Skin Deep

By Elessar

Rating: PG-13

Genres: angst romance

Keywords:

This story has been read by 603 people.
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Author: John O. (Elessar)
Rating: PG (minor language)
Genre: Angst/Mystery
Disclaimer: Paramount owns Star Trek characters/names/fans’ souls/etc. I call shenanigans.

Summary: Immediately following the Season 2 episode Dawn, Trip is in sickbay recovering from his injuries on the desert planet. In the final scene of the episode he was fine, but after my run in with old Sol in Florida, I think his recovery time was grossly insufficient. On top of that, there was a scene where T’Pol’s voice actually faltered when explaining to Archer they had not yet found Commander Tucker! It gave me the fuel to further explore her reaction. So I could not resist…

Thanks to Distracted for medical advice! Also, thanks to the film Impostor, Memory-Alpha, Wikipedia, and my PRK-LASEK surgeon for additional medical inspiration. Some information adapted from Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos: Applications in Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Engineering by Steven Strogatz and Differential Geometry of Curves and Surfaces by Manfredo DoCarmo.

This started out as a little standalone ditty, but ended up taking about a year to finish when I got Distracted. Hah!

 


Chapter 1

“How’s he doin’, Doctor?” the Captain asked as he strode through the sickbay doors, his brow tightening slightly when he spotted Commander Tucker lying flat on his stomach on a biobed. Phlox was standing near a console, eyes fixed on a set of medical scans of Commander Tucker. Drawing his attention away from the blue-hued sheet imprinted with the polymetallic holograph of Commander Tucker’s retina, Phlox blinked several times as he turned towards Archer.

“Ah, Captain,” Phlox gleaned a smile as he stepped beside Tucker’s horizontal form. “Commander Tucker has suffered a...”

The sickbay doors hissed once more and Archer turned to find T’Pol only a step behind him. Archer nodded to her as she glided past him. Phlox became distracted, dividing his attention between readouts on the console and a steadily beeping medical tricorder between his fingers. A silence fell on the room. T’Pol, unaware of the Captain’s inquiry, finally asked herself.

“What is his condition, Doctor?” T’Pol asked.

Phlox’s chin snapped to attention as he turned to the Subcommander.

“I’m afraid Commander Tucker has suffered acute ultraviolet keratitis to the corneal epithelium as well as significant retinal damage. There are also some rather nasty second degree burns to much of his body.”

T’Pol stepped forward slightly. “The star in this system exhibits very intense emission spectra in the ultraviolet and infrared range, and the moon’s upper atmosphere contains less than one part per trillion of ozone or polyoxides.” Phlox nodded in understanding. “Yes, well that would explain the injuries I’m seeing here.” he said matter-of-factly.

“In other words?” Archer asked, stepping forward.

T’Pol turned her chin toward the Captain. “The lack of ozone in the upper atmosphere allows the star’s intense ultraviolet rays to penetrate the atmosphere. This is not the case on most Minshara-class worlds.” Phlox had stepped away to configure the displays along the Sickbay walls. With a ‘bleep’, several monitors switched on. The image of Commander Tucker’s cornea as depicted under a metrionic scanner appeared as the doctor pointed up to it.

“I’ve been able to map the damage to his cornea and retina with exceptional resolution, using the new Metrion Tomographer we received during the last medical refit. The burns to the dermis will heal with time and treatment, but it is critical he remain in sickbay for the duration as the large surface area of the wounds makes the risk of infection significant. He’s also suffering from moderate dehydration and… several cuts, bruises, contusions unrelated to the um… solar effects,” The doctor shrugged his shoulders, having been made aware of Trip’s physical altercation with the alien, Zo’can. “I’m afraid that the damage to his retinal tissue will be more… mm, complicated,” Phlox intoned with a forced smile.

“Is it serious?” Archer asked. T’Pol, almost unconsciously, craned her neck slightly to the side, watching Commander Tucker lie unconscious against the biobed. Her eyes followed the cracked, flaking skin over his thigh, up to the blue boundary of his shorts, up the fibrous surface of the taut fabric as it covered his skin. Trip’s bare back shone a dark orange where the damage was less severe and the skin had not yet erupted and blistered. Elsewhere, where the intense radiation had been most destructive, the skin had already broken away, the underlying tissue exposed and as red as the roll of Triaxian silk that Trip had recently given to her. A sharp, decentralized pain caught T’Pol’s breath for a mere instant. Then it vanished.

“It is difficult to say for certain,” Phlox sighed as he stepped towards Commander Tucker. T’Pol pivoted about her foot to look directly at him, and Archer moved to the engineer’s side, resting a palm on the biobed. He gasped a little, cringing inwardly as he looked at Trip’s irradiated flesh beaming up at him, and his friend unconscious body facing the floor.

“But, I can say that his recovery will be difficult… perhaps seven to ten days of bed rest, followed by light duty. His ocular injuries are not my only concern, but they are the more significant. The second degree sun burns to his back, shoulders, chest…” the Doctor waved his finger over the Commander’s body. “As you can see, the skin has already cracked and blistered, leaving him extremely vulnerable to infection. I should be able to mitigate the chances of infection with a broad-spectrum immuno-antibiotic regimen.” Phlox paused as he took a breath. “I should warn you, Captain, that there is a slight risk of permanent vision loss.”

T’Pol winced uncomfortably. She spared a glance the Captain’s way, who seemed sufficiently distracted by the doctor’s unsettling news.

Archer balked. “From a little sun burn? Trip grew up in Florida, I would have thought he’d be used to this by now.”

“On the contrary,” Phlox responded defensively. “The intense ultraviolet radiation to which Mr. Tucker was exposed has destroyed a large cluster of cells in his corneal tissue. I am still unsure yet as to the degree of thermal damage to the surrounding retinal tissue. You see, Captain,” Phlox explained. Archer huffed in exhaustion, thinking, Here we go again.

“…which, as you know, means the rays could not be transmitted and were absorbed, heating up the surrounding tissue to the point of cellular death, perhaps even permanent scarring, causing unavoidable opacity of the photoreceptive layer and permanently dis-” the doctor had nearly worked himself into a rant.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Archer interrupted him.

“I can assure you, Captain, one hundred years ago, Commander Tucker would be lying here irreversibly blind.”

“I understand, Phlox, I didn’t mean to understate how much we appreciate—“Archer glanced at T’Pol, whose gaze was lost in the floor. He interpreted her distance as a lacking concern. “—I appreciate what you can do for him. I’m just… concerned,” Archer said finally, wincing as he looked over Trip’s back. He couldn’t fight the image of a cheese grater coming to mind.

Phlox straightened rigidly as he held his hands tightly clasped. “I understand Captain. Your apology is unnecessary,” he forced a smile. “I will do my best,” he smiled brighter. The doctor spared a glance in T’Pol’s direction.

“I am confident he will make a recovery,” Phlox added reassuringly.

“Keep me posted,” Archer nodded, and turned to depart. T’Pol tarried briefly, her eyes dancing from the Doctor to one last gaze at Trip, before she turned and followed the Captain back to the bridge. She took a deep, exhaustive breath as she left sickbay, trying fervently to push the knot from her throat.

 


The next morning, Trip awoke with a start, his neck tensing as he attempted to rise. A fiery, intense pain shot down his back.

“Ahhh!” he cried aloud, his hands simultaneously flying to his face and his back. Suddenly, his shoulders and forearms exploded into unimaginable pain as he flailed them.

“Relax, Mr. Tucker, you’re in Sickbay,” Doctor Phlox’s voice came from above him. The darkness around his eyes felt strange and unnerving, but there was a spasm in his eyes that drew his attention.

“I feel like one a’ my Great Aunt Sherri’s poor baked potatoes… Woman couldn’t cook worth a damn,” Trip mused to himself. Phlox chuckled as he moved from console to console.

“How’d I get here?” Trip asked, his voice creeping around a painful grunt.

“You were brought aboard semi-conscious by the Arkonian shuttle. I am treating your injuries,” the doctor explained.

“Huh… I don’t remember that,” he mused to himself quietly.

It was reassuring for Trip to know he was back aboard Enterprise, but unsettling to be utterly unaware of his surroundings. He was flat against a biobed on his stomach and he couldn’t see.

“Doc, I think there’s somethin’ in my eye!” Trip called out, trying to reach forward with one hand to remove the cloth around his head.

“The foreign-object sensation is normal, but there is nothing in your eye, Commander,” the doctor warned, holding back the Commander’s arm. “You have been exposed to a high level of ultraviolet and infrared radiation. I am preparing a hypospray that should relieve some of the discomfort.”

“Thanks, Doc,” Trip said. As the doctor brought the device to his neck with a hiss, Trip fought the urge to lurch as the contact against his irritated skin caused a sting.

There was a long pause while Trip absorbed the information and the painkiller, while Dr. Phlox worked silently at a console next to the biobed, periodically comparing data from the screen in front of him with that of a PADD.

“That’s better,” Trip moaned as the hypospray took effect. “How bad is it, Doc?” Trip asked in a low voice. Phlox turned and took a breath.

“You have severe second degree burns to your back and chest, minor sunburns on your legs and moderate to severe damage to the inside of your cornea and retina,” the doctor relayed to him. Trip thought he must have been trying to hide that last part between the minor problems. Well, he thought. Minor-er.

“Sounds like I went ten rounds with the Lava Man,” Trip groaned.

“Lava man?” The doctor inquired curiously.

Trip’s lips felt dry as he muttered. “Yeah, was a… comic book character,” he trailed off. “Hey Doc, my mouth’s really dry.

“You were somewhat dehydrated when you arrived. I will increase your supply of intravenous fluids,” Phlox grinned brightly in reply at Commander Tucker’s upside down, blindfolded body as if he could see him.

“I’d rather just have a drink a’ water,” Trip groaned.

“You may think you would, but trust me, you wouldn’t,” Phlox chuckled as he made the alterations to Trip’s micro-IV. “The skin on your lips is sufficiently dry and chapped to make drinking anything pretty painful.”

“I didn’t feel that bad down on the planet,” Trip mused, blinking cautiously to test the potency of the Doc’s hypospray. The pain was gone, for now, Trip thought.

“The effects of radiation burns are not always felt immediately. Manifestation of the damage being done to the cornea and retina in your eye may have appeared as… halos of dark or light around objects, sudden red-outs or gray-outs in vision…” the doctor trailed off. Trip recalled feeling those sensations on the planet just before he was picked up, when things seemed to be taking a turn for the worse.

“This happened to my buddy’s sister once, goin’ skii’n. She almost went blind,” Trip said. “That gonna’ happen to me, Doc?” Trip asked, hoping the directness of his question would hide how he feared such a prospect.

“There is a low probability of permanent vision loss,” the doctor answered him, his voice low and steady, never taking his eyes off the readouts in front of him.

“So how long am I gonna’ be in here?” Trip asked.

“The most severe of your injuries is the retinal damage. I have prepared an ophthalmic trioxylene compound to speed regeneration of the corneal tissue by hyper-oxygenation. However, the retinal damage will require more… creative thinking,” Phlox said matter-of-factly.

“Not to worry,” he assured Trip, lifting the spirit in his voice and straightening his posture in a bedside manner-motivated optimism so practiced that he did so regardless of Tucker’s temporary blindness.

“I have re-familiarized myself with a procedure I once studied under a Denobulan physician which I think will do the trick. It will require a daily injection of an adaptive neurogenic compound that will work in combination with the trioxylene to stimulate blood flow and mitochondrial regeneration in your retinal tissue. I assure you that the treatments will be painless.”

Trip nodded.

“It may be difficult for you to move, however. I will also have to ask you to sit up twice a day to administer the drops and perform more metrionic scans of your eyes to check on your progress,” Phlox warned him, tipping his head down to speak closer to Trip’s face. Trip nodded again.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to leave your engines in the tender care of Subcommander T’Pol and Lt. Hess,” Phlox cajoled him. Phlox had learned that a high spirit was often as important as the most advanced methods to ensure a speedy recovery.

“S’ok, doc. She’s ‘bout the only person I would trust with my engines,” Trip smirked. Phlox cocked his head curiously as to the identity of the ‘she’ to which he referred.

“I’m gettin’ used to spendin’ time in here,” Trip went on. Phlox chuckled and raised his eyebrows excitedly.

“I also have a topical ointment to expedite the recovery of your burns. I’ve been… anxious, to try it out!” Phlox announced gleefully, turning to retrieve something from a distant cupboard.

“My momma’ always used to use Aloe Vera when we’d come home from the beach,” Trip groaned with his head downturned.

“Ah, yes. Never underestimate the power of the home remedy!” Phlox beamed from a secluded corner of Sickbay bathed in darkened blue hues.

"I am reminded of a story that Lieutenant Reed told me once," Phlox's voice echoed as he prepared the treatment. "On Earth, back in the twentieth century there was an intelligence operative for the CIA working in a remote area of the Congo, in Africa. His plane crashed and he was badly burned over most of his body. The natives took the man in and treated his injuries, using a compound their ancestors had been using for centuries to treat burns. When the American military retrieved this man and took him to their hospital they treated him with the most advanced burn ointment they had available... and found it nearly identical to the compound used by the natives," Phlox said, finishing his story as he approached the bedside.

"Doc, please tell me you're not givin' me the same stuff they gave him in the jungle two hundred years ago?"

Phlox laughed.

“No, no. This is far more effective!” Phlox boasted as he returned with a bowl of thick, whitish-pink paste.

“See?” he lowered the bowl in front of Commander Tucker’s nose.

“Oh, God!” Trip recoiled as much as his stationary position would allow him as he coughed and recovered from the pungent, offensive fumes of the paste. The shock brought goosebumps to his skin, causing a wave of stifled agony to wash over his back.

“Stuff smells like a dead animal!” Trip complained.

“Perhaps…” Phlox baited Tucker, as he smeared some of the paste on his fingers. He applied a quick smudge to Tucker’s upper back eliciting a gasp to the cold contact, and then a sigh.

“You got anything else for the pain, Doc?” Trip grunted as the Denobulan gently smoothed out the opaque substance across Trip’s shoulder blades and down his lower back.

“The Mara Paste, as the Dopterans call it, should relieve much of the pain just a few seconds after application. However, if the pain becomes too great just let me know and I’ll administer another hypospray,” the doctor assured him.

“Oh great, then maybe—“

“Tomorrow,” the doctor genially amended, to Trip’s chagrin. He groaned in disappointment.

“Optimism, Commander!” Phlox commanded.

“Oh, damn…” Trip sighed. “That stuff feels great!” Trip mumbled as the doctor smeared the bit out evenly. He set the bowl aside.

“Do I wanna’ know what’s in it?” Trip asked.

Quickly and without hesitation, Phlox replied, “Shaved bark of a Dopterian honey tree, dried excrement of a Drylaxian marsupial, treated neonatal fluids of a…”

“Never mind, never mind!” Trip stammered, cutting off the doctor, who chuckled. After applying an even layer of the “aromatic” goop, Phlox returned his attention to a PADD to tweak the procedure he would use to repair the Commander’s retina.

The Sickbay doors hissed as Subcommander T’Pol stepped through them and approached the Doctor. She stopped before him as he busied himself among many tools and instruments. Then he turned to her.

“Ah, good morning, Subcommander! What can I do for you?”

T’Pol pushed a PADD his way, previously hidden behind her back, sandwiched between fidgeting fingers.

“These are the latest updates from—”

T’Pol stopped in her tracks, her nose wrinkling unpleasantly at the offensive aroma filling the room. Her eyes even widened slightly as she steeled herself and took a deep breath through her mouth for concentration. Phlox spared a glance back at Trip’s white-plastered back. He offered T’Pol an apologetic smile.

“I promise, that ain’t me,” Trip said aloud, instinctively.

“—From Starfleet Medical on the status of your latest medical requisitions.”

“Thank you, Subcommander, but it was hardly necessary to come down here yourself. You could have easily transmitted the report to my console from the bridge,” Phlox replied.

“I also require Commander Tucker.”

Trip’s ears perked up.

“Require?” he asked nervously. T’Pol turned and strode unceremoniously past the doctor to Trip’s bedside.

“In case ya’ hadn’t noticed, T’Pol,” Trip drawled, “I’m just a little bit indisposed at the moment. Maybe if ya’ leave it my ‘inbox’, I’ll get back to ya’.”

“Commander Tucker,” she answered, betraying no sympathy, “It is important that the Chief Engineer remain apprised of the state of Main Engineering. Therefore I have produced a briefing of the past day’s events, duty roster alterations, and repair and maintenance logs for the next several days for your approval.”

“Besides… your ‘inbox’ has become so overloaded that it is difficult to distinguish its boundaries from the rest of your work space,” T’Pol tilted her head.

Trip chuckled, his lips turning into a curve and sending a snap of pain arcing through his head as his lips cracked.

“As much ‘s I appreciate the work, T’Pol, I’m not exactly in any kinda shape to be readin’ a PADD right now,” Trip told her, relinquishing any annunciative effort and sounding like a teenager refusing to get out of bed.

“Very well…” T’Pol replied hesitantly, as if considering something. “I will read it to you,” she said resolutely, turning to the doctor. Phlox stood, perplexed for a moment. When T’Pol caught his stare, the doctor started slightly, catching her unspoken request. He retreated into the back of Sickbay and returned a few moments later with a large stool. The doctor made himself scarce once again but clandestinely listened intently as he went about his work.

As Phlox peaked around the corner, he found the Subcommander crawling atop the stool, her small and lithe body betraying her slight stature as she attempted to both sit straight and reach her feet to the bottom. It was futile, but Trip would no doubt have appreciated watching her try.

 


 

Chapter 2

As the doctor shut down sickbay for the night, diagnostic machines were silenced, display screens went dark, and Trip’s slow, rhythmic breathing filled sickbay as the engineer slept. Earlier that evening, Phlox had attempted to curtail his visiting hours, but to no avail. A number of friends and colleagues had stopped by to visit with him after, before, and even during their duty shifts. Cracking a smile, Phlox became mildly amazed that the ship ran at all without him on his feet. Finally, he made rounds among his cages: filling droppers, changing straw mats and checking the locks on Marva’s and Darva’s cages. The shifty trader he procured them from called them ‘Enaran toads’, but he was totally unfamiliar with that species.

 


Earlier

Rest was, in Phlox’s estimation, as important a remedy to any ailment as the most state-of-the-art technology, and it was important that Trip get plenty of it. When the Subcommander’s debriefing of Commander Tucker became an hour, and then two hours… and then three hours, the doctor approached the pair with the intention of asking T’Pol to allow Mr. Tucker his rest.

As he drew nearer, he heard the familiar, albeit unexpected sound of human laughter, and couldn’t help but wonder what Trip might find so mirthful in the monotonous droning of T’Pol’s engineering report. Listening closer, he found, to his shock and amazement, that the content was not demurring perspectives on safety protocol or engineering minutiae, but had in fact turned social – albeit still seasoned the with pair’s characteristic argumentative exuberance. Such had seemed to be a constant to all their interactions, Phlox had observed, the diligent student of human – or otherwise – behavior that he was. Phlox had decided, in the interests of an expedient, good humor-assisted recovery, to let them ‘stay up late’ as it were. They continued talking (and occasionally arguing) into the evening. Finally, Phlox announced the end of visiting hours, just as Trip achieved the last word in a disagreement over the behavior of someone called ‘Lysander’.

Before she left, Trip invited her to join him for another movie night. As soon as he was allowed out of bed.

 


“Goodnight, Commander,” Phlox called quietly as he stood near the threshold of the sickbay doors and touched his fingers to the light switch. Several panels of recessed plasma lamps dimmed considerably, leaving the subtle blue hues slipping around the sickbay walls to dominate the room.

“Mmph,” Trip mumbled into a pillow.

Phlox allowed himself a satisfied grin as his patient rested comfortably, slipping away to sleep.

 


The next morning, Commander Tucker yawned loudly, alerting the doctor to his patient’s awakened state.

“Ah, good morning Commander! Or, perhaps I should say good afternoon!” Phlox cajoled cheerily.

Trip yawned again. “It’s not late in the afternoon, it’s early in the evening,” Trip retorted. “What time is it?” Trip asked, trying to blink through the darkness. It was an awkward feeling to wake up to darkness, since his eyes were covered up, despite the partial recovery of his eyesight.

“1330 hours,” Phlox announced, as he bustled to and fro among the machines and creatures. An urgent squawking put Trip on edge and he tensed for a moment, sending a shooting pain down his back.

“What’s goin’ on, doc?”

“Oh, just feeding my bat,” Phlox answered. “You might be interested to know that your burns are healing nicely. There is no sign of infection,” Phlox announced proudly as the bat snapped a fat, ribbed worm from between Phlox’s fingers and tipped its head back to swallow the grub. It squawked again, this time in satisfaction. What Phlox did not tell Commander Tucker was that he found remnants of an additional layer of Mara Paste applied to his back when he arrived to Sickbay that morning.

“Shit, you mean I gotta go back to work soon?” Trip complained through a hidden smirk.

“Well, not for another four days, at least. I still have several trioxylene treatments to perform.” Phlox smiled at the bat and sauntered off. “How do you feel?” The doctor asked, moving beside Trip’s biobed.

“Not too bad. Back still burns but the pain in my eyes is pretty much gone… but it hurts if I try and open ‘em.”

Phlox manipulated several controls on a nearby console, carefully configuring the correct measurements of compounds and synthetic additives to the nearest nanoliter.

“There is a saying back on Denobula,” the Doctor smirked as he carefully loaded a hypospray. “If it hurts when you do this, don’t do it,” he laughed.

“Are you sure you weren’t my doc when I was a kid? Doctors must say that everywhere…” Trip mused.

“It’s funny you should mention it,” Phlox paused to tweak the mixture slightly. “I did study human pediatrics on Earth for a time. It was during my first internship with the Denobulan medical exchange about, oh… twenty-five years ago,” Phlox said as he double-checked the dosage.

“Actually, it’s remarkable how much Vulcan and Human children have in common… Medically, that is,” Phlox went on. The awkward silence told Phlox all he needed to know about the relative position of Trip’s eyebrow and the degree of befuddlement one would see on his face. His present immobility afforded Phlox a momentary, guilty grin as he finalized the injection.

“What makes you say that?”

“What do you mean?” Phlox asked.

“I mean why would you say that you’d be surprised how much Vulcan and Human children have in common. I mean, we were talkin’ about Denobulans. It’d make more sense that you might say that Denobulans and Human kids have a lot in common.”

“Well, they don’t,” Phlox answered definitively, a victorious grin on his face.

Trip dissected that one. “Oh…”

“Alright, time for your treatment,” Phlox said as he moved to reposition Commander Tucker’s body so that his temple would be accessible.

“This may cause you some pain, but I need you to lean onto your side,” Phlox instructed.

“Alright,” Trip mumbled as he began to roll onto one side. He grunted painfully. Just then, Trip and Phlox both heard the familiarly crisp slide of Sickbay doors.

“Good afternoon, Doctor.” The words were low and smooth in Trip’s ear and he jumped slightly as a shiver ran through his shoulders and up his neck. It was over in an instant, but distracted his thoughts for a few seconds.

“Ah, excellent timing, Subcommander,” Phlox announced with cryptic glee.

“Is he awake?” T’Pol asked of the Commander’s half-turned, half-prone form to which Phlox was grasping with difficulty, straining to hold up the limp weight of Tucker’s body without causing him too much pain.

“Yeah I’m awake, but I can’t move!” Trip retorted.

“Ah, a little assistance, perhaps, Subcommander?” the doctor grunted, holding Trip steady by the shoulder. T’Pol hesitated briefly then strode assuredly to the side of the biobed opposite Dr. Phlox. As Phlox turned Trip onto his side, T’Pol held him steady, with one hand on his right shoulder and the other just below the elbow of his right arm. As they tipped him, it became necessary to stabilize his torso. Holding him by the arm provided insufficient leverage to resist the rotation caused by his moment of inertia, and instinctively she reached down and held a firm hand against his lower torso to keep him steady.

Trip grunted in pain but confused nerve signals collided and dispersed as a wave of pleasure shot through his lower brain.

T’Pol became acutely aware of the pace of her breathing but tried instead to focus on the heat beneath her fingers – the unnaturally iridescent warmth beaming through the balls of her fingers from beneath the orange-red skin. His skin was no longer cracked or flaky, merely beet-red as the newborn skin beneath the old, which had been destroyed, rose to meet new life.

She wondered if he would thank her for her quiet ministrations, or be repelled by them – By the attention paid by low-lit hours under the labor of that thick, disgusting goop that so expeditiously expunged the dying layers of skin and breathed vitality into the underpinning layers. Phlox’s voice rang in her ears, suddenly.

“All done,” he said. Phlox pulled the hypospray from the Commander’s temple and turned away to return his medical supplies to their proper drawers. The Subcommander blinked and realized she had lost touch with her surroundings for several seconds. She felt the coarse, powerful thumping of human blood traversing human veins beneath his human skin. In the instant before Trip was lowered back down to his resting position, her eyes fell to where the Starfleet-blue medical garment draped over Trip’s body fell short of completely covering his impressive physique. Few muscle groups adjoining his backside escaped the inscrutable glance of the Vulcan’s hard stare. She was still working to regain the full command of her faculties and hardly noticed her own visual appraisal. An instant later, she set him down. Trip grunted in pain as he came to rest against the biobed. No words had passed between them throughout the entire ordeal—when finally T’Pol realized that a few seconds had stretched into seeming hours.

“So, Subcommander,” Trip’s voice interrupted her thoughts, somehow providing the force of coalescence that allowed her to instantly regain control of her senses and compose her mind. “Is engineering falling apart without me, yet?”

“We have somehow managed to maintain some semblance of order. However, I fear that if you are gone much longer, we may actually complete the crew evaluations that have been scheduled for the past four weeks,” T’Pol retorted.

“Phlox, she—you—Haha!” Trip jumbled together. “You just made a joke!”

“I assure you that it was merely a statement of fact. You are prone to engaging the Engineering staff in tedious and time-consuming experiments to test your own hypotheses. It is an inefficient use of their time,” T’Pol landed her remarks bluntly.

“Hey, you gotta’ admit we’ve seen some pretty good results from my hypotheses,” Trip countered.

T’Pol sighed silently. “I must admit nothing,” she countered, deflating Trip’s hopes of hearing her concede.

“Ya know, you might wanna’ be a little nicer to me, and maybe when I find the slipstream coefficient, I’ll share my Nobel with you!” Trip smirked.

“The slipstream coefficient is a myth, no such technology is possible.”

“Well hold on a second, just because the last test failed to-”

“The test failed, even, to successfully divert sufficient warp power to the main deflector without inertial stresses on the support pylons exceeding the ship’s specified tolerance. Assuming the Krieger Hypothesis is even valid, it has been shown by Vulcan physicists that the computations necessary to sustain a stable tunnel would be a hundred orders of magnitude greater than the capability of any known isolinear configuration.”

“Pft,” Trip scoffed. “Who cares what computations are necessary, T’Pol, we’re talkin’ about a new subspace domain that’s never been tapped before. Can you even imagine the warp speeds? We’d need a new scale!”

“You are sensationalizing. There is no reason to believe the Hypothesis is even valid. Should space-time curvature even allow the introduction of the Feigenbaum Harmonic at the quantum level, it would be nearly impossible to predict the metric function values after a very short period of—”

“No, no, I know, but I had an idea this morning…” Trip interrupted. “What if…” Trip paused to collect his thoughts. “What if the metric function didn’t have to be hyperchaotic?”

“That is not possible, the metric function is related to spatial density dispersion by an exponential n-to-the-nth Lyapunov exponent. Spatial trajectories diverge at displacements smaller than ten to the negative thirty—”

“What if the observed trajectories were mapped in a hyper-phase space? Defined by the subspace coordinates, not the spatial. I mean… I haven’t run the numbers yet to check, but I’m pretty sure that working backwards, you’d get the same spatial coordinates if you setup the right kinda conformal—”

“—Map back to the six-dimensional quantum phase space.”

“Exactly,” Trip answered.

“The conformal map would be extremely complex to construct.”

“Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Trip responded.

T’Pol lifted an eyebrow. “I’m sure it wasn’t, but what is the relationship between the complexity of such a calculation and the time of const—”

“It’s a figure a’ speech, T’Pol,” Trip groaned. “Hey… did you just use a contraction?” he asked. T’Pol raised an eyebrow.

“I did not.”

“You mean you didn’t,” Trip snarked back.

“No, I mean I—”

“See, you did.” Trip announced triumphantly.

“Your capacity for intelligent thought followed immediately by adolescent humor is often astonishing,” T’Pol replied.

Trip laughed triumphantly.

Truthfully, T’Pol was impressed. She had never heard of this technique proposed before. It was an entirely different approach to an area of mathematical chaos theory that had baffled Vulcan and Human mathematicians for decades.

“How did you reach this idea?” T’Pol asked, her curiosity besting her attempt to hide her intrigue.

Trip laughed.

“Actually, it’s kinda’ like that movie we watched a few months ago. Do you remember, Back to the Future?”

T’Pol nearly groaned as recollection of the scientific inaccuracies came flooding back. Even more interestingly, Trip seemed genuinely offended when she pointed them out as a failing of the film.

“You fell off the toilet while affixing a clock to the wall? There are no such bathroom fixtures aboard Enterprise.”

Trip roared with laughter. Dr. Phlox looked up from a console, smiling briefly.

“Close, actually I was having this killer dream… you were there… anyway, I rolled outta’ bed and knocked my head pretty good. Actually managed to get myself back up here before the Doc got in.”

T’Pol resisted the urge to query his use of the phrase “killer”, briefly wondering if the Commander had been dreaming she was trying to kill him.

“What kind of dream was this?” T’Pol asked quickly.

“Mr. Tucker, I’m afraid it is time for you to rest,” Phlox interrupted.

“Oh, too bad, T’Pol. I was just gettin’ to the really good part. Oh well, goodnight!”

T’Pol stepped away with a menacing glare, narrowing her eyes at Doctor Phlox for an instant of capricious suspicion before turning and walking out of sickbay. When the coast was clear, Trip laughed.

“Thanks doc, I needed that. Your timing was impeccable.”

“Always glad to be of assistance to my patients, Mr. Tucker. Now, it is time for the Mara paste.”

“Ah, crap.”

 


Chapter 3

Four Days Later

Main Engineering

Trip looked up at a crewman’s face through the steel grating of a catwalk obscuring the line-of-sight between them.

“Check the field coil calibration subroutine, somethin’s not right,” Trip said grumpily, shaking his head. On the console in front of him, he pulled a lever in the downward position and typed in a sequence of parameters to shutdown the injector initiation test. With the depression of a key-switch on the console, the engine’s whirring hum gradually fell in pitch and volume until it became generally inaudible amidst the rumbling of the myriad other machinery. Uncharacteristically attired, the Commander stepped away from the console in a pair of jeans and a plain white t-shirt. It was unusual for the engineering crew to see him in off-duty attire but he had been evading T’Pol and Phlox all day. Earlier that morning, he left the quartermaster in frustration after he was informed that the Captain had explicitly requested he not return Commander Tucker’s uniform. As Tucker strode by the modestly outfitted Astrometrics area of Main Engineering, Crewman First Class Anna Krycek found her neck pulled right along in the direction of Commander Tucker’s foot travel.

“God, he looks yummy in that shirt,” she whispered to Ibanez. Ibanez glimpsed for a long beat at the close-clinging white tee around Tucker’s normally-uniform-hidden chest and biceps, and then quickly at her friend, before returning her eyes to her console. Krycek flinched, looking around to see if she had been caught staring at her commanding officer. Ibanez stifled a laugh. Krycek slapped Ibanez on the arm playfully and laughed. Ibanez snuck another glance herself, admiring the flattering grip of the Commander’s jeans on his butt. There was something indescribably sexy about an engineer she knew to be brilliant, if a bit eccentric, running around engineering looking like a bricklayer. Mmm, she thought, considering the image.

Trip stopped at the access hatch to Causeway 7 and turned in their direction. Krycek snapped her head down to her work. “Hey, are you seeing this?” Krycek asked. “This nebula in sector 4573 is blinding long range sensors with some kind of high-energy radiation,” Krycek muttered. Commander Tucker’s voice rose above the din as he shouted towards the upper catwalk, drawing Krycek’s attention.

“Massaro – get a reading on the field fluctuations. I’m going to recalibrate the EPS taps for the deflector test tomorrow morning. Report back if it’s not within tolerance,” Trip ordered. A faint “Aye, sir,” was heard as he clanged the hatch shut behind him.

“I think his butt is blinding your long-range sensors,” Ibanez accused with a smirk. “Besides… he always looks yummy,” Ibanez corrected her, lifting her eyebrows. Krycek giggled, “Yeah, no kidding. He can recalibrate my EPS taps any—”

“Close your mouth,” Ibanez warned Krycek.

Krycek was interrupted by the stolid voice of the Vulcan Subcommander.

“Where is Commander Tucker?” T’Pol demanded. The two young crewmen turned white. T’Pol waited impatiently for the two of them to answer. The wait drew out, however, because the mental faculties of each were consumed in preparation of a defense for the court-martial that they feared the Subcommander had in mind for them. T’Pol looked from one to the other, then settled her gaze on Crewman Krycek. Scared, intimidated, and speechless – Krycek could do nothing but stare back into the Subcommander’s eyes. It lasted only maybe a second, but in the last half of that second, she became acutely aware of a familiar sensation.

“He—He’s in Causeway 7, sir… I think.”

“He went to check the EPS taps on E-deck, I think he went through Causeway 7.”

The two of them answered simultaneously.

T’Pol glanced from one to the other, standing before them with hands clasped behind her back. The two crewmen painstakingly tried to decide if the Subcommander had heard their playful, but inappropriate banter about the finer points of Commander Tucker’s physical form – and the horrifying perpetuity of T’Pol’s empty stare yielded no answer.

“Very well. As you were, Crewmen,” T’Pol replied simply, stepping around their station on her way to Causeway 7. As she passed, Krycek felt the sensation again. It was brief, confusing, and hard to identify; and it occupied her thoughts as both her and Ibanez went back to work, punching away at their control consoles. Ibanez left her station briefly to refocus the narrow band spectrum of the primary deep space sensory array. When she returned, Krycek’s eyes were glued to the screen in front of her in distant thought, her fingers immobile on the screen as she paused in work. She remembered the feeling – from an unpleasant bar encounter with another woman who turned out to be the unbeknownst-to-her fiancé of a man she was out with. It was the back off look.

Ibanez furrowed her brows and leaned in.

“Hey, you ‘alive?”

Krycek blinked. “Yeah. Something just occurred to me’,” she said, cocking her neck in thought. Ibanez paused between command screens as she ran the proper calculations to redirect the sensor array. Pausing, she waited for Krycek to continue.

“You ever wonder if they’re doin’ it?”

 

 


E-Deck
Causeway 7

The clatter and clang of work boots sliding over the metal grating of the narrow passageways tunneling through the underbelly of the NX-01 belonged to a civvy-clothes attired Commander Tucker as he crawled through sub-junction B in an effort to reach an access console. The heat, the confinement and the exertion of crawling through all six sections of E-deck had left black and brown streaks all down the sides and front of his shirt, across his brow and a glistening, uncomfortable layer of sweat on his face.

A junction hatch just a few meters further down the tube rattled with activity. While working the latches on the control console, Trip paused and looked ahead of him as the hatch combing opened. He sighed as a brief gust of cool air invaded the cramped compartment even though the Vulcan staring at him through the hatch entrance wore an expression that was anything but welcoming. She simply stared him down.

“Commander Tucker, you are supposed to be resting,” Subcommander T’Pol said, trying not to seethe as she huffed at him. Trip blinked several times, confirming her suspicion that his ocular injuries still required healing. “Dammit,” Trip muttered to himself, eyes falling to the deck. “T’Pol, I’m just checking the EPS taps. There’s some noise in the lines and I don’t want one of these suckers to blow during the deflector diagnostic tomorrow.”

“There are plenty of competent engineers to perform that task who were not explicitly ordered to quarters twice by the executive officer.” T’Pol stood aside rigidly. “To quarters, Mr. Tucker,” T’Pol ordered him. Trip’s eyes widened slightly. He hadn’t expected her to pull rank.

“Alright,” he muttered, crawling towards her. “You know I’m not in uniform so—”

You know that does not matter. In the Starfleet Uniform Code for shipboard operations, a crewman is duty bound to obey all—”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. I mean, aye, sir,” Trip corrected as he shuffled himself through the hatch combing.

 


“What are you comin’ all this way for?” Trip asked, as T’Pol exited the lift beside him.

T’Pol shot him a deadpanned glare for several seconds before responding. “Obviously a verbal order is insufficient to motivate your compliance to the doctor’s rest order,” she said, flashing her glance onto the opposite wall. Trip chewed his lip with both eyes trained on her. She always does that thing with her eyes when she’s tryin to get under my skin.

“I’m just not used to sittin’ still, T’Pol. The moment you made it an order, I complied didn’t I? I didn’t make it twelve years in Starfleet not knowin’ how to follow orders,” he snapped back. T’Pol continued to walk silently beside him, escorting him to his quarters. As they drew nearer, Trip stopped.

“Seriously, T’Pol,” he said, stopping short of the door. “You’re always givin’ me a hard time about little things even though you have to know by now I know what I’m doin’.”

“Commander Tucker, I assure you that I harbor no ill feelings toward you nor do I exercise my authority in a biased or—”

“So what kinda’ feelings do you harbor for me?” Trip interrupted, folding his arms. Watching T’Pol, he saw her blink once and then again in a somewhat flustered, uncoordinated manner. He couldn’t be sure but there was definitely an air of shock about her. Trip uncomfortably shifted and clandestinely shot an eye down the adjoining corridor to make sure they were alone.

“I do not understand what you mean,” T’Pol insisted, her shoulders heaving as she expelled a hot breath born of her steadily escalating discomfort with the conversation.

“I know you came into sickbay at night and put that goup on me,” Trip whispered, tilting his head in closer to her. “I know it must’ve stunk to high heaven for that sensitive nose of yours. I was awake,” he said, almost guiltily. His heart beat faster, threatening to drown out his own voice as he went on. “I heard you singin’,” he said.

T’Pol’s gaze faltered from him, falling on various places other than Trip. She fidgeted, trying desperately to summon the kohlinar to control her breathing. Embarrassed as she was for her sweet deceit having been discovered, hiding in gigantic proportions just behind that shielding threat was a terrible fear of rejection.

Sensing the tumult beneath the surface of T’Pol’s somewhat cool exterior, a knot was forming in Trip’s gut, stretching upwards until it hit his lungs and throat, reminding him of the remorse he felt the day he read T’Pol’s correspondence with Koss. T’Pol fidgeted in front of him as she searched for a reply. As he watched her, he couldn’t help but wonder if she would court martial him for kissing her right now.

“Do you intend to tell the Captain?” T’Pol managed to ask, quietly. She couldn’t face him.

“Why in the hell would I do that?” Trip asked, trying not to sound demeaning. “I’d just… like for you to be up front with me for once is all,” he said, edging closer to her.

Daring to pull her eyes upward, T’Pol felt a sharp inhalation of breath fill her lungs as she met eyes with him. “I found it difficult to meditate in my quarters while you were recovering in Sickbay. I was compelled to help you recover by… feelings of romantic attachment,” T’Pol replied clinically. Trip raised his eyebrows and rubbed his jaw.

“Well, I never quite had it put that way to me before,” he said, trying not to laugh. A curl crept into his lips and he looked down at T’Pol whose eyes followed every change in his demeanor. Trip frowned at himself as he folded his arms and leaned against the bulkhead nonchalantly.

“T’Pol, what’s the Starfleet Uniform Code say about fraternization between exchange officers and Starfleet officers aboard a starship?” Trip asked as he frowned at the ceiling. Dropping his eyes to T’Pol, he smiled when she raised an eyebrow.

“As I am the first non-human exchange officer to serve for an extended tour aboard a human starship, there is no mention of it.”

“How bout that?” Trip asked, furrowing his brow. T’Pol nodded an affirmative. “Indeed.”

During the long pause that followed, the two held locked gazes. T’Pol stood her ground like a chess opponent while Trip narrowed his eyes, wheels turning behind them.

“T’Pol, you wanna’ have dinner with me tomorrow?” Trip asked.

“Is a private meal an appropriate human activity to engage in during courtship?” T’Pol asked. It was Trip’s turn to raise an eyebrow.

“Uh, yeah.”

“Then very well.”

THE END!

-------------------------------------------------


Comments:

Mary
Awesome. You're right ,Trip would have been more injured than the episode showed plus it was fun to have Phlox use disgusting stuff on him and have T'Pol tip hand so to speak by helping him. Trip is actually extremely intelligent- he'd have to be now wouldn't he, so thanks for portraying him as such.As everyone else said, the technobabble was perfect, to be expected between the science officer and the chief engineer. And, appropriate for Trip to impress T'Pol with his comprehension of and unorthodox approach to unsolved mysteries. Thanks for sharing
Linda
Very well done! Nice details from the description of Sick Bay to the body language, to the 'in character' nature of the dialog. I enjoyed scientific reality of the part at the beginning on medical stuff and solar radiation/attmospher of the planet. I'd like to see more of this in fan fic as you can LEARN something while being entertained. And the 'technobabble' stuff near the end in the slipsteam coefficent sounded plausible, more so than other technobabble I have read or seen. It set up for the humor with T'Pol nicely, and because it 'lost' us readers because we could not 'follow' it logically - well, LOL, it was only to show us how smart and creative Trip is, right? Good job! Write more stories. Write more often.
Alelou
This was a lot of fun. And I enjoyed the technobabble. It is Star Trek, after all, and it's nice to see why these two would really enjoy kibbutzing together -- I think they find each other's intellects really exciting. You also do a good job with all the character's voices (although T'Pol does use contractions quite routinely in the series, I believe.) Minor writing quibble: You tend to overwrite a little. You don't need to say "she said bluntly" if the dialogue was blunt -- it speaks for itself. (Yeah, I know I didn't quote it exactly.) Only other real hiccup I had (besides amazement that T'Pol would be so straightforward at the end) was trying to visualize this: "his hands simultaneously flying to his face and his back." [i]Ouch![/i]
Lady Rainbow
I really enjoyed this one. Loved how TnT were finishing each other's sentences in technobabble. And T'Pol's "back off look". HAHAHA! Hey, Trip can tap MY EPS conduits anytime too. LOL ;)
panysan
And I did not miss the mentioning of traxian silk:)
panyasan
A very entertaining story. And I liked the techno-talk, just two intelligent people who like to share ideas.
krn
Sure the technobabble looses me - but it's great to see TnT having a highly techinical conversation, bouncing off each other, just the way you would expect them to. Fun story - thanks!
RxChiquita
John O., Wonderful to see you posting new stories! Fun stuff! and Krycek was my fave [i]X-Files[/i] character. Write on, Young Man.
navigator
I like this. I was never that fond of the Xindi arc so stories that begin a relationship prior to the weakening of T'Pol are very enjoyable to me.
Ezinma88
"The End!" That sounds a bit too final for my tastes. Really liked this one. :) E88
framework4
Delightful!
justTripn
Exclaimation point is RIGHT! I am so tickled by this whole thing. I am still laughing. GOOD JOB!!!
Distracted
I loved the post-sickbay TnT stuff, but the mathematical technobabble lost me. I did like the interplay and the finishing each other's sentences, but if you were going for completely incomprehensible, then you succeeded with me. :s During his stint in sickbay you had some POV issues, in that you kept switching back and forth instead of sticking with a single POV. That bugs me for some reason. The medical details were excellent... but I'm assuming you meant "mitochondrial". ;) All in all very well done. I LOVED the "back off look". :D
Drogna
I loved the technobabble too. It's always great to see Trip being portrayed as an intelligent person. T'Pol bantering with him about warp theory was very nicely written, I felt that fitted both of them. Not entirely certain of Phlox using "no worries" - it sounds a bit too human. I would have liked a bit more drama to the injuries (but you know me ;)), it would have been interesting to see how T'Pol reacted to some life threatening complications, but overall a really good story. Plus a lovely ending.
Blacknblue
Very nicely done. I always applaud when someone brings realistic consequences into Trek. Stories like this make it easier to accept that Trip actually did go down to an alien world, and actually did get fried by an alien sun. The characterization of Phlox was dead on target too. Nice job. And of course, the TnT was perfect.
Asso
Perfect and very enjoyable. Dinah wrote: [i]The only thing that seemed slightly off, was T'Pol's mention of "feelings of romantic attchment." Season 2 seems a little early for her to be making that sort of admission.[/i] Probably this is true, but… hey… maybe sometimes a small sprinkling of light incoherence is necessary. Above all, if it works very well!:p
Elessar
M hit on the nose what I was going for. TBH, it's my opinion that a whole season 2 series would be necessary to do justice to the time necessary to see that evolution occur in a developed way, so I know that in some sense this story moves too fast with T'Pol. But there IS that other side to the coin of "well why wouldn't a Vulcan just approach it head on?" Trek has a bit of a conradiction with the way Vulcans are A. very logical but B. very Victorian about sex and dating. I think if we stuck with A. it would look a little more like this. If anyone wanted to see how I'd handle this kind of Season 2 AU romance in a more drawn out and slower-moving way for T'Pol, I'd check your the Vulcan For... series.;)
Reanok
Nice Job Elessar.I Liked seeing a follow up to Dawn.Nice to see T'Pol was there for Trip and that she was concerned about him. I also liked the scenes with Phlox.:D
Entilzha
Nice:D
m
i really liked the techno-babble. The finishing off of each others techno-sentences, I think that's what their conversations during NP sessions should have more closely resembled at times on the show. Would have shown more accurately how very intellectually compatible they were. I think that if all the little things that contributed to T'Pol's perception of herself as being weak didn't happen (The seventh/Trell d) and she remained the character she was at the start she might not have freaked out as much about her feelings for Trip and it might well have turned out just like this.
Lunaz
Enjoyed it very much.
Doomsayer
Wonderful stuff, just enough technobabble to seem like a real episode without going overboard...I'll just bet that dinner is very 'interesting,' any chance of a sequel?
Dinah
You lost me a bit on the technical stuff, but I think you're on to something medically. I agree that Trip recovered too quickly from his exposure to the sun. Given the way he was lying when he was reviewing the high points of his time on Enterprise, it makes sense that his eyes could have been injured. As usual, this is very well written. I liked the subtle way T'Pol was looking out for Trip, even to the point of rubbing his back with the smelly ointment. The only thing that seemed slightly off, was T'Pol's mention of "feelings of romantic attchment." Season 2 seems a little early for her to be making that sort of admission. Otherwise, I thought your story was GREAT!
justTripn
I haven't read it yet, but I think it's cute how you got "Distracted" with a capital "D." I have a hard time writing "trip" with a lowercase "t."
Vaux
Gorgeous fic!:D
m
yay!

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