If you are seeing this paragraph, the site is not displaying correctly. You can see the content, but your current browser does not support CSS which is necessary to view our site properly. For the best visual experience, you will need to upgrade your browser to Netscape 6.0 or higher, MSIE 5.5 or higher, or Opera 3.6 or higher. If, however, you don't wish to upgrade your browser, scroll down and read the content - everything is still visible, it just doesn't look as pretty.
Small Steps - Pt. 3
PART THREE (Chapters 9 - 11)
T'Pol had finally retraced her steps to the computer terminals she had repaired. She didn't know if that was where the communications centre would be housed, but reckoned it was as good a place to start as anywhere. In retrospect, she realised that one more than one occasion she had enquired about the Altairian communications. The original request for help had come out on a very ancient system. However, no one had enlightened her about it. After their rescue from the crater, Voltec had very politely, but pointedly refused them their own communicators and weapons, locking them away from all contact. T'Pol could think of no logical explanation for the council's actions, but the fact that she and the Commander had been shown so very little of the dome suddenly seemed premeditated. Arriving at her target, T'Pol cautiously opened the door. Inside, the room was generously staffed, unlike in the generator room. She raised an eyebrow. 'Why do they have no-one maintaining the generators which are so vital to their survival, and was there no-one who could have assisted Commander Tucker during his repairs?' she pondered. Looking at the number of people in the room, she realised that even if communication should originate from here, it wouldn't be right now. She resolved to come back later.
Malcolm was involved in an exhaustive, but thus far, fruitless search up and down the many corridors. He'd located Hydroponics, an area of recreation, several open areas that reminded him of market places in English towns, but no signs of computer terminals or a single generator. He had passed several Altairian people all innocently going about their business, he presumed, but avoided contact with them. Now, as he started into the third corridor in his search, he saw a figure behaving somewhat furtively, opening a door and sliding into the room rapidly. As the door closed, Malcolm moved towards it and put his ear against it. He heard the welcome, and unmistakable hum of working generators. Drawing his phase pistol from its concealment, he slowly turned the door handle and stepped into the room. As he did, he had time only to register swift movement behind him and a hand touching his neck before darkness engulfed him.
Archer estimated that nearly 2 hours had elapsed since he'd stepped out of the shuttlepod. As his party made their way back to the dome, Voltec stopped when they drew near the craft and extended his hand, 'an unmistakable gesture of "goodbye, and get off my planet", if ever I saw one', John thought. He chose to ignore the outstretched hand and instead continued on into the dome.
"We'll be out of your hair very soon, Minister. I thought I'd just take a last look at the repairs my people did for you. You know, check that all's well for you before we go."
He watched Voltec closely as he spoke. There could be little doubt that the Minister was very worried about something, and John liked to think that it was their continued presence on Altair that had the other man rattled. A councilor entered the room and spoke quietly into Voltec's ear, too quietly for John to catch it. What he did catch, however, was the look of panic, which swept across Voltec's face.
"Minister, you look ill. Is there something I can do for you?" he inquired.
"Thank you, you've already done more than enough. However, the wind speed is increasing and I'd advise immediate launch for your safe return to your ship."
Archer sighed; to procrastinate any longer was pointless and if these people were innocent of any wrongdoing, it would also be insufferably rude. He bade Voltec a final farewell and returned to the shuttlepod.
"Any word from Malcolm, Doctor?"
"Not even a peep, Captain. I've been getting quite bored here on my own. Did you find anything of any help?"
"Sadly, no. Voltec is very uncomfortable at our presence here, but maybe that's just guilt at having asked us to help in the first place, and then the accident." John slumped onto one of the benches in despondency. "Guess it's time Malcolm came back and we moved on."
T'Pol carefully opened the door into the room where she'd left Commander Tucker and was relieved to find it still devoid of life, except for Trip's recumbent figure. She was about to cross to him when her acute hearing detected the slightest sound from the door she'd just closed. Stepping swiftly behind it, she allowed the intruder to fully enter the room before nerve-pinching his neck. The figure crumpled to the floor as she closed the door and stepped over him. T'Pol made her way across to Trip. She thought at first that he was unconscious, but when she touched him gently on the shoulder, his blue eyes opened.
"Hey, T'Pol, any luck?"
T'Pol noted, with concern, that the Commander was having difficulty in breathing. Placing her hands under his arms, she raised him to a sitting position. He gasped in pain and screwed his eyes shut, clenching his teeth around his bottom lip to stop the scream that was trying to make itself heard.
"Whadya wanna go throwin' me about for?"
"A more upright position will improve your air intake, Commander, as your breathing is compromised. As to your first question, I regret that I was unable to make contact. I will try again later."
Trip nodded, dejectedly. He wished he didn't hurt so much and feel so deathly weak. For the first time, he noticed the crumpled figure by the door.
"Who's your boyfriend?"
"An Altairian. He followed me in and I rendered him unconscious. If we are to remain here, I must find something with which to restrain him. In the meantime, I will search him for a weapon or communicator."
Crossing to the figure, T'Pol started searching his pockets. Trip heard her give a small, startled "Oh" before she rolled the man onto his back. Sitting back on her heels, she looked across at Trip.
"This is Lieutenant Reed!"
"Ya gotta be kiddin' me! Malcolm, here, dressed like that? Why?"
"There is a simple, logical way to find out," T'Pol said, as she held up the distinctive shape of a Starfleet communicator. Flipping it open and activating it, she almost allowed herself a smile when she heard the voice answering.
"Captain, it is good to hear you."
"T'Pol! Doctor, she's alive. Is Trip with you, too?"
"Yes, Captain, we are indeed alive. However, the Commander is in need of medical assistance. We are located in the generator room."
"Phlox is suiting up as we speak. Let me speak to Trip."
T'Pol carried the communicator across to Trip. He struggled to put on an air of nonchalance as he spoke.
"Hey, Cap'n, good to year ya. If ya want to try that transporter now, ya'll get no argument from me."
Even saying so little had Trip exhausted. Archer could hear it in his friend's voice.
"Hang on, buddy, we'll be right with you. T'Pol, let me speak to Malcolm."
"Lieutenant Reed is temporarily unable to respond."
"I was unaware of his identity and rendered him unconscious."
Archer rolled his eyes. "How long do you expect him to be out?"
"Not long, Captain, perhaps about 15 minutes at most. What are your plans?"
"Sit tight, take care of Trip. We're coming to get you out."
Once again dressed in their EV suits, but this time accompanied by Dr. Phlox, Captain Archer and the security team walked back to the dome. Archer led the way to the reception room and almost collided with a very worried Voltec.
"Captain Archer! What are you doing back? I thought you'd left for your ship?"
"A small matter has come up, Minister. Something I need to bring to your attention, in private if you please."
The slight, almost imperceptible forward movement of the security detail backed this up. Voltec's eyes widened in alarm. He knew with certainty that their plans, the abductions, everything had gone awry. Archer and his men practically forced Voltec into the room, firmly closing the door on the startled councilors outside.
"Now, Minister, I'd like to hear your explanation as to why you told me my people were dead, and it had better be good!"
Voltec sighed and collapsed into a chair, putting his head into his hands.
"Captain, I know you must think badly of us, well, of me, but I'm not an evil man. We are desperate people. When Commander Tucker and Sub-Commander T'Pol were so efficient in their repairs, we knew we needed to try to keep them here. The repairs will last for some time, but not indefinitely, and what will happen then? The equipment needs to be constantly maintained."
"So get your own people to do that. Ok, so they weren't up to the repairs, but surely maintenance isn't so hard? Just because your people aren't up to scratch, doesn't give you the right to kidnap mine!" Archer bellowed.
"If only it was that simple, Captain. I wasn't completely honest with you when you asked the cause of that crater out there. Some years ago there was an accident. We were experimenting with new technology and it went horribly wrong. There was a catastrophic explosion, destroying the dome that had been sited there, and killing everyone inside. In that one awful moment, Altair lost 90% of its engineers, scientists and medical personnel. Those who weren't killed hadn't been involved by the fact that they were too elderly. They died before being able to train new people to take over. For too many years now, we've had to watch as our systems gradually stopped working. Our very existence depended on finding someone who could repair our systems, and once we found him, we knew we couldn't let him leave. And I couldn't allow the Sub-Commander to leave...I had no choice."
Voltec lowered his head into his hands again, avoiding the glare from John's eyes. For Archer's part, his mind was reeling. Over the past 48 hours he had grieved with his crew, sent false messages to Starfleet, Vulcan High Command, and caused heartache to Mr. and Mrs. Tucker! Then he learns that they're ok, well, relatively, and now this man's telling him an entire race's future depends on Trip remaining with them!
"I'm sorry, Voltec," he spoke more gently. "I can see your dilemma, and I don't know what I'd have done in your shoes, but that doesn't make it right. For now, you're under the guard of my men, here, and you will not be allowed to leave this room. Furthermore, if any harm comes to anyone in the landing party, you won't like the consequences. Do I make myself clear?"
Malcolm was waking slowly from a deep sleep. He could hear someone calling him, but he didn't want to wake up yet. Besides, his neck hurt, so he obviously needed more rest.
"Lieutenant Reed, open your eyes!"
The fog suddenly cleared from Malcolm's brain as he recognised a voice he thought he'd never hear again. His eyes shot open to see a welcome face.
"Sub-Commander, you're alive!"
T'Pol's eyebrow rose.
"Indeed, Lieutenant, now sit up."
Malcolm struggled onto his knees, rubbing his neck. He looked around him, getting his bearings, and all thoughts of his own aches vanished when he noticed Trip. Hurrying across to kneel beside his friend, he looked into blue, pain-filled eyes.
"Hey, Malcolm. Enjoy your nap?" Trip was exhausted, huge beads of sweat on his brow and top lip. His normally fair complexion had taken on a flush, and Malcolm exclaimed when he put the back of his hand against the Commander's forehead.
"Sub-Commander, we need to get Dr. Phlox here immediately. He's waiting in the shuttlepod."
"I have already apprised the Captain of Commander Tucker's condition, and they are on their way."
"Why can't anybody call me 'Trip'?" the engineer muttered.
As he spoke, the door opened to admit the landing party. Archer grimaced as he took in his friend's condition. Phlox spoke soothingly to Trip as he injected a much-welcomed hypospray of analgesia. Trip's eyes glazed over as sleep beckoned.
"See ya back home, Cap'n."
Archer watched grimly as Dr. Phlox ran his scanner over Trip.
"We got here just in time, Captain. The Commander has developed bronchial pneumonia. His fractured ribs would not have allowed him to combat the infection, and he would have been unable to breathe unassisted for much longer. Frankly, he would have perished."
"And now, will he be okay?"
"Let's get him back to the ship, and we'll see, hmm?"
John opened his communicator and spoke to the security men guarding Voltec.
"Take the Minister with you to the shuttlepod. Lieutenant Reed and Sub- Commander T'Pol will join you there. I'm going to transport back to the ship with the doctor and Commander Tucker."
Trip lay on life support in sickbay. Phlox had thought it wiser to keep him sedated until they had the infection under control. The engineer's injuries had been treated: his ribs had been bound, and the femur was stabilised with an external fixator. Now, it was up to the resilience of the human body and the antibiotics, together with a few of Dr. Phlox's favourite Regulan bloodworms, to do their magic. John had brought Voltec, still under close guard, to sickbay, to view for himself the outcome of his actions.
"Do you see what nearly happened here, Voltec? By keeping him down there, not letting us treat his injuries, you almost killed him!"
"I never meant for this to happen, Captain, you must believe me." Voltec's voice was barely a whisper. He looked at the young man on the biobed with genuine regret. "I just wanted to save my people."
Archer sighed. He knew Trip had come close to dying, but Phlox felt he would recover. But what of the Altairians? Who was going to give them a fighting chance? He moved across to the intercom.
"Archer to Reed and T'Pol. Join me in my ready room in 10 minutes. Minister, with me, if you please."
T'Pol had spent several hours in meditation since their return to Enterprise, and although she hadn't had much sleep in the last 48 hours, she felt refreshed. She had made enquiries from the doctor of the Commander's condition, and had felt relief that the news was better. Entering the bridge from the turbolift, she was greeted by the smiling faces of Travis and Hoshi.
"Sub-Commander, on behalf of the crew, we'd just like you to know how relieved we are to have you and Commander Tucker back, alive." Travis spoke up, a little tongue-tied. T'Pol always intimidated him, but his words were sincerely meant.
"Thank you, Ensign, I am relieved also, as I'm sure the Commander will be."
"Steady, T'Pol, your emotions are slipping." Archer teased as he emerged from the ready room on hearing the turbolift. T'Pol ignored the comment.
"You requested my presence?"
Archer ushered her into the ready room, where Malcolm had already arrived.
"Under the circumstances, I'm not obliged to offer any assistance to Minister Voltec, but I do want to help the people of Altair. I draw the line at giving them any of my crew, so I'm open to suggestions!"
Phlox busied himself in sickbay, feeding the assorted animals in cages, and running a few experiments, but all the while keeping a close eye on his patient. Trip's fever had broken during the night, and the doctor had started to wean him off his sedation and life support. He was now able to breathe unaided, but as yet hadn't shown any signs of waking. Over the last 24 hours Phlox had been pleased at the number of visitors who had called on the Commander. Lieutenant Hess had stopped by to reassure her commanding officer that engineering hadn't blown up in his absence, but 'hurry back soon, sir'. Hoshi had sat quietly whispering into his ear. Malcolm had reminded Trip that he was the 'eternal optimist' and a fighter, so he should stop lying about and 'get on with it'. Even the Sub-Commander had called. Phlox had strained to hear what the young Vulcan, might have said, but she must have been taking lessons from Hoshi, as she did a most un-Vulcan thing and whispered into Trip's ear. Phlox imagined he might have heard her calling him 'Trip', but thought that most unlikely. Naturally, the most frequent visitor had been Captain Archer, reassuring himself that his friend was recovering. On one such visit, Phlox had overheard the Captain telling Trip he'd reassured the Commander's mother that her son was ok.
"I tell you, Trip, telling her you were dead. Well, let's just say the second call was so much easier. Anyway, they're in a hurry to hear from you personally, so don't keep them waiting, huh?"
But for now, all the visitors were gone, and Trip felt as if he was slowly rising through deep water, towards the sunlight above him, if he could only break the surface. He could hear mumbling and wished whoever it was would stop. Suddenly he felt himself breaking free from the confines of the lake, and his eyes shot open as he gasped for breath. The mumbling had stopped, and groggily he realised it had been himself. Screwing his eyes shut in pain and at the brightness of the overhead lights, he realised his whereabouts and groaned.
'Sickbay again! Guess I'm gonna get a bed named after me, I'm clockin' up so much time here.'
"Welcome back, Commander. And how do you feel, today?"
Trip winced at the Denobulan's cheery voice. He squinted open one eye and located the doctor standing to his right. Phlox noticed his photophobia and dimmed the lighting.
"How long've I been out, doc?"
"24 hours, Commander, shorter than some of your previous visits. If you're feeling up to some company, the captain asked me to notify him when you awoke."
Trip nodded, still in pain, but so glad to be alive. Phlox crossed to the intercom.
"Phlox to Captain Archer."
"You will undoubtedly be pleased to hear that my patient is awake."
"Thanks, doc, I'm on my way." Archer looked around the bridge at the grinning faces of his dedicated crew. Even T'Pol allowed herself a small nod. 'Kinda like a 'Trip' gesture, there, sub-commander' he thought to himself.
"Sub-Commander, would you care to join me? Malcolm, you have the con."
"Well, Commander, glad you've decided to join us again. This is getting to be too much of a regular occurrence, winding up in here, flat on your back." Archer tried to make it a scold, but Trip saw through him.
"Ya know me, Cap'n, just bone idle. Hey T'Pol, ya ok?"
"Thank you, Commander, I am quite well."
"Are we back to formalities? If I recall correctly, down there ya called me 'Trip'."
John's eyebrows rose as he looked at his two senior officers. 'Just what had happened down there?' he thought.
"On the occasion that I did use your--nickname, I believe it's called, I was trying to communicate with you through your pain. It seemed the best way to get your attention."
"Oh, ya sure got ma attention, but sayin' 'Trip' didn't bite ya, now did it?"
"Starfleet protocol dictates that we lead by example, Commander. It would be inappropriate to use informalities in front of the lower ranks."
"But I call ya 'T'Pol'. D'ya object to that?"
"That is my given name. It would be illogical to object to being addressed by my given name. Your given name is not 'Trip', Commander."
John shook his head, relieved, almost, to be able to hear them arguing again, but he could tell that this particular spat might drag on for some time.
"Okay, kids, enough! Doctor, how is your patient?"
Phlox joined them at the bedside.
"Listening to all that arguing, it's hard to compare him with the sickly creature we transported off Altair. I feel confident in declaring that the commander will make a full recovery."
"Ya used that thing on me, again?" Trip queried. Archer laughed at his friend's expression.
"You're getting to be one of the most frequently-transported crewmembers on board, Trip."
Phlox cleared his throat and continued.
"Commander Tucker has always shown remarkable powers of recuperation. His fractures are healing well but he will have to use a walking aid for some time yet. The femur, although stabilised with this brace, bears all of the body's weight, and I would advise non-weight-bearing for a further week."
"A week? Doc, I've got work to do, I can't go lyin' around for a week!"
"Commander, you are an excellent engineer, and I wouldn't presume to tell you how to do your job. Please extend me the same courtesy." Phlox smiled to take the sting out of the words, because he knew he had the final say, no matter how much Trip might object. "You don't have to remain in sickbay, although I always enjoy our verbal sparring. I am happy to release you to your quarters, providing you get some rest!"
John spoke up. "Don't worry, doctor, he's off the duty roster for 1 week, no arguments."
Trip lay on his bunk, restless and fidgety. He knew he wasn't nearly fit enough to be doing anything but rest, the walk from sickbay had confirmed that. Phlox had supplied him with a pair of ancient walking aids to enable him to keep his left foot off the ground. He'd used walking aids once before, when he was fourteen, and had come off his friend's motorbike. His father had nearly finished the job of killing him for being on the open road whilst underage.
By the time he'd reached his quarters, 'and have they moved further away from sickbay?' he was exhausted. The cap'n had accompanied him.
"Get some rest, Trip, that's an order. I'll stop by later, bring you a beer."
Trip had eased onto his bunk with a sigh. He made a mental note not to get injured so often, or the cap'n'd start thinking he was a liability. Resting on his back, with nothing else to do but think, he pondered the Altairian problem that the cap'n had explained. Getting stiffly to his feet, he lurched over to the intercom and hailed the captain.
"Trip, I thought I told you to rest?"
"Yeah, I am, but I was wonderin' what you've decided about Altair?"
"I haven't made my final decision yet. I know we can't just leave it like it is, for several reasons, not least that if we do nothing, they'll just pull the same stunt with the next mug who answers their call."
"Well, I'm not sure I'd call ya a mug, but I might have an idea. D'ya remember Liana an' her dad, Ezral?"
"Yes, what about them?"
"D'ya remember all those holographic people he'd created? If he was willin', maybe he could share his technology with Voltec an' make some engineers an' scientists, just long enough for the Altairians to learn what they need ta survive."
Archer was impressed with the suggestion. "Trip, that's a great idea, if he goes for it. Maybe I should arrange for you to get knocked on the head more often!"
"Thanks, Cap'n, but I thought ya already had."
Ezral and Liana had been assisted by the Enterprise crew to repair their vessel and return home to Cantari. They had been home, now for just over 1 month. Liana often spoke of the chief engineer, of how kind he'd been. Ezral hoped his daughter would forget the handsome human and settle with her own people, but since their return, things hadn't been easy. They had been the only survivors out of a crew of 50, including Liana's mother, and naturally, the relatives of his dead crew were somewhat hostile. He was surprised to receive a summons to the Minister's office, to receive an incoming message from Captain Archer himself.
"Captain, it is a joy to speak with you again. How are you all?"
"We're fine, thanks. And you, and Liana? Are you settling in to life back home again?"
"I'm an explorer, like yourself, Captain. I don't feel comfortable staying in one place for too long. Our enforced stay in our ship has left me with wanderlust. And so much has changed here, since we were last home. Liana hardly knows her former friends. They've moved on without her, and she has grown up so much more than they did in the past 20 years. But enough, you didn't call to check on our homecoming, I'm quite sure. How can I help you?"
"Well, I've called to ask a really big favour, and I'll understand perfectly if you feel unable to help. We've met a race of people, the Altairians, who are on a slightly primitive planet with problematic technology. We've done repairs for them, but they don't have engineers and scientists to maintain the equipment. Trip reminded me of you holographic expertise, and I was wondering." John trailed off, unsure of himself and the enormity of what he was asking.
"You would like me to share my knowledge of holograms with these Altairians? Our technology isn't mine to share. I'll have to discuss it with the First Minister. I'll contact you at the earliest opportunity."
Archer was relaxing over a beer with Trip in his quarters when the call came through from Cantari.
"Captain, my government has discussed your request, and in gratitude to you for your assistance, they have agreed. I thought they'd say no, but actually I think they'll be glad to have us go away, for a little while, to let old wounds heal. It will give everyone a chance to accept what has happened."
"Ya said 'us'. Is Liana goin' too?" Trip queried.
"Commander Tucker, it is good to hear your voice. My daughter sends her greetings. And yes, she will accompany me. We would not wish to be parted at this time, and she is a very fine engineer, if you recall. Between us all, we will spread 'Rocky Road' ice cream throughout the galaxy."
Archer looked perplexed. Trip merely grinned.
"Tell ya 'bout it, sometime. Ezral, ya both take care, that planet's a mean ol' boy. Gives 'Rocky Road' its original meanin'!"
First Minister Voltec and Councilor Trag were seated in Archer's ready room. He sat across from them, waiting to hear their response. He'd put forward Trip's suggestion and Ezral's willingness to assist them. Now it was up to them. He watched the two men nod to each other, and he let out the breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding.
"We don't deserve this kindness, Captain, but we most gratefully accept your suggestion and this man's help. We have never heard of this 'hologram' technology, but it sounds like it could be the answer to all our problems. Together with the data you've downloaded to our computers, Altair should be safe for the foreseeable future."
T'Pol had almost finished her meditation for the evening, when her door chimed, disturbing her. Rising to answer it, she was surprised to see the Commander leaning against the doorframe. He was looking much better, but still had to use the walking aids, much to his disgust.
"Can I come in, or d'ya want me to loiter out here 'til I fall over?"
T'Pol stepped aside to let him enter. He noted the candles on the floor, and turned to T'Pol, apologetically.
"I had completed my meditation, thank you. Would you care to sit?"
Trip looked around at the furnishings, and as there was only one chair in the room, he remained standing. T'Pol crossed to the bunk and sat on it, allowing Trip to ease himself carefully into the chair.
"How may I help you, Commander? It is late, and you should still be resting."
Trip ran his finger around the collar of the casual shirt he was wearing, almost as if it was suddenly too tight for him. He cleared his throat.
"Actually, I want ta thank ya."
"For what, Commander?"
"Down on the planet, ya took real good care of me, an' I know I'm a really bad patient. An' I know I'm a pain in your backside, most of the time, but, well, we didn't make too bad a job of getting' along for a while, so, thanks."
T'Pol regarded the squirming human in front of her, and a wickedly un- Vulcan thought briefly entered her head, to make him squirm a bit longer. But their voyage was still in its infancy, and there'd be plenty of other occasions.
"Your thanks are acknowledged, Commander, but it was the only logical thing to do."
Return to Part 2 Chapters (4 - 8)
Have a comment to make about this story? Do so in the Trip Fan Fiction forum at the HoTBBS!
A handful of people have made comments
I really liked how your story focoused on the Altarians problems and the frienship between Trip and T'Pol helping the aliens on the planet.And how T'Pol handled Trip being injured.I like how you had the whole Enterprise crew were written in story.I could almost picture your story as a tv episode.Hope you'll write more Enterprise fanfic I enjoyed your wtiting style
Thanks for a wonderful and interesting story! I enjoyed how you tied it back to an earlier Ent episode, Oasis. I also like that you present the complexities of space travel - how everything Ent encounters will not be good or evil.
And have to love Trip, that problem solver/humanitarian even when badly injured, and TíPol, logical yet protective of Trip.
You did a great job giving everyone a role in this story.
Please write more.
A great story! It would have been so easy to have made the Altairians evil but showing them between a rock and a hard place was a nice touch. It gave sympathy to their situation whilst not condoning their actions. I loved how T'Pol took care of Trip and it did make me chuckle when T'Pol knocked Malcolm out when he was snooping about trying to find them. I also really liked the way Ezral was asked to help using his ability to created holographic helpers. I wonder if this part of Oasis was intended as a precursor to the holographic doctor in Voyager. Very well done and thank you, Ali D :~)
Cute story and it was quite funny. It makes you wonder if there will be more inquiries in the upcoming chapters.
I liked T'Pol's evil thought. ;)