A/N: Hee hee. I own The Beginner's Guide... . Otherwise known as A 1am Fix For Screwing With Armoury Officers' Minds. I'm not saying I don't like the man, nor is there any implied meaning behind this as a gift for the poor sod. I'm just saying it had to be done. The chipmunk belongs to me as well (!), whereas everything else is protected by that oh-so-annoying concept we peons know as copyright law... sadly, 'tis all copyrighted to Paramount *sigh*

Dedicated to my little sister, partly because it was her birthday yesterday but mostly because she heartily approved of the dancing pineapples and coconut waffles ;)

Okay, it's long. It wasn't meant to be that way. Honest. It sort of . took on a mind of it's own, so to speak... Literally. Personally I blame the chipmunk... it's all his fault!
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September 2nd, 2152 : 0700 hours
At precisely 0700, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed woke up, and shut his alarm off five minutes before it was due to erupts at him. He usually beat the alarm, usually because the ruckus it caused could most likely be heard in the bowels of Main Engineering, although this hypothesis had never yet been properly tested. His basis for the theory, however, was centred on the complaints he had received from crewmen bunking one deck down on the morning he had inadvertently slept in, and was duly (and rudely) awoken by piercing beeps. Needless to say, he hadn't slept in since.

It took him a few moments to gain his bearings, having just come from a particularly vivid dream involving dancing pineapples, talking phase cannons and a Tyrelian chipmunk (courtesy of Phlox's medical menagerie) with a mind of its own, although not necessarily in that particular order.

By 0710 he was showered and dressed in his uniform. He figured he had enough time to catch a half-decent breakfast in the mess hall before getting down to some serious work in the armoury. Briefly, Malcolm smiled as he remembered what day it was today. This time last year had been much more hectic than the lieutenant would have preferred, but there had been definite highlights, including firing the newly-installed phase cannons and the pineapple cake the senior staff had gone to such great lengths to get for him. With any luck, this year would be a lot calmer, with no impending alien attacks, although he wouldn't really mind some more cake.

"Another year older, another year wiser," was what his grandmother had always said. And his grandmother was right. Another year older, another year wiser. Seventeen months on a warp five starship had taught him a lot, much of which he was thankful for, the rest still awaiting a verdict.

He grabbed a padd containing his notes off the table and headed to the mess. At such an early hour, there weren't many people up and about, apart from some of the Delta shift sneaking early reprieve. Malcolm had often found that with very few exceptions, he cherished the quiet and relative emptiness of the mess. Hence the early wake-up.

However, one of the 'few exceptions' came bounding up behind him enthusiastically, startling him.

"Mornin', Malcolm!"

"Good morning, Trip," Malcolm replied automatically. He had learned (the hard way) not to address the chief engineer by his formal rank before 1100 hours. The informality had taken some getting used to, but Trip had proved a good friend and unlikely confidant for him in times of need, as well as a source of much-needed levity on more than one occasion, and Malcolm cherished his companionship as well as his sense of humour (or possible lack, thereof).

Charles "Trip" Tucker fell in step beside his friend, his intentions made clear by the grin on his face. "You're up early," he commented. "Let me guess. Somethin' in the armoury needs doin' and you're the only one up to it."

"Something like that," Malcolm replied. A thought then struck him. "What are you doing up at this godforsaken hour, then?"

Trip shrugged lightly. "Same as you, I guess. Always a fire or three in Engineerin', and yours truly is the only one darin' enough to squeeze into the access tubes before lunch. Speakin' of which, don't go near the tube adjacent to the doors to Launch Bay One."

"Why not?" the lieutenant asked curiously.

"Strange and spooky noises," came the reply in a suitably spooky manner and with accompanying actions. "That's goin' to be seen to a bit later."

"Ah."

The pair reached the mess. "Don't tell me you're actually goin' to eat?" Trip asked in sarcastic shock as Malcolm made towards the food hatches.

"Perish the thought," he said dryly. "The food's going to be used as part of my latest madcap experiment involving that damn chipmunk and a torpedo launch tube."

"Irritatin' little sod, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes. I can't see how the doctor can stand it myself, but that's Denobulans for you, so it would seem. The next time we see it, he'll most likely have either christened it himself or badgered the sub-commander until she gives it some inspiringly stoic Vulcan name." Malcolm stood back up, wielding a plate of coconut waffles. Trip selected the greasy fry-up, and both officers made their way to one of the tables before the commander disappeared and duly returned with a glass of milk (full fat) for himself and a steaming mug of tea (milk, two sugars) for Malcolm.

Trip sat down and offered his milk up in a toast. He motioned to Malcolm, who slowly followed suit with his tea. "To armoury officers," Trip grinned. "Long may they continue to blow things up on behalf of Starfleet exploration."

"Hear, hear." Both men started eating, occasionally pausing to watch the inflow of sleepy-eyed Alpha watch crew or (in Malcolm's case) to read some more of the notes he had concerning upgrades to the phase pistols' efficiency levels.

They had nearly finished when Trip hit the table with a fist. Looking up, Malcolm was astonished to find him still grinning. "I was wonderin' when you were goin' to look up," he explained. "I've been tryin' for five minutes."

"Oh. Sorry."

"Don't be. Happy birthday, Malcolm." Trip was positively beaming now. He reached into a pocket and withdrew a padd, which he pushed along the table. "This is from all of us."

"Us?" Malcolm asked, hesitantly picking up the padd. "Forgive me for sounding so suspicious so early in the morning, but who exactly is 'us'?"

Trip's grin turned mysterious. "You'll see, Loo-tenant. You'll see."

"Hey, mind if I join you?" a new voice asked. Ensign Travis Mayweather slid into a seat opposite Malcolm as both men shook their heads. Then they noticed what was on his tray. The helmsman was planning on eating what looked like one of the biggest full Englishes the real Englishman had ever seen. "Happy birthday, Malcolm," he continued, pulling a napkin off the tray and tucking it into his collar.

"Thank you," he replied.

"Did you...?" Travis looked at Trip expectantly, letting the question trail off.

"With a ribbon on the top," the engineer replied with a knowing nod.

Malcolm looked from one to the other, completely and utterly mystified. The others must have caught his bewildered expression because they both started laughing. Travis was still chuckling as he dug into the largest piece of fried bread on the plate. Chef was certainly in a good mood today, Malcolm reflected. The portions the ensign had selected were oversize and they looked quite delicious.

He pushed his own empty plate away. "Gentlemen, I have to be going. Work to do in -"

"- in the armoury," Trip and Travis chorused, grinning. "It's when he doesn't go straight there in the mornin' that you get worried," Trip added to the helmsman in mock-confidentiality. "And on a day like today, the earlier the better!"

Travis could only nod through a fresh mouthful of sausage and tomato.

Malcolm shook his head, smiling slightly as he got up, deftly pocketing both padds. When he reached the doors and turned back, both officers were still grinning like idiots over something or other.

On the way to the armoury, sheer morbid curiosity got the better of him, and Malcolm extracted the padd Trip had presented to him back in the mess. Judging from the front of it, it looked as though the engineer had gone to a lot of trouble putting it together, because the content very nearly reached the maximum limit the padd was capable of holding. The initial file had been divided into perhaps a dozen subsections, each with a separate title. Malcolm opened the file, read the main title, and simply stared at it, part of him wondering if it was some sort of weird joke or if there was some hidden meaning to it.

The Beginner's Guide To Blowing Things Up

If this was Trip's idea of a joke then it wasn't very funny, even if it was to be expected from the man. The smaller text below the title, however, caught Malcolm's eye and even he had to give in and smile when he read it; "Dedicated to Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, the biggest stubborn-ass this side of Vulcan. Happy birthday to you and the cannons ;)"

Of course. The phase cannons were officially one year old today. Hmm. He might have to do something about that. Malcolm then noticed there was even smaller text squeezed in below the dedication, and he had to squint to read it; "Throw a party for the cannons, and we'll throw you out of the starboard torpedo tube; more cake for us! ~Trip"

He chuckled despite himself, and tucked the padd safely away back in its pocket. Maybe Trip's sense of humour wasn't so obscure after all. And there was mention of cake. Pineapple cake? He could do that. Definitely.

Malcolm quickly resumed the walk to the armoury and once inside pushed all thoughts of The Beginner's Guide... to the back of his mind. After all, he did have work to do. Starting with running simulations for the proposed upgrades to the phase pistols. Preliminary tests had revealed potential for a 7.83% increase in yield, range and overall efficiency, and each percent counted in a battle or potential hostile situation. If the simulations showed a likely outcome of efficiency increase, then it would be a simple matter to get Captain Archer's approval to start modifying each of the phase pistols aboard ship.

An hour and a half later, a dozen simulations had been run with no anomalous results; it seemed as if the modifications would work. Recording the result data on a third padd, Malcolm smiled. His work here was done. Time for a duty shift on the bridge.

It was again inbetween destinations that Malcolm pulled out the padd Trip had given him. Flicking past the title, dedication and message, he reached a guide to the subsections; the contents list. It took less than a minute to read them, and even less time to decide that his good friend Trip was most likely in need of psychiatric help. Or at least a hobby of some sort.

::Contents::
1. Foreword,
by Jonathan Archer
2. Pulling rank; the pros and cons of being an armoury officer,
by Trip Tucker
3. Nitty gritty; basic armoury equipment and what they should be used for,
by Trip Tucker
4. Etiquette; what to say and when to say it,
by Hoshi Sato
5. How to create a better boom,
by Trip Tucker
6. Holy words; the armoury officer's bible and when to bash it,
by Travis Mayweather and Hoshi Sato
7. Alternative uses for phase pistols,
by Travis Mayweather
8. Pest control; identifying which furry critters have escaped sickbay and which are merely on their duty shift,
by Doctor Phlox
9. Targeting scanners; how to tell when they really are out of alignment or if you're just getting paranoid over NOTHING,
by Trip Tucker
10. Impulse torpedoes and phase cannons; things every good armoury officer should know,
by Trip Tucker
11. Sickbay etiquette; a simple guide to doctor's orders,
by Doctor Phlox
12. Being your own boss; the do's and do not's of a dictatorship
OR minimising mutiny among your minions/staff, by Jonathan Archer

Malcolm looked up, surprised to see he was already in the turbolift headed to the bridge. It looked like he was definitely getting used to life aboard Enterprise. He looked back down at the list scrolled out on the padd's small screen, and couldn't help himself; he started laughing. The subsection titles were bad enough without reading the specific content, but he now had a good idea of what to look forward to when his shift ended later.

Another year older, another year wiser. Yes, his grandmother was indeed on the mark again, although he really should have seen something like this coming. Maybe not so wise then, despite the extra year.

He tucked the padd back into its pocket as the turbolift doors opened onto the bridge. Captain Archer looked up at his arrival. "Lieutenant," he said formally.

"Captain," Malcolm replied, crossing to the tactical station. Opposite him he could see Sub-commander T'Pol and Travis Mayweather at their respective stations; Ensign Hoshi Sato, however, was nowhere to be seen. Trip was presumably down in Engineering. Or sorting out the problem he had mentioned about the access tube near Launch Bay One.

"Sub-commander, Ensign," he greeted them.

"Good morning, Lieutenant," T'Pol replied, acknowledging his greeting with a slight inclination of her head. "And many happy returns."

Malcolm stared.

"I believe it is your birthday today?" she enquired.

"It - it is," Malcolm replied, the surprise evident in his voice. "Thank you."

From across the bridge, he saw Jonathan mouth a single sentence to Travis at the helm, "Did he...?"

Travis replied by nodding almost imperceptibly, a smirk growing up one side of his face. "With a ribbon on the top," he mouthed back.

Jonathan smiled slightly and settled back into the captain's chair. "Before I forget, Malcolm," he said suddenly. "Happy birthday."

Malcolm was a little overwhelmed by that before he remembered that the captain was almost solely responsible for his birthday celebration the previous year. "Thank you, sir," he replied, allowing his trademark smirk to show. "I have to admit, it's been quite a day so far."

"Just as long as it's nothing like last year, right, Lieutenant?" Travis chimed in.

"Absolutely," Malcolm replied absentmindedly, now focused on the results he had gathered in the armoury. Using the tactical station itself as reference he began to determine how long it would take to modify the pistols, first individually, then in batches of a dozen, and finally all the pistols aboard Enterprise; one hundred and twelve in total, not counting the more heavy-duty plasma rifles or the old EM-33's that were still used from time to time, mostly for training and comparative purposes.

While the computer was doing the calculations, he looked up to find Travis and the captain smiling slightly. "Are you sure you want this one to be nothing like last year?" Travis asked innocently.

Quickly Malcolm backtracked. Then at the same time the computer was finished, he realised what was going on. "Ensign," he said, picking his words carefully, "if you are indeed implying that you wish to separate me from a good dosage of pineapple cake, then I'm afraid you are very much mistaken."

Travis chuckled and turned back to the helm, muttering something under his breath about obsessive armoury officers as he did so.

"We weren't implying that at all, Malcolm," Jonathan said calmly, the slight twitch at the edge of his lips belying his innocent-sounding tones.

"Of course not, sir," the lieutenant replied, playing along for the moment. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see T'Pol watching the brief display with apparent disinterest.

At that moment, they were interrupted by the arrival of a flustered-looking Hoshi Sato from the turbolift. "Sorry I'm late, Captain," she panted, "but Joey escaped, and I was roped into looking for him."

"Joey?" Travis asked sceptically. "Who the hell's Joey?"

"The Tyrelian chipmunk Phlox has," Hoshi replied with an "everyone ought to know that!" tone of voice.

"The chipmunk?" Malcolm shuddered. The rodent always freaked him out when he was in sickbay, but to have it loose on the ship ... it didn't bear thinking about.

"It's okay, though," Hoshi assured him. "Liz tracked it down to Ensign Rose's cabin. How it got there we have no idea, but it's safely back in its cage under Phlox's watchful eye now." That said, she took her seat at communications and, Malcolm observed, was looking directly at the captain. "Did he...?" she mouthed silently.

Jonathan nodded slightly. "With a ribbon on the top," was his silent reply, and Hoshi grinned before focusing on her readout display.

Malcolm took this information in silently, looking at his own readout display. That was the third time inside two hours that he had witnessed this mysterious exchange of information, and each time it was between two members of the senior staff. Slowly his brain made the connection; Trip and Travis, Travis and the captain, the captain and Hoshi. Four officers. He was aware of several exclusive linking factors between them, including the lesser-known fact that each of them had failed their phase pistol trials at least once (he had been sworn to utmost secrecy in regard to the captain and Trip's trials), but he sincerely doubted that was what it was. Then his brain made the final connection. They were the four officers who had written his 'book', The Beginner's Guide To Blowing Things Up, not counting Phlox. But the apparent importance of the ribbon continued to evade him.

Then it hit him. The answer was probably in one of the chapters oh-so-kindly written for him. Unfortunately, it would have to wait until later, when he was off-duty and he could peruse the entire document thoroughly.

There was another possibility, however. The use of the ribbon could simply be a code word that only the book's writers knew, tying in (inwardly he groaned at his mind's choice of words) neatly with his birthday, the whole point of the book in the first place.

Either way, he supposed, he wouldn't know for sure until he had actually read the damn thing.

"Lieutenant? Malcolm?" Slowly, Malcolm realised Hoshi was trying to get his attention.

"Yes? Er, sorry. Lost in thought there."

"Happy birthday, Malcolm," Hoshi said with a smile, one of the most genuine he had seen all morning.

"Thanks," he replied. Finally he checked his screen. The computer reported that it would take seven point five six hours to successfully modify all one hundred and twelve phase pistols. He did the mental maths; seven hours, thirty three minutes and thirty six seconds. That time would be considerably lessened should the workload be shared with some of his armoury team. Malcolm entered a memo into the results padd to get Ensigns Carmanderson, Gill and Maritas onto the modifications pending approval from Captain Archer. That particular meeting was scheduled for the early evening. A hundred and twelve divided three ways meant thirty seven pistols apiece with one spare for the quickest worker. Hmm. Crewmen O'Malley was added to the list as well; that only meant twenty eight pistols each, much more manageable and more evenly spread as well. Twenty eight pistols each also meant a little under two hours per person. Malcolm grinned. No one on his team particularly enjoyed phase pistol maintenance at the best of times; at least this way the complaints would be considerably lessened and the lieutenant did indeed have logic on his side.

The rest of the morning shift passed without incident, unless one counted the brief blip in sensors caused by a random energy fluctuation and surprisingly, Malcolm found himself itching to get down to the mess for some lunch. Okay, not for the food. He was still inanely curious about The Beginner's Guide... , and especially the meaning of the elusive ribbon.

The turbolift seemed to be taking longer as well this time around; Malcolm could have sworn it was playing games with him, trying to mess with his mind. When he did eventually reach the mess hall he made a beeline straight for the nearest food hatch, pulled out a random plate and hunkered down at one of the tables in the far corner, where he was less likely to be disturbed. The padd promptly came out the instant he was sat down. In fact, he was in such a hurry that he didn't hear a certain chief engineer murmur into his communicator, "On time. As always."

Impatiently, Malcolm waited for the foreword to open fully. As far as birthday presents went, this definitely had to be one of the most enigmatic and one of the most downright torturous he had ever been given, even including the air rifle that didn't work; it had been an old friend's idea of a joke. Get the guy something you know he wants, but make sure it doesn't work. That way he never leaves it alone.

The file opened, and the lieutenant found himself staring at a veritable amount of minute text; he had a hunch, however, that he could very well enjoy this particular script, especially if the following chapter titles were anything to go by. Smiling slightly, Malcolm began to read.

Foreword, by Jonathan Archer
When Commander Tucker first approached me on August 24th with a request for the lieutenant's birthday, I have to admit I was rather unsure at first. Lieutenant Reed is hardly known for his sense of humour concerning on-duty activities at the best of times, let alone for something that would willingly and knowingly mock his position of Enterprise's armoury officer. But as Trip persisted, I found out that this was all good-natured, and intended solely as a source for amusement rather than as a slight towards Malcolm's work. He is a skilled and valued crewmember, and I would hate to undermine his achievements over the last seventeen months in any way.

I therefore have the honour of introducing The Beginner's Guide To Blowing Things Up. Quite simply it is everything a good armoury officer will need to know in his line of work, with a few extra snippets thrown in here and there for good measure. With enough time spent reading this invaluable document, even the most inept crewman can reach the dizzying heights that so many dream of. From off-duty uses of phase pistols to differentiation between furry creature and furry crewman, this document can provide hours - or at least thirty solid minutes - of educational reading and a good hoot to boot.

I also add now what I believe to be required characteristics for the ideal armoury officer, based upon seventeen months' worth of observations. The ideal officer will have a clear passion for firearms and weaponry of any kind, and will most likely take this to the extent of insisting that a small team of less than two dozen can build two phase cannons from scratch in less than two weeks, and to the extreme of erecting these cannons in forty-eight hours.

And so it went on. Malcolm became completely absorbed in the captain's introduction, only occasionally pausing to snort or scoff at some comment or opinion given. He was so absorbed, in fact, that he didn't notice Trip Tucker sneak up behind him and stealthily attach something to the back of his uniform, using the lightest of touches and the nimblest of fingers. He was completely oblivious to everything aside from the padd until his internal clock told him he had maintenance checks to begin in the armoury in exactly five minutes.

The lieutenant took the most direct route to the armoury, unaware of the peculiar looks, finger-pointing and sniggers being thrown his way; the daring commander had managed to slip a small, old-fashioned, cardboard sign onto Malcolm's back, attached with some variant of the old-fashioned glue sealant; the sign read, "Lost and confused. Take me to the armoury," in plain, easy-to-read letters.

There were just two crewmembers on duty in the armoury when Malcolm finally arrived there; Ensign Helen Maritas and Crewman Philip O'Malley, both of whom he shared a fairly cordial professional relationship with.

Maritas looked up at his entrance. "Lieutenant," she said.

"Ensign, Crewman," Malcolm said in return, greeting both crewmembers. "Helen," he continued, "what have you got so far on the maintenance check-ups?"

Maritas showed him to the console she had been working, which presented his back to O'Malley, working at the console adjacent to the aft phase cannon, who continued his duties for a few moments before looking up. He blinked a couple of times, and then read the sign on Malcolm's back, then reread it again. Just to be sure. Conflicting emotions ran through O'Malley's mind. On one hand, Lieutenant Reed was his C.O., but the instructions he and Maritas had been given came from above Reed's rank in Enterprise's hierarchy. He sighed, accepting the inevitable. The sign would have to stay for now, at least. Orders were orders, after all.

A few minutes later Malcolm and Maritas were finished, and the lieutenant swung himself up the ladder to carry out some systems checks of his own. While he was up there, he heard the comm panel chirp.

"Armoury here," O'Malley answered the hail.

The voice that replied belonged to Trip. "Could you by any chance send Lieutenant Reed down to Engineerin' ASAP?"

"Yes, sir. Armoury out."

Malcolm sighed. "That's my cue." He climbed back down and handed the padd he had been working on to Maritas. "I need these systems checking by 1930 hours, Ensign."

She took the padd and checked the list. "Yes sir."

"Thank you," he replied, and turned and left the armoury. On the way to Main Engineering, he contemplated the reason Trip could have called him there. One possibility was that it had been a genuine request, but there was nothing he could do down there that Trip's engineers couldn't, except to re-route weapons control from the armoury to Engineering's main control panel, and he sorely doubted that was the case. A second option (and Malcolm felt rather selfish for thinking this) was to do with his birthday and the damn book he had been presented with that morning. The puzzle of the ribbon still bored into his thoughts, and he couldn't help but speculate on it as the trek to Trip's domain continued.

When the engineering doors opened, however, Malcolm couldn't help but notice that where there should have been maybe half a dozen crewmen working, there was just one; Commander Tucker was perched precariously on a railing, seemingly scanning an out-of-place conduit.

He waited a few moments for Trip to finish, and breathed a quiet sigh of relief as the engineer set both feet on the decking, safely intact.

"Hey Malcolm," he greeted casually. The lieutenant felt a brief surge of irritation as he waited there like an idiot. Was that he had been called down here for - a social meeting?

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Trip joined Malcolm by the doors that led out to the corridor. "Sorry 'bout all the secrecy," he began without preamble, "but we had to do somethin', you know, to uh, show our 'preciation of you and all."

"Excuse me?" Malcolm asked, more than slightly confused.

"The Beginner's Guide To Blowin' Things Up," Trip reiterated. "How much have you read so far?"

"Just Captain Archer's introduction," the lieutenant answered, rapidly getting more and more baffled by the second.

"That's jus' as well." Trip sounded relieved.

"Why?"

"'Cause that's all there is of it," Trip explained seriously. "Jon wrote the introduction, figurin' that's all you'd be able to read in time you had available to you. Everythin' else in there was made up on the spot."

"I'm confused," Malcolm stated plainly.

"Don't be," a voice replied from behind the two officers, causing one of them to jump. When he turned around, Malcolm saw Jonathan, Hoshi and Travis waiting there, smiling. Jonathan was the one who had spoken, his hands held behind his back. He then brought his hands out, and showed Malcolm what he was holding.

"Happy birthday, Malcolm," Jonathan said. He offered Malcolm one of the most beautiful double-barrelled shotguns he had ever seen.

With a ribbon on the top.