Disclaimer: I own neither Enterprise nor its characters. This is for entertainment purposes only; I make no money from these works.
Author's Note: Sorry, so sorry about the delays. My life has been somewhat insane lately. My apologies. Thank you to everyone who has the patience to stay with me (and occasionally kick my butt, thank you sita-z).
Credits: Credits to my betas, gaianarchy, silvershadowfire and kate98, who make this make sense.
Chapter 6: Strategy and Manoeuvres
Stupid, goddamned, ugly bastard. Trip cracked his knuckles, one by one. Now he knew why Malcolm ran away, why he hadn't wanted his parents to visit at camp. Stuart Reed was a shithead son-of-a-bitch, and the past three weeks had given Trip a showcase. Mary… well, she might as well not even be on the same plane of existence, though it was easy to see where Madeline got the ditz gene. But Stuart… asshole wouldn't play fair. Every time Trip screwed up, Malcolm got in trouble. And the rules. 'Do this, do that… don't do that. Eat this…' Trip snorted. Mary's idea of 'food' wasn't fit for animal, let alone human consumption. She'd tried making pancakes one morning – after conspiratorially asking if there was anything Trip wanted to eat, making sure Stuart was out of earshot when she did so. If you could call round discs of recycled cardboard 'pancakes.' No wonder Malcolm had been so grateful when he'd discovered real food. He'd probably never even known it existed.
Hopefully there'd be better luck on the clothes front, but somehow Trip doubted it. Most of Trip's things weren't 'fit for public display' according to Stuart, then again, neither was Trip. That was why Mary, Madeline and Malcolm were all out shopping and Trip was still confined to the house. Oh, the excuse was that he'd get tired walking around all day with the cast, but the truth was simply that they didn't trust him outside these four walls.
He wandered, poking into cupboards, wary of the possibility of a bug-cache. He avoided Stuart's den… he wouldn't go in there at gunpoint. Which sucked, because it seemed like the only computer in the house was in there, unless Trip wanted to scrounge the circuits out of the fridge and build his own. Still…
He opened one of the living-room cabinets and stopped dead. It wasn't… it couldn't be, not in a place like this. He reached out to touch it, the surface cool beneath his fingers. It was… beautiful.
"What are you doing, young man?"
Trip jumped, jerking his fingers away from the carved wood. "Nothing."
"That is a very valuable piece." Stuart stepped up beside him. "It's part of an extremely complicated strategy game. I would prefer you didn't damage it."
Trip's eyes narrowed. "Really."
"Yes, now…" Clearly, Stuart didn't think Trip was capable of grasping the concepts of a game requiring thought. Trip knew he should stay quiet, but there was no way this asshole was going to get away with that.
"Rack 'em up." He smiled slightly at the look of shock on Stuart's face. "I'll even let you put down half a dozen stones before we start."
"Odd." Mother put down her parcels and looked around. "I expected your father to be here. Go see if you can find him, would you, Malcolm?"
"Yes, Mother." He did as he was told, though Father was the last person he wanted to find. He'd probably get in trouble for some other sin Father perceived Trip as having committed. It wasn't Trip's fault that he didn't know all the rules, or that he'd been taught to think, and question the validity of those rules. It was built into the American psyche, Malcolm had learned, going all the way back to the Rebellion. After all, the whole thing started over a Tax Law…
He checked Father's study first. Nothing. Curious, Malcolm went and checked Trip's room. Trip wasn't there and Malcolm's stomach clenched. That really wasn't good. For a moment, he allowed his imagination to become overactive, picturing Father digging a hole in the backyard – a big hole. Room enough for two bodies, really, and deep enough to remain relatively undetected.
Get ahold of yourself. He'd just have to keep searching. Father wouldn't have snapped this quickly, even under the influence of Charles Tucker III. Their twin disappearances could be totally unrelated.
Or not. He walked into the living room and stopped dead. Trip and Father were seated on the floor on either side of the coffee table, each one totally focussed on the intricately carved wooden block that Father had said never to touch.
So that's Go. Father hadn't said, and Trip hadn't gotten a chance to teach Malcolm how to play. It looked fairly simple, just a matter of placing stones on a board, one person playing white and the other black. Then again, once you knew the moves, chess looked simple too, and Trip said Go took more strategy than chess.
Malcolm reported back to his Mother. "They're in the living room. Playing Go. Father and Trip."
"Oh good." Mother looked pleased. "He hasn't had a partner since Admiral St. James moved to India. They tried playing by post for a while, but your Father claims that it's simply not the same."
Mother, are you insane? What Malcolm had seen was not a friendly game where they'd retire for drinks and conversation afterwards; what he'd seen was out and out warfare. They'd been so focussed on the board and each other that they hadn't noticed him come in. He'd seen the tension hanging between them. This wasn't a truce, it was moving up to the next level of military readiness, the one that came just before a thermonuclear strike. Unfortunately, there was no other way to describe it: Mother was a twit.
Madeline came over to stand beside Malcolm, looking back at Mother who kept putting away groceries with no worries at all. "It's a bad thing, isn't it?"
Malcolm nodded. "I think it means things are going to get worse."
Trip placed a stone on the board and then looked up at Stuart. Game over. Stuart hadn't taken the six-stone lead, because as much of an insult as it was to offer, accepting would have meant admitting his weakness, and to a mere child. A mere child trained by champions. He'd only found that out recently, but Mr. Hu and Mr. Shegai had both won high-level tournaments. They'd learned all the tricks and the traps and Trip learned them the hard way by losing. In comparison, Stuart could have used a six stone advantage. The man knew the rules and was a semi-decent strategist, but semi-decent wasn't enough. He played a straightforward, transparent game based on established patterns of play. It was like… like playing Little League all your life, then trying to beat a team of semi-pros. Not all the way up in the majors – Trip wasn't that good yet – but a decent set of minor leaguers. You might get lucky, but you couldn't count on luck to win games.
Stuart gave him a look of pure hatred, masked behind a veneer of controlled civility. "Well played, young man."
"Yeah." He wasn't going to return the compliment because he didn't see a reason to lie.
"I suggest you go get cleaned up. Supper will be served soon."
Trip began clearing the board, sorting stones into their respective cups. He hoped Malcolm wasn't going to get into trouble for this. After all, what did Stuart expect him to do? Throw the game? Play stupid? Maybe when they held the Winter Olympics on Mercury using natural snow, or Vulcans became known for their abilities as stand-up comedians. Stiff upper lip, there, Stuart. Lose gracefully. After all, you only learned through losing. That's what the masters said.
Dinner ended up being consumed in silence; even Mary gave up after a few efforts to start a conversation about how good it was that Trip and Stuart had found something in common. Trip didn't even try to suppress the feelings of satisfaction that came up every time he glanced over at Stuart's thundering expression.
"The boys will be going to school tomorrow." The announcement came suddenly, as Mary set bowls of tapioca pudding out for dessert. Trip thought he saw a bit of triumph lurking in Stuart's eyes, as though the man thought he'd made the perfect move, blocking all others. "I assume you have a uniform for Charles?"
"Yes," Mary smiled. "I can't be positive on the fit, but it should conform to his measurements." She patted Trip on the head and Trip tried not to gag. "He's getting so big, so fast."
Yeah, well cement will do that to ya. From what Malcolm said, food wasn't likely to get better at school, but he failed to see how it could get any worse. And he wasn't getting big, he was getting fat. His shape was more that of a middle-linebacker than quarterback. Problem was, even crunches were impossible in this cast. He'd never been fat, not in his whole life. He was starting to look like Michael Leiuzinger who everybody made pig noises at and got shoved around a lot, until at the ripe old age of twelve he'd had a heart-attack. Coach would fall over laughing if he saw Trip like this. At least at school he might have a chance to get hold of some weights, get back into shape. After all, Dr. Jennings had said 'no sports' not 'no exercise'.
Still, the thought of a uniform grated. Uniforms in school… it was just wrong. Especially when the designers seemed to go for maximum discomfort. He knew… he'd lasted in private school for an entire week before they kicked him out. Mom and Dad – he tried not to choke when he thought about them – they'd thought he'd be better in an environment that could cater to his intelligence. The school had sent a polite letter home refunding Trip's tuition and hinting that the Tuckers might be allowing familial pride to influence their view of 'smart.' In celebration, he'd set fire to his uniform and got in trouble for playing with matches.
Besides, private school kids were geeks. Everybody knew that. Sure the schools claimed that their students did better in all the academic competitions, but private schools could afford to take just geeks and sheep. Trip wasn't going to be a sheep – he wouldn't follow orders from anybody.
But thanks to Mr. Asshole over there, I don't have a choice. He didn't even dare lodge a protest. Malcolm had been through enough lately. Anyway, school had its advantages, like a higher student-to-adult ratio. A couple more weeks to heal up, lull everybody into a false sense of security. He didn't look up, didn't give Stuart anything to grab on to.
You're forgetting, Mr. Reed. You're not the strategist you seem to think you are.
Malcolm closed his eyes and tried to pretend this wasn't happening. He wasn't going back to school, Father wasn't inflicting the British Public Schools system on Trip. Not when Trip was crippled – didn't Father know that wasn't fair?
Of course, that was probably one of the things that Father had taken into account. He probably figured that Malcolm wouldn't run away if Trip couldn't come with him. The other genius part that Father probably wasn't aware of was that Trip wouldn't run away without Malcolm. He is responsible, Father, far more responsible than you give him credit for.
Walking into the dining room, it was all he could do not to gasp. Trip was there, he was in uniform, but… it reminded Malcolm of the time Trip had 'borrowed' Jonathan's clothes back at camp. Already, he had the collar of his shirt turned half-in, half-out – no easy task with a button down collar – and it looked as though the sleeves were two different lengths. Oatmeal and milk stained the front of the shirt and his pants. Father's face was nearly purple.
"Oh, dear. Fortunately, I do have spare trousers and shirt… fortunately his jacket is okay." Was it Malcolm's imagination, or did a flash of triumph cross Trip's features with Mother's pronouncement? No, he decided, it was real. Trip was definitely Up To Something.
Mother hustled Trip out of the room and Father followed, presumably to make sure Trip didn't trick Mother somewhere along the way. Curious, Malcolm risked a closer look at the abandoned jacket.
It wasn't obvious at first, but then he saw it. Red stitching decorated the cuffs, the thread fine enough that it nearly blended in against navy fabric. Surely… Malcolm looked even closer, squinting to see.
Kill me now. The words were practically microscopic, Malcolm's nose almost touching the fabric before he could make them out. Somehow Trip had re-stitched the cuffs with a decorative pattern, running the words all the way around. Malcolm straightened up, chewing on his lip so he wouldn't laugh. He could hear Father coming back and he didn't want to spoil Trip's fun. That was Trip's game then. Instead of risking the scrutiny of close inspection, he'd thrown something obvious at Father and gotten him angry. And Trip was right, when Father was truly enraged like this he wasn't going to look as closely, not since they were now pressed for time.
"I am pleased to see that you have not chosen to emulate your friend's juvenile behaviour." Father didn't sound pleased at all. He sounded like… Father.
Malcolm suppressed a sigh. He'd never really seen Charlie happy either, but at least the man had more emotions than smug and angry. At least the Tuckers had an excuse for how messed up things were in the house – what was the Reeds' reason? It couldn't be any thing as simple as – as Trip would put it – Father being an asshole, could it?
At least when I was there, I could do something right. Maybe the Tuckers had low standards, but somehow Malcolm doubted it. It was more as though they had realistic standards.
What would you do, Father, if your children hadn't been born almost perfect? Malcolm remembered Trip talking about speech-therapy when he was younger and James still had to attend special classes. Would he have learned to sympathise more? Somehow, Malcolm doubted it. Father had never failed at anything in his life, he had no idea what it was like to not be the best. He believed that willpower could overcome anything.
And that's where Trip has you beat, he suddenly realised. Trip could be just as stubborn as Father – more stubborn probably – and had enough willpower for five people, but he was also more creative. If Trip attempted something and failed, he didn't try it again, he tried something else. He didn't abandon the goal, he just abandoned the ways of achieving it that didn't work for him. If we can't get over the wall, we'll go under, or around it. It still got you to the same place.
But where was Trip trying to go now? He'd given into Father relatively easily, for Trip. Surely, it wasn't just because of Father's habit of punishing Malcolm for Trip's transgressions. Malcolm knew that only fuelled Trip's outrage towards Father. It had to be part of something bigger.
That's the difference between us. Malcolm was like Father – he made battleplans. Trip – as much as he said he never planned ahead – had great schemes full of intricate details and built-in fail-safes. Father had taught Malcolm to try to consider every scenario, Trip seemed to consider that to be impossible, so he didn't even try, just left room for manoeuvring when things went wrong.
Father, Malcolm realised, could act, but he didn't know how to react. If things went wrong, it was a disaster.
"In Chinese, the character for 'crisis' is a combination of 'danger' and 'opportunity'." Trip seemed to read Malcolm's mind, murmuring in Malcolm's ear as he came back into the room.
Gentlemen, we have a crisis. Malcolm wished he could say it aloud. Trip actually laughed when Malcolm cracked jokes. And from the looks of things, he was coming out of the depression that had him paralyzed only weeks before. Getting food probably had something to do with that – Trip had gained nearly ten pounds, pushing him towards 'normal.' But he was planning again, getting ready to pull something. It was a good sign, a very good sign.
Malcolm felt like jumping up and down, instead, he concentrated on keeping his face neutral. He didn't want Father to wonder what was going on – Malcolm couldn't ever remember laughing or really smiling before he met Trip, so happy would definitely make Father suspicious. But I can't help it. I am happy. His best friend, his only friend was going to be okay. Yes!