Songs in Red and Grey
Enterprise broke orbit from Coriolis a few days after the feast to celebrate the decommissioning of the MACO base. The Coriolans had told them that they had a standing invitation to visit them whenever they were in the area. They set course for Vulcan, with the intention of dropping Captain Kanatova off at her position in the Interspecies Medical Exchange on Vulcan, even though she would now be several weeks late. The Vulcans didn't seem worried by this and had been understanding of her explanation that she had family commitments and then difficulty getting transport. T'Pol had also put in a good word for her so that had probably helped.
Trip was behaving strangely. At least Trip was behaving strangely for Trip. For anyone else it would have been considered normal behaviour, but Archer was still worried and apparently so were T'Pol, Reed and half the crew. T'Pol had asked him if he had ever seen Commander Tucker behaving in this manner before and to be honest he couldn't think of an instance where Trip had actually voluntarily stayed in sickbay for the entire recommended period. Normally it was a battle of wills between the medical professional who was caring for him and the Engineer as to how early Trip was allowed to leave sickbay before his allotted recovery time was complete. Archer had seen Trip sneak out in a bed sheet, he had been so keen to get back to duty. Lieutenant Reed had even asked if they were sure that the virus hadn't affected Trip's brain, it was such an unusual turn of events.
Archer suspected that Trip really did just feel ill and perhaps he needed the extra recovery time that Phlox wanted to give him. Everyone was happy to give Trip as long as he needed before he felt able to return to duty, or even leave sickbay for that matter. It's just that they had become used to telling their Chief Engineer that he needed more recovery time, rather than wondering when he'd be back on duty. Very briefly a stray thought had crossed Archer's mind that perhaps this had all been too much for Trip and mentally he'd never be willing to return to duty. If that was the case then Archer would never be able to forgive himself for allowing Trip to go on his "one last mission" for Special Projects, even knowing now that it might have cost him command of Enterprise. Trip was just too important to him to lose like this, sound in body but not in mind. However Archer didn't really believe that it was possible that this last brush with death could have affected Trip so deeply. It certainly wasn't the first time that Trip's life had been on the line and he doubted it would be the last, but maybe that was the problem.
Archer entered sickbay to see Trip reading a padd, once again hooked up to the dialysis machine. He was wearing light blue scrubs and propped up against a couple of pillows. Phlox had been slowly winding down the amount of time that Trip spent on dialysis, but it would continue for a while longer, until Trip's liver could support itself completely autonomously. It reminded Archer of the simple fact that Trip had never been ill like this before and that perhaps they were all wrong to be judging him on previous examples of his behaviour when injured. The dialysis alone was uncomfortable, dull and time consuming. It certainly wasn't something that Archer would have wanted to go through even when feeling well, but Trip still bore the scars just under his skin of the haemorrhagic nature of the virus, and was suffering continuing fatigue. Phlox had also mentioned various other medical problems that he was dealing with to do with Trip's blood work. Archer could also see the healing marks on Trip's arm from the knife cuts inflicted by Andros and her henchmen, which reminded him that Trip wasn't just getting over one close call, but two. Archer didn't really like to think just how close they had come to losing him.
Archer approached Trip's biobed. "Hey, Trip."
Trip looked up from his reading. "Hi there, Captain." Archer could at least see that Trip was considerably less yellow now. The normal tone of his skin had very nearly returned. As Trip saw him approach, he put an arm behind his head and rested back on it against the pillow.
"What are you reading?"
"Malcolm brought me some comics. I'm currently on X-Men, but there's Spider-man, Fantastic Four, Constantine and The Shadow here as well. Who'd have thought that Malcolm knew his comic books?"
"Even Malcolm was a kid once upon a time," said Archer, smiling. "I brought you the latest Engineering updates, but I guess you don't need them."
Archer watched a look of distaste pass across Trip's face, which was something that he never thought he'd see associated with his beloved Engineering. "T'Pol, Malcolm and Hess already brought them," he said, indicating the untouched pile of padds on his bedside table. "At least Malcolm seemed to know that I wouldn't be interested. You all seem pretty enthusiastic to get me back to work."
"We're just used to you being the one who's desperate to get back there," said Archer. "If you want to take your time then that's fine with us. I'm sure Phlox is glad to have a patient who's happy to stay put for once."
Trip sighed. "I'm still not feeling great. I just need a bit more time, and then I can guarantee you'll have good ole Trip Tucker back with avengeance."
Archer gave Trip an assessing look. "You don't need to put on a show for us, Trip, and I don't expect you to be better tomorrow. This was a close call, and mentally you need time to get used to the idea that you're going to be okay. Read your comic books, watch movies, play computer games, forget about work, hell, sit and stare at the stars if you want to, just do whatever you need to do to feel like you're back to full strength. That goes for mentally as well as physically. Engineering will still be waiting for you when you're good and ready."
Trip gave Archer a small smile. "When did you get to be so smart?"
"I'm the Captain, it's part of the job description. I'll tell everyone to lay off on the pep talks and Engineering data padds."
"Thanks, that would be appreciated. Like I said, I'll be back. I just need a little bit of breathing space."
Archer nodded. "All you had to do was ask. Anyway, this was just a quick visit, I've got to get back to the bridge."
"That's okay, I'm getting kind of tired anyway."
"I'll come by and check on you again later."
"No problem, Trip." Archer hoped the Trip's recovery would continue more smoothly from here.
Unfortunately for Trip his smooth recovery wasn't to be. He woke up after yet another long nap to find his left eye was sore and his vision blurred. The right eye became sore a few hours later and sensitive to light. Phlox diagnosed iritis and gave him some eye drops, but they were going to take a while to work.
Trip couldn't help but feel sorry for himself. He'd lost count of the number of injuries that he had healing on his body and this latest complication was just too much. The virus was continuing to make his limbs and head ache even though he was now well and truly on the road to recovery. Being on the way to being well wasn't the same as actually being back to full health however, as he was discovering first hand. He was just unable to feel particularly happy that he'd be out of sickbay soon or that he'd be able to get back to work. He just kept thinking back to the struggle with Andros for the vial and being stuck in the cell prior to that. It seemed to replay in his head whenever he had a spare moment to think.
He knew that he was being irritable and he was thinking about nominating Phlox for sainthood. The doctor had borne the brunt of his bad mood and rather morose behaviour. He had told Trip that depression and bad temper were natural after such traumatic events as he'd just experienced, and even gone as far as to suggest Post Traumatic Stress was to blame, but Trip was unwilling to place blame anywhere other than himself. He should be responsible for his own feelings and reactions, but he had to admit that he was having trouble snapping himself out of this depression that he'd fallen into.
When Reed came by sickbay after his shift Trip just wasn't in the mood for the game of chess that they tried to play. He could barely see the board, the inflammation was causing havoc with his ability to focus, and it was distracting to have to ask what the pieces were when he played his move. Normally Trip could give Reed a good game, although Reed was definitely the better player. Today the Lieutenant won their first game easily, and Trip was thoroughly pissed off by his comprehensive defeat. The second game seemed to go better until Trip realised that his opponent was deliberately leaving opportunities open for him.
"Malcolm, stop letting me win," said Trip. "You've never played this badly in your entire life."
Reed stopped half way to making his next move. "Sorry, my intentions were honourable, but obviously they rather missed the mark. You are at a substantial handicap."
"Not being able to see the board isn't the problem," said Trip. "My mind just isn't on the game."
"Still down on Coriolis?" asked Reed.
"Yeah, I guess so."
Reed gave him a look that Trip couldn't interpret and sat back from the board, folding his arms across his chest in classic Reed contemplation pose. "Do you remember Terra Nova?"
"Of course. You were wounded and held hostage by the colonists." Trip realised why Malcolm had hesitated before broaching this subject, it was one that he found difficult to discuss.
"I had nightmares about that for weeks afterwards, flashbacks, the whole thing. I'm an Armoury Officer, trained to handle difficult situations and their aftermath. You can imagine how I felt about what happened. In fact, I'd probably even been in worse situations and I'm still not sure why Terra Nova was the one that gave me problems."
"I think I'd probably have nightmares after being held captive in those tunnels. I don't see what that has got to do with me. Like you said, I've been through a lot worse and I knew that Enterprise was on its way."
"But you didn't know that we'd get the cure for the virus in time and even though you could be rational about it, we - humans I mean - have a strong instinct for survival. If our life is threatened, we react; we have to in order to continue to exist. It's the basic fight or flight response and when we can't do either our brain does strange things to us to compensate."
"I know all this, Malcolm. I've done the same courses that you did. I don't have PTSD." Trip realised that he was sounding a little defensive but he knew that he was right. Reed unfolded his arms and hunched forward over the chess board.
"Trip, I'm pretty certain that you've had some definition of PTSD for the last ten years, in fact ever since your first mission with Special Projects. I know that you've been having nightmares on and off for all that time. I'm also certain that this last brush with death is going to bring a lot of things to the surface that you thought you'd got buried. I'm saying this one soldier to another, and don't tell me that you're not a soldier, because you definitely were at one point no matter what you want to think. Get some help. You need to talk this out. It's the only way you'll ever really put Special Projects behind you."
Trip just gaped at Reed for a moment, before he framed a question. "Why is it that suddenly everyone knows how I should run my life? You're not the first one to tell me that I need to get this off my chest, but who am I supposed to talk to? Everything is still classified."
"That is up to you. If I thought you'd tell me anything then I'd offer to listen. We are supposed to be friends."
"We are friends," said Trip. "You just don't know how hard it is to actually talk about this stuff."
"I have some idea. I suppose you think that I've never done anything questionable in my life. I can assure you that I have." For a moment Trip caught something dark behind Reed's eyes but it vanished before he could analyse what it meant. He wondered if perhaps Reed might actually be the only person on Enterprise who could understand what he was struggling with.
Trip looked up at Reed earnestly. "You know what shell shock is?"
"Of course. It was also called battle fatigue and later was diagnosed as PTSD. Soldiers in World War One with shell shock were described as having seen too much action."
Trip nodded. "That's what I feel like. I've seen too much action. I'm an engineer, Malcolm. I never signed up to kill people or go on secret missions. I joined Special Projects because I wanted to see the universe and protect Earth, not murder aliens. I know that sounds naïve but I was a lot younger then."
"You've had enough death and destruction. That's understandable," said Reed.
"It's just that Coriolis was pretty damn near perfect until Colonel Andros turned up on their doorstep. I contributed to contaminating those people's culture, and I nearly lost my life doing it. I just can't go back to Engineering like nothing happened."
"You're not responsible for something that some madwoman decided to do because she couldn't stand Klingons."
"I know that. I do, but it still feels like some of the blame belongs at my door. A lot of Andorians died."
"The Andorians who died of the virus were most certainly nothing to do with you. It was a combination of bad luck and Andros' bad planning. Not to mention that the Klingons really did have some sort of biological research base on that moon. Gaht confirmed it."
Trip's eyes widened at that piece of information. "That changes things a little, but doesn't excuse anything that was done here."
"Trip, repeat after me, "this was not my fault"."
"This was not my fault," parotted Trip.
"Now say it like you mean it," said Reed, not at all fooled.
"This was not my fault," said Trip a little more convincingly. He paused and then looked Reed directly in the eye. "I really am going to be okay, Malcolm. Like I told the Captain, I just need a little time."
"Good, now, perhaps we should start this game again." Reed knocked his king over, indicating that he had conceded the game. "I certainly won't be giving you any further easy opportunities."
"I don't think I'll need any more opportunities," said Trip. "I'm pretty sure that I've got a new strategy worked out." He just needed a little time to work out the best way forward. He couldn't tell Reed that what was bothering him most wasn't how close he'd come to death, it was how close he'd come to getting all his friends killed, all because he couldn't deal with Andros on his own.
T'Pol stepped into sickbay to find Trip sitting up in bed with red, inflamed eyes. Lieutenant Reed had suggested that she should visit the Commander as he was in need of a boost to his spirits and that he might want to talk about his recent ordeal. The lights were turned down low so that they didn't hurt his sensitive eyes and he sighed as T'Pol approached.
"Good evening, Commander," said T'Pol.
Trip turned towards her sharply, seemingly unaware of her presence until she had spoken. He squinted at her.
"Hi T'Pol," he said, not sounding particularly happy. She had spoken not only to Lieutenant Reed, but also to Captain Archer, about Trip's general mood and she was aware that he was currently experiencing some mild depression, but she had been unprepared for this.
"How are you feeling?"
"I've got some sort of eye inflammation. Phlox is calling it iritis. Apparently it's a common secondary complication of some types of virus. It should resolve itself in a couple of days."
"The doctor mentioned that you were having difficulties with light sensitivity. I retrieved these from your quarters." T'Pol produced a pair of sunglasses from behind her back. Trip squinted at them again.
"Sunglasses?" he asked, accepting them from T'Pol.
"Yes, they should make your eyes more comfortable," said T'Pol. Trip shrugged and put the sunglasses on. He relaxed slightly and obviously the glasses had helped.
"Thanks, T'Pol. The really annoying thing is that I can't see very well. I'm not sure if it's the eye drops that Phlox keeps putting in my eyes or the inflammation, but everything is a bit blurry."
"I thought this might be the case," said T'Pol, matter-of-factly. She produced a padd with headphones from the other hand that had been behind her back. "I asked the Captain to put some spoken word books and music on this padd. I thought that you might require something to pass the time."
Trip smiled for the first time since T'Pol had entered sickbay. "You're full of surprises today. This is great. At least I won't be bored anymore."
"That was my intention. I hope that the Captain has made interesting selections for you."
"He knows me pretty well. I'm sure he's put some good stuff on here." He raised a hand to rub at his eye, raising the sunglasses a little to facilitate this, but T'Pol gently reached out and stopped him.
"You should not rub your eyes," said T'Pol.
"They hurt and itch at the same time. I wouldn't have thought it was possible," complained Trip, a little chagrined by T'Pol's intervention. "I just rub at them without thinking, and then Phlox tells me off."
"Perhaps I should stay to ensure that you don't make your condition worse involuntarily."
"Don't you have to go on duty or something?" asked Trip. It wasn't exactly the reaction that she had expected to her suggestion, but it was true that normally when she visited Trip, she was on her way to her duty shift or had work to return to.
"I have just finished my shift," said T'Pol. "We could share dinner together if you wish."
Trip smiled now. "You almost sound as if you're looking for an excuse to hang out with me. If you want to spend some time with me, you just have to say it."
T'Pol shifted her stance uncomfortably. "I was assuming that you might like some company or perhaps someone to talk to. If that is not the case then I will not stay."
Trip groaned in an exasperated fashion. "What I'm trying to say, T'Pol, is that I'd love to have dinner with you, even if it is in sickbay."
T'Pol decided that nothing more needed to be said. She went to the com point and contacted the messhall, asking them to send her a dinner tray to sickbay at the same time that Commander Tucker's food was sent. She pulled up a chair beside Trip's bed.
"What would you like to discuss while we are waiting?" she asked.
"Why don't you tell me about the ship's gossip? I know you listen even if you don't pass it on."
T'Pol inclined her head. "That is true, however gossip is not a productive activity."
"Come on, T'Pol, humour me. I've been out of action for days and I'd like to know what's happened while I've been gone."
"Very well, however this is against my better judgement." T'Pol took a deep breath and began. She related to Trip every rumour that was circulating around Enterprise about who was possibly seeing who, who had been bawled out by Lieutenant Reed for conduct unbecoming an officer and who had been put on plasma exhaust cleaning by Lieutenant Hess. It took some time to get through everything that was being talked about and they continued over dinner as Trip seemed to get more enthused about talking about Engineering. At some point the conversation turned towards a discussion of theoretical improvements to the warp engine and in the end Phlox had to come over and break up the discussion, stating that Trip needed his rest. T'Pol left sickbay rather reluctantly, and she could tell that Trip was equally dismayed, but Phlox was correct that he still needed substantial rest periods.
She returned to her quarters and made sure that her schedule was clear for the following evening. She was sure that her presence had improved Trip's mood and therefore would help his recovery. If that was the case, then it was her duty to return for another visit. She owed it to Enterprise's crew to make sure that their Chief Engineer was on duty again as soon as possible. It had nothing to do with her enjoyment of his company, or at least that was what she told herself.
Archer pressed the bell beside the door of Trip's quarters and heard a muffled invitation to enter from within. He found Trip wearing casual clothes, sitting at his desk, a large pile of padds at his left side and a smaller pile of padds at his right hand side. Archer watched as he picked up a padd, from the left side, checked its contents and transferred it to the right.
"Hi Captain, have a seat," said Trip, getting up to clear yet more padds off the single armchair in the room.
"Aren't you supposed to be resting?" asked Archer, taking the offered seat.
"Phlox may have said something about that," said Trip, adding the padds that he'd just cleared from the chair to the clutter on the desk. "I'm just reading a few padds."
"So your eyes are feeling better and I'll be pulling you out of Engineering by the end of the week," said Archer, knowingly. This was the pattern. The familiar way that things went with Trip when he was recovering from injury and it felt good to be on well known ground.
"Actually, Phlox and I talked about it and we agreed I could do a few hours tomorrow, just to start getting back into things. As long as I remember to report for dialysis and I'm feeling okay, he's happy for me to go back whenever I feel ready."
"That's great. Although I'm rather amazed that it's all so amicable."
"He knows what he's doing and although I reckon mentally I'm ready to get back, my body's still a few days behind. A few hours is a reasonable compromise and it's not like I could do more even if I wanted to. I've still got two hours of dialysis everyday for another week."
"I can undertstand that, but I was sort of expecting you to demand to be allowed to get back to full shifts as soon as Phlox let you out of sickbay."
"For once I don't feel like pushing it."
"This has nothing to do with T'Pol spending all her free time in sickbay for the last few days," said Archer. "I'm beginning to wonder if you're just playing the sympathy card."
"All T'Pol and I did was chat. Although it was kind of nice."
"I'm sure it was," grinned Archer, in good natured teasing.
Trip narrowed his eyes. "You're evil. You know that, right?"
Archer laughed. "It's official, I'm no longer worried about you."
Trip's face fell. "Maybe you should be. Kanatova always used to tell me, "the less you know, the more soundly you sleep". I know quite a lot of things that I'd prefer not to."
"So I have to live with a cranky Chief Engineer who can't sleep and spends all of his time in Engineering. There are worse things." Archer teased, but his face became more serious for a moment. "That's how you deal with it, when it gets bad, isn't it?"
Trip gave Archer a sad smile. "Haven't you ever wondered why I'm such a chronic workaholic?"
"I'd never really thought about it until the Xindi attack. It was just something that you did."
"Well now you know just how screwed up I am."
"I think we're all a bit screwed up after everything that we've seen out here. At least you're being honest about it. But you're looking at Coriolis like it was a personal failure on your part. If you hadn't been there, we never would have found that base or stopped Andros. You did good, Trip."
"Malcolm said that too, but it just doesn't feel that way."
"Give it some time, eventually you'll be able to see it."
"Yeah, maybe," said Trip.
Several months after the Coriolis incident, Trip was checking his mail before going out to meet T'Pol for dinner in the mess hall. He had received a video letter from Tjearigeshearithen, which wasn't unusual as the two engineers regularly corresponded. Jerry appreciated Trip continuing to keep him up to date on the latest warp theory research, despite the fact that he'd never be able to build the engine.
"Trip, my good friend," Jerry greeted, his smiling face looking out from the screen. "I wanted to begin this letter by making you aware of some good news. As you know, Amy was expecting our first child and she has given birth to our daughter today. I must return to be with her soon so this letter is shorter than usual, but I wanted to let you know that we have decided to name her Triptalithaprilla in honour of you. Given your preference for shortening our names, we thought it appropriate. In Coriolan it means "star that points the way to the heavens". I will send pictures of her as soon as I have them. If Enterprise is in the area then we would be honoured to have you attend the naming ceremony. If you hadn't saved our lives that day all those months ago, then Triptalithaprilla would never have been born. Anyway, my apologies for imposing upon you with news of my family, I had questions regarding the last document that you sent to me."
Jerry continued on with his questions about the warp drive, but Trip wasn't really listening. For once he was revelling in the glow that helping to bring a new life into the world brought. Maybe Archer was right and he really could say that he'd done something good. The fact that they'd chosen to name her after him was just the icing on the cake, although he wondered if Triptalithaprilla would be so happy when she grew up to discover that she'd been named after an alien engineer. For the moment though, he couldn't stop smiling.