True Believer

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Title: True Believer
Category: Spiritual, Drama
Rating: PG-13
Summary: A crewman's faith is tested at the worst possible time... the clock's ticking and Lieutenant Reed's life could be at stake.
Author's Note: To cut a complicated story short, I'm a lapsed Roman Catholic. No offence is intended to be caused to anyone of any faith.

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

"I am always most religious upon a sunshiny day."
-- Lord Byron

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


"Another day, another start," Philip O'Malley said to himself as he reluctantly swung himself out of bed. "And why does this start have to be so early?"

Nobody answered him. Of course they didn't, and Philip would have been surprised if somebody had; his bunkmate Michael Rostov was snoring heavily in the bottom bunk and dead to the galaxy after a late shift the night before. Ignoring the sounds rumbling around the small quarters he got dressed and made his way to the mess hall, pulling up a padd and shoving it into a sleeve pocket as he left.

He was up early; that much he knew, but he wasn't sure just how early. Although Michael relied heavily on his alarm, Philip had found as he was growing up that he had some kind of built-in knack for waking up exactly when he needed to - probably one of those after-effects that psychologists ascribe to events in one's childhood; in Crewman O'Malley's case, this would most likely be from the church-run orphanage he had grown up in.

"But enough of that," he said to the turbolift doors inbetween decks. When they didn't say anything back to him, he continued. "What about that report Lieutenant Reed wants?" Pause. "Shite. Well... if I rush breakfast, then get to the armoury... hope that he shows up la... do the report over coffee." The lift doors then opened, and he padded quietly along the corridor, occasionally nodding or smiling to other passing people until he reached the mess.

Ah, breakfast. And what a loose term it was. Memories of Sister Anita's thin, watery porridge every morning for sixteen years had well and truly destroyed any belief that a delicious meal really did exist so early in the day, and try as he might Philip simply couldn't trust Chef's morning selections, however much everybody else on the ship appeared to visibly enjoy them.

Completely bypassing the food hatches, Philip instead joined the short queue at the drinks dispenser and got a steaming black coffee when it was his turn.

He sat down at an empty table with the hot mug, pulled out the padd and placed it next to his mug. He switched it on and looked at it blankly. He had to somehow cobble together a report summarising all the maintenance checks, and if applicable, repair work on phase pistols over the last four weeks. And he'd already had a week to do it in.

But Philip O'Malley was the master of last-minute work, and it showed; within fifteen minutes the padd held what looked like a pretty good, well-written report. Just as long as it passed Lieutenant Reed's inspection... Philip grimaced. His commanding officer was almost as good at spotting last-minute reports as he was at writing them... almost.

He was about to start drinking his coffee when another memory of the orphanage surfaced; this time it was one of Father McTeague, the parish priest, saying grace over an evening meal, and in the here and now the adult O'Malley found himself silently repeating those words inside his head: I thank thee Lord for this which I am about to receive. Amen.

Then, and only then, could he let himself drink the coffee.

o o o o o

Down in the armoury, Malcolm looked up from what he was doing as the door opened to reveal Crewman O'Malley. The lieutenant hid a grin as he saw the padd that the younger man was holding in his hand; a sure sign that it had been written only minutes before.

Philip handed over the report to Lieutenant Reed, and breathed a private sigh of relief when it appeared to pass his immediate inspection, although that was by no means any indication that he wouldn't be caught out today.

After about thirty seconds of scanning the padd, Reed switched it off and tucked it into a breast pocket, presumably so that he could go over it in more detail later. "Right," Reed said, looking back up, "Ensign Rose won't be making an appearance until Thursday, thanks to that sprained knee of his." He scowled. "How a man can sprain his knee during pistol maintenance is completely beyond me, but this is Matthew we're talking about, so..." He paused, and Philip grinned, managing to keep back a sarcastic comment - it wouldn't be appropriate, not in front of the CO. "Of course," Reed continued, "this means you'll be helping me out with the torpedo launch assembly for the next day or so."

"Yessir," Philip said.

Reed rubbed his hands together, evidently in anticipation. "Right then," he went on, "we'd better get started. Grab a scanner, Philip, and we'll see what we can do."

Philip nodded his assent, and by the time he had returned to the launchers, Reed was already halfway underneath the long oval; all that could be seen of him were his legs. The crewman placed the scanner on the decking next to Reed's left leg, and a second later a hand snaked out and pulled it underneath and out of sight.

He could still be heard, as well, from underneath there. "Keep an eye on the power readings," he called out.

"Okay." Philip moved around the launcher and settled himself in front of the main monitor, where the different power indexes for the torpedo tubes were on the small screen.

"If they get within ten percent of the critical zone at either end," Reed continued, "tell me; that's when we start to worry," he finished dryly.

Philip acknowledged the order out loud, and studied the specific readings in front of him; at the moment, the power index for the launcher they were working on was fifteen percent above the lower limit, and eighteen percent below the upper limit.

There was a small pause as Reed started his ministrations on the launcher's mechanisms, and a slightly longer pause before any of the readings on the screen began to move; one of the indexes shifted upwards by point seven five percent. Philip relayed this information to Reed.

This process continued for some time, during which the four separate indexes each shifted by no more than seven percent in both directions, and as he continued to keep Reed appraised of the changes, Philip couldn't help but think back to his childhood. He didn't really know why he kept doing this - granted, it only happened from time to time, but still there was no real reason for him to have to keep on remembering.

And it wasn't even as though there was a lot that was actually worth remembering. Philip's parents had died when he was two years old; he had no memories of them other than photographs and data that had been salvaged from what was left of the small house where the three of them had lived.

One of the indexes spiked suddenly, by three point seven four percent, then went down again. The fire had consumed most of the upper floor of the house, as well as part of the ground floor; Peter O'Malley had been killed in the fire itself, while Sally had made it to a medical centre where she died from severe smoke inhalation before doctors could begin to do anything for her; Philip himself had escaped with a few burn scars that ran down from his shoulder blades and into the small of his back that were still a little crinkled and tender to the touch.

Another jump of half a percent. Two year old Philip had no relations left, no family that could be contacted, so it had been agreed that he would be taken in by one of the few orphanages still running in Ireland; as it went, he was also taken in by the only Catholic orphanage in Ireland; for most of his sixteen years there, it had been just the eight boys and a small team of nuns as well as the local parish priest.

Reed must have really been trying to wreck havoc with the launchers today; there were two separate downward spikes of two and a half percent each, taking one of them into the lower critical region. Reed was duly notified of this, and a few seconds later, the index entered the safe zone again.

It hadn't been so bad, growing up in the Irish countryside; the sisters had supported each of the adolescent boys as they decided what they wanted to do in the world, and Sister Anita, especially, had helped Philip when he had announced that he wanted to join Starfleet as soon as he was able.

Another, smaller spike of a tenth of a percent. And so here he was; the youngest serving member of Enterprise's crew (by seven months and three days - then it was Alynna Ferris down in Engineering) and as far as he knew, the only Catholic serving member of the crew, as well. He got teased about it from time to time - both for his age and his religion - but it was always light-hearted, and he knew that nobody meant anything by it.

Still watching the indices, Philip amended that last thought; his bunkmate Michael occasionally ribbed the Irishman for his religious beliefs, and sometimes Philip had thought that there was maybe something more than a little light teasing going on, but each time it happened he simply brushed it off and refused to allow himself to dwell on it for any length of time.

And then it happened; without warning three of the four power indexes shot up into the upper critical region. Stumbling backwards, away from the launchers, Philip called out. "Lieutenant?" he began. "Lieutenant!"

He heard something that could have been Reed's response, but he doubted he would ever find out - at that exact moment, something blew. Philip O'Malley was engulfed in a miniature shockwave that pushed him backward into the wall behind him, covering him with bits of debris and thick grey-black smoke. He was unconscious upon impact.

o o o o o

When Philip came to, the first thing to register in his mind was the deadening pain pressing into his right leg. He tentatively reached forward and felt a warm metallic shape pinning the leg in place. He was, effectively, trapped.

The second thought he had was Reed. As far as he could recall, Lieutenant Reed had still been partly underneath the torpedo launcher when the explosion had happened. Somehow, Philip doubted that the officer would have had any time to move, which left one single possibility; Reed was still near the epicentre of the explosion.

The smoke was still heavy in the air, which meant that he couldn't see any further than about three feet in front of him - certainly no more than that. Taking long, deep breaths to calm himself, Philip worked his hand back towards the obstacle pinning his leg. The metal was still fairly warm to the touch, and he didn't know whether to be relieved or even more worried; had the metal still been searing hot, he knew he could only have been out cold for a short time - the colder the metal, the longer it had been there.

With the one hand available to him, Philip tried to move the sheet covering his leg. No effect. It was too heavy. He was beginning to panic again, and it wasn't doing him any good. Philip closed his eyes briefly, and tried to recreate one of the memories he had been reliving just before the explosion.

Nothing. Instead of the nuns, or the kindly Father McTeague, there was only darkness; nothing existed in darkness, whether it was of the mind or otherwise. He couldn't remember any of the prayers that had been so much a part of his life. He couldn't even remember the smiling, compassionate face of Sister Anita as she helped him pack to leave for Starfleet.

He couldn't remember any of it.

He was alone.

He was very much alone.

His breathing started to increase rapidly again, and Philip could literally feel his pulse quicken with each second that passed. "Come on," he said out loud, wincing at how much of his voice was swallowed up by the smoke. "Come on, Phil. You can do this..."

He closed his eyes again, and with the same hand reached forward for the metal still digging into his leg. "Come on, Phil," he continued, trying to encourage himself. "Nearly there - come on, Reed's counting on ya... don't give up now..." Privately, he wondered if it was insubordination to use inappropriate language on oneself while on duty. The mental image made him smile, and he felt his spirits lift.

There it was - as carefully as he could, Philip tried to lift the sheet with the one hand. Again, no effect, so he tried a different tack; if he pushed it far enough away from his body, he could maybe work himself out from underneath it, thus bringing his leg with him.

He tried it. After a few long, long seconds, he felt the serrated edges of the sheet scrape along the material of his uniform before it stopped again. He still couldn't see much; awkwardly, Philip tried to twist himself around the sheet so that he could get a better feel of what was going on around his leg. The metal was caught on something else, just below his numb kneecap. He couldn't shift the metal, and he still wasn't in a position to move his leg without the chance of leaving part of it behind.

And he was also exhausted. He flopped back against the wall behind him, wincing when parts of his lower back started to throb dully; something must have hit the scars, or else agitated them in some way. Every single muscle in his body ached too much for him to try and move again, and when he tried to speak out loud, all that came out was a raspy whisper; no good to anybody.

Right there, right then, Philip wanted to give up. He simply wanted to give up and let the smoke and the heat and the pain claim him, everything else be damned. It would be so easy, he though idly to himself, staring up into the smog. Just let go...

But he couldn't. He physically could not let go. Something inside him wouldn't let him do it, and twisted, macabre images of Lieutenant Reed kept floating in and out of his mind, each one depicting the armoury officer with more life-threatening injuries than the last one... until, eventually, Philip could see Reed's lifeless body still sticking out from underneath the torpedo launcher, no signs of life left at all.

That last image was enough to shake something completely inexplicable into him; feeling a surge of strength that he couldn't remember having before, Philip snaked his free hand down towards the metal sheet to try to move it once more. He kept simultaneously pushing and lifting the sheet where he could.

It wasn't until a long, agonising minute had passed that anything started to happen; in one swift motion, the sheet finally slid over the obstacle in its path and Philip was able to pull his leg out from underneath it. He pulled the leg to him, feeling for any obvious signs of injuries, and was decidedly more than a little relieved when nothing showed up underneath the rudimentary inspection.

By now, some of the smoke had begun to dissipate, no doubt helped along by the ship's ventilation system, and through what was left of the murky shadows, Philip could make out what looked like one intact torpedo launcher; the other was gone completely. He couldn't remember which one Reed had been working under, and he hoped with all his being that it was the one still standing.

Slowly, Philip stood up, using the wall for support; he had already noted that he was unable to place too much weight onto his right leg without it threatening to give way underneath him. Clearly he was going to have to improvise somehow, if he was going to make it across to the launchers - to Reed.

He started to crawl, feeling his way through the scattered debris covering the decking beneath him, avoiding the fallout that was still searing hot underneath his hands.

It took an eternity, but eventually Philip had made his way over to the intact torpedo launcher. He almost cried with relief when he found Reed lying unconscious next to it; he must have been caught by some of the shrapnel, although he didn't appear to be injured too severely to Philip's inexperienced and smoke fogged eyes.

Ignoring the pain in his leg, Philip dragged himself along until he was level with Reed's head, and began to feel for a pulse... it was weak, but it was there.

Bits and pieces of basic medical training began to seep back into his addled mind, and he slowly began to apply it to the unconscious Englishman - after a few minutes, Reed was lying in the recovery position, head facing Philip; he kept checking Reed's pulse every few seconds, willing it to return to normal.

"Come on," he whispered to the lieutenant. "Come on... you're going to be fine..." He wondered who he was talking to; Reed or himself.

Philip was still aware of the pain running up and down his right leg, as well as his left arm and in his lower back; he still tried to hold onto the strange feeling still coursing through his body, letting it keep him in the land of the living, at least for the time being.

The pair stayed like that for longer than Philip could count; minutes seemed too short a measure, whereas hours was near impossible; there would be a team coming to find them sooner than that.

Wherever they were.

The warm, fuzzy feeling stayed with him; it stayed while Reed's pulse began to pick up again. It was there when Philip heard something that could have been the armoury door opening with a pained hiss. It was still there when he heard the voices of the rescue team, and it stayed with him as he finally allowed himself to let go of the here and now.

o o o o o

The second time Philip woke up, it could not have been any more different to the first time; he was lying on his back, staring up into an endless sea of white intermingled with specks of silver and grey, and he noticed with a strange sense of detachment from his own body that nothing actually hurt any more.

Philip had the sneaking suspicion that he had died.

Then there was movement on the outer edges of his vision. Twisting his head slightly to the left, Philip could just about make out the outline of Doctor Phlox bending over a distant biobed in Sickbay. Which was where he was.

So much for the death theory.

Philip tried to move, but found his motion blocked by two hands of Denobulan doctor, one on either of his shoulders. How did he get over here that quickly? "Not so fast, Mister O'Malley," Phlox chuckled, sounding unnaturally happy. "You are in no fit state to move at the moment."

"Wha - what happened?" Philip asked, his voice still hoarse from the smoke inhalation.

Sally had died of smoke inhalation, he knew.

Phlox smiled, genuinely this time. "Perhaps someone else should tell you," he replied cryptically, moving away from the Irishman's bed. Philip was about to ask what he had meant when someone else came and sat down next to him.

Reed. Malcolm Reed. He was alive.

Thank God.

Reed looked a little worse for wear; one of his arms was in a sling, and underneath the sickbay overalls, Philip could make out gauze bandages covering part of the lieutenant's chest and torso area. "According to Phlox, I owe you my life," Reed stated simply, without preamble. He sounded a little worse for wear as well, come to think of it.

Philip tried to shake his head, succeeding with the smallest of motions. "No way," he retorted, taking deep, halting breaths every few seconds. "You could have died 'cause of me not doin' my job like... like I was s'posed to."

"Bullshit," Reed shot back, surprising even himself with his language. "Phlox knows his stuff; if it wasn't for whatever it was you did back there - hell, if you hadn't have called out when those readings started going to buggery, I wouldn't have moved, and I would have died."

Like my parents did, Philip thought to himself. Like I nearly did. Twice. Looking back to Reed, he was surprised to see the older man smiling. "Looks like someone was looking down on you," Reed said sincerely. "Neither of us could have made it."

Philip nodded. "Guess they must've," he murmured groggily, wondering briefly if that was what the feeling he had experienced was; something - or someone - keeping an eye on him, making sure that he kept going.

Making sure that he survived.

Reed smiled again. "Crewman Rostov came by a few hours ago," he added. "Asked me to give you this." He held up a padd, and then laid it next to Philip's outstretched arm. "Neither of us are going anywhere for at least a day or two," he continued, sounding much more like his normal self - dryly resentful of doctor's orders, as usual, "so do feel free to make yourself at home." His voice dripped sarcasm, and not for the first time, Philip wondered if this was what the doctor had to put up with every time Reed was injured. If so, then he didn't envy Phlox one bit.

A few seconds later, the lieutenant disappeared, and it was some time beyond that when Philip finally picked up the padd that Michael had brought for him. Switching it on, he wondered what had made the engineer bring it to him - why this one more than anything else that he could have brought.

He had to squint to read the text, but Philip had already managed to make out the title; it was a copy of the Bible, and Michael had bookmarked a single passage: "And so I walk in the presence of the Lord in the world of the living. I kept on believing, even when I said, 'I am completely crushed,' even when I was afraid..."

Silently, Philip switched the padd off and set it down next to him. When he was completely sure that Reed and Phlox were both out of earshot, he looked back up at the ceiling, at the white intermingled with grey and silver specks, slowly melting into and around each other as exhaustion began to claim him once more.

"Yeah," he whispered, "yeah... I believe..."

Onto the sequel: Miracle Worker

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