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Title: Retribution
Category: Drama/Angst
Rating: PG
Summary: The shadows that have been haunting Malcolm's dreams since the events of "Renaissance" are back -- and this time they've brought friends.
#3 in the BYS series
Recommended Reading Order:
Big Yellow Starship, Renaissance, Retribution, Around the Roses
Author's Note: This one owes its completion to T'eyla, who not only gave me the kick up the backside I needed to finish it, but also threatened to letterbomb the whole of England (if if meant she would get me!!) as a result of the cliffhanger ending to... Chapter 9 ;)

Chapter 1: My Oh My

"It feels weird, being out in space."

"I know. You've told me."

"Barely anything to protect you from a vacuum that would destroy you almost instantly."

"I know. You've told me."

"Think about how long we've been doing this. The faster-than-light travel, I mean. All this speed and still the ships are so fragile. The fallout from a single stray comet could incinerate us, or if the engines stopped working, we'd be stranded in the middle of nowhere inbetween star systems, and -"

"Xela," the shuttlecraft's pilot said tersely, "be silent."

His passenger's ears twitched with annoyance. "I am simply trying to make conversation," she replied sulkily.

"Then perhaps you should stop describing the various ways in which we could perish. I am sure that there are much less macabre conversations you could attempt to initiate."

"But cousin, there is not a lot to discuss," Xela retorted plaintively, her ears ceasing their erratic movements as her mood settled slightly.

"Do not call me that," the pilot said shortly. "I am not your cousin."

Xela turned in her seat to face him. "What would you have me call you then, Nephet?" she asked, emphasising his name. "Your father's brother joined stumps with my mother nearly a quarter of a turn ago. Are you still in denial that we are now related?"

Nephet scowled. "I do not approve of Scarna's behaviour," he answered, deliberately concentrating on the shuttle's controls. "And as long as I do not approve, I do not have to be your cousin."

"You are just saying that," Xela replied quietly, sounding hurt. "Everything changed after my father died, and Scarna is good for my mother. They make each other happy. And you - even you, junk-bug, cannot deny that."

Nephet's shoulders relaxed a little, and for the first time that 'day' he turned around, away from the controls, to face his young companion. "Perhaps not," he admitted, watching her face for any sign of a reaction. "But even you cannot deny that Scarna will never be a replacement for your father."

At that last comment, Xela exploded. Leaping off her seat, she surged forward towards the pilot, her arms flailing uselessly as he quickly managed to hold her at bay. "Do you not think I know that?" she cried out eventually, sagging against the larger body of her cousin. "He will never be my father, but he does not try to be."

"I know that," Nephet said quietly, releasing his grip on Xela.

She frowned and sat back down in her seat. When he did so as well, she said, "Then why do you say such things?"

Nephet sighed. "Because I do not want to see you hurt, little one," he said, using her old childhood nickname, one she had always hated.

However, Xela didn't rise to the bait. "You have never told me that before, Nephet," she whispered, not looking up from the deck of the shuttle.

"It has never not been true... cousin," Nephet replied, and smiled when she perked up at the use of the familial moniker. "Now," he continued, adopting a much more business-like tone, "when do you think we will arrive at our destination?"

Xela, ship's rudimentary navigator, smiled back at him and reached for her console. Pulling up the star charts programmed into it, as well as specs for the shuttle's engine capabilities, she studied it for a few moments before answering. "Twenty-four minutes," she said confidently.

"Twenty-five," her cousin countered.

She held her ground. "Twenty-four!"

He acquiesced. "Twenty-four it is, then."

Xela smirked and cleared the screen of the flowing star systems. "I have a question," she said eventually, breaking the calm silence between the two of them.

"And what would that be?" Nephet asked, concentration back on piloting the small shuttle.

Another pause. "How do you know we will find them?"

There was no need to ask who 'they' were. "It will not be so difficult," he said reassuringly. "From what we have been told before, they leave a trail large and distinctive enough for the blindest junk-bug to follow. It may take some time, but we will find them."

She nodded, letting the subject drop. "Do you have the colony on approach?" she then asked, indicating the sensors.

"Not yet, but the star system is not too far away." It wasn't the most ideal answer that could have been given, but for now it was the best that he could offer.

"And then...?"

Nephet sighed. She was younger, after all. "Then we find the intermediaries, the two who intercepted him first. We learn what we need to know from them about him and the others, and then we move on."

"And then we find him," Xela said, the barest hint of finality in her rough-edged voice.

"And then we find him," Nephet echoed, still concentrating on the piloting board.

"It feels weird," Xela remarked after a while, echoing her words from earlier. "These will be my first aliens."

She sounded a little nervous, and Nephet turned around again and met his cousin's eyes. "The first time is always the strangest," he offered in an attempt to reassure her, "but after that I promise you it becomes easier. Not by very much, but easier."

At his explanation, she nodded. "I will never understand how some people can do this," she added, waving an arm around their cramped surroundings. "Continually putting themselves forward to deliberately encounter members of other species."

Nephet smiled slightly. "It comes more naturally to some people than to others," he explained. "We have the capability to meet other species, yet we do not always choose to do so, and sometimes they are the ones who find us on their travels." His cousin knew all of this, of course, but he sensed that there was perhaps some good in attempting to alleviate her worries. After all, she was only young.

Xela merely nodded her response, and once again a comfortable silence descended on the shuttle, both occupants choosing to concentrate on their stations in the tiny cockpit area. It was some time before one of them spoke again.

"There is a ship hailing us," Nephet announced simply. "One of the security detail attached to the colony."

Xela nodded her confirmation, and swiftly and silently patched the communication through to a small monitor to the left of the pilot's seat. As she watched, an alien's face appeared on the screen. Hiding her startled reaction, she studied its appearance. The face and facial markings were of a distinctive red hue, and there was actual hair coming out of the skull that distended back behind what were clearly meant to be the shoulders. For her first alien, Xela was secretly proud of her restraint. It had not been as bad as she had been imagining it to be.

The alien addressed Nephet and cut to the point without preamble. "My name is Commander Letall, interim head of security for this sector," it - no, he - said. "Please state your reason for being here."

"I hope am I not trespassing," Nephet answered smoothly. "My colleague and I had hoped that we could procure some information from the people working down on the trading colony."

"You're not from around here, are you?" Letall asked, his voice no longer quite as formal as it had been a few moments before.

"We are new to this area of space," Nephet said by way of explanation. "Our home planet is some distance away and, as I said, we are simply looking to find somebody who might be able to help us."

Letall considered this for a moment. "Do you have the name or species of this person?" he asked. "We have many different cultures who come here to work and trade; your search may not be simple."

Nephet glanced back at Xela quickly, and as she nodded almost imperceptibly, still focused on the red apparition on the screen, he turned back to Letall.

"The person we are looking for is a human."

Letall cocked his head to one side. "The species sounds familiar, although I cannot be certain without checking our past records," he said. "Do you know this person's name?"

"Commander Trip Tucker."

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

Chapter 2: Nightblindness 

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."

And with those fateful words, on and on the pair continued, dancing and weaving their way around the truth the one wanted so badly to know and the other withheld with sadistic ease.

Always, it ended the same way. Malcolm knew what was going to happen, knew every last emotion behind every last comment, both spoken and unspoken, every measure of facial expression and every flickering of the shadows like an actor who had prepared all of his lines before going onstage. Except that this wasn't a show or a movie, and it couldn't be turned off or simply discarded or dismissed.

This was real... very, very real, and Malcolm Reed knew the precise moment that the lizard-like alien would turn his back on the stand where the human was effectively immobilised, pick up the former phase pistol, turn back around... level it at a spot directly inbetween two panicked, darting grey-blue eyes... make some speech about how this was all necessary... Malcolm could see the trigger being squeezed in painful slow-motion, the energy powering up inside the weapon's barrel at a rate far slower than it should have been, the focused product coming out and coming straight for him... it would hit him any second now...

"No!" Malcolm Reed shot bolt-upright in bed, breathing quickly as he quickly slapped himself to make sure he was in one piece. Disorientated as he tried to make sense of his dark surroundings, fearing for a few hopeless seconds that he was back at the wrong end of a phase pistol that he had tinkered with for weeks... feeling his heartbeat slow down to something much closer to normal as his rational mind kicked in, informing him that he was alive... very much alive... that he was safe.

"S'okay, Mal," he whispered to himself, closing his eyes briefly, reaching out for the light controls as he did so; by the time he had opened his eyes again, the cabin was bathed in a dim light, just bright enough for him to be able to make out the features of the sparse little room.

"It's okay now..."

Except that it wasn't. It hadn't been for some weeks now, and he'd be damned it all of this was going to go away any time soon in the future. Things like this... things like this just didn't vanish into the plasma exhaust because one was well and truly sick and tired of the constant reminders of the repercussions... be nice if that was how the universe worked but, sadly enough, it didn't.

Feeling ridiculously like he had as a small child, Malcolm drew his knees up to his chest and gathered his quilt around him, wrapping it around his legs, chest and back, right up to his neck and just sat that way for some minutes without moving.

Really, he supposed, he should consider himself lucky. Compared to what Trip had been through in those six or seven hellish weeks, his own experiences would be considered a mere walk in the park.

True enough, Trip had been trapped inside his own body, but Malcolm had seen those eyes... the eyes that threatened a lifetime of being trapped in the darkness with no escape or way out.

Nobody else on Enterprise had seen the pits of utter despair, and for that he was grateful; he wouldn't wish even a second of it upon anybody, no human deserved that...

Finally the feeling of being watched began to dissipate, although the unease lingered on, as it always did after the nightmares. On the outside, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed hadn't changed at all over the incident with the enigmatic Shadow People; he still pulled shifts in the armoury and on the bridge; he was still a friend to several members of both his armoury team and the senior staff, as well as others; he was still renowned among other departments for being tight-arsed.

He still had yet to let the events on the alien's ship go, to accept his failings... he had still to talk properly to Trip about what had happened... his friend... he deserved to know what Malcolm had seen in his search for answers...

But nothing was going to happen tonight, not now, not for another six or seven hours at the very least, and nobody was going to come and 'get him' like they said in children's fairytales. Monsters and hobgoblins, werewolves and vampires were all the stuff of old fiction; they didn't exist.

But shadows did...

Malcolm gave his room one last sweeping glance, trying to penetrate the dark shadows caused by the dim lighting, mentally berating himself as he did so. It was a nightmare, and anybody with even an ounce of common sense knew that nightmares weren't real...

Without warning, the quiet rumbling of the warp engine changed pitch ever so slightly, and in his quarters on B-deck Malcolm jumped and scrabbled back against the wall, still huddling inside his quilt, his makeshift barrier... the only protection against what could be coming to get him...

Oh, this was just plain ridiculous. A trained tactician and weapons officer, hiding like a little mouse in a corner because the big, scary starship had altered speed at too small a level to give any real level of concern to.

It'll be the men in white coats next, a voice in his head remarked suddenly. It'll be the men in white coats comin' to take y'away and they'll put y'in a straitjacket an' leave ya to it in a big rubber room. Jump all ya like in there, it won't matter anymore...

Now there was a worrying thought; Malcolm's inner voice - the voice of alleged self-reasoning and logic - was of distinct Southern extraction. If there was ever proof that I'm going over the edge...

The rather ironic thing about all of this, of course, was that he was fine when the lights were on and he could hear the activities of the rest of the crew, whether it was in the armoury, mess or on the bridge... anywhere where there would be other people. It was only when he was alone and in a dark place that the long wavering shadows moved of their own accord and became as menacing as they possibly could...

Once again, Malcolm's breathing shallowed and slowed down to a reasonable pace, and his heart was no longer trying to escape from his chest. Eventually, tiredness set in again and leaning his head into his knees, he closed his eyes and waited for sleep to set in.

This time the darkness and the shadows didn't seem so threatening, and when the ship's engines stopped humming altogether, and Enterprise fell to a complete standstill, her slumbering tactical officer didn't hear a thing...

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

Chapter 3: Say Hello Wave Goodbye

Charles "Trip" Tucker was out of bed in seconds, dressed in less than a minute and within five he was down in Engineering, with not a trace of tiredness to show for his interrupted sleep.

He burst in through the main door, and stopped and looked around him. He was surrounded by chaos; almost half of the entire engineering team were either on the bronze-coloured engine, or working along its sides, or at any one of the workstations and computer terminals littering the sides of the walls. Without pausing to think, he grabbed the shoulder of the nearest uniform that he could see and whirled it around to face him.

"What the hell's goin' on down here?" he asked.

The crewman looked flustered, tired and panicked and winced under her commanding officer's exhausted glare. "I - I'm not entirely sure, sir," she said hurriedly. "Romano just said that he couldn't find anything wrong with the engine or with any of the systems, but - and Lieutenants Hess and Bathurst are trying to figure it out now." She indicated the two people scrabbling along the top of the engine, occasionally yelling to the three or four people visibly dotted along the upper walkway above and to the right of Trip.

He let her go, and a split second later the comm behind him chirped, nearly sending him through the roof. He pressed the button. "Engineerin'."

The voice at the other end didn't belong to any of the senior staff. "Is there a problem down there, Commander?" a nervous male voice asked, and Trip had to actively restrain himself from yelling back.

Gee, I wonder how ya figured that one out! We're dead in the freakin' water, I have no explanation why. You ask me one more stupid question Mister, and I swear I'll...

"We're just tryin' to, uh, ascertain that," Trip said instead, keeping an eye on the lieutenants' progress along the curved engine and at least half an ear on the dozen cross-conversations going on around him. "I'll let ya know once we get anythin'."

"Yes, sir." The comm went dead, and Trip turned to face the mess unravelling in front of him. After a couple of seconds, he made his decision, and all but leaped into a miniature melee that was unfolding at the rear of the room.

Again, he picked a random uniform and asked the same question he had before. This time, however, the answer was a lot more definite, but a lot less encouraging.

"Something's busted with the plasma injectors," the man offered. "Nobody has any idea how, but it's stopping the whole thing from working. We - we don't even have impulse at the moment... and until we know what's wrong..." he trailed off, staring at some point directly behind Trip's left shoulder.

"We won't be goin' anywhere," Trip finished grimly, seizing a scanner, communicator and a couple of small tools from the workbox next to him and the ensign. "I'll see what I can find; keep me posted." He waved the communicator in front of the other man's face before putting all the items in various pockets.

"Yessir," was the hurried reply as Tucker disappeared around the corner, and Ben Romano watched him climb into one of the access tubes that led to most of the decks on Enterprise. A couple of seconds later he was caught up in an attempt to realign something or other; the feeling of unease faded as he was faced with a scanner and equipment.

o o o o o

Elsewhere on the ship, a comm panel chirped. "Bridge to Ensign Sato."

Hoshi woke up, muttering something under her breath about lousy room service and she blindly reached for the offending comm. "Go ahead," she said groggily, wiping sleep out of her eyes with the corner of her pillow.

"We need you on the bridge, ma'am," the voice at the other end of the connection replied, and it actually sounded apologetic.

"What's happening?" she asked and stifled a yawn.

"That's why we need you up here, ma'am."

She gave in. "Fine, fine," she grumped. "Five minutes."

"Acknowledged. Bridge out."

Hoshi stared at her pillow, having propped herself up on her arms to answer the call. "So much for a good night's sleep," she said to herself. "I wonder what's so urgent?"

It wasn't until she was in the turbolift heading towards the bridge that she realised the engines were completely silent.

o o o o o

Later on, someone else was also rather rudely awoken by a chirruping comm panel. The person in question rolled over in bed, still more asleep than awake, in order to be able to answer the hail. Somewhere along the line, however, he had misjudged the closeness of the edge of the bed, and ended up rolling straight onto the hard decking below him. This had the dual effect of both waking him up instantly, and also rousing his companion.

Gripping the side of his head with one hand, he stumbled over to the little panel. "Calm down, Porthos," he threw over his shoulder, and pressed the white button. "Archer."

"How soon can you get to the bridge, Captain?" someone asked, and vaguely Jonathan Archer placed it as belonging to Hoshi. "There's... someone who wants to talk to you."

What? "Is it urgent?"

There was a small pause at the other end of the connection. "I think so."

"Okay," Jonathan said, and winced as his hand felt a growing bump on his head "Give me ten minutes."

"Can you make it less?" Hoshi asked hopefully.

Jonathan sighed. "I'll be up there," he said forcefully.

"Acknowledged," she replied. "And could you look in on Lieutenant Reed on the way? We're having trouble raising him."

"You know Malcolm," Jonathan replied. "Probably dreaming about blowing something up." Lucky him. "I'll go see what he's doing," he promised. "Archer out."

He let the connection go, and looked down at his dog; Porthos' head was cocked to one side and he looked up at his master almost quizzically.

"Don't even think about it, boy. There's no cheese."

o o o o o

Inside one of the maintenance tubes, Trip let go of the ladder with one hand, and wiped it across his forehead; maybe it was just him, but it felt unusually warm in here. Gritting his teeth, he carried on up the ladder until he reached his destination, pulled out his scanner and started waving it over the circuitry that connected up to a system that was in turn connected to the engine.

It was going to be a long night.

o o o o o

Malcolm was dreaming again, although instead of shadows haunting the dark corners and recesses of his mind, instead of Vojeh firing at him over and over again, there was only blackness all around him, blackness that eventually, inexplicably, turned into red.

Outside his door, Jonathan Archer couldn't hear any response to his soft taps on the door, so he decided to let Malcolm sleep on, ignorant of the other man's turmoil as he finally headed towards the bridge.

o o o o o

"I am Captain Dinare, of the Yitashi Symposium."

"That's quite an impressive title," Jonathan said stupidly, trying not to give into the urge to scratch the bump on his head. "My name is Captain Jonathan Archer. My comm officer said you wanted to speak with me?"

The alien on the viewscreen looked serious. "I believe it to be a matter of necessity, Captain, although I do wish this meeting could have been under better circumstances," she said.

"What can I do to help?"

Dinare paused and looked intently at Jonathan. "If I understand my sensors correctly, you have just fallen out of warp."

"...We have," he answered carefully. "Our team of engineers is attempting to fix the problem as we speak."

Dinare shook her head, and for the first time Jonathan noticed that the entire viewscreen in front of him was different shades of red; both Dinare and her small ship It was rather unnerving, actually. "Your failed engine is not the problem, Captain," she said somewhat forcefully. "Rather it is your chief engineer."

The back of Jonathan's neck prickled. "What about him?" he asked.

She was watching him carefully. "Tucker."

How does she know his name?

"He was taken by them, wasn't he?"

"Sorry," Jonathan replied in confusion, "but taken by whom?"

"The people of the shadows." She almost spat the last word, as if it was something filthy.

Jonathan stopped and stared at the viewscreen. "Perhaps you had better come aboard," he said eventually.

She nodded and cut the connection. Jonathan meanwhile went over to his chair and hit the comm. "Archer to Commander Tucker."

There was no response.

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

Chapter 4: Inside the Illusion

The unconscious body of the Yitashi security chief had been returned to his ship; as far as he or anybody else would ever know, there had been some kind of overload in the scout ship's systems, leaving the pilot out cold for some time.

The real reasons for this "accident" were now several light-years in the opposite direction, and slowly picking up speed as their engine started coping with the exertion being placed upon it.

Inside the ship, the atmosphere was one of tense silence; neither of the two-strong crew had spoken since leaving the alien's ship drifting in space.

Until one of them broke the silence.

"Their ship has stopped," Nephet remarked in surprise, double-checking his equipment to make certain.

Xela looked up for the first time. "Why?" she asked.

He shook his head. "I cannot tell from this distance. Only that they are no longer moving."

"At all?"


Xela got up, crossed the small space and slipped into the navigator's seat. "Is this good for us or bad for us?" she asked eventually, trying to weigh up the possibilities in her mind.

Nephet considered the question for a moment. "Both, I believe. The lack of any immediate defences as well as the ship's stationary position would make finding Tucker a much simpler task. However, we would need to remain cloaked at all times to avoid detection if we are to remain within the range of their sensors."

"But we will find him," Xela said, the tiniest trace of doubt evident in her voice. "Won't we?"

Nephet nodded. "It is one small ship, and the data we recovered from Vojeh's ship will ensure that we collect the correct person."

At that, Xela's posture became much more rigid. "He was the last person to see my father alive," she said firmly. "The last person to speak with him before he died."

"We will deal with Tucker," her cousin reassured her.

o o o o o

"Archer to Commander Tucker."

Again, there was no response, and Jonathan turned around to the lieutenant covering the science station. "Where is he?"

"Maintenance conduit inbetween D and E-decks, sir," he reported a few seconds later. "He's not moving."

Jonathan nodded in acknowledgement as the comm in his chair chirped. "Cap'n?" a disembodied voice asked.

He went back over to the chair and reconnected the communication. "Why the delay, Trip?" he asked, trying to keep the worry and exhaustion out of his voice.

"Ah, got my hands a little tied up down here, sir," Trip replied. "Somethin's busted the engine up pretty good, an' we're all tryin' to figure out what it is."

"How soon can you get to docking port two?"

Pause. "Five minutes. Maybe."

"As soon as you can, Trip. There's someone coming who I think wants to talk to you."

"Aw, Cap'n, I didn't do anythin' this time!" Trip complained, undercurrents of humour battling tension in his voice.

Privately Jonathan wondered how the man could retain a sense of humour at this ungodly hour of the day. "Just be there, Commander," he said seriously.

"Will do, Cap'n. Tucker out."

Jonathan stood up, again resisted the urge to rub the bump on his head, and crossed the bridge to where Hoshi was. "Keep trying Malcolm," he said to her, "and failing all else, try a foghorn or something."


He shrugged sheepishly. "He wouldn't wake up when I tried him, and I get the feeling he'll want to be awake for this."

"Aye, sir."

o o o o o

To anybody watching, Malcolm Reed would seem to be in the throes of a simple nightmare; every so often he would toss and turn in his sitting position, once even managing kick most of his quilt so that it was hanging off the side of the bed. A simple bad dream for someone struggling to come to terms with something that had had deep emotional impact.

To anybody who could see what people were dreaming, Malcolm Reed was running, running desperately from an enemy he couldn't see, an enemy that he couldn't shoot or fire at... an enemy who could be anyone, anything... anywhere at any time. A simple snafu for Enterprise's armoury officer.

Eventually, something gave, and in the deep recesses of the dream, Malcolm sensed the persistent, yet quiet reverberation. A reverberation that grew more shrill as he concentrated on it. A reverberation that sounded familiar... a little too familiar... disturbingly so, in fact.

That bloody 'Reed Alert'! his mind registered as he finally woke up, sweating and short of breath.

An instant later the noise stopped, and in its place he could hear the much mellower chirruping of the com. Stumbling out of bed, he reached for the little white button. "Reed here," he managed, surprised at how out of it he sounded.

"At last, Lieutenant," a voice replied. "Have a good sleep?"

"Hoshi?" Malcolm asked sleepily, trying to figure out what was going on. Then, "What the hell was that for?"

"Oh, you can blame the captain," Hoshi replied, clearly amused with the whole thing. "He said to use some loud noise to wake you up. We've been having trouble doing that," she added for clarification.

Malcolm grimaced. "And for that I am eternally grateful," he said, dripping sarcasm. "Remind me to kill you when I'm a little more awake."

"Sure thing," Hoshi replied. "But you might want to get dressed and down to the docking port before you do."

"Why?" Hey, he was tired... as good an excuse to sound stupid as any, he thought.

"The captain's meeting someone down there," Hoshi explained. "In about... two minutes, I think."

Malcolm mumbled something rude under his breath.

"What was that, Lieutenant?" Hoshi asked in amusement. "I didn't quite catch that last part."

"Never mind, Ensign," Malcolm replied. "I'll be down there."

"Aye, sir. Bridge out."

Malcolm turned back to his bed, and surveyed the scene that lay before him. "Oh, I can just tell this is going to be a whole lot of fun," he muttered.

Then he remembered the dream, and shivered.

o o o o o

On his side of the airlock, Jonathan hemmed and hawed as he waited for Trip to arrive, and was pleasantly surprised when he saw both Trip and Malcolm turn a corner together, talking about... something or other.



Both spoke at exactly the same time, and both men sounded utterly exhausted. As they came to a stop, Trip sent the captain a quizzical look. "What's so important that it has ta drag me away from the engine?" he demanded of his friend, shifting weight from foot to foot in a somewhat agitated manner.

However, the airlock door began to cycle open, preventing Jonathan from replying. As the three Starfleet officers watched, it slowly slid open to reveal... well, a vision in red.

o o o o o

Back down in Engineering, Ensign Ben Romano could only watch in sick fascination as one of the day-shift lieutenants swung her way down the ladder on one side of the warp engine, stop half-way and distort herself so that she was now facing the direction behind her, up to where someone was working on the upper walkway.

"C'mon Eddie," she yelled, straining to be heard over the general cacophony, "tell me that was enough!"

An instant later she received her response, in just as loud a yell. "No can do, ma'am... hang on a sec... that might have done it..."

At that the whole of Engineering fell silent and, it seemed, waited with baited breath; Romano was no exception, and a few seconds later the lieutenant nodded at the information she was getting, and reached out a little further (now almost bending herself over backwards and dangling rather precariously), and almost smacked the comm button with one hand.

"Hess to the bridge."

Pause. "Go ahead, Lieutenant."

Hess caught Romano's eye for a split second and grinned. "Tell whoever's at helm that we've got impulse... and tell 'em not to push it past three-quarters unless they wanna be responsible for the engine going boom; we're still working on warp down here."

Another pause. "Understood, ma'am. Bridge out."

There was then an unholy grin on Hess' face as she clambered down off the ladder (without falling off), and gave a sweeping mock-bow to all assembled. "And if anyone wants me," she announced, turning and sauntering towards the door, "they'd better think twice because I'm going to bed, as should at least half of you guys. Good night, and I'll see you all in the morning!" And with that the door closed behind her with a faint hiss.

Over the next thirty seconds or so, several of the rest of the makeshift Gamma crew filtered out after Hess and eventually just Romano, another ensign and a crewman were left in the department; he was now the duty officer.

"Well then," he said to the other two, rubbing his hands together, "let's see what we can do about getting warp back."

o o o o o

"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."

Unbidden, Trip's words from what seemed like a lifetime ago echoed through Malcolm's head as he took a seat in the deserted mess hall with Trip, Captain Archer, and this alien security chief. It was as though this woman was a trigger for everything that had happened.

The cap'n - Dinare, her name was..."

"Captain," she said urgently, after only cursory introductions, "Commander Tucker is in danger."

"I just knew you wouldn't be comin' all this way just ta say ya missed me," Trip interjected lightly, grinning and rubbing the back of his neck. "And why exactly am I in danger?" he asked her seriously, as if trying to maintain his own presence in the room.

Dinare turned to him. "Commander, I -"

"Call me Trip," the engineer said lightly. "Most folks do."

"Just like the first time we met," she said in a softer tone.

"What do you mean?" Malcolm asked, speaking for the first time.

Dinare's lips quirked into a half-smile. "When Trip first arrived at the Nebaren outpost, he insisted on not being addressed by his formal rank. It caused some dissension among the traders, I must say. As I recall, half of them saw him as the representative of a friendly new species, while the other half... didn't quite think that of him."

Trip grinned. "Guilty as charged, ma'am," he said jokingly, then lost the amused timbre from his voice altogether. "But why am I in danger, and from who exactly?"

Dinare stopped smiling as well. "The species that has no name," she said by way of answer.

"Yeah... I think we encountered them," Trip said slowly, a slightly pale expression fleeting on his face.

"I am Vojeh," the alien said again. "And I am one of the Shadow People... my people have no name."

All of a sudden, Malcolm felt chills run down his spine, and he struggled to keep up with what was being said in the mess... but it felt so much colder now... how was that possible?

"You survived," Dinare said flatly, clearly in response to a question the lieutenant hadn't heard.

"Wouldn't be here otherwise," Trip replied nervously.

She shook her head. "You don't understand," she said. "You... Trip, you are the only one to have survived."

Jonathan swung into the conversation sharply. "How do you know that?" he asked her, whipping his head around to face her.

"They have only started happening recently, or perhaps we have only started hearing of them recently," the alien said, "but reports have been coming to the Nebaren's trading outpost - you must understand, we encounter a lot of species there."

The three men nodded.

She continued. "People coming to trade with the Nebaren have brought with them what are essentially ghost stories, if you will. Stories of ships drifting, powerless, in space, or hidden in the inhospitable depths of planets no sensible pilot would ever travel. Ships with dead and wasted bodies, no evidence or pirates or other thieving... sometimes no body at all - just the ship, drifting..."

All of a sudden, Malcolm was back on the dark, shadowy alien ship, tied to a post, completely and utterly helpless.

"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... 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."

His own phase pistol being fired at him from a point-blank range... the energy discharge coming closer and closer, until eventually, it would hit...

Now Malcolm understood what Vojeh had meant... "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."

A low humming noise emanating from the lower decks caught the four people in the mess hall off guard, drawing Jonathan and Trip's attention away from Malcolm, whose knuckles were now turning white at the tips as he tightened his grip on the table's smooth edge.

"The engines are back online," Trip commented after listening for a few seconds. "I'll talk to Hess and Bathurst in the mornin'."

"But what's so significant about Trip being the only survivor?" Jonathan asked the Yitashi, bringing talk back to more pressing matters.

The conversation continued around Malcolm, seemingly ignorant of his silent troubles.

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

Chapter 5: Sail Away

Looking back on events, Malcolm would never quite be able to recall exactly how the early morning meeting in the mess hall had carried on or ended, only that he had somehow gone from sitting in the mess hall to walking a nondescript mess of twilight corridors with Trip Tucker; as befitting the small hours of the morning, they had been in a very low, very quiet conversation.

"So, how does it feel to be a marked man?" Malcolm asked eventually, the pair having skirted the alien's simple yet rather dramatic pronouncement up until that point.

Trip simply shrugged as they turned another corner. "Tryin' not to think about it, really. If I think about it, I hafta start worryin' and if I start worryin' I'll get afraid, an' if things come to that then that's when it's the beginnin' of the end."

"I imagine it would be."


Malcolm considered his next words carefully. "Trip, have... have you considered the possibility that she could have perhaps been... exaggerating the facts?"

"Who, Dinare?"


"No way. I mean, I still remember meetin' her, talkin' with her an' all the rest of it; didn't seem like the type to tell anythin' but the plain truth," Trip replied. "Y'know," he added after a couple of seconds, "I think I jus' remembered somethin'."

"Remembered what?"

"Dinare. She's a lot like you, y'know." Trip grinned suddenly. "Ya both get kinda uptight when it comes to security stuff."

"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."

"I know," Malcolm said quietly, without thinking. "You told me."

Trip stopped in the middle of the dark corridor, frowned and turned to face his friend. "I don't remember sayin' anythin' like that to ya," he said seriously. "I know I was thinkin' it when I first met her, but like I said, I forgot 'til now."

Malcolm shook his head. "It - it wasn't you," he said. "Not exactly, anyway."

"Oh." Suddenly, things clicked. "Okay."

They carried on walking in silence.

o o o o o

"Look at this."

"What am I seeing?"

"More than two-thirds of the crew of the ship have weakened biosigns. Almost as if they are in some kind of stasis."

"Is Tucker one of them?"

"I do not think so. The DNA trace is still working... there it is - he is in motion."

"Is he alone?"

"No, there is another biosign in very close proximity... almost as if they are moving together on the ship."

"Both in motion?"


"Wait until Tucker is alone, and then lock onto his DNA signature."

"That may not be for some time, Nephet."

"It does not matter, Xela. We can wait."

o o o o o

Jonathan watched as Malcolm left the mess hall in silence, after only a brief explanation/excuse, and was followed soon after by a worried-looking Trip, citing something about checking up on the armoury officer. He had watched them go, and then conversation with the Yitashi security chief had returned to much more pressing matters.

Over the course of the next ten to twenty minutes, roughly the same time period that the commander and lieutenant had been wandering the corridors of Enterprise, several things had a certain degree of certainty been determined; the one that stood out the most was the near-calm revelation that if Trip was taken, then he would undoubtedly be killed.

Jonathan only hoped that things wouldn't get that far.

o o o o o

Three circuits of C-deck and a quick poke around Engineering later, Trip admitted defeat. "I'm bushed," he declared just outside the entrance to his department. "I should be goin' to bed."

"Go sleep," Malcolm answered firmly, "but I can't. Too restless, I suppose."

"Plannin' on wanderin' round a little more?"

Malcolm shrugged. "I should probably go check on Hoshi; I think she's still on the bridge and I should really apologise to her."

"Yeah... how did she wake you up in the end?" Trip asked out of curiosity.

He was answered with a deep scowl. "By deeply base and ignoble means."

Grin. "Foghorn?"

Grimace. "Close enough."

"Least you're up," Trip said, grinning. "I wouldn'ta wanted ta be there if they tried rousin' the sub-commander. She's s'posed to be quite the heavy sleeper."

"She's not the only one," Malcolm replied, involuntarily remembering the dreams he had been having.

Trip smiled sympathetically. "Well, see y'in the mornin', Mal."

Malcolm started to head in the general direction of the nearest turbolift. "Goodnight, Trip."

After a few seconds the lift doors closed behind him, leaving Trip alone in the corridor.

o o o o o

"Tucker's biosign is no longer in the immediate vicinity of the other one. We should take him now, while there is less risk of detection."

"Can you get a lock on him?"

"It is difficult. The information we have is incomplete; it barely registers as being human; if this was one of us, it could belong to anybody."

"The DNA is Tucker's - no other human was on or anywhere near the ship when it was destroyed."

"I know that, junk-bug. All I am saying is that the trace is sketchy. It is a fair observation, after all."

"But it is also irrelevant. Can you get the lock?"

"In a few moments; as I told you, the information is incomplete. It will take a short time."

o o o o o

In the peace and quiet of the turbolift, Malcolm's thoughts began to battle for prominence, and finally he allowed his mind to run rampant and docilely started listening to the voices in his head as they kicked off an argument with each other.

I can't keep doing this... I'm going to bloody fall apart if I have that dream again...

Then in response, Sod the dream, what about the reality? A monkey's arsehole could do a better job of spotting emotional screw-ups on the crew than dear ol' Cap'n Archer at the moment... Hess can't be getting enough sleep at the moment, that's affecting her like nothing else I've seen... at least half of my armoury team are on edge whenever I'm within five metres of them...

The last voice was the quietest of the lot. But what about me?

Malcolm leaned back against the wall of the lift and briefly closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he was no longer in the turbolift... he wasn't even on Enterprise...

He was surrounded by shadows and darkness...

And Malcolm was afraid.

o o o o o

On the bridge of the Enterprise NX-01, the young lieutenant covering the science station looked over to his friend covering tactical at the very instant that a freak energy signature originating from the turbolift car not three feet away from the entrance to the bridge registered on the equipment; when he looked back down at the instruments again, still chuckling from the punch line of the joke, the signature was gone, and a second later the lift doors hissed open behind him to reveal... nothing.

The turbolift was empty.

o o o o o

Everywhere around him was dark and colourless; anything that could have had any kind of physical feature was swallowed up by shadows. Malcolm Reed was quite alone.

After an eternity he opened his eyes and then shut them tightly almost straight away out of reflex; he forced himself to slowly open first his left eye, followed by his right, and cautiously took in as much as he was able to with the barest minimum of movement.

He was lying flat on his back on a solid, cold surface; there was no basis for determination, but he was somehow certain that he was raised off the floor, although he couldn't tell by how much.

As Malcolm's eyes slowly began to adjust to the infinite darkness, he noticed for the first time that there was a wall running the length of his right side (but how close or far away it was was still a mystery), and that it, like everything else around him was a dark russet-blue colour, very similar in hue to the navy textures of his own uniform... he'd been here before, hadn't he?

He strained his ears for any kind of sound or noise, but received only silence in return... as far as the trained officer in him could tell, he was quite alone.

Some time passed before Malcolm could pluck up enough courage to move, and with one hand he slowly reached out to the surface he was lying on... it was smooth and cold to the touch, although it had an almost velvety feel to it. Some kind of metal, then. A few tentative inches to the left led Malcolm's fingers to a sharp edge that formed a ninety-degree angle that dropped downwards. Perhaps not, then... what about the other direction?

A few moments later he found his answer; the flat surface on his other side led directly to the wall he had sensed earlier, with exactly the same metallic feel underneath his now cold hand.

Slowly, cautiously, Malcolm drew himself up into a sitting position, breathing an audible sigh of relief when no kind or restraints 'magically' appeared around his chest or legs. A split second later he had pulled his knees right up against his chest, his arms wrapped tightly around his legs, and it was becoming increasingly difficult not to just start shaking uncontrollably and to not let go and juts let whatever was clearly going to come for him to come and get him, thereby getting it over with.

This was no nightmare; if he had been dreaming, then by now Malcolm would have been staring down the wrong end of his modified phase pistol, or at the very least he would have been listening to the cold taunts and sneers of someone who could all too easily have been his killer, had fate swung even a single second further out of his favour.

No. This was real, and sooner or later something was going to happen. Alone and defenceless in an alien environment, all Malcolm could do was wait.

o o o o o

Back in his quarters on B-deck, Trip sat down on his bed and stared at the shadows flickering on the wall opposite him. He hadn't yet allowed the full import of Dinare's presence on Enterprise to sink in, and anyway - he had much more pressing matters on his mind.

Malcolm. Trip was worried to death about him, and what he had said to him earlier back in the maze of corridors was at least partly true; worry lead to fear. He was genuinely concerned about for his friend's well being, and that concern was starting to mutate into fear. Something was happening to the normally quiet and introverted armoury officer, and Trip was determined to try and help if he could, and God only knew how much he wanted to be able to; the engineer had repeatedly heard second and third hand how Malcolm had been there for 'him' and helped save the real him... Call me sentimental, he thought, but I just wanna make sure he's gonna be okay...

o o o o o

"I can't say I'm not grateful for you helping us like this," Jonathan said as he escorted Dinare back to Enterprise's airlock, "but why come so far for someone you've barely met?"

"Every action has a reason, Captain," Dinare replied ambiguously, shooting him an unexpected smile.

o o o o o

"Have you seen these readings?"


"Several anomalous chemicals have been loosed into his system - seemingly of his body's own volition. Why would something like that happen?"

"Perhaps it is a response to visual or audio stimuli. Or it may be that, given his past... experiences, these chemical reactions are caused by memory."

"And what do we do about it?"

"We do nothing. Let events take their own course and then we will decide what to do with him; there has not yet been any indication that his disappearance has been noticed by any of his own people - and even if they do notice, nothing can lead them here."

On the monitor in front of them, an alien lay curled up in a tight ball in one corner of the holding room; he was muttering something so quietly that the transmitters were not able to pick it up, and the faint snatches that were recorded were in no language that either of them had ever heard before.

"... and I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad. The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had..."

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

Chapter 6: Gateway to the Gods

"Tucker to Loo-tenant Reed."


"Loo-tenant Reed, please respond."


Sudden flash of inspiration.

"Tucker to the armoury."

"Go ahead, Commander."

"S'Malcolm down there, by any chance?"

"I'm afraid not, sir. He's not supposed to be here for another hour and a half. Have you tried his quarters?"

Yes. "Not yet. I'll try him there. Tucker out."

Cut the connection.

"Damn it. Where the hell could he be... Tucker to Loo-tenant Reed."


"Bridge to Commander Tucker."

What the hell? "Go ahead, Cap'n."

"Can you leave Engineering for a short while?"

"How long's a short while?"

"I'm not too sure, Trip. Can you get up here? And bring Malcolm if you can find him?"

"I... uh, I'm not sure where he is, Cap'n."

"What do you mean?"

Oh, for the love of... "I mean, he's not answerin' hails, an' he's not in the armoury."

"Then where is he?"

"I don't know!"

"I'll get someone to check. Get up here Commander. Bridge out."

o o o o o

"He is not responding to anything," Xela said impatiently, studying the readouts of the human's chemical and hormonal levels. "It does not make sense."

"It is curious," Nephet acquiesced after a moment's thought. "Almost as if he is trying to protect somebody..."

At the other end of the scanning equipment, Malcolm Reed slowly began to weaken against the constant onslaught of his enemy.

o o o o o

"Trip, I... are you sure you're not just overreacting?"


Jonathan sighed. "Look, what I mean is, are you sure you're not just taking things a bit too seriously. I know what Dinare said can't have been easy for you to hear, and that Phlox said for you to catch up on sleep from those nightmares, and -"

"All due respect, Cap'n," Trip interrupted, "but shut the hell up, cos all you're doin' is talkin' outta your ass. I'm fine. I had a coupla 'mares, that's all. An' - an' it's Mal ya should be worried about - hell, I shoulda done somethin' about it ages ago, but I never got round to it."

"What are you talking about?" Jonathan asked his friend.

What the... "He's been completely and utterly screwed up ever since what happened the first time around," Trip said, rapidly getting exasperated. How could this man be so dense? "An' for whatever reason, an' I ain't pointin' any fingers - for whatever reason, nobody's stopped ta try an' help him. Now, if you're not goin' to do anythin', then I sure as hell am. Sir." And with that, Trip turned smartly on his heels and marched out of the captain's ready room and stalked out onto the bridge where, he noticed with an uneasy feeling of calmness, that where Malcolm should have been manning the tactical station, there was only Crewman O'Malley, doing something or other.

"Right," he said, reaching the spot directly behind the command chair, "listen up. Loo-tenant Reed is missin', as of some time very early this mornin'."

The reaction was instantaneous; Hoshi and Travis both whirled around on their seats and stared at the engineer, while to his left, O'Malley stopped whatever it was that he was doing and simply stared at the screen in front of him mutely, his arms now hanging limply at his sides. Even T'Pol stopped working and delicately raised an eyebrow in open question.

"Last time I saw him, he told me he was headin' up here to check on Hoshi," Trip continued, noting the reactions with a grim sort of satisfaction, "an' that's where things start gettin' a little hazy."

"I - I didn't see him at all last night," Hoshi said at last, her eyes wide. "And I was on the bridge for a couple of hours at least."

"Helen said that Lieutenant Reed reported into the armoury last night," a quiet Irish voice said, drawing everyone's attention to the tactical station. O'Malley shrugged, not meeting anybody's eyes. "She said he came in for a minute or two, chatted with her about the cannons and then left again. Don't know what time it was, though."

"Was he by himself?" Trip asked.

O'Malley shrugged again. "I don't know, sir. I only know that much because she mentioned it in the mess this morning."

"Did she say anythin' else?" Trip asked, trying to encourage him somehow.

"Not that I remember, sir."

"Okay. Thanks, Phil." Trip turned back to the rest of the bridge. "Nobody saw anythin' of him here last night?"

"There was something," Hoshi said, furrowing her forehead. "I know it'll probably sound stupid, but -"

"No - what was it?" Jonathan asked from directly behind Trip, startling the younger man. He hadn't realised he was there.

"Well, the turbolift doors opened, but there wasn't anybody in there, just an empty car," Hoshi said in a rush of breath.

Trip stepped around the command chair and approached Hoshi's station. "That shouldn't happen," he said to her as he got closer. "They only open like that if somebody's inside."

"Maybe he was in there," O'Malley offered, again surprising Trip, "but maybe he didn't make it all the way to the bridge..."

"That would make sense," the engineer replied. "Not a comfortin' thought, but it makes sense."

"But where did Malcolm go, then?" Hoshi asked uncertainly. "Assuming that he was in the lift to begin with."

"Do you remember what Dinare said, Trip?" Jonathan asked leaning heavily on the railing behind his chair. "About you being the only one to live?"

Trip nodded slowly, not saying anything.

"She told us that... that you were a prime target."

"What are you sayin'?" Trip demanded, taking a step closer to the captain. "That they somehow got the wrong person? Malcolm's been taken an' it shoulda been me?"

"That would be illogical," T'Pol said to him, speaking for the first time. "Assuming that we are dealing with the same species as before -"

"Which we are!"

"- then it would also be logical that they have the same level of technology that both Lieutenant Reed reported encountering and was present in your body," T'Pol continued, almost as if there had been no interruption. They would not make a mistake of this nature."

"But either way, they gotta be close by ta be able ta jus' - snatch him like that."

"Captain?" Travis asked, turning all the way around on his seat. "Permission to speak freely?"

"...Of course."

Travis took a deep breath, evidently steeling himself. "Is it just me or is there one screwed-up version of déja-vu going on here?"

Hoshi looked over at him. "It's not just you," she said quietly.

Travis looked back at her, and then at the captain. "What are the odds that we're going to find another ship following us at a close distance, matching course and speed - what little speed we have..."

"...with the answers to a missing officer on board..." Hoshi continued quietly.

"Only now I'm the one racin' off ta find Malcolm instead o' the other way around, right?" Trip asked them, not liking where this was going.

Jonathan nodded, but didn't say anything.

"So..." Trip was now at a loss. "What happens next?"

"We don't know," Hoshi told him. "Malcolm beamed over there, and then about three hours later the captain and Lieutenant Hess got him out just before the ship exploded -"


"...You... you weren't told that part, were you?" O'Malley asked him, sounding more curious than anything else.

Trip was now visibly several shades paler than he had been before, and he shot a dirty look in the general direction of Jonathan. "Ah, no. Think some people mighta left that part out..."

For his part, the captain looked dutifully bashful.

"But nothin' changes," Trip told him firmly. "If we can find the ship, then I'm goin' over there."

"Definite déja-vu," Travis said in a very, very quiet voice.

A few feet away from him (and with exceptional hearing), Hoshi nodded mutely.

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

Chapter 7: Silver Lining

Ben Romano stared at the scanner readouts of the engine that he had just been given. Things were definitely starting to look promising; between them, he, Alynna and Michael had managed to get Enterprise up to a maximum speed of warp two, although that was pushing it somewhat.

At his nod, Alynna went over to the comm. "Engineering to the bridge."

"Go ahead," Commander Tucker's voice answered, surprising both her and Ben.

Alynna swallowed. "We've, uh, got warp two, sir," she told him. "Thought we'd better leave the rest for you and the Alpha shift to take care of."

A second later, Tucker replied, and when he did he sounded more tired than either ensign had ever heard him. "Good job," he said genuinely. "Soon's Hess turns up, go get some shut eye, an' that's an order."

"Yessir. Engineering out." Alynna let go of the button and looked over at where Ben was still standing. "Tired?" she asked softly.

He grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "Hell yes," he answered. "I feel like... like I could sleep through a Klingon attack."

Alynna quirked an eyebrow. "Let's not tempt fate," she said sagely. "And speaking of tempting fate, we should get that report written for Lieutenant Hess."

"Sure thing," Ben answered, smoothing down his rumpled hair, leaving the scans on a clear workstation for now.

o o o o o

"This isn't going to work as we had planned, cousin," Nephet said quietly, studying the data in front of him.

"So what do you propose we do?"

Nephet shook his head slowly. "I do not know. Perhaps the best course of action..." He paused for a moment, then turned and looked Xela directly in the eyes. "...would be simply to kill him outright."

o o o o o

"Okay, so we've got warp," Trip said into the silence on the bridge. He then sighed and leaned on the railing by the communications station. "I just don't see where we go next."

"T'Pol," Jonathan said, "do a deck-by-deck scan - hell, get the security teams searching as well if you have to. We need to know if Malcolm is definitely still on board the ship or not."

"What's that gonna prove?" Trip cried out, turning to face the captain. "Malcolm's not the kinda guy to just go gallivantin' off without stoppin' t'answer a hail. He's not here, else he woulda answered by now." He paused for breath, resting his head inbetween his arms on the railing, and took a couple of deep breaths before resurfacing again. "This isn't gettin' us anywhere. Look, we gotta do somethin' before anythin' happens ta Malcolm. You said it yourself, Cap'n, 'bout what they were plannin' ta do ta me... if we don't get movin', Malcolm could end up dead." He shook his head. "I don't want that on my conscience."

Jonathan now looked visibly shaken, as did just about everybody else on the bridge (with the very possible exception of T'Pol, who merely appeared to be slightly concerned). "I didn't mean it like that, Trip," he said to the younger man, taking on an almost defensive stance behind the command chair. "I just meant -"

Trip interrupted him wearily. "I know what ya meant, Cap'n," he said. "At least, I'm pretty sure I know. Guess I just wanted ta get that off my chest." He laughed mirthlessly, the noise sounding bitter and desolate in the enclosed space. "But this still isn't gettin' us anywhere, though. We've gotta do somethin'... I don't know... somethin' constructive..."

"We still do not know whether or not there is a cloaked ship in Enterprise's immediate vicinity," T'Pol stated, speaking for the first time. "Perhaps that would be the most logical course of action, given the circumstances."

Trip looked up at her, the gratitude evident on his face. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, you're right, Sub-commander. Thank you."

She raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

Trip now seemed to have lost his previous drive. "So, uh, what do we do now?" he asked Jonathan a little plaintively.

"We do exactly what the sub-commander said, Mister Tucker," Jonathan told him, smiling softly. "Figure out what it is that's following us. Travis," he said, changing direction, "get those beacons out."

"Aye sir," Travis nodded, seemingly pleased now that something was actually happening. Then, a few seconds later, "Any particular direction, sir?"

Motioning Trip to keep quiet, Jonathan turned back to the helm. "Do a full three-sixty," he told Travis, "and keep rotating the frequencies."

Travis bit his lower lip as he carried out the order, well aware of the fact that every set of eyes (possibly bar one) was trained into the back of his head. As a result of the slight preoccupation, he jumped a good several inches when his console beeped twice. He studied the readout information. "One small cloaked ship sitting thirty-four hundred kilometres off to port," he said into the bated silence, and then read out the co-ordinates.

Trip swore softly under his breath. "That's where they've taken him, then," he said hollowly. "That's where Malcolm is."

"Sensors cannot penetrate the cloak," T'Pol added, causing the engineer to whirl around to face her, a defiant, challenging look on his face. "However, it would also be logical to assume that that is the current location of Lieutenant Reed."

Trip now looked as though he could have kissed the Vulcan science officer, such was the expression of utter gratitude on his face.

"Next question," Jonathan said firmly. It seemed as though he was finally beginning to take charge of the situation. "How do we get over there without causing a sensor storm?"

"Somethin' ta do with the engines," Trip said slowly, deep in thought. "Fake a mini breach at the back of one o' the nacelles, use the radiation spill to hide a transport signature."

T'Pol looked at him. "Such a procedure has little chance of success," she stated flatly. "There is a high probability of death to the person undertaking that method, and it would not be viable in this situation."

"An' what's the alternative?" Trip demanded of her, his voice starting to rise with every syllable. "Leave Malcolm ta die at their hands? Do that, knowin' all along we coulda done somethin' ta save him. It doesn't work like that," he told her angrily. "It doesn't work like that at all. Ma'am." He took a deep shuddering breath and ran his hand through his hair. "To hell with logic and damn chances," he said to a now quiet bridge. "T'hell with it all."

"Who's on duty in Engineering at the moment?" Jonathan asked Hoshi, figuring she would be most likely to be able to give him an answer.

"Ensign Romano and Crewmen Rostov and Ferris," she replied a couple of seconds later. "Lieutenants Hess and Bathurst aren't due down there for another half hour."

"Right," Jonathan said, nodding in acknowledgement. "Raise both lieutenants, and get them up here as soon as possible," he ordered. He looked over at Trip. "We've got an accident to plan."

o o o o o

Xela looked at the unconscious human form laid spread-eagled in the small room. She could only surmise that his current condition had been brought on by exhaustion; some kind of need for his body to recharge and maintain itself, although she had little way of telling for certain.

She had come down here initially to check that the human was in no way in any danger of dying prematurely, and had been somewhat relieved to find that he was still alive; she had remained here, watching the rise and fall of his chest while studying the limited data that was available to her people about this species.

At first Xela had been fascinated by their biology; the near-hairless form, as well as the pulmonary mechanisms that seemed so primitive when compared to her own; a tail so minuscule as to be almost non-existent, as well as the other, less obvious differences that she had noted and catalogued in the database.

Reading through the data that she had, however, it was the psychological aspects of this race that had finally caught her undivided attention. The writer of the report had greatly emphasised the human dependence on emotion and emotional processes, which had also invited a footnote mentioning the impracticality of close relations with the Vulcan people, long noted for their suppression of such emotions.

Xela knew that somewhere in this report, as well as the medical data assembled by Nephet, was the information she needed to break the alien. It had happened once before, she knew (hence the report), and in some small way she regretted the possibility that this human would be killed shortly; her initial doubts that she and Nephet had taken the wrong human from the immobilised ship were already beginning to grow substantially as she had begun to notice... discrepancies between the information about Tucker in the report and "Tucker" lying in front of her.

Perhaps then, she thought to herself... perhaps then an outright killing would not be the only viable course of action to take. Perhaps there was another, equally possible, route that could be taken in this situation.


o o o o o

Within three hours, a motley team comprising of Commander Tucker, Lieutenants Hess and Bathurst, Ensign Mayweather and Crewman O'Malley had come up with a plan, each person offering different perspectives and titbits of knowledge to speed things along just that little bit quicker.

Within three hours and ten minutes, Hess, Bathurst and O'Malley were all in place throughout the ship - in Main Engineering, the catwalk and the armoury respectively - ready to go on the captain's signal from the bridge.

Within three hours, ten minutes and thirty seconds, anybody watching would have seen a spectacular-looking display comprising of plasma leakages from three separate points on the port warp nacelle (helped along by a power surge courtesy of three phase cannons), the fallout of which spread nearly five thousand kilometres port of Enterprise, with the result that any operating warp fields or cloaking devices would be affected as long as the plasma clouds remained.

Within three hours, ten minutes and thirty-five seconds, Trip Tucker had been transported to the co-ordinates of the alien ship, and when he materialised (in one piece), it was into a world of darkness and shadows.

He shivered.

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

Chapter 8: We’re Not Right

Without looking around again, or doing anything else, Trip whipped his scanner out of a sleeve pocket and began to scan for biosigns, human or otherwise. He noted, with a small grunt of irritation, that for some reason the scanner's range was limited to a little under ten metres (nine point seven four five, to be precise), although he also knew that there was very little that he would be able to do about it.

It also took about two seconds for him to wish he'd thought about bringing some kind of light source with him as well, as all he could see down the corridor that presumably led away from him was darkness, shadows and yet more darkness.

As a result of this Trip was very, very aware of every single noise he was making as he progressed down the corridor. His eyes slowly adjusted themselves to the darkness, and after a minute or two he could begin to make out curved archways dotting the sides of the walls at regular intervals. He slowly walked over to the first one, ignoring the sudden sense of nausea where his stomach used to be; without warning, his ribcage had also contracted, and it was becoming harder and harder to breathe.

He felt strangely light-headed as he peeked around the edge of the first arch. He didn't know what he was going to find in there... he didn't really care to know what he was going to find in there.

The room beyond the archway was nothing that interested Trip on a professional level; just a long, low flat surface running against one wall, about a metre or so above the floor, and about two metres long in total, like a block pushed against the wall itself. Trip stared at it for a moment, trying to work out why it seemed so familiar...

Two strong arms either side of his neck, pushing him back down against something hard and cold to his bare skin. Unable to see anything through the endless darkness except for the occasional outline of a shadow, the shape unlike anything he had ever seen before. His head forced back against the cold hardness underneath him, breathing so fast his chest nearly burst. Something pressing into the side of his neck, small and round and cold. Feeling the sleep creep up on him from everywhere at once, and surrendering to the darkness...

The feelings of despair and loss lingered in his mind long after the brief images had faded away. Taking deep, measured breaths Trip tried to figure out what they meant... and came to the only possible... the only feasible conclusion.

They were memories.

They were his memories.

It was as if that single even had opened floodgates somewhere in the recesses of his mind; because now in front of him, where there should have been only dark blue walls and darker shadows, he could instead see himself in the room ahead of him. It was like some kind of out-of-body experience, because Trip could see himself strapped to a vertical frame, his head lolling from side to side as if he was only semi-conscious, restraints being clipped around his ankles, upper arms, wrists and torso by something... someone... blending almost perfectly into the darkness... like nothing Trip had ever seen before, or could ever remember seeing; like something out of the Jurassic age.

Questions fired at him in short, sharp bursts, the voice making him want to curl up and block out the sound. Answers he gave them, twisting the questions so that they never got what they wanted. Waves of pain coming again and again until he blacked out.

Panting heavily, Trip finally began to realise why Malcolm had been acting the way he had for the past two or three weeks. Hell, if he'd had any memory of this before, he'd have been a complete screw-up as well... nobody should ever have to go through... through that.

However, the thought did nothing to settle Trip's stomach as he backed away from the archway completely and moved down the corridor again until his legs suddenly gave way beneath him, and he collapsed onto the floor. Unable to get back up again, Trip instead pulled himself over to the wall and leaned his back against it, rocking himself gently backwards and forwards as more repressed memories came back to the fore, each one of them more vivid than the last.

There was no way of telling how long he'd been there when the repeating sound of footsteps broke through the haze surrounding his mind. Slowly, blearily, Trip looked up to find himself staring at the wrong end of an alien weapon. And standing behind it, holding it...


o o o o o

Jonathan paced the bridge for the umpteenth time, ignoring the looks he was getting from his science, comm and helm officers as he did so. It was less than an hour since Trip had transported over to the cloaked ship; the spillage from the warp nacelle meant that Enterprise's sensors could still penetrate the vessel, although nothing as yet could be picked up through the waves and waves of interference still blocking them from having any clue as to what was happening over there.

Engineering had already contacted the bridge; little more than a cursory call to let the captain know that the engine was completely repaired and theoretically capable of hitting four point nine if necessary. At the moment though, both ships were still cruising along at a virtually leisurely three quarters impulse, the alien ship still caught up in the plasma clouds; no effort had as yet been made by them to move out of the affected area of space.

Jonathan completed yet another circuit of the bridge, hoping beyond all hope that both his officers were okay.

o o o o o

"Malcolm!" Trip said in relief, exhaling sharply. He started to get up, only to be firmly pushed back down again by the muzzle of Malcolm's weapon. "What're you doin'?"

There was no answer. Trip tried again. "C'mon Mal. It's me. Trip." He searched the other man's eyes for any sign of recognition, any kind of emotion - anything! - but only found a blank expression staring down at him. He started to get worried. "Mal, I..." he trailed off.

Malcolm kept staring at him for a few moments, making the engineer more nervous by the second, and the nausea he had been feeling earlier came back to him in full force, as well as the deep, niggling worry that something had happened to his friend.

Eventually, however, he spoke. "Trip... what are you doing here?" he asked, acting as though the other man was practically a stranger; there was no sentimentality or any sense of familiarity in his voice. As if Trip had walked in on him in his quarters.

"...I'm here ta find you," Trip answered.

"I don't need finding," Malcolm replied, his voice still flat. The weapon in his hand never wavered from its aim. "I'm right here, and I'm fine."

"You coulda fooled me," Trip told him, almost defiantly. "Last I knew you were screamin' silently fer someone to help ya."

Malcolm raised his eyebrows, as if surprised by this, but said nothing.

Trip stared at him for a couple of minutes before something occurred to him... something he should maybe have seen already... "Who are you?"

Malcolm frowned at him. "Malcolm. I'm Malcolm," he said in a tone that clearly implied that Trip was an idiot.

"I'll try again, shall I?" Trip asked. "Who are ya?"

"Lef-tenant Malcolm Reed," Malcolm answered in a crisp accent, still acting as though Trip was being incredibly dense. "Enterprise's armoury officer."

Trip shook his head, knowing now what he had to do. "Why don't we just quit pretendin' and cut to the heart of all this?" he asked, shaking his head ruefully. "You're no more Malcolm Reed than I am a Vulcan diplomat."

"Interesting," Malcolm mused, inclining his head to one side. "Use of sarcasm and humour to temporarily suspend the full reality of the situation... but of course, I already knew that."

Throat suddenly dry, Trip had to fight to get his next words out. "Why are you doin' this?"

"Can't you see for yourself what this is all about, Commander?" Malcolm asked him, dropping down onto his haunches so that his gaze was level with Trip's. He rested a hand on the floor to steady himself, leaving the weapon in his other hand, balanced on his legs. "I would have thought it was perfectly clear by now... even for you."

"What the hell have you done with Malcolm?" Trip snarled.

Malcolm considered this for a moment before answering. "He's alive," he said nonchalantly. "For now. I wouldn't count on it staying that way, though."

Trip suddenly felt faint. "Where is he?" he asked, dreading the answer he knew would likely come.

"Don't you remember?" Malcolm asked, again inclining his head. "You've been there yourself, Trip. The endless corridors of darkness and shadows? The darkness so complete that it threatens to swallow you whole and then spit you out in little pieces?" He sounded so calm as to sound as though he was giving a report on ship's security. It was almost unnatural. "That's where Reed is... if indeed he still exists."

"I still existed," Trip shot back defiantly. "I was... but you know that, if you are claimin' ta be Malcolm. He was there for me; I held on."

Malcolm shook his head, smiling in amusement. "You were the unstable element in the equation, Mister Tucker," he said sharply, the amusement not stretching to his voice. "The first human to be... to be sent to that place, shall we say? Naturally, there would be some unknowns left dangling... one would not possibly be able to cover all of the bases, so to speak."

"What?" Trip asked, confused.

"Oh, come on," Malcolm replied, sounding impatient. "I can remember telling you that... filling you in on all those details, or was it my imagination? That damned colony..." He took a breath and calmed himself. "But we're getting off the point."

Trip was almost enraged. "You mean ta tell me there's some kinda point t'all this?" he demanded.

"Of course."

"Care t'enlighten me, then?" Trip said. "'Cause clearly I'm just some pathetically dumb Southerner who can't tell his left from his right."

"You cannot save him."

"An' why the hell not?" Trip demanded, struggling to keep his voice below a yell.

Malcolm's voice was as flat as it had been the first time he had spoken. "He surrendered."

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

Chapter 9: Brave the Betrayal

"Bull," Trip said weakly. He shook his head. "Bullshit. Malcolm'd never do that."

"Malcolm" inclined his head to one side, studying Trip with the air one would usually afford a not particularly fascinating specimen in the zoo. "Really?" he asked, and then indicated himself. "Care to explain this, then?"

Trip shook his head again. "No," he said quietly, insistently, "no. You people did somethin' t'him... made him do somethin' 'gainst his will... no..." He floundered, unwilling to go any further with his line of thought.

The person kneeling opposite him said nothing further, but simply kept watching him with the same speculative air around him, and it wasn't very long until Trip began to feel uncomfortable under the scrutiny. He couldn't bring himself to look into Malcolm's eyes; he had already seen them glinting in the shadows - utterly devoid of any emotion, any feeling - any sign that Malcolm Reed was in there at all.

Involuntarily, Trip shuddered.

Malcolm cocked his head to one side. "Something bothering you, Commander?" he asked calmly, a look of complete innocence on his face.

"Shut. Up," Trip growled at him, twisting his face into what he hoped was a menacing expression. He didn't know if it worked or not; he didn't receive any kind of reaction for his efforts.

Malcolm raised an eyebrow. "You can't tell me what to do, Mister Tucker," he replied officiously. "After all, if we go by what you say, then I'm not Lieutenant Reed, you are not my superior officer and therefore you cannot order me to do anything." He smirked. "Can you?"

Trip said nothing; instead he followed the other man's previous tactic and stared at him in stony silence for a few seconds. He allowed himself to slacken against the wall, muscles loosened. "No," he mumbled, "no... guess you're right... can't make y'do anythin' you don't wanna... damn stoo-pid of me, I know..."

He got no real reaction for a couple of seconds, not until from out of the corner of his eye he could just about see Malcolm relax his guard for a split second, loosening his grip on his weapon, which was still lying almost flat on the floor.

That was all Trip needed. Without warning, he jerked forward and grabbed Malcolm's weapon, throwing back along the corridor and into the darkness and shadows. Before the stunned man could do anything else, Trip had got him by the shoulders and tried to push him down onto the floor, on his back.

He was too slow. Malcolm had already reacted to the other man's movement and was now pushing himself into Trip's body, forcing him up, away from the floor. Trip was then smartly flipped into his back and there was a sickening thud as his head and neck made contact with the metal decking. He felt his arms shoved upwards and around his head, where they were pinned by Malcolm; his legs spreading the engineer's out and apart, dramatically restricting his movement.

Panting, Trip looked up to find himself inches away from Malcolm's outraged expression, the annoyance and even hatred clearly blazing in his eyes. Trip struggled against the smaller man for a few seconds with no result; the man on top of him was a security officer, for Christ's sake - and in this position, how the hell was he supposed to get the upper hand back?!

Malcolm took several deep, panting breaths, although he looked anything but exhausted. He looked fiercely down at Trip. "You will yield!" he said forcefully when Trip continued trying to fight him.

"Don't you try an' tell me what ta do!" Trip retorted, his voice getting more and more intense with every syllable.

Malcolm leaned in towards Trip's left ear and began to whisper in cold tones. "Give... up..." he demanded.

When he lifted his head up again, Trip tried to raise his own to meet him. "Then I guess you don't know humans very well, do you?" he asked. "We're not in the habit o' surrenderin' at the first goddamned hurdle."

Malcolm considered the words for a moment. "No," he admitted. "You're so stubborn you just keep going until you collapse right before the finish line. That is your true weakness, human. You do not know when to give up."

Trip stared at him. "Some would call that our greatest strength," he managed flippantly.

"Then they are delusional," Malcolm stated flatly, not breaking eye contact with Trip. "By refusing to yield at the proper time you carry on, regardless of the consequences, all the time growing weaker: you do not need any enemies, human," he added coldly. "You are your own enemy."

"Better to die than be cheese eatin' surrender monkeys," Trip retorted plainly, saying the first thing that came into his head.

He got a dirty look in return. "Must you be so vulgar, Mister Tucker?" Malcolm enquired, wrinkling his nose in distaste, although his grip on the engineer never wavered. "Being so crude... it's very unbecoming of one. As is this pointless charade," he continued blandly, a note of fierceness still in his voice. "Are you willing to give up yet?"

Again, Trip brought his head up as far as he could, as close to Malcolm as he could manage. "Like you said yourself," he replied, struggling for a moment to breath properly, "I don't know how ta give up... remember? An'," he continued, not giving Malcolm a chance to respond, "I know Loo-tenant Reed. He's a hell of a lot worse at this surrenderin' thing than I am. And look at me now."

Malcolm shook his head, almost pityingly. "Which brings us back to the original topic of conversation," he replied. "Reed surrendered, and here I am."

"Not much of an improvement, though," Trip spat back. "Tell you the truth, I preferred the old Mal. He's less of an ass than you are, an' he doesn't try an' attack senior officers." He smiled mirthlessly. "S'like the last time, isn't it?" he asked sadly. "When they took me... whatever it was they had in place of me was almost too perfect a copy. We're human," Trip continued, "we're able to spot things like that. You're not Loo-tenant Reed, and let's face it - you're never gonna be."

Malcolm's face twisted in anger, and he tightened his grip on Trip's wrists. "Learn to be more critical, then," he hissed furiously. "This has nothing to do with replacing your precious armoury officer." He sneered the last two words rather than saying them. "This is an act of retribution."

Trip let his head fall back to the decking underneath him, the wind well and truly knocked out of his sails. The reaction did not go unnoticed by his assailant, who merely smirked in some kind of sick satisfaction. "Retribution for what?" he managed to get out, sounding weak even to his own ears.

"You." Malcolm spoke calmly, his previous anger gone. "As much as it pains me to say it, Commander, this is all about you. Remember?"

Unable to do anything else, Trip nodded weakly.

"You were the target, of course." Malcolm's tone of voice indicated that this fact was perfectly obvious to anyone concerned.


"The original mission," Malcolm elaborated patiently, his face still inches away from Trip's. "Its intention was to locate and eliminate you. Like I said, a little revenge."

"Revenge?" Trip repeated slowly. "Why revenge?"

Malcolm sighed, rapidly growing impatient. "It was originally believed that because of you, Xela back there lost her father."

Trip ignored the obvious question and instead went for the other. "Vojeh," he said slowly. "They thought I killed him."

Malcolm nodded in satisfaction. "Now can you see what this is all about, Commander?" he asked. "After all, vengeance can be a very healthy characteristic in a person. Except of course, when the target is misplaced."

Things began to click in Trip's mind, the pieces slowly coming together. "I didn't kill him," he said finally.

"Correct." Malcolm's voice was flat again, devoid of all emotion. "As you, I and most likely half of Starfleet brass know by now, Reed was the person responsible for the death of Xela's father. If Reed hadn't interfered in his original mission, he wouldn't have died and none of us would be in the situation we find ourselves in at this current point in time." He paused. "Except for you," he added as an afterthought. "You would have died."

Chills ran down Trip's spine, but the feeling was ignored.

"So," Malcolm continued, oblivious this time to the other man's reaction, "imagine what must have gone through these people's minds when they found they had taken the wrong man, as it were." He chuckled. The man actually chuckled. "Killing the innocent? That's unthinkable in almost any civilised society. And then of course," he went on, "they found out the truth. This is the part where you feel guilty, Mister Tucker," he added. "Reed had been silently torturing himself all this time, even without any of this happening to him as well. Almost the cherry on top of the sundae, really." He paused for a moment, seemingly enjoying the sickened look on Trip's face underneath him. "By doing this to Reed, the revenge is fulfilled. Reed will cease to exist, and you will be here to see it happen, and likely live to tell the tale. After all, what use would not killing you be otherwise?"

"Spoken like a true barbarian," Trip retorted, his voice now little more than a pathetic sounding whimper.

Malcolm shot him a filthy look, but said nothing for a second or two. "How does it feel to be a marked man?" he asked, almost softly, and Trip jerked at the memory that it provoked.

"So, how does it feel to be a marked man?" Malcolm asked eventually, the pair having skirted the alien's simple yet rather dramatic pronouncement up until that point.

Trip simply shrugged as they turned another corner. "Tryin' not to think about it, really. If I think about it, I hafta start worryin' and if I start worryin' I'll get afraid, an' if things come to that then that's when it's the beginnin' of the end."

"I imagine it would be."


"What would you have me do?" Trip asked, looking up to meet Malcolm's cold grey eyes. "Would you have me surrender, like you're claimin' Malcolm did?"

"If that was how it was going to work, then yes, I would have you surrender," Malcolm acquiesced. "But then that begs the fact that you have already stated quite plainly that you would die rather than give up at a sensible time. Which puts us into rather a quandary, doesn't it? Oh," he added, "and there is no doubt surrounding Reed's surrender. He gave up," he finished simply, as if stating something that was already perfectly obvious.

Trip shook his head. "No way," he replied. "If Mal's still alive, then I'm gonna rescue him. Get you outta him, get him outta here and try an' put this crap behind us. Where it belongs," he added in an attempt at defiance.

Malcolm shifted his grip on Trip's wrists ever so slightly, and slowly brought them down, pushing the engineer's arms out until he was lying spread-eagled on the floor. Using Trip's body as leverage he pushed himself up and further away from the torso underneath him. "From where I am, it doesn't look as though you're in any kind of position to be making escape plans, Commander," he informed Trip coldly. "In fact, it doesn't look like you're in much of a position to be doing anything."

"You know somethin'," Trip replied, "it'll take more to break me than a lot of empty words and throwin' big, bad threats around." He stared up at Malcolm as defiantly as he could, trying to make his own face as blank as possible. It would need to be if this was going to work. "You make a point o' tellin' me that Malcolm's not comin' back, in which case why would I want his body walkin' around, doin' all the talkin'? After all," he added, trying his best to sound merciless, "like I already said, you're hardly an improvement over the original."

Malcolm snarled ferally. "You don't know what you're talking about," he said coldly.

"Don't I?" Trip held his ground as best he could.

"No." The response was practically spat at him.

"Then prove it," Trip retorted instantly.

In response, Malcolm pressed down heavily on Trip's arms and legs for a split second, then jumped up and off the engineer's body. Trip, unable to move for the moment, could only watch as Malcolm backed slowly down the corridor until he was standing two metres beyond the engineer's feet. "Prove it," he hissed, throwing Trip's words back at him. "You're armed with a phase pistol." He spread his arms open wide. "Use it."

It was a long couple of minutes before Trip's aching, tired muscles complied with him and he was able to pull himself first into a sitting position, then work himself up so that he was standing next to the wall, leaning briefly onto it for support. Eventually he stood up straight and pulled out his pistol.

"Don't forget to set it to kill." Malcolm's tone was mocking, and trying not to shake, Trip silently adjusted the pistol's setting from one to the other. He held it up in front of him, arm ramrod straight, pistol aimed straight for Malcolm's chest.

I'm sorry, Mal, he whispered silently.

Then he fired.

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

Chapter 10: White Ladder

Malcolm's body crumpled as soon as the beam from the phase pistol hit him, and he fell to the floor. He was unconscious before he hit the deck.

Feeling completely numb all over, like he was in some kind of dream, Trip could only stand there, phase pistol hanging limply by his side. Part of him couldn't believe what he had just done. He had shot Malcolm. He had shot Malcolm, for God's sake! His friend... not his friend, but his friend at the same time.

Without warning, his legs gave way again, and Trip sank down to the floor. He no longer cared about anything that could be lurking in the shadows either side of him, he didn't really care that that was his friend lying motionless not three feet away from him. The memories were beginning to come back again...

He didn't dare open his eyes; something that would be futile anyway because he knew that he wouldn't be able to see anything anyway.

He could hear plenty, though. Long, heavy, shuffling footsteps that circled around and around him. This hiss of some kind of spray that was only seconds from being pressed against his neck. The low, rough voices that talked amongst themselves for most of the time, but every so often they would fire more questions at him, trying to find out who he was, why he was out here, what his mission was.

Usually the questions were harsh and brisk, to the point, all of them designed to extract as much information from him as was possible. Not this time, though... this time it was different.

The tiny pinprick of cold against his neck lasted just a fraction of second, and there was a long, silent pause while the same old effects began to kick in again - he had already worked out that the stuff they injected into him was designed to make him compliant with requests and questions, but at the same time it wasn't enough to make him surrender his will. He could resist them, could resist the worst of their questions, work his way around the questioning to suit himself.

Not this time, though... this time it was different.

"Open your eyes," the voice demanded. Unable to resist them, Trip opened his eyes. In front of him, on a low slung table was a Starfleet-issue scanner, a phase pistol from the armoury, a Starfleet-issue communicator and some diagnostics tools from Engineering that he had brought with him.

He watched with apprehension as the reptilian alien walked over to the table and picked up the pistol, handling it surprisingly delicately for someone who could have passed for baby tyrannosaurus Rex. He watched as the alien turned it this way and that, looking on in sick fascination as the alien brushed over the dial for the stun and kill settings, and examined the groove where the mechanism for opening the pistol was, where the power cell would come out.

"An interesting weapon," the alien said contemplatively, still examining the pistol in close detail. "Not too advanced, but good enough for what it does. Tell me," he continued, suddenly changing tack and focusing on Trip instead. He held up the phase pistol. "Have you ever killed anybody with one of these before?"

Slowly, Trip shook his head, not seeing the harm in letting this piece of information out.

"Would you kill somebody with one of these?" the alien asked him, holding up the pistol.

Biting back the first answer that came into his mind, Trip instead said, "Depends on who I'm firin' at," he said, sounding as menacing as he could given the circumstances.

The alien cocked his head to one side. "Would you kill one of your own kind with one of these?" he asked calmly.

"Go... to hell," Trip managed eventually, struggling against whatever was running through his veins.

"I will take that as a 'no'," the alien mused. He turned around and placed the pistol back down on the table. "It is almost a pity," he went on, turning back to face Trip. "You should learn to take orders, Tucker," he said, using Trip's name for the first time that 'session'.

Trip didn't say anything to that - he hadn't been asked a question.

"But no matter; you will learn how to take orders soon enough." The alien came closer to the frame Trip was strapped to, close enough to touch him. "Soon..."

Trip looked up again, at Malcolm's still form on the deck in front of him. He knew what came next. The next solid memory that he had had was waking up in Sickbay to find Malcolm sitting next to him - the armoury officer had looked tired, pissed-off and terrified all at once, but he had still been happy to see that his friend was awake, and when he had told Trip what had happened in the intervening time between the ill-fated mission and Sickbay... a part of Trip had wished that he didn't know any of it, that he didn't know how close he had come to killing a third of Enterprise's crew in one go, how close he had come to betraying everyone on the ship.

How close Malcolm Reed had come to dying to save his friend...

And now here he was. Had the situation been any different, Trip would probably have found it something to laugh at. But it wasn't. It was real, he was here, and now he had to deal with what he had done. "There's nothin' here to make you think I'm worth savin'," he told Malcolm's body bitterly. "You shoulda just left me to die, saved your own asses instead..."

Swallowing, Trip adjusted his own position. He didn't trust his legs enough to try to stand up again. He reached into a pocket and pulled out his communicator.

He flipped it open, never once taking his eyes away from Malcolm. "Tucker t'Enterprise."

it was a long, painful few seconds, before... "Enterprise here," Jonathan's relieved voice said. "Go ahead, Trip."

"Can... can you get a transporter lock?" Trip asked.

Pause. "We've got you," Jonathan said, "but only you. Where's Malcolm?"

Trip resisted the urge to laugh out loud. "He's right here, Cap'n," he said faintly. "Not... not in the best o' conditions, though."

Jonathan's voice was full of concern and worry. "We can't locate him," he told Trip.

"S'interference, prob'ly," Trip replied dully. "Can you get us outta here or not?"


"Good. Jon, soon's we're out, blow this shitbox to hell."

If the captain was at all surprised by this statement, he let nothing show through the comm link. "We've got the cannons charged and ready, Trip," he said, sounding surprisingly gentle. "Just hold on."

The link went dead. Knowing what would be coming next, Trip pulled himself along until he was right next to Malcolm and pulled the armoury officer to him - holding the smaller man to him like a baby. He closed his eyes and after a few seconds felt the familiar transporter static take hold of both of them.

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

Chapter 11: Please Forgive Me

Had Malcolm Reed been present to see the destruction of the alien vessel moments after he and Trip Tucker had been pulled out of it, he would have undoubtedly been proud of the three explosions that had lit up the empty vacuum around them.

Had Malcolm Reed been awake and alert, he would have undoubtedly wanted to be present on the bridge to witness the explosion in all its entirety (if indeed he wasn't the one pushing the buttons and firing the cannons and torpedoes).

As it was, Malcolm Reed was in no fit state to say or do anything about either of these.

Malcolm Reed was on a biobed in Sickbay, fighting for his life. And the worst thing of all was that nobody could do a single thing to help him; all they could do was watch.

"Is there nothin' you can do for him, Doc?" Trip asked faintly, for what was easily the ninth or tenth time. The engineer was sitting on a bed two 'cubicles' down from the unconscious Malcolm, and had thus far refused any kind of medical treatment for himself, demanding that Phlox give the armoury officer his full and undivided attention.

For what was easily the ninth of tenth time, the doctor shook his head. "I'm sorry, Commander," he said genuinely, "but Mister Reed has to do this on his own." He sighed sadly and continued to monitor the lieutenant's vital signs. It was all he could do now, having already removed a small biological computer-type device from the rear of Malcolm's brain. As dangerous as it had been, that was actually the routine part of the procedure. Previous experience had taught everyone that the few hours after the operation were critical.

Trip trusted the medical officer's judgement, but he didn't like it at all. Right now he was torn between overbearing guilt and a state of utter fatigue and exhaustion, having been on the go for an easy twenty to twenty-four hours without any kind of rest. He swatted away Crewman Cutler's medical scanner with one hand and a mumbled "I'm fine", not taking his eyes off the scene two beds down from him. Elizabeth nodded in silent understanding, and backed off.

Jonathan had been watching the whole proceedings in calm quiet, his demeanour successfully hiding his own worry and concern for both of his officers. Watching Elizabeth leave Trip's bed, he himself stepped forward towards his friend. "Trip," he said gently, "maybe it would help the doctor if you... if you told us what happened over there."

Trip shook his head. "Doc can't do anythin'," he replied dully, still watching Malcolm. "S'what he said."

"Well," Jonathan persisted, "maybe it would help you if you told us what happened over there."

Finally tearing his eyes off Malcolm, Trip turned to face the captain and nodded slowly. Trip drew his legs up onto the bed and against his chest, so that he was huddled in the middle of the bed. "He said Malcolm was dead," he said quietly, drawing the sharp attention of Phlox, Archer and Cutler. "An' if he wasn't dead, then he would be."

"Who told you that?" Jonathan asked urgently, taking another step towards his friend. Behind him, Elizabeth looked faint, sharing nervous looks with the doctor.

Trip licked his lips. "Malcolm told me," he said, looking up at Jonathan. "Imagine that. Malcolm told me Malcolm was dead. Don't you find that funny, Jon?"

Jonathan frowned. "What do you mean?"

"You remember when it was me on the biobed?" Trip asked. Without waiting for a reply, he continued. "When they put somethin' in me that was controllin' my body?" He took a deep breath. "Tha's what they did to Mal - they did somethin' to him, only it wasn't the same as when it happened to me."

"In what way?" Jonathan asked as gently as he could, taking yet another step closer to the biobed.

Trip shrugged listlessly. "This one - whatever was controllin' Malcolm wasn't so concerned with makin' a copy that would fool people. I..." He broke off and looked back to Malcolm's prone form. "He was a sneaky bastard," he whispered. "Knew exactly how to play me, how to get a rise outta me." He closed his eyes briefly. "Whoever was on that ship... they didn't shoot him."

Phlox and Jonathan exchanged a look, but Trip was still talking. "Like I said, he knew how to make me react how he wanted," he continued, still in the same low, faint tone of voice. "Played me like a set o' bagpipes." He looked up again, finally meeting Jonathan's eyes. "Jon, I shot him. I fired a phase pistol at my friend and I shot him."

"Oh my God," Jonathan whispered to himself, closing his eyes. Within seconds he was sitting on the edge of the bed opposite Trip, a hand on the younger man's shoulder. He pulled Trip round to face him, and was met with no resistance from the engineer. "Trip," the captain said urgently, "this isn't your fault."

"Sure it is," Trip shot back flippantly. "S'my fault his head was messed up, s'my fault he was taken at all, and I'm the one who shot him." He raised his eyebrows, then added, "I'd say I'm ta blame."

Jonathan leaned in closer to Trip. "Listen to me, Commander," he hissed, emphasising each and every word. "You are not to blame for any of this. Circumstances were out of your control. Do I make myself clear?"

Trip looked up to meet his eyes. "Crystal, Jonny," he replied; it was clear he didn't mean a single word of it. "Is that all?"

"For now," Jonathan retorted in a low voice, straightening up again. He got up off the bed and turned to face the doctor. "Can Lieutenant Reed be left on his own at the moment?" he asked.

Phlox considered this for a moment. "As long either Crewman Cutler or myself are within easy reach of him, I wouldn't see it as a problem," he replied carefully.

"Great," Jonathan said, rubbing his hands together. "Doc, Crewman, make yourselves scarce." His voice brooked no argument, and both medical personnel disappeared behind one of the sickbay dividers. For a bit of added privacy, Jonathan pulled part of one of the curtains around Malcolm's bed, essentially cutting the armoury officer off from the rest of the room. He then met Trip's gaze and jerked his head back to Malcolm. "He may be unconscious, but you two need to talk," he said. "Whenever you're ready, Commander." And with that, he vanished, presumably to join Phlox and Elizabeth in their hiding place.

It was a couple of minutes before Trip moved at all from his huddled-up position. He crossed the room and stood at the end of Malcolm's bed for a little while, studying the readouts above the bed with an inexperienced eye. From what he could tell, Malcolm had a slightly elevated pulse, and his body temperature was three tenths of a degree above normal, but other than that he appeared to be physically fine.

Fine. Trip nearly laughed out loud at that one. Of course Malcolm was fine. He always was, wasn't he? Lieutenant 'Don't-come-near-me-with-that-bloody-hypospray-it's-only-a-flesh-wound-for-crying-out-loud' Reed, Mister 'Don't-even-try-me-with-that-medical-leave-nonsense-I'm-on-duty-in-the-morning' Reed, everyone's favourite tough-as-nails armoury officer.

"I'm sorry, Malcolm," he said, finally breaking the silence. He swallowed, then grinned wryly. "We make a helluva pair, don't we? Well," he continued, "I'm givin' you an order, Loo-tenant, and I'm relyin' on that damn stubbornness of yours to make you go through with it: don't give up, Mal," he said harshly. "Don't you ever surrender." There was a strange warmth on his cheek, and when he touched it with a hand, he realised that he was crying. He took a deep breath, the sound harsh and ragged to his ears. "I know you're in there somewhere," he added. "I don't know if you can hear me or not - I know I couldn't hear a lot when it was me, but... if you're in there," he said, "fight it. You hear me, Loo-tenant?"

He paused again, and looked down at his friend. "Not now, not after all this, not after everythin' that's happened to ya," Trip said quietly. "You're human, Malcolm. Keep on runnin'. Even if you do fall right before the finish line, that could be another forty or fifty years at least. I don't care what that other you said," he told the armoury officer stubbornly. "You are not surrenderin', you are not gonna lose now, and you are not gonna let this beat you."

"Do you remember that first game of draughts we played in the mess hall?" Malcolm asked him presently, cutting into the comfortable silence.

Not seeing where this was going, Trip nodded. It hadn't been a game so much as a slaughter - in more ways than one. The armoury officer had spent a good half of the game trying to drum the word 'draughts' into his brain, insisting over and over that the Americans had dumbed the game down completely, informing Trip calmly that Chequers was the country residence of the British Prime Minister, and that it had nothing to do with any kind of board game.

"And each and every one after that," Malcolm continued. He paused for a moment, and sighed. "That was my safety, I think," he told Trip. "It was... playing the game with you was probably one of the few things on this ship that I could count on - unless we include Ensign bloody Rose and his bloody shenanigans. But," he continued, "my point is that none of any of this is constant." He waved an arm, encompassing most of the empty sickbay in one sweep.

"What're you tryin' to say?"

Malcolm shrugged delicately. "I'm sorry," he said simply. "If it wasn't for me, maybe we wouldn't be in any of this damn mess."

Trip stared at him. "You can't say that, Mal," he said firmly. "What happened happened, an' here we are - I'm alive, so I'm not complainin'." He forced a smile.

The armoury officer looked at him sadly. "Whatever you say, Trip," he replied, "but part of this still stops with me."

That had been the beginning of it, Trip realised, bringing himself back to the present and to the here and now. He remembered explaining the meaning of the flying blue monkeys to Malcolm - that even when the odds were stacked against you, or there was something in your way, you can always do something about it - and he remembered the long conversation that had followed. That was when it had begun; as Trip had begun to make his own emotional recovery, Malcolm had slowly but surely started to slip, gradually becoming more and more withdrawn, more and more tired and irritable on duty. And nobody - not even Trip - had seen the mental decline in the Englishman.

And that was Trip's fault, regardless of anything else that had happened.

Then, without warning, a loud and piercing beeping noise jerked Trip out of his thoughts. He whipped his head around to where he was sure that Jonathan, Phlox and Cutler were hiding, and sure enough the doctor was already emerging; within seconds he was standing over Malcolm's bed with a medical scanner in his hand.

"Doc," Trip said, his voice suddenly dry and hoarse. "What's happenin'?" Don't die on me now, you asshole. Hold on...

When there was no immediate answer, "Doc!" he repeated, louder this time.

Slowly, the Denobulan turned to face the pale engineer. "There's no need to be concerned, Commander," he replied gently.

Trip ground his teeth together. "Tell me what's happenin'."

Phlox smiled. "Lieutenant Reed is beginning to wake up."

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

Chapter 12: Entertain the End

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. He began to speak, but instead of hearing the words that could ultimately have led to his death, Malcolm could only hear the dreadful clamour of silence until he looked up again. But where he should have seen the cold-hearted alien about to kill him, he could only see...

... a human...

... someone he knew...

... firing the phase pistol...

... prepared to... kill him...

... someone hidden in the shadows...

... who?

"Malcolm? Mal? C'mon buddy, wake up..."

Obediently, Malcolm opened his eyes and was immediately blinded by the bright white lighting around him. He closed them again, tightly this time. He heard a low voice telling someone to lower the lights, and a few seconds later when he dared another peek, he was surrounded by dim twilight and pale shadows.

It took several seconds for his eyes to adjust enough to be able to make out any of the details of anything around him, and slowly things began to click. He was lying down on his back in what could only be the sickbay of Enterprise. Three, maybe four people... definitely four people that he could see... either standing around or near the biobed, one of them with a hypospray in his hand.

Surprisingly, Phlox noted, Lieutenant Reed offered almost no resistance to being injected with a serum designed to eliminate any remaining toxins in his body. More surprising still was the lack of reaction to being told that he would remain in Sickbay for quite some time.

The doctor nodded in acknowledgement of something only he could see, and silently escorted the still pale Crewman Cutler out of Sickbay, leaving just Trip and Jonathan with the lieutenant.

Malcolm quietly watched the two medics leave, then switched his gaze back to the two senior officers in front of him, both of whom were watching him with an almost speculative... perhaps even apprehensive air. "It's okay," he said jokingly. "I'm not going to try and shoot either of you."

To his surprise Trip tensed up, a blank look falling over his face; the captain simply looked awkward. Malcolm quickly decided to try something else. "Would... would someone mind telling me just how I got here?" he asked slowly, wincing at a sudden sharp pain in his chest.

When he got no kind of answer from either of them, he sighed. "Please," he said. "I... I need to fill in the blanks... the last thing I remember is... talking with Helen Maritas in the armoury and then heading up to the bridge. The next thing I knew... I was in darkness, and... yes, that's it. I - I just want to be able to fill in the gaps. That's all."

There was something," Hoshi said, furrowing her forehead. "I know it'll probably sound stupid, but -"

"No - what was it?" Jonathan asked from directly behind Trip, startling the younger man. He hadn't realised he was there.

"Well, the turbolift doors opened, but there wasn't anybody in there, just an empty car," Hoshi said in a rush of breath.

Trip stepped around the command chair and approached Hoshi's station. "That shouldn't happen," he said to her as he got closer. "They only open like that if somebody's inside."

"Maybe he was in there," O'Malley offered, again surprising Trip, "but maybe he didn't make it all the way to the bridge..."

"That would make sense," the engineer replied. "Not a comfortin' thought, but it makes sense."

While he had been speaking, he hadn't missed the look that had passed between Trip and the captain, and Malcolm looked up at them both expectantly. He suddenly felt very vulnerable where he was, and he didn't like it one bit.

Eventually, however, he got an answer, of sorts.

Trip shot Captain Archer a worried look before stepping closer to Malcolm's bed. "The truth is," he began. He then caught the faintly disbelieving look on Malcolm's face and broke off. He sighed. "Look, the truth is, Malcolm, we don't really know for sure."

"What do you mean?" Malcolm asked, trying to make out Trip's face through the dim shadows.

"Just that," Trip replied. "Look, I... I went over there," he continued, and held up a hand to forestall any kind of comment from the armoury officer. "I went over to that ship. And... I found you."

Malcolm was sceptical. "Just like that?" he asked, hissing a little from his chest.

The sound didn't go unnoticed by the engineer, and he nodded slowly. "Pretty much," he said in an attempt at flippancy. "You... you were just... lyin' there unconscious from whatever they did to ya."

Too exhausted for the moment to try and argue, Malcolm nodded, seemingly letting the matter rest. A minute or two later, whatever was in the hypospray clearly caught up with him, because he fell back into a calm, peaceful looking sleep, his chest rising normally with each breath.

Jonathan watched him for a few moments to make sure he was sleeping, then turned to face his friend. The look on his face must have been pretty conclusive as Trip raised his hands in a half-hearted defence. "Look, Jon," he began. "You don't hafta say it."

"Say what?" Jonathan asked. "That what you just told him was a complete set of lies?"

Trip exhaled sharply. He grabbed Jonathan's arm and led the man to the other end of Sickbay. "Look," he insisted quietly, "I don't need you tellin' me that that back there was a load of shit. But Malcolm's been through too much already without havin' to know that the only real reason he's still on medical leave is 'cause I shot him with one of his own phase pistols." He looked directly into the captain's eyes. "He does not need to know that," he said, enunciating every word clearly.

Jonathan sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Okay, then. Say that you're right. Say that, I don't know, somewhere down the line he begins to remember what happened. Then what? 'Oh, I'm sorry Lieutenant. Did I forget to tell you I shot you?'."

"He's not gonna remember," Trip shot back, although his voice was tinged with sadness. "I had ta be filled in on every single thing that went on while I had that thing in my head, and that means that unless we tell Malcolm what he did, then he's not gonna know either. And what he doesn't know isn't gonna be the thing that sends him over the edge." He paused and took a deep breath. "I'm not pointin' any fingers, Jonny, but it's not Malcolm's fault that he got caught up in any of this. Like I said, he's been goin' crazy since all this the first time around, and nobody - nobody, me included - stopped ta think what he could have been goin' through." He was talking faster and faster now, although his voice never got any louder. "An' now... now he's gonna be worse than ever before, an' it's up to us to make sure that he's gonna be okay at the end of it."

He looked back to where Malcolm was still sleeping, and nodded. "He was right, you know."

"Who was?" Jonathan asked.

Trip smiled ruefully. "Whatever they had controllin' Malcolm. He was right."

"What did he say?"

"That I wasn't gonna be killed. That Malcolm was goin' to die, that I would be there to see it, and that I would keep on livin' afterward."

"Trip," Jonathan said firmly. "Malcolm's alive."

"I know he is," Trip replied. "But I also know that sooner or later he'll get himself killed doin' something unbelievably dangerous and damn heroic at the same time. He'll die, I'll see it and I'll have to keep on livin'." He laughed mirthlessly. "That was the point, y'know."

"What was?"

Trip laughed again, but this time it sounded utterly hollow and empty. "He's one o' my best friends, Jon," he said softly. "An' that's the point as well. That's the retribution, the reason for them comin' back and takin' their revenge. Killin' me's the soft option. Killin' my friends, makin' sure I'll be there to see it? Now there's a kinda torture for the user's manual." He paused again, and took another breath. "Four people died cause o' me," he said. It wasn't bitter, it wasn't regretful... it was simply an admission of the facts. "Four people, for whatever reason, died because of what I did or didn't do. What's gonna stop them comin' back again, tryin' their luck on gettin' rid of me, or Malcolm, or all of us? Tell me that, Jon," he pleaded. "What'll stop them?"

"I don't know," Jonathan replied honestly. "But I do know that if they do come back again, then we'll do our best to protect and defend our own, without giving up. That's what we do, Trip," he said quietly. "That's part of what makes us human."

Trip nodded. "If... if you don't mind, Cap'n," he added, "I'd like ta be here when he wakes up."

As Jonathan nodded his approval, on the biobed behind them, Malcolm Reed was dreaming. He was back in the darkness again, surrounded by shadows and an enemy that couldn't be seen.

The only difference this time was that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

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