In Extremis

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Title: In Extremis
Category: Humour
Rating: PG
Summary: Malcolm develops another allergic reaction, and the diagnosis isn't good. Lieutenant Reed is now prone to bouts of chronic honesty.
Author's Notes: More than 18 months in the writing... and long live English wit!!

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

"(Sarcasm). It's an English characteristic."
-- Paul Merton

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o


When Malcolm Reed opened his eyes, all he could see for the first few moments were blindingly bright lights and a distant off-white wall... it could have been a ceiling. After a few seconds the mist faded, and it no longer hurt to blink. The fog in his head, however, persisted and he could only vaguely recall what had happened to him... something about mountain trekking to find some city with a smallish away team... and flora - all those bloody plants everywhere!

A sharp pain shot up Malcolm's neck and into his head; he winced in response and gripped his forehead with one hand, momentarily disorientated by the simple yet rather significant fact that he was laid flat on his back. The headache eventually subsided to a dull throbbing, and Malcolm chanced a look around him, trying to make sense of his surroundings.

Well, he really should have expected this; he had ended up in Sickbay. Was there ever an away mission where he hadn't? Great. Just bloody marvellous.

Without craning his neck too far, Malcolm could just make out two people standing by one of the other biobeds, seemingly in conversation with one another, although he couldn't quite hear what was being said.

He tried to move, tried to get up off the biobed, when one of the people spotted his efforts and was by his side in a flash; with ease born of what could be said to be too much practice, Phlox pushed down on the lieutenant's shoulders, forcing him back into a lying position, and the headache returned with a vengeance as the doctor folded his arms across his chest and eyed Malcolm squarely.

"Good to see you awake, Lieutenant," he began, checking the screen above Malcolm's bed. "How are you feeling?"

Before he could formulate a reply, Malcolm registered the presence of Trip Tucker at the bottom end of the bed. He redirected his gaze towards Phlox. I'm fine, Doctor, he said shortly. Perfectly so, in fact.

The two other men looked at each other in surprise, before looking back down at the armoury officer, and there were definitely more than one pair of eyebrows raised.

"What did you just say?" Trip asked him, looking sidelong at Phlox.

From his enforced horizontal position, Malcolm stared. "I said I'm fine, Trip. Can I get up now?" he added acerbically, not speaking to anybody in particular. Nobody objected, so he carefully levered himself up into a sitting position.

Phlox merely watched, and then unfolded his arms. "Mister Reed," he said curtly, "I do not approve of such language in my sickbay, much less so from a patient."

"What?" Malcolm asked in confusion. "I told you - I'm fine. I didn't say anything else."

Trip shot him a very dirty look. "Yes ya did," he replied, leaning on the end of the bed with both hands.

Well, two could play at this game. "Very well then. Pray tell, what did I say?" Malcolm asked calmly, although on the inside he felt just about anything but.

"That ya had what felt like a drunken brawl goin' on in that head o' yours," Trip replied in a near monotone, "an' that the sooner they stopped tryin' ta sing rugby songs the better for all concerned. And that's puttin' it mildly." He did not look impressed. Not at all.

"I'll admit to having a slight headache, yes," Malcolm shot back, going on the defensive, "but I would not say anything even close to that."

"You just did."

"No, I did not."

"We both heard ya, and believe me it was totally uncalled for, Loo-tenant," Trip shot back. "Headache or no headache."

"I did not. Say. That," Malcolm reiterated, speaking through gritted teeth, gripping his head with one hand as another sharp pain shot through it suddenly. It took several deep breaths and closed eyes for the pain to eventually recede, and by the time he had opened his eyes again, Phlox was holding a medical scanner roughly three inches from his nose.

"Well?" he managed, trying not to go cross-eyed from watching the scanner as it beeped somewhat piercingly. "What's wrong with me this time?"

Phlox said nothing but instead studied the readout very carefully. "Mister Reed," he began, "I am detecting the residue of an alien toxin in your nervous system."

"I take it that's not good, then," Malcolm replied dryly.

He was rewarded with a shake of the head. "The toxin appears to be attaching itself to the adrenal gland as well as certain and specific parts of the brain."

"Which parts, Doc?" Trip asked him, a little nervously if truth be told.

"And the after-effects appear to be... unique to the lieutenant."

"Doctor," Malcolm warned. "What is it and what is it doing to me?"

Phlox set the scanner down and circled around Malcolm's biobed. "I assume that you would prefer a more vernacular explanation?" he asked.


The doctor sighed. "Whenever you experience any kind of emotional reaction to a stimulus, it appears that you would be forced into telling the truth... apparently without your own knowledge, as you have just experienced."

Bloody hell. Malcolm sat up completely and stared at the computer on the far side of Sickbay. "Can you do anything about it?" he asked quietly, diplomatically choosing to ignore the shit-faced grin threatening to erupt on Trip's face.

There was no response. Not straight away, anyway. "Without further examination of the toxin, I cannot say anything for certain," Phlox said apologetically. "In the meantime I suggest you try and restrain your emotional responses, Lieutenant, and you should be pleased to know that there is no reason you cannot remain on duty."

"Fine." Malcolm jumped down off the bed. "Can I go now?"

"I see no reason why not," the doctor answered amiably; by the time he had finished his sentence the sickbay doors had hissed closed behind the rapidly retreating armoury officer.

o o o o o

Two days later, and there was no word from Sickbay that Doctor Phlox had made any progress whatsoever on the analysis of Malcolm's toxin - if he didn't know any better, Malcolm would have sworn that Phlox was deliberately drawing out the whole damned process. He certainly wouldn't put it past him.

And if he was completely honest with himself, it wouldn't have been so bad if the crew hadn't somehow got wind of what had happened to their armoury officer this time on an away mission (personally, he blamed Trip).

Malcolm scowled as he wedged himself further in underneath one of the torpedo launchers in the armoury. He'd already identified the three ringleaders at the centre of a surprisingly well-organised and really rather suicidal taskforce bent on provoking varying "emotional" reactions from him... and it had taken him less than three seconds to miserably realise that the brig wouldn't be big enough for the twenty-four people who had so far already asked him varying questions. So far, Malcolm had been propositioned for dinner dates by both men and women (turned all of them down, some of them apparently quite "spectacularly"), and had apparently called half the ship's science complement a slightly ruder equivalent of "arrogant berks" in response to various (and idiotic) work enquiries; he had informed Trip that he would rather sing the blues with rotten vegetables rammed up his arse than cover some random ensign's engineering shift on Thursday evening, and had reduced one crewman to near breaking point when Malcolm had told him that he sang like he was being killed slowly with a corkscrew up his arse (well, he had asked...).

Arses seemed to be mentioned a lot, Malcolm reflected as he began to reconfigure part of the launcher's internal circuitry. Arses, and intense bodily pain in differing regions; his only real salvation thus far was that Captain Archer, for once, had steered well clear of any kind of attempt at social conversation with the lieutenant thus far. Ah, small miracles...

But such things, he knew, would not last for long...

o o o o o

"What do you mean, you can't do anything about it?"

Back in Sickbay, Phlox looked as though he had been preparing for such a response from Lieutenant Reed; he had already positioned himself well out of arm's reach. "The toxin in your brain is like nothing I've ever seen before," he told Malcolm honestly. "All the tests and scans I've done on it indicate that it will eventually be expelled from your nervous system by natural means."

Malcolm sighed. "How long?" he asked, mentally contemplating a lifetime boarded up into his quarters. Or perhaps the armoury. Either were good for the long term.

Phlox looked flummoxed, or as close to it as he could appear. "I don't know," he said simply. "But given the rate of breakdown that I've measured so far, I would estimate that the effects will last about a week."

Thank you, Doctor, Malcolm said to him after a few seconds. I'm sure you did your best.

It didn't take an expert to spot the doctor's reaction to the statement - whatever it was; sadly enough, spotting this sort of thing was Malcolm's speciality (and an essential part of his job), and inwardly he started kicking himself as Phlox's eyebrows slowly shot upwards.

"What did I say?" he asked, dreading the answer.

"No, no," Phlox reassured him. "There's no need to be concerned, Lieutenant. But I do have one question."

That wasn't too bad. "Oh?"

The doctor smiled at him. "Could you tell me who Doctor Seuss is?"

Oh crap. "Well..."

o o o o o

"Begin recording." Chirrup. Deep breath. "Armoury officer's personal log. According to Doctor Phlox, I have another four days to go until the last remaining effects of this toxin are eradicated completely from my nervous system, and I no longer have to worry about keeping my emotions in check. Speaking of which, the sheer audacity of this crew will never cease to amaze me; I have received no less than eight 'spoofed' versions of the works of Surak relating to emotional control, ranging from the near-plausible to the near-suicidal." Pause. Sounds of pacing up and down. "I've also considered sending an official report back to Starfleet, recommending that public flogging become part of routine punishment for... dissenters within Starfleet. I'm with Admiral Nelson on this one - a cat o' nine tails is all a man needs to keep order going onboard a ship."

Another pause.

"Unfortunately, I can't incite anything against these crewmembers... for the simple fact that they aren't actually doing anything wrong. But I'll get them. I'll get them for something, and then I'll string them up in a row in the armoury by their arses and show them the true meaning of Christmas."

Pause. Deep breath. Sounds of pacing up and down in a repetitive pattern.

"Something doesn't feel right... Computer, replay last ten seconds of log entry."

o o o o o

Sometime very early in the morning, four days later...
"Hiya Lieutenant!"

"Hey, Mister Reed!"

"Morning, sir!"

More than just a little confused and bewildered, Malcolm thus made his journey to the mess hall; the last time he had looked at a chronometer it had said oh-two hundred hours exactly, and he was reasonably sure that not much time had elapsed since then, so somewhere between two and three sounded a fair bet.

What he hadn't been counting on, however, was the behaviour of the Gamma shift crew that he had encountered since leaving the safety of his quarters up on B-deck. Instead of deliberately plying him with beyond-the-pale questions, comments and enquiries, they had all been perfectly civil, if not a little too enthusiastic for the wee hours of the morning. In fact, Malcolm's mind reasoned as he came within sight of the mess door, if he didn't know any better (which, given his exhaustion, was very much the case), then he could have sworn that he was being doped into some false sense of security. Lowering his guard. Preparing him for something while trying not to let onto what they were doing.

Annoyingly, Malcolm couldn't work out whether this was his usual paranoid tendencies playing up again, or whether he just knew almost instinctively that something was afoot.

Or maybe he just knew this crew far too well now to know that they would never pass up on an opportunity to watch their armoury officer unknowingly make a public arse of himself, more so when they knew that they would be able to get away with it. Perhaps especially then...

In the mess hall there were perhaps three or four occupied chairs, certainly no more than five, although Malcolm didn't exactly count. They were presumably the last remaining dregs of the Gamma shift, or some early birds for Delta, depending on the exact time. Either way, Malcolm was soon in the possession of a steaming mug of black tea and seated at the table furthest away from the mess door, and facing away from the wall; he could see the four stragglers chatting amongst themselves on a single other table a little way away from him, although he could not hear what they were saying.

Malcolm blew over his drink to cool it down a little and began to drink it in small, measured sips, taking care to pay careful attention to the table across from him; after a few minutes, one of them got up and ambled out of the mess amidst a dark comment about thuds and squeaks down on E-deck. The remaining three continued to talk amongst themselves, seemingly oblivious to the armoury officer in the corner of the room.

All the while, of course, the little voices in Malcolm's head were screaming out about conspiracy theories and the like, and were continually pressing the lieutenant to something about them before it was all too late and Armageddon set in.

The voices in his head also had a habit of being overly dramatic from time to time, but that wasn't important right now. What was important was trying to work out exactly what those three people at the other table were up to.

In this manner, Malcolm stayed sat at the table for around three quarters of an hour, managing to finish the tea - eventually - and throughout that time period, the other three people in the mess had got up from their table and also ambled out of the room. One at a time, and around thirteen minutes apart from each other. Not that Malcolm was timing them or anything.

And of course, this also meant that Malcolm was now all on his own in the dimly lit mess hall. Usually not a problem for him - he liked peace and quiet where he could get it. But this time he was actually quite disappointed. He'd been so used to being harassed by just about every other person on board, that it was a strange experience not to be picked on by someone. Malcolm blinked into his tea. At this point, he would have argued to himself that the crew of the starship Enterprise had much better things to do with their time than provoke their armoury officer into giving a pollen-induced honest rebuttal. But then again, the events of the last week negated that argument instantly. Malcolm was now dreading any return to Earth, lest he somehow meet up with the parents of the poor, darling little crewmen he had managed to insult over the past seven days.

Malcolm sighed, left his empty mug by one of the hatches and left the mess hall. He still had no idea of the exact time. And as he rounded the third corner in the journey to the turbolift, he suddenly found himself harassed by something else altogether. Porthos came bounding up at him from nowhere, and after a quick sniff of the lieutenant's leg, began jumping up and generally demanding attention. Almost automatically, Malcolm started petting the small dog and trying to get it to stay down on the decking, before his mind made the vital connection. Where you find Porthos, you find...

"Captain!" Malcolm exclaimed, taking a step - several steps, in fact - backwards. Undeterred, Porthos kept jumping up at him.

"Morning, Malcolm," Archer smiled. Then, "Porthos! Down, boy."

The dog complied. Malcolm breathed a huge mental sigh of relief, trying to surreptitiously check for doggy drool on his legs at the same time. Just because he couldn't see any didn't mean it wasn't there; this he knew from experience. "Sir," he nodded hurriedly.

"It's a bit early for you to be up and around, Malcolm," Archer said conversationally, leaning against a wall and showing absolutely no sign of moving in the immediate future.

Malcolm shrugged. "Can't sleep at the moment," he managed. Pathetic, really. A part of him wondered just what the hell the captain was playing at... he'd managed to avoid talking to Malcolm since the honesty diagnosis, and with good reason - Malcolm liked his job on Enterprise, and would quite like to keep it if he could.

"Oh," Archer nodded. "Okay. Actually," he continued, taking half a step in Malcolm's direction, "I've been meaning to go over a couple of things with you this past week, Lieutenant, but you've always... been... busy."

Uh oh... Malcolm tried to take another step away from the captain, only to find that he couldn't - for the very good reason that he'd already backed up so far he was now leaning against the opposite wall from Archer.

"I've had Doctor Phlox keep me up to date with your condition as much as possible," Archer continued, blithe and very much ignorant of his armoury officer's distress, "and I just wanted to share something with you."

"Oh?" Malcolm managed, trying very much to keep the rising sense of panic in check. If he let slip now...

It just didn't bear thinking about.

Archer smiled at him. "All I wanted to let you know was that it's not always life-threatening if you tell the truth to somebody once in a while," he said.

Malcolm frowned. "Sir?"

"Maybe this... experience will allow you to open up a little more to your friends and colleague, Lieutenant," he finished, making as if to leave with Porthos.

Malcolm stayed standing up against the wall... oh dear God, the man was actually being sincere in that little speech. Malcolm could only hope that the incredulousness he was feeling inside did not make it onto his face. Archer eyed him once more before actually going away (which would be a good thing...), obviously expecting something.

Um, yessir, I'll... I'll bear that in mind, sir, Malcolm muttered, and to his immensely huge relief the captain started walking away... before stopping right in the middle of an intersection and turning back around to Malcolm.

"What was that you just said, Malcolm?" Archer asked him, puzzlement written all over his face. He took a step closer to the lieutenant. "Sounded like 'bloody Captain Courageous'."

Malcolm blanched. He could just smell the impending demotion and/or court-martial now. His mind raced, trying to think of something that wouldn't end up in either of those scenarios. "I... um... he's a character in this comic book the commander's trying to get me to read," he finally managed weakly, even surprised with himself at the inventiveness there. Not to mention he was now shifting the blame firmly onto the captain's best friend.

Small victories, and all that jazz.

Archer nodded slowly, before inexplicably smiling again. "Well, it's good to see you coming out of that shell of yours, Lieutenant," he said formally, although with the same sincerity as a minute before. "I'll see you on the bridge in the morning."

It was all Malcolm could do to nod in response, and once Archer rounded the corner with his dog and vanished altogether, the lieutenant took a good long look both ways down the corridor to make sure that he was quite alone before sliding down against the wall until he was crouching on the floor, and let out a loud sigh.

"I bet Nelson never had this kind of bloody trouble on the Victory."

o o o o o

Later on that morning, Malcolm swung by Sickbay on the way to the bridge, determined that he would either finally be clear of the toxin altogether, or be spending the day in various nooks and crannies of the armoury.

Phlox looked up as he came in. "Lieutenant!" he greeted cheerfully. "What a pleasant surprise... are you sure you're not injured?"

Only deigning to raise an eyebrow at the irrepressible Denobulan, Malcolm instead hopped up onto one of the biobeds and swung his legs back and forth underneath him. "Come on Doctor, on with the check up."

Looking more than just a little suspicious of Malcolm's... eagerness to have a scan, let alone be in Sickbay at all, Phlox still wasted no time in pulling out a medical scanner from a nearby drawer and proceeding to perform the check up. A few seconds later he was finished and he deactivated the scanner and slid it into one of his pockets.

"Well?" Malcolm asked, antsy now.

Phlox sighed, evidently amused with the whole affair. "You're quite healthy, Lieutenant, and you'll no doubt be pleased to hear that the alien toxin has been eradicated from your systems with no lingering residue or after-effect whatsoever."

Malcolm beamed at him. "You mean I'm cured."

"If that's how you wish to describe it, Lieutenant," Phlox smiled back, "then yes, you are indeed cured!"

"Fantastic!" Malcolm jumped down off the biobed. He sighed happily, and was about to say something when the comm. chirped.

"Archer to Lieutenant Reed."

The trepidation now coming back in waves, Malcolm crossed to the comm., and thumbed it. "Go ahead, sir."

"Report to Launch Bay One immediately," the captain ordered. "Subcommander T'Pol believes she may have located a source of raw material that we need to power reserve forcefields. You're taking a shuttlepod and three science crewmembers plus the subcommander to locate and retrieve the raw material."

"Very good, sir," Malcolm replied. "Anything else I need to know?"

"There is, Lieutenant. According to T'Pol's scans, the material is located just inside the outer perimeter of a dense rainforest. She and the science team will meet you in the launch bay. Archer out."

Malcolm let his end of the connection go as well... why did this sort of thing always have to happen to him?! He turned around to speak to Phlox, only to find that the doctor was at the other end of the medical bay and rummaging deep into some container.

After a few seconds Phlox straightened up again and turned back around. He had a hypospray in his hand, and he offered it to Malcolm. "Perhaps it's time you had this," he explained as Malcolm took the spray and eyeballed it suspiciously. "It's something I've been synthesising for what you humans would call a 'rainy day'. One shot of the mixture should negate virtually any allergic reaction in your system, Lieutenant."

"My system?" Malcolm repeated sceptically.

Phlox nodded. "You've always had the most problems with allergies, Lieutenant... that spray is especially for you, and there's plenty more should you ever need it."

Suddenly Malcolm grinned. "I... thank you!" he said, a little overwhelmed with the idea that Phlox had actually thought to do something like this for him. "Right... launch bay."

With the hypospray now in his pocket, and a real spring in his step Lieutenant Malcolm Reed left Sickbay with a small smile on his face, ready to face the big, bad universe and any plants it was willing to throw in his path.

Because now he was ready and prepared for them...

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