He spent the first week aboard a Vulcan science vessel, the T'Plana Hoth. The ship was unbearably hot and so quiet he once or twice believed himself to have gone deaf, and after three days he was heartily sick of vegetable broth. What the hell was a plomeek, anyway? Malcolm Reed was a soldier, trained to withstand hardship and deprivation; he could survive seven and one-half days with a group of beings who constantly wrinkled their noses in his presence. If nothing else, he was gaining a new appreciation for T'Pol. If this was a sample of what it was like to be the only person of one's race aboard a ship, the sub-commander was made of much sterner stuff than he'd given her credit for.

On the eighth day he was transferred, bag and baggage, to a boomer ship called the Aberdeen Queen. Her captain, one Angelica MacTavish, celebrated his arrival with a ship-wide party that lasted nearly three days. He would have been flattered, but it was abundantly clear that nearly anything was cause for a party on the Queen. Despite his best intentions, he awoke on the fourth day with a raging headache, stale single malt on his breath and the red-haired captain in his bed. He spent several more days trying to ignore the knowing looks and winks of the crew.

His last berth was on a tiny supply ship with the unlikely name of the Shaved Cat. Its pilot and sole occupant was friendly to a fault, and in Malcolm's opinion, suffering from some sort of personality disorder brought on by long-term isolation. Viggo Mikaso was either very high-strung by nature or he was abusing some an artificial stimulant. The man did not stop talking for the entire two days Malcolm was aboard. And he smelled. Malcolm's appreciation for Vulcans, particularly their olfactory abilities, rose yet another notch. He found himself scanning the ship's controls to make sure he could take over as pilot, just in case he gave in to his deepest urge and stunned Mikaso into next week.

By the time he landed at Jupiter Station he was exhausted, unshaven and reeking with contact body odor. His attaché case over one shoulder, flight bag over the other, he alternately pushed, nudged, and dragged his equipment case from the airlock to the nearest customs check.

"Welcome to Jupiter Station," the bored security guard drawled, not bothering to look up from his console. "Purpose of your visit?"

"Business," Malcolm replied, offering his identification. The guard looked up and did a double take, a slow smile spreading across his face. Malcolm suppressed a resigned sigh.

"Well, well. Lieutenant Reed. Ain't this just like old home week."

"Crewman Harris," he nodded curtly. "I'm on the incoming personnel roster, temporarily attached to Commander Landau. I assume I've been assigned quarters?"

"Of course, Sir. You're in Delta section, third ring, room 32B." The crewman punched a few buttons on his console and grinned smugly.

Malcolm gritted his teeth, knowing the sodding bastard had just reassigned him to the worst section on the station. "That will be fine," he forced out, reaching a hand out for his I.D. The crewman, however, did not return it.

"Not so fast, Lieutenant." The guard managed to make his rank sound like an insult. "Station security procedures require me to check any incoming cargo of a suspicious nature. I'm afraid I'll have to check your bags. All of them. Wouldn't want me to be derelict of duty, now would you, Sir?"

It really was his luck, Malcolm decided, to run into one of only two people he'd put on report during his tenure on Jupiter Station. And he was already running late. "Fine," he said, nearly flinging his attaché at the crewman. "But this case contains very sensitive equipment. Damage it, and it will be the last thing you ever do with those fingers. Understand?"

The crewman, who was not as stupid as one might think, understood. Although he took an inordinate amount of time checking Malcolm's bags, the contents of the equipment case were treated with due care.

Malcolm's quarters, he was relieved to see, included a tiny shower stall. The bed, which made his spartan bunk aboard the Enterprise look downright spacious, seemed to be calling his name, but he had just enough time to shower, shave and dress in a fresh uniform before meeting with Landau and his team.

To his dismay, the room was quite full when he stepped through the door, dragging his case behind him. "I'm sorry," he faltered, "perhaps I'm in the wrong lab."

"Not at all, Lieutenant." A tall black man with commander's pips stepped forward and offered his hand. "Bruce Landau. It's good to finally meet you in person."

Malcolm shook his hand. "Malcolm Reed. Forgive me, Commander, but I was under the impression I'd be demonstrating the EM field for a handful of technicians. There are at least twenty people here."

"Twenty four," Landau corrected cheerfully. "What can I say? You're a bit famous amongst the R&D folks. When word got out you were doing a demo in person, every engineer and tech on the station wanted to come. No one's been able to sustain an EM field past twelve gigajoules, so you've got a lot of doubting Thomases here. Half of them are probably hoping you'll fail and give them another crack at it. And the other half think you're a god. Hey, but no pressure, right?"

"No," Malcolm echoed faintly, sweat beading on his skin. "No pressure." Willing his hands not to shake, he reached for the first field generator.

* * *

"Congratulations, Reed!" Landau raised his glass, the sentiment echoed by the rest of the group. The EM field had done everything he'd claimed it would, much to his relief, and they'd retired to the bar for a celebratory drink. Now, in the midst of being toasted by some of Starfleet's best and brightest, he was unable to suppress a yawn.

Landau chuckled. "I think he's bored. I guess inventing the first stable EM field is just another day on the job for the lieutenant." Malcolm blushed a bit as the crowd laughed.

"I'm sorry, it was a very long trip. In fact, I'll have to ask you all to excuse me. I have another appointment quite early tomorrow, and I really must get some sleep." A general note of protest arose from his new fan club, all of whom seemed to want to hear details of his research yet again, but Malcolm stood firm. He made his way to the door, shaking hands with some, promising to correspond with others. He was nearly to the corridor when a commotion in the main bar caught his attention.

A drunken Tarkalean, all eight feet of him, was lurching about the bar, tossing furniture and beings indiscriminately. As Malcolm watched, he shook off two security guards and threw another clear across the room. Malcolm hesitated - he really wanted to sleep. He sighed and waded into the fight before someone got seriously hurt.

Tarkaleans were big and powerful, but not very fast. Malcolm ducked a wildly swinging arm and slipped behind the aggressor. With two fingers of his right hand, he pinched the nerve cluster at the Tarkalean's elbow. When he shrieked and tried to recoil, Malcolm dug the knuckles of his left hand into the space between his ninth and tenth vertebrae. The Tarkalean collapsed in a heap. A security guard appeared to secure his hands behind his back.

"That was amazing!" Another security guard, impossibly young and nearly twice Malcolm's size, had picked himself off the floor and stood panting at the lieutenant's side. "How'd you do that?"

"It's simple anatomy, Ensign. It's worth your time to study other races for physical weaknesses." The ensign opened his mouth to reply, but his eyes suddenly widened. Malcolm barely had time to wonder why when something hard and heavy smashed into his head.

* * *

He woke up under harsh lights to the sound of someone retching. Groaning, he raised a hand to the lump on the back of his head and pushed himself to a sitting position. His surroundings wavered and tilted and he closed his eyes, but after a moment he was able to make out the interior of Jupiter Station's perpetually crowded infirmary.

"So. You again."

Malcolm turned at the familiar voice and had to fight a rising swell of nausea. A hypospray hissed against his neck, and his stomach immediately settled. "Doctor Shah. You look as beautiful as ever."

"Can it, Boom-boom. I didn't fall for that crap when you were stationed here, I'm not about to start now." The black-haired woman flicked a glance at the readouts over his head. "Well, you've been on the station for a little over eight hours, and you've already got a concussion. That's got to be a record, even for you."

Prodding the back of his head with a wince, Malcolm admitted, "I don't even know what hit me."

"A chair, apparently. I guess not everyone was ready to stop fighting."

"Ow. What time is it?"

"Oh-three-hundred, or thereabouts. Why, got a date?"

"Of course not. I'm still waiting for you."

Dr. Shah snorted inelegantly. "Sure you are. And where do you think you're going?"

Malcolm had slid off the biobed and was now gripping its edge tightly. "I have an early appointment," he said, willing his vision to clear. "Damn, I'm never going to be ready for this."

"Reed, you need to rest. I'll wake you up for your appointment. What time is it?"

"Oh-eight-hundred, but I'll need to clean up."

"All right," Shah said, helping him back onto the bed. "I'll wake you up at seven, that should give you plenty of time. Trust me, Boom-boom, four more hours of sleep will make a world of difference in how you feel."

* * *

She was right.

By the time Malcolm left the infirmary at oh-seven-hundred, the pain in his head had settled to a dull throb. He made his way through the relatively quiet station until he reached Delta section, third ring, room 32B. Malcolm yawned and entered his code.

The keypad beeped at him. The door remained closed. Frowning, he entered the code again.


Malcolm strode down the corridor to the nearest comm panel. "Reed to Security."

"Security here," responded an all-too-familiar, and much-too-cheerful, voice.

Malcolm let his head fall forward to thump gently against the wall. "The door to my quarters won't accept my code."

"Isn't that strange? Sounds like a mechanical malfunction. I can have someone from engineering down there, oh, in the next two hours or so."

"It's not a bloody malfunction, Crewman! Reprogram the sodding thing so I can get in, right now!"

"Now, Sir, there's no need to get abusive. If it'll make you feel better, I'll have the programmers take a look, too. One of them should be free in about three hours."

Malcolm closed the communication. With his fist. "I don't have time for this," he muttered. Returning to his door, he reached into a zippered pocket and pulled out the multiple-use tool he always carried. A moment's work and the lock panel was on the floor by his feet. Another five minutes and a few minor electrical shocks later, and the door slid open.

He stripped down and hit the shower running, hurrying through his ablutions and wishing he had time to eat. When he emerged from the head he was still damp, a towel wrapped around his hips.


Malcolm jumped, reaching for a phase pistol that wasn't there. For a moment he simply regarded the two security guards in his bedroom. They pointed their phase pistols at him and stared back.

"What the bloody hell are you doing in here?" Malcolm finally demanded.

"We'll ask the questions here," the younger man blustered. "Our security monitor showed a break-in in these quarters."

Malcolm closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "First of all," he said, very, very, softly, "that's not a question, is it? Secondly, these are my quarters. I had to break in because that stupid git, Harris, locked out my code. My I.D. is on the desk."

The older guard retrieved his I.D. and checked it against his padd, then motioned his partner to lower his pistol. "Sorry, Sir. Harris dispatched us to apprehend an intruder."

"No harm done," Malcolm managed, still using his most reasonable voice. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm running very late."

"Yes, Sir. I'll make sure your door code is reinstated."

"Don't bother, I'll take my things with me. As soon as this meeting is over, I'm catching the first transport out of here."

* * *

Malcolm skidded into the conference room, laden with bags and dragging his equipment case behind him. Four people watched his disorderly entrance in surprise. "Please forgive my tardiness," he panted, shoving case and flight bag in the corner. He pulled a stack of pads out of his attaché case and handed them around. "I'd like to thank you all once more for agreeing to meet with me here. I hope you had a comfortable trip from Earth?"

"We're always happy to accommodate our servicemen and women in their pursuit of higher learning, Lieutenant." A woman in her fifties approached him and shook his hand. "You look as though you're having a difficult morning."

"Dr. Paulson, you have no idea," he muttered.

She leaned in a bit closer, her eyes sympathetic. "Do you need to reschedule?"

"No!" he nearly shouted. "I'm sorry, Doctor, but the logistics of getting here are just too difficult to manage a second time. Besides, I'm ready to defend. Shall we begin?"

Several hours later, Malcolm was waiting in the hall as the committee discussed his dissertation. He was bone-tired and hungry enough to eat raw digger-meat, and he still had to arrange passage back to Enterprise. The door slid open, and Dr. Paulson gestured him back inside. He found himself standing at attention before the civilians, feeling very much like he was facing a firing squad.

Dr. Paulson smiled. "Well done, Malcolm. Your dissertation was revolutionary, your defense brilliant. It is the judgment of this committee that you be granted the title of Doctor of Engineering."

Malcolm let loose a breath he hadn't realized he was holding and smiled. "Thank you." One by one, the committee members came forward to congratulate 'Dr. Reed' and shake his hand.

"Really, Reed," said old Dr. Nicholas, "I'm surprised you put so much effort into it."


"Come now, Reed. You've been responsible for half the weapons and shielding advances in the last decade. You've done enough fieldwork to earn three doctorates! You didn't need to defend in person, you could have phoned it in!"

Malcolm kept the smile fixed on his face and firmly suppressed the urge to whimper.

* * *

Word quickly got around the bar that he was looking for passage off Jupiter Station, but his prospects weren't looking good. Just as the newly-minted doctor was about to give up and seek quarters for the night, a familiar aroma assaulted his nose.

"Malcolm! Hey, buddy! I hear you're ready to blow this joint. I've got my cargo loaded and ready, gonna rendezvous with an ore freighter headed your way. What do you say, huh? I just got picked up a vid collection from a gem trader, sixteen hours of cowboy movies! Cool, huh? Figure that'll last us the whole trip if we watch everything twice. Allowing for bathroom breaks, of course."

God help him, Malcolm was almost glad to see him, he was that eager to get off the station. "Okay, Viggo, you've got yourself a passenger. I just have one thing I need to do before we ship out. Can you get my bags on board? And remember -"

"The case, sensitive equipment, got it. Don't worry, buddy, I'll treat it as gentle as a newborn baby. No sir, no scratches on the case or nothing. Nobody can say Viggo Mikaso don't know how to handle cargo, no sir. Hey, you know how to play Twister?"

* * *

Crewman Harris sauntered down the hall to his quarters, pleased with his day's work. That limey bastard Reed had gotten him in Dutch years ago, but Harris figured he'd more than paid him back. He punched in his code and immediately slapped his hands over his ears. WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP INTRUDER ALERT INTRUDER ALERT WHOOP WHOOP -

"Freeze!" Harris took his hands off his ears and lifted them above his head. His fellow security guards, phase pistols drawn, smirked at him. Maybe, just maybe, he was out of his league.