Thin Man Overboard

Disclaimer: Paramount owns Star Trek and all the characters therein.

Rating: PG

Genre: Mystery/Action-Adventure (with a little romance thrown in, of course)

Summary: Set between Bound and Demons, this is the sequel to The Thin Man Beams Aboard. On the aqueous planet of Onara the Enterprise crew discovers that all is not what it seems when one of their officers goes missing. A government conspiracy, a disappearing ship, strange signals…there's no shortage of mysterious circumstances. Can they save their colleague before it's too late.

Author's Note: This story has been reposted to to changes, some minor and some critical, which have been made. I sincerely apologize to those of you who were reading this and hope that you will continue to do so!

Part 1: The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Consciousness

He moved gradually through each level of consciousness, starting from the peaceful black of unresponsiveness. From here he wandered inadvertently into a surprising awareness of pain and an increasing sensitivity to stimuli around him. Finally he became alert…sentient to his predicament.

It was cold—unbelievably cold—and he seemed to be moving, gently but incessantly. The cold was the pain that had come to his attention and led him out of unconsciousness. He was disoriented and didn't know what was happening, but he sensed he was becoming warmer—his teeth were not chattering, his arms and legs regained feeling. Eventually he understood that he was floating in water—this surprised him, as he had no idea how he had gotten there.

Where was he? He searched his memory but no explanation or location sprang to mind. A light shone relentlessly, casting a strange orange glow over his world…he realized his eyes were closed and the orange glow was something very bright penetrating his lids as he faced its source. He cracked those lids a fraction and was immediately blinded by a piercing shot of light. Eyes smarting, he struggled to focus.

He was lying on his back, staring into a deep azure sky rimmed with whispery clouds. Above him a white sun blazed from its station in the heavens. He righted himself and examined his surroundings, rotating in an awkward circle. This cursory survey revealed a long line of unbroken horizon. Calm blue water as far as the eye could see.

He was alone.

Treading water, he tried not to panic, tried to remember where he was and how he got there. Was he injured? No…he flexed his arms and legs as best he could, wriggled his fingers and toes, ran a hand over his face. All appeared to be as it should. Moreover, he was fit—he was treading water with relative ease.

Water splashed into his mouth and he inadvertently swallowed—freshwater. So this wasn't an ocean…the revelation did not jog his memory. He peered into the distance as best he could but both water and sky were limitless. It would not do to dwell on this; it would be best to keep his mind occupied. If this was a sea or lake and not an ocean, what might live here? Larger predatory marine animals tended to loose themselves in vast oceans rather than freshwater sources—he'd read that somewhere, hadn't he?—so that was good, right?

Something brushed his leg and he felt a surge of adrenaline and panic: blind, irrational, unstoppable. He yelped and kicked violently at whatever monsters might be below the surface (though as soon as he did so he observed that this might be viewed as a provocation and therefore unwise).

Nothing responded…perhaps it was a figment of his imagination? Anthropomorphized seaweed? A particularly strong current? Whatever the case his fear and all the physical reactions that came with it remained. His heart pounded and his breathing came in rapid gasps.

He cast about, trying to find something to grasp both physically and mentally. There was nothing, only himself and the water…and something on the horizon. He squinted.

It was very far away, but it was there. An island? Probably not, as it had only just appeared. A ship? Some kind of rig?

He started swimming.

----------------------

If Trip couldn't actually be with T'Pol he supposed this was the next best thing. He knew it was childish and very high school, but working at her science station was enough to brighten his mood. He just had to remember to set all instruments back exactly as he'd found them or she'd have a fit. Not a real fit, of course, but one of her raised-eyebrow fits. Silent but deadly.

The bridge was very quiet—he was alone save for Hoshi, Ensign Sharat at the tactical station, and Crewman Baker running maintenance diagnostics on the helm. Normally Travis had to be pried manually from his station when maintenance work needed to be done there—but since he wasn't around and the ship was scheduled to remain in stationary orbit for the next three days, for once the task was painless. Baker worked quickly despite this—he'd been ousted too many times in the past by the overprotective helmsman and couldn't shake the feeling that his minutes at the console were numbered.

Trip entered a new set of commands into the computer and started reviewing the simulations that resulted from it, becoming easily engrossed in the intricacies of his work. He would have preferred engineering, but with the captain, tactical, and science officers off the ship he felt uncomfortable leaving the bridge. Besides, he liked to imagine that he could feel T'Pol resonating from the instruments she used here so frequently…

Crewman Sharat was giving him a strange look. Trip realized he was running a hand along the computer screen and stopped, giving Sharat a hard glare. The young man shrugged his shoulders and went back to his work.

Trip sighed. If T'Pol were there she would have given him a strange look too. What exactly did he think—she was imprinted on the console? Doubtful, seeing as he himself had replaced it with an upgraded version less that four weeks prior. If it were imprinted with anyone it was probably the engineer that designed it, or the machinist that oversaw its production. The image that produced was singularly unattractive.

The engineer stared out at the planetscape occupying the viewscreen while he thought. He found Onara, the planet they currently orbited, beautiful…and a little unsettling. An ever-changing landscape of colors from turquoise to navy, it shimmered beneath swirls of cloud and atmospheric vapor.

An ocean planet was at the same time a paradise and a peril—fascinating to watch, but there was nothing with which the eye could become familiar. Coloration of the terrain, shapes of the coastlines, outlines of the cities: all the usual terrestrial markers were missing from Onara. All was vast, impenetrable blue. It was classified not as a Minshara or "M" Class Planet, but as a Pelagic or "O" Class, according to the new Starfleet/Vulcan planet categorization system. This meant that less than 20 of the surface area was terrestrial. In Onara's case, a mere 7 of the land was...well, land—and that number was receding fast.

He noticed Sharat was eying him again—probably thought his commanding officer was losing his marbles. Trip grinned at him and nodded to the screen.

"Amazing, isn't it?" he asked.

Sharat nodded somewhat uncertainly and Hoshi looked up from her console.

"It sure is," she almost sighed before catching herself, "...sir." She glanced at Trip nervously before bending her head awkwardly to her work once more.

Trip stifled a chuckle at the comm officer's expense. He knew she was still feeling guilty about being the source of a slight misunderstanding between himself and T'Pol. She had inadvertently (or maybe not so inadvertently) informed T'Pol that a gift Trip had given her was not, in fact, a priceless heirloom passed down for generations of the Tucker family. When pressed on the subject, the engineer confessed that it had, in fact, been bought at…a garage sale. While Trip would not allow the sentiment of the gift to be negated, he was forced to admit that the copy of the Earth classic "The Thin Man" that he had given T'Pol had been purchased relatively recently by his mother along with several other things.

"Then why did you choose to give the book to me?" T'Pol had asked in that infuriatingly unemotional way she had. She could launch a full-scale interrogation with a single question and accompanying look.

"I did actually think you would enjoy it," he told her.

She raised one eyebrow, making him squirm slightly. "But you were getting rid of it anyway."

"I wouldn't exactly put it like that!" It was hard to explain.

Ever since his parents had moved to Mississippi his mother had been in such a depression. She had loved their old neighborhood and been very active in the community. Moving to a new town had been hard on her, so Trip and his father had done their best to encourage her to become involved and make new friends. Their old complex had boasted an annual garage sale dating back over 175 years and Mrs. Tucker was one of its chief organizers. When the new development announced its own sale she saw the perfect opportunity to formalize her relationship with her neighbors. While this was undoubtedly a good thing, it had also resulted in the Tucker household's acquisition of what Trip's mother called "sundries." Trip's father had another word for them, though he never let his wife hear him say it.

The end result for Trip was that for the last several months his mother had been sending care packages filled with unusual items she was convinced her darling boy would need in the depths of space. These ranged from the decorative to the practical, from the unrecognizable to the mundane.

Trip was a trapped man on all fronts. He had pushed his mother to get involved--he couldn't very well refuse the fruits of her social labors. He also felt compelled to accept the attention she lavished on him. Ever since Lizzie's death he could not deny her the pleasure of doting on the child for whose safety she justifiably feared. The care packages comforted her more than they helped him, so he let her send them and thanked her accordingly. Besides, his father was convinced it was "just a phase."

In the meantime, Trip was trying to find homes for some of the things she had sent--he could not bring himself to just get rid of them. Well, the sweater he did feed into the materials synthesizer, but since it would come out again as boot soles or something similarly useful, he didn't feel too guilty about it. The book had been easy—he thought from the start that T'Pol would like it. Well, better than the other book his mother had sent, anyway: Florida: Myths, Legends and Facts. Granted, it had a great picture of a sea serpent scaring a fisherman on the cover, but still. Now the tea towels...he was having trouble with those. What was he supposed to do with tea towels on a starship? It made no sense. What was he going to do with them? T'Pol was going to be suspicious of his gifts from some time, so that ruled her out...

Trip watched as Hoshi slid a shy glance in his direction, judging his mood. She needn't have worried. Her comment had sparked the kind of "arguing" with T'Pol that Trip enjoyed most. His explanation of where the book had come from had been followed by a lengthy discussion concerning the art and practice of the garage sale. Specifically, if the actual structure was not available for purchase, why was it called a "garage sale?" After attempting to explain that this was an outdated term for the building in which one might keep a transport vehicle—and that it referred to the location of the sale and not necessarily the contents—Trip considered telling the Vulcan that some places referred to them as yard or tag sales. In the end he decided this might only prove more confusing and kept his mouth shut.

T'Pol, meanwhile, had come to the conclusion that while she could understand the logic in selling an item in order to extract the most benefit from something otherwise unneeded, she did not understand what might motivate people to purchase such things. If the concept of second-hand goods was somewhat foreign to Vulcans, the idea of the impulse buy was non-existent.

Every time he thought of the flummoxed "I-will-never-understand-you-humans" look on T'Pol's face he grinned. His Vulcan had a way of doing that to him—getting to him with her unexpected viewpoint, making him realize there was so much still to learn about one another. Someday he'd have to thank poor Hoshi. For now, though, he'd let her squirm for a little bit. After all, it could have turned out terribly!

He turned his attention back to the engineering schematics he was supposed to be studying and shook his head at the marvels of Onaran technology. Enterprise had been assigned to assist and observe the Onaran people in any way they could, but Trip couldn't see that they needed any of his help. In the end Captain Archer admitted that they were to act as emissaries for Earth and Vulcan, so the engineer guessed that meant lending moral support, should such a thing be required. He didn't mind either way, since he found the project fascinating.

The Onaran people were working to reclaim 5 of their surface terrain from beneath the all-encompassing oceans. This would nearly double their surface area, opening up space on which new shuttle ports and communications relays might be built. They also hoped to capture the tourist trade: they were aware that terrestrial humanoids considered tropical climate and beachfront property to be highly desirable. Onaran had the weather, now it just needed the land.

Commander Tucker was certainly no fool—he realized immediately that if the project worked, the Onarans would also have a security blanket for the future. This would be a way to combat the one environmental force they feared above all others: reclamation by the sea. Onara couldn't afford to lose any more land and not just for commercial reasons. Their climate had gradually been changing over the past 50 years and they feared that a decrease in land area would mean an increase in precipitation, triggering mega-storms or hurricanes. So far the changes had been relatively minor, but the Onaran government feared for the future inhabitants of their aqueous planet.

The solution to their problem was ingenious: it involved working not only to increase glacial mass at both poles but also pumping more water into glacial swells along the equator. Various current streams would hold the new water in place, uncovering a range of coastal land on the planets two main island chains and, if it really worked well, revealing an entire set of islands flooded decades earlier.

The chief engineer ran the models for the fifth time, adding variations in weather, salinity, and water pressure. The program adapted immediately and, as usual, achieved the desired results. Amazing!

Though Onaran technological advancement fell somewhere between that of Earth and Vulcan, their unique environment had led them to become experts in developments essential for life on an aquatic world. Before arriving Trip had wondered how 2.7 billion people could be housed on so little land. T'Pol had given him a strange look, as though the answer to that question should be obvious, and he realized that of course it was. How do you house over two and a half billion people on islands whose total habitable terrain is less than the area of Australia? Answer: you don't. You adapt to your environment and start building underwater habitats.

On Onara upscale housing often meant being close enough to the surface to be able to see the sunlight filter through the waters: this was called an "upper view". The most popular public and private properties had windows or even patios opening to the surface elements. The images he'd seen of these structures made Trip think of the aquariums he'd visited as a kid, watching dolphins or manatees through glass and marveling at his window to their world. This was the same thing, but kinda from the other side of the glass wall. What exactly did the dolphins and manatees think of their view of the terrestrial world?

Trip hoped to see the technology for himself soon enough—after the captain, Malcolm, and Travis returned to the ship, he and T'Pol were scheduled to meet with Oula BenCour, the project's lead scientist for a tour of the lab facilities they were using. The whole thing seemed very Jules Verne to Trip—a man who understood that fantasy and fascination could sometimes lead to very real scientific progress. He couldn't wait.

His mind was thus happy and occupied as he learned more about Onara and what Dr. BenCour called her people's "most momentous evolution." Around him, the bridge hummed peacefully. Hell, life couldn't be better, right? He was engineer on the best ship in the fleet, his captain was his best friend, and he had a connection—no pun intended—with the most logically beautiful woman he's ever had the fortune to meet. All was well.

It couldn't last—and of course, this being Enterprise and he being Charles "I-Can't-Go-On-an-Away-Mission-Without-Something-Strange-Happening" Tucker the Third, it didn't. An end to his peace came in the form of an audio transmission from the planet.

"T'Pol to Enterprise." There were, as always, no vocal clues as to her state of mind, but Trip felt suddenly ominous anyway.

"Go ahead," he told her apprehensively.

"There's been an incident on the surface."

-------------------------------------

The boat was much farther away than he had first supposed—it turned out the vessel was larger than his original (admittedly speculative) estimation. His mind had been tricked but now his body wasn't laughing at the extra work it was being asked to do. He was a strong swimmer, though, and the repetitive action of hand and leg movements kept his mind occupied—kept it off sinking, sharks, and any other unknown dangers lurking in the depths below him. He slowed to a halt only when a shadow fell across his face—he'd reached his target at last.

Bobbing lightly—he was still surprised at how easily he was able to stay afloat and how little the cold of the water bothered him—he surveyed the vast hull that rose out of the water before him. He called as loudly as he could, swimming out to what he deemed would be an optimal distance for anyone on the ship to see or hear him. There was no response. In fact, there was no movement of any kind on the ship.

It was unlike any ship he could remember seeing or even hearing about, though his mind was still somewhat jumbled and confused as to his purpose in this large body of water. The ships he remembered were not like this, not on the water…his ship was somewhere else, floating not on blue but through black…Memories of space came tumbling back to him, haphazard and disjointed.

Enterprise. He had to get a message to them, wherever they were…Even in his incoherent state he understood that this ship, this ocean craft, was his best chance for survival and rescue. He examined it.

There was certainly a lot to look at; it was altogether surprising. First of all, it appeared to be made of wood. This in itself was not unusual, but the vessel appeared to be made not of many planks joined together but rather one large tree. In fact, if it were not for the masts rising from the deck he would have thought it was simply one large uprooted honey blond trunk. If this was not strange enough, he also realized as he swam around it that although it was smooth like driftwood, the tree…was alive.

Smooth roots curled and twisted from the stern of the ship and wrapped themselves along the sides, swooping up and disappearing over the railing that protected the decks above. The bow was a tight cluster of branches that twisted inward, creating a peaked arc capable of cutting through the waters. Leaves and tiny red flowers peeped out from between the branches, waving like merry flags fluttering in the breeze. He could see windows in the sides of the ship, erratically placed in natural knotholes in the wood.

Squinting, he looked up the side, weighing his options. This took about three nanoseconds these were pretty much nil at the moment. Well, actually, he did have one…

He made his way the bow once more and took firm hold of the nearest branch. It was difficult at first, but he soon discovered a set of handholds carved into the hull. Obviously someone else had the same idea he did. He frowned briefly. It wasn't very safe was it? Anyone who knew where the handholds were could climb aboard, friend or foe. There should really be a retractable ladder or rope of some sort…of course if that were the case then he would still be treading water, wouldn't he?

These thought brought him over the railing and finally, blessedly, onto firm ground once more. As he lay panting on the deck he was not surprised to find that it and the rails were one smooth, unbroken piece of wood. Both railing and deck had simply been carved into the trunk of the tree.

After a few moments of enjoying his current non-aquatic state, he turned his attention to the open deck before him. It was as he had surmised: empty. There was no one, and this felt eerie, especially when combined with the state of the ship itself. The decks were clean, the sails neatly stowed, ropes coiled. All was well kept and ready for action at a moment's notice. A wheel—obviously a navigational tool of some sort—rocked lazily back and forth, enjoying its unsupervised free time.

His eye was caught by a small podium situated next to the navigational wheel. For some reason it seemed very out-of-place, even on a ship this strange. Upon closer inspection it was revealed to be made of a glossy black material and housed an oblong panel. It looked like…he ran a hand over it experimentally.

Yes! It sprang to life. Finally, something he recognized: a computer.

---------------------------

T'Pol would never admit it (and would probably deny it if asked), but she was very relieved to see Trip's form materialize before her. She knew Trip would be upset at the loss of a close friend but she was confident that reason and a clear head would prevail. Yes, the two of them could work together to solve this problem. The Onarans had sophisticated search and rescue techniques suited to their planet's unique conditions but the Vulcan felt more at ease knowing Enterprise's own engineer—and someone she trusted without reservation—was setting his talents to the task.

"What happened?" he asked without preamble, stepping off the platform, his manner grave and businesslike. The only indication he gave of their personal connection was not detectable by anyone but T'Pol herself. Through the bond they shared she felt a surge of worry…and relief. He was apprehensive about their situation, but at the same time reassured that she was safe. She was learning to accept that the commander's attachment to her included personal concern for her safety and knew he was working hard to ensure it did not interfere with their duty to the ship and their crewmates.

It was disconcerting to not only feel his emotions but, when her guard was down, to be affected by them as well. When she meditated or was involved in some mundane task she could sometimes feel his presence tugging on the periphery of her consciousness—and it was not an unpleasant sensation. Though the behemoth that was Vulcan cognitive neurology had been advancing by leaps and bounds with the hesitant but open acceptance of their people's inherent mental powers she was still unable to find any guidance for her current condition. The mating bond itself was rarely mentioned in any of the information she had acquired, much less a bond with a human. The most logical thing would be, of course, to simply ask for advice from a professional in the field…but so far she could not bring herself to do this. She pushed these thoughts to the back of her mind with considerable force for the moment and responded to Trip, waiting beside her.

"It was an isolated storm cell accompanied by unusually turbulent wave activity." She pointed him toward the command center of the ship as she explained what had happened.

Trip hurried to keep up. He couldn't help noticing that she seemed to be working overtime to suppress her agitation. T'Pol, anxious? That couldn't be good—or was this just a reflection of his own anxiety to the situation? "Turbulent wave activity?" he asked. "I thought the Onarans had the most sophisticated nautical technology known. Why can't they detect storms like this?"

"We can," a voice answered tensely. They had reached the command center of the ship, abuzz with people and machinery working swiftly to respond to recent events. Trip recognized the owner of the voice as Oula, the Onaran project leader. She stepped forward from a holographic map representation of what looked to be several layers of ocean currents. "We can to a point, that is. Some of these cells just form too rapidly for us to detect."

She shook her head, her satiny mane flipping from shoulder to shoulder. Trip couldn't help thinking for the umpteenth time that the Onarans really did look like the kind of mer-folk one might find in a children's book of fairy tales. Their skin was mottled pale gold and moss, their hair ran from deep sea green to silvery grey. A second set of nostrils set high on the bridge of the nose acted almost as gills, allowing Onarans to "breathe" underwater for extended periods of time—up to 20 minutes, Phlox had enthusiastically informed him at the last crew briefing. Onaran physiology lacked the tale so common to the Earthen folk creatures, but Trip had been secretly delighted that evolution had left these water-dwellers with delicately webbed digits.

"I've never seen one this violent before," Oula continued. "We lost one of the smaller research vessels that was tethered to the ship—thank the seas no one was on board at the time. The waves—they tossed this ship like it was nothing."

Trip looked to T'Pol for confirmation. She nodded briefly.

"And that's when they went overboard?" he ventured. "The waves washed them off the decks?"

"No," the science officer told him tensely. "They were lost when the ship rolled."

"The ship…rolled?" he asked incredulously. It seemed impossible. This ship, the Tubat, was huge—probably half the size of Enterprise.

"We assessed damages and casualties immediately afterwards." T'Pol's dark eyes were unreadable. "That's when we discovered we had people missing. So far we have no bio-signs from any of them, nor have any attempts to contact the ship been made."

"How many are missing?" Trip asked.

"Three," Oula answered, visibly upset. "Lunat and Sevara, both junior technicians, and of course your colleague—"

"Trip!" Captain Archer was making his way across the busy room, sidestepping repair crews scrambling to restore the ship's systems. The captain's casual diplomatic demeanor had been replaced by one Trip had seen many, many times before: intense determination. He also noticed that his commanding officer was very disheveled and somewhat…wet.

"Boy am I glad to see you," Archer told him. "Has T'Pol filled you in?"

Trip nodded and took a deep breath, dreading the question he had to ask. "Sir, with waves powerful enough to roll a ship this size and with no signs of life or communications…what are the chances that Malcolm is still alive?"

-------------------------

If he was going to get rescued, it would probably be just his luck to have it happen now. Granted, this was usually the kind of thing that happened to Trip, but it would be just typical to have the captain and a search party show up while he was standing around in his skivvies, he thought, looking down at his bare legs. Of course, his chances of being spotted had increased exponentially with the removal of his dark outerwear—the bright blue of the standard issue Starfleet undies could probably be seen from space. Beside him his uniform was laid out flat on the deck, drying briskly in the bright sun. He eyed it, willing it to hurry up.

Malcolm picked up the vest he had been wearing over it. Now this was a handy piece of clothing—he had no doubt that it had saved his life…but the Onarans had promised it would. Yes, now he remembered! The vest was made of some kind of metallic fabric that adjusted its temperature when he touched it. It acted as a flotation device too—that's why he'd been able to swim so far despite having just regained consciousness in this strange place. Closer examination revealed that it also contained several small pockets, all empty. He seemed to recall both tracking and communications devices, as well as a flashlight. There was his own communicator, too…How had he lost them?

He scrutinized the computer screen once more. As he explored the interface he began to recognize scientific protocols and survey data—this must be a research vessel. He could not get a fix on his own location; there seemed to be some kind of interference but he couldn't isolate it. He found a signal link and activated it—a beep sounded as an audio channel opened.

"This is Malcolm Reed of the starship Enterprise," he informed whoever might be listening. "I was observing a mission on the research vessel Tubat in the Pelak Sea District and was thrown overboard during a storm. I am now on an abandoned ship of some kind. I am unable to determine my location and require immediate assistance."

He waited hopefully for a few moments but the computer screen remained passive. No one had heard him yet—Malcolm hoped the interference was not completely blocking his message. He set it to replay continuously.

Right now he needed to search the rest of the ship. Surely there was some kind of clue as to his location, other computers, or alternate ways of contacting his friends. Near the center of the upper deck was a stairway leading below—this was the logical place to start.

Malcolm looked across the deck then back at his uniform. It wasn't quite dry yet, he could leave it while he looked…No, he decided firmly. That was just asking for trouble. He pulled it and the vest back on as he approached the stairs. He peered into the darkness below, wishing he had a weapon or at least a light, but it couldn't be helped. Carefully, he began his descent.

------------------------

"Their vests malfunctioned, Captain." Trip threw the offending piece of equipment down on the biobed in front of him.

Archer picked it up and looked it over. "Malfunctioned how?"

"We're not sure," T'Pol supplied. She was pacing inside the Tubat's small medical bay. "It appears to be some kind of electromagnetic background wave. None of the Onarans are familiar with it either. It's playing havoc with many of the ship's systems."

"We've been getting intermittent readings of this interference for the past couple of hours," she continued. "It's almost non-existent, but it's there. Hoshi noticed it first in the comm links and I've been tracking it since then."

"I find it difficult to believe that people as advanced as the Onarans are unfamiliar with their planet's idiosyncrasies," Archer mused. "And I find it even harder to believe that this is a brand new phenomenon." He raised a hand as T'Pol began to speak. "But of course it could be. Just investigate it thoroughly. Run it by Dr. Oula." He turned back to Trip. "Any word from Hoshi or Travis yet?"

Trip shook his head. "Hoshi's been listening to the ether without a break since Malcolm went missing and Travis has been helping with the aerial surveys, but nothing so far. Don't worry sir," he added hastily, "Malcolm's tough. We'll bring him back safe and sound."

"Speaking of sound," someone interjected, nudging Trip out of the way, "could you make less of it? My patients need rest!" The Onaran medic, Kulo, flittered about his charges, checking their bio-signs and internal readings. Phlox appeared beside Archer nodded welcomingly, oblivious to Kulo's annoyance.

"How are they doing?" Archer asked in a low voice, mindful of his warning.

"Oh, Sevara had mild exposure, but nothing too serious. His vest was badly damaged not only by the interference—which I'm sure Commander Tucker told you about?" Trip nodded and the doctor continued. "It was also torn when the young man was thrown overboard. Lunat suffered from a fractured ancivior bone—a broken arm, in human physiology, I believe. Both of them will be on their feet in no time."

They were interrupted by a comm signal. "Sato to Captain Archer." Hoshi's voice rang through the sickbay.

"Archer here."

"Sir, I've got something!" Hoshi sounded breathless and excited. "I'm only getting fragments, I can't make out the whole thing, but it's a repeating message—sir, it's from Lt. Reed!"

------------------------------

"That is good news!" Oula sighed, clasping the PADD containing Malcolm's transmission to her chest with relief. "The best I've heard all day."

The doctor was sitting in the center of the command center looking, T'Pol noted, somewhat bedraggled. Despite her lack of emotional empathy, T'Pol had been around humans enough to understand the stress the Onaran scientist was managing. Vulcans were not superstitious, but if they were, T'Pol would be forced to admit that Oula had come across extremely bad luck: to have a major research project derailed so completely because of freakishly bad weather had to be very frustrating. When Trip had informed her of Hoshi's discovery it was the first time in hours the doctor had ventured looking hopeful.

"You're telling me!" Trip agreed. "Now, Malcolm said he didn't know his location, but—"

"It sounds like he's found our science vessel," Oula finished for him. "If he's safe on board then we have a much larger target to search for."

"Have you had any luck finding the source of the electromagnetic disturbance?" T'Pol asked pointedly. For some reason the Onarans had yet to address this as the primary cause for their difficulty in locating the missing men, much less find its origin. It seemed more than a simple oversight in logic. Even the humans at their most emotional would have looked for it.

"We thought it more important to find your crewman first!" Dr. BenCour snapped, both sets of nostrils suddenly flaring. As quickly as the anger had flamed, it was gone. Oula lifted a hand to her mouth as if to check that yes, those words had come out of the one attached to her own face. "I'm…s-sorry," she stammered. She seemed genuinely surprised at her own outburst.

"I only meant to suggest," began T'Pol stonily, "that perhaps—" she caught a look at Trip over Oula's shoulder. Wide-eyed, he gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head. T'Pol had seen this gesture before among humans: he was pleading with her not to press the point. The Vulcan faltered for the barest of moments, then recovered. "Perhaps the stress of the situation is affecting all of us adversely. How long has it been since you've slept, doctor?"

Oula sighed and opened her mouth to answer when she was interrupted by an insistent beeping from a nearby console. She switched her attention, immediately alert. "What is it, technician?" she asked the young Onaran who was sitting at the computer, tapping furiously at the controls.

"I think, doctor…" he pulled an image of a sector of the sea up on the screen in front of him, "I think we found the ship!" The technician enlarged the view of the water until a small blotch appeared in the center of it, then grew to become the sought-after missing science vessel.

Trip ran a hand over his face, so relieved he was almost laughing. Through her own emotional controls, T'Pol felt his happiness. It was a whisper against her consciousness, fleeting but tangible. Just as suddenly she felt it ebb away, replaced by an iciness. She looked at his face and saw him soberly reading the computer screen.

"There has to be a mistake," he bent closer, tapping a hand against the console as though it were broken. T'Pol looked and understood his concern.

"There's no mistake, Commander," Oula told him sadly. "I don't know what happened, but there are no life signs aboard that ship. Lt. Reed isn't on it."