Author's Note:

I wanted to work on a sequel to "The Courage to Heal", but this one jumped out at me and, well, here it is. I want to thank LoyautleMeLie, who is always so willing to help out as my beta reader and a special thanks for all her ideas and contributions. I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Enterprise, I am only borrowing them for entertainment purposes. No money has been made from this story.


Chapter One

Enterprise had been contacted by Starfleet Admiral Gardner about an interspecies conference to be held on a planet known as Sorazons, located some 20 light years beyond Coridian and Tellar. He had directed Captain Jonathan Archer to put together a team of his sharpest crewmen and officers from Enterprise to represent United Earth at this very important conference.

The captain had learned from previous away missions that it was never a good idea to send all of his senior officers away at the same time, so he had adopted a practice of alternating them depending on the need. Since T'Pol had seemingly always objected to his choices anyway, and was already a trained and experienced diplomat, he had dumped the project on her.

She had offered out the opportunity to any interested and senior enough volunteer, but had been met with a myriad of excuses from various people. She'd heard everything from 'I'm too bogged down with a backlog of work', to people complaining that they had gone to the last conference and it was only fair that someone else attend, to others feigning sickness. But both she and the captain had a good idea why no one wanted to attend the conference. For one thing, Sorazons was not especially known as an ideal place to visit due to its unpredictable weather patterns. Next, the attendees were going to have to make a detailed report to Starfleet in the form of a video that would be aired back home, and no one really wanted to be bothered with that. Then, a lot of people just found conferences boring and didn't want to spend a whole week listening to lectures, 'skinning and grinning' with other folks and being on their best behavior in front of reporters.

After not being able to obtain volunteers and having her invitations to attend turned down, T'Pol hand-picked the team. In the end it was headed by Malcolm Reed, a senior officer who had never attended a single conference in the four years he had been on the ship. Anna Hess, Trip's second, who had likewise never attended even an engineering conference, was also selected. Her senior officer Commander Tucker thought it would be a great opportunity for her, as well as for crewperson Austin Maddox, also an engineer. Doctor Phlox had regularly attended conferences, so he had suggested Liz Cutler to attend for medical. The rest of the team consisted of the Beta shift comm officer Bella Jhamon, the Gamma shift helmsman Arwan Tybrie, and lastly Armoury crewman Nyla Watson and Ezra Seals, an exo-biologist who would attend from T'Pol's science team. The captain was pleased with this group and quickly signed off on his first officer's selections.

Malcolm was beside himself. He had no diplomatic skills whatsoever and absolutely no interest in attending conferences. He thought it was a total waste of time, but since he was the senior most officer attending, he had been given the talk by both Archer and T'Pol about keeping an eye on the younger crewpersons, ensuring that they didn't get into any potentially compromising situations that would embarrass the captain or Starfleet, and being in charge of the video.

The day before the team was to depart for the conference, he took the opportunity to blow off some steam about it.

Malcolm's Quarters

0900

"I cannot believe I'll be wasting almost two weeks to attend this bloody, so-called, 'intellectual com-fab of the year'!" he spat as he threw clothes onto the bed beside his duffel. "Three days there, six days of conferencing, and three days back!"

Trip laughed as he took his junior's desk chair, turned it around and straddled it. "Malcolm, c'mon," he grinned. "Think about it like a vacation. These things can be kinda fun you know. There's usually a lot to do in the evenings. Hikin', climbin', night clubbin', trying out the local restaurants."

"That's easy for you to say Mr. Tuckah! You're not going!"

"I've been to my share," Trip replied. "And I usually came away with somethin' new and innovative, and had some fun too."

"I'm sure you did, mate," Malcolm scowled, turning around to face his friend. "But then you actually enjoy poodle-faking at parties! Besides, I won't have time for anything 'fun'! I'm babysitting six junior officers and crewmen, consisting of Cutler – known for partying, Tybrie – for womanizing, and Jhamon – for drinking! I won't be able to let that lot out of my sight for two minutes!"

"Lighten up will ya, Mal," Trip chuckled. "You've got Anna who's level headed and not gonna let anybody step out of line, one of your own team members, and Seals who's as straight as an arrow – almost as much so as T'Pol. Besides, it'll be good to let the young folks let off some steam. It'll be okay, trust me."

Malcolm glared at him. "Trust you, off the ship, with hardly anyone else around? I seem to recall the last team to attend a conference. The one held on Draylax last year. It consisted of several other crewpersons, you, Hoshi, Chang, Phlox, Travis and T'Pol, if I'm not mistaken. Let's see, you and T'Pol attending a conference together with hotel rooms on the same floor. Enough said!"

"Are you insinuatin' that we somehow acted inappropriately at that conference?" Trip asked, trying to sound insulted but not succeeding very well, considering the size of the grin that was trying to break out over his face at the memory.

"Well, I was told that the two of you were nowhere to be found for most of the bloody thing!"

Trip pretended offended outrage. "Who you gonna believe, me or a couple of gossips, namely Hoshi and Phlox?"

Malcolm huffed derision and turned back around to his packing.

"I say make the best of it, Mal. I know, making that video will likely be a pain, but since you're in charge of the team you can assign someone else the task of puttin' that thing together. Liz is a go-getter, she could do it, and I hear Bella is pretty creative. Plus, Anna is pretty good at gettin' folks to do things they don't wanna do, and enjoyin' it to boot!"

"I suppose you're right on that account," the lieutenant conceded, sighing. "I certainly will plan to dump that particular little project in someone else's lap,"

Trip chuckled again. "And think about it," he continued. "You're gonna get to hear about all the latest technology in weapons upgrades. Remember, most of these folks are our allies and others are bucking to join the alliance, so there'll be a mutual sharing of ideas. And, you'll get to see a whole new weapons exhibit. Several inventors are gonna be showcasing their wares tryna get various governments to give their stuff a try."

"New weaponry?" the Brit asked, showing a hint of interest for the first time.

"Didn't you read the conference brochures?"

"No," Malcolm admitted. "But perhaps there will be an opportunity to get some ideas on upgrades for the armory. That might be beneficial."

"There you have it!"

Trip was about to continue the attempt to reconcile his friend to his grisly fate when suddenly the comm sounded.

"Go ahead." Malcolm was still packing and nodded permission for him to respond on his behalf.

"Is Commander Tucker with you sir?" the on-duty comm officer asked, evidently not having realized it wasn't someone with a distinctively English accent who'd answered.

"Yes, I am. Whadda ya need?"

"Dr. Phlox asked me to locate you, sir. He's requesting to see you in Sickbay right away."

"I'll be there in a minute," Trip replied, rising.

"I'll let the doctor know, Commander," then she cut the communication.

"Sickbay. Wonder what's up? But I guess I better get down there." Trip headed for the door, where he paused. "Remember, make the best of the situation. You may just learn something and if you'd just dare lighten up a bit, you might even have a little fun."

Malcom just waved Trip irritably away as the engineer grinned and exited.

The Next Morning.

0800

Malcolm had just finished going over a check of Shuttlepod Two with Travis as the other participants loaded their bags into it. After the original pod had been damaged beyond repair a year ago, the ship had been refitted with a larger one, and this could comfortably transport up to ten people and still allow room to move around. It even had four sleeping units in the walls at the back of the vessel, along with a small bathroom equipped with a sonic shower head. It was therefore ideal for longer trips or larger groups of passengers.

From the pilot's seat he'd be occupying for most of the trip, Malcolm looked around at the chirpy and excited young group eddying around the pod, his heart already sinking; he'd tried to have a better attitude about the whole thing but it just wasn't working. He felt like the coach driver on a school trip trying to marshal a bunch of giddy schoolchildren without a teacher.

Then he noticed that Hess had not shown up. It wasn't like her to be late.

Great start, he thought, scowling.

"I am so excited!" Liz beamed as she handed her bag up to Arwan. "My first medical conference! I can hardly wait to meet all those other species, to sample the exotic foods and to find out what other folks are doing on other worlds in the medical field!"

Malcolm just gave her a Look. "Bring it down a thousand, Crewman," he said crushingly. "It's a conference, not a bloody pleasure cruise."

"Oooh, who rained on your parade, sir?" she replied cheekily. "I'm guessing someone doesn't want to attend this gathering."

"I didn't say anything of the kind." He turned to check the flight log was programmed and ready for use. "I am looking so very forward to it."

Liz laughed a little. "No disrespect intended, sir, but you coulda fooled me!"

Arguing would have been undignified, so he changed the subject. "By the way, where is our illustrious representative from engineering? I have an assignment for her."

Almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, Trip arrived in the launch bay, carrying a couple of duffel bags.

"What are you doing?" Malcolm asked as the visibly irritated engineer approached the craft. "Where's Lieutenant Hess?"

Trip flung his bags into the vessel, climbed aboard and turned to face him. "Injured," he replied. "That call last night, that was about Anna. Seems she'd had an accident last night and got herself a second degree plasma burn. She also sprained her ankle and broke her wrist. Phlox has taken her off duty for three days and nixed her travel plans!"

"So, you're gonna be joining us then?" Liz asked, clasping her hands together in front of her and sounding downright giddy.

"I tried to send Rostov in her place," Trip said, clearly unhappy about this development. "But the Captain said there weren't enough senior officers on the team without Anna; said you could use the help! So, he drafted me to take her place!"

"So who's in charge of engineering? Austin asked, moving to sit beside Liz, who'd darted into the pod to nab the seat she wanted.

"Rostov!" Trip said on a note of indignation. "Not that he isn't a fine officer, but I'd prefer to be on the ship the first time Mike's put in charge of my engines."

Austin and the other crewmembers looked at one another and held back their snickers.

"Well, I wish Hess a speedy recovery and Rostov great success," Malcolm stated, trying to conceal his internal glee that Trip had been landed in the soup right alongside him. "Make the best of it Commander. You'll probably learn something and have a little fun as well." He allowed himself a small, smug grin, handing Trip the PADD he was holding. "And since you are now the senior officer on board, you can take over as the team leader for this little venture."

"Oh no you don't, Lieutenant!" Trip shoved the PADD right back to him. "Nothin' doin'! You are still the man in charge of keepin' an eye on a bunch of greenhorn officers and crewpersons!"

"Hey!" Liz said with rather spurious indignation, crossing her arms in front of her.

"No offense, Liz," the engineer said, glancing at the young medical assistant with a grin. "But I been there and done that one. The captain appointed you that job, Mr. Reed, and I ain't about to countermand his order."

"Fine!" Malcolm replied, as aware as his friend was that as the senior officer in the party Trip would be held ultimately responsible if something went seriously wrong, no matter who was nominally in charge. "But I have a special assignment for you, Commander. You can be in charge of the bloody video for the media release. I was going to give the job to Hess, but since you're taking her place, you can do it instead."

Trip glared at him for a moment, then rolled his eyes. "Whatever!" he spat.

"Can we get this show on the road, sirs?" Ezra asked with a grin, as he stood in the doorway, clearly also excited about the trip.

"Yeah," Bella said, popping her head around her crewmate from outside the pod to beam at her temporary CO. "Ooh, sir, can I sit up front?"

Malcolm made an exasperated sound, irked equally by the junior officers' enthusiasm and Trip's crankiness. But it was past time they were leaving Enterprise, so he gestured for everyone to board the shuttle.

"I have a feeling this is going to be a very long trip," he muttered to himself as Travis quitted the navigator's station with a sympathetic grin and left him to Bella's excitable company. "A very long trip indeed!"

He had no idea.