Author Notes: So, this is a story that's been bombing around my head since early September last year, when I sat my beta down to finally watch certain episodes of season 4 she'd missed the first time round. Combine this with an unrelated story I've been writing, I decided to both use this fic as practice, and have fun with Malcolm while I was at it. This was the result, posted in celebration for once again having the freedom of having a word count that is entirely unrelated to my (now submitted) dissertation. Happy times! Plus, I've missed this fandom :) Enjoy!
"So that's a Vulcan..."
"She's pretty. What are the people with her?"
The elder boy concentrated slightly, "Humans. They're from a planet called Earth, and their ship's in orbit."
"Sirin! Mama said it's rude to pry into the thoughts of offworlders!"
"You're just jealous because your telepathy hasn't manifested yet." He snapped at his younger brother.
"So is it true?"
"That they don't feel anything!"
"It's hard to tell, the humans' emotions are really loud."
"You haven't been practicing!" The younger boy giggled.
"Dyx! Shut up! They'll hear us! The only reason Mother doesn't know we're here is because she's blocking her telepathy as politeness for the offworlders – don't ruin it!"
Dyx pouted, but obliged. He was too excited to spoil everything. It wasn't often that offworlders came to Betazed, finding its people's telepathy rather unsettling. Vulcans especially, while an ally to Betazed, tended to prefer to steer clear. As the Ambassador, their mother was acting as liaison for these new visitors, who had arrived in their ship late the day before. Sirin and Dyx had both been sternly told to remain in their schoolroom...
...fortunately, they had both long since developed selective hearing.
"Alright, come on. They'll be going into the dining hall in a minute; we need to do this now." Sirin tried to make his voice as professional and grown up as he could. It seemed to work, as Dyx was nodding vigorously.
The pair of brothers slipped back around the corner, only just avoiding a pair of waiting staff heading to the kitchens. Dyx peeked his head through the door, "All clear."
"Good. Here-" Sirin handed him a small sachet of clear granules. "Put these into the Vulcan's goblet. They'll dissolve in the wine when it's poured. Use all of it – it'll probably take more to affect her than a Betazoid. Remember, Vulcan's are vegetarians, so her place setting will be the one without the meat knives."
Dyx wavered, suddenly nervous, "Why can't you do it?" He whined.
"Because I'm older than you – I delegate."
Dyx sighed in defeat, and quickly stole into the hall, shuffling around the long table to try and find the correct place setting. Finally, he found the right one, and scrambled up onto the plush chair to lean over and tip his precious sachet into the cup. Job done, he hopped down, very pleased with himself, and ran back to his brother. Not a moment too soon, either, because at that moment, their mother glided into the hall, followed by the visitors. After a little ceremony, the guests were seated, and their mother called for a toast. With bated breath, the brothers watched and waited, until goblets were raised and drunk. Sirin grinned, "Brilliant! It shouldn't be long before it kicks in."
"Oops." Dyx squeaked, biting his lip nervously.
Sirin froze and hissed, "What do you mean 'oops'?"
"I put it in the wrong goblet. I thought the cups were to the right of the place setting!"
"What! You idiot! Don't you pay any attention in your etiquette classes?" He whirled back around to see who had drunk from the wrong cup. It was one of the humans. Not their leader, thankfully, but the other one with dark hair; the one that spoke differently from the others. Sirin swore. Loudly.
Dyx flinched as he saw the party turn their heads curiously, and their mother suddenly pause and scowl. "If you will excuse me for a moment, Captain Archer, I believe my sons are somewhere they are not supposed to be."
Archer grinned, "No problem Ambassador."
Before she could reach the door, however, a small boy burst in, shortly followed by an older boy, who tried to grab the younger's arms, "Mama! I'm really sorry! Sirin said it'd be nice, because Vulcans don't feel stuff, but I got it wrong, and put it in the wrong cup, and now it's really bad, because we put more in because she was a Vulcan, but it wasn't a Vulcan, it was a Human!" The words tumbled out in a rush, leaving the boy panting.
The Ambassador's scowl darkened, "Speak sense child! Sirin, what is going on? I want an explanation, now!"
The older boy shuffled, before finally raising his head to meet his mother's eyes. There was silence, in which T'Pol informed the rest of the Enterprise away team that a form of telepathy was taking place. After a moment, Ambassador Brina sighed, and pinched the bridge of her nose. The boy Sirin looked over to the table, "We're really sorry Captain Archer, sir. It was only meant to be a joke."
"And?" Their mother pressed.
"And Lieutenant Reed. We're really, really sorry."
The away team exchanged glances, Jonathan looking to his Armoury Officer worriedly, before turning back to the Ambassador, "What's going on?"
"Both of you get out of my sight. I'll deal with you later." Ambassador Brina snapped at her sons, who quickly scampered away. She turned towards the humans, from whom she could feel background wariness, "I'm afraid my sons decided to play a practical joke at your expense. They attempted to slip Sub-Commander T'Pol a compound designed to focus our children when they begin to come into their telepathy. They hoped to give you the chance to experience emotions by proxy, even if you chose not to experience your own. Unfortunately, they mixed up the cups; I'm truly sorry Lieutenant Reed."
Archer blinked, before anger welled, "What?"
"Please. I understand your anger, but they are only children. I will take full responsibility."
Somehow, Jonathan managed to press down upon his irrational desire to cut all ties with these people, "We'll deal with this later. What is going to happen to my officer?"
"The drug is designed for Betazoids, but our physiology is remarkably similar. It will not do him harm, however..." She regarded the Lieutenant closely, noting how he didn't seem to be particularly following the conversation, despite being its subject. "The dose my sons gave him was much higher than what we would give a sensitive Betazoid, but your Lieutenant is not one of our people, so it should not harm him. In fact, I am sceptical whether it would have affected Sub-Commander T'Pol at all..." She trailed off.
Archer raised an eyebrow, "But?"
"I believe that Lieutenant Reed will begin to experience a form of empathy. Your human brains are not designed to have the capacity for telepathy-"
"Or empathy." Hoshi cut across the woman, interrupted for the first time, "You don't know it'll do anything."
The Ambassador shook her head, "I'm afraid it already is."
The team's heads whipped round to their fourth team member, who was determinedly staring at his clenched fist on the table. "Malcolm?" Archer reached forwards, touching his officer's shoulder, only to have it wrenched from his grasp as Malcolm suddenly shot to his feet and stumbled backwards.
Malcolm focussed on controlling his breathing, shakily looking at Archer, "Sorry sir. I just wasn't expecting...that..."
Ambassador Brina sighed, "The empathy will be the most prominent at physical touch, but while the compound is at its strongest, being in the same room as others will also be rather unsettling for him."
Malcolm closed his eyes for a second, successfully pushing the growing sick feeling in his body to the back of his mind, before opening them again, "Ambassador, I would really appreciate it if you didn't speak as if I wasn't here." He swayed slightly at a strange cloying emotion that was decidedly not his own, and Archer stepped forwards instinctively. Malcolm backed away another step, raising his hand, "No offence, sir, but I'd really appreciate it if you didn't touch me right now."
"Sure, Malcolm." He pulled himself back, "We should get you back to Enterprise."
"It might be better if I help Lieutenant Reed to the shuttlepod." T'Pol stepped forwards, "My repressed emotions should be easier for him to cope with." Gently and with clear purpose, she took his elbow in an attempt to help him steady himself. He was relieved to feel no crashing wave of emotions from the contact, and nodded to her when he felt sure enough to walk by himself.
Archer smiled slightly as the vaguely positive development, "I'll be with you in a moment. Hoshi, go with them, contact Enterprise and tell them what's happened." The three left the room.
Ambassador Brina held her hands up in supplication, "I am truly sorry, Captain."
Archer shook his head, "Just tell me how to fix this. How do we reverse it?"
The woman shook her head, "There is no way we know of; we have never before needed to. A normal dose to a Betazoid child will last no more than three days. It is primarily a teaching aid, designed to give children temporary boosts to help achieve focus."
"It could take over a week for his system to completely break the compound down, mainly due to the higher dosage. And before you ask, any attempt to accelerate the process would be ill-advised. It works directly on the brain. We are already on unsteady ground from our differing physiologies; any more tampering could be disastrous."
Jon gritted his teeth, forcing himself to keep calm, "You're sure it's not permanent?"
He nodded, "I hope you're right." He just about managed to stop that from sounding like a threat, "I need to return my officer to the Enterprise."
"I understand, Captain. Should you need to contact us for any help, do not hesitate. And, I would hope, that once Lieutenant Reed recovers, we might continue the discussions we began?"
Jon just about hid a grimace, trying to remind himself that it had only been an innocent prank gone wrong with – typically – Malcolm as the victim. "We'll see. Good day, Ambassador."
Malcolm closed his eyes as he sat on the biobed, trying to listen hard to the sounds of Phlox performing his scans. It made it easier; helped to quell the current feeling of dizzying vertigo he was experiencing. In a complete opposite reaction to how he felt around T'Pol, the Denobulan doctor's emotions were, to say the least, confusing. It took Malcolm a while to work out that the problem came from Phlox's bizarre contradiction of emotions – concern battling with scientific curiosity. It was starting to make him feel really quite ill; more so than he had during that horrible shuttlepod ride.
Malcolm shifted, titling his head slightly as the sensations began to abate, a curiosity that was not his own finally defeating Phlox's concern, a concern Malcolm still felt for himself.
This was making his head hurt.
Belatedly, he realised that Phlox was talking, and he realised that the slightly duller emotions were coming from people standing further away from him. Yes, those voices belonged to Captain Archer...and Commander Tucker...and Sub-Commander T'Pol. After Phlox had confirmed that whatever those boys had done to him would be both short term, and relatively harmless, Malcolm couldn't hold back. Eyes still closed, he snapped, "Could you all at least pretend not to be enjoying this so much?"
A combined wave of...surprise? It had been amplified by the multiple people feeling the same thing. Trip's wry southern drawl filled sickbay, "Yeah, well I had to endure the ridicule of being pregnant. Now it's your turn. Besides, you have to appreciate the irony, Malcolm."
"Enlighten me, Commander." Malcolm bit back.
"Well, 'sides from T'Pol here, you're the closest person to a Vulcan we've got." Trip grinned, and Malcolm unknowingly mirrored the grin with his own, Trip's infectious emotions successfully overriding his own of concern.
"I'm flattered, sir." Malcolm replied flatly, in a tone that did not match his expression.
"And I'm not entirely sure how to take that comment, Commander." T'Pol's voice nearly made Malcolm jump; he had forgotten she was here. Compared to the other three, she was like a blank void.
"Completely a compliment, T'Pol." Trip smoothly replied.
"Moving back to the issue at hand." Phlox's voice cut across them, "Lieutenant, would you be able to open your eyes for me?"
Malcolm didn't answer, trying to decide if he could do it without making the horrible vertigo return in full force. In the end, he bit down hard on his tongue at the same time as he complied with Phlox's request, the momentary sharp physical sensation taking him away from the mental world he had been drowning in. He took an unsteady breath, before carefully enunciating his words, "I'm fine."
"You'll let Phlox be the judge of that, Malcolm." Archer softly refuted, unknowingly sending a sliver of his worry spiking down Malcolm's spine. He only just repressed a reflex jerk. It was worse than it had been back on the planet, the drug now taking full effect.
"Well, Lieutenant, you should be free to go back to your quarters, but I strictly refuse to clear you for duty until the drug's influence has passed. And I want you to come straight back here if you should begin to experience any particularly adverse effects. The Betazoid doctors I spoke with also advised that you would be best to avoid contact with crowds, so I would recommend steering clear of places like the mess hall."
"I understand. Thank you, Doctor." Malcolm felt Trip's mirth at his eagerness to get out of sickbay, and it caused him to stumble slightly as he hopped down from the biobed. Thankfully, he righted himself before Phlox could try and grab his arm to try and help him balance. He didn't think he would have been able to cope with that.
"You okay, Malcolm?" Archer asked.
"Sorry sir. I was just taken a little off-guard."
"Would you like me to escort you to your quarters, Lieutenant?" T'Pol once again caught him by surprise by her presence.
For a moment, he was going to refuse, but then he knew that if he did, Trip would follow him anyway out of concern. While he enjoyed his friend's company under normal circumstances, these were not normal, and the chief engineer was perhaps one of the least emotionally repressed people Malcolm knew. He could cope with Trip in a restricted environment, but walking down the halls, passing multiple people? The thought alone made Malcolm feel sick. "Thank you, Sub-Commander. I'd appreciate that."
On the way to his quarters, he had never been so grateful for Archer ignoring his security request to increase the personnel in the skeleton night shift crew. Nor had he been so grateful for T'Pol's presence. When they weren't running into curious crewmembers, she made he feel as if he might actually be normal. In comparison to being near anyone else, it was like walking next to a black hole; an empty void of calm and logic.
After what seemed to be an eternity, they reached his quarters, and T'Pol bid him goodnight. As soon as his door had slid shut, Malcolm weaved his way precariously over to the couch, before sitting down heavily. He stopped bothering to try and still his shaking hands as he ran them unsteadily through his hair.
A whole week more. Of this?
To Be Continued...
Author Notes: So what did you think? This isn't going to be a very long story, just something I felt like playing with. I'd love to hear any feedback you might have!