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Thin Man Overboard
Author - galleywest | Genre - Action/Adventure | Genre - Mystery | Genre - Romance | Main Story | Rating - PG | T
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Thin Man Overboard
Disclaimer: Paramount owns Star Trek and all the characters therein.
Author’s Note: This story may be archived.
He moved gradually through each level of consciousness, starting from the peaceful black of unresponsiveness. From here he wandered inadvertently into a surprising awareness of pain and an increasing sensitivity to stimuli around him. Finally he became alert…sentient to his predicament.
It was cold—unbelievably cold—and he seemed to be moving, gently but incessantly. The cold was the pain that had come to his attention and led him out of unconsciousness. He was disoriented and didn’t know what was happening, but he sensed he was becoming warmer—his teeth were not chattering, his arms and legs regained feeling. Eventually he understood that he was floating in water—this surprised him, as he had no idea how he had gotten there.
Where was he? He searched his memory but no explanation or location sprang to mind. A light shone relentlessly, casting a strange orange glow over his world…he realized his eyes were closed and the orange glow was something very bright penetrating his lids as he faced its source. He cracked those lids a fraction and was immediately blinded by a piercing shot of light. Eyes smarting, he struggled to focus.
He was lying on his back, staring into a deep azure sky rimmed with whispery clouds. Above him a white sun blazed from its station in the heavens. He righted himself and examined his surroundings, rotating in an awkward circle. This cursory survey revealed a long line of unbroken horizon. Calm blue water as far as the eye could see.
He was alone.
Treading water, he tried not to panic, tried to remember where he was and how he got there. Was he injured? No…he flexed his arms and legs as best he could, wriggled his fingers and toes, ran a hand over his face. All appeared to be as it should. Moreover, he was fit—he was treading water with relative ease.
Water splashed into his mouth and he inadvertently swallowed—freshwater. So this wasn’t an ocean…the revelation did not jog his memory. He peered into the distance as best he could but both water and sky were limitless. It would not do to dwell on this; it would be best to keep his mind occupied. If this was a sea or lake and not an ocean, what might live here? Larger predatory marine animals tended to loose themselves in vast oceans rather than freshwater sources—he’d read that somewhere, hadn’t he?—so that was good, right?
Something brushed his leg and he felt a surge of adrenaline and panic: blind, irrational, unstoppable. He yelped and kicked violently at whatever monsters might be below the surface (though as soon as he did so he observed that this might be viewed as a provocation and therefore unwise).
Nothing responded…perhaps it was a figment of his imagination? Anthropomorphized seaweed? A particularly strong current? Whatever the case his fear and all the physical reactions that came with it remained. His heart pounded and his breathing came in rapid gasps.
He cast about, trying to find something to grasp both physically and mentally. There was nothing, only himself and the water…and something on the horizon. He squinted.
It was very far away, but it was there. An island? Probably not, as it had only just appeared. A ship? Some kind of rig?
He started swimming.
If Trip couldn’t actually be with T’Pol he supposed this was the next best thing. He knew it was childish and very high school, but working at her science station was enough to brighten his mood. He just had to remember to set all instruments back exactly as he’d found them or she’d have a fit. Not a real fit, of course, but one of her raised-eyebrow fits. Silent but deadly.
The bridge was very quiet—he was alone save for Hoshi, Ensign Sharat at the tactical station, and Crewman Baker running maintenance diagnostics on the helm. Normally Travis had to be pried manually from his station when maintenance work needed to be done there—but since he wasn’t around and the ship was scheduled to remain in stationary orbit for the next three days, for once the task was painless. Baker worked quickly despite this—he’d been ousted too many times in the past by the overprotective helmsman and couldn’t shake the feeling that his minutes at the console were numbered.
Trip entered a new set of commands into the computer and started reviewing the simulations that resulted from it, becoming easily engrossed in the intricacies of his work. He would have preferred engineering, but with the captain, tactical, and science officers off the ship he felt uncomfortable leaving the bridge. Besides, he liked to imagine that he could feel T’Pol resonating from the instruments she used here so frequently…
Crewman Sharat was giving him a strange look. Trip realized he was running a hand along the computer screen and stopped, giving Sharat a hard glare. The young man shrugged his shoulders and went back to his work.
Trip sighed. If T’Pol were there she would have given him a strange look too. What exactly did he think—she was imprinted on the console? Doubtful, seeing as he himself had replaced it with an upgraded version less than four weeks prior. If it were imprinted with anyone it was probably the engineer that designed it, or the machinist that oversaw its production. The image that produced was singularly unattractive.
The engineer stared out at the planetscape occupying the viewscreen while he thought. He found Onara, the planet they currently orbited, beautiful…and a little unsettling. An ever-changing landscape of colors from turquoise to navy, it shimmered beneath swirls of cloud and atmospheric vapor.
An ocean planet was at the same time a paradise and a peril—fascinating to watch, but there was nothing with which the eye could become familiar. Coloration of the terrain, shapes of the coastlines, outlines of the cities: all the usual terrestrial markers were missing from Onara. All was vast, impenetrable blue. It was classified not as a Minshara or "M" Class Planet, but as a Pelagic or "O" Class, according to the new Starfleet/Vulcan planet categorization system. This meant that less than 20% of the surface area was terrestrial. In Onara's case, a mere 7% of the land was....well, land—and that number was receding fast.
He noticed Sharat was eying him again—probably thought his commanding officer was losing his marbles. Trip grinned at him and nodded to the screen.
"Amazing, isn't it?" he asked.
Sharat nodded somewhat uncertainly and Hoshi looked up from her console.
"It sure is," she almost sighed before catching herself, "...sir." She glanced at Trip nervously before bending her head awkwardly to her work once more.
Trip stifled a chuckle at the comm officer's expense. He knew she was still feeling guilty about being the source of a slight misunderstanding between himself and T'Pol. She had inadvertently (or maybe not so inadvertently) informed T'Pol that a gift Trip had given her was not, in fact, a priceless heirloom passed down for generations of the Tucker family. When pressed on the subject, the engineer confessed that it had, in fact, been bought at…a garage sale. While Trip would not allow the sentiment of the gift to be negated, he was forced to admit that the copy of the Earth classic "The Thin Man" that he had given T'Pol had been purchased relatively recently by his mother along with several other things.
"Then why did you choose to give the book to me?" T'Pol had asked in that infuriatingly unemotional way she had. She could launch a full-scale interrogation with a single question and accompanying look.
"I did actually think you would enjoy it," he told her.
She raised one eyebrow, making him squirm slightly. "But you were getting rid of it anyway."
"I wouldn't exactly put it like that!" It was hard to explain.
Ever since his parents had moved to Mississippi his mother had been in such a depression. She had loved their old neighborhood and been very active in the community. Moving to a new town had been hard on her, so Trip and his father had done their best to encourage her to become involved and make new friends. Their old complex had boasted an annual garage sale dating back over 175 years and Mrs. Tucker was one of its chief organizers. When the new development announced its own sale she saw the perfect opportunity to formalize her relationship with her neighbors. While this was undoubtedly a good thing, it had also resulted in the Tucker household's acquisition of what Trip's mother called "sundries." Trip's father had another word for them, though he never let his wife hear him say it.
Trip was a trapped man on all fronts. He had pushed his mother to get involved--he couldn't very well refuse the fruits of her social labors. He also felt compelled to accept the attention she lavished on him. Ever since Lizzie's death he could not deny her the pleasure of doting on the child for whose safety she justifiably feared. The care packages comforted her more than they helped him, so he let her send them and thanked her accordingly. Besides, his father was convinced it was "just a phase."
In the meantime, Trip was trying to find homes for some of the things she had sent--he could not bring himself to just get rid of them. Well, the sweater he did feed into the materials synthesizer, but since it would come out again as boot soles or something similarly useful, he didn't feel too guilty about it. The book had been easy—he thought from the start that T'Pol would like it. Well, better than the other book his mother had sent, anyway: Florida: Myths, Legends and Facts. Granted, it had a great picture of a sea serpent scaring a fisherman on the cover, but still. Now the tea towels...he was having trouble with those. What was he supposed to do with tea towels on a starship? It made no sense. What was he going to do with them? T'Pol was going to be suspicious of his gifts from some time, so that ruled her out...
T’Pol, meanwhile, had come to the conclusion that while she could understand the logic in selling an item in order to extract the most benefit from something otherwise unneeded, she did not understand what might motivate people to purchase such things. If the concept of second-hand goods was somewhat foreign to Vulcans, the idea of the impulse buy was non-existent.
Every time he thought of the flummoxed “I-will-never-understand-you-humans” look on T’Pol’s face he grinned. His Vulcan had a way of doing that to him—getting to him with her unexpected viewpoint, making him realize there was so much still to learn about one another. Someday he’d have to thank poor Hoshi. For now, though, he’d let her squirm for a little bit. After all, it could have turned out terribly!
He turned his attention back to the engineering schematics he was supposed to be studying and shook his head at the marvels of Onaran technology. Enterprise had been assigned to assist and observe the Onaran people in any way they could, but Trip couldn’t see that they needed any of his help. In the end Captain Archer admitted that they were to act as emissaries for Earth and Vulcan, so the engineer guessed that meant lending moral support, should such a thing be required. He didn’t mind either way, since he found the project fascinating.
The Onaran people were working to reclaim 5% of their surface terrain from beneath the all-encompassing oceans. This would nearly double their surface area, opening up space on which new shuttle ports and communications relays might be built. They also hoped to capture the tourist trade: they were aware that terrestrial humanoids considered tropical climate and beachfront property to be highly desirable. Onaran had the weather, now it just needed the land.
Commander Tucker was certainly no fool—he realized immediately that if the project worked, the Onarans would also have a security blanket for the future. This would be a way to combat the one environmental force they feared above all others: reclamation by the sea. Onara couldn’t afford to lose any more land and not just for commercial reasons. Their climate had gradually been changing over the past 50 years and they feared that a decrease in land area would mean an increase in precipitation, triggering mega-storms or hurricanes. So far the changes had been relatively minor, but the Onaran government feared for the future inhabitants of their aqueous planet.
The solution to their problem was ingenious: it involved working not only to increase glacial mass at both poles but also pumping more water into glacial swells along the equator. Various current streams would hold the new water in place, uncovering a range of coastal land on the planets two main island chains and, if it really worked well, revealing an entire set of islands flooded decades earlier.
The chief engineer ran the models for the fifth time, adding variations in weather, salinity, and water pressure. The program adapted immediately and, as usual, achieved the desired results. Amazing!
Though Onaran technological advancement fell somewhere between that of Earth and Vulcan, their unique environment had led them to become experts in developments essential for life on an aquatic world. Before arriving Trip had wondered how 2.7 billion people could be housed on so little land. T’Pol had given him a strange look, as though the answer to that question should be obvious, and he realized that of course it was. How do you house over two and a half billion people on islands whose total habitable terrain is less than the area of Australia? Answer: you don’t. You adapt to your environment and start building underwater habitats.
On Onara upscale housing often meant being close enough to the surface to be able to see the sunlight filter through the waters: this was called an “upper view”. The most popular public and private properties had windows or even patios opening to the surface elements. The images he’d seen of these structures made Trip think of the aquariums he’d visited as a kid, watching dolphins or manatees through glass and marveling at his window to their world. This was the same thing, but kinda from the other side of the glass wall. What exactly did the dolphins and manatees think of their view of the terrestrial world?
Trip hoped to see the technology for himself soon enough—after the captain, Malcolm, and Travis returned to the ship, he and T’Pol were scheduled to meet with Oula BenCour, the project’s lead scientist for a tour of the lab facilities they were using. The whole thing seemed very Jules Verne to Trip—a man who understood that fantasy and fascination could sometimes lead to very real scientific progress. He couldn’t wait.
His mind was thus happy and occupied as he learned more about Onara and what Dr. BenCour called her people’s “most momentous evolution.” Around him, the bridge hummed peacefully. Hell, life couldn’t be better, right? He was engineer on the best ship in the fleet, his captain was his best friend, and he had a connection—no pun intended—with the most logically beautiful woman he’s ever had the fortune to meet. All was well.
It couldn’t last—and of course, this being Enterprise and he being Charles “I-Can’t-Go-On-an-Away-Mission-Without-Something-Strange-Happening” Tucker the Third, it didn’t. An end to his peace came in the form of an audio transmission from the planet.
“T’Pol to Enterprise.” There were, as always, no vocal clues as to her state of mind, but Trip felt suddenly ominous anyway.
“Go ahead,” he told her apprehensively.
“There’s been an incident on the surface.”
The boat was much farther away than he had first supposed—it turned out the vessel was larger than his original (admittedly speculative) estimation. His mind had been tricked but now his body wasn’t laughing at the extra work it was being asked to do. He was a strong swimmer, though, and the repetitive action of hand and leg movements kept his mind occupied—kept it off sinking, sharks, and any other unknown dangers lurking in the depths below him. He slowed to a halt only when a shadow fell across his face—he’d reached his target at last.
Bobbing lightly—he was still surprised at how easily he was able to stay afloat and how little the cold of the water bothered him—he surveyed the vast hull that rose out of the water before him. He called as loudly as he could, swimming out to what he deemed would be an optimal distance for anyone on the ship to see or hear him. There was no response. In fact, there was no movement of any kind on the ship.
It was unlike any ship he could remember seeing or even hearing about, though his mind was still somewhat jumbled and confused as to his purpose in this large body of water. The ships he remembered were not like this, not on the water…his ship was somewhere else, floating not on blue but through black…Memories of space came tumbling back to him, haphazard and disjointed.
Enterprise. He had to get a message to them, wherever they were…Even in his incoherent state he understood that this ship, this ocean craft, was his best chance for survival and rescue. He examined it.
There was certainly a lot to look at; it was altogether surprising. First of all, it appeared to be made of wood. This in itself was not unusual, but the vessel appeared to be made not of many planks joined together but rather one large tree. In fact, if it were not for the masts rising from the deck he would have thought it was simply one large uprooted honey blond trunk. If this was not strange enough, he also realized as he swam around it that although it was smooth like driftwood, the tree…was alive.
Smooth roots curled and twisted from the stern of the ship and wrapped themselves along the sides, swooping up and disappearing over the railing that protected the decks above. The bow was a tight cluster of branches that twisted inward, creating a peaked arc capable of cutting through the waters. Leaves and tiny red flowers peeped out from between the branches, waving like merry flags fluttering in the breeze. He could see windows in the sides of the ship, erratically placed in natural knotholes in the wood.
Squinting, he looked up the side, weighing his options. This took about three nanoseconds these were pretty much nil at the moment. Well, actually, he did have one…
He made his way the bow once more and took firm hold of the nearest branch. It was difficult at first, but he soon discovered a set of handholds carved into the hull. Obviously someone else had the same idea he did. He frowned briefly. It wasn’t very safe was it? Anyone who knew where the handholds were could climb aboard, friend or foe. There should really be a retractable ladder or rope of some sort…of course if that were the case then he would still be treading water, wouldn’t he?
These thought brought him over the railing and finally, blessedly, onto firm ground once more. As he lay panting on the deck he was not surprised to find that it and the rails were one smooth, unbroken piece of wood. Both railing and deck had simply been carved into the trunk of the tree.
After a few moments of enjoying his current non-aquatic state, he turned his attention to the open deck before him. It was as he had surmised: empty. There was no one, and this felt eerie, especially when combined with the state of the ship itself. The decks were clean, the sails neatly stowed, ropes coiled. All was well kept and ready for action at a moment’s notice. A wheel—obviously a navigational tool of some sort—rocked lazily back and forth, enjoying its unsupervised free time.
His eye was caught by a small podium situated next to the navigational wheel. For some reason it seemed very out-of-place, even on a ship this strange. Upon closer inspection it was revealed to be made of a glossy black material and housed an oblong panel. It looked like…he ran a hand over it experimentally.
Yes! It sprang to life. Finally, something he recognized: a computer.
T’Pol would never admit it (and would probably deny it if asked), but she was very relieved to see Trip’s form materialize before her. She knew Trip would be upset at the loss of a close friend but she was confident that reason and a clear head would prevail. Yes, the two of them could work together to solve this problem. The Onarans had sophisticated search and rescue techniques suited to their planet’s unique conditions but the Vulcan felt more at ease knowing Enterprise’s own engineer—and someone she trusted without reservation—was setting his talents to the task.
“What happened?” he asked without preamble, stepping off the platform, his manner grave and businesslike. The only indication he gave of their personal connection was not detectable by anyone but T’Pol herself. Through the bond they shared she felt a surge of worry…and relief. He was apprehensive about their situation, but at the same time reassured that she was safe. She was learning to accept that the commander’s attachment to her included personal concern for her safety and knew he was working hard to ensure it did not interfere with their duty to the ship and their crewmates.
It was disconcerting to not only feel his emotions but, when her guard was down, to be affected by them as well. When she meditated or was involved in some mundane task she could sometimes feel his presence tugging on the periphery of her consciousness—and it was not an unpleasant sensation. Though the behemoth that was Vulcan cognitive neurology had been advancing by leaps and bounds with the hesitant but open acceptance of their people’s inherent mental powers she was still unable to find any guidance for her current condition. The mating bond itself was rarely mentioned in any of the information she had acquired, much less a bond with a human. The most logical thing would be, of course, to simply ask for advice from a professional in the field…but so far she could not bring herself to do this. She pushed these thoughts to the back of her mind with considerable force for the moment and responded to Trip, waiting beside her.
“It was an isolated storm cell accompanied by unusually turbulent wave activity.” She pointed him toward the command center of the ship as she explained what had happened.
Trip hurried to keep up. He couldn’t help noticing that she seemed to be working overtime to suppress her agitation. T’Pol, anxious? That couldn’t be good—or was this just a reflection of his own anxiety to the situation? “Turbulent wave activity?” he asked. “I thought the Onarans had the most sophisticated nautical technology known. Why can’t they detect storms like this?”
“We can,” a voice answered tensely. They had reached the command center of the ship, abuzz with people and machinery working swiftly to respond to recent events. Trip recognized the owner of the voice as Oula, the Onaran project leader. She stepped forward from a holographic map representation of what looked to be several layers of ocean currents. “We can to a point, that is. Some of these cells just form too rapidly for us to detect.”
She shook her head, her satiny mane flipping from shoulder to shoulder. Trip couldn’t help thinking for the umpteenth time that the Onarans really did look like the kind of mer-folk one might find in a children’s book of fairy tales. Their skin was mottled pale gold and moss, their hair ran from deep sea green to silvery grey. A second set of nostrils set high on the bridge of the nose acted almost as gills, allowing Onarans to “breathe” underwater for extended periods of time—up to 20 minutes, Phlox had enthusiastically informed him at the last crew briefing. Onaran physiology lacked the tale so common to the Earthen folk creatures, but Trip had been secretly delighted that evolution had left these water-dwellers with delicately webbed digits.
“I’ve never seen one this violent before,” Oula continued. “We lost one of the smaller research vessels that was tethered to the ship—thank the seas no one was on board at the time. The waves—they tossed this ship like it was nothing.”
Trip looked to T’Pol for confirmation. She nodded briefly.
“And that’s when they went overboard?” he ventured. “The waves washed them off the decks?”
“No,” the science officer told him tensely. “They were lost when the ship rolled.”
“The ship…rolled?” he asked incredulously. It seemed impossible. This ship, the Tubat, was huge—probably half the size of Enterprise.
“We assessed damages and casualties immediately afterwards.” T’Pol’s dark eyes were unreadable. “That’s when we discovered we had people missing. So far we have no bio-signs from any of them, nor have any attempts to contact the ship been made.”
“How many are missing?” Trip asked.
“Three,” Oula answered, visibly upset. “Lunat and Sevara, both junior technicians, and of course your colleague—”
“Trip!” Captain Archer was making his way across the busy room, sidestepping repair crews scrambling to restore the ship’s systems. The captain’s casual diplomatic demeanor had been replaced by one Trip had seen many, many times before: intense determination. He also noticed that his commanding officer was very disheveled and somewhat…wet.
“Boy am I glad to see you,” Archer told him. “Has T’Pol filled you in?”
Trip nodded and took a deep breath, dreading the question he had to ask. “Sir, with waves powerful enough to roll a ship this size and with no signs of life or communications…what are the chances that Malcolm is still alive?”
If he was going to get rescued, it would probably be just his luck to have it happen now. Granted, this was usually the kind of thing that happened to Trip, but it would be just typical to have the captain and a search party show up while he was standing around in his skivvies, he thought, looking down at his bare legs. Of course, his chances of being spotted had increased exponentially with the removal of his dark outerwear—the bright blue of the standard issue Starfleet undies could probably be seen from space. Beside him his uniform was laid out flat on the deck, drying briskly in the bright sun. He eyed it, willing it to hurry up.
Malcolm picked up the vest he had been wearing over it. Now this was a handy piece of clothing—he had no doubt that it had saved his life…but the Onarans had promised it would. Yes, now he remembered! The vest was made of some kind of metallic fabric that adjusted its temperature when he touched it. It acted as a flotation device too—that’s why he’d been able to swim so far despite having just regained consciousness in this strange place. Closer examination revealed that it also contained several small pockets, all empty. He seemed to recall both tracking and communications devices, as well as a flashlight. There was his own communicator, too…How had he lost them?
He scrutinized the computer screen once more. As he explored the interface he began to recognize scientific protocols and survey data—this must be a research vessel. He could not get a fix on his own location; there seemed to be some kind of interference but he couldn’t isolate it. He found a signal link and activated it—a beep sounded as an audio channel opened.
“This is Malcolm Reed of the starship Enterprise,” he informed whoever might be listening. “I was observing a mission on the research vessel Tubat in the Pelak Sea District and was thrown overboard during a storm. I am now on an abandoned ship of some kind. I am unable to determine my location and require immediate assistance.”
He waited hopefully for a few moments but the computer screen remained passive. No one had heard him yet—Malcolm hoped the interference was not completely blocking his message. He set it to replay continuously.
Right now he needed to search the rest of the ship. Surely there was some kind of clue as to his location, other computers, or alternate ways of contacting his friends. Near the center of the upper deck was a stairway leading below—this was the logical place to start.
Malcolm looked across the deck then back at his uniform. It wasn’t quite dry yet, he could leave it while he looked…No, he decided firmly. That was just asking for trouble. He pulled it and the vest back on as he approached the stairs. He peered into the darkness below, wishing he had a weapon or at least a light, but it couldn’t be helped. Carefully, he began his descent.
“Their vests malfunctioned, Captain.” Trip threw the offending piece of equipment down on the biobed in front of him.
Archer picked it up and looked it over. “Malfunctioned how?”
“We’re not sure,” T’Pol supplied. She was pacing inside the Tubat’s small medical bay. “It appears to be some kind of electromagnetic background wave. None of the Onarans are familiar with it either. It’s playing havoc with many of the ship’s systems.”
“We’ve been getting intermittent readings of this interference for the past couple of hours,” she continued. “It’s almost non-existent, but it’s there. Hoshi noticed it first in the comm links and I’ve been tracking it since then.”
“I find it difficult to believe that people as advanced as the Onarans are unfamiliar with their planet’s idiosyncrasies,” Archer mused. “And I find it even harder to believe that this is a brand new phenomenon.” He raised a hand as T’Pol began to speak. “But of course it could be. Just investigate it thoroughly. Run it by Dr. Oula.” He turned back to Trip. “Any word from Hoshi or Travis yet?”
Trip shook his head. “Hoshi’s been listening to the ether without a break since Malcolm went missing and Travis has been helping with the aerial surveys, but nothing so far. Don’t worry sir,” he added hastily, “Malcolm’s tough. We’ll bring him back safe and sound.”
“Speaking of sound,” someone interjected, nudging Trip out of the way, “could you make less of it? My patients need rest!” The Onaran medic, Kulo, flittered about his charges, checking their bio-signs and internal readings. Phlox appeared beside Archer nodded welcomingly, oblivious to Kulo’s annoyance.
“How are they doing?” Archer asked in a low voice, mindful of his warning.
“Oh, Sevara had mild exposure, but nothing too serious. His vest was badly damaged not only by the interference—which I’m sure Commander Tucker told you about?” Trip nodded and the doctor continued. “It was also torn when the young man was thrown overboard. Lunat suffered from a fractured ancivior bone—a broken arm, in human physiology, I believe. Both of them will be on their feet in no time.”
They were interrupted by a comm signal. “Sato to Captain Archer.” Hoshi’s voice rang through the sickbay.
“Sir, I’ve got something!” Hoshi sounded breathless and excited. “I’m only getting fragments, I can’t make out the whole thing, but it’s a repeating message—sir, it’s from Lt. Reed!”
“That is good news!” Oula sighed, clasping the PADD containing Malcolm’s transmission to her chest with relief. “The best I’ve heard all day.”
The doctor was sitting in the center of the command center looking, T’Pol noted, somewhat bedraggled. Despite her lack of emotional empathy, T’Pol had been around humans enough to understand the stress the Onaran scientist was managing. Vulcans were not superstitious, but if they were, T’Pol would be forced to admit that Oula had come across extremely bad luck: to have a major research project derailed so completely because of freakishly bad weather had to be very frustrating. When Trip had informed her of Hoshi’s discovery it was the first time in hours the doctor had ventured looking hopeful.
“You’re telling me!” Trip agreed. “Now, Malcolm said he didn’t know his location, but—”
“It sounds like he’s found our science vessel,” Oula finished for him. “If he’s safe on board then we have a much larger target to search for.”
“Have you had any luck finding the source of the electromagnetic disturbance?” T’Pol asked pointedly. For some reason the Onarans had yet to address this as the primary cause for their difficulty in locating the missing men, much less find its origin. It seemed more than a simple oversight in logic. Even the humans at their most emotional would have looked for it.
“We thought it more important to find your crewman first!” Dr. BenCour snapped, both sets of nostrils suddenly flaring. As quickly as the anger had flamed, it was gone. Oula lifted a hand to her mouth as if to check that yes, those words had come out of the one attached to her own face. “I’m…s-sorry,” she stammered. She seemed genuinely surprised at her own outburst.
“I only meant to suggest,” began T’Pol stonily, “that perhaps—” she caught a look at Trip over Oula’s shoulder. Wide-eyed, he gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head. T’Pol had seen this gesture before among humans: he was pleading with her not to press the point. The Vulcan faltered for the barest of moments, then recovered. “Perhaps the stress of the situation is affecting all of us adversely. How long has it been since you’ve slept, doctor?”
Oula sighed and opened her mouth to answer when she was interrupted by an insistent beeping from a nearby console. She switched her attention, immediately alert. “What is it, technician?” she asked the young Onaran who was sitting at the computer, tapping furiously at the controls.
“I think, doctor…” he pulled an image of a sector of the sea up on the screen in front of him, “I think we found the ship!” The technician enlarged the view of the water until a small blotch appeared in the center of it, then grew to become the sought-after missing science vessel.
Trip ran a hand over his face, so relieved he was almost laughing. Through her own emotional controls, T’Pol felt his happiness. It was a whisper against her consciousness, fleeting but tangible. Just as suddenly she felt it ebb away, replaced by an iciness. She looked at his face and saw him soberly reading the computer screen.
“There has to be a mistake,” he bent closer, tapping a hand against the console as though it were broken. T’Pol looked and understood his concern.
“There’s no mistake, Commander,” Oula told him sadly. “I don’t know what happened, but there are no life signs aboard that ship. Lt. Reed isn’t on it.”
Should’ve picked the hammocks, Malcolm thought groggily as he was thrown once more from his slumber to the floor of the cabin. This was the third time he had been awakened by the ship’s enthusiastic rocking. Examination had revealed a crew cabin containing ten neatly stowed hammocks, but he had decided to spend the night in the comfort of the only real bed on the ship in the captain’s quarters. It was comfortable, but he was beginning to see that nobility had its price.
He picked himself back up and was prepared to settle back in to sleep when he realized something was wrong. Sunlight streamed once more through the portholes, casting narrow bands of light throughout the room—he had slept away the night. That wasn’t the problem, though. Something felt different.
The ship wasn’t moving. All night long he had rocked and swayed to its—for the most part—peaceful rhythm. Now it was still and silent, but for a tremulous creaking beneath his feet. Was it possible…?
He raced from the room, through the large open research laboratory, past the dining area, storeroom, and galley, and up the stairs onto the open deck. Breathless, he took in his new surroundings.
Rising up out of the sea before him, cast orange in the morning light of the sun, was an island. He could take in the whole of it with one sweeping glance: a white beach curved away to the east while a wide inlet dipped into the western coastline. The whole thing couldn’t have been more than a few hundred meters wide, rising to a gentle slope at the center. It was treeless, lush and green.
One thing he remembered about Onara was that land was scarce. His foggy memory tried to recall any island formations in the area they had been studying, but it came up blank. How far off course had he gone? He shook his head and studied the island once more, walking along the deck.
As his field of vision shifted he was surprised once more: behind his tiny island was another…and another and another. A chain!
Not one to look a gift land formation in the mouth, Malcolm began uncovering the nearest lifeboat. Surely these islands were charted, surely these could be used to pinpoint his location. Now that he had a reliable marker, he needed to send another message.
And it would be nice to sleep on something stationary, he thought happily.
“He must be on a different ship,” Trip said again stubbornly. He was seated in a conference room on the Tubat, trying to keep his temper in check. T’Pol and Archer sat on either side of him, and across from them the Onaran Minister of Oceanic Management and one of the chief scientists on the land reclamation project watched the Enterprise group warily.
A wave of calm diluted Trip’s growing anger and he knew that T’Pol was trying to make sure he didn’t do anything too stupid during this meeting. After all, they still needed the aquatics’ help in finding their missing crewman. He hadn’t thought convincing the Onarans that Malcolm might still be alive and was worth rescuing would be a problem, but apparently it was.
He tried to send his thanks to her via their bond, but he doubted she got the message. While T’Pol was adept at reading him, his telepathic powers were, he’d told her once, “telepathetic.” Trip looked at her now, fiddling with a datapad, and noted again how fidgety she seemed. In a human it would have been barely noticeable, in T’Pol…either his bad habits were wearing off on her or she was anxious. He had little time to wonder about this as on of the Onarans was speaking.
“There are no other ships,” the Minister, Krevet, explained again patiently. “Your Lt. Reed must have washed overboard or left the ship before we found it.”
“But that makes no sens—”
“It doesn’t seem likely,” Archer cut his engineer off, giving Trip a stern look before continuing. “But even if that’s true, there’s still a chance Malcolm is alive in that water. Until I know for sure one way or the other, I can’t just give up.” He paused and cocked his head, glancing from one Onaran to the other. “Forgive me, minister, but where is Dr. BenCour? She’s been assisting us with rescue efforts and can bring you up to date on our progr—”
“I am aware of your progress, Captain.” The scientist, who had been introduced as Teleel, spoke up for the first time. “Dr. BenCour is currently resting…she has been working non-stop and our medics insisted that she get some rest. She can be quite…driven, even to the point of neglecting her own needs.” Though he said it smoothly enough, Trip couldn’t help but feel that the excuse for Oula’s absence was somehow too…scripted. He couldn’t think why this should be so, however, and let it go.
Archer seemed to be considering this for a moment as well, but also decided not to pursue it. “I’m sure you’re aware, then, that we can’t get accurate bio-readings in the water for some reason. We’re not sure, but my science officer tells me this electromagnetic interference may play a part in that.”
The two Onarans looked at one another before Teleel answered. “Yes…yes, we have been looking into it. We are at as much of a loss as you are, captain. We cannot locate the source, but we are working on a way of filtering it from our communications systems.”
“As are we,” T’Pol nodded. “I will apprise you of our progress, if you would do the same.”
“A minor disturbance!” Trip spluttered. “It’s affecting almost every system on—”
“We are more than happy to offer our continued assistance, Captain.” Minister Krevet ignored the engineer’s outburst and addressed Archer, who gave another warning look to Trip and turned his attention to the Onaran. “However, this project is subject to very controlled time restraints. Dr.BenCour and her team had already initiated the process of increasing the current pressure in this area before the accident occurred, correct?” He turned to his colleague.
Teleel nodded. “The process has been put on standby for the time being, but the pressure will drop over the next 36 hours. If we divert water into that current stream after the pressure has dropped…well, the results would be disastrous.”
“You can keep your timeline,” Archer said evenly. Trip thought he saw a tiny muscle at his friend’s temple twitch. “We will continue to look for Lt. Reed, however, until either he is back on board my ship or I am satisfied that there is no chance for his recovery.”
“If you do not find him soon, you will have that satisfaction in 36 hours, I’m afraid.” Minister Krevet informed him. “Once the second stage of the project—pumping water into the new current swell—has begun, it will produce unusually destructive seas: whirlpools, violent waves, and gale-force winds. We’ll be monitoring progress from several hundred miles away, it’s too dangerous to stay. And I’m afraid,” the minister opened his palms in a gesture of helplessness, “your crewman will not be able to survive in that. Trust me, captain—we are a seafaring people and not one of us could live through it.”
“Forgive me, Commander.” The Vulcan appeared behind him and he spun to face her. “This seemed the most suitable time and place to talk, however.”
“I’m supposed to be sleeping,” he countered.
“You are sleeping,” she pointed out, arms crossed.
Defeated, Trip sat down and crossed his legs. “Okay, fine. What do you want to talk about?”
The Vulcan remained standing and raised one eyebrow curiously.
“What?” Trip asked. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You are sulking.”
“I’m what?” The engineer was instantly indignant at the suggestion.
“Sulking,” she said flatly. “Ensign Sato explained it to me—I notice that humans do it quite often. You are determined to remain in a bad temper in the hopes that I will leave you alone.”
“I know what it means!” Now he really was going to wring Hoshi’s neck for being so helpful. He sighed. “Okay, okay. No more sulking. See? Here’s me, not sulking. So what do you want to talk about?”
After a long pause, she sat down as well. “Trip,” she began, “I know you are worried about Lt. Reed, but it is unlikely that he is…on another ship.”
“So you think my theory is crazy, huh?” Trip glowered, then remembered what she’d said about sulking and stopped.
“Not crazy. Simply…hopeful thinking.”
“Wishful thinking,” Trip corrected absently.
“Wishful thinking,” T’Pol repeated. “I checked the vessel plans with the Onaran Oceanic Guard and looked over the data collected by the project research team. There were no other ships scheduled to be in that area. This part of Onara is not highly trafficked, which is one of the reasons it was chosen for this project in the first place.”
“I still don’t like it,” Trip said doggedly. “It doesn’t make sense. Malcolm is our tactical officer—what kind of strategic move dictates that you leave a place where you’re safe and there’s communication equipment to jump back in the ocean?”
“Perhaps he had no choice,” T’Pol countered. Trip gave her a look that clearly said he thought this was madness. She stared straight back, unflinching, for a moment before her face softened. “Though I will admit it does seem an unlikely scenario, it is the scenario that the evidence fits.”
“Maybe we don’t really have all the evidence.” Trip uncrossed his legs and leaned back, stretching them.
“What do you mean?” T’Pol asked.
“What do we know about that electromagnetic interference? You know,” he flicked a hand dismissively through the air, “the stuff the Onarans swear up and down isn’t adversely affecting our sensors. Because according to my diagnostics, the sensors are working just fine. The shuttle is working fine, the comm links are working fine…yet when I tried getting accurate readings on the Tubat itself I came up with conflicting results four times out of ten.”
T’Pol’s eyes widened at this news. “So it may be affecting our systems…”
“It sure is. It seems to cycle somehow, that’s why it’s hard to pinpoint its effects. Sometimes there’s very little, other times it throws a whole slew of systems for a loop.”
“Why would the Onarans claim ignorance to this?” T’Pol wondered. “It could have a very negative effect on their reclamation project.”
“I don’t know. Maybe they know more about it than they’re saying. Or maybe there’s too much time—and ego—wrapped up in this project to admit any kind of oversight. People will do strange things when their reputation is on the line,” Trip reminded her. “Krevet and Teleel weren’t too happy when we brought up that interference, I don’t think they wanted to talk about it much.”
“I suppose that is possible,” T’Pol considered, “but I do not believe Dr. BenCour to be such a reserved individual.”
“Yeah,” Trip admitted, “me neither. But she doesn’t seem to be around much lately, does she? I couldn’t reach her and I’ve tried every half hour since that meeting with Krevet.”
“So,” T’Pol cocked her head to one side, “it is likely the Onarans do know about the electromagnetic interference but choose to remain secretive on that subject. Dr. BenCour is…unavailable, our sensors are intermittently not operating at their full capacity, and Lt. Reed is missing,” she tallied.
“That’s pretty much it,” Trip sighed. It didn’t look good.
“Another Thin Man,” T’Pol said unexpectedly.
Trip gave her a crooked smile and laughed at her serious expression. “What?”
“It is similar to the problem we encountered at the Shomar Mining Facility: we have insufficient data to reach a satisfactory conclusion. We should approach it in a similar fashion.”
“Like…Nick and Nora Charles?” Trip was still amused and a little touched that she came up with this analogy all by her Vulcan self. “Except that this Thin Man is Malcolm, and he’s washed overboard.” The thought sobered him immediately.
“All the more reason to develop a timely course of action,” T’Pol noted. “I believe we should start by running a scan of the research vessel the Onarans recovered yesterday.”
“We have data from it already,” Trip countered. “The Onarans provided…” he trailed off, then smiled wryly at her. “Right, first thing, we get on that ship.”
“Agreed.” She nodded curtly. “Though our conversation has been helpful, you should rest now, Commander.”
“What about you?”
“I will resume my duty shift and work with Hoshi on triangulating Malcolm’s position when he sent his distress call.”
Trip sat back and looked at her, really looked at her, for the first time all day. He’d been so caught up in worrying about Malcolm that he hadn’t noticed the toll all of this seemed to be taking on T’Pol. In fact, he realized, he took it for granted that she would be able to cope with the situation better than he because of her ability to restrain emotional distress.
She sat before him, straight-backed and still, her hands folded tightly in her lap. This in itself was not entirely unusual, but here, in her meditation space, she usually relaxed more than this. “You look tense. Maybe you should take some extra time meditating,” he suggested.
“I’m fine,” she assured him, moving as though to rise. He put out a hand to stop her, catching her upper arm lightly.
“No, you’re not. You’ve been edgy since we started this mission. You can’t even loosen up in here.” He wasn’t going to let this drop so easily, not when he was positive she would do the same for him. He relaxed his hold but did not let go, and she did not pull away.
“I come here for mental rejuvenation. I do not always display it in the physical presence I project here.”
“What’s wrong?” he persisted.
She was silent for a long moment. Her eyes were lowered but he could see cracks of emotion run across her face as she waged some internal war, debating whether to trust him with whatever was bothering her. He held his breath and waited. Finally, with difficulty, she looked at him.
“This…planet…” she began tentatively.
“It is…aqueous,” she finished.
Trip waited, but nothing more came. “I’m not sure I understand,” he finally prompted.
Then she did something that he’d never believed he would ever live to see. She sighed. It was barely perceptible, but it was there: a moment of long-suffering frustration that she was unable to suppress.
“Vulcan is not aqueous,” she said pointedly.
“Wait…you’re saying…you’re not comfortable here, are you?” he asked, realization dawning. “The planet, it makes you nervous, doesn’t it? All that water?”
“I would not put it in those terms, no.” She looked slightly affronted. “I am simply…not at ease. It is not an environment I favor. Vulcans are not accustomed to being surrounded by water at all times, though I am told that some learn to enjoy it.”
“But you lived near the ocean on Earth,” Trip pointed out. “You weren’t nervous there, were you?”
“I did not live near the shore, and it was easily avoided. I spent most of my time in the Vulcan Compound.”
Trip digested this new information. He was relieved that it wasn’t something more serious, and very pleased that she had decided to tell him this, but he felt bad for not noticing it sooner. Even before Malcolm had gone missing it had been bothering her, but he was too wrapped up in Onaran technology and figuring out how to get rid of those damn tea towels to see it. It couldn’t be easy for her to admit something like this, something that for a Vulcan was akin to a full-blown phobia. Since they had been on Onara they hadn’t even visited land—he’d never thought about how disconcerting that might be to someone from a planet as dry and terrestrial as Vulcan. Hell, he was from Earth and even he found it a little weird. How could he help, though? A thought occurred to him.
“T’Pol, do you know how to swim?”
She raised one eyebrow. “Of course. All Vulcan personnel stationed on Earth were required to learn. I cannot say I found the sensation agreeable, however.”
“How about if I give you a refresher course?” he offered. “Either the next shore leave or the next time we’re on Earth.”
She shot him a suspicious look. “Are you certain this is not a ploy to initiate a change in my usual attire?” she asked.
“Am I trying to get you in a bathing suit?” he laughed. “Well, yes, but no, that wasn’t my point. I love to swim and even though I don’t know if you ever will, maybe I can help you be more comfortable around the water. It would be practical, you know, for future missions.”
She considered this. “That would be…nice,” she decided. Trip grinned and squeezed her hand, then stopped. They both looked down and realized that during the course of the conversation his hand worked its way down to hers and now held it firmly.
“Well, Commander…Trip,” she said awkwardly, still looking at his hand. “I believe you should get some rest now.”
“As long as you promise to take a few more minutes to meditate here,” he insisted. When she tilted her head in acquiescence he gave her hand one last squeeze before letting go. The room started to drift away and he felt unconsciousness seeping into his mind’s eye.
“Trip,” he heard T’Pol call softly as he left her, “thank you.”
He sat down heavily by the communications equipment he’d lugged from the ship and adjusted it for the millionth time. It was as finely tuned as he could get it; he was pretty sure the beacons he’d managed to set up were working and he was getting a good comm signal. He’d set a new continuous message and updated it frequently, just to be sure anyone listening knew that he was alive and waiting for rescue.
Even on dry land he was still having trouble getting a fix on his own location: most of the navigation instrumentation on the ship refused to work correctly. The computer seemed to change its mind with alarming frequency as to his latitude and longitude, a fact that disturbed him greatly now that he was no longer moving through the ocean. He remained calm by assuring himself that on a planet where land was a scarce and valuable resource, even this tiny chain of islands must be charted.
Lately he was spending a lot of time trying to keep calm and reassured. He’d fully explored his tiny island within an hour, from shore to shore, and now sat at its highest point, observing his current situation both physically and metaphorically. Rocking slightly just off the shore sat the boat, grounded firmly against a rising tide. Malcolm doubted the tide would carry it out again—it was far too heavy and had firmly entrenched itself along what appeared to be a reef. He’d removed some necessary equipment and supplies and was just wondering where he would less rather spend the night, assuming he wasn’t found before then. The vessel was on the water, which didn’t thrill him, but the island meant sleeping out in the open surrounded by endless ocean. Neither option was particularly appealing.
No, he would leave that question for now. He might not even have to ponder it again, if he were lucky—and he had to admit, he usually was. He wondered what his colleagues were doing right now: were they worried, where were they searching, were they having problems locating him? They must be, he concluded, even with all this water his bio-sign should have been spotted by now. Had they gotten any of his messages? Unbidden, he thought of Hoshi, sitting at her console, searching the airwaves for him. She would look, he knew, until she found him. She would have faith that he was still alive. The thought comforted Malcolm a great deal.
He opened the communication channel again and reset his message, hoping he didn’t sound too desperate or worried, then examined the gear he’s brought with him from the ship. Picking up a squarish container, he turned it over a few times before tentatively peeling away a portion of is metallic covering. Lowering his nose to it, he breathed in carefully.
Hmm. Not bad. Not great, but not bad, he thought. “Dinner,” he declared out loud.
Part 3: Truth is Stranger than Fiction, in Theory
T’Pol could not ever remember seeing Hoshi in a state quite like this. The young ensign looked as though she had been working non-stop since Malcolm disappeared: her eyes were bleary, her skin was pale, her hair was even askew from its usual tidy state. She rubbed her eyes and looked up as the Vulcan approached her workstation and T’Pol saw concern and frustration rooted deep with them.
“Have you had any luck, Ensign?” she asked, stepping behind Hoshi to look over her efforts.
“No, Commander. Nothing since the first transmission.”
“Have you been able to determine Malcolm’s location when he sent it?”
“Not really,” Hoshi said, then added quickly, “I know the general area it must have come from.” She tapped a nearby screen, drawing up a map of the Pelak Ocean district. “It doesn’t make sense, though.”
“How so?” T’Pol leaned over to view the data and saw immediately what Hoshi meant. “Ensign, there must be an error. This location is hundreds of miles west of the research vessel. It is not possible that Lt. Reed could have traveled so far in such a short—”
“I know!” the ensign fairly wailed. T’Pol jerked up and took a step back. Thanks to Trip she was getting used to human emotional outbursts (he certainly displayed his fair share), but they still caught her off guard. Humans seemed to have them at the most illogical times! This was one of those tricky situations that so often arose when working with humans. Hoshi was clearly upset and T’Pol knew that human etiquette demanded a sympathetic response, but T’Pol needed her to think clearly and professionally. Hoshi was taking this quite hard and the Vulcan could not help but wonder if the comm officer had developed a temporary infatuation for Malcolm…what had Trip called it? Ah, yes. A “crush.” With this in mind, she decided a delicate touch was in order.
“Hoshi, I realize you are under a great deal of strain,” T’Pol began. “I am sure we will find Lt. Ree—Malcolm.”
Hoshi nodded and rubbed her eyes again. “I know. I apologize Commander.” She turned back to the display and pointed to the calculations running along the lower portion of the screen. “It’s impossible, but there’s no error in the data. This is where that signal came from. How Malcolm got there, I don’t know, but that’s where he made his transmission. I matched the locational data to Travis’s aerial survey data and the Onaran topographic maps: there’s nothing there.”
T’Pol scrutinized the data carefully and could find no obvious flaws. “I will speak with the Onarans and review the project data once more. Perhaps we will find a plausible explanation that fits the evidence.” She tried to sound encouraging but Hoshi did not look enthusiastic. “Ensign,” she suggested, “Hoshi…why don’t you get some rest?”
Hoshi shook her head adamantly. “Not just yet. My shift ends in an hour and a half.”
“How long have you been on duty?”
“I don’t know…” the young woman flushed guiltily.
“I can easily check the shift roster, ensign,” T’Pol reminded her sternly. “How long have you been here?”
“At least 18 hours, by my count,” said a voice behind them. Captain Archer had emerged from his ready room just in time to witness this debate. He gave Hoshi a small smile. “But I think you were here for a few hours before that. Go get some sleep, Hoshi. We’ll notify you if we find anything.”
Unable to refuse this quasi-order, the comm officer left the bridge Archer watched her go, then turned his attention to his science officer. “Anything yet?”
“Ensign Sato made an interesting discovery,” she told him, briefing him on Hoshi’s calculations.
“That’s nowhere near the science vessel!” Archer pointed out. “It makes no sense.”
“There seem to be a number of things that do not make sense here,” T’Pol agreed. “Commander Tucker and I are particularly concerned with some of the inconsistencies the Onarans have displayed as we have searched for Malcolm.” She told him of she and Trip’s conclusions regarding the Onarans withholding information, unsure how he would view these suspicions. He listened in silence as she spoke, perched on the edge of his command chair. By the time she finished his brow was knit and T’Pol feared he did not agree with his subordinates’ deductions.
Finally, he rose and began to pace the length of the bridge. “I hate to say it, but I’m inclined to agree with you. I’ve been in contact with various officials in the Onaran government for the last three hours, trying to get some cooperation. Oh, in most ways they are—they express their sympathy readily enough, but there’s still some strange withholding of information. Oula had mentioned that this area was thoroughly mapped and surveyed about 20 years ago,” he explained, “she said, “it’s lucky we found that data, it cut three months of intensive survey work off our timeline.” I’ve been trying to get hold of those records, but apparently either Dr. BenCour made them up or that information is missing. I can’t get anyone who knows about that survey—and I can’t find Dr. BenCour anywhere.”
“Commander Tucker has not been able to reach her either. What about the interference?” T’Pol asked.
“No one wants to talk about that,” he said flatly. “Any luck in filtering it?”
“Some,” the Vulcan informed him. “I believe I will be able to cycle it out of the comm systems within a few hours.”
“Well, at least that’s something. Now if you’ll excuse me,” he turned grimly back to his ready room, “I have a call to make to the Second Consul to the Ministry of Transport.”
“Ow!” he whispered as he walked into the doorframe for the second time.
“Be careful,” T’Pol instructed in a low voice, moving deftly through the door and into the darkened room beyond.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” he asked, squinting in the inky darkness.
“No,” she responded matter-of-factly, “but we have little choice.” She flicked on her scanner and began analyzing the contents of the room as quickly and quietly as possible. “Over here,” she indicated. Barely illuminated by the dim light of her scanner, she motioned toward one corner of the room. “Behind this panel there is a maintenance shaft.”
Trip threw away his last vestige of rationality and grabbed hold of the section of wall plating she indicated, pulling it loose. Boy, he hoped no one wandered in here right now…how did he get himself into these messes, anyway?
The day had started off so well…as well as a day that includes searching for your missing best friend on an oceanic planet inhabited by people who don’t seem to want to help you can start, anyway.
Trip had awakened from his nap with renewed enthusiasm, ready to search the Onaran science vessel from which Malcolm had made his transmission. He felt certain that soon they would find Malcolm, he just felt that they were close. He and T’Pol had made their way down to the surface via Travis’ shuttlepod and set out, determined to uncover something of use.
This hope was soon dashed as it became clear that the Onarans weren’t about to let either he or T’Pol anywhere near the small craft. What’s more, they were informed that it was going to be sent to an Onaran forensic facility for examination within the hour. If they wanted to get any readings off that boat, it was going to be done quickly and in, for lack of a better term, an unconventional manner. This was why he was currently shimmying down a maintenance duct with a Vulcan above him and a datapad clutched firmly between his teeth. T’Pol’s scans of the building indicated that this tube ran behind the storage dock that currently housed the science vessel. If this was correct then they would be able to run at least a preliminary analysis on the boat. It wasn’t great, but it was better than nothing.
“There,” T’Pol called softly when he reached a junction that opened into an intersecting shaft. Trip stopped and she squeezed down the ladder next to him. “The vessel is beyond this wall,” she breathed. “I am also reading three bio-signs.”
“Guards,” the engineer said. T’Pol looked at him strangely and he realized he was still holding the datapad in his teeth. He removed it and repeated his statement.
“So it would seem.” She tapped the datapad lightly. “Why didn’t you put this in your pocket?” she asked before turning to the wall and searching for a vent or opening through which she might take scans.
Trip started to reply but noticed slight teeth marks on the datapad and thought better of it. Instead he set to work as well, moving in the opposite direction from T’Pol.
Hmm, he thought. Pretty solid over here. Wonder if T’Pol’s having any luc—OW! He dropped his datapad as he felt an unmistakable mental jolt as the Vulcan signaled him through their bond.
“Could you turn down the volume on that?” he whispered as he approached her. She was squatting on one knee near a section of paneling obscured by wires.
“I apologize.” She looked up. “I did not mean to cause you discomfort, but I believe we can remove this panel and take more accurate readings from the vessel.”
Trip grinned. “Let’s get to it, then.” He pulled the paneling away as quietly as he could and tried to peer through the opening as T’Pol took her scans. “Looks like they’re getting ready to move her now,” he commented, watching two Onarans connect the ship to a towline. “We got here just in time. Although,” he couldn’t help but ask, “do you really think we’ll get useful data from this far away? What can it really tell us about Malcolm?”
“Nothing,” T’Pol told him suddenly, examining her scanner closely.
“We must get back to Enterprise.” T’Pol closed her scanner abruptly and turned to head back to the ladder. “That craft will not tell us anything about Lt. Reed’s whereabouts because Lt. Reed was never on it. The Onarans have been lying to us.”
“…and there was rhubarb pie everywhere. Needless to say, my mother wasn’t pleased, but I was only five years old so she wasn’t too hard on me. My father, however, took one look at the mess and almost had a heart attack.” Malcolm laid back, contemplating the blue sky above. If he sat like this he could almost forget the looming ocean that surrounded him. He hit the comm link again. “So that was the last time until I was nearly ten that I was allowed to use the replicator on my own,” he finished. “Now let’s see, what’s next? Ah, yes. My first judo class. I was six and my father had wanted me to take boxing lessons but Mother wouldn’t allow it…”
He had no idea how long he’d been talking into the communications equipment but was reluctant to stop. It helped with his nerves and frankly, there wasn’t much else to do. At least this way if someone chanced upon his signal they’d be talking to a live Malcolm Reed rather than an automated message. He’d already given his family’s background history: his father’s naval career, how his parents met, where they lived before Malcolm was born. Now he was getting into the really gripping stuff.
“…and Andy McPherson punched me in the nose but I kept my calm. Well, I lost two teeth and nearly blacked out, but I was as calm as can be expected!” He’d sit here and recite his whole life story twice if he had to, he decided stubbornly. Surely someone would hear this!
He paused. What next? Oh yes, those dreadful botany courses his mother made him take. He still hated gardening. He grunted and hit the link again.
“What do you mean, he was never on that ship?” Archer was vacillating between incredulity and anger…and anger was winning out. “I have the report right here, it says…” he paused and held up the report, reading, “DNA readings confirm the presence of a human. Genetic match via data from Starfleet records: Lt. Malcolm Reed.” He lowered the report. “Are you sure about this, T’Pol?”
“Positive,” the Vulcan replied in a tone that broached no argument. “Lt. Reed was never on that ship. There were no traces of his DNA, no human DNA whatsoever.”
“Could they have cleaned it?” asked Archer, trying to cover all his bases. He didn’t want to hurl accusations quite yet.
“If they did why would they send it off for forensic examination?” Trip asked. “Makes no sense.”
“Not much of this does, I’m beginning to see.”
“There is more, sir,” T’Pol continued. “The traces of saline and organic matter found on the craft do not entirely match those for this area. They match the water composition approximately 700 kilometers to the south of here.”
Archer raised his eyebrows. “700 kilometers? That’s a long way for a little boat.”
“Too long,” Trip agreed. “Our projections show that ship should have been found within a 100 kilometer radius of the Tubat’s position at the time of the incident. We didn’t catch it when the ship was first located, but even a preliminary scan of the vessel would expose these findings.”
“It’s clear the Onarans know more than they’re letting on and that they’re staging some kind of cover-up. We only have 20 hours until the project goes on as planned, so I sugge—”
“Sir!” Hoshi called out excitedly from her post. “Sir, I’ve got something!”
“What is it?” Archer crossed the bridge rapidly, Trip and T’Pol on his heels.
“I think…I think it’s Lt. Reed!”
“Are you sure?” Archer wanted to know. It seemed too much to hope for.
“He’s talking about…” she listened for a moment and smiled, “he’s talking about his mother forcing him to take dancing lessons when he was 14. It’s definitely him, and it’s a live signal.”
“Can you signal him back?” Archer asked. She nodded. “Do it.” She nodded again, indicating to the captain that the channel was open.
“Lt. Reed, can you hear me?”
There was silence; everyone on the bridge held their breath.
“Lt. Reed,” Archer tried again, “are you there? This is Captain Archer.”
Another moment of silence passed, then a voice crackled to life across the room. “Sir, am I glad to hear your voice!” Malcolm exclaimed. “I was beginning to think I was going to have to talk about going to my first school dance!”
Archer shot Trip and T’Pol a confused look but grinned anyway. “It’s good to hear you too, Lieutenant. Can you give us a fix on your location?”
There was a pause and a scrambling sound as Malcolm checked his navigational gear again. “No sir, my equipment is having trouble reading that information. For some reason it won’t give me accurate readings, though I can’t find any malfunctions.”
“Your vest did not malfunction?” asked T’Pol. “Your communicator and locational sensors are working?”
“My vest?” Malcolm sounded surprised. “Oh…well, it worked, but no, my communicator and everything else was lost in the water. I would probably be in bad shape if I hadn’t found that boat.”
“Boat?” Trip asked, stunned. He looked at T’Pol, confused, but she shook her head, as bewildered as he was. “Malcolm, we found the boat…there’s no indication you were on it.”
“No offense, but if you found the boat then you’re doing a bloody poor job of finding me. I’m sitting here looking at it and Enterprise is nowhere in sight.”
A smile spread over Trip’s features. “I knew it!”
T’Pol shot him a look that said gloating was illogical, but it was Archer who pressed Malcolm for details. “What kind of ship is it? And what do you mean, you’re looking at it? Are you still on board?”
Malcolm spent the next few minutes describing the ship and the events that had led to his present situation: sitting on a tiny island trying to keep his sanity intact. Archer and the bridge crew listened raptly to the strange account, trying to fit it into the events on their side of the story. When he finished they all stood for a moment, mulling over the implications of Malcolm’s predicament.
“Lieutenant,” Archer began, “there are no islands in this area, not for hundreds of kilometers. The closest ones are all inhabited.”
“What is this, then, a hallucination?” Malcolm sounded understandably irritable.
“Any chance these aren’t charted?” Trip asked.
T’Pol shook her head. “The Onarans were trying to uncover land here. None was extant.”
“Wait a minute…” Trip held up a hand. “That’s right, they were trying to uncover land…”
Archer cocked his head at the engineer. “You have something, Commander?”
Trip stood still, thinking.
“Commander?” Archer asked again. He did not respond.
“Trip!” Malcolm’s voice rang out from the comm.
The engineer started. “Um…” he flushed.
“Do you have something more helpful to add?” the tactical officer asked.
“I might,” Trip finally said. “Wait here!” Without further ado he sprinted from the bridge, leaving a very confused group of people in his wake.
“Do you know what that’s about?” Archer asked T’Pol, looking worried. He had a feeling T’Pol had a better idea of his engineer’s state of mind these days.
“No,” she told him, “but I believe he has found something of use. He will return,” she said confidently.
Archer gave her a bemused look turned and turned back to Hoshi. “Ensign, keep trying to get a lock on Lt. Reed’s position. You too, T’Pol,” he added. “What else can you tell us about your surroundings, Malcolm?”
Electromagnetic interference, disappearances, ships turning up hundreds of kilometers off course…oh, he was so stupid! Why hadn’t he seen it before? He raced back to his quarters, and barreled through the door.
Now where was it? Not on the desk…not on the nightstand either. He checked under his bed and at his workstation. Now where had he…ah! He located the desired object and pulled it down.
“Go figure,” he muttered, “on the bookshelf.” Clutching Florida: Myths, Legends, and Facts, he headed back to the bridge.
T’Pol wasn’t sure what impressed her more about her human: his genius or his madness. Only a madman would have come up with this connection—it was nonsensical at best—and yet…it fit. Still, it did not seem possible, and there were many unexplained elements at work here. For one thing, she knew for a fact that Earth had no such phenomena as the one he proposed responsible for what had happened here on Onara, yet all his information on said phenomena came from a particular location on his home planet.
“None of the factors you suggest have ever been observed off the coasts of Florida or in the Caribbean,” she pointed out as she thumbed through the book he had plunked on the bridge’s conference table. “To my knowledge, there is no discernable “triangle” of activity, malevolent or otherwise, near Bermuda. How can a theory which has been proven incorrect help us here?”
“I have to agree with her there, Trip. Those old Bermuda Triangle stories were put to bed decades ago on Earth.” Captain Archer looked slightly worried that his chief engineer would suggest such a thing.
Malcolm, still listening over an open channel, was much more frank. “You must be joking.”
“I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. This book outlines a proposal made by a scientist named Decker von Braun. He predicted that for those stories to be true, for there to really be a “Devil’s Triangle” or temporal vortex, certain conditions would have to be present. Just because those conditions weren’t found on Earth doesn’t mean they couldn’t be found somewhere else.”
Archer and T’Pol exchanged looks and Trip tapped the console on the table, bringing the screen at its center to life. “I thought you might think that. Here’s the bio for Dr. von Braun, he is a legitimate scientist.” He pointed to the screen. “Graduated MIT 2102, taught at CalTech and Berkeley, worked for the Los Alamos National Laboratory.”
“He ended the Bermuda Triangle debate by outlining the precise environmental conditions that would have to exist for such a “vortex” to exist and proving that those conditions did not occur anywhere on Earth,” T’Pol read. She looked up. “He presented his findings in a symposia at a conference on Theoretical Physics at Harvard University.”
“But let me guess,” Archer smiled crookedly. “Those conditions do exist…”
“On Onara.” Trip nodded. “von Braun proposed that sudden changes in the gravitational mass of a planet caused by erratic pulses of radiation or a shift in the electroweak force could cause a gravitational time dilation. This would disrupt the normal flow of time and space in that area. The effects would be tiny, by the standards of most stellar phenomena.”
Malcolm scoffed. “That’s relative. Anyway, the Onarans didn’t use radiation for their project.”
“But they did use subharmonic pulses to direct the flow of the new current,” T’Pol supplied. “Is that enough to cause this gravitational time dilation?”
“If the subharmonics operated at the same frequency as the electromagnetic field and caused a change in the gravitational mass at the same time, yes. We’d start to see strange phenomena occurring, like people and ships disappearing.”
“So where do these people and ships end up?” Malcolm asked pointedly.
“Well…that’s where things start to get a little fuzzy,” Trip told him apologetically.
“Start to get a little fuzzy?” the tactical officer asked. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“You see, it really depends on the original gravitational mass of the planet, the specific gravity operating in the area affected, the properties of the electromagnetic field, the frequencies used in the subharm—”
“Have I mentioned that I’m sitting on a tiny island surrounded by ocean?” Malcolm broke in irritably. “A lot of ocean??”
“So there are a lot of factors to take into account,” Trip finished. “It’ll…take some time to figure all of these things out.” He felt T’Pol’s eyes on him and avoided her gaze.
“But you can do it?” Malcolm asked, sounding worried.
“Yes, yes, we can do it,” Trip assured him.
“Good—get on it,” Archer told him, nodding briefly to indicate that this meeting was now over. “Malcolm, Hoshi is going to keep you on that channel—we’re still working on getting all the interference filtered out of our systems. Maybe you and she can find some clues as to your location.” Archer stopped and shook his head disbelievingly. “It seems you’ve stumbled into a Bermuda Triangle story, Lieutenant.”
“As long as it doesn’t turn into a loch ness monster story, sir,” Malcolm replied wryly.
“You are holding something back,” T’Pol said bluntly as she ran to catch up with Trip as he headed toward engineering. “There is something you were not willing to tell Malcolm or the captain.”
“Oh yeah?” he countered. “Do your superior Vulcan mental powers tell you that?”
“I know you well enough without them.” She stopped walking and stood with her arms crossed.
He came to a halt and turned back to face her. A look of defiance crossed his face but he seemed to think better of it and settled instead on resignation. “It’s not exactly that I held something back, it’s just something I’m not quite sure of.”
She gave him a questioning look and he glanced around, as though nervous he would be overheard, then motioned for her to follow him to engineering. T’Pol followed him to his personal workstation, pondering his sudden secretive behavior.
“Please elaborate,” she instructed him. “What are your concerns with our rescue operation?”
Trip called up a series of charts and topographical schematics to the computer screen. “What I said about von Braun’s theory about Bermuda Triangle type events wasn’t quite complete. The god doctor was doing a theoretical experiment in which he came up with an explanation to explain a hypothetical scenario, right? What conditions must occur in order for these events—boats going off course, planes disappearing—to take place?” T’Pol nodded. “Only people didn’t just believe those ships and things went off course, they believed they got caught in some kind of time loop. People claimed sighting ships from hundreds of years in the past, hearing the voices of long lost pilots over their radios, being helped by passengers on liners that had vanished decades ago.”
“So how did von Braun account for these claims in his theory? What conditions would be necessary for,” she pursed her lips slightly, “this “time loop”?”
“Some kind of temporal distortion would have to be introduced into the mix. From what I know of the Onaran project, I don’t think it was introduced artificially.”
“I concur.” T’Pol was studying the computer screen. “Assuming von Braun’s theory is correct, the temporal distortion would have to be present naturally.”
“To some degree, anyway. And if it is, that mean Malcolm isn’t just somewhere else, he’s somewhen else.” Trip leaned back on the console beside her and crossed his arms. “I’m not sure I even know where to begin to look for Malcolm if that’s the case, much less get him back.”
“Why didn’t you tell this to the captain?” T’Pol wanted to know.
Trip shrugged. “If there is a temporal disturbance of some kind we haven’t detected it yet. I’m not even sure Enterprise’s scanner’s would be able to pick it up. I thought Malcolm was under enough stress already—best not to get him upset about something that might not even be a factor.”
T’Pol considered this. It was sometimes difficult to follow human reasoning as it often took into consideration an element lacking from Vulcan logic: emotion. On a Vulcan ship a crewmember would never hold back information of possible relevance to spare the feelings of a colleague. Only a couple of years ago T’Pol herself would have found Trip’s actions in this case to be poor judgment at best, negligence at worst. Now she understood why he had chosen this course of action and marveled at the subtlety involved in making judgments concerning emotional well-being.
“I believe you did the right thing,” she turned to face the engineer, “for now. We must rule out the possibility that Lt. Reed is not in our own timeline. Once we have confirmed the validity of von Braun’s hypothesis we should return to the surface of the planet and collect more data.”
Trip nodded. “We should also look for Dr. BenCour. She could probably tell us everything we need to know about Onara and the conditions present when Malcolm went overboard.”
“She may also be able to enlighten us as to why the Onaran government is brickwalling us in our attempts to locate Lt. Reed.”
Trip looked confused, then smiled. “Stonewalling,” he corrected. “Should we tell them we’ve made contact with him?” he wondered.
“I do not believe so—not until we have more information,” T’Pol decided. “If they perceive our investigation as a threat to their project they may not permit us to continue.”
“You’re probably right,” Trip agreed.
T’Pol congratulated herself silently on making a decision that took emotional reaction into account before turning to the computer. Soon she was lost in calculations and the intricacies of an equation dealing with time, space, and lost tactical officers.
“Are you certain this is the way?” T’Pol asked for the second time.
Trip grunted and turned another corner. “Yes, I’m sure. It’s just down here.”
“That’s what you said two corridors ago,” she reminded him. They had been wandering the narrow halls of the Tubat for the past twenty minutes, searching in vain for Oula’s assigned quarters. She had always thought it was a myth that human males were incapable of asking for directions. Every myth has its beginning in some kind of truth, she told herself and restrained from asking once more if she could examine the map he carried. Her last such suggestion had been met with a decidedly indignant and territorial “no”. She supposed she couldn’t be too hard on the engineer: the Onarans had a habit of leaving any kind of identifying markers on their doors. It made navigating difficult and confusing, to say the least.
“A-ha!” Trip announced triumphantly, stopping before a pale metallic door. It looked the same as all the others but Trip was convinced it was the correct entrance. He pressed the signal button and stood back, waiting.
After a moment a shuffling noise could be heard from within and the door was opened by a stocky Onaran woman with sea green hair and dappled skin. “May I help you?” she asked curiously.
T’Pol shot Trip a look that said “I-told-you-so” and turned to the woman. “I apologize. We were looking for Dr. BenCour’s quarters. We must have gotten lost.”
“You’re not too far off course—she’s right across the hall,” the woman smiled kindly and pointed. “I don’t think she’s in right now, though. I haven’t seen her for a few days, some to think of it.”
“Where do you work?” asked Trip hopefully. “Are you a scientist on the reclamation project?” At this point he would take help or information from almost any source.
“I work in the galley,” she said apologetically before closing her door. “Sorry.”
T’Pol tried Dr. BenCour’s door and was unsurprised when no one answered. “We are running out of time,” she told Trip unnecessarily as they began to try to extricate themselves from the maze of corridors. “We have less than one hour to report back to the captain.”
“You have three hours,” Archer had told them sternly before they left Enterprise. “If you can’t find Oula or find the information we need to locate Malcolm by then, I’m going to the Teleel and Krevet with what we’ve got so far.” T’Pol knew that asking the Onarans to halt their reclamation project would be both pointless and politically messy but they might have no choice. The electromagnetic interference was cycling high, playing havoc with even their handheld sensor equipment and they had been unsuccessful at locating Dr. BenCour.
By the time they got to the shuttlepod the situation had not improved. “I’m not looking forward to breaking the news to the captain,” he commented to T’Pol before turning to Travis. The young helmsman had dropped them off on the ship and taken the opportunity to make another few aerial sweeps before coming back for his superior officers. He stood waiting for them, standing at attention.
Trip narrowed his eyes at the ensign. There was something strange about the look in his eyes, like he could barely contain himself. Travis said nothing, however, and simply opened the shuttle hatch and motioned the commanders inside. Frowning, Trip complied, waiting for T’Pol to situate herself inside before following.
“Any luck, sir?” Travis asked as he activated the shuttle engines.
“None.” Trip tossed his datapad on a nearby seat and rubbed his hands over his eyes. “We not only failed to get any useful environmental data from the Tubat, we couldn’t find Dr. BenCour either.”
“Maybe you won’t have to find her,” said a voice behind him. “Maybe she’ll find you.”
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