To Walk a Mile…
Disclaimer, summary, etc. at the beginning of part 1.
Author's note: I'd like to apologize for the length of time for this bit to come out. Real life kind of got in the way of writing, unfortunately. But since work at one of my jobs is slowing down, and my mom is doing well recovering from her surgery, hopefully I'll have more time to devote to writing this story. This part was shorter than I originally intended it to be, but I wanted to post something to show that I hadn't forgotten this story.
Author's note 2: I'd like to thank Rigil Kent for the suggestion for the beginning scene. Hopefully he approves of how it came out…
Day 2, morning
T'Pol, after spending nearly an hour trying to meditate after waking up in hopes that it would help her cope somewhat with the odd situation she now found herself in, performed her morning ablutions. She was at somewhat of a loss when it came to shaving Trip's face. She'd never had to worry about such things before in her own body, and she wished she had thought to ask the commander exactly how he managed to do so without cutting himself the way she had done several times. She stared at the face in the mirror, as she dabbed the latest cut before putting one of the small bandages Trip apparently kept in his bathroom over it. She'd done the best she could, but even she could see that she had evidently missed a few spots, though she thought that no one would notice unless they looked fairly closely… she hoped.
Shaking her head, his head, she corrected herself mentally, she decided that she was as presentable as she could conceivably make "Trip" look, and left his quarters for the mess hall. It was still early enough that most of those who were due to go on shift were not yet filling the room, and she hoped that she might be able to keep interaction with those few who were there to a minimum. To that end, she brought along the PADD of information collected the day before by Lieutenant Reed and Ensign Sato and planned to review it while eating, hoping to further discourage anyone who might venture to sit with the normally gregarious engineer.
Picking up a tray, once she arrived, she hesitated, looking over the breakfast choices being offered. While she had meant it when she told the commander last night that they should attempt to emulate the other's behavior to the best of their abilities, if they wished to keep this from the crew at large, she still felt sick to her stomach looking at the bacon and sausage. A lifetime of vegetarianism wasn't going to be easily put aside, not even for the hopefully short period of time she was stuck in this body.
Making a decision, she reached out and took a couple of oranges, and then paused by her favorite, plomeek soup. Deciding that she could safely say that "T'Pol" had convinced "Trip" to try it, should anyone ask, she likewise took a bowlful of it, then got a cup of tea from the dispenser. Trip had been trying to drink less coffee of late, so no one would think that, at least, was odd. Once she had her meal, she surveyed the room and then chose a table in the far corner, away from the handful who were in the mess, and sat down to her meal.
Absorbed in reviewing the data on the PADD, she was startled when a tray slid onto her table. Looking up, expecting it to be Trip, since he was the only one who regularly dined with her, she saw that it wasn't the commander, but instead Lieutenant Reed who was just taking the seat next to her. Outwardly she presented a calm face, even tried to smile a bit so he hopefully would not suspect anything.
"Good morning, Commander," Malcolm greeted her. "Did you sleep well?"
"Fine, thank you." She answered. T'Pol swallowed more of the plomeek soup, frantically hoping that she could pull off this deception on the man who had been Trip's co-conspirator in some of his wilder adventures since Enterprise left Earth several years before.
Malcolm, meanwhile, was eying her breakfast. He bent down and sniffed her bowl, much to T'Pol's surprise, and then glanced up at her with a half smirk on his face. "Plomeek soup, sir?" He leaned in towards her, lowering his voice. "Has T'Pol been at you again about watching what you eat? I can't imagine that you'd voluntarily eat this stuff otherwise. It's pretty bland from what I hear."
T'Pol blinked. Did Commander Tucker routinely discuss their relationship with the lieutenant? He seemed to know that they were together… Cautiously she answered, "Yes, T'Pol suggested I try it. After all," she hesitated a fraction of a second, "Malcolm, she pointed out that I cannot say I do not like it if I have not even tried it." There, that sounded plausible. "So I agreed at least to try it once. And actually, I do like the taste of it."
Malcolm, though, merely nodded and gave her a knowing look. "Uh huh. And you said that you weren't interested in her. Yet you're letting her pick your meals for you. Sounds like you're whipped."
"Whipped?" T'Pol asked, uncertain of the context.
"Oh yes, totally whipped. In other words, my dear commander, you'll do whatever she tells you to do." Malcolm continued, grinning as he teased his friend.
"Commander T'Pol is my superior officer," she answered, "so naturally I would follow her orders."
Malcolm laughed. "Of course you'd follow her orders, sir. But this is your breakfast. I hardly think that she gives you orders about that. Or is there something you neglected to mention to me?"
T'Pol flushed, realizing her mistake. "My relationship with Commander T'Pol is purely professional, Lieutenant."
"Hmmmph. If you say so, sir." Malcolm took a few bites of his own breakfast, and T'Pol was hoping that maybe he would leave her be long enough for her to finish her own and escape. But the lieutenant continued on after taking a sip of his own cup of tea. "Speaking of Commander T'Pol, have you seen her since you left sickbay yesterday?"
T'Pol nodded , "I walked her to her quarters last night."
"Did she seem… I don't know, a bit off to you?" Taking in the look she was giving him, Malcolm hurriedly explained, "I saw her briefly last night when I was in here, in fact. She just sat down at my table and started eating as if she always did so. And I could swear that she actually grinned at me for a second."
"It does not seem likely." T'Pol answered. "Perhaps you were imagining things."
"No, I swear, I was wide awake. And when she left, she practically sashayed out of the room. I don't care what you say, Trip," Malcolm added, not noticing the darkening look on his friend's face, "I still say that she has an awfully nice bum." He took another bite of his eggs, swallowed and then finished. "And when she turned around and looked back at me just before she headed out the door, I could almost swear that she knew I was admiring her bum." He shook his head, glancing up at Trip to see what his friend might think of the odd behavior of their first officer, and decided to lay his cards on the table. "I think maybe something happened to her down on the planet that the doctor's scans didn't catch."
T'Pol, meanwhile, was fighting off the urge to go strangle her bondmate and wondering what she was going to do about him since he had apparently decided, against her advice, to have some fun while in his new body at the lieutenant's expense. Mister Tucker and I will most definitely be having words about this later, she told herself. "Perhaps she was simply out of sorts after the accident. I'm sure that everything is fine."
"Yeah, what did happen to you two down there? I tried to ask the captain yesterday, but he refused to say anything other than Hoshi and I weren't to touch that control panel in any way and to get as much information as possible about what it might have been used for. It's almost as if he was afraid of that machine…"
"I'm not certain, Malcolm," she forced out his first name, knowing Trip's tendency for treating everyone like they were best friends. "My memory of the event is rather hazy. However, I think that all will be made clear at the staff meeting later this morning, after Phlox has checked us over again." Realizing that that was the perfect excuse to leave before making the lieutenant even more suspicious, should her own behavior seem odd to him, "If you will excuse me, I had best go to sickbay and let him check me over."
"You're willingly going to sickbay?" Malcolm gave Trip a mock shocked look as he teased his friend again. "I must mark this down in my calendar…"
T'Pol gave him another brief smile and then quickly turned to leave the security officer behind, and smacked her head on the low beam a short distance from the table. She'd forgotten that she wasn't her usual height.
"Commander! Are you okay?" Malcolm had jumped up and grabbed her arm, turning her around to look into her eyes. He touched her forehead, examining the cut and the bump on it, even as his other hand reached out for his napkin to apply pressure to the wound.
T'Pol noted, in an abstract way through the pain, that she didn't sense anything from the lieutenant when he touched her, and her initial recoil from his touch subsided a bit. Closing her eyes, she nodded and then realized that she shouldn't have done that. "Perhaps it is fortuitous that I was going to sickbay in any case."
"Do you want me to accompany you?" Malcolm asked, concerned.
"I believe, even though my head hurts, that I still remember the way to sickbay, lieutenant." Then remembering her manners, she added in her best Trip imitation, "But thank you. I'm fine. Honest, Malcolm. This is just a scratch." And she quickly left before Malcolm could say anything else.
The doors to Sickbay slid open as Trip stepped through, still trying to adjust the catsuit into a bit more comfortable position on him. How on earth does she wear these things all the time? He wondered silently to himself. It'd taken him nearly 10 minutes of struggling with the skin tight outfit just to get it on. And these boots! Seriously, who designed these things? His feet were killing him just from where his toes were all smashed together in the pointed toe of the boots, and he'd only had them on for half an hour, and he didn't even want to think about how he'd twisted his ankle trying to walk in the 7cm tall heels. He'd felt as though he was about to fall face first, the heels were so high… He finally stopped messing with his clothes and looked up to see himself sitting on one of the biobeds with Phlox just finishing bandaging his head.
Blinking at the sight, he asked T'Pol, "What happened?"
"I neglected to take into account my additional height when I was leaving the mess hall this morning," she admitted, embarrassed. "I was in a hurry to leave and did not look, and…"
"Forgot to duck." Trip finished, examining the bandage on his face. "Doc, how bad is it?"
"Not to worry, Mr. Tucker, it's just a bump. There's no sign of a concussion."
Trip nodded, relieved. "Just to try to remember next time, T'Pol. I don't need even more of a reputation for ending up in sickbay just because you're running into beams by accident."
T'Pol gave Trip a muted version of her death glare. "I wouldn't have come to sickbay for this in the first place, had the doctor not wanted us here for his additional scans. I am perfectly capable of tolerating mild pain and taking care of my own minor injuries."
"I don't get injured that much."
"Your medical records would dispute such a statement, Commander." She pointed out. "You spend far more time in sickbay than any other member of the crew."
Phlox chortled briefly. "Yes, indeed, sometimes I wonder if I should simply dedicate my life to curing your many little injuries and ills, Commander. You always do seem to end up here." At the aggrieved look on Trip's face, he continued in a more serious vein. "If you would lie down on the bed, Commander, then I'll get your scan out of the way, and then we can take care of yours, Commander Tucker." T'Pol lay back on the scanner table. Pressing a few buttons, the table retracted into the tube and the machine began its scans.
"Why do we even need these scans, Doc, I mean, you said we were fine yesterday." Trip asked.
"I just want to make certain that is still the case, Mister Tucker." Phlox pointed out as he examined the readings he was getting from T'Pol. He frowned slightly as he spied a few areas of interest but said nothing more. After a few minutes, the table slid back out of the wall, and T'Pol got down from it. "Your turn, Mister Tucker." Trip reluctantly pulled himself up onto it and laid back. Phlox repeated the process and frowned some more as he noted several discrepancies in Trip's readings as well.
"Well, what's the verdict, Doc?" Trip asked after being released from the imaging chamber. "Are we going to live?" Phlox didn't answer straight away, which caused the other two to glance at each other worriedly. "You know, Phlox, that's a joke, to lighten the mood and all that? You're not helping…" Trip added.
Phlox finally looked up from his scans. "I'm sure it's nothing to worry about, Commander." He replied, giving him a small smile. "Certainly it won't kill you."
The two commanders exchanged another look, then T'Pol ventured, "What won't kill us, Doctor?"
"I'm just detecting a few more discrepancies in your scans than I picked up yesterday. But really, I'll need more time to look them over to determine their exact effects. And I'd like both of you to report back here again tonight so I can run another set of scans on you."
"Aw, Phlox, isn't twice enough? I mean, we only switched bodies, Lord knows how, why do we have to keep doing these scans?" Trip griped.
"As I said, Commander, I've detected a few more changes than I did in yesterday's scans, and I'd like to make sure that it doesn't turn into a more serious problem. So both of you will be here at 2000 hours tonight, and I'll run the scans again." He straightened up. "And I believe that we all have a staff meeting to report to shortly, so if you would, Commanders," he made shooing motions towards the door, "I'd like to gather my notes for my report to the captain."
T'Pol, realizing that Trip was about to protest the additional tests again, answered quickly. "Certainly, Doctor. We'll see you shortly," and gave the commander a pointed look. Trip trailed along after her as she left sickbay, a decidedly unhappy look plastered on his face.
Phlox watched both of them leaving before turning back to his scans and a worried frown appeared on his face once more.
Hoshi sat at the table, quietly observing the behavior of the others around her. She'd already noticed that Malcolm seemed to be preoccupied, and suspected it had to do with their currently missing crew members and the captain from the looks he'd kept shooting at the door and the other man, pacing at the opposite end of the room. She knew that he and Trip were close friends, and wondered if the lieutenant was just concerned about him after the shock yesterday of finding the two of them unconscious with no visible injuries to cause it, and was waiting to see for himself that Trip was okay, in spite of Phlox's obvious belief that no harm was done.
Turning her head, she watched Travis for a few moments across the table from her. He was looking over a PADD in front of him, and glancing at the data on its screen, she'd say that he was busy working on a proposal for an update to the navigational sensor array. He looked up briefly, and meeting her eyes, he gave her a boyish smile, apparently unaware or else ignoring the tension radiating from the remaining member of the crew in the room.
Shifting her attention to the captain, she watched as he paced the short distance by the view port, glancing at the door every time he completed once full circuit. Captain Archer was clearly concerned about something, though what it might be, other than possibly also concern over their two commanders' condition after the incident yesterday, she wasn't sure. Unless he was nervous about the upcoming negotiations that T'Pol was handling. Perhaps he was afraid that she couldn't perform her duties as expected, and that he might be called upon to take her place…
Before she could continue her musings, the door slid open , and revealed the two commanders. Oddly enough, it was T'Pol who paused at first as if about to let Trip enter, instead of the other way around. Hoshi spotted a very slight shake of the engineer's head, before T'Pol, with what looked like a grimace on her face, stepped through. She took Trip's usual seat without a second thought. For his part, the commander only paused a fraction of a second behind where T'Pol now sat before taking her usual seat. Hoshi could almost swear that a look of exasperation had crossed the commander's face, though, just for a second as he paused. That's weird. Why would Trip be upset that she took his chair. It's not like it's the end of the world or something. She eyed them thoughtfully for a moment. I wonder if maybe they had another disagreement… Nah, they didn't act as if they were mad, just… uncomfortable… around each other, she decided a few moments later.
Out of the corner of her eye, Hoshi was aware of Malcolm also scrutinizing the two commanders' actions as if they'd committed a crime or something. Wondering why he'd be watching them so closely, she returned her attention to the captain, fully expecting him to start the meeting now that all of them were present. The meeting was supposed to be about the upcoming negotiations that T'Pol was supposed to mediate, the first time since the Coalition had been formed that the Vulcans had requested something from Starfleet, and neither SFC nor the Earth government was in the mood to deny them.
The captain and crew hadn't had any objections to the detour, either, especially once they learned that the two races who were arguing over the planet beneath them had no interest in its former inhabitants nor any objections to the crew taking a look around the old ruins. It had felt good, Hoshi thought, to just be explorers again, rather than worrying about someone shooting at them.
The captain, however, made no move to start the meeting, and other than a quick nod to acknowledge their presence, he turned away and faced the stars out the window as if afraid to say the wrong thing to them. Very peculiar indeed. Whatever it was that was going on, it was clear that the captain knew.
The door opened once more, and this time their chief medical officer walked in, carrying a small stack of PADDs over to the table, "Terribly sorry, captain, about being late. It took a bit longer than I expected to collect my notes…"
"That's alright, Phlox," the captain replied. "Since we're all here, perhaps you had best start with your… findings on the incident from yesterday."
Hoshi looked on with interest. She hadn't been able to figure out what exactly that device had done to the commanders, and then the captain had ordered her and Malcolm to not touch anything. Maybe whatever the doctor found out would explain why.
Phlox, who had been sorting through his pile of data pads, looked up at that. "Oh… yes." He picked up one of the PADDs, and then continued, "Well, while the commanders suffered no long term physical harm so far as I've been able to determine, apparently the device was able to somehow switch their personalities, or their minds, if you prefer, into the other's body." He brought up a couple of images of the scans he'd taken yesterday. "Now as you can see here…"
Hoshi sat back in her chair, stunned, staring at the two officers sitting just down the table from her. Equally shocked expressions were visible on the faces of both Malcolm and Travis, though Malcolm also seemed to be blushing, if she wasn't mistaken. Wonder what that's all about. But she pushed Malcolm's odd reaction aside and focused her attention on the captain and the other two. The captain still wouldn’t meet their eyes, and the other two wore identical expressions of stoic suffering through Phlox telling what had happened to them. Hoshi noted that T'Pol, or she supposed she should say, Trip, was slouching in his chair, looking as if he wanted to escape this meeting and go hide somewhere no one could find him. T'Pol, in his body, sat ramrod straight in the chair, a carefully blank expression on her face, but the eyes clearly reflected that she was just as unhappy about this situation as Trip was.
Malcolm shifted slightly next to her, drawing Hoshi's attention away from the commanders for a moment, as Phlox continued his explanation, oblivious to the inattention of his crewmates. He's definitely blushing, Hoshi noted. And darting looks at Trip, I mean, T'Pol, as if he'd told him--her--something he shouldn't have. Hoshi frowned slightly. She was aware that the lieutenant had a bit of an attraction towards the science officer, or at least a fondness for a particular portion of her anatomy. She'd caught him giving it glances on more than one occasion.
Travis, meanwhile, had been listening to Phlox's explanation with a growing sense of disbelief. "Excuse me, Doctor," he finally interrupted, "but you're saying that Commander Tucker and Commander T'Pol have somehow switched bodies? I mean, it sounds like a plot to one of those old movies that Commander Tucker likes to watch on movie night…"
"Nevertheless, Ensign, that is what has occurred. My scans clearly show that they are currently in each other's bodies." Phlox beamed at the young man.
"But how do we get them back?" Travis asked.
"Good question, ensign. But I'm afraid that's something that is out of my area of expertise."
Archer finally spoke. "Yes, well, that's going to be up to Commander T'Pol, as well as you, Hoshi, and Lieutenant Reed to determine."
Malcolm gave him an odd look. "Wouldn’t Commander Tucker be more qualified, sir, than I am to figure out the inner workings of this device?"
"Yes, well, with the negotiators from the two alien races here expecting a Vulcan to mediate their dispute, and Trip now in T'Pol's body, he can hardly be on the planet investigating the device."
Trip looked sharply at the captain at that. "I thought we agreed that it was a bad idea for me to try an' impersonate T'Pol in those talks."
Hoshi watched as the captain tried to placate his friend. "Of course we did, Trip, and I'm still going to try and get you out of that. But in any case, you still can't go down to the planet. Especially if Phlox has come up with some viable medical excuse for why you can't possibly handle the mediation for the time being."
Mollified somewhat, Trip relaxed into his chair again, still not looking too happy. Hoshi had the feeling that he'd prefer to be stuck on the planet with his hands in that machine, trying to decipher its secrets rather than stuck up here with nothing to do.
"Indeed, captain, I believe that, thanks to that last planet we charted last week, have come up with something that our friends might believe. As you well know, Vulcan is a desert planet, and its inhabitants are therefore not as tolerant of more humid climates as your own species, for example, Captain." Phlox paused as the captain nodded. "Well, Commander T'Pol did get pulled underwater by one of the local fauna, causing her to breathe in several lungful of the rather unpleasant swamp water." T'Pol grimaced at the memory of the acrid water's taste. "We simply state that the incident had a delayed effect on her, resulting in pneumonia."
"I cleared bioscan, however, Doctor." T'Pol pointed out.
"True. But if there was a persistent little bug that hid itself from our scans, then made itself known later on…"
She tipped Trip's head towards him in acknowledgement. "But would they not expect us to have the medical capability to treat such?"
"Perhaps, perhaps. But with it being an alien bug causing it, I could certainly 'treat the symptoms' but would have to work towards eradicating the little pest. And of course, I would have to put the good commander into quarantine to ensure it didn't spread to the rest of the crew, in case it decided to mutate and infect other species."
Trip frowned at that thought. "Quarantine? No one said anythin' about quarantine to me."
"It would only be for a few days, Commander."
"DAYS?! What the hell am I goin' to do in quarantine for several days?"
Archer winced. "Now, Trip, it's not that bad. And unless you really want to share what happened to you and T'Pol with everyone on the ship and half the quadrant, I'd keep your voice down." Trip subsided, grumbling to himself, shooting dark looks at T'Pol in his body and over at the doctor.
If Hoshi had any doubts about whether or not they'd actually switched, that little outburst had put them to rest. Grinning to herself, she could hardly wait to tease Trip.
Archer continued after a moment of making sure that Trip wasn't going to interrupt again. "Of course, none of this will leave this room. The commanders would just as soon not have everyone know about their little… problem. Even if anyone would believe it."
That put a damper on Hoshi's plans, though, she thought after a moment, the captain didn't say anything about keeping quiet about it after they're back to normal. Cheered by the thought that she would still be able to tease her superior officer, she'd just have to wait a bit, she settled back in her chair.
"I believe that we could arrange for the scans we take of the device, Commander," T'Pol told him, "to be transmitted to quarantine and you could work on them on this end."
"That's all well and good, T'Pol, but what are we going to do if you need my expertise down on the planet?"
"I believe that we should, how do you say it?, 'cross that bridge when we come to it.'"
Archer nodded. "Right. So T'Pol, Malcolm and Hoshi will work on figuring out the device from the planet. Phlox will make up our dear science officer to look deathly ill, so if the ambassadors wish to see for themselves the state she's in, Trip will at least look the part. And Trip will have to act the part as well. You think you can manage that, Trip?"
"I played hooky on occasion when I was a kid. I know how to act sick." Trip pointed out.
"Fine." Archer looked at his officers. "And I'll try and convince them and anyone else who asks that T'Pol is horribly sick and can't possibly fulfill the role she was sent here to do." He hesitated. "Are you two sure you wouldn't rather just come clean? I mean, if this ever gets out…"
"As I said before, Captain, the Vulcans would not believe such a thing was possible. They would undoubtedly label me, should I try and claim such even with Phlox's scans as proof, as being mentally unstable and would attempt to remove me from this vessel by force."
Malcolm looked shaken at that. "Bloody hell. They would have themselves a fight if they tried it, Commander."
"While I appreciate the sentiment, Lieutenant, it would be illogical for any of our crew to be injured, or those members of any ship that might try and do such a thing, who would be looking out for what they believed is my best interest."
Trip blinked. "Now waitasecond… you're saying you'd let them take me?"
"Not at all. Simply that it would be illogical to put up a fight." Trip gave a pretty good imitation of T'Pol's death glare right back at her.
"Okay, we'll worry about that later." Archer said, trying to stop their incipient argument before it began. "Let's go, people, and find a way to get our officers back to where they belong. Preferably without causing any interstellar incidents along the way…" He looked at the two officers on either side of him in turn, who were still glaring at each other, then sighed. "Dismissed."
To Be Continued...
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