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Title: Renaissance

Category: Mystery/Angst

Rating: PG


Summary: Six weeks after “Big Yellow Starship” a familiar face returns to Enterprise, but something is wrong and only Malcolm can tell the difference. Does he know what he’s seeing?


#2 in the BYS series

Recommended Reading Order:

Big Yellow Starship, Renaissance, Retribution, Around the Roses


Author's Note: So many happy memories about writing this one... hee hee... I think the best one was in the middle of writing the fifth chapter at my dad’s house. I literally bounded out of the computer room, announcing, “I’ve got it! I’ve got it - I know what the hell’s going on!!” at the top of my voice...!

Chapter 1: Long Distance Call

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

The program was completed. All the necessary adjustments had been made, and all the final model required were the command codes that would remote operate it within a certain vicinity. The only worry was that it had never yet been tested. Testing was good, it ensured success before the mission was undertaken, but exceptions had to be made.

This one was considered to be worth the risk. The goal, the final prize awaiting them at the end was well worth any incursions, any risks that were taken along the way.

The model waited, dormant. Without the command codes it would be nothing, just an empty shell, but with the proper codes inserted, it would undoubtedly become a valuable commodity, one of the most important they had ever acquired. The model would wait there indefinitely until the codes were invoked, another advantage to the programming.

The model waited, dormant. It could not feel anything, nor could it make sense of the many receptors it was equipped with, but understanding was not necessary yet. Soon it would have all the purpose it needed.


o o o o o

The program was almost complete, the model only a step away from perfection. And Malcolm Reed thrived on perfection. Sitting here, in the privacy of his cabin, he was surprised to hear himself humming as he finished the final few calculations that would determine the final breadth and depth of perception that his new pistol would be equipped with.

It was almost as if he was happy again, which was new to him, because he hadn't felt much in the way of emotions in the past few weeks, except the quintessentials such as hunger, fear and utter exhaustion. He had found that he had not needed much else in order to survive. Hunger and exhaustion told him when his body needed maintaining. The fear proved he was still human.

"Archer to Lieutenant Reed."

The comm panel above him chirped and squawked, drawing Malcolm out of his little reverie. He pressed the little white button that completed the connection.

"Reed here. Go ahead, sir."

"How are you, Malcolm?" The captain's voice was full of genuine concern.

"Fine, sir. Another few minutes and I'll have finished the prototype."

"That's not what I meant." Now he sounded mildly annoyed.

"Coping as well as can be expected, sir. I've already assured Doctor Phlox that I do not need psychological therapy, or anything else requiring inordinate amounts of time spent in Sickbay," Malcolm replied.

Jonathan sighed, the sound crystal clear over the comm. "Will you join me for dinner in the captain's mess later, Lieutenant? I believe there are some things we need to discuss." His tone implied it was not a request.

"Yes, sir."

"Nineteen hundred okay with you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Archer out."

Malcolm let his end of the connection go as well, and sighed, staring absently at the screen in front of him. Part of him wondered when people would get the message, that he genuinely did not need any outside help in order to cope with... with what had happened. But another part of him was inexplicably focused on the humming from earlier, trying to work out what tune he had been imitating. Then, from out of nowhere, the words came to mind, and he began to map them out in his head:

"You can't manufacture a miracle
The silence was pitiful - that day
And love is gettin' too cynical
Passion's just physical - these days
You analyse everyone you meet
But get no sign - the loving kind
Every night you admit defeat
And cry yourself blind

If you can't wake up in the morning
'Cause your bed lies vacant at night
If you're lost, hurt, tired or lonely
Can't control it - try as you might
May you find that love that won't leave you
May you find it by the end of the day
You won't be lost, hurt, tired and lonely
Something beautiful will come your way... "

Then the ship-wide call came for the senior staff to report to the bridge.

o o o o o

There had been a change of plan. There was to be preliminary testing of the model, to ensure overall efficiency and performance before the mission began.

In all the tests the model had been subjected to, the performance had been exemplary. No glitches in the construction, nor in the code transference structure, nor anywhere else that could be scanned and examined.

The model was finally ready. The mission could begin.

o o o o o

Malcolm arrived on the bridge, the song still echoing in the back of his mind. Unobtrusively, he crossed to his station, and sat down, savouring the familiarity. Up on the viewscreen was a tiny shuttlecraft, clearly of alien design.

"... just one detectable biosign on board," Sub-commander T'Pol said, "of unknown origin. Scanners cannot get a detailed enough reading."

"Lieutenant?" Malcolm realised Jonathan was looking at him.

"Mm, yes sir." He started using his own station, mentally berating himself for the delay. "Impulse engines only, no discernible weapons array. It appears to merely be a transport vessel, but the design matches nothing the Vulcan database has to offer, nor does it match anything we've yet encountered."

Jonathan nodded to show that he had been listening, although his gaze was fixed on the small ship, as if by simply looking at it he could get all the information he needed.

A beeping at communications startled everybody. Malcolm jumped at the noise, then immediately felt stupid. He was getting jumpy, paranoid. It wasn't good for anybody, least of all him.

"We're being hailed," Ensign Hoshi Sato said quietly. She seemed a little shaken by something, something she couldn't quite work out.

"Onscreen," Jonathan said, standing up. A possible first contact always gave him a case of the jitters, Malcolm observed. The captain's left hand had started jiggling, and it was firmly placed on the railing to hide any evidence of it.

The view on the screen changed in a heartbeat, and everyone on the bridge, including a few enlisted crew in the situation room stopped and stared at the image. Malcolm's whole world froze as he realised who he was looking at, and then the image spoke.

"Permission to come aboard, Cap'n?"

Chapter 2: Dead in the Water

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

Everything was in place. The model had had all pertinent information downloaded into it, had been briefed on its task, had been given its purpose, its reason for being.

Everything had been put in place, not one single thing left to chance, lest anything be discovered, or questioned.

The model was finally ready, and the command codes had been inserted and properly activated. The mission had begun.

o o o o o

He looked so emaciated. That was the first observation Malcolm made upon entering Sickbay and seeing for the first time exactly what had happened to his senior officer, his friend.

He appeared to be sleeping peacefully, but Malcolm was willing to wager that a small amount of sedatives had found their way into his bloodstream, just in case.

Phlox had long since finished scanning the man and analysing the results, and had summarised them for both Jonathan and Malcolm. The man on the biobed was indeed Trip Tucker, right down to a passive genome for male pattern baldness and an equally passive predisposition for nut allergies. This of course, did not rule out cloning, but the healing scar on the left wrist (from a minor accident in Engineering) did; a clone would not have non-genetic markings, he had explained to the captain. The issue of cloning also raised the question of why there would be the other signs indicative of torture present on the body.

He had then continued on with the diagnosis; among other things, Trip was suffering from severe sleep deprivation, malnutrition and dehydration. Remnants of an alien toxin had been found in his body, and were being studied by the science departments (most likely, Phlox hypothesised, it was either a truth serum of some design, a pain numbing agent or a pain inducing agent). Scars running the length of his back and arms indicated variant forms and degrees of torture, although with the equipment Phlox had at his disposal they could be easily healed. The issue of cloning also raised the question of why there would be the other signs indicative of torture present on the body.

The sedatives he had been given would only last an hour or two longer, and then Phlox informed Jonathan that Trip should be left until he woke up of his own accord, not before. Then, and only then, would they begin to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Not before. But what state he would be in when he woke up, Phlox could not - or would not - say for certain.

Malcolm then found himself making excuses, and left Sickbay. Something about pistol trials, he vaguely recalled, although he couldn't be sure. For the sake of appearances he went back to his cabin, and the near-completed pistol still on the table, waiting for him to give it its purpose, the reason it had been created.

"Soon," Malcolm told the pistol. "Soon." He couldn't concentrate right now. Too many things were weighting on his mind, and all of them began with a capital "T".

Too distracted to do anything else, he lay back on his bed (which hadn't seen much in the way of use lately), and replayed the last time he had seen Trip before he had gone missing, and what had happened afterwards, and for the first time, the memories opened up for him.

Enterprise's sensors had found a trading post that specialised in what Trip referred to as "kinetic bumpers", essentially insulators for the plasma conduits around the ship, and apparently they were running low in numbers.

He was supposed to have been gone for just over three days, from the Wednesday to the Saturday, in order to do the trades and have a little down time en route (nobody needed to know, apparently). The pod left the launch bay, and for twelve hours Enterprise tracked his progress.

Then an ion storm had come out of nowhere, jamming the long-range sensors. When it had cleared, no shuttlepod. No pod, no Trip, nothing.

Jonathan Archer had searched for two weeks, contradicting orders from Admiral Forrest, and 'recommendations' from the Vulcan High Command, who saw it as a waste of the Vulcan science officer's time to aid in the search for Commander Tucker, although they didn't say so in so many words. They never did. Their stares said all that need to be said, in Malcolm's private opinion, and all they did for him was to provide an achingly close target for his cannons.

And then they had found the shuttlepod half-buried underneath a snowstorm on an uninhabited Y-class planet. Nothing could survive there for very long, but there would have been a body. Should have been a body. Except there wasn't.

The engineering team had taken the news the worst, having worked under him for so long. Lieutenant Hess even went so far as to try to rebuke her promotion to chief engineer, all but yelling at Captain Archer that there was still a chance he could be alive. Slightly more sobered and calm (and a little ashamed at having so nearly lashed out at the captain), she accepted the position on the condition that it was only temporary. She still believed he was coming back.

Most of them did, including Malcolm. But six weeks had passed, and even he had to admit to himself that in all likelihood his friend had died either on that planet or on his way down to it. His newly-optimistic nature had latched onto the fact that there was no body, but his rational side had won out. Trip Tucker was dead.

But everything had changed today. Trip was lying unconscious in sickbay, thin as a rake and covered in scars and wounds, but he was alive.

And Lieutenant Reed found that hard to accept.

Malcolm didn't know how long he had been lying there when the comm beeped for the second time that day. It was Phlox. "Lieutenant, please come to Sickbay. Commander Tucker has woken up, and he's been asking for you."

Chapter 3: Fear the Fantastic

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

Forget emaciated. Throw emaciated out of the nearest airlock if at all possible or necessary. Trip didn't look emaciated, Malcolm realised with a sickening acknowledgement. In the cold lights of Sickbay, awake and seemingly alert, Trip looked gaunt, barely more than flesh and bone, and seemed as though he was struggling just to stay awake.

And whatever else he had been expecting to see, Malcolm was completely unprepared for the sight that lay in front of him. Trip, decked out in sickbay overalls, had a table set up next to the bed, with something on it.

"C'mon," Trip said impatiently, waving his arm in the lieutenant's direction. "I ain't gonna be awake all day."

Malcolm did as he was told and sat down. "You look pretty good for a dead man," he said quietly, not making eye contact. He saw Trip quirk his head and turned to face him properly.

"I am the ghost of Charlie Tucker! Fear me!" An effect that was sadly spoiled by a grating, raspy voice and the lack of emotion in it; it sounded as though he hadn't used his voice in a while, but the sentiment was encouraging.

Despite himself, Malcolm smiled. "Good to have you back, Trip."

"Damn good to be back," Trip replied.

"If - if you don't mind my asking, Trip, what - what happened to you?"

The question was dismissed. "Nuh-uh. Not now. C'mon, Loo-tenant. Am I movin' first, or are you?"

Blankly Malcolm stared at him, then at the tabletop beside him. A draughts board. Something inside him stirred, and he remembered.

Today was Tuesday.

"After you," he said with a flourish, and Trip slowly reached out and with apparent relish moved a certain counter to a certain free space on the board. Here we go again...

o o o o o

The model's performance was exemplary, according to all reports. The command codes that had been inserted were functioning well within expected parameters and the final modifications had come into effect and were living up to their purpose.

Everything was going according to plan.

So far.

o o o o o

"He beat you?" Travis Mayweather asked, incredulous.

Malcolm sighed, and pushed some more of his pasta around his plate. "Hands down, each time. I've never seen anything like it." Finally he scooped some of the pasta onto his spoon and started to chew it. He almost gagged. The spaghetti was tough and stringy, and the meat was just as bad; it took considerable effort to swallow it.

"That would be because it's cold, Lieutenant," Travis said sagely, watching the look on his face. "Next time, I suggest you not play with it." He then bit into his sandwich with apparent relish. "Either that or eat cold food," he offered through stray pieces of cress and lettuce.

"Wonderful advice, Doctor," Malcolm replied sarcastically. He threw one last dirty look at the pasta and pushed the plate to one side.

"You know," Travis said, putting what was left of the sandwich down, "I do think it's a little strange."

"What is?"

The helmsman shrugged. "I don't know. It's just that we found that pod on a Y-class planet, didn't we?"

Malcolm nodded, not seeing where this was going.

"What was it T'Pol said about that planet?"

"About Y-class planets?" Travis nodded, waving his fork in affirmation. "Mm. The sub-commander said that that specific type of planet is inhospitable for humanoids; surface temperatures can reach upwards of five hundred Kelvin. They typically have atmospheres based on highly toxic gaseous compounds and thermionic radiation, and most people would suffocate within minutes without a breathable air supply."

"Wonder how they know that," Travis muttered darkly. Malcolm stared at him for a few moments. "Anyway," he continued, "my question is how did he survive?"

"That's something we'd all like to know the answer to," Malcolm replied carefully. "And as soon as he's ready to talk about it, we might just get it."

"He wouldn't tell you?"

Malcolm shook his head. "Told me to shut up, sit down and play. Later he told me he wanted to get it out of his system. The games, I mean. He said that he felt guilty for having missed the last six, so we played six there and then, to make up for the deficit." He shook his head briefly, and rested his head in one hand. "And he, quite literally, kicked arse. His game was like nothing I've ever seen before." Malcolm smiled wryly. "It was almost as if he's finally taken in all the advice I've given him in the past."

"Such as?"

"Always keep yourself three steps ahead of the opposition."

Travis shot Malcolm a severely fish-eyed look. "Lieutenant, we're talking about a game of checkers here. Not chess or whatever."

"It's called draughts," Malcolm corrected, "and both games work along the same lines of logic. It's a question of patience, skill and perseverance."

"Come here a minute," Travis said suddenly, reaching out with one hand. He grabbed Malcolm's head, and despite his protests twisted it to one side, then released his grip.

"What was that for?" Malcolm asked, massaging the area the other man had gripped.

Travis shrugged. "Just making sure your ears weren't growing all pointy."

"Oh, very funny, Mister Mayweather," Malcolm said. "Another stunt like that and I'll be forced to quote Surak to you."

Travis paled. "You've read his works?"

"No," the lieutenant admitted. "But I can always find the time to read them."

"You're definitely in a better mood," Travis observed, returning to his sandwich.

"What do you mean?" Malcolm asked, unable to look away from the lettuce, the cress, the mayonnaise, the... whatever the pink goo was. It looked like some sort of salad dressing. It looked disgusting. Thank goodness he hadn't eaten after all.

"With all due respect, you've been like a zombie for the past six weeks," Travis said, then appeared to reconsider, looking slightly abashed.

"I think we all have, to a certain extent."

"Yeah, but you and Hess especially. Not to mention the captain." Travis shrugged and ate the last of his sandwich. "Anyway, at least things are getting back to normal."

Malcolm nodded, although he didn't entirely agree. "It's just going to take some time, that's all," he said quietly. He then got up and left the mess.

And at the back of his mind, something still niggled. Something wasn't quite right with this scenario, something was definitely wrong with it all, but Malcolm dismissed it.

He did, after all, have somewhere to be.

o o o o o

The command codes that operated the model and kept events in check were performing as expected, based on the results from the preliminary tests. No sign of malfunctions, or glitches, or anything that would undermine the model's performance.

But unbeknownst to anyone, there was a defect in the software. Minor, so minor that it had escaped all the scans and evaded detection in the tests, but major enough to potentially ruin everything.

It was hidden in the receptors that the model had been equipped with, within the codes that monitored and relayed information gathered by the visual receptors. It lay there, dormant, like a virus, something that could be triggered at any time.


It was just a matter of time.

Chapter 4: Knowhere

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o 

"I've contacted his parents, and I've talked to Starfleet Command," Jonathan said wearily. "Both groups of people want to know exactly what happened to Trip during the past six weeks." He paused. "Forrest wants the overview and medical diagnosis and prognosis, and Trip's mother wants every detail down to the last micrometer."

"Given the situation, that is to be expected of a human parent," T'Pol said calmly. It was not a condescending statement, more a concise admission of the facts, and Malcolm caught himself wondering if T'Pol's parents would be the same if it were their child who had gone missing instead of Trip, even if it was only at a near-unconscious level.

"Given the situation," Malcolm added, "it may be a while until Trip is ready to talk to anybody about what happened, if indeed he ever will, or indeed wants to, depending on the events that took place."

"What do you mean?" Jonathan asked, coming around his chair and leaning heavily on the back of it.

Malcolm considered his reply before responding. "Speaking impartially, sir, I believe that there are two possible versions of events that could have happened to Commander Tucker."

"Go on," Jonathan said, finally sitting down. To the lieutenant's experienced eye, he looked tired and irritable, much like Malcolm himself felt inside.

"The first option is that the shuttlepod's crash on the planet was carefully orchestrated to make it appear as though the pilot had died in transit, perhaps as the pod was entering the atmosphere, and that the orchestrators were a third party who then held him hostage until he either escaped or was released."

"That's a little far-fetched," Jonathan murmured. "A little too far-fetched, I think," he added in a slightly louder tone.

"I never said either would be the correct version," Malcolm replied. "I just said they were possibilities."

The captain nodded and waved his hand almost helplessly in the air. "What's the other option, then?"

"That Commander Tucker was not onboard nor anywhere near the shuttlepod when it crashed in the storm."

"Which would place him where?" T'Pol asked, surprising Malcolm. He wouldn't have thought she went in for hypothesising and speculation, but here she was.

He shrugged. "On another ship, one of the other M-class planets in the system. Anywhere, but unaware of his situation, surroundings or any people who may have been with him during this period of time. The crash this time would have been an accident caused by an anomalous incident, such as a malfunction or some sort of a gravity well."

"There was only one inhabited Minshara class planet in the system where the shuttlepod was discovered," T'Pol offered. "A species that only recently crossed the warp threshold. They freely offered us all information pertaining to what they called the 'shooting star' that landed on the next planet; the shuttlepod."

"That doesn't necessarily mean they were telling us the whole truth," Malcolm pointed out.

"What are you implying?" Jonathan asked suddenly, jerking his head up.

"Nothing," Malcolm said quickly. "I'm just trying to cover all the bases here, so to speak."

Jonathan nodded. "Anything could have happened to him down there," he said quietly, almost as if he was speaking to himself. "And Trip's the only one who knows. Malcolm," he added, straightening up in his seat, "I want you to try and talk to Trip again. I think he might be willing to talk to you."

"What about you, sir?" Malcolm asked, momentarily not caring for protocol and all the rest of it.

Jonathan shook his head sadly. "He's all clammed up." He looked over at Malcolm, a quizzical expression on his face. "He's spent enough time trying to get you to open up, Lieutenant. Maybe it's time you returned the favour."

Lucky me. "Yes, sir." Malcolm got up out of his chair and made for the door of the ready room.

"I heard he beat you at checkers, Malcolm," Jonathan added as the door swished open. He smiled to himself as Malcolm's shoulders stiffened almost imperceptibly. "Don't be too hard on him."

"With all due respect, sir, the game's called draughts, not checkers." The door closed behind Jonathan and T'Pol with a faint hiss.

o o o o o

The anomalous defect of the programming inherent in the model's visual receptors had grown slightly, although it remained in its dormant state. Not enough to be noticed by anybody who cared to investigate to that level, perhaps even not enough to make a difference at all; after all, not even the model was aware of the anomaly.

The anomaly did not register on the limited internal scanning the model was capable of, therefore it was irrelevant. But somewhere in the readable programming, one single piece of information stood out slightly from all the others, inexplicably so;

All change is relevant.

o o o o o

Malcolm didn't go straight to Sickbay. Instead he went back to his cabin for the third time that day, deciding it was about time he finished his pistol. At one point in time it had been an ordinary, run-of-the-mill Starfleet issue phase pistol, or rather it had been until Lieutenant Reed had hit upon yet another apparently hare-brained scheme to improve on its design.

Well, he wasn't Enterprise's armoury officer for nothing. He was determined to make this particular plan come to fruition, if for the sake of success then for his own sanity. It was this little project that had had this kept him on this side of insanity for some weeks now, and he'd be damned if he was going to let it all go to hell now.

Malcolm spent some time working at his computer console, trying to finish the final adjustments that were based on the calculations he had managed to do before being interrupted by the captain. There was a part of him that realised that Captain Archer would most likely be more then just a little pissed that a pistol was taking priority over Trip Tucker, but there was another part of the lieutenant that argued that once the modifications were complete he would have all the time in the universe to attempt to persuade the commander to open up, as it were.

If he was honest with himself, he had absolutely no idea as to how to go about it. It was easy enough in theory, he thought. Go up to the man in Sickbay, share some anecdotes about one or the other of them always being able to cheat death, and from there lead on to what truly happened.

The only problem with that little scenario was that Lieutenant Reed knew better than almost anybody else on Enterprise that what worked in theory rarely, if ever, worked when put into practice.

Malcolm had been running a brief internal scan of the pistol's composites as he was thinking; he had become so totally engrossed in his thoughts that he failed to notice the smallest of glitches in the pistol's programming as the computer finished the scan of the now completed modified phase pistol.

The glitch was small, very nearly undetectable, but with the right catalyst it was potentially lethal.

Malcolm set the pistol down on the table's surface and headed for Sickbay.

Chapter 5: Last Boat to America

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

Trip was running, running blindly through endless bare corridors of black and grey and melting shadows. He was completely enveloped in darkness, and everywhere he turned he could hear them behind him. He never knew where they were; he only knew that he would never be able to outrun them. He had tried once, and suffered greatly as a consequence. They had warned him against a second attempt, but Trip had never known himself to be intimidated by anyone who acted the way they did.

So, inevitably, he ran again. The same featureless corridors took him to the same featureless places as before, until he could hear them up ahead; they had managed to move around and in front of him. This was their world and they had anticipated him and the moves he would make, and in doing so had managed to stay at least one step ahead of him.

They were unrelenting, and Trip found himself surrounded by them yet again. He had no intention of going quietly, it wasn't the way he did things, and it sure as hell wasn't going to change now, but the longer he persisted to struggle against them, the stronger they irrevocably became. Resistance was indeed futile, however much and hard he tried to fight against it.

Finally, Trip gave up and surrendered himself to the darkness.

o o o o o

The only patient in Sickbay was sleeping when he arrived. Malcolm hadn't been privy to Phlox's most recent reports on Trip, so he wasn't too sure what to expect; the sight of the commander sleeping was a little reassuring; it also reminded Malcolm that he was due a little rest as well, but he brushed the thought to one side. Sleep could wait. This couldn't.

He needed to be there when Trip woke up. Malcolm sat on one of the chairs next to the bed, and pulled a padd out of his pocket; the day's status reports from security and the armoury. Realistically speaking, he could be there all night if he had to.

And he would be.

As he settled down to do some reading, Malcolm caught the sight of Trip twitching slightly as he slept, and thought he could hear the man moaning softly to himself, and wondered what he was dreaming about. A moment later Trip quietened down, and his movements became less erratic. Seconds later, and he was sleeping peacefully again.

"Looks like he found what he was looking for," Malcolm said out loud, mostly to himself as he doubted any of Phlox's animals could understand English. "Pecans, probably."

He returned to the padd, and to Ensign Rose's dry, tedious narration. It was going to be a long night.

o o o o o

The anomaly in the model's program shifted variance, moving almost no distance at all relative to the remainder of the programming, but it was enough, barely enough, to just shift into the range of probable detection in the future. Almost as if it was thinking for itself. Almost as if it was sentient.

Which was impossible. True, the anomaly was atypical of the programming, but it was still merely programming. The product of an unknowingly unbalanced equation, but it was still programming.

Programming was by no means sentient. Neither was the model. The model was built to a set of defined specifications, designed to do its job and that job alone.

Yet there the evidence was.

The anomaly's shift in variance should not have occurred.

But it had.

o o o o o

A loud thumping noise from behind him jolted Malcolm from a light doze. A light suddenly snapped on, and it took a minute for him to realise that he was in Sickbay, not his bed. Which would explain why he was sitting up and there was a pronounced ache in the small of his back, then.

He looked up to see Trip wide awake, himself sitting up on the biobed, and looking around him with a panicked look on his face, and a wild, almost unrecognisable look in his eyes.

"Trip?" he asked quietly, getting no response. "Trip!"

Finally Trip turned to face him, the small light casting shadows on the lines of his face. He peered intently at Malcolm for a moment before speaking in the same hoarse voice as before. "Mal?"

"Er, yes," Malcolm said slowly.

"I thought you were Hess again," Trip said, suddenly matter-of-fact, pushing another control next to the bed, and the light brightened to an almost daytime level. "She keeps comin' in here, askin' me an' the doc when I'm goin' to be able to go back on duty."

"She was all but ordered to be your replacement," Malcolm pointed out. "You can hardly expect her to relish the role now that you're back."

"I know."

"She took your... disappearance pretty badly, Trip. The whole of the engineering staff did. You really shouldn't be so hard on Hess."

"I know," Trip repeated sombrely, then added, "but she can be so damn persistent sometimes!"

"Looks like she learned from the best," Malcolm remarked dryly, then winced and bit his lip in annoyance. He shouldn't have said that.

But strangely enough, Trip was grinning. Or rather, there was a ghost of his usual grin on his face, but it was there nevertheless. "Yeah," he said absently. The smile was still there, as was the odd look in his eyes.

Malcolm put it down it to exhaustion, and continued. "Feeling any better?" he asked conversationally.

Trip nodded as he shifted his pillow around, evidently trying to make himself a bit more comfortable while he was sitting up. "Both Phlox and Chef are convinced I need feedin' up," he said settling back a little. "I think I've had more food in the last day than I've had in the last six months! Not that I'm complainin', mind," he added as an afterthought, "but it is gettin' to be a bit overwhelmin', if you know what I mean."

"I think so," Malcolm replied, trying to resist grinning; the idea of Trip actually rejecting good food was rather bizarre.

"Who are you?" Trip asked him suddenly, throwing Malcolm completely off stance.

"What?" he asked.

"I mean, are you Loo-tenant Reed, or are you my buddy Malcolm?" he clarified. "Bein' here in the middle of the night can't have been your idea, someone must've sent you to talk to me. I just want to know who I'm talkin' to."

"Who would you rather be speaking with?" Malcolm asked tersely, trying not to let it show.

Trip considered this for a moment as he fidgeted with the thin sheets. "I think I'd rather the loo-tenant hear this," he said softly. "Don't know how Mal's gonna react to it."

"How do you think he would?" Malcolm asked quietly, not entirely sure he wanted to hear the answer.

Trip looked Malcolm straight in the eyes. "Same as always. Reach for the nearest gun and start shootin' all the bad guys."

"Are there any bad guys?"

"Don't know." It sounded like he was telling the truth.

"I can stay objective if that's going to help," Malcolm said.

"Me or you?" Trip asked facetiously, and then shook his head. "No. No. Right now I'm your superior officer and you're the chief of security. Not Trip and Malcolm. Not this time," he said, almost as if he was talking to himself rather than to his friend.

Malcolm wondered briefly who he was trying to convince here, then let it go. "What do you want to discuss, Commander?" he asked, his voice taking on its normal professional, clipped tone. He sounded a lot more cold and distant, even to his own ears.

Trip sent him a quick, grateful smile before assuming a much more businesslike air himself, or rather as businesslike as one could get wrapped up in a sickbay blanket. "Several things, Loo-tenant," he said quietly and brusquely, "startin' with what happened on Shuttlepod Two."

"Whenever you're ready, Mister Tucker."

Trip wrapped his blanket a little tighter around himself, took a deep breath and began.

o o o o o

The anomaly was growing all the time now, just as slowly as before, but the pattern and regularity of growth was becoming much more paced, much more rhythmic, if at all possible, and it was beginning to gain control over the most basic codes within the model's programming. A few at first, minor, so minor they were almost irrelevant, but the combined codes had a much greater significance.

The model had already sensed the beginnings of a threat, recorded on the scanning systems it possessed, but by the time it knew where the true threat was coming from, and understood the nature of it, it would be too late.

The anomaly would be too large, too complex by then.

What happened then would be anybody's guess.

o o o o o

"I was in the shuttlepod, y'know, sittin' in the pilot's seat, enjoyin' the view, checkin' the course headin' was still laid in correct; nothin' really abnormal. Pod entered the system where the tradin' colony was, an' I commed them to let them know I was comin' an' what my intentions were an' all the rest of it, 'cause they were a bit picky like that, y'see. The Nebaren, I mean." Trip was speaking slowly, deliberately, as if he was determined to recall every detail and pass on the information.

Malcolm nodded to show he was listening, and to let Trip continue. "They were okay with it, an' told me they would most likely have the stuff I wanted but they wouldn't know for certain until I got down there. Pedantics, y'see. They had about eight different kinds o' bumpers, an' I was only after the one type.

"Anyway, I was gettin' close to the moon where the colony was when someone hailed the pod. Answered it an' there were these two folks claimin' to belong to the Yitashi Symposium."

Malcolm shook his head. He'd never heard of them before, and he would probably remember if he had come across the name in the Vulcan database.

"Never heard o' them before," Trip continued, echoing Malcolm's thoughts, "an' I woulda known if I had. With a name like that it'd be hard to get them confused. Weird thing 'bout them was they were red. Everywhere was red. Skin, hair, eyeballs, clothes, even the inside of the goddamned ship was red. Like somethin' out of a trashy Valentine's Day party. The cap'n - Dinare, her name was - told me that they worked with security on the colony, weedin' out suspected terrorists or somethin' like that, apparently someone tried to blow up the moon a few years before. Dinare said it was routine, would I please accompany them so they could check I wasn't carryin' anythin' big enough to make the moon go boom."

Lieutenant Reed thought this sounded fair enough. After all, he would probably do exactly the same to keep Enterprise in as few pieces as possible.

"So I went behind them for a bit an' we landed by this tiny complex a little way away from the colony itself. Met Dinare and her security guy - he didn't say much, him - an' I showed them the power cells and fluids I was takin' to trade for the bumpers I needed. Passed the inspection, and I took off again in the shuttlepod. Coupla minutes away from the colony an' another ship's comin' up behind me. I remember thinkin' somethin' along the lines of were these people takin' lessons from Loo-tenant Reed, they were that damn persistent with the whole security thing."

Malcolm chafed a little at that. He wasn't that bad, was he? He was only doing his job after all.

"An' then I thought these people were only doin' their jobs, so I slowed down again an' answered their hail." Trip stopped and looked over at Malcolm, still playing the part of the model chief of security. "Then they fired at me. Next thing I know I'm in some room somewhere, an' these people are askin' me all these questions. Who do I work with, what do I do on my ship. Started givin' them total bull about matchmakin' and playin' games with my colleagues. That's the last thing I remember," he finished, staring down into his quilt, now pooled around his crossed legs. "S'far as I know one minute I was in that room, the next I'm on a shuttle an' I didn't know where the hell I was, an' then Enterprise started registerin' on the sensors. Took me a while to figure out what all the beepin' an' the screechin' was, but I made my way home."

Trip stopped and looked over at Malcolm, who found himself leaning forward slightly in his chair. He didn't say anything else, but after a while his shoulders started shaking and his gaze was redirected back to his feet.

Awkwardly, Malcolm got up and sat on the edge of the bed. "Trip?" he asked, reaching a tentative hand to the man's shoulder.

And that was it. Trip started crying, and Malcolm found himself being leaned on rather heavily, and it out him in quite the precarious position on the edge of the biobed. Uncertainly, he drew his friend into a hug, and felt Trip bury himself in his shoulder, shaking.

They stayed like that for the rest of the night.

o o o o o

Still incapable of detecting the anomaly, the model continued to perform to the optimum that it's programming allowed.

Chapter 6: Land of Loss

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

For the next two days Malcolm religiously avoided Sickbay, either by deliberately mounting up the work he had to do outside his usual shifts in the armoury or by simply working extra shifts. And it wasn't that it was Trip so much he was trying to avoid, although that played some small role in it all. It was Phlox, annoyingly enough.

He had come in at the start of the morning shift to see to his animals, and had found Trip, who had eventually fallen asleep against Malcolm's smaller frame. And he had clearly got the wrong impression about it, if the subtle references he had tried to give to Malcolm as he was trying to leave were anything to go by. The good doctor may have been a lot of things, but psychologist and expert on human behaviour he was not.

Malcolm could only hope that the doctor wasn't telling Captain Archer everything about Trip's progress, although he had himself submitted an official report regarding Trip's story from that night. The report had gone on file and had been forwarded to Starfleet Command. An extra copy had also found its way rather mysteriously to the Tucker household, under the guise of a medical report from Doctor Phlox, although nobody on Enterprise was officially aware of it.

Although it had to be said that even though Malcolm had miraculously managed to avoid more-than-normal interaction with almost everybody for two days, he was amazingly up to date on Trip's condition, courtesy of the armoury staff.

Gossip seemed to be the order of the day, amongst much of the work done, and Malcolm had quickly identified Ensigns Rose and Maritas as the main culprits in his department; they were the two in his team that had friends down in Engineering (who got all their information directly from Lieutenant Hess), so when Malcolm heard that Trip was due to be reporting back on duty soon, he found that he believed what he was hearing. After all, Maritas and Hess were good friends anyway, and Malcolm had never known Rose to lie about anything in the past; why should it change now?

He had done what Captain Archer had asked him to; he had spoken with his friend and extracted the details surrounding his... experience. He had also managed to offer some measure of comfort when that friend needed it most. Doctor Phlox's assumptions about the pair had stopped bothering him after his second mug of very strong coffee. So why was he trying to stall? Malcolm couldn't for the life of him work out what was bothering him, only that he didn't want to go near the ship's sickbay, even given his past history with personal injuries and extended medical treatment. No, he realised at one point. This was different. He wasn't sure how, but it was.

It then came as an uncomfortable surprise for him that when Ensign Rose fell from one of the ladders in the access tubes (the whole of the armoury staff heard the smack as he made contact with the decking below him); he felt an inordinate wave of pleasure that he had to escort Rose to Sickbay. Malcolm still didn't want to go there, but there was something niggling at the back of his mind; somehow he knew that the only way to get rid of the sensation was to visit Sickbay, like it or not.

Maritas and O'Malley managed to retrieve a rather embarrassed Rose from the access tube. As it turned out, he had simply lost his footing on the ladder and slipped the five feet through relative darkness, and he emerged gripping onto O'Malley's arm, the red on his face not quite matching the scarlet hue on his wrist.

"Come on, Matthew," Malcolm said, reaching underneath the other man's shoulders and supporting a clearly sprained ankle. "Let's get you to Phlox."

"Yessir," Rose said quickly, wincing as he tried to balance his weight without leaning too heavily on his commanding officer.

"Don't they make a cute couple?" Malcolm heard one of the crewmen behind them say in hushed tones as they reached the armoury door, apparently thinking they couldn't be heard either by Reed or Rose. He let it go (the odds of him being in a relationship with Rose were comparable to the odds of, say, him waking up one morning and not wanting to go near the armoury), and reached out to press the door release with one hand.

"Drop dead, O'Malley!" It looked as though Rose wasn't so self-restrained.

Malcolm chose to ignore the exchange with reasonable grace, and the pair made their way to Sickbay.

o o o o o

The true purpose of the mission had finally come to be. It had taken a little longer than anyone could or would have expected, but that in itself was to be expected.

Schedules weren't always cast in stone, after all.

The model's true mission was about to begin.

o o o o o

Phlox looked up from what he was attending to when Malcolm finally got Rose into Sickbay (manoeuvring the turbolifts had proved rather tricky) and set him down on the biobed closest to the door. It was then that Malcolm noticed the single other patient in there.

Commander Charles Tucker III, in his duty uniform, standing next to one of the monitors, his arms folded across his chest. He also looked considerably healthier in his uniform than he had when wearing the sickbay overalls.

"Ah, Ensign," Phlox said amiably as he pulled out a medical scanner and approached the biobed. "What seems to be the problem?"

Rose mumbled something under his breath. "I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to speak up, Mister Rose," the doctor prompted. "According to this scan your left ankle is quite badly sprained. May I ask how this happened?"

"Slipped in one of the maintenance tubes," Rose garbled hurriedly. "Fell right onto the ankle. And my arm," he added as a considered afterthought.

Malcolm left Phlox with his new patient and went over to where Trip was watching it all from behind cool blue eyes. "Trip," he said quietly. "Didn't expect to see you up and about so soon."

Trip inclined his head to one side. "I'm feelin' up to it," he replied, "an' the doc's nearly given me a clean bill of health."

"Nearly?" Malcolm repeated. "Why nearly?" he asked.

Trip shrugged nonchalantly. "'Parently there's somethin' wrong with the chemical transmitters connectin' my eyes an' the ol' grey matter up here," he said, knocking lightly on the side of his head. "Not sure what it is, but Phlox doesn't think it's anythin' dangerous."

"Does he know exactly what it is?"

"Nope, but I still got twenty-twenty vision," Trip said lightly. He then cast a furtive look around sickbay. "I got out of here for less than an hour before Phlox came runnin' along to my quarters, tellin' me there was somethin' up with the scans. Practically dragged me back to Sickbay by my ear." He shuddered lightly. "Nobody's done that to me since I was a kid, and even then it was only my mama."

"But you're feeling better, though?" Malcolm asked.

"I'm feelin' fine," Trip enunciated pointedly. "An' that would be my version of the word, not yours. I'm feelin' a lot more... I guess a lot more human than I have for a while."

"I know how that feels," Malcolm muttered darkly.


"Never mind," he said quickly.

"The cap'n wants to check my duty rosters with you at some point," Trip added. "Somethin' about remainin' professional an' all that. He seems to think he can trust ya not to overwork me straight away. Y'know, make sure I'm not doin' too much at once an' all the rest of it."

Malcolm considered this for a moment, then nodded. "Does this mean you want to work fewer hours, or more?" he asked innocently.

Trip shot him a dark look. "As long as I'm back with my engines, I don't care what I'm doin'," he said. "S'long as the paperwork gets filtered through slowly." He considered this last statement for a minute, then grinned slightly. "I'm definitely gonna make Hess's day," he said. "One of the things she kept complainin' about when she came visitin' was that I'm awful at organisin' stuff like that."

"And I can't imagine where she got that idea from," Malcolm remarked dryly, smirking slightly.

Trip didn't answer him; instead he looked over Malcolm's shoulder. Looking back, the lieutenant saw that Phlox was still tending to Rose. "Why've you been avoidin' me, Loo-tenant?" Trip asked, taking him aback for a moment.

"Work," he said quickly. Almost too quickly.

Trip raised his eyebrows. "Wouldn't have anythin' to do with Phlox's questionin' ya the other mornin', would it?"

Malcolm blushed. "He got entirely the wrong idea," he replied. "I thought it best to leave the situation in case the good doctor decided it was time to update the captain any further as to your mental progress."

"Ah," Trip said wisely. "I spoke to Jon this mornin'."


He shrugged again. "And nothin'. Told me it was great that I was gettin' back on duty, and reminded me to call Mama again, 'cos she's been frettin' somethin' rotten while I've been confined to Sickbay." He grimaced suddenly. "Felt real guilty when she called the other day," he said.

"How so?" Malcolm asked.

Trip lightly scratched the beck of his neck. "I dunno exactly," he said slowly, "but I got the feelin' that she blamed the cap'n for this whole shebang."

Malcolm quirked an eyebrow. "You know, that sounds a lot like something my father would say," he commented, suddenly becoming very fascinated indeed with... something on the opposite side of Sickbay.

"Somehow, that ain't very reassurin'."

"Somehow, I don't think it was meant to be."

Trip grunted in agreement.

"So what are you planning to do on your first morning back on the job?" Malcolm asked, more as an attempt to keep the conversation going than out of any real curiosity, although to a certain extent he was. A little. Not too much, mind.

"Absolutely no idea," Trip said. "Make sure the whole place hasn't gone to hell while I've... well, y'know what I... " His voice trailed off hesitantly, and he stared unblinkingly at the decking.

"Do you want to talk again?" Malcolm asked quietly, sensing the other man's clear discomfort.

Trip looked up again, and for a moment Malcolm once again saw that fleeting, ghostly look that almost bordered on desperate sadness. He was about to reply when Phlox came over, his usual grin in place. "I've sent Ensign Rose back to his quarters," he told Malcolm in an amiable voice. "Off-duty for thirty-six hours. Doctor's orders!"

Malcolm acknowledged this with a nod, already working out who among his team he could cajole into a little overtime later. Maritas probably would, he realised. Delaney, too. Failing all else, he was their commanding officer, after all. That didn't count for nothing these days.

"... up on the bed, Commander," Phlox was saying, and it took a moment for Malcolm to come back to reality. "This shouldn't take more than a few minutes."

Trip scowled, but did as he was told, leaning on the side of the bed for balance, and facing the sickbay doors as Phlox pulled out a whole array of scanning equipment and laid them on a tray. "I assure you Mister Tucker, you will be able to report for duty after this. Just as long as we don't find any infections or spores, hmm?" He chuckled, evidently in response to a joke, but Malcolm couldn't work out what it was and he sorely doubted Trip would be able to either.

Right then, without warning, every light in Sickbay extinguished and for an instant the room was in darkness. Just as suddenly, the lights came back on.

"How odd," Phlox mused, looking at one of the lighting panels.

Malcolm was already moving towards the doors. He had no doubt he would be needed on the bridge, and minutes later, when he emerged from the turbolift his suspicions were confirmed. He took his seat at tactical with professional ease and looked around the bridge. T'Pol was working rapidly at the science station, occasionally diverting her attention to the consoles behind her.

"Lieutenant," Jonathan said, crossing over to where Malcolm was sat. "I need you to bring the cannons online."

"Is there some kind of a threat?" Malcolm asked immediately, feeling the quick onset of mild panic mixed with adrenaline.

"Call it a precautionary measure," Jonathan said grimly. "I'm sure you understand."

"Aye sir," Malcolm said, already running through the sequences that would activate the three phase cannons. "Cannons online and fully charged," he reported a moment later.

Jonathan acknowledged this with a nod of the head, but was instead focused on the science station. "T'Pol?" he asked.

At last she looked up. "I believe I have traced the source of the power surge, Captain," she said calmly, her voice betraying no kind of emotion.


"The radiation appears to be emanating from approximately thirteen hundred metres behind the port warp nacelle," she elaborated, "although sensors cannot detect anything there, nor is there any more trace of the radiation."

"So where is it, then?" Malcolm asked. "Somehow I doubt radiation is in the habit of simply spiking and then vanishing without a trace."

"That would be a logical assumption, Lieutenant," T'Pol said. "However there is no other explanation that can be drawn from this."

As she finished speaking, the ship pitched violently from side to side, knocking Jonathan to the decking, and throwing both Malcolm and Travis out of their seats. T'Pol gripped onto the railing in front of her, and barely managed to avoid toppling. Malcolm fell onto his back, and felt a dull pain shoot up the back of his spine. By the time he had managed to get back up onto his chair, the captain was looking furious.

"What the hell just happened?" Jonathan shouted to nobody in particular.

Malcolm and T'Pol attacked their respective stations, and a moment later the tactical officer had his answer. "It seems that the plasma relays along the port nacelle have blown, sir," he said hurriedly. "There's fairly extensive damage to the aft section of E-deck, and the hull plating in that area's been badly scorched."

"Casualties?" the captain asked, suddenly looking worried.

"That's the odd thing, sir," Malcolm said, now completely mystified. "According to this, all personnel in that particular section of E-deck were ordered to evacuate ten minutes ago. In fact... " he stopped speaking, staring at the information scrolling out in front of him.

"Malcolm?" Jonathan said warily. "I need some answers."

"The relays were blown manually, Captain," Malcolm said, stunned by what he was seeing. "And internal sensors are only picking up a single biosign in the vicinity right before they discharged."


It was T'Pol who supplied the answer. "Commander Tucker."

Chapter 7: The Other Side

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

The anomaly had been detected by the program that held the model together.

But it was too late. The anomaly's growth had been cautious, had slowly but surely taken its time - and now it was large and complex enough to pose a fatal threat to the program.

The anomalous codes were beginning to assert control over the main program, a little at a time; when the time was right, the final move could be calculated.

The program, and with it the model, would be destroyed from within.

o o o o o

Malcolm didn't take a security team down to the aft section of E-deck - he didn't want to unnecessarily put any of his men or women at risk - but he was armed, having taken the modified pistol from the armoury (which, thankfully, hadn't sustained damage).

He hoped he wouldn't need to be.

E-deck bore the appearance of a bombsite from the Third World War. Which, Lieutenant Reed mused, was probably a fair comparison. Smoke was pouring out of almost every ventilation shaft that was still intact, preventing him from seeing anything beyond about three feet in front of him, if that. Come to think of it, it was a miracle that his allergies hadn't reared their ugly heads yet. Although it wouldn't be good to tempt fate, he silently reprimanded himself. Now of all times.

He slowly worked his way from the turbolift to the beginnings of the section where the warp nacelle began interacting with the deck's systems. Here was where the damage was the worst, and the smoke from the ventilation shafts was an ominous black instead of grey.

Walking along deserted, smoky corridors, Malcolm had never felt more isolated in his life. The pistol was securely holstered at his hip, and the scanner he had brought with him had quickly been consigned to a pocket, as he was unable to read the display unless it was inches from his face, which didn't bode well for anybody, least of all him.

Or Trip. If he was still alive.

Malcolm rounded another corner, and promptly fell over something splayed in the middle of the corridor, landing squarely on his stomach. Irritated, he reached back with one hand to push away the offending piece of equipment... only to find that instead of being hard and metallic as he had expected, the obstacle was fairly bulky, oddly squishy, and moved beneath his hand as he poked it with numb fingers.

Trip. It had to be. He was alive then, if the movements were anything to go by, although Lieutenant Reed was no physician. That was a job best left to the professionals. Speaking of which...

Malcolm retracted his hand, and started to push himself up until he was squatting next to the commander's prone form. Holding onto the wall for balance, he pulled out a communicator from another pocket and flipped it open.

"Reed to Captain Archer," he said into it, almost wincing at how much of the noise was swallowed up by the smoke around him.

"Go ahead, Malcolm," the captain replied.

"I've found Commander Tucker," Malcolm said stiffly, concentrating on watching the man in front of him breathing in and out, "but I believe he needs medical attention. I'm going to take him straight to Sickbay."

"Acknowledged. We'll meet you there, Lieutenant," the captain said. "Archer out."

Malcolm flipped the communicator shut and replaced it in his pocket. Briefly he wondered whom the captain was intending to bring to Sickbay with him, but that was irrelevant.

What was relevant was how he was going to get an unconscious man who was both considerably taller and heavier than him to Sickbay in as small a period of time as possible. It was going to be tricky, but Lieutenant Reed never let it be said that he shied away from a new challenge.

For the moment, at least, Trip was in his line of vision. Cautiously, Malcolm reached out and poked the body with a foot. No response. Satisfied, Malcolm kept the foot in contact with Trip's arm as he awkwardly used the wall behind him to stand up completely. Satisfied he wouldn't overbalance, he then reached out with one arm, then two, tracing back down his leg and onto the commander's chest. He positioned his hands either side of the shoulders and slowly hoisted Trip off the decking until he was upright and limp - rather like a marionette, Malcolm thought, although the analogy didn't appeal to him all that much. It was then a simple matter to drape the man over his shoulder and begin to retrace his steps back to the turbolift.

Nice and simple.

o o o o o

The model began systematically attacking the anomaly and the areas that directly surrounded and thus supported it. Although the model was not aware of the anomaly insofar as acknowledging its existence, it nevertheless reacted to the presence and changing nature of a threat.

The remote link that connected the model with its control was becoming fragmented, distorted by the waves and waves of interference that had appeared, well, out of nowhere. Instructions could not be transmitted, and all that could be done was to sit back and merely watch as their work began to fall apart in front of them...

o o o o o

"Can't you do anything to stop it?" Jonathan was practically shouting, struggling to keep in position, his face and neck turning red from exertion.

"The medication I've already tried has been rejected," Phlox replied through gritted teeth, "and any higher dosages would only increase the risk to the - to the patient!" Beginning to pant, the doctor loosened his grip for only an instant, but it was long enough; the legs beneath him flailed and kicked out, and without warning Phlox was kicked to the floor, the wind well and truly knocked out of him.

A second later the shaking stopped as abruptly as it had started. Malcolm, who had been trying to keep the arm and chest underneath him from moving freely, suddenly found himself collapsing on top of a now motionless Commander Tucker, his own arms giving way beneath him.

He hurriedly picked himself up just as Phlox was now warily approaching the biobed, and he and Jonathan silently clipped the bed's restraints into place where the doctor silently indicated them.

Still trying to regain his breath, Malcolm watched Trip for a moment, unsure of what to do next. The journey from the damaged section of E-deck had been uneventful enough, but the instant Trip's prone body had made contact with the biobed the shaking and convulsing had begun, almost as if the man was suffering from some kind of epileptic fit, which Lieutenant Reed knew to be impossible, but it had taken all three men just to keep Trip on the bed. So if it wasn't epilepsy, then what on earth was it?

"Doctor," Jonathan said warningly. A quick glance to his left showed Malcolm that the captain was similarly short of breath. "Answers?"

Phlox already had a medical scanner out, and was holding it over the commander's head. "My, my," he said absently as he studied the small display, "this is strange."

"Doctor!" Captain Archer was not in the mood for jokes right now, and it showed.

Phlox looked up and smiled. "Sorry, Captain," he said apologetically, "but I have to say that this is quite the mystery."

"What is?" Jonathan asked. "And no beating around the bush, Doctor. I'm warning you."

The doctor transferred the information on his scanner to the main medical display screen above Trip's biobed, where he was now restrained and still unconscious. An outline of the man's body and main nervous system appeared, with minute reams of text scrolling down next to it. Most of the lines that apparently represented the nervous system itself were tinted blue, but there were also a few strands of red encircling the rear lobes of the brain as well as the spinal cord and the heart. Phlox moved over to the display and began to explain what the two Starfleet officers were seeing. "The blue lines mark out Commander Tucker's hormonal nervous system," he said, indicating the swaths of lines.

Malcolm folded his arms across his chest and stepped forward. "Then what do the red lines mark?" he asked quietly, staring intently at the screen, almost as if doing so would force the display to give him some straight answers. It didn't work, of course, but it was worth a try.

"I was just getting to that, Lieutenant," Phlox replied. "The red lines show the presence of an abnormality in Mister Tucker's body, notably, of course, the hormonal nervous system."

"What does that mean?" Jonathan asked, coming around the biobed and leaning slightly on the side of it.

"That's the mystery, I'm afraid, Captain," Phlox said, looking back up at the screen. "All that I've been able to determine is that certain areas of his body are emitting an unknown type of radiation."

"Is it dangerous?" Malcolm asked immediately. "Harmful to the rest of the crew?"

"I don't believe so," the doctor said, perking up a little. "The radiation appears to be benign to most humanoids."

"So why is Trip... emitting it?" Jonathan asked, sounding confused.

"I believe I can answer that question," a new voice said. Looking behind him, Malcolm saw T'Pol standing in the centre of Sickbay, a padd in her hand. When had she arrived?

"Yes, Sub-commander?" Phlox prompted.

T'Pol held out her padd to the captain as she approached Trip's biobed. "Doctor, the radiation you detected originating in Commander Tucker's body is a perfect match for the radiation burst that the sensors detected shortly before the incident with the plasma relays," she said calmly.

"Where was that burst?" Jonathan asked absent-mindedly, studying the information on the padd.

"Thirteen hundred metres behind the port warp nacelle," she reminded him, "although there has not been a repeat occurrence of it since."

"So this means..." Jonathan began, then trailed off.

Malcolm finished the sentence for him. "It means, sir, that somehow the radiation was responsible for the apparent change in Trip's behaviour, either directly or indirectly."

"How?" Jonathan asked.

T'Pol moved towards the medical display, but didn't answer him; instead she looked at the doctor, and said, "What information do you have pertaining to Commander Tucker's radiation?"

"Not much, I'm afraid," Phlox answered, although he handed her his scanner. T'Pol went to one of the computer consoles, and linked up both the scanner and another padd to it. Malcolm watched, fascinated, as two identical sets of readings came up on the screen, although he was too far away to read the information.

"Captain," T'Pol called and automatically, Jonathan, Malcolm and Phlox surrounded the computer, jostling each other slightly as they tried to get into positions where they could all see what was going on, the captain ending up closest to the screen, crouched down next to his science officer.

"These are the scans of the radiation burst that were taken up on the bridge," she explained, indicating the leftmost part of the display. "And this is the radiation currently being emitted by Commander Tucker." The right-hand side was then indicated.

"A perfect match," Jonathan breathed.

"As Lieutenant Reed said, the radiation is almost certainly responsible for Mister Tucker's actions, given that the radiation had not shown up in any other crewmembers thus far," T'Pol said. "Internal sensors would alert us if that was to happen."

Malcolm remained sceptical. "But the question remains, Sub-commander; how does radiation affect a person's behaviour to the extent of deliberately sabotaging plasma relays?" he asked. "Unless we've got another set of hostile aliens bent on destroying Enterprise," he added facetiously, not really meaning anything by the comment.

Instead of reprimanding him, as he had expected, T'Pol was looking at him with a strange look in her eyes. "They would need a ship," she said finally. It seemed as though she was fighting her logic just to say it, but Malcolm was already picking up on her statement.

"And that ship would need to be cloaked in order to evade detection," he said quickly, his mind making the next connection.

"The beacons," Jonathan said, clearly following the same thread. He moved quickly to one of the comm panels on Sickbay and pressed down on the button. "Archer to the bridge."

"Go ahead, sir," Travis' voice answered.

"Travis, I need you to deploy the beacons and aim them aft of the ship. Thirteen hundred metres behind the port nacelle, to be exact. Set them on a rotating frequency."

"Aye sir," the helmsman replied. "Deploying the beacons... now."

There was a deathly silence in the sickbay while the officers waited for Travis to respond. It couldn't have been more than a minute or two, although to Malcolm it felt like a lot, lot longer.

"Captain," Travis said apprehensively, "we've got a cloaked ship sitting twelve hundred fifty metres behind the port warp nacelle, matching our speed and course. Unknown design, but the weapons ports don't look very friendly."

"Well done Travis," Jonathan said into the comm. "Retract the beacons and keep the same heading, but slow down to three point five."

"Three point five aye," Travis said.

"Keep her steady, Ensign. Archer out." Jonathan released the comm button.

"The co-ordinates of the alien vessel have been sent down to sickbay," T'Pol reported, intently studying the computer display in front of her. Malcolm joined her, his brain already in motion.

"Is there any way we can penetrate the cloak?" he asked her.

"No," T'Pol replied shortly. "The generators would be too well protected by other systems, as well as backup protocols."

"Looks like the cannons are out of the question, then," Lieutenant Reed mused. "What about the transporter?" he asked, speaking to himself. "I wonder if that could be used."

However, the armoury officer hadn't bargained on a Vulcan's sense of hearing. "If we could disrupt the field enough," she said calmly, "then a transport would be a viable option."

"But not very logical," Jonathan said, rejoining the little group assembled around the computer.

"I'm just trying to exhaust all the possible options, sir," Malcolm said, a little exasperated. While he was somewhat relieved that Trip's behaviour had an apparent cause, there were still too many unanswered questions, and in his private opinion this conversation was going nowhere fast.

"I didn't say it wasn't an option, Lieutenant," Jonathan responded, sounding a little amused. "I just said it wasn't very logical."

"So how do we disrupt the cloak enough to get a clear lock?" Malcolm asked. "I'm an armourer, not an engineer, and I doubt that blowing the thing to bits would get us anywhere."

"Maybe we don't need an engineer," Jonathan said, peering at the computer, now displaying rudimentary data on the alien ship. "Maybe we need a bit of skill and some good old-fashioned luck."

"What do you have in mind, Captain?" Phlox asked.

"Something to prevent a biosign from being detected both during transport and arrival," Jonathan said slowly. "And something unobtrusive enough to disrupt the cloak enough to enable the transport in the first place."

"Several of Enterprise's backup systems were damaged when the relays went out," Phlox said. "Including the auxiliary lighting. Surely a simple malfunction in another system would not be regarded as suspicious."

"A system such as the main deflector array," Malcolm continued. "Set at the right frequency..."

"A distortion would be created in the cloak large enough to allow a transport to take place undetected," T'Pol finished. "I will need to return to the bridge," she added, turning to the captain.

"Do it," he said, and she exited Sickbay.

"Thank you, Doctor," Jonathan said, looking over at Phlox.

"That's not at all necessary, Captain," he said, shaking his head, moving away to behind a partitioned curtain.

"Captain," Malcolm said urgently. "I... I believe I should be the one to transport to the alien ship."

"If it works," the captain amended with a small smile.

"If it works," Malcolm said through gritted teeth. "If it works, I want to be - with all due respect, I have to be the one that goes over there."

Jonathan considered this for a moment. "Why you, Malcolm?"

"Call it a hunch," the lieutenant replied lightly. "With good reasoning behind it. And I won't put myself in any unnecessary danger," he added as a belated afterthought.

"No. No unnecessary heroics," Jonathan stated.

A soft groaning noise behind them made both officers jump, and they turned around to see what the source of the noise was. Malcolm breathed in sharply when he realised what it was.

Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker was awake, however barely, and was looking around him in confusion. Malcolm looked to the captain once, and then went over and crouched down where Trip could see him.

"Mal...?" Trip whispered from behind half-closed eyes and a confused expression.

"It's me. I'm here, Trip." Malcolm couldn't think of what else to say.


"I didn't quite catch that."

With what looked like an immense effort, Trip opened his eyes fully and focused them on Malcolm. "I - I tried... to stop it... sorry... I tried..." His voice broke off and he fell unconscious again, his eyes half-closing again.

Malcolm knelt there for a moment, only partly aware of T'Pol calling the captain to inform them that she had devised a way of sending a single crewman over to the alien ship while avoiding detection, and the captain telling her that Malcolm would be the one transporting over.

Even as he stood up again and let his legs carry him to the transporter, and automatically checking that he was still carrying his modified pistol, Malcolm couldn't shake the feeling that he had just been talking to the real Trip Tucker.

Chapter 8: Discover the Destroyer

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

His doubts set in the moment he rematerialised on the alien ship. What was he thinking, for Pete's sake, suggesting that he come over here - alone - to a potentially hostile situation, with no backup and only a tinkered-with sidearm for self-defence? It was madness. It was suicide. It was...

He tried to stop thinking like that for the moment and instead took stock of his surroundings. He was standing at one end of a fairly long and rather badly lit corridor, but rather than doors being dotted here and there, there were open arches built into the walls at regular intervals; every four metres or so was Malcolm's educated guess. He pulled out his scanner and started checking for lifesigns, feeling a surge of irritation that the scanner's capacity was inexplicably limited to a ten metre radius. And what a surprise; no biosigns of any design within a ten metre radius.

Malcolm began to cautiously move along the corridor, noting with a small amount of satisfaction that with the exception of his head, he was almost completely camouflaged against the dark walls; mildly reassuring, but not very.

The room beyond the first archway yielded nothing of any personal or professional interest; it was full of what appeared to be canisters made of some transparent material. All of them were empty.

The second and third archways likewise revealed rooms that were either empty or contained items that Malcolm surmised to be an equivalent of 'junk', but the fourth room very much resembled the identical office layouts back at Starfleet Headquarters; a desk and chair in the centre of it with a computer console on the surface, and what appeared also to be a wall-based computer panel as well. Malcolm quickly went over to the desk and hunched over the chair rather than sitting down in it. The screen of the computer was blank. There were a series of small buttons lining one side of the screen, and after a small amount of deliberation, Malcolm pressed the topmost one.

Immediately the screen came to life, showing various diagrammatic references as well as impossibly large amounts of text. That was the first shock.

The second shock was that the text now scrolling down the screen was in perfect English. Intrigued, Malcolm sat down on the chair and began to read the information on the screen.

o o o o o

Trip was swimming in a hazy sea of grey and white. He thought it was strange, seeing as they had always kept him in the dark, both figuratively and literally. He still couldn't see anything beyond the faint shadows, though, just the endless swirls of pale colours, but at some instinctive level, he welcomed the change.

He had been struggling for so long, fighting a fight he knew he would he would probably lose, but he kept fighting anyway. Survival instinct, he knew it was called, and it was still as much a part of him as it had always been. Trip could also feel the slow onset of utter mental exhaustion, but he willed himself to stay alert. If he lost his grip he could lose all over again. It had taken him this long to get this far, and now he wasn't going to give up so easily.

He didn't know how to describe what it was that threatened him, except that it felt almost like a machine was watching his every move and then countering them with an effortless manner and style of execution. All he knew was that if it overpowered him, as it had done already, then all would be lost and he would be back to square one, and everything that he had gained so far would be lost to him.

He had already managed to regain control once, for the briefest of moments, although whether what he had done had been of any use he had yet to find out, and he doubted he ever would.

Trip felt as though he was sleeping, which was stupid, because who on earth knew what sleeping felt like? But either way he had the strangest feeling that for a few, desperate moments he had been awake, had been completely aware of his surroundings. That feeling had only lasted a minute or two, certainly no longer, but Trip knew he had to keep holding on. His friend needed him to, he knew it.

But for now he and his nemesis were equals. A stalemate.

But sooner or later one of them would gain the upper hand and the fight would end.

And Trip sensed with a grim determination that he had to be the victor.

o o o o o

Stunned, Malcolm sat back in the chair and stared at the information on the screen in front of him. A moment later, he realised he was shaking, and mentally he tried to will himself to stop, but it didn't work.

Really. Now he was just being stupid. But, still...

He looked back at the screen, and the single sentence that had gripped his heart; "The alien host was successfully subdued and replaced, despite the clear differences and variations in neural physiology and makeup."

Alien host. That could only be Trip. And Lieutenant Reed could only make one sound conclusion based on that sentence, combined with the rest he had read (which had turned out to be a long-winded medical report); Trip had been killed by whoever was on this ship and some kind of robotic being had taken his place on Enterprise. Malcolm was by his own admission no engineer, but he knew enough to know that some sort of android replacement would need to be incredibly sophisticated in order to pass for a human being, especially this human being in particular. Which only led to the question of where was the body, if indeed Trip had been...

"Come on, you idiot," he said to himself, "get a grip. Deep breath..." He closed his eyes for a moment, not wanting to see the offending material on the screen.

He didn't feel his scanner vibrate, which he had programmed to do so in the event of a non-human biosign, and he certainly didn't recognise the sound of a particle-beam weapon being discharged and fired...

One shot in the back, and Lieutenant Malcolm Reed was out cold.

Chapter 9: Realm of the Reaper

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

There were hazy shapes moving all around him, in swirls of pretty, pretty colours...

Malcolm Reed woke up, unable to move. He struggled for a moment, unable to fathom why he wasn't able to move. Then he realised with slow precision that he was in fact tightly bound to what felt suspiciously like a metal framework by his wrists, chest and ankles; aside from his head, he couldn't move any part of his body more than a few centimetres. And that fact did not bode well with him. Not at all.

"Lieutenant Reed."

The words snapped him out of his reverie and back into reality. Malcolm swung his head around sharply, both taking in what he could see of his surroundings and attempting to find the owner of the voice.

"That is what you would prefer to be called, is it not? Or have you become merely 'Malcolm' to your friends after all this time?" the voice asked mockingly.

"How do you know my name?" Malcolm managed to ask, surprised at how rasped his own voice was.

He was answered with amused laughter. "I know about you, Malcolm Reed," was the reply, and Malcolm now knew that the person... whoever it was was standing some way behind him, and he doubted there was anyone else at this precise moment in time. The two of them were in a room not unlike the one the computer had been in; the same russet blue walls and archway were the same colours, at least.

"How?" he asked again.

Footsteps echoed in the darkness, and once more Malcolm strained his neck to try and see behind him but again it was to no avail. The steps grew louder with each one, and finally the ghost of a shadow brushed on the limits of the lieutenant's range of vision. The shadow was like nothing Malcolm had ever seen before; the overall impression was vaguely humanoid, but the form was stooped rather severely forwards and there was something that looked suspiciously like a tail.

The figure turned and slowly clomped towards the stand that held Malcolm in place. In the dim light he could begin to make out smooth ridges running up from the jaw to behind two large, reptilian ears. And the eyes. The eyes were the worst thing of all.

They were large relative to the rest of the face, but were completely black; dark, soulless, emotionless eyes.

"I know about you, Malcolm Reed," the alien repeated, pushing his face even closer into the lieutenant's. "And that is all you need to know on that matter."

His breath was foul, and for a moment Malcolm struggled to breathe properly. "What have you done with Commander Tucker?" he asked evenly, inbetween short pants.

"Tucker is alive," the alien said nonchalantly. He moved away from Malcolm and a second later the lighting in the room brightened. It wasn't by much, but enough for Lieutenant Reed to be able to make out vague outlines of the walls in front and to the sides of him.

"Alive?" Malcolm asked. "You mean he isn't dead?"

The alien cut in sharply, turning around as he did so. "You would have us as cold-blooded murderers, Reed?"

"The thought had crossed my mind briefly," Malcolm replied caustically.

"No," the alien said, shaking his head. "No, no, no. Whatever we may do, we do not take life where there is no need to do so. No, I am no killer, Reed," he added angrily. "I am no killer."

Interesting, Malcolm noted. First the alien was speaking plurally, then in the singular. "Who's 'we'?" he asked.

The alien swung around again and stalked closer to Malcolm, the tail - yes, it was indeed a scaly tail - dragging behind him on the floor. "I am Vojeh," he said simply. "You are not supposed to know my existence at all, but that line has already been crossed and with it your fate has already been decided; there is no harm in telling a dead person more."

Lieutenant Reed fought to keep any emotions from showing on his face.

"I am Vojeh," the alien said again. "And I am one of the Shadow People."

"Shadow people?" Malcolm repeated to himself, unable to stop himself from doing so.

"Yes, Reed. My people have no name. The term 'shadow people' is an interesting metaphor I learned from your language. It has no more meaning as a phrase than your name or that of the starship Enterprise. It is a label, something with which attachment to an inanimate object or a living thing can be formed. The name itself is irrelevant; what matters is the existence and through it, the purpose."

Malcolm considered this for a moment, then went back to his earlier question. "What have you done with Commander Tucker?" he asked.

"You already know the answer to that, Reed," Vojeh said dismissively, apparently bored with where this conversation was going. "You have seen the evidence with your own eyes, but still you refuse to see the answer."

Frowning, Malcolm thought about Trip back on Enterprise. What evidence had there been to suggest that...

He remembered thinking that the man had changed ever since he had shown up in an alien shuttlecraft, and that had been nearly two weeks ago. Every subsequent interaction that he had had with the man, there had been this niggling presence at the back of his mind, continually arguing that something was wrong. And it had started with...


"You... you changed him, somehow," he said accusingly, trying to look as menacing as he could. But either Vojeh didn't understand the look, or it had no effect on him, although his ears pricked up and started twitching of their own accord, effectively turning what was left of Malcolm's stomach into mush. "I... it was you, wasn't it? The second shuttle that intercepted Trip. That was you."

"Getting very warm, Reed," Vojeh said calmly, although his ears were anything but. "And the number of names you have for this man is intriguing. What need is there for more than one designation of a person?" he asked nobody in particular. "It defies purpose, it defies logic," he said, taking a few more steps around in the small space; his equivalent of pacing, it seemed.

He caught Malcolm staring in sick fascination at his tail. "This, Reed, is a true rarity," he said, swinging the tail around into full view. "Many of my people opt to have these removed at an early stage of life, but there are some of us see them as symbols of who we are. They make us unique, Reed," he added, turning back to Malcolm. "And how many people can say that they have truly unique features?"

"Humans," Malcolm replied.

"Humans?" Vojeh repeated. "What is unique about you?" he asked contemptuously. "Your physical biology is lacking, your languages are simplistic and although Tucker provided an early resistance, we were soon able to break him. There is nothing remarkable about Homo sapiens," he finished.

"Break him? Break him how?" Malcolm asked, ignoring the slight on his species.

Vojeh sighed. "So many questions, Reed. Is that how you define humanity? An irrepressible urge to ask questions, a juvenile need to know anything and everything that is around them, regardless of whether they will understand or accept the answers or not? Is that what it is to be human? To demand knowledge with no consideration for the consequences? If that is what it is, than you are nothing more than children."

Cut the emotion from that little speech, and it could have been Ambassador Soval standing there, a rebellious part of Malcolm's mind whispered to him. He ignored it.

"What did you do to Trip?" Malcolm asked calmly, feeling anything but right at that moment.

Vojeh sighed again, the irritation clearly visible on his face as the ridges scrunched up seemingly of their own accord. "You ask so many questions, yet you cannot see what is right in front of you," he said. "Perhaps I should tell you after all.

"We are a people, Reed, of the shadows. We see no need to interact with aliens beyond that with those who once chanced upon our home planet. But those moments are sporadic, and few and far between. Some of us travel the stars, but it is a solitary business. Usually, there are no more than two assigned to any one of our vessels, but the other on this ship was killed some time ago. Tucker killed him," he said matter-of-factly.

Chills ran down Malcolm's spine.

"In the beginning, Tucker resisted more than we had anticipated. His body rejected the treatments he had been administered in order to make him co-operate, and as a consequence we had to resort to extreme measures to bring him under control. My colleague, the scientist, was eliminated for incompetence and I was left to carry on the mission alone."

"That must have been hard on you," Malcolm offered, making a small attempt at sounding sympathetic.

Vojeh shot what was clearly meant to be a dirty look at him, but said nothing, and Malcolm then realised that his ears had stopped moving. Instead he continued almost as if the human hadn't spoken. "Originally we had intended to learn what we could of Tucker and then dispose of him."

"Wait a minute," Malcolm interrupted. "I thought you said you weren't a killer, that you didn't kill unnecessarily."

"There is a difference, Reed, between deaths that are needful and those that aren't," Vojeh said patiently, as if talking to a young and not very bright child, "and in any case, there are many ways for a person to die accidentally. I'm sure a tactical officer like yourself would know that."

Again, Malcolm was reminded of how much this alien knew about him, and shuddered involuntarily.

"When Tucker refused to co-operate with us, it forced us down another route. Dispose of him, giving the impression of a tragic accident to anyone searching for him."

Shuttlepod Two in the snowstorm.

"Why are you telling me this?" Malcolm asked suspiciously.

Vojeh swung his tail around to one side disdainfully. "As I said, there is no harm in talking to a dead man. And," he added, the first sign of real emotion creeping into his guttural voice, "my colleague was eliminated, and I have not yet found it possible to have a conversation with inanimate objects."

I know someone who would disagree with you, Lieutenant Reed thought rebelliously.

"And there we have it!" Vojeh exclaimed suddenly, catching Malcolm completely off-guard. "The question the human wants so badly for me to answer! The solution to his problems, his sleepless nights, all that time spent working on his precious phase cannons!" The last three words were sneered rather than spoken. "You see, Reed," he said suddenly, walking over to a low-set table and picking something up, "the answer has been in front of you all along. We did not kill Tucker; instead he was reborn. Reborn in a manner that suited us."

He turned back to Malcolm and grinned menacingly. "All this time you thought you had your friend back, Reed, did you not? All this time you believed that the person you were seeing and speaking to was Charles Tucker the Third, when all along..." He broke off again and began to approach the lieutenant, and he could see his pistol in a firm reptilian grip. "I am no scientist, Reed. I admit that freely, I know my own weaknesses and shortcomings. But... I am quite the computer programmer. Your Tucker is quite my pride and joy."

Without warning, Vojeh's voice changed and took on a stronger Southern accent. "Y'see, Loo-tenant," he said, "there are some things in life that ain't goin' to go around makin' all that much sense to a person."

It was a perfect imitation of Trip's accent. "An' they're ain't never goin' to become any clearer unless... ya tell it to them straight."

Malcolm was speechless, and he felt sick to his stomach. The alien took the sight in with a self-satisfied smile. "It was painfully simple to suppress Tucker's higher individual brain functions," he said, reverting to his harsh, low-pitched voice. "And even simpler to construct a program that would mimic his behaviour perfectly without arousing suspicion."

Vojeh raised the pistol and aimed it at Malcolm, inspecting the device as he did so. "This is quite impressive," he said, speaking to both himself and Malcolm. "Much more impressive than the pistol Tucker carried."

Malcolm ignored him, instead trying to see where he hadn't been able to see the changes in Trip... Oh, Lord. He had seen them, but had talked himself out of going any further with them. So where had he gone wrong? At what point along the line had he managed to let his personal feelings conflict with his duty. He was the chief of security, for the love of Christ. Fat lot of good he'd been...

Shame. That was what it was, that was what he was feeling. Lieutenant Reed was thoroughly ashamed of himself.

"Why?" he asked, trying to ignore the nauseous sensations building up in his body.

Vojeh shot a contemptuous look at him. "Humans," he said in response. "Always have to know the answers, but are never able to cope with what they are told. It is a weakness, Reed, and such weaknesses have to be eliminated."

He raised the pistol and pointed it straight for Malcolm's head. "I am a person of the shadows," he said softly. "Nobody will ever know I was here. Reed..." He broke off for a moment, but the pistol's aim never wavered. "I truly regret ending things like this. Tucker was convinced that you would go far, but your death is necessary... to ensure my mission." He stopped again, and cocked his head to one side. "Goodbye, Reed."

He fired, and Malcolm felt the world around him brighten up in a burst of sparks.

Moments later, the air fizzled with static and then everything went black.

Chapter 10: Easy Way to Cry

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

It was all Captain Archer could do not to yell at the transporter to hurry the hell up. It was taking too long, way too long, he knew it. Maybe his mind was just playing tricks on him, but the molecules of whomever they had just pulled through the pattern buffer were taking an eternity to reform into something a little more corporeal. The figure emerging was standing straight upright, like he'd been standing against a wall or something. Then the captain noticed that the figure was a little shorter than average, and was wearing a familiar looking dark blue coverall.

Malcolm. Thank God.

Malcolm looked around for a moment, trying to come to bearing with his new surroundings. What felt like a few seconds ago he had been facing the wrong end of his phase pistol. And now... now he was on *Enterprise* again. He then noticed the two people standing a few feet away from him. Captain Archer and Lieutenant Hess. She must have been the one operating the transporter again.

"Captain," he said urgently, brushing away any niceties, "what happened?"

Jonathan motioned for him to step down off the pad, and he did so. They then began to walk down the corridor, leaving Hess to return to Engineering. "That's what I'd like to ask you, Lieutenant," he said in reply. "You were on that ship for nearly three hours. What happened?"

Inside, the lieutenant reeled at the passage of time. It definitely hadn't felt to be that long... "Things got a little... complicated," he said vaguely. "But, sir, what happened to the ship?"

Jonathan stopped walking and looked Malcolm straight in the eyes. "Something fritzed in one of their systems just after you transported over; the cloak, engines, backup systems, we couldn't tell. But we could see it trailing us and a few minutes ago sensors registered weapons fire." They resumed walking. "Structural integrity of the whole ship started to fall apart and we got you out of there literally seconds before the ship blew apart at the seams. Heck, we weren't even sure it was you we got out."

"Nobody will ever know I was here."

"I see. And, er, I think - I know what happened. To Commander Tucker, Captain," Malcolm said slowly, hesitantly. "I..." He broke off, unsure how to continue.

"Malcolm?" Jonathan's voice was enquiring rather than impatient.

"I... it's difficult to explain, sir," Malcolm said honestly. "I think I can explain it once we get to Sickbay."

Jonathan nodded his assent and the pair entered the turbolift. When they got to Sickbay, where Trip was still unconscious on the biobed, although Lieutenant Reed noted that he showed all the signs of a sedated sleep. Both Phlox and T'Pol were hunched over the same computer they had been at earlier, and Malcolm noted that the screen still displayed the radiation readings recorded at the science station.

"You're looking in the wrong place, Doctor," he called out as he approached.

T'Pol turned around. "Where do you propose we look, Lieutenant?" she asked calmly, clasping her hands behind her back. Phlox had turned around well, but was instead approaching Malcolm with a medical scanner in his hand.

"One minute, Sub-commander," Malcolm garbled, then turned to the doctor. "No, not at all and especially not now, Doctor," he said, almost snapping. "I'm fine and we have other priorities right now."

Phlox held up his scanner. "I'm afraid these readings disagree with you, Mister Reed," he replied. "Quite how this happened I have no idea, but -"

"Phlox," Malcolm growled menacingly. "Not. Now."

If the doctor was surprised by the outburst, he didn't show it. "And to answer your question," Malcolm continued, switching subject and mood in an instant, "you need to be scanning for biometric readings up... here." He pointed to the rear lobe of Trip's brain, where the blue lines representing the radiation were still showing.

"But the radiation is present in other parts of the body as well," Phlox commented, studying the area Malcolm was indicating.

Malcolm shook his head. "The radiation is just a by-product," he said. "A means to an end."

"You're not making any sense, Malcolm," Jonathan said.

"The radiation is a means of control," he said finally. "It's difficult to explain." It had been difficult to read as well, but not through any fault of the writer of the report.

Phlox did as he was asked, and a moment later his scanner beeped loudly. He raised an eyebrow. "And what exactly am I seeing here, Mister Reed?" he asked, intently studying the small display of the scanner.

Malcolm stepped around a grey container and joined him by Trip's biobed. "That," he said, pointing, "is Commander Tucker."

"I'm afraid you seem to have lost me, Lieutenant," Phlox said, shaking his head. Behind him, Malcolm saw Captain Archer approach the bed as well, T'Pol behind him.

"This isn't Trip," Malcolm elaborated, looking at the biobed with the unconscious man on it. "His body, yes, but he isn't in control of it. The real Trip, per se, is manifested as a rogue element in his own body."

"What are you saying, that his body's been possessed, or something?" Jonathan asked, shuddering slightly.

Malcolm shook his head. "Not exactly, although I believe the effect is the same. What I mean is that the aliens on that ship somehow found a way to subdue parts of Trip's higher brain functions, as well as the parts of his brain the controlled his personality and thought processes, and created something that would perfectly mimic those actions while remaining loyal to a single authority. The aliens," he finished, feeling sick inside. Saying it out loud had made the situation, what had happened all the more... all the more real than it had been with Vojeh telling him.

Jonathan visibly paled, all the colour disappearing from his face in seconds, and he held onto the side of Trip's bed briefly for support. "Can it be reversed?" he asked quietly, not looking up. "Whatever it is that's doing this to Trip... can it be undone?"

"That would depend on the scientific and technical processes involved, Captain," Phlox replied reasonably. "And following the logical route, something that can be done can also be undone, within a certain extent."

"And once the infestation is removed," T'Pol interjected, "then Commander Tucker's higher brain functions should logically return to their normal state."

Malcolm nodded his agreement. "And this is part I'm somewhat hazy about," he added. "The something controlling Trip is a device that they've attached to his rear brain lobe."

"Which is where the biometric readings are," Jonathan said slowly, looking up.

"The source of the anomaly," T'Pol reasoned.

Phlox had already found another medical scanner and as Malcolm watched, he proceeded to carefully scan the whole of Trip's brain. The machine beeped, and the lieutenant let out the breath he hadn't realised he was holding in.

The doctor muttered to himself briefly in Denobulan, not noticing the strained looks on the faces of the two Starfleet officers and the slightly quizzical look on the Vulcan officer.

"Captain," he said in English, looking over at Jonathan, "Lieutenant Reed was indeed correct. There is what almost appears to be a biological computer attached to the commander's brain, directly through the rear lobe. The removal process shouldn't take more than one hour."

Jonathan Archer nodded to show that he had understood, while T'Pol moved around to look at the doctor's findings. "Once it is removed, I would advise the science teams study it in order to further understand the effects it had on Mister Tucker," she said calmly, looking back to the captain; he acquiesced with another nod of his head.

Suddenly Phlox was jovial again. "So," he said, "now that that's all settled, I would very much like to get on with this procedure, and to get this ship's chief engineer back!"

Jonathan stood up. "Let me know when you've finished," he said authoritatively, making his way to the sickbay doors. "Malcolm, T'Pol."

Sensing the unspoken cue, both officers left sickbay, and Malcolm hung back to wait for the captain. When he emerged a few seconds later, he noticed that the older man's eyes were suspiciously moist.

"He's going to be okay, sir," Malcolm said, trying to be reassuring.

Jonathan looked at him. "I know," he said, smiling weakly. "I know."

Chapter 11: Be Mine

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

An hour had passed. Maybe two, maybe more. Malcolm couldn't tell for sure, and he wasn't really in the mood to get up and check the chronometer on the computer.

His mind was racing, going over so many possibilities and outcome, cross-referencing them with each other so many times that Malcolm's whole head was one big blur of fuzzy mental images. His imagination showed him pictures of Vojeh and his accomplice holding a screaming Trip down while they attempted to sedate him. He could see Trip's body sitting in the darkness of the ship, silently waiting for Vojeh's programming.

But the image that kept coming to the forefront was one of a graveyard in the middle of a grassy plain that looked suspiciously like the Sussex Downs, near where he had lived as a child. Malcolm was standing there, with a tombstone in front of him; RIP Charles Tucker III

Scowling, the lieutenant swung himself off the bed and sat down at his desk. He had briefly considered pulling an extra shift in the armoury, but knew that he would be liable to snapping at his staff, and they didn't deserve that. He wasn't hungry, so dinner in the mess was out of the question. He didn't feel very sociable, so finding either Travis or Hoshi wasn't an option either. And the captain... well, that was a moot point in itself, really.

Malcolm had already talked himself out of watching the proceedings in Sickbay via the surveillance system, and his some-time hobby of spying on Chef in the galley had lost its appeal as well.

Guilt, worry, shame and downright misery were bashing him from every side, it seemed. Well, it certainly made a difference to merely hunger, fear and exhaustion, but it wasn't by much.

There was a knock at the door - an actual physical knocking sound - and Malcolm realised that for however long he had been staring at a blank computer screen. Scowling again, he got up and pushed the door release.

The door hissed open, and to his surprise Malcolm felt a snuffling sensation around his ankles. One look down confirmed all his suspicions, and he knelt down, leaning slightly against the wall as he did so.

"Hey Porthos," he said softly, gently scratching the beagle's left ear with one hand. "What are you doing here?"

Talking to a dog wasn't quite as bad as talking to himself, he reasoned. They were supposed to be reasonably intelligent creatures, after all.

Someone's throat cleared, and Malcolm looked up. "Captain," Malcolm said.

"Can... I come in?" Jonathan asked. Malcolm nodded and scooted out of the way, and the captain went over to the chair by Malcolm's desk and sat down; Porthos immediately scampered over and jumped up onto his lap.

"Traitor," Malcolm accused the dog jokingly, sitting back on the bed. "Can I help you, sir?" he asked. "I get the feeling this isn't just a social call."

"I've talked to Phlox," the captain said without preamble.


"The operation - it was a success, in a manner of speaking."

"How come?" Malcolm asked, looking up sharply.

Jonathan shook his head slightly, continuing to pet Porthos. "Phlox said he'd managed to get the device out of Trip's brain, and T'Pol's got that for her teams to analyse. He's still unconscious, and the doctor wants to keep him that way until he wakes up of his own accord."

Malcolm nodded, trying to take in the information. At that moment, the dog jumped up and began licking his master's face, whining as he did so.

"Easy there," Jonathan said, laughing. "What's gotten into you, boy? Hmm?" He must have caught the sceptical expression on Malcolm's face because he suddenly grinned. "Come on, Malcolm," he said. "Didn't you ever have any pets when you were a child?"

Malcolm considered this for a moment. "No," he said shortly. "My parents weren't very... animal orientated when I was younger."

"I understand," Jonathan said, nodding. "Porthos seems to like you, though."

"I'd noticed," Malcolm replied, rubbing at the damp patch on his ankle. "And once he wakes up," he said suddenly, changing the subject, "he... "

"Phlox assures me it'll take a few days, maybe longer, but we should have Trip Tucker back the way he always used to be." Jonathan answered the unasked question, waylaying his armoury officer's worries.

"You mean snarky, over-enthusiastic and a sucker for anything in a skirt?" the lieutenant asked wryly, smirking.

Jonathan groaned theatrically. "He's a good engineer, though," he reminded Malcolm with a half-smile.

"Ah yes," Malcolm mused, playing along. "The man does have one redeeming feature; he can fix a warp engine."

"It's a nice pet to have," Jonathan said.

"Of course."

They lapsed into silence for a while; even Porthos seemed to have caught the seriousness of the situation and was now lying quietly on Jonathan's lap, for all intents and purposes sleeping.

"I..." Malcolm broke off, unsure how to correctly phrase his question. "Captain, do you think it would be acceptable to the doctor if I went to Sickbay for a while? Just to see for myself that Trip... that he's...?"

"I wouldn't have thought it would be a problem," Jonathan said seriously, hoisting his beagle up onto one shoulder. "And if he wakes up," he added in a considerably lighter tone of voice, heading for the door, "tell him that the blue monkeys still fly at midnight."

"Sir?" Malcolm asked, utterly baffled.

Jonathan stopped and turned around, one foot already through the door. "Maybe you can ask him to explain it to you," he said with a mysterious smile, and then left.

Malcolm watched the door close, considering the statement. He had a hunch that the captain was winding him up, but there couldn't really be any harm in passing the message along. He left his quarters and walked the relative short distance to the ship's sickbay, occasionally nodding to other passing crewmembers; he could even remember some of their names, to his mild surprise, and he found himself wondering if any of them knew what was happening and in how much detail.

A little dazed, Malcolm found himself at the doors to Sickbay, and went inside. From where he was standing, he couldn't see Trip, although Doctor Phlox was indeed there.

"Lieutenant," he said, approaching Malcolm. "I was hoping you'd come back here."


Phlox brandished a medical scanner at him. "This, Mister Reed," he said by way of explanation. "I told you there was something on my scanner. Now, when was the last time you got a proper night's sleep?" he asked genially.

Malcolm thought back. Last week didn't count, that was three hours... the Thursday before that, wasn't he in the armoury all night?

"I'm not quite sure, Doctor," he said evasively. "Five, perhaps six weeks ago."

"I see," Phlox said. "No doubt that would account for the severe migraine you appear to have been suffering for the past several days. I suggest you use this if it gets above intolerable." A hypospray was thrust into Malcolm's hand.

He pocketed it deftly.

"Commander Tucker is just through there," Phlox said, pointing with the scanner.

"I'll be quiet," Malcolm promised hurriedly, sensing the forthcoming warning.

"See that you are, Mister Reed." The doctor was already distracted by one of the cages, and Malcolm left him chirruping to one overflowing with purple and orange vegetation.

Trip looked so peaceful. It was hard to imagine that any of the events of the last few days had actually happened just by looking at the commander. If Malcolm didn't know any better he'd have quite happily wagered that all that had happened was that Trip had been caught out by the plasma manifolds or some such similar, and everything that had really happened had been some dark and twisted figment of his imagination...

"Y'know, if ya take a photo, it'll last longer..." a sleepy voice said, jerking Malcolm well and truly back into reality with a bang.

"You're - you're awake," he said, feeling stupid at the comment.

"Barely," Trip replied. "Mind tellin' me what the hell's been goin' on recently?"

Malcolm hesitated. "Long story," he said finally. "Complicated story," he added as an afterthought. "Maybe when you're a little more with it?"

Trip nodded groggily in response, and Malcolm pulled up a chair so that he was sitting close to the biobed. "Captain Archer asked me to pass on a message if you were to wake up," he said. "Apparently you'll understand it, because I certainly don't."

"What did he say?" Trip asked, slowly rolling over onto his side so that he was facing his friend.

"'The blue monkeys still fly at midnight'," Malcolm recited dutifully, and watched as Trip began to smile, a far away look in his eyes. "I don't suppose you could tell me what on earth it means, could you?"

Trip leaned back onto his pillow and looked up at the ceiling. "Well," he began, "it all started about four years ago when Jon and I were doin' some repair work at one of the lunar bases..."


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

"A headache. A sodding headache. It hardly seems fair, somehow."

"You mean, you go racin' around, tryin' to save the day, ya invariably do - and all ya get as a reward is a migraine and medication for it?" Trip cocked his head to one side, regarding his friend. "That is what us technical types call Sod's Law."

"Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong," Malcolm mused. "Sounds like the perfect description of my life, to be honest."

"Ah, ah, Mal," Trip admonished, waggling a finger with mock authority. "Don't go gettin' all pessimistic on me now, and be lucky ya didn't end up with somethin' in your brain."

Malcolm considered this statement. "Do you really think Fate would be that cruel to me?" he asked. "Come to think of it," he added with insight, "I wouldn't put it past her, although the headache is certainly better than anything else that immediately springs to mind."

"And don't go gettin' all sappy on me now, Loo-tenant," Trip admonished. "I had enough o' that from Jon already, and I dun need it from you."

Malcolm grinned. "I wouldn't dream of it," he replied sweetly. "Darlin'," he smirked.

"Aww, missed ya, hunny-bunny," Trip smiled, playing along, holding his arms out as if demanding a hug.

Instead, his friend drew back. "Honey bunny?" he repeated, incredulous. "I've been called a lot of things over the years, Mister Tucker, but never -" he broke off when he saw that Trip was grinning.

"Too easy," he said to himself, "gettin' far too easy."


Silence descended on Sickbay. It had been two days since Trip had had the alien device removed from his head, and he was making a slow recovery, according to the doctor's reports. Much more caution was being taken this time around, and on his second visit it had been all Malcolm could do to convince Phlox that his headache was down to stress and not some more sinister cause centring around Vojeh's ship or his mission to infiltrate Enterprise.

Every so often, Trip would show signs of being his old self, but he was equally likely to be depressed and withdrawn while visitors were there to see him, as if he did not know what he was supposed to do with his own body, a sight which worried Lieutenant Reed all the more, especially since the nature of the reptilian's species meant that Starfleet had no way of actively tracking them and their activities in relation to any of Earth's other ships or cargo vessels, something that niggled at the back of the security officer's mind. This wasn't the sort of threat that could be dealt with out in the open.

As with Trip Tucker, this was a threat that grew from within the boundaries of what was considered to be already secure, and then ripping those foundations apart like paper.

"I just have one question," Malcolm said finally, in a quiet voice.


"Why? Why go to the bother of practically destroying half of E-deck, but evacuating the crew there at the same time?" The question was rhetoric, and he hadn't expected any sort of answer.

But he got one. An answer of sorts.

"I think that was me," Trip said slowly, as if trying to remember a dream. "I got these vague memories o' runnin' in darkness, an' every so often there's be this little glimmer of white, y'know, like a light at the end o' the tunnel? Coupla times I nearly managed to reach the light..." he trailed off. "Prob'ly sounds stupid," he said glumly.

"No, it doesn't," Malcolm said. "What happened then?"

Trip considered this as he continued. "I got these little snapshot pictures of Enterprise," he answered slowly. "First time it happened, I was starin' at a computer screen, an' my hands were accessin' the protocols needed to bust up a whole row of plasma relays in one o' the nacelles, only I wasn't the one doin' it. Then," he said, "for a split moment, I was the one movin' my hands. I don't know how it happened, but I remember managin' to get people outta there before the whole thing blew."

Suddenly, Malcolm realised, things made a lot more sense. A few more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle had just slotted neatly into place. Whether the damn thing would ever be finished was another matter entirely.

"What day is it today?" Trip asked suddenly.

Malcolm stared. "What?"

"I was just wonderin' what day it is today," he repeated.

"Tuesday," Malcolm answered.

"Huh. Feels more like a Saturday to me. And no," he added quickly, "I don't wanna play checkers again in my life."

"Draughts," Malcolm corrected automatically, "and you of all people ought to know that!"

"I know, Mal," Trip said placatingly. "Just teasin'. How 'bout chess? Y'can always teach me."

Malcolm smiled. "I'm up for a challenge," he answered, feeling a twinge of something he hadn't felt in a long time.


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