To Walk a Mile…
Author's Note: Many, many thanks to Rigil Kent for betaing this story, and to AntiDrone for his wonderful NX-01 blueprints.
Author's Note 2: Don't know how long it will take for the next part to be up, work is going to be crazy for the next few weeks until the regional meeting (which is being held at our store) is over, and because of some of the idiotic policies they've put in place at my other job, people have been quitting left and right, so they've been saddling me with more work there as well. I will finish it, though, I promise…
Images surrounded the soul as it drifted in the darkness… people and places that looked and sounded familiar but which it couldn’t put a name to. It wasn't even certain of its own name at the moment. The sound of someone talking penetrated its silent musing, though the words made little sense to it, before the soul drifted off into oblivion again.
A few hours later, the soul again found itself aware of noises around it, and the images--memories--began to resolve themselves. The voice from before was speaking quietly a short distance away, the words still incomprehensible, but the sound was a soothing balm. Slowly the soul moved back towards the realm of consciousness, and the words began to resolve themselves in his ears. And suddenly he recalled his own name--Trip, I'm called Trip--and knew it was the captain speaking to someone… probably Phlox, if he had to hazard a guess, based on the familiar sounds of the menagerie off to his right.
He shifted slightly on the biobed, still feeling out of sorts, trying to piece together what exactly had happened to land him in Sickbay this time. Concentrating, he focused his attention on what the captain was saying, hoping for a clue. "So you're telling me, Phlox, that there is nothing wrong with either of them?" he heard the captain ask in a puzzled voice.
"That's correct, Captain. I have run a number of scans on both of them and can find nothing physically wrong with either of them to account for why they were found unconscious in that room. Have Lieutenant Reed and Ensign Sato had any luck in deciphering what precisely the device was for?"
"No luck yet. Hoshi says that the language on what appears to be the control panel is unlike anything else in the room."
Trip frowned mentally to himself. The device. He had been examining it, while T'Pol took scans… there was an energy surge… a weird sort of sensation, almost like he was being torn apart, and then… darkness and waking up in sickbay. Perhaps the machine had overloaded from the surge and knocked the two of them out? That didn't sound right, though. He couldn't help but think that he was missing something. The smell coming from Phlox's little friends wasn't exactly helping his concentration any. He'd never realized just how much those creatures stank before. He wrinkled his nose up in distaste as another unpleasant odor came nearer to him.
"Doc? I think she's starting to come around."
Soft footsteps stopped next to the bed and he pictured Phlox standing there, examining the readings on the monitor above the beds. Slowly he cracked open his eyes, and winced as the bright lights beat into them, but squinted through the pain until he could open them fully. Yep, sickbay. Maybe I ought to just move in here… he thought idly to himself as he saw Jon begin to smile at seeing him conscious.
"Good to have you awake, Commander. We were starting to get worried." Phlox cheerfully told him. "And you'll be glad to know, Captain, that it appears that our other patient will shortly be awake as well, if these readings are correct."
Jon's smile broadened at the news, and he briefly clapped his hand on Trip's shoulder. "Glad to have you awake. Do you remember anything about what happened?"
Trip opened his mouth to reply, but was distracted by a deep groan to his left. Turning his head slightly, he was brought up short when he saw the face of the other patient. What the hell am I doin' over there when I'm here? And where exactly am I if that's me… A sinking feeling was developing in his stomach as he glanced down towards his body, while simultaneously trying to sit up for a better view. Oh God… why do these things always happen to me? he thought as his eyes rolled up back into his head the moment that he realized that he was in T'Pol's body.
Mercifully, unconsciousness claimed him.
"I thought you said they were okay?" Archer demanded as he looked towards Phlox, as T'Pol fainted dead away before his eyes. "T'Pol? T'Pol, wake up," he shook her, hoping it would have some effect.
A weak voice responded from the next bed, "Yes, Captain?" He looked towards the other biobed and saw twin blue eyes squinting up at him.
"Trip, thank God. T'Pol's passed out again. What in the hell happened to the two of you?"
There was a prolonged pause, and a confused look crossed Trip's face before he responded, his eyebrow rising in an oh-so-familiar way. "Captain, why are you calling me 'Trip'? Are you feeling quite well?" A frown started to form as T'Pol realized that her voice sounded peculiar, but could not quite figure out what was wrong with it due to a splitting headache.
"Why wouldn't I call you Trip? We've been best friends for over 10 years." Archer asked, perplexed, and wondering just when his chief engineer managed to learn that eyebrow trick of T'Pol's.
"I believe the captain is in need of medical attention, Doctor. He seems to be unable to distinguish Mister Tucker from myself." she informed Phlox, who was busy running yet another series of scans on the so far unresisting engineer. Detecting the headache, he picked up a hypospray and gave her a painkiller.
"Now, now, Commander, you've had a nasty experience, I'm sure you're feeling just a bit confused right now," the doctor told her, as he tried to prevent her from sitting up. "Just give the painkiller a chance to work," he added as he continued his scans.
Archer stared at the engineer. "I don't need my head examined, Trip, or my eyes. I don't know what kind of joke you and T'Pol are trying to play, but it's not funny."
The puzzled look passed over Trip's face again at that statement. "I am not 'playing a joke,' Captain. I am Commander T'Pol." She glimpsed an all-too-familiar body just past the Captain, froze momentarily in shock, and then glanced down at herself. As she suspected, it was Commander Tucker's body. No wonder the captain insists on calling me 'Trip,' she thought to herself.
"Sure, Trip. Cut the comedy, and just tell me what happened down on the planet."
"I am not joking, Captain. I am Commander T'Pol." She ignored Phlox's advice to lie still and had instead pushed herself up so that she was sitting on the biobed.
Phlox interrupted the discussion at this point, having completed his scans of both his patients, and was reviewing the information on the monitor with an increasingly intrigued expression on his face. "Captain, I believe that the commander is telling the truth."
Both the captain and the commander turned towards the doctor. Archer, for an explanation, as did T'Pol who, in spite of her current predicament, still found this situation rather illogical. Had it been someone else trying to convince her that they'd switched places with someone else, she likely would have said it was impossible.
"I am not certain how this has happened," Phlox continued, "but these neural patterns do more closely resemble those of Commander T'Pol rather than Commander Tucker. And this one," he pointed the readings now on the monitor above the unconscious first officer's body, "is definitely more human than Vulcan." He met the eyes of both the captain and then the ersatz engineer in turn. "It would appear that somehow they have exchanged bodies."
The captain shook his head. "Not you too, Phlox. April Fool's Day isn't for another two weeks."
"I assure you, Captain, that I am as baffled by how this is possible as you are. But my scans do not lie. This," he waved his hand at Trip's body, "is Commander T'Pol."
A soft groan alerted all of them to the reawakening first officer, who spied Archer standing by his bed. "Cap'n, I just had the weirdest dream… I woke up in Sickbay and thought I was in T'Pol's body…" he trailed off as he heard a familiar voice to his left.
"Unfortunately, Mister Tucker," he looked over and started again at the sight of himself sitting on the next biobed, "it was not a dream. You are in my body, just as I am in yours."
"T'…T'Pol?" The captain watched as a mixture of expressions crossed his normally stoic science officer's face as she--he--apparently processed the information. "Is that really you?" At her nod, "How the hell did this happen? And how do we fix it?"
T'Pol calmly answered, "The last thing I recall is an energy surge shortly after you started examining the device's connections."
"Yeah, I remember that too. Sorta. But how'd we end up like this?" Trip had managed to sit up and now had her, no his--aw hell, I'm gettin' confused--T'Pol's legs dangling over the edge of the bed, hoping one of the others could answer him.
Archer looked from one to the other, still not entirely certain that this wasn't some elaborate joke being played on him. "This really isn't some prank? You really have switched places?"
"I swear to God, Cap'n. This isn't exactly somethin' I'd think of if I was goin' to play a joke. Not t' mention that I doubt I could convince T'Pol to go along with it anyway…" Trip answered.
"I would not be a party to such a deception." T'Pol agreed.
Archer shook his head and turned to Phlox. "But they're both okay? In spite of…" he waved his hands towards them, "this?"
Phlox paused for a moment, rechecking his readings, "As far as I am able to determine from this readings, they are both perfectly fine. Just in the wrong bodies."
"So they can resume their duties?"
"Ah… Cap'n… I don't know that would be such a good idea…" Trip interrupted, blushing. "I mean, it'd be kind of confusin' for everyone…"
Archer considered what Trip said, "I could just explain to the crew what happened. I'm sure that everyone would understand." Trip and T'Pol darted unhappy glances at each other, neither thrilled with the prospect of the entire crew knowing what had happened to them.
"We have another problem, Captain." T'Pol spoke up. "Neither of the two races who claim this planet are expecting a human to do the mediating. They specifically wanted a Vulcan."
"Well, Trip can handle that. And you can help him out whenever he's in a jam." Archer pointed out.
T'Pol paused, framing her words carefully. "I believe, Captain, that you are not taking this seriously enough. Neither of these races knows anything about humans, but they are willing to let the Vulcans aid in the resolution of their conflict over the planet below. One wrong move could be disastrous. They specifically requested only Vulcans to act as mediators, therefore I could not be in the same room as Commander Tucker and their ambassadors, and should he continually make calls or leave the room to discuss the matter with me, then it would be seen as a sign of weakness on our part."
"Can't we explain to them that you're sick and it'll take a few days until another Vulcan ship can get here?" Archer asked.
"I believe that would be an acceptable compromise, Captain. However, should High Command send a ship here with a mediator in my place, you may be called upon to deceive them as well in regards to my… condition if we do not find a solution before they arrive. If they were to examine Commander Tucker in my body, and he were to… behave as he normally does… they may believe that I am suffering from a mental illness of some sort and am in serious need of psychiatric help, which they would insist could only be provided by a Vulcan healer, and likely would attempt to remove me, or should I say, Commander Tucker, from this vessel." Archer started to interrupt. "Before you say it, Captain, they will not believe that we have switched places. I am… forced… to accept that it is possible since I am directly affected by this situation. However, if it had been someone else in my place, I also would find it difficult to believe such a wild tale."
"Hey!" Trip protested, having worked out that he'd been insulted. "There's nothing wrong with how I act!"
T'Pol raised an eyebrow at Trip again. "Would you characterize your normal behavior patterns as normal for a Vulcan, let alone a Vulcan female, Commander?"
"She's got you there, Trip." Archer cut in before the two of them could go at each other. "I think it's safe to say that we'll definitely need a believable explanation for both the ambassadors and the Vulcans, then. How about it, Doctor? Think you can come up with something to satisfy them all until we get this mess straightened out?"
Phlox considered for a moment, before giving them a small grin. "It will take some research, but I believe that I can come up with something suitable should the need arise, Captain."
"Great, that's settled." Archer smiled. "Now, I want you two to get busy working on a way to get yourselves back to normal."
"Captain," Phlox broke in, "for now, I think it would be best if both of them were to remain on the ship. I'd like to have both of them come in for some more tests in the morning, to make certain that there isn't any adverse effects to this… condition."
Trip glared at the doctor. "I'd call this an adverse effect," he muttered to himself.
"Did you say something, Trip?" Archer asked.
"And it would be more convincing if Commander T'Pol, er, that is, Tucker, er, well, you know who I mean, is not seen on the planet, should it be necessary to convince the aliens that T'Pol is sick."
Trip folded his arms across his chest. Or tried to, at any rate. He couldn't find a comfortable position after several attempts, and decided to grip the edge of the biobed instead. "Doctor, I don't know how badly that device was damaged, but I'm guessing that it is. At the very least, they're going to need me down there to get some idea of how it works. I can't do that from up here."
"Relax, Commander. It's only for a day or two. I'm sure you'll be fine. And Commander T'Pol is quite capable of determining what happened and providing you with information for you to process while we make a convincing case for whatever disease I come up with that has you too sick to act as a mediator for the next few days." Phlox replied.
"Trip, you've got some highly capable people in your department. Surely someone else can help T'Pol here figure out the machine…" Archer offered.
T'Pol spoke up, "I do not think that would be wise, Captain. Neither the commander nor I care to have everyone knowing what happened to us, and I doubt that I could successfully mimic the Commander's mannerisms for a prolonged period of time in front of one of the members of his engineering team. And while I am fully capable of identifying and repairing damaged sections to our systems, should one of his more creative solutions be necessary to get the device operating again…"
Archer looked between them. "It would be a lot easier if we just explained to the crew what happened." Both officers gave him a sick look.
"Cap'n," Trip answered, "you're not the one who's going to be the butt of the jokes. And this is difficult enough to deal with, without havin' my crew sniggerin' behind my back and if the rumor mill had us practically engaged just 'cause T'Pol was helpin' me sleep when we were in the Expanse, what do you think it'll do with news like this?"
Seeing the almost pleading look in both officers' eyes, Archer backed down. "Okay, okay, you win, Trip, T'Pol. I won't tell the crew, at least not for now. But the senior officers will need to know. Have your seconds run your departments for the next few days until we get this sorted out. I'll have Hoshi and Malcolm keep up the research on the device, and Tr--T'Pol, I mean, can go down to the planet and help them out. But you're going to be stuck up here, at least until we convince the Ge'kkr and M'lesk ambassadors that you're sick and can't possibly mediate, Trip."
Sighing, Trip nodded. "Thanks, Cap'n."
Nodding, Archer clapped a hand on the shoulder of his friend. "We'll get it straightened out, Trip. Don't worry," as he left.
Trip blinked as a swarm of sensations seemed to pass into him from where the Captain's hand brushed lightly against the bare skin of his--T'Pol's, he corrected himself mentally--neck. Whoa. No wonder Vulcans don't like to be touched if that's what happens every time. He frowned to himself. I must've drove T'Pol crazy when she was doin' neuropressure on me…
"Don't forget, I want both of you to get some rest tonight, and be sure and call me if you notice any unusual side effects. And I expect to see both of you in the morning." Phlox reminded them once more as the two of them stood to leave sickbay.
"Of course, Doctor." T'Pol agreed as Trip answered at the same time, "Sure, Doc."
The two glanced at each other and in unspoken agreement, left sickbay together, heading towards T'Pol's quarters in silence.
T'Pol reached out and tapped in the entry code for her quarters as Trip stepped aside to allow her to enter first. She sank down onto the small couch, while Trip paced the room. "What are we gonna do, T'Pol? I mean, what if someone sees us like this?"
"We could always allow the captain to tell the crew what has occurred."
"No, no, no! It was bad enough when everyone was talking about me behind my back when I was pregnant!" Trip stated, ignoring the fact that it was his own paranoia, and not any knowledge by the crew about his condition, that had caused him to think that in the first place. "Or when they were talkin' about us in the Expanse. This would be worse. Much, much worse. Malcolm will never let me live this down…"
"Commander, please, sit down. Becoming agitated will do neither of us any good." Trip opened his mouth to reply, but then shut it and sat sullenly down. "It has happened, we must simply proceed with our normal routines, as best we can."
"How, T'Pol? It's goin' to look a little suspicious if you're always sitting at the science station while I'm down in Engineering, looking like this." He fidgeted nervously on the chair, trying to figure out where to place his hands so that they would not be somewhere they weren't supposed to be.
"Relax, Commander. I think that I should teach you the basics in regards to meditation."
Trip blinked. "Meditation? What would I need that for?"
"You are currently in my body. A body, which I might add, that is considerably stronger than your original one and you could inadvertently do something that you--and I, should we manage to fix this situation--would later have cause to regret if you do not keep your emotions under control."
"Oh." Trip said. He hadn't thought of that. "Well, yeah, I can sort of see your point."
"Also my body is not used to allowing its emotions have free reign. It may cause problems later if you continually express them."
Trip sighed. "Okay, okay, you win. I'll learn meditation, or try to, at any rate. Can't promise that I'll be able to sit still for it too long, though."
"Also, I would point out that my body cannot process animal fats, and therefore, you should not attempt to eat one of your normal meals while in it. Not unless you want to end up in sickbay, that is."
He grimaced. "So what, I gotta eat plomeek soup and salad and the like?"
"That is correct."
"It fulfills my daily nutritional requirement." T'Pol pointed out.
"Maybe so, but it's still bland and boring." T'Pol simply raised an eyebrow at him. "Would you quit doin' that!"
She tilted her head slightly at him in confusion. "Doing what?"
He pointed at her. "That! Raising my eyebrow like that! I don't do that!"
"It would seem that we both have things to assimilate quickly if we are to appear to be the other at least for the next few days, until this situation is resolved."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Trip demanded.
"Merely that if you wish to keep any other crewmembers, besides the senior officers, from realizing that anything has occurred to us, that you will need to act more like me in those situations where you encounter someone who does not know the details of our switch. Just as I will have to endeavor to act more emotional than usual…" T'Pol explained. "And will likewise have to force myself to eat meat to complete the illusion, should it be necessary." She shuddered at that thought. "Then there is the matter of waste elimination."
"Say what?" Trip blinked at the apparent non sequitur.
T'Pol gave him a look. "When it becomes necessary to use the facilities, a practical demonstration may be necessary in order for me to accomplish that task."
Trip blushed a deep olive green. "You want me to show you how to…" He squeezed his eyes shut, and rubbed his fingers across his temples. "Oh God… please kill me now."
"While I am familiar with the basic process and with that portion of your anatomy from our encounters both in the Expanse and later on, after we acknowledged our bond, I have not seen precisely how the mechanics is accomplished. But if you would prefer, I will ask Captain Archer to demonstrate the technique for me…"
Mortified, Trip shook his head and buried it in his hands. Voice muffled, she thought she heard, "I'll do it, I'll do it. Whatever you do, don't ask Jon about that…"
A bemused twinkle glimmered in T'Pol's blue eyes at the engineer's reaction to her suggestion. Schooling her face into a semblance of her normal expression before he could spot it, or at least as close as she could get it in this body, she asked not-so-innocently, "Do you foresee any similar problems, Commander?"
Pulling his head from his hands, Trip gave her a nasty look. "No, I think I can manage, thanks." He paused for a moment, then added as an afterthought, "You know, it's going to seem pretty odd to the rest of the crew if I go back to my quarters to sleep lookin' like this, and you stay here, lookin' like that…"
T'Pol drew her brow together as she considered that. "You have a point. Perhaps, for the time being, we should switch our quarters, if we intend to go through with this deception."
"Yeah," Trip agreed, eyes roaming around her room, "'cause I'm pretty sure that everything I've got to wear in my room is too big for your body, well, not unless you left somethin' behind the last time. And somehow, I doubt that these catsuits of yours will fit that body of mine all too well…" T'Pol inclined her head in agreement. "Though there was something I was wondering about…"
"What is it?"
"Well, it sounds kind of crazy… maybe not crazy, but strange at any rate. When the Cap'n touched me earlier, I could've sworn… well, it almost felt like I had a sense of what he was thinking and feeling right then."
She sighed. She noted to herself that she seemed to be doing that a lot recently and put it down to being in Trip's body. "You're well aware, Trip, that Vulcans are touch telepaths."
"Yeah, but I'm not a Vulcan."
"For the moment you are." T'Pol thought about it. "And if you are going to remain in my body for several days, then perhaps it would be prudent to attempt to teach you the most basic shielding principles."
Trip pondered what she was offering. "So, wait, you're saying that I can read people's minds now?" A small grin formed on his face. T'Pol frowned mentally as she agreed with Trip's earlier assessment--it was most disconcerting to see such an expression on her face, just as seeing her raising his eyebrow had no doubt been for him. "This has possibilities…"
"Trip… you cannot read minds. At most you can get a general impression of thoughts or feelings, unless they are very strong, when someone is in contact with you. So whatever you are contemplating, forget it…" T'Pol told him.
"Spoilsport." He pouted a moment, then another thought struck him. "What about between us? I mean, we are bonded, even if I never seem to notice it too much 'cept the occasional daydream in that white room of yours or the odd sensation every once in awhile… but you never told me just exactly what this bond is like for you or how strong it is."
Reluctantly, T'Pol acknowledged that he was correct. "It is somewhat stronger for me. Likely because I am a touch telepath and therefore am predisposed towards mental contact. But I will endeavor to keep control over my mind so you will not be constantly troubled by impressions from the bond, since it takes time to successfully learn to filter out such things, and you are not used to the strength of our connection."
"You don't have to go to any trouble, T'Pol. I mean, I've dealt with emotions all my life. I doubt having to deal with yours on top of mine can be that much more difficult."
"I do not think that would be wise. You are unused to being in my body, and therefore have no idea what it may be like, trying to deal with two different sets of emotions at once, plus any that you may pick up inadvertently from the crew."
"I still don't think it's that big of a deal, T'Pol. But if you want to do that, then go ahead. Just remember, you're going to have to be a bit more outgoing than you normally are, if you're going to be me. That also means you're goin' to have to not be so logical all the time. Try and be spontaneous."
She gave him a frown as she crossed her arms. "I am perfectly capable of being spontaneous, Trip."
"Kissin' me in the corridor to get me to stay doesn't count, darlin'. You've got to be a lot more open with the other crewmembers. Humans talk about all those little things that Vulcans consider private all the time."
"I am beginning to believe that the captain was correct and we should simply inform the crew what happened to us." The twinkle returned to her eye as she saw his horrified expression. "I believe now is an opportune time for that demonstration, Commander."
"Huh?" He asked. Then blushed again. "Are you sure? Can't you, you know, just hold it?"
Arching his eyebrow, T'Pol responded, "I do not believe that would serve any useful purpose. Since we are both here, and it is a necessary function… but if you have changed your mind again, then I can always ask Captain Archer for help."
"No, no, I'll do it… just don't ever--ever--mention this to anyone…" he told her as they headed for her bathroom. "Because I'm going to deny everything."
Malcolm wearily headed for his quarters after returning from the planet. He hadn't liked staying down there, not after the two commanders had been discovered unconscious in that room of the temple or whatever it was. But someone had to try and discover what happened, so he'd sent them back with one of Trip's engineers and one of his own men, along with Ensign Malusky, the beta-shift helmsman who had flown the shuttle pod to the surface. I knew I should have bloody well assigned a squad of men to watch over Commander Tucker. How he can possibly get into trouble in a deserted building on a world whose natives have been extinct for who knows how long is beyond me. He sighed.
Then, a few hours after the commanders had been safely returned to Enterprise, there had been that exceedingly odd order from the captain not to touch the device in any way, but to find out as much as possible about how it worked. As if either he or Hoshi could do that without touching it. Never mind that they'd been examining it, including touching it, for nearly three hours before that order came down. Hoshi still had no idea what the language on the control panel was, other than it was nothing like the writing on the wall panels between the various faded frescoes that decorated the room.
And when they'd returned to Enterprise for the night, they'd been shooed first to decon and then subject to a thorough examination by Phlox, who wouldn't say why he was concerned. That had only added to the mystery as far as Malcolm was concerned. Especially since neither of the commanders was still in sickbay, so obviously whatever it was, it hadn't been serious enough that Phlox had insisted they stay within his sight. And when he'd asked, Phlox had told him that they'd been sent to their quarters to rest.
Almost to his quarters, Malcolm abruptly decided that perhaps he might pay a call on Commander Tucker. After all, he did have this PADD full of scans that he and Hoshi had collected of the device and the language, and if he knew the engineer, he was sure that Trip was doing anything but resting... Bypassing his own quarters, he turned down the next corridor and headed for the chief engineer's cabin instead.
Hitting the announce chime for Trip's quarters, Malcolm stood there, waiting for the door to open. Finally, after several seconds, the door did open and Trip stood there, wearing an old t-shirt and shorts, eying the security officer hesitantly. "Lieutenant Reed."
"Commander, I thought perhaps you might be interested in the scans we took of that machine after your unfortunate accident earlier today." Malcolm held out the PADD full of data towards Trip, who glanced at it briefly.
"Thank you, Lieutenant, I will review it." Trip replied, taking the PADD, and moved to shut the door.
Malcolm frowned, this wasn't like Trip at all. "Hang on, sir. Is everything okay? I mean, obviously you're not sick or seriously injured, else Phlox wouldn't let you escape his tender mercies, so why didn't the captain let you at least come back to the planet and maybe give us a little help trying to figure out what exactly you did to end up unconscious in the first place?"
"The doctor ordered Commander Tu--T'Pol and myself to rest, Lieutenant. So I was sleeping."
Trip? Actually following the doctor's orders? No sneaking down to Engineering, no reading engineering journals half the night, but actually sleeping? Malcolm couldn't believe his ears. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you then, sir." He paused briefly. "If you don't mind me asking, sir, what exactly did happen to you? Doctor Phlox was asking some rather odd questions of Hoshi and myself when he examined us a little while ago…"
"The captain will be discussing it in the senior staff meeting tomorrow, Lieutenant." T'Pol answered, then attempted to imitate Trip's normal speech pattern to make him more at ease. "Really, Malcolm, I'm fine. I jus' want to get some sleep." She forced herself to give him a weak smile, which to Malcolm's eyes looked like someone had stuck a phase pistol to the Commander's back and told him that he had to act as though there was nothing wrong.
"If you say so, Commander." Malcolm still was giving him the once over, not buying the act at all, though what exactly was wrong he couldn't say for sure. "Good night, sir."
The door slid shut, leaving one puzzled, tired armory officer standing outside. Turning, Malcolm decided to grab a bite to eat first, then take a shower and go to bed. Maybe Trip's odd behavior might make more sense then… he thought to himself.
The mess hall was just down the hall from Trip's quarters, and when Malcolm entered, it was mid-shift, so it was nearly deserted. Finding to his surprise two untouched pieces of pineapple upside down cake in the case, he grabbed one of them and a glass of tomato juice, and headed to his usual table. He was staring out the window, pondering what exactly might be going on with the commander as he slowly ate his cake, when he felt a presence close by. Looking up, Malcolm was surprised to see that Commander T'Pol was making her way towards his table, carrying what appeared to be the other piece of cake and a glass of milk, and then sat down next to Malcolm, as if she always did so. Nor did she seem to care when she brushed his arm by accident when she reached for her milk, other than to blink and give him an odd look for a second. And since when does she drink milk, for that matter? he wondered to himself.
"Good evening, commander," he said politely.
"Evenin', Malcolm," she answered before shoving a forkful of cake into her mouth, much to Lieutenant Reed's surprise. He'd never heard her address him by anything other than Lieutenant or Mister Reed the entire time they'd been on Enterprise. And was that a trace of an accent? He thought about it for a moment, then decided he must have heard wrong. Though she is acting kind of strange…
His own forkful of cake paused in midair as he pondered what was going on with her. "Are you…" he tentatively started, unsure if he should ask, then pressed on as he watched her devour the cake as if she had been eating it all her life. "Are you feeling all right, Commander?"
T'Pol looked up at Malcolm with a mouth stuffed full of cake. Swallowing, she studied him for a moment. "I'm fine, Mal. How about you?" Then Malcolm could swear that he saw the slightest trace of grin cross her face before it smoothed back to its normal appearance.
First Trip, now Commander T'Pol. Something had to have happened to them down there, neither one is acting much like themselves. Still feeling as if he'd was in the one of those old programs that Commander Tucker liked so well, Malcolm answered. "Fine. I feel fine. Are you sure that you don't need the doctor? Because, if you'll forgive me, you're not acting much like yourself, Commander." Perhaps they were possessed by aliens? That wouldn't necessarily have shown up on Phlox's scans, depending on how well they can hide it. Or maybe… maybe they're not Trip and T'Pol at all, maybe they've been replaced by alien disguised as them or clones or something… Malcolm groaned mentally. Now you're starting to sound like one of those old movies of Commander Tucker's, what was it called? Oh yes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers…
T'Pol had watched him impassively, still eating her cake, as the various thoughts sped across his mind. "The doctor said I was fine, all I needed was some rest. 'Cept I hadn't had much to eat all day, so I thought I'd get a snack before I hit the hay." Finishing her cake, and downing the last of the milk, she continued, "And now I'm done, so I'm goin' to turn in. See ya tomorrow, Malcolm."
"Commander." Malcolm watched as the commander stood and sashayed across the deck to put her dirty dishes away before heading for the door, still thoroughly confused. Though she still got a very nice bum, he admitted to himself, even if he'd never tell it to her. Mostly because he was sure Trip would have a thing or two to say about it for all that he denied any attraction to her.
Pausing at the door, T'Pol looked back and gave him a raised eyebrow, as if she was completely aware of his ogling her bum, before leaving. Lieutenant Reed sat there for some time thinking about his encounters with the two commanders tonight. Obviously the captain had an inkling what was going on, and Phlox as well, and neither seemed to think it was an immediate threat to the rest of the crew, but he was the head of security and it was his job to worry about such things. Perhaps I ought to keep a closer eye on both of them, just to be on the safe side, he decided before heading for his quarters himself.
Continued in Chapter 2
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