"Welcoming the New Year, 2154"
Warning: For this story I presumed that the practice of smoking survives into the 22nd century. I may be wrong. Also more friendship than romance, including Trip/Archer friendship. Depressed misanthropes strongly cautioned.
Thanks: To all my betas and to Elessar for his boundless energy. That’s for keeping our Enterprise going!
Trip hurried in to the morning meeting, late.
"Sorry, Cap'n, couldn’t be helped," he announced, with sigh. "Plasma generators blew."
Everyone turned to stare, looking grim, which was appropriate. They were stuck in the Delphic Expanse, chasing after a weapon of mass destruction set to destroy Earth. Captain Archer looked him over dubiously before returning his attention to the other officers around the table.
"Hoshi has helped us decipher the Xindi database. I don't know how, but we're going to find a way to take down this network of spheres before the damned anomalies take our ship or another crew member. We found a way into two of these things. We know there are holes in their defenses. Let's bring this structure down and get back home."
Trip saw T'Pol glance in his direction, either because it would be up to them to find that hole, or because . . . well, whatever. It was pointless to think about it now. He thought about it anyway, until the meeting was over.
Trip turned to exit, but Jon caught him by the arm. "So what’s up?" His tone conveyed concern, with a warning.
"Everything's fine." Trip assured him, "Generators are back up. Sorry I was late."
"So am I," replied Archer, with a hard, quizzical look
Trip nodded, acknowledging the reprimand, though he knew the delay had been justified. Maybe he'd just walked in at a bad time. These days it was always a bad time. The weight of the world, Trip. Nothing else really mattered anymore. He ducked through the door, caught up to T'Pol, and followed her down the corridor to the mapping room. "What'd I miss?"
"The captain was having a moment of silence for the victims of April 24th and those we lost this year."
"Glad I missed it," Trip replied flippantly.
T'Pol stopped in her tracks and rounded on him with one of her looks.
"What?!" Trip asked defensively. "I'm sick of think'n about it." The memory of his kid sister was no longer a raw wound and he had no desire to pick at the scab.
"You're not the only one who's lost someone," she informed in. “We all have.”
This brought him up short. "You're right. I apologize." Mentally he kicked himself, while simultaneously wondering who on Earth she might have been close to. It's none of my business, he reminded himself. She'd given up everything—her position in the Vulcan Science Directorate—to join the humans on Enterprise in the fight to save their planet. Of course she felt the losses as her own.
"So, why now?" he asked. "We just had a memorial last month."
"Tomorrow Earth completes one more revolution around its sun. Apparently it's traditional to remember old friends."
Trip brightened at the news, "I forgot. It's New Years Eve! Did the cap'n mention a party?"
"He specified that there'd be no parties. Especially no alcohol. We have to stay focused."
"Yes," T'Pol agreed. "Why didn’t Captain Archer brief you on this?"
"I think he's kinda pissed I was late."
"It wasn't your fault. You had to oversee emergency repairs."
Odd. She was nicer suddenly. He wondered if she felt guilty about last week—for leading him straight off a cliff—a thrilling experience till he'd hit the ground. Too bad his inertial dampeners had been offline. She'd called it an "experiment with human sexuality". Got him to promise they'd never speak of it again.
They entered the map room and pulled up the display. An array of spheres filled their visual field. A cobweb of lines connected the dots across a rectangle 2000 square light years in volume, lying in the plane of the Milky Way. They had direct evidence of only a few spheres. The rest were the inferences of complex mathematical equations. Each sphere was emitting incredible amounts of graviton radiation. Incredible when you realized that only extremely massive, moving objects can emit that type of radiation. Given the modest size of the spheres, that would imply the gravitational effects of two orbiting black holes in each unit. Of course, that was assuming the physics of traditional space-time, which the transdimensional sphere builders didn't seem to have much use for. Anything was possible.
Whatever the power source, the cloaked spheres could be located. One just had to study the pattern of anomalies they caused in space-time. The pieces had fallen in place like a jigsaw puzzle. Today Enterprise's science officer had informed him that she was sure enough of her model to begin analyzing the hypothetical network as a whole.
Trip put aside distracting thoughts—of home and the uncertain future—and for the third straight day immersed himself in the game of engineering forensics. Professionally, they needed each other. T'Pol waded through transdimensional physical theories, while Trip imagined himself as an alien sphere designer. What would I do if I was trying to turn a region of normal space into a region of anomalous space before the native species could stop me? Are there vulnerabilities in my system and how would I hide them?
"Commander, look at this," T'Pol said, interrupting his thoughts. "The graviton radiation fluctuates within very narrow parameters—negative 10 to the 6th percent."
"I'm surprised radiation levels change at all, given the momentum of the generators."
"And yet they do change, somewhat erratically, over medium time-scales."
A wavy line appeared on the screen, looping up and down, sometimes bunching up sometimes spreading out, never shooting above an invisible ceiling or dipping below an invisible floor. Trip almost smiled. "Looks like a negative feedback loop keeps their graviton output stable. So where is the thermostat?"
"How about here?" T'Pol pointed. "Changes in radiation levels at this sphere lead changes in the other spheres."
"Great. We don’t need to completely understand this thing. Just find us something that Malcolm can blow up."
Both of them winced as a deafening noise made further conversation impossible. Sirens screamed: State of emergency! Trip's heart pounded as he pushed the com link. "Bridge, what’s happened?"
"We're reading smoke in Engineering."
Trip took off. As he got close he heard rapid crackling and he smelled . . . was that gunpowder? A MACO was just ahead of him, weapon drawn. He heard a frightened commotion from the engine room. Someone shouted, "Don’t shoot!" Trip skidded to a stop beside the door and checked round the corner.
He was relieved to see the MACO standing down. The engineering crew stood around the edges of the room, looking at their feet as Trip strode into the room. Char marks spotted the ground and parts of the equipment. Trip walked over to inspect a blacked control panel. He licked a thumb and rubbed the stain. Carbon dust. It came right off. He pushed the com link. "Cap'n, we're fine. It's fireworks." He turned to the MACO, "I got this covered." He turned, with a grim expression, his hands clasped behind his back. He walked the line of crewmen, who'd suddenly snapped to attention.
"Who set this off?!" Trip shouted. His voice reverberated off the ceiling as he waited for an answer.
A hesitant crewman stepped forward. "Commander Tucker, Sir, it was less than 500 grams of explosives. I figured it'd just make some noise. I knew it couldn't harm the equipment."
"But you set off an alarm, which I have to explain to the captain. And I could have lost you to a MACO." Trip looked disgusted. "After second shift you're confined to quarters, for the night. Where'd you get this?"
The crewman indicated a box full of assorted firecrackers.
"Whose is this?" Trip lifted up the box for all to see. The engineers began signaling each other, trying to decide who would step up and take the fall. Evidently they were all involved. The commander needed to cut this short. He needed a full, united crew happily working double shifts to complete the scheduled repairs and upgrades.
"Forget it." Trip told his anxious crew, "All this is going out an airlock. We're about to engage the Xindi and you people think it's play time." He reached in the box and shuffled through its contents. A shame, he thought looking at the party supplies, most of this stuff is harmless. He eyed the fresh-faced men and women before him, none of them a day over twenty-five
He removed canisters of confetti, just pressurized-air, and left them behind on the console. "Now clean this mess and get back to work!" he barked.
The commander waited for the chorus of "Yes, sir!" before heading out the door.
Trip returned to engineering carrying the confiscated fireworks and was greeted by the array of spheres. "False alarm," he called out to T'Pol and tossed the box under a console. Happy New Year, he told himself bitterly. He thought of all that had changed; all that was lost; how different this New Year's was from the last when they had partied till dawn—figuratively speaking, of course. Last New Year's Trip had been in space—just where he'd always wanted to be—toasting the interstellar discoveries of '52, and resolving to go further and faster in '53.
He stood there frozen in thought till T'Pol called, "Commander?"
"Give me a minute," he said. He was mad about the 7 million people. Hell, he was mad about the Everglades and the alligators—and what this had done to everyone he loved.
"Is there a problem?" T'Pol asked.
"Of course there’s a problem," Trip shouted in frustration, waving a hand towards the panoramic display of menacing spheres.
She considered this. "I mean, how are you feeling?"
He turned to confront her. "Well, confused for one thing! Since when do you ask how I'm feeling?"
"It is a human custom I have decided to emulate."
"Well, it’s not necessary. Please stop." He'd had enough of her social experiments for one week. Anyway, everyone on this ship knew how he was feeling, or could guess, after Lizzie was lost in the Xindi attack. T'Pol, especially. Now he just needed some space. He refocused on the job at hand. "T'Pol, do you have data on sphere number 12?"
She glanced around, evading his eyes. For some reason she wasn't answering. She'd dumped him and she was bummed?
Sensing that her shields were at 40%, he glanced to see they were alone, then took his shot. "Why are you acting this way? What do you want?"
"Trellium-D," she answered simply.
He studied her solemn expression for a clue. Trellium is a Vulcan neurotoxin, had turned her and some of her friends into zombies. The stuff’s essential for shielding, but she knows there's plenty in storage. T'Pol stared back at him blankly, waiting for a response.
"Are you trying to be funny?" he guessed.
"Vulcan’s aren't 'funny,'" she stated.
"Well, I'll have to agree with you there." Trip answered cautiously, suppressing a memory of her writhing from her poisoning.
She didn't seem to take offense at his remark. In fact she looked . . . ashamed. She's struggling to find her way among aliens, he reminded himself. He could forgive her awkward missteps. After all, he'd made enough himself.
He searched for a way to get them back on course. "Look, I don't need human customs right now. I need you to do that Vulcan thing you do—you know—where you know everything and have all the answers."
Trip waited, hanging on his console. T'Pol turned slowly back to hers. "Commander, the data on sphere number 12 is unremarkable, but while you were gone I found an interesting asymmetry in sphere number 9. . ."
Twelve hours later they'd stumbled on a strategy for initiating a catastrophic chain reaction in the array—not a practical plan—but a theoretical possibility. As it happened, the visual simulation of the massive failure looked pretty cool. After T'Pol retired, Trip reran the simulation several times, just for the heck of it. It looked especially good in slo-mo, from a flyby perspective arching tens of light years above the action. The animation was as close as he would get to a sparkly fireworks display this New Year's. Too bad it didn't smell like gunpowder.
T'Pol had left the commander playing his video games and strode down the corridor toward the mess hall. She pictured his expression when an animation of predicted destruction was first displayed; his smile had been childlike. It brought to mind a boy watching his remote controlled spaceship finally managing to hover and not crash.
The trellium was affecting her in ways she hadn't anticipated. It was strange how a mere look or gesture could set off a cascade of memories, both happy and sad. She believed she had now experienced a full range of emotions, including the emotions humans labeled "bittersweet," "nostalgia," and "melancholy"—emotions Vulcan grouped into one undifferentiated category: "disturbing."
It had been a disturbing day, but she had maintained appearances—just barely. It was fortunate that Commander Tucker had been baffled by her confession. No good could come from him knowing about her involvement with trellium. He would be angry. He might tell the captain. She could be demoted just when the crew most needed her expertise.
"I need you to do that Vulcan thing you do." And T'Pol was trying. But her urges were drawing her in unexpected directions. Her decision to experiment with trellium had been ill-considered. Her Vulcan logic would have steered her clear of trouble, if only she had used it more rigorously. Now it was too late to turn back. She had to continue with the doses until the danger had passed and the weapon was destroyed. A battle was approaching, and she would just have to ride the waves of fear and exhilaration like every other crewman. It would have been gratifying to share her predicament with a friend, a colleague, but the long term repercussions were unacceptable.
"Lieutenant Reed," she nodded, and raised a quizzical eyebrow. He was standing at "parade rest" in the middle of the corridor.
"Party patrol." Malcolm explained. "The captain assigned me to keep a lid on things." He nodded towards the mess hall.
"There is a celebration?"
"No, not really, but Chef decided to clear out his pantry. There’s a large variety of leftovers out on the tables, if you’d like to go get something."
She heard laughing from the dining areas, and then a blast of noise. She recognized it as music as soon as the decibel level was optimized.
She raised an eyebrow at the Party Patrolman.
"I don't believe the Captain defined 'party,'" he noted in quiet tones. "Short of public drunkenness, they are welcome to celebrate . . . I'm pleased they still have the spirit to do so."
Hoshi approached with a cup of cocoa, which she handed to Malcolm. She blew into a little plastic horn and it unrolled like the tongue of a pyrithian bat catching insects. Malcolm smiled wanly and thanked her for the cocoa.
"Do Vulcans celebrate New Years?" Hoshi asked T'Pol.
"Yes. On the last day of our year we visit the graves of the dead. The first day of the year is 'Children's Day' and we participate in activities at the local school."
"Do you wait up for the new year?" Malcolm asked.
"We go to bed early so as to be ready for school," T'Pol informed them in an even tone.
Hoshi smiled. "Before you go, drop by the party. Commander Tucker should be there."
T'Pol scowled inwardly. It annoyed her when the crew assumed that she and the Commander were companions; the two had formed alliances with many other crewmates as well.
Today she was preoccupied with concerns other than Commander Tucker. Ever since the captain had drawn attention to the date, T'Pol had resolved to celebrate it soberly, as a Vulcan.
Trip had finished his work and knew what he needed to sleep. But first he would see T'Pol. He stopped at her door. She was probably already in bed, but he called to her anyway—conducting a social experiment of his own. He heard rustling, and after a moment, she appeared at the door in pajamas.
"I was heading to the cap'n's quarters," Trip explained. "Just wanted to stop and say Happy New Year."
"Happy New Year, Commander," she responded evenly, as if it were perfectly normal to wake up shipmates in order to say "goodnight." She watched him go and he was halfway down the hall when he heard her door swish shut. He smiled. So far so good.
He continued down the hall, looking forward to that sleep aid.
He stopped in front of Archer’s cabin. "It's me," Trip called. "Come on Cap'n, let me in. I know you have the good stuff."
"It's almost midnight."
"That's the point."
As the captain's door swished open the two heard shots go off somewhere on the deck. "Don't worry: Malcolm will deal with it." Archer decided. "Sorry Trip, no drinks. We need to keep our edge."
"But, I've been running simulations for fifteen hours," he protested, "I need to relax."
"After we blow up the weapon. Keep your eyes on the prize." Archer shook his head, suddenly annoyed, and fell into a desk chair. "Oh God. Listen to me: 'No alcohol; no fireworks.' I've turned into my DAD!"
"Like that would be bad." Trip grinned. "Last I checked, your dad was a beloved icon: Patron Saint of Warp Engineers."
Archer forced a smile, acknowledging the compliment.
"Cap'n," Trip began in different tone. "Today when I confiscated the fireworks, I found these"—He pulled three cigars from a pocket of his uniform.
"What’s the problem? They're not illegal."
"I know," his friend continued, "but these were in with the box of fireworks and when I asked who owned the box no one stepped forward . . . so . . .?"
Archer read his mind. "Give me one and something to light it with."
"Sure," Trip answered, pulling a heating tool from his pocket. He'd come prepared. "Cap'n? If you want, I could disable the environmental sensors. We don't want to set off another alarm."
"Do it. That’s an order."
"Gimme a knife."
Archer lit his cigar, settled back in his desk chair, and watched Trip remove screws from the ceiling. Soon the whole subsystem was dangling, its guts hanging out.
Trip lit his cigar and sat on the bed.
"I feel like I'm sixteen and my dad might bust us," Archer began with a grin, jutting his chin towards the alarm.
"So . . , as long as we're behaving like kids, I might as well ask: what's going on with you and my first officer?"
"I told you," Trip said, "We're reverse-engineering the hell out of them spheres."
"Other than that," Archer insisted.
"Well, other than that?" Trip sucked on his cigar, and squinted considering the question. His eyes watered from sting of smoke in his nose. He exhaled. "Not much, I’m afraid"
"Not much. That means 'something'." Archer guessed.
"Honestly? I'm still try'n to figure it out. I'm find'n it hard to read her signals."
Something about this struck the captain as funny and he started laughing; which made Trip defensive, and encouraged Archer to become more much more offensive.
At midnight Trip and Archer were still defending their positions when Porthos, who had been sleeping on a blanket in the corner, perked up his droopy ears and barked at the door. "Who is it?" Archer called.
"T'Pol," called a voice from the corridor.
Trip brightened visibly and stood to greet her. His experiment was a success. His hypothesis was confirmed: She still needed to be with him, at least for New Year's.
The door swished open and there was T'Pol, glaring benignly. The bars of "Auld Lang Syne" floated in from down the hall, followed by more popping—but, thankfully, no sirens. The beagle wagged his tail and bounced on his front paws, beside himself with joy on seeing the new guest. Trip was only a little more subtle. "Fancy meet'n you here," he teased, flashing a cocky grin at the only woman on Enterprise who could fail to be impressed by it.
"I couldn't sleep," T'Pol explained. "There are explosions in my hall."
"Hopefully just confetti," Trip guessed, picturing the canisters he had left behind.
"Yes," she confirmed blandly.
She glanced around the room and quickly assessed the situation, her gaze lingering on the dangling subsystem.
"Trip was just fixing that for me," Archer said, his smile challenging her to dispute this.
"I brought you something for your celebration." T'Pol announced. Incredibly, she held out a bright red cylinder. It looked like a rocket.
The captain accepted the gift with evident pleasure, held it out away from his face, and pulled the release. Trip flinched as it let out at "PSHHH!" But nothing else happened.
"It’s a dud," Trip observed.
"It’s a can of COLA," Archer snorted. "Guess you've been in space too long."
"Right! I didn't remember it be'n packaged that way."
"Commemorative packaging," Archer informed him, "This design is 150 years old."
"I picked it up in Carbon Creek on my last shore leave," T'Pol explained, "A nonalcoholic beverage, for your celebration."
They pulled out the glasses and split the can three ways.
The cola was warm, sweet, and fizzy, with a bitter aftertaste.
Archer proposed a toast. "To a New Year, and a second chance."
"To good friends," Trip said, acknowledging his companions.
"To Earth, and the victims of the Xindi," T'Pol offered.
"You won't be forgotten." Archer added, solemnly. Then he turned to his best friend. "To you, Trip. We nearly lost you this year, buddy." Trip nodded, embarrassed. He'd been in a coma for a week.
T'Pol glanced around, fiery-eyed and determined. "I would like to remember Sim."
It was an awkward subject—the clone Phlox had created to save Trip's life—as T'Pol was well aware. Archer cringed slightly, remembering the lines he'd had to cross to get them to 2154. "Yes," He agreed. He clenched his jaw. "We're all grateful to Sim," he finished resolutely.
Trip glanced to T'Pol, brows furrowed in a question. Why now? At least she knew better than to discuss Lizzie . . . She met his quizzical look with her strangely defiant gaze as he bumped his glass into hers. As the clink reverberated and dissipated, suddenly he realized who it was she'd lost in '53.
For the second time in a week, she stood before him exposed: She misses Sim. T'Pol was staring through him absently. In a weirdly drawn out temporal-anomaly of a moment, Trip felt her pain. He ached for Sim. He ached for all them all: the ones who'd passed on and the ones left to fight. But what was there to say?
"Ya want one too?" Trip held out his cigar to T'Pol to break the spell.
"Vulcans do not purposely ingest toxins!" She retorted, turning from the offensive curl of smoke. Archer smirked at this and Trip gave him a shrug, relieved the familiar world had returned.
"And were I ever to emulate this disagreeable human custom," T'Pol continued, " . . . SNNZZZ." She sneezed. "I would certainly take . . ." She stopped to sneeze again. "Basic sanitary precautions . . ." She froze and covered her mouth with crook of her arm and Archer gestured urgently to Trip.
"In that drawer behind you."
Trip rifled through Jon's drawer, retrieving a tissue. He held it out and she grabbed it eagerly, accidentally clasping his hand in the process. A flash of deja vu. Yes, they'd been groping each other days before. It wasn't just that . . .
He'd stood before her, just like this—that other time. What other time? He pictured himself in her quarters. It was him, yet it wasn’t him. He had his back to the wall. She got up from her the bed. Incredibly, he was telling her he loved her.
The real T'Pol quirked an eyebrow at him and the vision vanished. She was holding the dirty tissue somewhat awkwardly. "Just throw that in the glass," Trip suggested softly and she did.
"Why would one purposely ingest fumes and particulates?" T'Pol asked them both.
"I usually don't." Archer answered, "It can kill you!" He paused dramatically, checking for a reaction from the Vulcan, "But that's in the long run. . . . To answer your question, tobacco contains a chemical that relieves stress, at least in humans."
T'Pol gave a nod of understanding.
Trip watched them through the fog, contented. He was so tired he'd been dreaming on his feet—a first for him. He considered it a good sign. He would sleep well tonight. Finally his own cigar burned down and he crushed it in a glass. He looked up. T'Pol was still holding her empty glass, and he took it from her wordlessly. Archer was pacing more impatiently than usual. He seemed ready to kick them out.
"T'Pol, it's been a pleasure. But we all need to get to bed."
Trip looked to T'Pol, whose startled expression gave him hope.
"Goodnight, Captain," she managed evenly, glancing back to Trip. Trip turned to follow, but the captain cleared his throat apologetically. "I wouldn't want to suffocate. Remember? We ripped out the CO2 sensors."
Trip smiled ruefully and watched her go. "You might wanna worry 'bout the methane," he quipped, reaching up to stuff the environmental sensor back up into its hole. In a minute, he was tightening the last screws.
"It's this damn cigar smoke. How am I supposed to sleep in this stuffy room?" Archer complained, already flopped on the bed.
"Maybe you should open a window," his friend suggested.
"Night, Trip!" It sounded like an order, and this time he was glad to comply.
Trip peered down the now empty corridor. T'Pol was gone. It was too late—for tonight, but there was this New Year of possibilities. Perhaps the worst was behind them.
Trip fell into his bunk, where the lullaby of the warp engine hummed him to sleep. As he drifted off, a giant sparkling sphere grabbed his attention. It descended ominously, impossibly, from a dark sky toward a crowd of millions in New York City. As the sphere reached the surface, it burst into fire, like an opening rose. A runaway chain reaction set off an explosion that lit up the night, obliterating all problems and showering him and the people of Earth with the debris of flickering confetti. Behind them the towers of the rebuilt World Trade Center rose 1000 meters into the sky. And Enterprise sailed into the future.
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