Chapter Four: Murphy's Law

Hoshi Sato stalked down the corridor from the turbolift. Ordinarily she greeted people in the hallway as she traversed the ship, but today people seemed to be getting out of her way. It probably had something to do with the way her shift had gone, or possibly her body language and the way she was biting people's heads off left and right.

Although she'd had a rocky start here on the Enterprise, she was more than adept now at dealing with the trials and tribulations of spaceflight. Then again, even the finest officer can have a rough shift, and today was the roughest she'd had in a very long time.

It had begun with an irritated communiqué from Starfleet Command demanding to know why they hadn't been answering hails. The Enterprise had been studying some unique – if apparently harmless – radiation emitted from a not-too-distant nebula; she wasn't entirely sure why it had gone undetected, but the radiation affected their long-distance subspace equipment and rendered them deaf, dumb and blind for everything further than a few light-years away … in short, rendering them a complete blackout zone for Starfleet Command.

Dealing with the irate communications officer at Fleet who refused to listen to reason had taken her all of twenty minutes before Captain Archer had wandered onto the Bridge that morning – admittedly she had started her shift a little early, but her own early morning arrival made her irritated when a couple of the other bridge crew (notably Captain Archer and Lieutenant Reed, of all people, who was usually so anal about punctuality the younger crewmen had had cause to mutter about phase pistols buried in his rectal cavity) turned up late.

If that hadn't been enough to start the day on the wrong foot, ten minutes after she'd given Admiral Forrest to Captain Archer in his ready room, a Vulcan exploratory vessel on its way back from somewhere – and running into the Vulcans returning from space humans hadn't explored was always at least mildly irksome, since the Vulcans had a habit of being infuriatingly superior about it … in control of their emotions her foot! - and they had wanted a progress report. Hoshi had informed them, of course, that the Enterprise was a Starfleet vessel, under human and not Vulcan jurisdiction. The Vulcan in charge of communications had answered sounding puzzled that the S'talha's sensors were picking up definite Vulcan life-signs aboard their ship. The resulting argument had degenerated from undiplomatic to downright tactless in less than a minute; the Subcommander's presence aboard, Hoshi had been only too glad to report, did not make the Enterprise's mission the business of the Vulcan High Command. The S'talha's communications officer eventually backed down from her extremely rude position, claiming that she and her ship had been in deep space for awhile and had been cut off from communications with the High Command for the past six months. Hoshi, glad that the incident was finally ending, hadn't pressed the point, but it had left her in a foul humor for the next misadventure that occurred an hour and a half later.

First contacts were still sketchy for Captain Archer and the rest of the crew; there was no real protocol that had been invented, and although the Vulcans recommended caution and avoidance of cultural contamination, there had still been very little progress in discerning what exactly that meant. Therefore, first contact with the Toshani left the entire crew on edge.

The Toshani were a delicate, fragile-looking race with huge blue eyes, thin lips and prehensile tongues, whose vessel imitated their small, delicate frames and was vaguely reminiscent of across between a boat and a treehouse made of bamboo, except that it was made of a metal alloy which T'pol had announced her unfamiliarity with.

They seemed friendly enough, except that they refused to impart definite information about anything. Hoshi, with the help of the universal translator – after a heart-stopping moment when the syntax had refused to align and the translation algorithm threatened to give up completely and peter out and leave her with a completely dead piece of equipment – had little trouble deciphering most of their language, although it would be some days before she would actually have anything resembling fluency in it – there were a lot of odd growly sounds that she had no name for yet in any specialized vocabulary, in addition to the more familiar glottal stops … and the spacing in between the words in a sentence evidently changed the meaning of every word in the sentence, so that if you had to stop for breath in the midst of a quick sentence for whatever reason you could end up saying something completely different from what you had meant to …

It was a fascinating adventure into exolinguistics, the kind of thing she'd signed up for, except that she had to do it under pressure with malfunctioning equipment after a morning that had already been hectic at best; paralyzed with fear against the idea of making any kind of mistake, she'd apologized so often to the Toshani vessel for her own beginning status at deciphering their tongue that she now got the feeling that they were trying not to laugh at her. The one sentence that she was pretty sure she had down in Toshani was "There is no need to apologize, young one," because she had heard it so damn many times in the past four hours.

Communications were at a standstill now because the Toshani were in their "sleep period" (ten hours a day, without fail, while their ship, escorting the Enterprise to their home planet so that Captain Archer and his exolinguist could open up proper diplomatic relations between their peoples).

She stormed into her quarters, feeling unsettled and wanting to break something or at least make a huge, totally unconstructive mess. She settled for sitting on her bed and brushing her hair with brisk, rough strokes.

"Dammit," she said. It didn't help, but she wasn't really expecting it to. She needed a better way to release frustration. Maybe she could talk to Lieutenant Reed or Subcommander T'pol about continuing her martial arts training …

She wasn't even given the chance to sit and sulk properly in private; there was someone at the door.

"Come in," she said, more out of habit than anything else; at this point she was more in the mood to break things than to socialize.

It was Travis. He was casual as he entered her quarters, even though he'd never been in them before as far as he could remember, and glanced around them as though taking notes for future reference. "Hi," he said. "Rough day?"

"You were there," she replied, sighing and leaning back on her palms. "You know."

"Yeah," he replied. "I didn't see everything – I had plenty to do at the helm – but I could tell you were taking the worst of it."

Hoshi's mouth quirked into a wry smile. "I guess my professional reserve isn't worth beans," she said.

"Nope," Travis said cheerfully. "You left the Bridge looking like you needed to beat the living daylights out of something, so I thought I'd come by and volunteer."

Hoshi glanced askance at him. "You want me to hit you?"

"Not especially, no," he replied, with a brief flash of his dazzling-white grin. "But you've been there for me when I needed you and I'm more equipped to be punching bag than shoulder to cry on."

Hoshi laughed in spite of herself – just a weary half-giggled sound. "Thanks," she said. "I think I'd rather not beat you up, though."

"All right," he said. "Well, if you don't need a punching bag, how about a dinner companion? You can rant at me all night about prehensile tongues."

The way he said it there was a double entendre in there, but she was too tired to sort through all the words in the sentence to find it. She smiled tiredly and said, "Thanks," again. And then she added, "All right. Blood sugar's probably got something to do with this mood."

By the time they reached the mess-hall, where Trip and Malcolm joined them, Hoshi hadn't completely forgotten about her horrific shift, but it was, at least, a thing that felt more like "yesterday" than "this morning" … he kept her entertained, kept her laughing, and made sure to use Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker as the butts of his jokes for the course of the evening out of consideration for her weakened defenses – the result of a very long day.

He was at his most charming all night, joking and laughing and telling stories; sometimes they flirted, sometimes they didn't, but that was the same as it always was between the two of them.

And as they walked together back toward her quarters, ostensibly because Travis wanted to finish telling her his ghost story about the wheezing gentleman and the rocking chair, a thought struck her. She waited until the finish of his terrifying tale – not up to his usual standard, but maybe she hadn't been listening properly – and then she decided, what the hell? Why not ask if she wasn't sure?

"Travis," Hoshi said, "was that your idea of asking a girl out to dinner?"

Travis smiled slyly at her. "Nah," he said. "Hoshi, when we go on a date, I promise you you'll know."

She blinked at him. "I will?"

He nodded, completely self-assured. "Yep," he said.

"How?"

He raised his eyebrows at her, his expression completely earnest, although a smile glinted in his eyes. "You'll be completely swept off your feet," he said.

Hoshi couldn't help but laugh. "You're outrageous, Travis Mayweather."

"I don't see you outraged, Hoshi Sato," he replied. "See you tomorrow." Then he put his hands in the pockets of his uniform coverall and strolled down the corridor in the direction of his own quarters, whistling.

She watched him go for awhile, wondering idly what to make of that.

"Swept off my feet, huh?"

No … they were playing, just like they always were. He was just getting over Ensign Cutler. There was nothing doing there, she was grasping at straws that weren't there just because he was her good friend and he was handsome and charming.

But she waited until she could no longer hear his cheery whistling and the click of his feet against the metal floor before she turned and went back into her quarters.