DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns the rights to Star Trek, Enterprise and the regular characters I borrow from time to time. There will be no monetary profit to myself. Only profits to the inner soul.



"BLINDMAN'S BLUFF"

CHAPTER 1-

It all happened so fast. One minute he was working alongside Crewman Morris and chatting about last Saturday night's movie while they worked on a conduit in engineering. The next thing he knew he was thrown flat on his back and an intense heat engulfed his face.

Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III, chief engineer on the Enterprise NX-01, was writhing on the floor of his department in shear agony. His eyes were burning beyond painful and his face felt raw and void of skin. Though he could neither see nor speak, he could hear the chaos in the room. Crewman Morris was hollering for someone to notify sickbay there was a medical emergency. Crewman Kelley was already on the comm to the bridge informing the captain of what happened.

But that was just it. What the hell did happen? Before Trip could let his mind delve further along that course, a chill covered his body. He felt so cold all of a sudden. The voices and the hum of the warp engines began to grow fainter. Within seconds all was silent.

Doctor Phlox charged into engineering with a medical team, carrying a stretcher, close at his heels. Captain Jonathan Archer rushed in a few seconds later.

Crewmans Morris and Kelley knelt beside the still form of the commander, but jumped up as soon as the medical team and the doctor approached.

"Captain," Morris moved to Archer. "I don't know what to say. He removed his face shield and was adjusting his plasma torch when it just blew up...right in his face." The young man was obviously very shaken.

Archer, preoccupied with the sight of his best friend's body lying still with a face that was badly burnt, could not speak. He rested a hand on Morris' shoulder.

"I--I just couldn't do anything for him..." Morris stammered.

"Crewman Kelley," Archer finally croaked out. "I would appreciate it if you would take Crewman Morris for a walk."

"Yes, sir." Kelley nodded and then moved off with Morris in tow.

Archer heard Phlox and the medical team talking about shock and stablizing Trip's vital signs. But all he could do was gaze down at the injured man and feel just as helpless as Crewman Morris.

"Let's get him to sickbay immediately." Phlox told the team. As they gently lifted Trip onto the stretcher and began to head for the door, Phlox turned to the captain. "I'll do everything I can, Captain."

"How bad is it?" Archer asked.

"He's critical, sir." Phlox answered. "Third degree burns over his face and hands. I'll let you know as soon as there's anything new to tell." He turned and followed the medical team out.

----------

Archer had sought out Crewman Morris and talked to him about the accident. There wasn't much else he could tell his captain that he hadn't already told him in engineering. Commander Tucker's plasma torch just blew up.

"Take it easy, Morris." Archer softly said. "He's still alive and that's what we have to focus on now. It was an accident and there's nothing you could've done to change what happened."

Morris looked sorrowfully up at Archer. He took a deep breath and nodded.

"I better get back to my post, sir." The young crewman said, squaring his shoulders.

"If you're ready." Archer smiled thoughtfully.

"Yes, sir." And with that the crewman was off down the corridor.

Archer turned and headed toward the bridge. He wasn't about to get underfoot in sickbay, even though that's where his heart was at the moment. He would wait until Phlox sent word to him. It was to be the hardest two hours of his life.

----------

The bridge was the usual quiet command center when T'Pol was in command. But it was even more so at the present, with their minds on Commander Tucker and what was going on in sickbay. Captain Archer had relinquished the bridge to T'Pol, who remained at her station. Even though she had her emotions under wraps, she was still quite aware of the anguish the others were feeling. It was...unsettling.

"Sub-commander," Ensign Travis Mayweather addressed. "Are we still maintaining our present course?"

"There have been no instructions given to you otherwise." T'Pol answered.

"Well, no, but..." Travis started. "Never mind. I'm sorry."

T'Pol regarded the young man. "No need to apologize, ensign. You feel we should not be continuing on to the minshara class planet we've been planning on investigating?"

"I just thought that maybe we'd have to head back." The ensign hung his head and turned his attention back to the viewscreen.

"We will have to wait and see." T'Pol replied.

----------

Standing at his window staring out at the stars, Jonathan Archer felt small. Not insignificant, by any means. Just small. He held the lives of every being on this ship in the palm of his hand at any given moment. Except this moment.

Trip's life was compromised by a freak accident. Albeit in the line of duty, but for God sakes it was a damn plasma torch. Not a heroic act to save the ship and all the crew that put him in danger's way countless times before.

He had to pull through. There was no other way this could play out. Trip deserved better. He would be the first to say that he wanted to go out in a blaze of glory with full thrusters. Not like this.

The door signal chirped. Archer sighed not really wanting to be disturbed. But he couldn't ignore his crew. They were feeling pretty low, too.

"Come in." Archer called out.

The door opened and T'Pol stood in the doorway, hands clasped behind her back. She hesitated slightly, then entered. The captain turned around to face her.

"You have neglected your evening meal, Captain." T'Pol said, sounding a bit like a scolding mother.

"So has half the bridge crew." The captain replied. "Did you send them off already?"

"They all prefer to remain at their posts." T'Pol informed him. "That is not in their best interests."

Archer smiled thoughtfully and sank into the chair at his desk. "No, I guess it isn't for their physical health. But mentally it's what they need right now. Can you understand that?"

T'Pol regarded the man and nodded without making a verbal response. The captain's brow furrowed as he cocked his head to the side.

"Are you all right, Sub-commander?"

"The tension on the bridge is..." T'Pol swiveled from side to side. "...encompassing."

"I thought you would simply block it out." The captain replied, softly.

"I have lived amongst humans for over a year now, Captain." T'Pol began. "I am not void of emotions. I only surpress them. The method of supression includes meditation, as you know, that is done nightly before sleeping. That is the routine for normal supression. When tensions around me are high, it is disturbing. I must take extra measures to keep control."

Archer nodded and placed his elbows on his desk. He then rested his forehead in the palms of his hands. He took a much needed deep breath.

"I think I can understand." He finally replied. "I guess I didn't realize. Can I ask you a personal question?"

T'Pol raised her brow and nodded to the captain. He glanced up in time to catch her permissive gesture, then looked back down.

"Is it just the crew's tensions and emotions you're trying to block out that make you uneasy? Or is it also your own in regards to Trip's accident?"

The sub-commander was clearly not expecting this question, as her normally stoic expression changed with a twitch at the corner of her mouth. She looked up at the window for a few seconds and then down at the captain, who was now staring her straight in the eyes.

"The commander is a valued member of this crew and..."

"Cut the formalities, T'Pol." Archer broke in. "Just talk to me."

"Mr. Tucker's accident was unexpected." T'Pol offered. "His recovery is utmost in my thoughts, sir."

That seemed to suffice Jonathan Archer enough. He rose and moved around to stand beside her.

"Would you care to join me in the Captain's Mess? I could try and eat a little..."

"Sickbay to Captain Archer." Phlox's transmitted voice cut in.

"Archer here." The captain didn't hold back his anxiety.

"Commander Tucker is stable. But I need to see you, sir." Phlox replied.

"On my way." Archer quickly headed for the door as T'Pol followed after him.

----------


"Come on, Charlie," The dark haired boy coaxed. "Don't tell me you're chicken."

Young Charlie Tucker stared back at the older boy in defiance. He had never let Ron Redan get the best of him in all the years he'd known him. Dang, that was all of his life. Ron was two years older than Charlie and the leader of their group. The neighborhood kids followed Ron's lead. Always.

"I ain't a chicken." Charlie said, the sunlight reflecting in his blue eyes.

"Then go on inside." Ron smirked at him.

Charlie looked around at the faces of the other boys. There was Joe, Marty, Kyle and the twins Brandon and Brendan. They all stared back at him with a mixture of fear and hope. If Charlie wouldn't go into that cave, he could never face his friends again. He'd be labeled a baby and he wouldn't have that. Even though he was the youngest, the guys had always treated him the same. Well, at least most of the time. Except when Ron bullied him like this about doin' somethin' that may be dangerous.

"It's real small, Ron." Charlie told him. "It's not even a real cave. It's more like a rabbit hole."

"It's not as small as all that, Charlie." Ron laughed at him. "It's just a little bigger than you are. So what? It's okay, though. You just tell us you're scared and we'll back off."

Charlie was afraid of the dark. He had been since he could remember and still slept with a nightlight. Geez, he thought. Eleven years old and still sleepin' with a nightlight. The guys would go ballistic if they knew. But the way Ron was lookin' at him made him wonder if he already knew.

"Okay," Charlie said finally. He got down on his hands and knees and stared at the small opening before him. He brushed back an unruly blonde strand of hair that tickled his brow.

"Just remember," Ron told him. "We're right out here if ya need anything."

Charlie took a deep breath and crawled inside the hole.

He was sure it was his heart that was pounding in his ears. He couldn't tell how far he had
crawled, but he knew he was pretty deep. There was no more light showing behind him, so he knew the cave...hole was growing narrower. He had gone far enough, now all he had to do was back up and he'd be out.

Little Charlie Tucker shuffled back on his hands and knees at a much faster pace than he
had crawled into the hole. He just kept thinking of the light that would soon welcome him when he reached the opening. It should be any moment now. Suddenly his feet hit something hard. Something solid.

"Knock it off, Ron!" Marty yelled at their ringleader. "He's done it. Let him out."

"It's just a joke, Marty." Ron said, laying on his back and pushing his feet hard against the trash can lid he had blocking the hole.

Charlie backed up again, this time pushing harder in the blackness of the hole. His boot heels hit something metal and the clang echoed in the shaft. Charlie's breathing started to become forced. He could feel the cold dampness of the dirt surrounding him. He started to panic and dug his fingers into the dirt below him. He slowly crawled a few inches forward and then rushed backwards ramming his heels into the metal harder than before. There was a tug on his pant leg and then a slight pain shot through his knee. When his last attempt didn't cause the barrier to fall away, Charlie began to breathe faster and harder.



Trip could hear the faint sounds of the beeping sickbay monitors. He knew that's what they were, only he didn't know if they were real or just another dream. He tried to open his eyes, but they were sore and the lids were being held down. He unconsciously cleared his parched throat and that's when he started to panic.

Captain Archer stood at the doors to sickbay talking softly to Phlox. It appeared that Trip's hands had taken most of the heat. But what his face had taken was directly in his eyes. It would be anywhere from 24 to 48 hours before they knew the extent of the damage to his sight. It had been a few hours since the doctor had summoned the captain there to discuss Trip's condition and he had stuck around hoping Trip would wake. He was just getting ready to leave when a low moan from the biobed turned into a full blown strangled yell.

"No!" Trip screamed.

Archer and Phlox rushed to either side of Trip's bed. The captain held down the commander by the shoulders as Phlox headed to the counter and retrieved a hypospray.

"Take it easy, Trip." Archer said soothingly. "I'm here and so is the doc."

"I--I can't see." Trip stammered, breathing heavily.

"Your eyes are bandaged, commander." Phlox said as he adjusted the hypospray and injected Trip in the neck. "You had an accident."

Trip's breathing slowly returned to normal and the captain lessened his hold, but left one hand planted on Trip's shoulder.

"The plasma torch." Trip remembered. He lifted one hand up to his face, feeling the fibered gauze that encased his hand brush against his cheek. "My hands..."

"They were both badly burned." Phlox told him. "But you didn't lose any fingers. You're all in tact. Just the skin is missing."

"When are these bandages comin' off my eyes?" Trip asked, anxiously. "So I can see again."

Phlox shared a worried look with Archer, who leaned down close to Trip's ear.

"In a few days, Trip." Archer said. "Doc said he can take them off in a few days."

"And then what?" Trip asked.

"We'll just have to wait and see." Phlox replied.

"Naw," Trip started to shift on the bed, nervously. "We're all gonna wait, but there's a chance I'm not gonna see. Isn't there?"

"Trip," Archer tried to calm his friend. "We don't know yet. Okay? Just don't go thinking the worst..."

"Don't go thinkin' the worst?!" Trip shot back. "Without my hands and my eyes I can't do my job!"

"Perhaps I need to up the dose." Phlox directed to the captain. He adjusted the hypospray and again injected Trip in the neck.

Trip's flared nostrils started to retract and his body stopped jerking with pent up emotions wanting to break free. His head rolled to one side and he was still.

"He'll sleep for awhile." Phlox said.

"You can't keep him doped up for two days, doc." Archer said. "He's going to have to face it."

"In due time, Captain." Phlox assured him. "Let him sleep on it. You can come back tomorrow morning and see him."

Archer half smiled at Phlox. "Are you trying to get rid of me, Doctor?"

"Well," Phlox sighed. "Although I would hardly find it surprising to have you move in here again, Captain. I can honestly say it would be in both of our best interests if you slept in your own quarters."

"Agreed." The captain nodded and wearily exited sickbay.



"Let him out!" Marty yelled again, grabbing Ron under the knees and flinging his legs to the side.

The other boys pulled the lid away from the hole and grabbed Charlie's legs and pulled him out. They all stood over their friend's still body, face down on the ground.

"Is he dead?" Brendan asked.

Marty turned little Charlie over and his eyes were shut. Marty leaned down and listened to
Charlie's chest.

"He's breathing." Marty announced.

"The little baby just passed out." Ron said, trying not to show the others he was just as worried as they were.

Charlie started to stir and opened his eyes. He looked around at the other boys.

"What happened?" Charlie asked.

"You hyperventilated, you little baby." Ron said. "But that's okay. You did it. I guess that counts for somethin'. Guess you're not chicken. I gotta get home. See ya guys at school."

Marty helped Charlie sit up and they all watched as Ron headed off through the woods. Charlie's face was scrunched up with anger. Some of it at Ron for what he'd done, but most of it at himself for letting his fear of the dark get the better of him.


TO BE CONTINUED

----------