Here it is! My entry for "I Am Fine Month" :-) Six chapters of silliness... hope you'll enjoy it.
Trip watched Malcolm wave a frantic hand in front of his face, warding off a cloud of buzzing insects. In the damp environment of the marshland, miniature flying creatures seemed to thrive.
"Bugger off," Malcolm cursed under his breath. "Go to Mr. Tucker. He's the Floridian."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Through the flying things, Trip threw the man an indignant glare. "I already have my own fair share of the little buggers to deal with," he pretended to complain. He couldn't even bring his notoriously squeamish self to loathe the creatures, silly as they looked.
These were the kind of circumstances where Trip enjoyed showing more outrage than he felt. Life on a ship in the middle of the universe didn't offer much in the way of entertainment, and engaging in verbal matches with a certain Lieutenant had become a fun routine. Malcolm – who, in this case, didn't seem quite as entertained – immediately picked up the gauntlet.
"Surely you're enjoying this lovely climate and its accoutrements," he replied in open disgust. "Make you think of home."
"Ah – I don't like the heat 'n humidity any more than you do."
Malcolm let out a frustrated groan and took another vain swing at the pesterers. "Bugger off, I said! What are these things anyway? They're the wrong colour. Who's even heard of hot-pink gnats?"
His consonants popped like corks going off, and Trip chuckled. Malcolm could boldly face an army of hostile aliens, valiantly bear to be shot and tortured; but put him in a tropical environment and you were sure to have a very pissed-off Lieutenant on your hands. Trip suspected it had a lot to do with the fact that being drenched in sweat went against Malcolm's principles of what an officer should look like at all times: perfectly groomed. He studied his friend, and almost felt sorry for the man.
"Easy, Lieutenant," he teased. "I doubt ya'd want me to report that our intrepid Security Officer was defeated by a squadron of pink insects."
Malcolm sighed in resignation, sweeping a sleeve over his forehead. "How much further to that lake?" he breathed out.
"Almost there." Trip consulted a padd. "Maybe another ten minutes. Don't faint on me now."
"Speak for yourself, I'm fine," was the pissed-off comment. "Only I still don't see why the Chief Engineer and Security Officer of a ship should be sent on a mission to collect medicinal herbs," Malcolm muttered on, his foul mood returning.
Trip rolled his eyes. "Because half the ship is in bed with that fever," he patiently articulated, as one would with a child.
This must be the third time since they had left Enterprise that Malcolm had complained about being chosen for this mission. Something was definitely up with him – besides the tropical climate.
"Who else could the Capt'n have sent?" Trip went on. "Would you have felt better if he'd picked a couple of inexperienced young crewmen from the botanical or medical departments?"
Malcolm's eyes went wide with horror. "Heaven help me, no. More likely than not, I would've had to organise a rescue."
"But T'Pol is our Science Officer, and she's not ill," Malcolm countered doggedly. "She'd certainly have made a better choice than a Chief Engineer..."
"Ah – now it's all clear: you'd have preferred to be sent down with a shapely lady than a sweaty Commander."
"... or an Armoury Officer." Malcolm half turned to shoot a meaningful look. "Trip, even Chef would know more about herbs than you and I."
"T'Pol would offer a better view, I can't disagree with ya," Trip went on obliviously. "But she cannot leave the ship, 'cause she's Actin' Captain, 'cause the Capt'n is lying in bed with an icepack on his head, 'cause he has a high fever, 'cause he caught that bug too, 'cause--"
"Yes, yes, I know."
Malcolm passed a hand through his wet hair and Trip wondered if the man knew that it had left it worse than before. He'd better not mention anything: his friend already sounded annoyed about enough things without attracting his attention to his state of disarray.
"Sorry," Malcolm muttered after a moment. "It's that Müller is also laid up and I don't like the idea that I'm here playing botanist while the responsibility of the ship's defence is in the hands of a crewman."
So that's what it was. Trip smiled. That was just like Malcolm.
"It's only for a few hours, nothin' will happen," he said soothingly. "Besides, huntin' for medicinal plants is what's needed right now to save the crew. And savin' the crew is your job, Lieutenant."
A grunt sanctioned Malcolm's agreement to that.
At least they were walking on dry land – if only a narrow strip flanked by swampy ground. Soon they should see the large expanse of water on the banks of which the plant they were looking for was supposed to grow in abundance. Phlox had been told that it was nearly miraculous in treating the outbreak of Trispian fever that was felling Enterprise's crew. The illness was not life-threatening, fortunately, but symptoms were far from pleasant: unfocused eyesight, difficulty of speech and high fever. It had been spreading rather quickly after the Trispian delegation had come onboard, prompting the Doctor to contact one of the biggest hospitals on Trispia for suggestions on how to cure it. They had been given coordinates to a planet in the system – and to a lake on the planet – where they would find the answer to their problems.
"Small, grey, lance-shaped leaves with thin orange stripes and a larger red one down the middle," Malcolm recited, looking around. "Ought to be quite easy to recognise."
"Rubbery texture, growing in clusters on the water edge," Trip added. "Let's not forget that Phlox wants us to bring back some specimens complete with roots; says he's gonna try re-plantin' them in the hydroponic bay."
"Great," Malcolm muttered under his breath. "I'm an Armoury Officer, not a bloody gardener."
Trip bit his lower lip. The words had triggered a mental image of Malcolm in a blue apron and rubber boots, watering hose in hand.
They went through a thick group of willowy trees and suddenly the landscape, which up to that moment had been rather boring, changed dramatically.
"Wow, look at that!" Trip exclaimed. "I think we're there."
An amazing view opened up in front of them, and they stopped dead in their tracks. The lake was quite large, and irregularly shaped. Its milky waters were a strangely attractive shimmering colour which defied definition: something in between grey, green and light blue. All around it grew lush and varied vegetation, an explosion of incredible colours and shapes that reflected in the perfectly still surface, offering a sight that, odd as it looked, any painter would have found hard to resist.
Trip lowered his backpack to the ground and brought a hand to his neck. His muscles had tensed and he could feel a headache developing. The view was too beautiful, though, to pay that much heed.
"I've gotta immortalise this," he said, reaching for his camera.
The silence was broken only by the soft buzzing of some elongated insects that were clouding around the tall, black-speckled flowers which grew along a stretch of the lake. All in all it made for a lazy mood, and for a moment Trip stood there shooting away, while Malcolm, who had dropped to his haunches, threw little pebbles in the water, breaking the reflected picture into a series of small ripples.
"I'm glad those... helicopters over there aren't buzzing around anything grey and orange," Malcolm commented after a while, jerking his chin in the direction of the droning insects. "My scanner doesn't show them as being dangerous, but I think it would be wise to keep away from them. They are quite a bit larger and a lot less innocent-looking than their pink friends."
"Agreed," Trip said, dead serious, repressing a shiver. "Let's take the other bank, then." Reluctantly, he put away the camera and led the way.
The planet's sun was bright, and the heat and humidity created a hazy atmosphere that blunted the edges of things.
Trip rubbed his eyes. "Purple palm leaves, white bamboo, brownish flowers with yellow dots," he listed as they walked past the strange vegetation. "I don't see anything grey with orange stripes."
"The lake is quite large," Malcolm reasoned. "It's going to take us a while to walk its perimeter."
They went on in silence for another stretch, engrossed in the planet's flora. For some strange reason it seemed to have gathered all of its most vivid specimens in this one spot.
Lifting his gaze, Trip stopped. "Look at those birds over there," he said in puzzlement. "You'd think our presence would scare them off, and instead..."
"Over there, by those fuzzy mauve bushes."
There was a pause.
"Trip, those are small rocks."
Malcolm's voice was wary, and Trip turned to assessing grey eyes.
"Rocks?" He turned again to the group of still things off at some distance, squinting. "Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure." There was another pause. "Are you feeling okay?"
Trip blinked a couple of times. "Yeah, just peachy," he said with a smile. "There's a lot of humidity in the air, can't see very well in the distance."
He made to resume walking but Malcolm grabbed him by an arm, stopping him.
"I can see those rocks perfectly well," he said in a meaningful voice. "And those mauve bushes aren't fuzzy."
They looked at each other in silence.
"Hmm," Trip commented with a lopsided smirk.
Without shifting his gaze from him, Malcolm reached in one of his pockets and produced a medical scanner, which he proceeded to put to good use. He glanced at the readings. The grey eyes, when they lifted, were as veiled as the atmosphere of that planet.
"I believe you may be getting it too," Malcolm said with that cool-under-pressure tone of voice that Trip had learned to recognise as a sign that the man was already picturing a set of dreadful scenarios, and figuring out how to react to them.
Trip huffed. "Look, we don't know that," he countered, automatically going, instead, into 'optimistic mode'. He took the scanner from Malcolm and checked it: alright, his temperature was slightly higher than normal; just verging on what might be considered fever. Mainly, his headache was now a bothersome presence. He heaved a deep breath. "Let's find that plant and get out of here."
"You're getting out of here now, Commander," Malcolm corrected resolutely, reaching for his communicator.
But the man was already paging.
"Reed to Enterprise."
"I'm not leavin' ya alone on this planet, Lieutenant," Trip said innocently. "No one oughtta be alone on an alien planet. Besides, the transporter is off-line."
"Go ahead, Lieutenant."
T'Pol's voice came through over Trip's last words, and Malcolm was left with his mouth agape for a second.
"Subcommander," he finally said, shaking himself, "we're facing a situation. I suspect Commander Tucker is beginning to develop Trispian fever. Is the transporter working?"
"Negative, Lieutenant. As you will undoubtedly recall, the edge of that ion storm, yesterday, caused a few systems to overload. The transporter was among them. With more than half the crew indisposed, restoring it was not a top priority for the Engineering department."
Trip, who was uncorking his canteen, stopped to glance at Malcolm, raising I-told-you-so eyebrows.
"Well, it is now," Malcolm said firmly. "The closest we could land the pod is at some four hours' walk at a brisk pace, and in these conditions of humidity it was an uncomfortable stretch even without a high fever."
"Has the Commander developed a fever?"
"Not yet, but his temperature is somewhat high and his eyesight is becoming less focused."
"We're just not sure I've got Trispian fever," Trip insisted; but he didn't sound very convincing to his own ears. In all honesty, it was quite likely he was developing the damn thing.
"How far are you from the location we were given coordinates to?" T'Pol's voice was still perfectly calm. "I must remind you that synthesizing that plant's medicinal property to cure the crew remains, at the moment, our top priority."
"Makes sense," Trip shrugged, meeting frowning grey eyes. T'Pol was right. They must find that plant; for his own sake as well as that of his shipmates.
"We are at the lake," Malcolm admitted.
"Then find that plant, Lieutenant. I will ask Engineering to begin working to bring the transporter back online."
T'Pol had stopped short of saying 'that's an order', but it was clear enough. Trip watched a wince of unhappiness appear on Malcolm's face.
"Can you page me through to sickbay, Subcommander?" the man asked. "I want to get a clear picture of what I am to expect."
"Right away, Lieutenant."
Trip threw one hand up in the air. "We're wastin' time," he ranted. "I'm feelin' just fine."
"The question is, for how long, Comman--"
"Yes, Mister Reed," Phlox's voice interrupted.
"Doctor, what exactly are the symptoms of Trispian fever?"
This was ridiculous. They knew what the symptoms were. Rolling his eyes, Trip waved a beckoning hand and resumed walking. He was going to look for that plant. Casting a look over his shoulder, he saw that Malcolm was absent-mindedly following him.
"Unclear eyesight and headache, followed by scrambled speech, and a rapidly rising temperature," Phlox replied. In a knowing tone, the Doctor enquired, "May I ask why you want to know?"
"Because I believe the Commander has the beginnings of it."
Trip let the conversation fade in the background, suddenly aware of the fact that, actually, his sight was deteriorating rather quickly. He blinked a couple of times, and rubbed two fingers over his eyes, but things were beginning to appear frighteningly blurred: what, some ten metres away, a few minutes before had been a bush laden with small berries, now was a rather indistinct smudge of colours. Well, there was nothing they could do about it; so, knowing Mal, he might as well keep his worries to himself. He lowered his eyes and focused them closer, where things were still relatively clear.
"Thank you, Doctor."
Trip heard Malcolm, behind him, flip the communicator shut and zip up his pocket. A moment later the man had come up to his side. "Don't forget to tell me if you feel you're getting any worse," he said meaningfully.
"As long as I can," Trip joked, feigning a light-heartedness he didn't feel. "Scrambled speech is supposed to be the next symptom."
"Very funny," Malcolm grunted.
They continued their search in silence. At least the pink gnats had disappeared.