Set in Stone

By Thalia Drogna, based on a synopsis from Softyfluff

Disclaimer: Enterprise doesn't belong to me, I make no money from writing this.

Rating: PG-13

Archive: yes, just ask first.

Spoilers: anything up to S4 Kir'shara

Summary: Enterprise is attempting to open negotiations with a new race of aliens, but all is not as it seems. Trip finds himself in the middle of a dangerous situation and things get worse before they get better.

AN: This is set towards the beginning of season four, after Kir'shara. Softyfluff is responsible for the plot, she sent me a synopsis and asked me if I'd write it. She asked so nicely that I couldn't refuse. I've never tried something like this before, so this is a completely new experience for me.

AN2: Apologies to Softyfluff that this has taken so long to get posted. I'm blaming it all on the forthcoming arrival of Drogna Junior, who is due to make an appearance in the first week of December, but has already been causing its mother trouble.

The grav plating failed on B deck and that was almost the final straw that sent Trip running screaming out of Main Engineering. It came on top of a failed warp drive and numerous other problems. Unfortunately as much as he would have liked to have kicked the bulkhead and thrown stuff, he couldn't, because he was the Chief Engineer and he had appearances to keep up. Instead he sighed and resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn't be able to go for that hot shower that he'd been promising himself for the last twelve hours just yet. He was already working a double shift and it looked like it had just turned into a triple.

This mission was turning into a nightmare. It had seemed like a walk in the park after their exploits on Vulcan, but as always nothing went to plan.

"Hey guys, just go and contact these nice aliens that we haven't heard from in years. Should be a piece of cake for the "heroes of the Expanse"," muttered Trip, his voice steeped in sarcasm, as he looked for the root of the latest problem. Obviously no one had bothered to tell Starfleet Command about the nebula that they needed to navigate or the raiding parties that frequented this area of space.

To make it even more ironic, this mission was supposed to be a reward for the Captain for his achievements with the Xindi. He'd been given full control of the mission and consequently anything which happened would be his full responsibility. Trip knew that Archer wanted to do his best and prove that Command's trust in him was well founded, but currently that was translating into expecting one hundred and twenty percent from his crew twenty-five-seven and it just wasn't possible to keep to that standard for weeks on end. Everyone was tired but Engineering seemed to be getting the worst of it.

"Commander Tucker?" asked Lieutenant Hess.

Trip looked up to see his Second in Command standing in front of him, and she looked as if she'd been standing there for a while. Lack of sleep was beginning to effect his concentration and he made a note to watch that. And get more coffee.

"Sorry Anna, what is it?"

"We've got another two crewmen come down with the Tauran 'Flu. It means we're going to be short handed on Alpha shift again."

Trip took the padd from her hand. Another problem that he really didn't need. Tauran 'flu wasn't life threatening if treated promptly, but it was completely incapacitating. He'd be lucky if those affected would be back at work in less than two weeks. "How many does that make?"

"In total, twelve, including Lieutenant Kaspera," replied Hess.

"Nothing we can do about it. We've reworked the rota so many times that I've lost count. We're just going to have to live with being down a few men. Get anyone still standing to pull doubles, but make sure everyone gets proper down time between shifts."

"Maybe you should follow your own orders, sir," said Hess. "You look like you could use some sleep."

"When this damn grav plating is back online, I promise I'll get some sleep," replied Trip. It was an empty promise and they both knew he didn't plan on keeping it. They'd worked around the clock to get Enterprise back in shape before now, and they probably would have to again. "I need someone to go up to B deck and look at the gravity matrix interchange."

Hess took the padd back from Trip and scrolled through the task list and crew assignments. She shook her head. "We've got teams out repairing the breach on C deck, another team in the Armoury working on the tactical systems, the EPS grid is out in section 5 of E deck, Chen and Duval are assisting Ensign Sato with the communications console malfunctions, everyone else is working on the warp engine. I could maybe pull someone off that…"

"Nah, getting the warp engine back on line is the priority, you know we're on a tight deadline for this one. We'll have to maintain at least warp four once we're up and running again or we won't make that appointment. A lot's riding on this for the Captain and he'll be as angry as a bear if we don't get warp drive back soon. Guess I'd better go up to B deck myself." Trip was already reaching for his tools as he said it. "Keep me informed about what's going on down here. If anything else goes wrong you know where I am."

"Yes, sir," said Hess.

The com sounded. "Bridge to Engineering."

Trip groaned and went to the com. The Captain had been calling down to Engineering every hour or so ever since warp drive had gone down. "Tucker here, go ahead Captain."

"Any news on the warp engine?"

"We've repaired the internal damage and got a team out on the hull to repair the breach, but it'll be another couple of hours yet," said Trip.

"I want to know as soon as we have warp drive."

Trip didn't have a chance to say anything else as Archer had already signed off. He really needed to talk to the Captain about the Engineering staffing issues but so far he hadn't found the time. The Captain saw the sickness and injury reports so he knew that Engineering was short handed.

He checked his tool kit and headed out of Engineering towards B deck. They'd only left Vulcan two weeks ago but it seemed like so much more time than that had passed. Trip thought back to the briefing at the start of the mission, it really hadn't seemed like things were going to be so difficult when they'd been standing around talking it through.

"We've been asked to contact a race known as the Thackerites," said Archer to the assembled senior staff. "They're offering to trade with us. According to the information that they provided, their planet is rich in minerals and their technology is more advanced than our own. It's an opportunity that we can't miss and Starfleet want Enterprise to be the ones to make contact."

"Vulcan encountered this race over forty years ago," said T'Pol. "At that point they were reclusive and refused to open discussions with us. Since then they have refused advances from anyone who has approached them regarding trade relations."

"Well, we've just got one up on the Vulcans," said Archer, not hiding his smug grin.

"Are we sure that their intentions are honourable?" asked Lieutenant Reed.

"We don't have any reason to think that they're not," replied Archer.

"But why contact Earth, and why now, after all this time?" Reed continued.

"It does seem a mite strange that they want to open trade relations with Earth now, when they haven't exactly been outgoing in the past," added Trip. For some reason he was getting some bad feelings about this mission, but for the moment he couldn't quantify why. He put it down to the stress of their Vulcan mission, and a lack of proper down time.

"We'll take all the usual security precautions when we get there, but Starfleet seemed to think there wasn't any reason to be concerned. Given what they're offering to trade, it's worth the risk," said Archer. "The only immediate problem is that we need to be there in less than four weeks."

Trip looked up sharply from the display of the known attributes of the alien planet. "Captain, that doesn't give us much room for manoeuvre. We'll need to be at a constant warp four or above."

"I know, but I'm sure that your team can cope, Trip," said Archer.

"Captain, we're short staffed because of this flu bug that's going around, and after that beating we took from the Vulcans, I don't know if we can do it," said Trip.

"We don't have a choice here. These people have never invited anyone else to open trade negotiations. If we blow this then it'll do huge damage to Earth's reputation and could mean we gain a new enemy. We've been entrusted with a huge responsibility."

Trip wasn't exactly happy at the prospect of continuous warp four for nearly four weeks, and his face showed it. Archer however continued on with the briefing, oblivious to Trip's obvious concern. The Captain kept forgetting that it wasn't that long ago that Enterprise had needed a complete refit and then Trip had taken them into the middle of a fire fight between the Vulcans and the Andorians. There had been enough damage to give Engineering a full workload for at least a couple of weeks, and now they were being asked to head off to an unknown planet at short notice. They were already overworked and this would just make things worse.

The briefing had continued with more information about the Thackerites themselves and everything that they knew about the planet, but Trip had slightly lost focus by then. He was already thinking through everything that would need to be done to make sure that the warp engine could sustain warp four for such a long period of time. Enterprise's usual cruising speed was warp three and there was a good reason for that. They could reach higher speeds, Enterprise wasn't known as the first warp five ship for nothing, but it was hard on the engine and definitely not easily sustainable. However, if the Captain wanted a continuous warp four, then, as Chief Engineer, it was his job to provide it.

He certainly had only been half paying attention by the time they got to navigation. That wasn't exactly his thing anyway. Star charts and course plotting were left to astronavigation, and he'd never been particularly interested in that aspect of flying a starship. The mention of the nebula did bring his attention back to the meeting.

"I can't see a way of getting round that without adding an extra couple of weeks to our ETA," said Travis.

"Is it safe to go through it?" asked Archer.

Obviously the deadline they were working to was foremost in their Captain's mind. Given that Starfleet had given Archer full control over this mission he was bound to be extra worried about it going well.

"The nebula is composed of inert dust and debris, there shouldn't be anything harmful within its composition," said T'Pol.

"It could be a problem with the engines depending on the density," pointed out Trip. "Nothing like dust clogging the plasma exhaust to cause trouble. Even if that doesn't happen, dust can do a lot of damage at the speeds that we'll be travelling at. I'd recommend that we polarise the hull plating when we enter the nebula."

Trip was so glad that he'd made that recommendation now, as he hurried towards B deck. If the hull plating hadn't been polarised already then they would have been sitting ducks when the raiders emerged from their hiding place and attacked Enterprise. The rocks and dust of the nebula had masked their arrival and caused the sensors to miss the contact. Even so the attack had been prolonged and hull plating couldn't hold forever, which was why he now came to be knee deep in engineering emergencies.

Trip finally reached B deck and immediately identified the section where the grav plating had failed. It was rather obvious because of the items floating in the air. A couple of loose screws were doing a slow pirouette in the air. The grav plate in the next section was obviously functioning absolutely fine, which deepened the mystery as to what had actually gone wrong. It was very rare for a single piece of grav plating to fail, they had been built with triple redundancies and usually the problem was in the power supply. But that couldn't the case here or the whole deck's gravity would be off line.

Trip realised that the panel he needed to get to was in the affected section. He checked that his tool kit was properly secured and stepped into the gravity free section, immediately feeling himself float upwards. He'd had plenty of low gravity and weightless conditions training so moving himself along the corridor wasn't a problem. A couple of touches on the wall were enough to keep him moving towards the maintenance panel he needed to reach. He detached the panel and set it floating in the air beside him. He started to investigate the wiring behind the panel. He pulled out his screwdriver and began taking out the relays, checking them one by one. He found the problem on the last relay.

"Always the last one you check," muttered Trip.

The relay was burnt out. Trip gripped it by the edges and pulled it out of the housing. He let go of it with a flick of his wrist and it floated away to hit the wall on the other side of the corridor. He kept spare relays in his toolbox and found a new one easily. He checked the connectors were all good and pressed the new part into the vacant slot. Pain coursed through his hand and down his arm.

"Son of a bitch!" yelled Trip as he let go of the relay, which was now smoking.

He looked down at the burnt tips of his fingers and stuffed them in his mouth to try to dull the pain. He peered at the burnt relay and used his left hand to pull out the second destroyed relay. Obviously the relay itself wasn't the problem either, something else was causing it to short. He plucked the screwdriver out of the air where it was hanging beside him. He'd need to remove the complete board and check what was going on behind it. He stopped sucking on his fingers, gripped the two handles on either side of the board and pulled. The board detached and behind it he found a mess of shorting wires, it looked like a surge had been through here. Most of it was holding but there would undoubtedly be more malfunctions in the section if they didn't replace the whole wiring bundle.

"Well that explains it," said Trip. "First things first, let's get some gravity back and then deal with the rest of this mess."

Trip had already decided that the quick any dirty approach would be the best way to deal with this. They would probably need to send someone down here to sort this out properly sooner rather than later but at the moment getting gravity back was the most important thing. Trip found the worst of the damaged wires, cut out the sections which were causing the trouble and spliced the ends back together.

Trip replaced the board, ignoring the throbbing pain from his fingers and fumbled in his tool kit for yet another replacement relay. He inserted the relay into the socket and as he did so, he remembered that he should have got himself closer to the floor before he did it. Gravity made its presence known and Trip landed in a pile of bruised limbs on the deck.

Trip swore. This was definitely a situation that called for a few bad words. He was so tired of everything going wrong and he reckoned that he really deserved a break. He hadn't slept for over twenty-four hours and it was beginning to show in the simple mistakes he was making, like not making sure he was nearer the floor before turning the gravity back on. Now he was going to have to make a trip to sickbay to get a burn treated and probably a painkiller for his bruises.

He picked himself up carefully from the deck and located the covering panel and his toolbox, which had also hit the ground in spectacular style. He replaced the panel and picked up his slightly dented toolkit. He went to the nearest com unit and let Hess know that the gravity problem was fixed but they'd need to send someone down to replace the wiring bundle.

"I'm heading back, but I got a bit singed on a shorting relay so I'm going to pop into sickbay on my way down," said Trip.

"Yes, sir. Maybe you should consider getting some rest after that," said Hess.

"Wish I could, Lieutenant. When I get back you should go and get your head down, though. You're heading into a triple."

"Yes, sir. Hess out."

Trip cradled his burnt hand and limped to sickbay. He walked through the double doors to find Phlox already had two Tauran Flu victims occupying the biobeds. It wasn't as busy as Trip had expected given the number of his staff going down with the virus. Mostly they'd been sent to their quarters and told to stay there until they felt better, it was only the really serious cases in sickbay.

"Commander Tucker," said Phlox. "What brings you here?"

"I fried myself on a shorting relay," said Trip, holding out his burnt hand.

Phlox indicated for him to take a seat on the remaining biobed, and Trip caught the doctor noticing his stiffness of movement.

"What else have you been up to?" asked the doctor.

"Just a stupid mistake with some grav plating. I turned it back on before I had my feet on the floor."

Phlox already had his scanner out but his blue eyes seemed to be taking in everything about Trip's appearance.

"Hmm, second degree burns on your middle finger, index finger and thumb. Deep tissue bruising on your right side as well. When did you last sleep?"

Trip raised his left hand and scratched his head. "Erm, I guess before the raiders attacked."

"Commander, that was over twenty-four hours ago. We've spoken about this before," said Phlox.

"Yeah, but I'm the only one holding this ship together," said Trip.

"With a perfectly capable staff," said Phlox.

"Who are all down with Tauran Flu. We're so short handed that I've got the whole of engineering working double shifts and it still isn't enough. If you can magic a few more engineers out of thin air then I'll go and hit the sack, but for the moment I can't afford the time out."

"I could relieve you of duty," said Phlox, as he treated the burn and gave Trip an injection of pain killer. Finally he dressed the burns, applying a bandage that allowed air to reach the injury but protected it from dirt and infection.

"That's up to you, Doc," said Trip. "But you can be the one to explain to the Captain why we won't make it to Thacker on time."

One of the doctor's assistants appeared at that moment. "Doctor, Ensign Javier is much worse," she said.

"I'll just be a minute, Commander," said Phlox.

"No problem, Doc," said Trip, knowing he'd just been saved from a difficult conversation.

Phlox was certainly more than a minute and Trip began to get restless, thinking about the time he was wasting by sitting in sickbay. He looked down at the various vials of liquid that were resting on the treatment tray that Phlox had pulled up next to Trip's biobed. Trip idly toyed with them, and picking up Phlox's medical scanner, he was able to identify them. Mostly they were painkillers and antivirals but the clear one on the end of the row was something else. This one was a stimulant, usually called "go juice" in Starfleet slang. A thought suddenly entered Trip's head and once it was there the temptation was too great. He loaded the clear vial into the hypospray, checked it was set to the correct dose and pressed it to his neck. He carefully removed the vial so that Phlox wouldn't know that it had been used, and jumped off the biobed feeling better than he had for some time.