Unidentified Minshara-class planet, 1100 hours, July 8 2151
The vessel sank slowly to the bottom of an alien lake, taking with it four Starfleet officers.
"Enterprise! Enterprise, please respond! Enterprise!" Frustrated, Trip turned off his communicator and put it away. He looked over at Captain Archer apologetically. "Sorry, Cap'n, there's too much damn interference from the lake."
Archer looked past Jean's shoulder as she finished seeing to the gash on his forehead. He tried to nod to Trip to indicate that it wasn't a huge problem, but a stern look from Jean warned him to hold still while she finished cleaning his wound. He compromised by nodding with his eyebrows and smiling in Trip's direction.
"It's alright, Commander, but next time we find an alien shuttlecraft, I'm driving."
Trip replied with a bob of his head and an ashamed half-smile-half-grimace. "Aye, Cap'n."
"There." She moved back and stood up from where she had been kneeling on the floor of the pod in front of her patient.
He looked up at her "You're done already?"
She was busy packing up the medkit and didn't look away from what she was doing. "Yes sir. It wasn't too bad, just a knock on the head and a small cut."
"But it bled so much..."
"Head wounds do that. It's deceptive, because most of the time they're superficial." She looked around the pod again, assessing the situation. Trip was alright, she had just seen to the captain, and... oh damn it. She couldn't believe that she forgot all about Reed. He had just been so quiet... She knew that he must have been going out of his mind by then.
A bad dream... this has to be a bad dream. I'll wake up any moment.
Lieutenant Reed looked up after a lengthy moment. "Hmm?"
He seemed calm. Perhaps nervous and a bit distracted, but that made sense, given the situation they were in. Being trapped in an alien craft at the bottom of a lake beneath who knows how much water would make anyone edgy, but Reed had more reason than most to be afraid; he suffered from aquaphobia, the distinct fear of drowning. It had stopped him from joining the Royal Navy and made him the first Reed in three generations who wasn't a Navy man.
His father had taken Reed's joining Starfleet instead of the Navy as a personal insult. He didn't know how much his son had wanted to make him proud, god, nobody knew that, but Stewart Reed, retired Admiral Stuart Reed had taken it personally.
As soon as he'd found out about Malcolm's fear of the water, he had added it to the long list of what he considered to be his son's failings.
"You don't care enough about our family name to uphold our legacy of service to King and country. The ocean just isn't big enough for you, is it, boy? Well let me tell you something; even if you'd wanted to join the Navy, the wouldn't have had you. You're soft, you're weak and you're a coward. You're a risk to everyone around you, Malcolm Reed! Starfleet can have you,but it's their misfortune."
That was the last conversation they'd had in the same room together. It was years ago, how many years ago Reed couldn't remember exactly, but even though he was dozens of light years away he could still hear his father's criticisms as though they'd talked that morning.
Reed was snapped out of his reverie when Ensign Olenick gently squeezed his arm.
"Sir? Lieutenant? Are you alright?"
He decided that the best thing to do was to sound cheerful so she would go away.
"Oh, ensign. Yes, I'm fine... thank you." He put on a small fake smile to match his tone but she didn't seem convinced by it. "Was there something you wanted?"
"To be allowed to fulfill my duties, sir. It's my job to see to the safety and well-being of all the members of the away team." Now she lowered her voice to just above a conspiratorial whisper. "That includes the fact that you have aquaphobia and we're stuck underwater with no obvious plan for escape."
He looked at her sharply and then over her shoulder, checking to see that the captain and Trip hadn't heard what she just said. "Ensign, I'd prefer that you didn't say anything about that."
His voice was clipped, a terse mixture of fear and annoyance. He was ashamed of what he saw as a personal weakness and didn't want any of his crewmates to know about it. How safe could the crew be if the person who is supposed to protect them is too frightened to act? He refused to let anyone else on board know about his phobia. If the captain knew, Reed would be too ashamed to look his commanding officer in the face ever again.
She noticed him looking at the officers, and smiled reassuringly when he focused on her again. "Don't worry sir. Like I told you during survival training: your secret's safe with me." It seemed like she'd read his mind, which made him mildly uneasy, but even so the assurance made him feel a bit better.
The voice from behind startled her and she jumped slightly before turning around to see that Trip and the captain were looking at her expectantly. "Is he alright?"
Reed's eyes darted to her face, shooting her a brief but imploring look. She answered the captain without hesitation, shrugging slightly to complete the deception. "I'm not sure yet, sir. Do we have a plan for getting out of here?"
Archer had opened a panel in the floor through which they could see dark rippling water, and Trip looked as though he was getting ready to jump in. When they landed they'd ended up resting on two rocky formations, one fore and one aft. Fortunately the floor panel was directly between the rocks so the exit wasn't blocked by anything.
"Trip's about to try and find out how deep we are. If we aren't too far down, we'll try to swim to the surface and then to shore. Sub-Commander T'pol will be looking for us with Enterprise' sensors, so the rest should be easy..."
"If we aren't under too much water" Reed added dourly.
Trip rolled his eyes and crossed his arms, for all the world looking like a teenager being scolded for staying out too late. "I'm the one goin' out there. Y'could at least wish me some luck."
All he got was a hollow "good luck, sir" but it seemed to be enough, because less than a minute later he jumped in.
When he heard the splash, Reed winced very slightly and then shook his head, looking more ashamed of himself than Jean had thought anyone could look.
"I'm a coward." He muttered to his boots.
She shook her head and matched his low tone, not wanting to clue the captain in as to what was really happening at their end of the shuttle. "No you're not." He didn't answer and looked down at the deck to avoid her gaze.
"Sir, look at me! You're one of the bravest people I've ever met. There's no shame in being afraid, and you aren't a coward if you don't allow fear to dictate your actions."
He laughed but it was a short, humorless sound. "Oh? So why didn't I volunteer to check on our depth?"
Wanting to put him at ease, she tried to mix some jocularity in with her seriousness. "Because, like I told the captain, I'm not sure whether you're alright or not, and you aren't going to do any swimming until I give you a clean bill of health."
If there was a way out of this mess which didn't involve swimming she'd be the first one to support it, for his sake. She was nothing if not protective of her patients. And friends.
"Besides, Commander Tucker thought of it first."
"Does Phlox know?" He was finally looking up at her again.
"Excuse me?" This whole time she'd been fiddling with various pieces of the med kit to maintain the illusion that she was trying to figure out what was wrong with Reed. At the moment she was holding a scanner, but when he asked the question she was so surprised that she nearly dropped it.
"Did you tell Phlox about my... problem? Is it in my medical file?" He fervently hoped that she hadn't.
She shook her head, giving his arm a reassuring pat. "No sir, it isn't in your file. It won't be unless you want me to put it there. I haven't told a soul, sir. Your secret's safe with me."
He visibly relaxed until a splash heralded Trip's return. "Damn, that water's cold!"
Archer helped him back inside and then made sure that the door was sealed securely. "How does it look out there?"
Trip shook himself like a wet dog, sending drops of water skittering all over the shuttle. "We're less than eight meters down. I made it to the surface and back without any trouble, and I'd say the shore's about a half hour swim away. Gettin' out of here won't be hard."
Pleased, Archer nodded and looked over to Reed and Jean with a mild but growing concern, wonderign what was really going on over there.
"Ensign, is Mr. Reed fit to swim out of here?"
She took out a hypo of saline and administered it to her patient, turning afterward to address the captain. "He's good to go, sir." While she answered she kept an eye on Reed, watching for some sign of agreement or disagreement. After a few moments he gave a slight bob of his head which she interpreted as a grudging 'fine, I'll try.'
"Okay, so I don't think we need to hang around here any longer..." Archer started heading back over to the hatch.
Reed still needed a little more convincing, so Jean started casing about for some excuse for them to stay in the pod just a little longer. Fortunately, Trip did that for her. He didn't know that he was helping Jean and in effect Reed as well, he just needed a chance to rest after his swim.
"Actually, Cap'n, I could use a couplea minutes to catch m'breath. The swim isn't too hard, but going to the surface and then comin' back here wasn't exactly a picnic."
"Take a few minutes, Trip, but we need to get out of here soon." Archer glanced around the craft warily. "I don't want us to be in here when those welds start to give."
The commander nodded before tiredly dragging a hand across his brow and then shaking the droplets onto the floor. "Understood, Cap'n. I won't take long."
She turned back to see that Reed was staring past her at the hatch as though he was expecting water to come rushing through it at any moment. Her purposeful expression softened. Reed was such a sweet guy with such rotten luck... Helping him wasn't about the mission anymore. It was about looking out for her friend.
"Sir, you passed the swimming test during basic training, right?"
Reed wondered how that was relevant. He kept looking past her, studying the closed hatch the same way that a cornered rabbit studies the fox. "Yes, ensign. What about it?"
"If I remember correctly, to pass that test we had to dive eight meters to retrieve a weight and then bring it back to the instructor at the side of the pool."
He looked at her sharply. "Your point, ensign?"
She took a steadying breath, hoping that he would agree with her logic.
"You passed that test, right? This is half that distance, swimming to the surface is much easier than going the other way, and there's no weight to worry about. My point, sir, is that despite your fear you've done something before which was much harder than this will be. I think that once you're in the water getting out of it won't be difficult for you, since that will be your instinct anyway."
She smiled sympathetically, reaching for his hand. "The hardest thing you have to do is make the decision to get into the water in the first place. After that, you'll do fine."
He snorted, shaking his head and refusing to look at her. "Sir..." She reached out and touched him arm, but he shook it off.
She glowered at him, determined no to let him off so easily.
"Reed..." Her voice was low and urgent but also plaintive. She wanted him to look away from the hatch. Just as people who are afraid of heights are told 'don't look down,' staring at the source of his anxiety wasn't helping Reed at all.
"And if I don't do fine, if something goes wrong, what then?" He looked over at her, hoping that she hadn't noticed the quaver in his voice.
They studied each other anxiously for a long moment and she saw something unexpected. His cynical mask had slid away and his defenses were lowered, at least for the moment. His eyebrows were furrowed and almost touching, grey blue eyes were wide open and searching desperately for hope. He was afraid, bordering on panicked, but he wasn't hiding it from her. He was actually letting her see his fear, trusting her enough to do that. She could build on that trust.
"I saved you from drowning once, remember? During survival training? I'll be looking out for you." She touched his arm again, lightly, and this time he didn't push her away.
She was trying, he gave her that, but she just didn't understand. "I know that, ensign, but..." He shook his head, frustrated by the whole situation.
"It isn't that I want to stay down here. I'm no idiot. I understand that we need to swim out of here, but actually getting into the wa..." His voice died in his throat. He couldn't even say it, let along jump into it. He grit his teeth and closed his hands into fists, furious with himself. "Actually getting into the water is much harder for me than it should be."
Pathetic! You're absolutely pathetic! He hung his head, trying to hide his face.
"I won't pretend to understand how difficult this must be for you, but the fact is that you have to do this. I'll be right behind you the whole way up, and if you run into trouble just turn around. If you get tired you can grab my ankle and I'll help you get to the surface. So, what's it gonna be?"
He realized that she'd reached over and unclenched one of his fists while they were talking, putting her hand in his before it closed again. He couldn't explain why, but somehow the physical contact was reassuring. He couldn't help wondering why she had done that, but he knew that she had asked him a question, and he struggled to remember what it was.
She squeezed his hand gently, disrupting his train of thought and he looked up at her, startled.
"Ensign, I..." He looked down at the deck, then back up at her with a faint but wry smile. "I don't suppose I actually have a say in the matter."
When he looked down he'd seen their hands twined together out of the corner of his eye.
"I'll be looking out for you."
He heard her words again, full of reassurance and kindness, but before he could smile at her, he heard his father's words too, loud and disapproving.
"You're soft, you're weak and you're a coward. You're a risk to everyone around you, Malcolm Reed!"
He had the proverbial angel on one shoulder and devil on the other, but he knew which one he was going to listen to. He trusted her.
He looked down at their hands again and felt something that he couldn't explain. It was hope, but something else was there too and he couldn't quite put his finger on it. She'd be his lifeline. She wouldn't let him drown. She'd help him and she'd protect his secret. Knowing that gave him a warm, comforting feeling until his father started yelling in his head again.
"You're a risk to everyone around you..."
He grimaced slightly, suddenly hoping that she wouldn't endanger herself trying to help him.
Without really thinking about it, he squeezed her hand in a silent 'thank you' and nodded that he was ready to go, reasoning to himself that the sooner they got started, the sooner they would be finished.
Not missing a beat, she turned around. "Captain? Let's get outta this rusty tin can."
Archer grinned and looked over at Trip, who nodded enthusiastically. "I've got my breath back, Cap'n." He headed over to the hatch and bent down to get it open.
The captain joined his chief engineer on the floor and helped him to open the seal. "So what are we waiting for? First one to shore gets to watch the Cal Tech Vs. MIT match!"
Trip wrinkled his nose. "Water polo? I thought it was s'posed to be an incentive..." Trip chuckled as he and Archer pulled the hatch open.
"Was that a joke at my expense, Commander?" Archer was giving Trip a dirty look.
Trip shrugged and wiped his hands on his uniform, looking up at the older man from under his eyebrows and smiling mischievously. "It mighta been, Cap'n. It mighta been."
"Well Trip, this joke's on you." He pushed Trip towards the open hatch and Trip fell into the water with a loud splash. He reappeared a second later, spluttering and wearing an expression of shock, but he quickly moved over to one side of the opening and lounged against it.
"Now that was refreshing! Come on in, Cap'n, the water's fine."
Archer laughed, motioning for Trip to get out of the way, and jumped in.
Reed shook his head. "How can they treat this like a big joke?" he muttered.
"They aren't," Jean whispered. "They both know how serious this is. They're just trying to hide how nervous they are by clowning around."
Reed smiled to himself and raised an eyebrow at her, suddenly very amused. "Like someone else I know?"
She looked sidelong at him and smiled ruefully. "Like someone else you know."
Trip and the captain finished splashing each other and became serious again.
"Okay, to get to shore you're gonna take a left to get out of these rocks and then just head towards the sunlight. It's kinda long, so get a good deep breath and try to get a solid kickoff from one of the rocks. Once you get to the surface head for the closest beach."
Archer patted Trip on the shoulder, thanking him for the speech, and smiled encouragingly at his people. "I'll see you all at the surface. Good luck everybody."
Everyone nodded and Jean grinned. "Good luck, Captain. As for what you said earlier, I'll kiss whoever gets to shore first."
The men all perked up at her offer, not sure whether she was actually serious or just fooling with them. Trip turned to the captain and pointed to Jean, grinning hugely, as though she had proved his earlier point.
"Now that's what I call an incentive!" He didn't seem to care about the sincerity of the offer, he just took a deep breath after making his comment and sped out of sight.
Archer looked at the two other members of his team, wondering what was going on between the two of them. He shook his head. It probably wasn't all that important. He'd ask them about it after the mission was over, but he knew that his curiosity would probably diminish when they got back to Enterprise.
He smiled at them and nodded. "See you at the surface." A quick deep breath, a splash and he was gone too.
"So..." Reed turned to her slowly. She didn't say anything in response, just stood there with him, looking at him expectantly. "So..." he started again, "I guess it's just us then?"
"Are you ready?" She looked up at him, waiting for an answer.
"Ready as I'll ever be." He nodded, forced a smile and stole a brief glance at the open hatch. He winced and silently cursed himself. Bad idea! Shouldn't have done that, Malcolm.
"Sir, don't." She stepped between him and the hatch so he couldn't see it. "You can do this. Don't convince yourself that you can't."
His palm was sweaty and his fingers were twitching slightly against her hand. He just had a bad case of nerves, but he had been holding up well, considering the circumstances. He just needed a little more encouragement. She squeezed his hand again.
He seemed surprised by the gesture. Wait, have we been holding hands this whole time? I must have forgotten...
"You can do it, sir. Just think about getting to the surface and breathing in that sweet, fresh air. Don't think about anything else, okay?"
He nodded, trying to concentrate on taking care of business. "Who's going first?"
She looked at him in alarm which she tried to pass off as confusion. Alright, there had to be a way for her to say this so he would take it well...
He spoke, interrupting her thoughts. "We can only get in one at a time, so..." He frowned. "You said you'd be behind me on the way up?"
She nodded, glad that he was connecting the dots himself, and tried not to smile as she sent up a silent prayer of thanks to whatever benevolent deity watches over doctors, travelers, and armory officers.
"Which would mean that I'm getting in first?"
She nodded again, allowing a small grin to curl her mouth. "It'd be tricky to watch your back from in front of you."
He smiled and tried to laugh as he reluctantly let go of her hand and stepped over to the hatch, thinking that maybe there was something to the idea of laughing in the face of fear.
"Did you really mean it when you offered that kiss?" He had a hard time keeping a straight face while he asked.
She narrowed her eyes at him but couldn't quite hide her amusement. "Now who's acting inappropriately silly, hmm? Mr. Reed, I wasn't sure you had it in you."
He grinned sheepishly and made a 'maybe' type gesture with his eyebrows.
"Get in already. If Trip or the captain get to shore before us I'll never hear the end of it." Her voice was stern again but still encouraging.
When he didn't move she resumed coaching him. "Don't think about it, just do it. Take a good deep breath, and..." She caught him looking at her critically and stopped cold.
And when I'm trying to help you, you ungrateful... She crossed her arms and scowled at him. "Do you want my help or not?"
"I'm sorry, ensign."
He sounded sorry, and her scowl melted.
"Take a deep breath and let it out. Now take an even deeper breath and jump in." He waited for a moment, steeled himself, and then jumped.