoshi, panting as she talked stopped just in front of Archer. “The station,” she pulled air into her lungs, “going to explode, ten minutes.”

“We know,” said Archer. “Get those shuttlepods started up. Why’d you cut it so fine?”

“Had to complete the download,” said Hoshi, slightly more calmly as she climbed onto the shuttlepod. “Then the computers started going wild and telling me that the station was going to explode.”

Everyone climbed into a shuttlepod, Archer heading for the one that he knew contained Phlox and Trip. Reed took the controls, aware that his Captain would prefer to be with Trip. Hernandez directed two of her security contingent to go with Archer, although he got the impression this was more for appearance sake than because she thought Archer would break their deal.

“How are you doing?” asked Archer, looking down at Trip’s pale form lying on the stretcher, still hooked up to every medical monitor that Phlox possessed. He was swathed in blankets to make sure that he remained warm in the air-conditioned shuttlepod.

“Most excitement I’ve had in months,” replied Trip, weakly, holding up a shaking hand for Archer to grip.

“Hang in there a little longer and we’ll have you back to Enterprise in no time,” said Archer.

“Hey, I feel better now than I have done in long time,” replied Trip, closing his eyes. “Just so damn tired.”

Archer looked up at Phlox, as Trip’s hand went limp in his.

“Just sleeping, Captain. He’ll be doing that a lot over the next few days,” said Phlox.

Archer nodded and took his seat on the bench at the back of the pod so that he could keep an eye on his friend.

The shuttlepods took off from the station and set off towards the two Starfleet ships. For the moment everyone was going back to their own ships, but a security contingent from Columbia was joining the Enterprise crew.

“Reed to Enterprise.”

“Good to hear your voice, sir,” said Mayweather. “Welcome home.”

The launch bay doors opened and the shuttlepod came to rest.

“You know the drill, everyone. We need to get out of here as quickly as possible, preferably before that station blows,” said Archer.

There were shouts of “Aye, sir,” and everyone ran to their posts. Archer turned briefly to look back at Phlox and Trip.

“Don’t worry, Captain. I’ll take good care of the Commander,” said Phlox.

“Thanks, Doctor,” said Archer with genuine gratitude and ran for the bridge.

The two Starfleet ships engaged engines and flew away from the station, just as the first explosion blossomed within the structure of the inner core. It was followed by further devastating blasts and soon fire raged across the entire station, consuming the oxygen within the habitable areas. Finally the fire reached the generator core and hit the antimatter reactor, destroying the station in a final triumphant detonation of explosive material. Shards of dismembered metal flew outwards from the centre of the blast, along with other charred debris, but by that point Columbia and Enterprise had made the jump to warp speed, outrunning anything which could have damaged the ships.

****End of Chapter Fourteen****

Columbia shadowed Enterprise as the two ships travelled back towards Earth. Enterprise had borrowed a few extra crew members to help make the journey home a bit easier and allow everyone some time to rest. Most of the original Enterprise crew had actually taken up residence in sickbay on their off hours.

Trip was still weak and sleeping up to twenty hours a day, although he was slowly recovering some of his stamina. When he wasn’t asleep he was trying to sort his newly returned memories into some semblance of order. Phlox had suggested that the best way to do that was to talk through memories with his friends.

“Are you sure that you’re remembering that right?” asked Trip, after he and Archer had been reminiscing about a night out on the town in San Francisco. “I could have sworn you struck out with the pretty Lieutenant.”

“Maybe I’m just remembering how I wanted it to go,” said Archer with a grin.

Trip gave his friend a feeble swat on the arm. His memory might be returning but he still had no strength. “You’re supposed to be helping me get my brain cells in order. At this rate you’ll never get your Chief Engineer back.”

Archer’s grin disappeared.

“What’s the matter?” asked Trip. “You do want me back? I know it’s going to take a while before I’m fit…”

“It’s not that, Trip,” said Archer, quickly. “There’ll always be a place on Enterprise for you as long as I’m Captain. We haven’t exactly discussed how we found the cure for you or what we did to get it.”

“No, but I remember being on the space station and everyone running for their lives from a big explosion that was about to happen.” Trip paused a minute and Archer knew that meant some more of Trip’s memories were clicking into place. “Why was Captain Hernandez there?”

Reed picked that moment to enter sickbay. He was heading over to Trip’s bed before he picked up on the look on both men’s faces. Archer’s solemn seriousness and Trip’s puzzled inquiry. “Am I interrupting something?” asked Reed.

“No, Malcolm, come on over,” said Trip.

“You can probably help me fill in the details,” added Archer. “I was just about to tell Trip exactly how we got him to the station.”

“Oh,” said Reed in a tone that made it clear that he wished he hadn’t walked into sickbay at just that moment. He took a seat beside his Captain. “I suppose the first thing to tell you is that we stole Enterprise. You’re currently on a starship taken without consent, or at least you were. We’re now being escorted back to base by Columbia.”

“You stole Enterprise? Why would you need to steal Enterprise?” Trip paused and light dawned behind his eyes. “Hang on a minute, you stole Enterprise to take me to the station, because Starfleet wouldn’t let you take me there. Which means that you’re all up for court-martial the moment we get back. What on Earth possessed you all to pull a damn fool stunt like that for a dying man?”

“You’re not dying anymore,” pointed out Archer. “We knew the station had the equipment to cure you.”

“Yeah, but what if it hadn’t worked. It was a damn big risk to take for one man,” said Trip. “And I don’t understand why Starfleet wouldn’t let you take me out there?”

“Because of what the station was used for. It was a genetic research station, used by scientist that survived the Eugenics wars.” Archer wasn’t exactly sure how Trip felt about eugenics and the laws against it, but he doubted that he’d be happy to find out that his cure had come from a dubious source.

“That’s impossible, they’d be five hundred years old,” said Trip.

“One of the scientists cloned herself hundreds of times and put some of those clones into cryogenic suspension. The clones were the ones who ran the station and developed the treatment for Clarke’s Syndrome.”

“So you’re saying I was cured by research which was a product of genetic experiments, performed by cloned Eugenics wars scientists,” said Trip. He sounded slightly incredulous and Archer couldn’t blame him. It did sound unbelievable, evil scientists, cloning and magic cures. It was a big adjustment to go from dying from a terminal disease to the chance of complete recovery in just a couple of days. The cure must have seemed like a miracle. It did feel like a miracle to Archer. That on top of the unlikely sounding way that they had found the cure would be enough to make anyone doubt what was being said.

“That’s exactly what we’re saying,” said Reed.

Trip lay back in his bed and stared up at the ceiling. “I know my history. Those scientists performed genetic experiments on humans. I wish I knew how to feel about this,” said Trip finally after a long silence. “I mean a lot of people died for that research, and it’s as illegal as it comes. Arik Soong and his Augments did nothing but harm. I know there’s a hell of a good reason why we banned tinkering with the human genome. But I can’t complain that I’m alive and getting better again.”

“I wish I could give you an easy answer, Trip,” said Archer. “But I don’t have one to give. I’m struggling with the same dilemma. I wanted you to be well again and I knew I’d do anything to make that happen, because you’re my friend.”

“Our friend,” added Reed.

“Maybe it was selfish of us to do this, put you in this position, but once we found the station we all knew what we had to do. It may sit heavily on my conscience but I don’t regret doing it.” Archer was still serious but there seemed a lighter quality to his expression now.

Reed also felt the need to explain. “It wasn’t just the Captain, we all agreed that it was the only thing to do. At least something good finally came out of the horrible period of our history that was the Eugenics wars. T’Pol even has some nice logical arguments about why it was the only course of action open to us, if you have a spare couple of hours to listen to them.”

“But you’re still all going to be facing a court-martial for this, and I guess me too, probably as an accessory or something.”

“Actually I checked that part,” said Reed. “You weren’t in a frame of mind to be able to understand what was going on. In fact I expect that they’ll see you as the victim in all of this. Kidnapped from a hospital bed and dragged halfway across the galaxy to take part in an experimental treatment, the lawyers will have a field day.”

“If I hadn’t been sick then you wouldn’t have had to do any of this and risk your careers,” said Trip.

“It’s not like you could help being sick,” said Reed.

“This was our decision, Trip, and I think we’re all old enough to know what we’re doing. Anyway, I don’t think there’ll be any courts-martial,” said Archer.

Both Reed and Trip now looked a little stunned at Archer.

“Sir, we stole Starfleet property, broke the ban on genetic research and kidnapped a Starfleet officer. Those are serious crimes, no matter how good the intentions were. We’ll be lucky not to get prison time.”

“You’re forgetting that we have blackmail material, Malcolm,” said Archer. “Starfleet built and funded that place for years, I’m betting that they won’t want anyone to know about it.”

“Wait a minute, Starfleet funded Eugenics scientists?” asked Trip, incredulously.

Archer nodded. “And I have the data to prove it. Hoshi downloaded the records from the station.”

“I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse,” said Trip.

“Well hopefully better, because it means we have a good chance at avoiding a court-martial,” said Reed, a little happiness creeping into his voice.

“Yeah, but this is Starfleet we’re talking about, Malcolm. We’re meant to be the good guys,” said Trip.

“You know as well as I do that nothing is ever that simple. Starfleet has done some questionable things in the name of Earth. I’ve been party to some of them.”

“You?” asked Trip with surprise.

“You obviously don’t remember me being shut in the brig when Phlox was kidnapped,” said Reed.

“You were on Columbia at the time, but when you came back Malcolm was in the brig,” added Archer.

“Not an episode I’d like to repeat and I’m pleased to say that my days of covert ops are over,” said Reed.

Trip was trying hard to remember, Archer could see it. “Why was Malcolm in the brig?”

“Because I hid information from my Captain on the orders of my former special ops commander,” replied Reed. “Servant of two masters and all that. Not one of my finest moments.”

“I don’t remember any of it,” said Trip, worriedly.

“It’ll come back, Trip. Phlox said that you need to give it time,” said Archer.

“I know, but how come I can remember a night out with you at the 602 Club but I can’t remember Phlox being kidnapped or Malcolm being in the brig.” Trip was getting a little agitated and the last thing he needed right now was any more stress.

“Slow down, Trip. This wasn’t a bout of the ‘flu. You were ill for the best part of two years. I can’t believe how well you’ve done these past few days, but this is all going to take time.” Archer put a hand on Trip’s forearm. Even now he was still shocked by the feel of bone beneath his hand and how thin Trip had become.

“Yeah, time,” said Trip, resignedly. “So what are you going to do next?”

“Talk to Admiral Gardner, hope that he sees things my way,” said Archer.

“And if he doesn’t see things your way?” asked Reed.

“You and I will be out of a job,” said Archer.

“Along with Hoshi, Travis, T’Pol and Anna,” said Reed.

“But there’ll be some interesting headlines in the papers the next day,” said Archer.

Trip allowed himself to smile a little at the embarrassment that would cause some pompous Starfleet admirals. “I should probably say thank you to you guys, for putting your careers on line and nearly getting yourselves killed. Not the smartest move, but I’m damn grateful you did it.”

“You’d have done the same for us,” said Reed.

Phlox approached the group. “I’m sorry gentlemen but the Commander needs to rest, and you both do too.”

“You know we’re not leaving sickbay,” said Archer.

“Which is why you’ll find that I have readied the two biobeds in the far corner,” said Phlox. “I suggest that you both go to the mess hall before you sleep, I have noticed that you’ve been skipping meals to visit the Commander and you know that I won’t allow it. I can ban you from sickbay if necessary.”

“That isn’t necessary, doctor. We’ll get some food,” said Archer, getting up from his chair beside Trip’s bed.

“You don’t have to stay. I’m not going anywhere for a long while yet,” said Trip.

“It’s not just for your benefit, Commander,” said Phlox. “Everyone seems to sleep better if they’re in sickbay at the moment.”

“I don’t,” pointed out Trip.

“The dreams should stop once your brain has sorted and filed all your memories,” said Phlox. “Another few days at most and until then it is useful to have someone on hand to wake you from the more vivid nightmares.”

“Great, I feel like I’m back waiting for Mom to come and chase the bed monsters away. Leave the nightlight on when you go, guys.”

Archer smiled. “We’ll be back to check under the bed for monsters once we’ve eaten.”

Trip gave them one of his long suffering looks, which just made them smile even more. With that the two men left sickbay to find food.

“When do I get some real food, doc?” asked Trip.

“Once you can reliably keep liquids down, we’ll start trying a light diet,” said Phlox.

Trip tried feebly to push himself into a sitting position. Phlox came over to help him and adjusted the bed so that he was a little more upright. Trip’s head spun for a moment and he had to take a few deep breaths to calm the nausea that rose within him. Trip indicated the glass of water on the bedside table and Phlox handed it to his patient, but kept a light grip on it himself. Trip’s hands were as weak as the rest of his body, and still little more than stiff, immobile claws.

“There’s something else you haven’t mentioned yet,” said Trip, looking up at Phlox. “I’ve been on pain medication for a long time, and I’m talking the really good stuff. Now I know that isn’t something I can just stop taking, and withdrawal from these things usually isn’t pretty.”

Phlox nodded seriously. “You’re correct. You have been prescribed painkillers for an extended period and even given your remarkable recovery, you are still experiencing some pain.”

“Nowhere like before though, doc,” said Trip.

“Of course. The usual procedure is to step back the medication in small decrements, but I have been hesitant to do that until I was sure that you weren’t still experiencing acute or chronic pain. If you are happy to do so, then we can begin decreasing the dose tomorrow.”

“I’ve never liked taking drugs I don’t have to and if I want to get back on duty, I can’t be addicted to pain meds. Might as well get started.”

“You do need to be aware that there is a point where you will have to go through withdrawal. Your body can be weaned off the drug but, with most patients, there is a threshold that cannot be gone below without the symptoms of withdrawal. At which point the only options are either to continue stepping down the drug or continue as an addict.”

“I’m not becoming an addict for the rest of my life,” said Trip.

“I would prefer you to be a little stronger before you enter the withdrawal phase,” said Phlox.

“The sooner the better as far as I’m concerned, doc,” replied Trip.

****

A few days later, Trip wished with all his might that he could have taken those words back. While he’d been safely wrapped in the fuzzy warmth of extra strength painkillers it hadn’t seemed like withdrawal would be all that bad. As he lay on the biobed, shivering for all he was worth, covered in blankets and sweating buckets, he was reassessing exactly how bad things might still get before they got better. Phlox had taken five days to step down the medication to the level it was at now. The shivering, aching, cramping, crying out for relief, level.

“Is it time yet?” asked Trip from, beneath his nest of blankets.

Lieutenant Reed had been sitting next to him and looked up from his padd. “Not even close.”

“Great,” murmured Trip, unhappily. Time was passing unbelievably slowly. Each second seemed to drag by. He was too ill to do much other than lie on the bed and contemplate his next shot of pain relief. His whole world was narrowing to one point in time and he hated that almost as much as the pain and shivers. He didn’t want to spend his whole life as an addict and that was why he was enduring this. If he focused on the end then he knew he could do this. He’d had severe heatstroke and been infected by an alien virus, got himself pregnant and possessed by aliens, he’d been tortured for information by time travelling alien Nazis and nearly blown apart by his own engine, and he’d survived it all. Hell, he was the first human to be cured of Clarke’s Syndrome. When you looked at it like that, surely this was nothing.

Unfortunately, no matter how much he compared it to the other bad stuff that had happened to him, he still felt like crap. Some days it just seemed like the universe was out to get him.

“Any news from the Captain?” he asked through gritted teeth.

“They only left an hour ago, they won’t even be at Starfleet HQ yet,” said Reed. Captain Archer, T’Pol and Captain Hernandez had all gone to speak with Admiral Gardner, and Reed didn’t expect to hear anything back from them for some time yet. Trip was understandably anxious to hear how things were going, and somehow had managed to decide that he was at least partly to blame for the illegal actions of his friends. Everyone had tried to explain to him that it was their own choice, but no one could say that it hadn’t been for Trip, so hence he had decided that it was his fault.

“Meanwhile we’re under house arrest,” said Trip.

“Just be glad we weren’t all thrown in the brig,” replied Reed. “For which we are eternally indebted to Captain Hernandez and her fast talking.”

Everyone had expected to be arrested and sent to the nearest brig when they got back, Phlox and Trip included, at least until they could get everything sorted out. Trip wasn’t keen on being sent to some high security hospital where he wouldn’t know the doctors, and Phlox wasn’t particularly pleased about allowing anyone else to take care of his patient, but there didn’t seem to be anything to be done about it. No one had expected Captain Hernandez to refuse to let the guards take away the prisoners. She simply reminded the security officers who had been sent to retrieve them, who it was that they were about to haul off to the brig. Captain Archer, hero of the Expanse, the man who had schools, libraries and concert halls named after him, and his senior staff (who also had a few places named after them too by now).

The security officers had stood down, a little grudgingly, and a compromise had been agreed. The Enterprise officers would stay on Enterprise until the issue of their conduct was resolved. The security officers would guard the exits; the bridge, Engineering and the Armoury were off-limits, but otherwise they would have free run of the ship.

Reed noticed that Trip had shut his eyes again, against the aches and pains. The lights in sickbay had been turned down so that they didn’t hurt his eyes, giving it a rather subdued atmosphere. Reed reached out for the bowl which Phlox had left beside Trip’s bed, he opened the thermal flask beside it and poured a little warm water into the bottom of the bowl. Finally he damped a clean wash cloth in the water. He wrung it out and shook off any remaining drips, then, more gently than Trip would have believed him capable of, he wiped the sweat off Trip’s forehead. He moved the cloth across his cheeks and around the neck. Trip sighed with pleasure that something finally felt good. At the moment heat seemed to be sucked out of him by anything that he touched and a warm wash cloth reminded him that there was heat in the world.

His energy was ebbing but the aches kept him awake. Reed moved once again and this time it was to get the warming blanket. Phlox wouldn’t let Trip use the warming blanket for extended periods because it could lead to him over heating, but he was happy for a few minutes use every so often. Reed draped the blanket over the existing pile of sickbay standard issue grey blankets and set it to a pleasantly comforting warmth.

Trip’s shivers subsided slightly and he allowed himself to stretch his tired muscles a little. “Thanks, Malcolm. You sure you’ve got nothing better to do than look after me?”

“Sleep, Trip,” said Reed, ignoring the question. “Just sleep, and I’ll wake you if I hear anything from the Captain.”

The heat from the blanket was making him drowsy and combined with the existing exhaustion it didn’t take much to follow Reed’s instructions.

****

“Perhaps you’d like to explain to me why I shouldn’t throw the god damn book at you,” said Admiral Gardner. “You stole your own ship! In fact given your record, you seem to be making a habit of it. Not only that, you kidnapped a terminally ill patient from his hospital bed. You should all be in the brig awaiting trial. Which brings me to you, Captain Hernandez. I had assumed that you would be able to carry out your orders without difficulty. Instead you refused to allow the crew of Enterprise to be arrested and bring them here.”

“Actually my orders were to return Enterprise to Earth, and arrest the crew. I brought Enterprise home and placed the crew under arrest. It wasn’t specified that they should be placed under arrest in the brig rather than any other form of guard,” said Hernandez, with her usual precision.

“Captain, I am not going to argue semantics with you. If you want to keep your command then you will allow the security officers to arrest Enterprise’s crew,” said Gardner.

“Are you finished, Admiral?” asked Archer. He’d never liked Admiral Gardner. He wasn’t like Forrest, who had always shared Archer’s dreams of space exploration, he was a bureaucrat.

“I’m just getting started, Captain,” said Gardner.

“No, you’re not,” said Archer. “Show him the data T’Pol.”

T’Pol handed Gardner the padd she was carrying. “This data details illegal experiments being conducted by Starfleet on an unregistered space station.”

“What does this have to do with you stealing Enterprise and kidnapping Commander Tucker?” asked Gardner.

“We found a cure for Commander Tucker on the space station,” said Archer.

“I know he’s your friend, Captain, and to be honest I counselled against you both being posted to the same ship, but even I didn’t believe that you would commit illegal acts for him.”

“You have no idea what I would do for Commander Tucker,” said Archer. “He’s saved my life more times than I can count.”

“Captain Archer was not the only member of the crew involved,” said T’Pol. “We all respect and value Commander Tucker, and consider him to be a friend.”

“Friendship doesn’t absolve you from a court-martial,” said Gardner.

“No, but if you court-martial us you’ll have to explain why Starfleet was supporting an illegal genetics research lab. I’m sure the media would love to get their hands on that story.” Archer smiled.

“You’re blackmailing me?” asked Gardner, incredulously.

“Yes, sir,” said Archer. “No courts-martial or we will go to the press with what we’ve found.”

“If that’s the way you want it, Captain Archer.” Gardner was practically snarling in frustration. “I can’t believe that you really want to see Starfleet’s name dragged through the mud and if you let anyone know about that research station, your court-martial will be back on. For the moment you’re safe. There is one thing that I can do, however, and that is make sure that neither you, nor any of your crew who participated in this, are ever put forward for promotion again.”

“Admiral,” began Hernandez.

“You say another word, Captain, and you’ll be included in that,” said Gardner.

“It’s okay, Erika, I assumed that there’d be a price. Message understood, Admiral,” said Archer.

“You’re dismissed. You’ll be contacted with your new orders,” said Gardner.

The three officers filed out of the Admiral’s office.

“Jonathan, you just gave away your career,” said Hernandez.

“The way I look at it, I gained Enterprise,” said Archer.

“Admiral Garner is also currently five years from retirement age,” said T’Pol. “The Captain conceded a minor point to the Admiral.”

“I hope everyone else will see it that way too,” said Archer, a little unhappily.

“You knew that?” asked Hernandez.

“I don’t go into a negotiation without all the facts. There were worse punishments that he could have given us.”

“I fail to see how five years serving on Enterprise could be seen as a punishment. You also may like to look at the regulations governing field commissions,” added T’Pol.

****

Trip had awoken to find Lieutenant Reed gone, and one of the medical technicians fussing around him. He asked where the Lieutenant was and was told that he’d gone to meet the Captain’s shuttle returning from Earth. Trip actually felt fairly good at the moment, he knew it was just temporary until the drugs started to wear off again, but every time he was able to wait longer and longer before his much reduced dosage of painkiller. He waited for the medical technician to leave the room and decided that it was time to test out his recovery.

Trip swung his legs over the side of the bed. The first thing he noticed was that the action didn’t make him dizzy. That gave him a small warm glow, but he looked down at his thin legs, weakened by muscle wastage, and the warmth disappeared. He’d been ill for a very long time and it was going to take a long time to get his strength back, not to mention former muscle tone. Phlox had already mentioned physiotherapy but the plan was to start gently. He certainly wasn’t meant to be getting out of bed yet, but surely a couple a steps whilst holding onto the bed couldn’t hurt.

He lowered himself as gently as he could until his feet touched the floor, his arms shaking at even this small effort. Sweat beaded on his forehead and he breathed heavily. The floor was cold under his feet and for a moment all he could do was lean against the biobed and suck in air. When he felt recovered enough he shuffled his left leg forward, it didn’t particularly want to respond but he was patient and eventually it was in a position that he felt he could put some weight on it and then move the right forward. His right leg shook at the strain it was under bearing all his body weight.

His earlier determination was waning a little. One step had taken him nearly ten minutes and he had yet to work out how he was going to get back into bed. He felt like he’d run a marathon already and he hadn’t even got to the end of the biobed. His left leg had moved though, and that was at least something. He held on to the edge of the bed and began to shuffle his right leg forward with equal difficulty. Both legs shook now at the demands being placed upon them and suddenly his left leg gave way underneath him.

He hit the ground heavily and didn’t even try to break his fall, knowing from experience that it would probably cause more damage if he put a hand out. Pain raged through him for a few long seconds and he clenched his jaw against it. His left shoulder and hip seemed to have taken the worst of the fall, but he’d also managed to pull out his IV line and blood was beginning to drip from his arm. He rolled off his side and onto his back, where he stared up at the ceiling. There was no way he was getting off the floor on his own.

“Commander, what are you doing out of bed?” asked a familiar voice.

“Falling over,” replied Trip. “Don’t think I’ll be doing the two step any time soon.”

Phlox knelt beside his patient. “Are you experiencing any pain?”

“A little. I landed kind of heavily on my left side.”

Phlox already had his scanner out and was waving it over Trip’s helpless body. “Some deep tissue bruising but nothing more. It seems you were lucky.”

“Sorry, Doc, I know this wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done,” said Trip.

“Actually I’ve been expecting this. I thought that you would have to try it soon,” said Phlox.

“I’m that predictable?”

“Well, now that your memories are returning, it is natural that you want your body to catch-up with the recovery of your mind. You always have been a notoriously bad patient and I don’t believe I’ve ever managed to keep you in here as long as I would like.”

“So you’re saying that I’m an impatient pain in the ass?”

“You can be impatient, yes, but personally I would never describe you as a pain. Now, let’s get you back into bed,” said Phlox. “We’ll begin by sitting you up.”

Unfortunately, just as Phlox was moving Trip into a sitting position, Captain Archer, T’Pol and Lieutenant Reed walked into sickbay.

“Damn,” muttered Trip, trying to ignore his audience.

“Trip!” said Archer, coming to his side as quickly as he could. “What happened?”

“The Commander was stretching his legs,” said Phlox.

“You didn’t try to get up?” asked Reed, already knowing the answer. “Of all the idiotic…”

“Yes, it was a stupid idea and I ended up on the floor. I’ve got some really nice bruises coming as a reminder not to do it again in a hurry, so just drop it, okay?”

“Whatever you say, Trip,” said Archer, with a smile beginning to form. “Let’s get you back to bed.”

Phlox and Archer lifted Trip back into bed, much to his embarrassment, but it was better than lying on a cold floor.

“So how’d it go?” asked Trip, barely waiting until he was settled.

“We’re off the hook,” said Archer.

“Just like that?” asked Trip.

“Well not quite. The Admiral wasn’t too pleased with us, so I’m afraid any career plans we had for the next few years are pretty much over.”

“I never wanted to be a Captain anyway,” said Trip.

“Yes, well, you still might make Captain,” said Reed. “But only after our friend Admiral Gardner has retired.”

“There are worse places to be than Enterprise,” said Trip. He could feel the first shivers moving through his body as the pangs of withdrawal began again. He pulled the blanket closer around himself.

“Trip?” asked Archer, a little concerned at the shivers running through his friend. He’d been too busy getting ready for his meeting with the Admiral to see Trip before he’d gone down to Earth.

“Just coming off these damn pain meds,” said Trip.

“If I ever get my hands on those doctors,” said Archer.

“It wasn’t their fault,” said Trip. “They weren’t expecting me to actually get better.” The cramps in his stomach were back and he curled in on himself.

“Can’t you give him something to help?” asked Archer.

“Any other drugs would just complicate matters,” said Phlox. “Unfortunately he has to do this on his own.”

Archer grabbed a chair. “I have a pretty clear diary for the next few days.”

“You’ve got to have better things to do than sit here and watch me feeling sorry for myself,” said Trip.

“Not at the moment,” replied Archer.

“I’ll be back later to relieve you, Captain,” said Reed.

Archer looked back at Reed, not quite understanding what he was saying for a second. Then he realised that he was going to need to sleep at some point, although he’d probably stay in sickbay, someone should be with Trip. Archer nodded. “Okay, Malcolm.”

****

Two more days of cramping and shivering resulted in Trip being free from the drugs he’d been taking. He was left weak and wrung out, but he felt better for being drug free. The senior staff had taken turns sitting with him while he got through the worst of it, and he’d been grateful for the company. After another couple of days of lying in sickbay he was beginning to feel a little crowded and well enough to protest about his continued incarceration.

“You’ve got to let me go back to my quarters, Doc,” said Trip.

“At the moment you’re not capable of looking after yourself,” replied Phlox.

“Just give me a wheelchair and I’ll be fine,” said Trip.

“When you’re a bit stronger I’ll be happy to discharge you.”

“Doc, if you keep me here any longer I’m going to go crazy.”

“Just a few more days, Commander,” said Phlox.

“Look, I’m not sick anymore. There’s no reason to keep me here.”

“You’re recovering from an extremely serious illness. Please don’t make me repeat myself, Commander.”

“Exactly, I’m recovering. Not dying, not ill, recovering.” Trip threw back the blankets and struggled into a sitting position.

“Commander, this really isn’t wise,” said Phlox.

Trip swung his legs over the side of the bed. The last time he’d done this it hadn’t ended well, but he had to prove a point. He made the final move and planted both bare feet on the floor.

Trip gave a little shiver. “You really should talk to Hess about getting some under floor heating in here, Doc.” He put his best smile on. “Now either you chain me to the bed, or you let me out of here.”

“I can arrange chains if you need them, Doctor,” said Reed, walking into sickbay and catching the end of Trip’s rant.

“Knowing Commander Tucker, he’d find a way to get out of them.” Phlox sounded a little resigned. “I’ll get a wheelchair. I’m assuming that you wouldn’t mind accompanying the Commander back to his quarters, Lieutenant?”

“I think I’ve got some time. Come on Trip, let’s get you out of here so that you can stop bothering the nice doctor.”

Reed took the wheelchair from the doctor and positioned it for Trip to sit in. Trip collapsed heavily into the chair, giving away just how much effort he’d put into standing.

“Every time I walk into sickbay you seem to be doing something inadvisable. You’re sure that you want to do this?”

“You heard the doc, Malcolm. You can take me to my quarters, so stop standing around and let’s go,” said Trip.

“What did your last slave die of?” asked Reed, sarcastically.

“Just itching to get out of sickbay,” said Trip.

“Commander, you are to go straight to bed once you reach your quarters, and I will be by to check on you later,” said Phlox, mild threat in his tone.

“Yeah, yeah, like I’m going to be doing anything but sleeping after the exertion of being wheeled from sickbay to my quarters,” said Trip, resignedly. Even he knew his own limitations, and to be honest he had the strength and endurance of a kitten at the moment.

“Don’t worry, Trip, I’ll tuck you in before I leave,” said Reed, as he pushed Trip out of sickbay and down the hall towards the turbo lift.

“Gee, thanks Malcolm.”

“I’m afraid your quarters are going to need unpacking. The Captain sent for your things from the hospice, but we haven’t had a chance to do anything with them yet.”

“I think I might need a little help with that,” said Trip.

“For the moment you’re going straight to bed,” said Reed. “We can see about unpacking once you’ve had some sleep. Not that you’re going to be lifting a finger anyway.”

“I’ve got the message, Malcolm. No heavy lifting, of say, anything weighting more than a couple of ounces. How long exactly is this mother hen routine going to go on?”

“Until you can walk more than a couple of metres on your own and you don’t break into a sweat every time you try to stand up.”

“And I thought Phlox was bad.” Trip shook his head, but he couldn’t help smiling. There was something reassuring about Reed doing his mother hen act, and right now sleeping in his own quarters sounded nice, even among the unpacked boxes. The point was that the boxes were there waiting for him and they wouldn’t be going anywhere. This time he was here to stay.

****End of Chapter Fifteen****

Epilogue

To say that Trip’s recovery was slow would be like saying that Enterprise was a starship. It didn’t encompass the whole or describe the actuality in a meaningful way. There were, what seemed to Trip, endless physiotherapy sessions. Phlox had made him start slowly with stretching and weights. Muscle mass wasn’t rebuilt in a day, and too much exercise was as bad as none at all. There was a strict plan to be followed and he’d already found out what happened when he tried to push himself too far. In short, it involved lots of pain, and then lectures from Phlox, the Captain, T’Pol, Malcolm, Hoshi, the list went on. And now everyone was watching him like a hawk to make sure that he didn’t do a minute more exercise than Phlox had prescribed. No one was prepared to let Trip over do things and set back his recovery.

Trip was not a patient man, nor was he someone who was used to sitting still, but he couldn’t deny that although it was slow, progress was being made. Trip’s previously claw-like hands began to unfold and he found that he could use them for more delicate work. Hoshi had a set of wooden puzzles and she gave them to Trip so that he could exercise his fingers. Malcolm turned up on his doorstep with the latest shoot-em-up computer game and they spent a fun evening blasting monsters to oblivion. Trip never would have believed that Malcolm was a closet computer game addict, or that he would take such delight in pointing out that it was medically sanctioned therapy and therefore they could do it as much as they liked. The Captain decided that his Chief Engineer needed more practical stimulation and brought him broken electrical relays, communicators and other mechanical puzzles. Trip fixed them all, each more easily that the previous one.

Walking took more effort. Yes, he could stand on his own after a couple of weeks, but more than a few steps were beyond him. At first, he needed support on both sides because his arms weren’t strong enough to support his body on the parallel bars that the engineering team had installed in the gym. Archer usually turned up to help Phlox with these sessions and when he couldn’t make it, either Lieutenant Reed or Ensign Mayweather would fill in. Later his arms were strong enough that he was able to walk holding onto the bars, but it was still tough and frustrating. Each time he progressed a little further and every step extra that he took buoyed him up so that he could take another one, until his legs turned to jelly once more and he had to give in.

Trip looked to each milestone, he had started with walking two metres with help and then getting to use the parallel bars. The ultimate goal was to walk unaided, but that was a few weeks away yet. His stamina improved with the exercises and he was able to stop comparing himself to small fluffy animals in the strength department. He tired more easily than usual but Phlox predicted that would continue for some time to come. His appetite however had rapidly returned to normal and Phlox was happy to see his patient eating properly.

His memory was still a worry. There were gaps, whole missions that he just didn’t remember, and Phlox seemed to think that it was possible he’d never get those memories back, the areas of the brain had just been too badly damaged. He had worried that he’d forgotten other things as well, like how to restart the warp engine or install a plasma coil, but the important stuff seemed to be back in place where it belonged. Life was slowly returning to normality, but it was taking its time.

“Earth to Trip,” said Reed.

Stars moved slowly past the window of the mess hall. Enterprise had left dock a couple of weeks earlier and was now on its way to start trade talks with a new alien species. Business as usual as far as Enterprise’s crew was concerned.

Trip pulled his eyes away from the star field outside. He had nearly forgotten how beautiful deep space could be during his time away. His breakfast was half eaten and now mashed to pieces. He put his fork down. “Sorry, I was miles away.”

Reed gave him a funny look. Trip knew what he was thinking. The last time Trip had been “miles away”, he’d actually been having an absence seizure. It had been the final thing that meant Trip had to give up his post and leave Enterprise.

“I’m fine, Malcolm. I’m not having a relapse and it’s not a seizure, I was just thinking about the past few weeks.”

“You’ve made a lot of progress,” replied the Armoury officer. Trip’s cane resting against the table was testament to that. Although Trip still couldn’t walk far unaided, he no longer needed a wheelchair to get around.

Reed had witnessed the effort that Trip put into his daily exercise regime. He had seen the determination in his friend’s face as he struggled to put one foot in front of the other. He had watched Trip fall and refuse help to get up again, and finally he had seen him celebrate being able to walk on his own. There had been a lot of aching muscles and bruises along the way, but Trip didn’t give up easily.

“Three months of physio, just to be able to get up and walk around. I never would have believed I could do it. At least it’s made me realise just how much I love Enterprise. I couldn’t have stuck it out without the incentive of getting my job back and everyone’s support.”

“You would have done it no matter what. You’re too damn stubborn to do anything else.”

Trip gave a shrug. “At least I got time to catch up on all my paperwork.”

“And write two more papers on warp theory so that the scientists can argue over them some more. I gather that you’ve managed to cause quite a dispute in the field.”

“I can’t help it if the practise doesn’t match the theory. No one’s ever gone this fast before so there’s bound to be a few surprises for us. For some reason they don’t seem to want to believe me that those surprised are there, but now that I’ve given them the data they can’t exactly dispute it. Should make for an interesting debate at next month’s International Warp Theory Conference. Shame I can’t be there, but who knows where we’ll be by then.”

“Have you caught up on all the mission reports from your time away?”

“Yeah, and don’t they make some interesting reading. I knew the Captain wasn’t telling me something that last time he came to visit, but I had no idea that Enterprise took such a beating. At least Hess has been taking good care of my engine.”

“So are you ready?” asked Reed.

Trip pushed his breakfast away. “I guess so. Let’s go.”

Reed picked up the debris from both meals and stowed the trays, as Trip got carefully to his feet, balancing himself with his cane.

The two men proceeded out of the mess hall, down the hallway and onto the turbo lift. They walked slowly to accommodate Trip’s pace with his cane, and were greeted by various crewmembers as they walked. Finally they stood outside their destination.

Trip took a deep breath and opened the door, one of the few on Enterprise that actually had a handle. He stepped over the lip of the hatchway and saw the bustle of Engineering inside, a bustle that abruptly stopped as he entered. Suddenly there was applause and cheering and Lieutenant Commander Hess was approaching him, arms open to hug her CO. The Captain and T’Pol were waiting as well, hidden behind the far side of the warp engine.

Even though it was his first day back on duty, Trip had never expected this. They were treating him like he was some sort of hero, but all he’d done was persevere. All he’d done was refuse to give up. His friends had been the ones to find the cure, his friends had been the ones to give him the strength that he needed. He had never been so proud to be a part of Enterprise’s crew in his whole life.

Hess released him from the hug and Archer took the opportunity to shake his hand.

“Welcome back, Trip,” said Archer. “Welcome back.”

****

End

****

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