© Copyrighted 2003 All rights reserved.
THE ROAD TO REDEMPTION IS THE LONGEST ROAD IN THE WORLD
Disclaimer: Paramount Owns Enterprise and all of its crew. The cast of Enterprise owns the wonderful interpretation of these characters. The fun of writing this story about these characters is owned by me and is no way intended to infringe on any of these rights and is done without payment or profit on my part.
Rating: PG due to angst. This is non-slash
Thank you to all who have sent reviews
The road to hell is paved by good intentions
Came to mind as Trip adjusted the screw on the panel in front of him.
"God, ain't that the truth," he said out loud.
The silence of the jeffries tube maintenance shaft didn't answer. This was the quietest time to work in engineering, midnight shift, when no one but a skeleton crew was on duty.
The midnight crew knew their jobs and pretty much kept busy without having to bother him. It gave Trip plenty of time to reflect on his part in the death of the Vissian cogenitor and how he had failed his captain and friend.
It's my fault and now she's dead because of me . . .
It hurt thinking about it, but even more painful was remembering Jon turning his back on him that last evening two weeks ago, after telling Trip the news of the cogenitor's suicide and chewing his sorry ass out.
Archer turning away and dismissing him meant more than was said, implying that Jon couldn't even bear to look at Trip. When he tried to get Archer's attention all, he got, was ignored. At that point there was nothing left to say and Trip had no other choice but to leave.
He had staggered down the hall feeling like his insides were ripping apart as the enormity of what he'd done and what it had caused finally hit him. His heart started racing and he couldn't get his breath.
At one point, he had to lean against the wall for support.
The captain's word's, "Damn right it's your fault!" kept echoing in his head.
If Jon had used a fist to punch Trip in the chest over the heart, it couldn't have hurt more.
The anguish he felt threatened to overwhelm him as Trip fought to catch his breath and hold back his emotions. He slowly made his way to his quarters hoping to find a safe haven. Once inside its walls he lay back on his bed and stared at the ceiling, his eyes filled and tears slowly slid down his cheeks.
It's my fault, kept going through his head, the cogenitor is dead and it's my fault . . .
What have I done? ....
Bad enough you lose the captain's trust, but your best friend can't stand you either.
Bet Jon wishes now that he let me die in that desert . . .
That last thought added even more pain and Trip wiped the fresh tears from his face with the back of his hand.
God, what'm I gonna do? He couldn't bear the thought of facing Jon again.
He couldn't sleep. His heart kept racing and the incident kept playing thru his mind including the scene with the captain. Trip finally sat up and covering his face with his hands, all the hurt came at once. Filled with remorse, he sobbed for what seemed like forever . . .
Later, when he was finally able to regain control over his emotions, he got up and went to the head.
Turning on the light, he threw water on his face and looked in the mirror at the haunted and pale face starring back. Taking a deep breath, he decided what he needed to do and went to fetch a clean uniform.
On his way to engineering, he stopped in the mess hall and got himself a large black coffee. Thankfully, there was no one here at this time of night; normal day shift crewmen were in their cabins sleeping not walking the halls like a dead man.
When he arrived at engineering, the midnight supervisor asked him if he needed anything, but Trip waved him off and said he had some things to finish.
Trip had been relieved that the supervisor let it drop for he didn't want to make excuses for his being there so far ahead of his shift, but in truth it was the only place he felt comfortable. The constant drum of the engines was soothing and like his quarters, it was a safe haven, away from everything and everyone. The pain and hurt were still hidden deep inside, but being here made it a little easier to bear.
It was going on two weeks now and appearing in engineering late at night when he couldn't sleep, became part of his day. Double shifts were helping him keep back the hurt and avoid seeing the captain.
He knew he looked awful, hell, he felt awful, but the sorrow just wouldn't go away. It was an ache in his heart as well as his head something that seemed to never end. It was relentless, no rest from it day or night . . .
Now I know what people meant when they talked about heartache . . .
Working was the only way he knew how to control it and push the guilt back away from the present. He was exhausted, but the coffee kept him awake. Drinking so much of it played havoc with his stomach, but he couldn't work without the stimulant and found himself drinking more of it every day just trying to stay focused.
Every morning Trip's day crew came in, read the assignment's roster that he had posted for them during the night, and went right to work. They didn't need to bother him, so he spared himself the stares and questions of "Are you all right, Sir?"
They were worried about him and would do anything he asked, but right now, he needed to find peace and it just wasn't coming.
Working on the engines seemed to make it a little better, but it wasn't the answer he so desperately wanted. Somehow he would find it though, he knew it would come to him. Somehow, the hurt would end . . .
His plan now was to be the consummate Chief Engineer putting the ship in top shape and at the same time providing an excuse for not being around people, whose stares and pity would break him and all his barriers down for sure.
All in all, it was working out. The afternoon following his scene with the captain, he had told T'Pol he was busy in engineering doing the adjustments on the warp engines and wouldn't be at the captain's mess for dinner.
A similar excuse was given the next night, but after that, he told her to tell the chef he wouldn't be there for the rest of the week. This way he knew Archer wouldn't have to be uncomfortable with him there and Trip wouldn't have to face him.
Somewhere inside though, he had secretly wanted Archer to call and ask him to join them for dinner hour or maybe just a call asking him to come and talk . . .but the call never came and that fact alone proved what Trip already knew,
Jon despises me for what I have done . . .
Now he had to live with the fact that he had caused the death of a living being and killed his friendship with Jon as well.
How he hated himself for what he had done and his self loathing would never stop because of those losses, all that was left inside was the hurt and remorse of what he had caused.
Opening another panel, he started to work on it. They had come across a nebula yesterday that T'Pol had wanted to observe for a few days. She had called down from the bridge to tell him so that he could take down some of the systems and do the maintenance on them.
Normally Archer would have called him and they would have had their daily chat that use to be a continuous ritual, but no longer. Jon now did all his communicating with Trip thru T'Pol.
That must have caused gossip on the bridge
He wondered how many people knew about the break in their friendship.
Trip hadn't been on the bridge in more than two weeks. He'd been careful to only eat late at night when chances of running into any of the bridge day crew were very slim.
In fact, he had avoided everyone with the exception of T'Pol who had come into the mess hall late one night for a cup of tea.
Trip knew she saw him, but he looked away as he exited the mess with his cup of coffee. She had merely stared at him as he left.
After that, he found himself skipping meals entirely and only eating when his head started to pound from a headache and his stomach burned in protest from too much coffee and the lack of food.
Fortunately, no one else had run into him and when Malcolm called to ask him if he was coming to movie night, Trip used the same excuse that he had given T'Pol.
"Sorry, Malcolm, I have a lot of work that needs doing before we leave the nebula. I'll catch ya next time."
Malcolm had accepted his answer and said nothing, too much the gentleman, but Trip could sense that the armory officer knew he was lying.
Right now, he had the long distance sensors off line so he could work on them. Since they were in essence parked in space observing the anomaly there was no need for them, so he could finally do the repair work that was so badly needed.
He sighed to himself as he opened another panel. The next one was 20 ft up the ladder and you had to be a monkey to reach it, so he left that one for last.
Maybe even call it a night and go to bed.
His body was telling him that he needed rest, and he certainly didn't want to make any errors in his work.
There were more than 80 people on this ship that counted on him to keep Enterprise running smoothly and safely. It was the only thing he had left, the only thing he hadn't destroyed, his reputation as an expert engineer and even Jon couldn't take that away.
When he thought of the captain, he became angry at the loss of their friendship, then other times he waddled in self pity at the way he'd been treated, but underneath Trip knew he had done it all to himself . . .
There was no one else to blame . . .
He double-checked his work using the scanning device he held in one hand to see if the repaired unit worked. It took a minute to run the diagnostics, and then the scanner beeped. Trip put it back in his pocket and proceeded to close the unit. Moving onto the dreaded climb to the last unit 20 feet up . . . He decided to finish the job, no sense putting it off, he could always sleep later. Nelson, his day supervisor, could cover for him while he got his usual four hours of sleep.
He rubbed his eyes as exhaustion was trying to claim him, but nightmares always came back to haunt him whenever he slept. They always ended in the same scene of Jon turning his back on him.
God, how that had hurt, more than anything else Jon could have done
After waking from a nightmare, it was always easier to get up and go back to work then try and go back to sleep that never came. There was no peace in trying to sleep, only in work, or so he thought . . .
T'Pol was in her cabin reviewing her findings on the nebula from the day's observance. She started to think about the past two weeks events that had followed the ill-fated meeting with the Vissians.
That first night after the Vissian Captain had called, T'Pol had received the message in her quarters from Commander Tucker asking her to tell Chef that he wouldn't be at dinner.
At first, she thought nothing of it and had done as instructed. She arrived early for dinner and was seated at the table when the captain arrived. He had greeted her and after a quick glance around the room, seemed relieved as he sat.
"Commander Tucker won't be joining us. He has maintenance to do on the warp core." T'Pol said it matter of fact, but noticed the instant change in the captain's eyes and in his manner.
It was as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He proceeded to make small talk, never mentioning the Vissian incident or for that matter, Commander Tucker.
It was several days later that she realized something must have happened to the two men's relationship and when Archer asked her to do all the calls to engineering from the bridge, it spoke volumes of the rift between them.
She said nothing, but was disturbed when the following week she saw the commander coming out of the mess in the early am. He looked gaunt and pale with dark circles under his eyes. T'Pol knew he had seen her, but he just kept walking. She stopped for a moment wanting to speak to him, but he avoided her and hurried thru the mess doors.
T'Pol decided then that she would speak to the doctor. Someone whom she thought would be the best person to give her advice on what to do about the situation with Commander Tucker and the captain.
Her understanding of humans seemed too limited to try and approach this without help from someone that might understand human behavior.
The following morning before her shift, she approached Dr. Phlox and explained the situation. He told her that he had heard rumors about the two, and that he had seen Commander Tucker twice in the sickbay looking for sleeping pills in the last two weeks. The first time he hadn't given the request much thought, but the second time he saw him, the commander looked exhausted and very depressed, definitely not his usual perky self.
Phlox was concerned, as he liked the engineer and his welfare was also his responsibility.
" I think, Sub Commander, that I would tell the captain, let him know what's happening, after all, they are friends," he said it in a kindly way as always. The Denobulan Doctor always seemed jovial, but this time he added seriously, "The captain will know how to deal with Mr. Tucker."
T'Pol listened, but this time she didn't agree, it seemed the two men were at odds with each other and neither one would give an inch.
How childish the humans could be, to the point of self-destruction . . .
She remembered how angry the captain had been when the Vissian Captain had called him. Archer never told her what he said to the commander, but after that day nothing had been the same between the two men.
The realization that she missed the two men's easy dinner banter and Trip's teasing, disturbed her and made her question as to why.
Trip had never said anything to hurt her, only to tease. Sometimes she answered him with a retort that made even the captain smile.
Sparing verbally lightened her spirit at the end of each day and she knew the two men enjoyed doing it as well. All of that had ended when Trip no longer came to the captain's mess.
T'Pol wasn't sure how to approach the problem and decided the best action would be straight forward and to the point as if Commander Tucker was just another member of the crew. Thanking the doctor, she left.
On her way to the bridge T'Pol came to the decision to speak to the captain that evening at dinner, and just spend the day watching the nebula and getting her science readings, this way they could have the privacy that was needed to discuss Commander Tucker.
During the early part of her shift, the commander called up to the bridge to say that long distance scanners would be back within the hour, and then quickly signed off. T'Pol informed the captain about the repairs.
Archer just nodded and continued to peruse the reports on the pad in front of him. He seemed very quiet as he scanned thru the pages.
T'Pol observed how his personality also had changed since the incident with the Vissians. He seemed far more serious and moody. Gone was the easygoing manner that he had whenever Trip was on the bridge and the two men exchanged gibes with each other and the rest of the bridge crew.
Looking around the bridge, she noticed that everyone was quietly doing their jobs with very little conversation. Hardly anyone talked anymore.
She turned her attention back to the scanners,
Humans were a study in emotions and none of them ever acted logically . . .
Trip was already up the ladder and had all the panels open along the way when he realized he hadn't brought a safety harness for working this high up. Normally there would be a platform, but Enterprise had left on her mission before everything could be installed, Too tired to go all the way down again and out to the work area, he decided to wing it.
Hell, I'll be done in the time it would take to fetch it
While he adjusted the settings, he precariously balanced himself with one hand holding the diagnostic reader and using his other to type in the information to check the readings.
The work was almost done and the thought of putting his aching head down on a soft pillow was looking better each minute.
His heart still raced from the caffeine overdose that six cups of coffee provided and he knew he was very near exhaustion and needed to sleep, if only for a short period of time.
It was thirty minutes later while doing the last diagnostic, when something shook the ship hard and he felt himself swinging away from the ladder. Before he could react, another blow struck the side of the ship and he lost his balance and fell backwards, unable to reach for a hold anywhere.
As he fell, he struck the panel doors that he had left open and when he hit the third one he felt something snap, then a pain deep inside. Blackness claimed him when he finally landed on the floor below.
He lie in a heap at the foot of the ladder like a discarded broken doll . . .
No one had been prepared for the asteroids that struck the ship, but Lt Reed was the first to recover and had polarized the hull as best he could. Many of the systems were down due to the level of damage received on the starboard side of the ship.
Archer recovered quickly as well and by looking over the shoulder of his tactical officer at the ship's displays, he knew the major damage was concentrated on the narcelles and the engineering deck levels.
He hit the comm.,
It was a few moments before the supervisor on duty, Lt Nelson, answered and gave him status on the areas hit and damaged. Archer never asked why Trip hadn't answered. He turned to his science officer.
"T'Pol, any casualties?" he asked.
"It's widespread. Most decks are reporting superficial injuries, no fatalities."
Archer drew a breath. There was that at least.
"Ok, people, let's assess the damage and get it cleaned up. T'Pol, Lt Reed, in my ready room, we need to go over the repairs needed."
T'Pol arose and followed the two men into the room.
Lt Nelson was frantic, the chief wasn't answering his comm and he knew Commander Tucker was somewhere near the damaged area. Nelson sent two teams to search for him.
It took 20 minutes, but they found him at the bottom of the maintenance shaft near the area that had been hit the hardest.
The commander was gently lifted onto a gurney by two engineers and rushed off to sickbay while the rest of the engineering team tried to repair the massive damage. One of the narcelles had taken a direct hit.
God, what a mess, Nelson thought. Commander Tucker isn't going to be happy when he sees all this work.
The ship wouldn't be going anywhere for a while without major repairs. He'd have to call the bridge and tell the captain the engines were offline till further notice and until the rupture near the core could be fixed, there would be no power.
Trip awoke to what seemed like voices surrounding him and very bright light that hurt his eyes, so he closed them again blocking out the offending brightness.
His headache seemed to have gotten worse and his whole body hurt. He was trying to make sense of why this was so when he started to remember . . . falling . . .
Oh, God . . .
He tried sitting up, but cried out as a red haze washed over his eyes and he fell back on the bed. Dizziness swept over him from the searing pain, causing him to almost pass out again.
A strong hand was placed on his shoulder holding him down and the soft voice of Dr. Phlox spoke to him from somewhere above him.
"Easy Commander, you have some injuries that I need to fix before you go anywhere."
Trip opened his eyes again and saw the Doctor smiling down at him.
"What happened?" he managed to whisper, it was hard to breathe and his throat was dry.
"If my information is correct, you decided to fall down a maintenance shaft in engineering instead of using the ladder. In doing so, you managed to crack two ribs, and break one as well. Also," he paused for effect, "You have a concussion . . . Does that answer your question?" He smiled in that funny way he had, as if he had made a great joke.
How Trip hated seeing that smile again, he had seen it too many times when he landed in sickbay for injuries.
Frustrated, he closed his eyes and groaned,
"That's not what I was asking, Doc. The ship, what happened?" He had to stop and catch his breath; it hurt too much to talk.
"Ahhh, yes, well it seems we were hit by several stray asteroids. You just happened to be in the right spot at the right time to be caught up in the damage . . . I don't know how you manage that. You must tell me sometime."
Phlox didn't wait for an answer and started to unwind a bandage to wrap the commander's ribs. Leaning over he gave Trip a hypo spray shot for the pain since this would definitely hurt.
Trip was too exhausted to argue and found himself drifting off as the Doctor worked. The sedative masking the pain and making his brain fuzzy.
Phlox had already repaired the broken rib before the commander had first awoken, but he held off on the head wound as he had other patients that had broken bones that needed to be set.
There was a large gash and a bruise above Trip's right eye. Phlox used the healer on them till all that was left was a small scar and a black and blue mark.
I marvel that this man hasn't been killed yet,
Phlox thought to himself as he remembered the numerous times the engineer had been either carried or sent to sickbay in the past two years.
As he worked, he noticed how thin the engineer had become since his last physical.
He must have dropped 15 pounds since his ribs were practically showing.
The dark circles under his eyes were not a good sign either and told the Doctor the man hadn't been sleeping well.
Maybe I should speak to the captain. I'm sure he would be upset to see Mr. Tucker in this condition.
Then he remembered that T'Pol had said she would take care of the problem and decided to wait till he spoke with her.
After finishing the wrapping and checking on Trip once more, he left to assist other patients that had just come through the door with various injuries.
Trip woke up a short while later, after the light sedative wore off. Phlox hadn't used a stronger one due to the concussion the engineer had sustained in the fall.
After waiting a few minutes to be sure he was ready, he sat up. It was painful, and he was very stiff, but he managed. The Doctor was well across the room attending to other crewmen and Trip saw his chance to leave.
Swinging his legs over the bedside, he managed to slowly stand. His head swam for a moment, but then he was able to make his way to the door.
It had been left open to allow patients easy access, so he quietly left and headed back to engineering where he was needed.
Archer sat at his ready room table and listened to all the reports that his two officers read to him. He hadn't asked for Trip to join them since engineering had sent up its reports and their Chief Engineer would be needed there more. Major work would have to be done on the engines and they would be offline for at least 24 hours.
Reed knew how hard Trip had been working. All of the armory officer's messages went unanswered that he had left on the commander's comm in his quarters.
"Trip isn't going to be happy after spending the last two weeks fixing systems, only to see more items added to his list," Lt Reed mentioned as he read the report.
Archers' head snapped up at the comment, "Well, he'll get over it. We need the engines back online."
He said it with such force that even T'Pol, as well as Reed looked at him strangely.
Jon realized he was being unfair. He still wasn't happy with Trip and was glad the engineer had been avoiding him the last few weeks. Up till now, he still wasn't able to work through his anger at Trip for the trouble he had caused.
The captain was aware that the engineering reports from the past two weeks were all signed off by Trip. The different hours when the entries were made reflected just what long hours the Chief Engineer must have worked.
Trip had literally been living in engineering, and as far as Archer was concerned, it was a good place for him to stay. In truth, he really hadn't wanted to see the man because of all that had happened due to the engineer's meddling.
It was something Archer had to deal with and right now was not the time.
T'Pol spoke up, " I'm afraid we have another problem, sensors show there is a larger group of asteroids heading our way and unless we get the engines back online, we will be right in their path in two days time. Our shields will not protect us against this size of bombardment. The ones that hit us today were just on the outer fringes."
Archer bent his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his fingers. A headache was starting again, and the stress was making it work its way from the back of his head to his eyes.
"Great, just great!"
He looked up again, "Ok, T'Pol check with engineering, see what can be done about getting us back online faster and out of here. Tell Trip to have his crews stay on it, even if it means double or triple shifts. Reed, see if maybe we can somehow protect the ship with weaponry if we can't get engines back online in time. Give me a report in two hours. Dismissed."
The two officers rose from their seats. T'Pol wanted to say something more about Commander Tucker, but seeing the captain rubbing the bridge of his nose again told her this was not the time. She slowly turned and followed Reed out the door.
Nelson in engineering was surprised when his Chief walked through the door. Trip appeared a little worse for wear and walked rather slowly, but otherwise seemed intact.
When they had carried him out to sickbay earlier, his face had been covered in blood and everyone had feared the worse.
"I'll need a report, Nelson. What systems are ya working on?" Trip kept it short and to the point since he found himself breathless after the long walk from sickbay.
Nelson relieved that the commander was back, filled him in quickly and then left to help out the crews.
Trip went to his desk chair and practically fell into it. His side was killing him now along with a headache that was pounding his skull with a sledgehammer.
God, he was so tired . . . What I wouldn't give to just lay my head down right now and never wake up . . .
The comm chirped. "Now what!" he barked at it, before slowly stretching to reach across his desk to the comm button.
Bad move. It hurt like hell.
He tried to take a breath before answering, "Engineering," It came out as a breathless whisper.
There was a pause, "Commander?"
It was T'Pol. "Yeah," he replied in what was an attempt at a normal tone.
"Are you all right?" she asked wondering why his voice sounded so weak.
Normally Trip would tease her for asking, concern being an emotion, but he didn't have the strength or the interest right now to get into a discussion with the Sub Commander.
"Just had to run for the comm, T'Pol," he hoped she would drop it and get on with her request.
She paused a moment, then proceeded to run down the list of what the captain had asked. Trip listened to the orders and decided to post it immediately. This way the crews could work it out amongst themselves as to who would do double shifts.
"Ok, T'Pol. Tell the capt'n we're already on it." His voice was better, but he hoped she wouldn't try to carry on a conversation and was gratified when the comm clicked off.
Trip picked up the report on his desk about the injuries sustained by his engineering personnel. It was ready to be forwarded to the bridge. When he read it and came to his name, he erased it.
Now was not the time for him to be taken off duty and he certainly didn't need a lecture from the captain on safety.
Then he sent the report with the rest of the names up thru his link to the bridge.
Wearily he arose from the chair and headed to the warp engines, Nelson would need help.
Reed spent the next two hours devising a way to use weaponry to destroy the asteroids before they could impact on the ship. He finally thought of an idea to take a plasma tank and upgrade the weaponry on a shuttle, making it possible to cross fire at the asteroids from two angles, using the phaser cannon as well as a shuttle's weapons.
A sustained amount of fire would allow them to at least break the asteroids into smaller pieces that the polarized hull would be able to deflect. It should work, but there was risk involved.
Mr. Tucker would be the person to ask, but first I have to contact the captain . . .
Archer agreed with Reed that the plan had merit and finally conceded to let him take it to the engineer.
"Just remember though, if we get the engines online first we won't need it, so don't keep Commander Tucker from doing his job."
"I won't, Sir, it's just that . . .Trip always seems to grasp things so fast and come up with better ideas than I had in the first place." Reed said it with great respect toward Trip.
Archer said nothing, but almost smiled begrudgingly. There was no denying the necessity and resourcefulness of their Chief Engineer. He needed Trip in engineering as well as helping Reed.
Later that evening at the captain's table, T'Pol pointed out something that made Jon stop and think about just where they'd be without Mr. Tucker.
"Captain, if I might bring something to your attention that I think you need to know," she waited.
Archer paused in putting a fork full of food into his mouth so he could answer her.
"Of course, Sub Commander," he assumed it was something to do with the repairs.
"A member of the crew is pushing themselves too hard to the point of exhaustion. I observed this crewmember in the mess hall late one night, long after their shift was through, drinking what I perceived to be coffee. The crewman looked haggard and very thin. Dr. Phlox has also brought this to my attention as well. He informed me that this crewman is using sleeping pills to get rest."
Archer was no fool. T'Pol wouldn't just talk about anyone.
"Is this about Commander Tucker?" he put down his fork annoyed that now even T'Pol was bringing this problem to his attention, when he had so easily pushed it aside for the time being.
She looked straight at him, "Yes, . . .He didn't look well."
Archer digested that for a moment, he found the thought of Trip ill unsettling both on a personal level as well as professional. Also surprising, was that T'Pol would even care about what happened to Commander Tucker as they were always such adversaries. It never ceased to amaze Jon that Trip had a way of making everyone like him no matter how hard they tried not to.
"Look, T'Pol," he softened his voice, "I know he's been working round the clock in engineering, but I need him there now more than ever. When we get the engines online and the ship away from here I'll speak to him about taking a rest."
T'Pol couldn't fault the captain on his logic, after all Commander Tucker was one of the builders of their warp engine and knew more than anyone on how to repair it. Now he was desperately needed in engineering to help with the repairs.
She nodded, and then proceeded again to eat her salad. The captain seemed agitated and maybe now just wasn't a good time to talk about it, after all, he was the captain and he was aware of Commander Tucker working double shifts.
She further convinced herself that it would only be another 12 hours and then the captain would handle the problem. Meantime, she too had a job to do as well. Someone had to monitor the asteroids and gage their size and velocity to help Lt. Reed get a workable plan together as a backup, incase the engines weren't online in time.
Archer continued to eat, but now he had to face the nagging doubts about what he had said, that maybe he had been too hard on Trip and had pushed him too far.
If he was ill from being overworked, then Archer as his captain, should talk to him to see what could be done . . . Truth was he missed Trip at dinner with his friendly banter and not having his friend to use as a sounding board had been very hard in the last few weeks.
It's like a part of me is missing . . .
Jon kept telling himself that what he had said to Trip that night was the right thing, but in Trip's case was it really?
Trip took things to heart and that was precisely why he had gotten into this mess in the first place, but had Jon been fair in blaming him for the cogenitor's death?
Archer refused to answer that question, using the excuse that as captain, his rules had to be obeyed, and interfering in others' cultures was not allowed no matter who you were.
But I've done it myself . . .
The realization hit him like a brick.
This was becoming harder to accept and Jon's war within himself over his handling of Trip had left him with a lot of soul searching and regrets in the past few weeks.
Suddenly his resolve to put it off almost crumbled then and there, and he wanted nothing more then to get up now and go talk to the engineer, but the coward in him wouldn't move. The fear of having to face his best friend was overwhelming and once more, he chose to wait, telling himself he'd do it first thing after this emergency was resolved.
There would be plenty of time then . . .
Trip looked like he was about to collapse when Reed found him in engineering, leaning against the warp core railing. The dark circles under the commander's eyes contrasted sharply with the man's fair complexion.
He looks exhausted and something in his eyes looks . . . haunted?
Reed didn't know what to think. He couldn't ever remember seeing the commander look so ghastly except in the shuttle that time when they both almost died. It was upsetting seeing him like this.
"Commander, you look awful!" Reed couldn't keep his voice from expressing his shock at his friend's appearance.
Trip just sighed. He'd been up more than 24 hours and he needed sleep desperately. If he didn't get some soon, he knew he would collapse, for his whole body now hurt from his head down to his toes.
"I know, Malcolm, but I'm a little busy right now. What do you need?"
Reed chose to push on, "I have some ideas I'd like to run past you, to see if a shuttle's weaponry could be boosted to a higher caliber Captain Archer wants another plan incase the engines aren't online in time." He hoped trip didn't take the latter part as criticism of his ability to get the engines repaired.
Trip listened as Reed explained the idea and the engineer found himself intrigued by the proposal.
He looked over the plans Reed had drawn and started to make suggestions. It helped to push away some of Trip's exhaustion and also piqued his brain to see if there was some way it could be done quickly.
Reed watched Trip, as the engineer read over the plans and notes attached. The Lt. marveled at the way this amiable officer could so quickly grasp things and come up with so many ideas, so fast. As Reed listened, it gave him a chance to scrutinize the engineer, and notice the bruise and scar on Trip's forehead and the breathless way he talked, as if he couldn't quite catch his breath.
"Are you all right, Commander?" Reed asked, when Trip suddenly stopped talking and put his hand on his chest while trying to catch his breath.
Trip took the hand away quickly when Reed asked him the question.
"Yeah, just a little accident, bruised my ribs that's all."
"Your head too, if I might add," Reed interjected with a slight smile.
"Naw, that's what I landed on," Trip tried to joke back and failed.
Reed wondered when this all took place. Maybe that was why his friend looked so bad.
"Maybe you need to take a rest?" the Lieutenant volunteered, "We can talk about this later."
Trip wanted so badly to say, yes, and take Reed's suggestion, but they were running out of time and things weren't progressing well. If he had calculated right, they would finish the repairs and be warming up the warp core just about the time the outer edge of the asteroid field hit them.
I can do this if I just put my head down for just an hour or so.
"How about you get us a couple cups of black coffee and bring me back a weapon schematic from the armory and we'll get to work on this?" Trip asked.
"Agreed, but only if you let me bring back a sandwich as well and you take a short nap while I'm gone." Malcolm was no fool; he could tell the commander was nearly ready to drop.
Trip knew when he was beaten, "Ok, but if I'm asleep, wake me up when you get back, this needs to be done right away, while I can still think!"
Reed nodded and left. Trip went back to his office, fell into his chair and wished he hadn't. A sharp flash of pain reminded him he had broken a rib earlier and it protested the abuse.
Finally, he brought up the shuttle schematic on his computer. His attention on the screen before him lasted all of five minutes before his eyes closed and he slowly fell forward onto his desk sound asleep.
Jonathan Archer read the reports from the engineering dept. Warp engines would be online in 6 hours, it would take 40 minutes of that time for them to warm up before they could engage even impulse power.
Reed had reported that headway had been made on his plan of using the weaponry to give them that last minute reprieve, at least until they could get underway and out of the direct path of the asteroids. He would get back to the captain in four hours, that's when he planned on having the shuttle pod finished.
It was going to be close and it all hinged on Trip and engineering and how fast they could finish.
T'Pol had informed Archer earlier that no one in engineering had left their post since the asteroids had disabled Enterprise.
Jonathan felt the Chief Engineer should be proud of his people, and down deep he knew it was definitely leadership by example, for Trip was still there, the reports coming in all had his signature on them.
Malcolm watched anxiously as Trip installed the last component in the auto pilot control that would allow the engineer to remotely fly and operate both the shuttle as well as its weaponry, from the shuttle launch control room. They had boosted the weapons to give them more power, in hopes of breaking up the massive asteroids that were heading for them. Even now, it would be cutting it close, as the first of the asteroids was within sensor range and the engines were still not online.
Trip methodically punched in the ships' coordinates, so the shuttle pod would be able to return quickly if things got close. He didn't want to delay the Enterprise's departure just waiting for a shuttle pod, but also didn't want to leave it behind if he could help it, they only had two.
Malcolm was standing right next to him anxiously waiting for Trip to finish.
"Call the bridge, Malcolm. It's as ready as it's ever going to be," Trip finally said.
While he waited for the Lieutenant to finish making the call, his own comm beeped.
"Commander Tucker," he answered.
It was Nelson, telling him the repairs on the engines were finished and they had already started bringing them up to temperature. He told Nelson to inform the captain.
It was going to be close since the first of the large asteroids was a short shuttle ride away.
"Reed," he called over, "They're warming up the engines now, you'd better get to the armory and I'll launch this baby."
The Lieutenant looked pleased and signed off from the bridge, then left for the armory in a hurry.
Trip wiped his tired eyes with his right hand. Earlier, when Malcolm had returned with the promised coffee, food and schematics, he had awoken the commander.
Trip figured he had gotten at least an hour's sleep. Not enough to refresh him, but enough when boosted with the coffee and food to allow him to keep conscious and working.
He pushed the control button and the board lit up, auto control for the shuttle's engines came online, the light for the weapons lit up, and then started to blink.
"Son of a bitch!"
This was not the time to have a malfunction.
At the same time, Reed's voiced came thru Trip's comm unit, "Commander, I'm ready, I have the phaser cannon on line."
Trip did the math and came up with zero time to run diagnostics, figure out the problem and then fix it.
"Just a minute, Malcolm. I'll launch in a minute. I have a blinking light"
In the end, it was an easy decision,
"Plan B it is!" Trip said out loud to no one.
He left the auto pilot board active in the launch bay control room, so the shuttle pod could still be flown back automatically, then headed down the ladder to the small ship. Once inside and seated in the pilot's seat he switched controls to manual and proceeded to pilot the shuttle pod himself.
The hand communicator that he had brought with him was placed on the control panel in front of him, so he didn't have to activate the shuttle comm and let Reed know someone was on board. He didn't have time to argue with the armory officer.
There was so much fuel for the weapons on board the shuttle, that one good hit by a flying piece of debris and it could go up, like a supernova. That was why they had jury-rigged the autopilot for weapons as well as for flying it.
It just hadn't worked.
"Well, did you really want to live forever . . .?" he asked himself as he prepared to launch the shuttle pod.
The heartache was a dull pain now having been pushed aside by the adrenaline that was pumping thru his veins. Even the exhaustion had taken a back seat to the body's powerful stimulant. Deep inside he knew he was doing the right thing. Enterprise was counting on him to get them away safe and he would do whatever it took to accomplish that.
Trip figured he'd better get this done and bring the shuttle back in one piece or Captain Archer would demote him for sure, maybe even transfer him this time.
Serve Jon right if I just crashed into the damn asteroid and knocked its trajectory off so it missed the Enterprise . . . I'd go out in a big ball of fire . . . That'd be a hell of a sight
It made him smirk, but he decided that would have to be plan D, if all else failed. There was still plan C left, having already used plan B by flying the shuttle himself.
Malcolm's voice came over his comm unit, "Commander, the shuttle should be sending back a view of the asteroids to you."
His attention was brought back to reality by Reed's voice and he cleared away any cobwebs the exhaustion had left behind.
"Keep your shirt on, Lieutenant, It's right on top of them. He held his breath, powered up the shuttle weaponry and prayed that plan D didn't decide to play its hand early without his implementing it.
The lights came on. The weapons charged, and he was ready to go.
His right hand shakily wiped away a sheen of sweat that had formed on his brow, as he let out his breath.
"Ok, plan B, here we go."
There were three small asteroids tumbling beside the larger one and Trip tried a burst from the weapons on one of them, to see how much power to bring online. It gave him great satisfaction to see it explode when hit by the weapon's charge from the shuttle pod.
Maybe Malcolm has something here, blowing up things is kinda fun. His attention went back to recalculating the force needed to demolish the larger asteroid.
"Ten more minutes, Commander, and engineering says we'll have at least impulse to pull out of here, five minutes after that and we can go to warp,"
Malcolm could always be relied on for updates.
Trip noticed the distance closing fast between Enterprise and the large tumbling asteroid.
They didn't have ten minutes.
"Ok, Malcolm let's do it!"
Here goes nothing
The crossfire from the ship's cannon and the shuttle weaponry took out small chunks from the large asteroid. Trip moved the weaponry power up a notch and fired again, noting with satisfaction; that this time larger pieces flew off in all directions, barely missing the shuttle as the small ship swooped by the large asteroid.
Finally, the large asteroid exploded and pieces flew everywhere. One piece hit the shuttle and rocked it, causing Trip a bad moment and making lights flicker all over the control panel in front of him.
"It's too soon for plan D," he shouted in a panic to the flickering lights. Then wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve when they finally came back on.
Other pieces of the asteroid flew off in all directions, with some smaller in size than the shuttle, sailing past on their way toward Enterprise. Malcolm blew them apart using the phase cannon from the Enterprise.
They were down to five minutes now and there was only one large asteroid left insight. The others were further away and Enterprise, even on impulse power, would be long gone before they got to her present position.
Trip went out to meet it with the shuttle pod.
When his first shot barely made a dent in the giant asteroid, he had to move the mark on the weapons panel all the way up to get the needed power. The asteroid was too far away from Enterprise for Malcolm to use the cannon, so it would all be up to Trip.
His adrenaline was about as high as it could get, as he flew closer and strafed the asteroid's side with continued weaponry fire, using up a lot of the extra plasma.
The engineer's persistence was rewarded on his second swing by, when the asteroid suddenly blew apart, pieces of it hitting the underside of the shuttle as she flew past.
Trip watched the lights flicker on his flight panel, as he tried to keep the shuttle on a course back to Enterprise. A sudden jolt from below the shuttle pod, followed by a boom and a flash of red-hot heat from behind his pilot chair, sent Trip flying headfirst into the forward view screen.
Trip fell back and came to rest on the floor wedged in between the pilot seat and the panel. Gone was the strength that the adrenaline rush had given to him and in its place came pain and exhaustion. It took all his remaining strength to sit up, with every fiber of his body screaming in pain. Blood from his reopened cut on his forehead filled his eyes, and he couldn't see clearly. Somehow, his shaking hand found the auto pilot button on the control panel and pushed it.
Amazingly, the autopilot came on, engaged the impulse engine and headed the shuttle back toward Enterprise.
Acid smoke from the fire in a plasma relay filled the air around Trip and he started to cough unable to breathe . . . his lungs felt like they were burning.
He passed out long before they reached the launch bay with Reed's joyous shouts coming from the comm.,
"We bloody well did it, Commander!" . . . still ringing in his ears.
Reed took a deep breath and pushed the comm button on the sickbay wall. Phlox was standing just behind him for support. The Lt. swallowed as he tried for a normal tone, for at any moment his voice might betray him.
"Reed to Captain Archer," he waited collecting himself and dreading this more by the minute.
Archer answered and started talking before Reed could say anything else.
"You did a great job, Malcolm, that was some fine shooting. Tell Trip his remote flying of the shuttle was the best that even Travis has ever seen."
"I can't…" was Reed's anguished reply, losing his composure when Trip's name was mentioned; he turned away from the comm.
Phlox gently stepped up to the comm, sensing that the grief-stricken Reed was on the verge of tears.
"Lt, what's going on?" Archer was still waiting for an answer.
"This is Dr. Phlox, Captain, I need you to come down to sickbay right away. Please hurry, I'll explain when you get here."
Phlox clicked off and walked back to his patient on the bio bed. Commander Tucker had burns on his arms that he needed to treat first, before starting on the rest of his injuries. Reed slowly followed Phlox while trying to regain his composure.
Archer just stared at his comm unsure of what had just happened.
He arose from his seat knowing everyone on the bridge had heard the exchange among the three men. It had suddenly become very quiet compared to a few minutes before, when everyone had been so relieved and actually talking about making it out unscathed from the path of the asteroids.
T'Pol watched him, not sure either at what was going on. The only logical conclusion was that something was wrong with Lt. Reed.
"I'll be in sickbay," Archer simply said and left.
Archer hurried thru the doors into the medical facility at a brisk pace. He spotted Reed standing near a bio bed with his back to Jon. Across from him was Dr. Phlox busily cutting away material from the arm of a patient's Star Fleet uniform.
Reed turned when he heard Archer's footsteps and stepped aside, revealing the patients face.
Archers' heart nearly stopped when he recognized the blood-covered face.
"MY GOD, Trip!"
Reed quickly came forward taking Archer's arm when the captain, losing all color in his face, seemed to stumble. Malcolm helped seat him in a chair nearby. Archer looked up at Reed and back over at the still figure on the bio bed.
"Is he . . . " the word wouldn't come out. Archer couldn't bear to say it.
"Dead? No, Sir, Dr. Phlox needs to finish and then he'll talk to you about the commander's condition," Reed informed him quietly.
"What happened?" Jon still needed a moment to collect his composure. He had been shocked by the sight of his friend lying there covered in blood.
Reed sat in the chair next to Archer, took a deep breath and explained, "Near as I can ascertain, the weapon's remote unit didn't work and Commander Tucker decided to fly the shuttle. There wasn't any time left to fix it and I didn't know . . . It was my fault, " Reed's voice trailed off full of grief and blaming himself.
"This is my fault, I'm responsible . . . "
Trip had said that to him that night in Jon's quarters, blaming himself for the cogenitor's death and Archer had agreed, never thinking about what his words would do to his friend . . .
Jon had turned his back on him . . . ignoring Trip's anguished plea for help before his friend walked out the door.
Jon took a deep breath, knowing he had to say the right thing and not screw it up this time. Malcolm needed his help.
"We all make our own decisions, Lt. Trip knew what he had to do and the risk involved. You couldn't have stopped him. There just wasn't any time left. You said it yourself."
It was so easy to say it to Malcolm, but why had it been so hard to say it to Trip, when he obviously would blame himself.
The commander hadn't made the cogenitor take her own life; it had been her own decision . . .
Just like Trip . . .
The realization that his friend might have sacrificed himself to save them hurt Jon to his very soul. Archer had taken away his friendship that night and turned away from his friend . . .
I did this to him . . . I left Trip with no one to turn to . . .
Jon felt his heart break when he realized this . . . What have I done!
Phlox finally signaled to Archer and the captain went over to where the Dr. stood. Phlox had moved away from the bio bed and over to a wall diagnostic monitor screen.
"How is he?" Archer asked anxiously.
Dr. Phlox took a good look at Archer deciding how to start.
"Most of his injuries are not life threatening with the exception of the smoke inhalation in his lungs. What worries me, is that he is not responding to treatment. I can't give him any stronger medication until he shows some improvement, or it just might kill him. As you know the commander is not in the best of shape, exhaustion, depression, and weight loss are all working against his surviving this trauma. These plus the past injuries from last week on top of the smoke inhalation he suffered in the shuttle are draining all his strength.
"What other injuries are you talking about?" Archer was not following this.
"He sustained a concussion, as well as a broken rib two days ago from a fall in engineering. You must have read his name on the injury report from engineering?" Phlox added.
"No, I didn't see it." Archer had a suspicion why, it had been signed by Trip.
"Did T'Pol talk to you about the commander?"
"Yes, but I didn't know he was in this condition," Archer said, obviously upset.
"When was the last time you spoke to the commander?"
Archer was ashamed and avoided looking at Phlox, "Two weeks ago, we had a . . . disagreement." There was no point in lying to the Doctor.
Phlox looked carefully at the shaken man before him and realized that further criticism wasn't needed. The captain was already punishing himself for overlooking the commander's condition.
"Well then, Captain, maybe it's time you make peace with Commander Tucker before it's too late."
Archer looked at Phlox, realizing that what he said was true. Then looked over at where Trip lay, "Is he conscious?"
"The commander may not be able to respond to you in his weakened condition, but I know he can hear you. I gave him local painkillers for his vital signs are far too weak for a sedative.
He needs to be able to control his breathing to help clear his lungs. If he would only stabilize, I could use something stronger to help him, but I need to get his vital signs higher."
Archer slowly walked to the side of the bed and looked down at his friend's pale face that showed evidence of pain and exhaustion. Trip's eyes were closed and it was obvious he was having a hard time by his irregular breathing.
Archer gathered his nerve, aware that time was running out on them and this very well might be his last chance. He started talking softly, so that only he and Trip would hear what was being said.
"Trip, I hope you're able to hear me, cause I'd hate to have to say all of this again."
I owe you a thank you from all on board the Enterprise; you went way beyond what a captain should ask in getting us out of danger today. Reed explained what happened and knowing you, I'm not surprised that you chose to pilot the shuttle to try and save us.
You're the most unselfish person I've ever met, and that's one reason why you're my friend. But you also have a big heart that can't stand to see anyone mistreated and would do anything to help.
It's what you tried to do with the cogenitor, help her.
As your captain, I should never have let you walk out of that room feeling like you did, blaming yourself for her death. I had to reprimand you for interfering, but as your friend, I should have helped you work thru this tragedy and I didn't.
I failed you Trip. It was never your fault what happened to the cogenitor, it was her own decision. The cogenitor killed herself; you had nothing to do with that decision. I know I blamed you for it and that was wrong.
Losing the friendship of the Vissians became more important than anything else, and I was angry with you for causing it to happen. That wasn't right, you and I have been friends too long to just toss it all away.
I need to ask you to do something, Trip, It's selfish, I know, but I have to ask.
I want you to try and forgive me . . . and . . . I want my friend back. . ."
Archer had a lump in his throat now and almost lost his composure, but managed to go on "I need for you to make it, Trip,"
Jon found it very hard to say the next words and keep his emotions in check.
" If you die... you'll be taking a friendship that was the best part of my life... and the best part of me with you."
Jon's eyes started to water, but he managed to finish . . . barely whispering,
"And I'll never be whole again."
A captain shouldn't break down in front of his crew, but somehow Archer couldn't stop several tears of regret from flowing. He wiped them away quickly so Phlox and Reed wouldn't see them.
He hadn't felt like this since his father died. It cut thru him like a knife, knowing he might have helped cause the death of the person closest to being family that he had left.
Now he had an idea what Trip must have been going thru all these weeks by himself, with no one to turn to... a lost soul, guilt ridden and shunned by his best friend.
I did this to him . . .
It took several minutes, but after regaining his composure, Jon finally wiped the remaining tears away and unable to look at Trip, slowly walked over to Phlox, who was still staring at the readings on the medical monitor on the wall.
When Jon turned away, he had missed seeing the single tear that ran down Trip's cheek as the engineer took a sudden deep breath . . .
"I'm not sure he heard me, Doc," Jon said unhappily.
Phlox turned away from the monitor to face Archer and smiled at the visibly shaken man before him,
"On the contrary," how he loved giving good news and he pointed his finger to a reading.
"His vital signs are starting to rise. I'll give him that medication and sedate him now. Our Mr. Tucker may have a chance after all."
Archer slowly smiled, and swallowed. The lump in his throat seemed to dissolve, as realization that there might be a chance for Trip to pull through, hit him. "I'll check back with you later."
Phlox nodded, picked up the hypo spray and went over to his patient.
Archer put his hand on Reed's shoulder and explained what Phlox had just said as they left sickbay together. The captain planned on giving Malcolm a good stiff drink . . .
Trip had nearly given up to the exhaustion and slowly succumbed to its siren call of the promise of what he so wanted, peace, no more regrets or heartache. Each breath had been growing shallower, but somewhere, from out of the darkness, Jon's anguished plea found him.
Hearing what Jon said, Trip couldn't just let go and leave him in such despair.
Trip had been down that road and knew all of its pain...
A tear ran down his cheek and ...
He took a deep breath . . .
A week later Trip was released from sickbay and he finally joined T'Pol and Archer at the captain's mess for dinner. The commander still looked thin, but his eyes were animated and he seemed almost the same old Trip.
The first thing Archer did when Trip entered the mess was to give him a hug being careful not to squeeze him too hard.
" Welcome back, Trip." Archer said with a heartfelt grin. His best friend was back and Archer wasn't afraid to show that he cared.
It embarrassed Trip when he realized T'Pol was watching them with her Vulcan look of reserve, but he hugged Jon back all the same. Trip was glad that the friend he thought he'd lost forever wasn't gone after all. That knowledge had quelled the heartache and brought with it the peace he so desperately needed. He knew now that it wasn't his fault the cogenitor died; it had been her choice after all. He would accept the responsibility that he did interfere and shouldn't have; that he would have to live with.
Later during dinner, Trip was explaining to T'Pol and Archer how he had managed to get the last asteroid to explode. Trip used his hands to demonstrate the moves he had flown, his blue eyes sparkling with excitement at telling the tale.
Enterprise had been so far away it had been quite difficult to distinguish the shuttle from the asteroid, so both T'Pol and Archer listened attentively.
"I just flew it nice and smooth along the side and fired everything I had at it," Trip made it sound so easy, as if it were nothing.
T'Pol was rather surprised at his foolhardiness and levity about the dangerous maneuvers.
"Commander, it was fortunate that you didn't accidentally hit the asteroid when you were fully fueled, or you would have been incinerated," her Vulcan demeanor gave away nothing.
Trip looked at her closely; did he detect concern? He put a serious look on his face and replied,
"That was plan D, and I would have done that next . . . "
Archer dropped his fork . . . speechless, shocked that his best friend had even considered such a plan.
T'Pol just stared at the commander wondering if he were serious...
Trip just leaned back and smiled…