"Final Graduation" Part VI

Author - bat400 | Genre - Alternate Universe | Genre - Angst | Genre - Deathfic | Main Story | Rating - PG-13
Trip * Malcolm Fanfic Home
 

Sequel to: Final Graduation (Part 5)
Author: bat400
E-mail: batfic400@yahoo.com
Part: 6/8
Rating: PG-13, for some violent images
Codes: R, Tu, T'P, violent images, deathfic, AU to canon Xindi Arc.
Betas: Quiz Mistress, M.S.
Archive: Any houseoftucker, Warp Five Complex, EntST*. All others request please.

Summary: The full measure of devotion. Alternate ending of the Xindi Arc. A shorter version of this story appeared under the title, "Graduation Day."

Disclaimer: Characters, places, and various incidents belong to Paramount. No monies were requested or received for this fiction. Header quotations from the works of Dickinson.

+++++

 

To my small Hearth His fire came --
And all my House aglow
Did fan and rock, with sudden light --
'Twas Sunrise -- 'twas the Sky --

Impanelled from no Summer brief --
With limit of Decay --
'Twas Noon -- without the News of Night --
Nay, Nature, it was Day

Part 6.

Reed wrote to Mayweather and explained, briefly, that T'Pol was getting the help she needed and that she seemed about as contented as possible living with a chronic illness. And Reed had to admit that she was. The lapses of self control were obvious body blows to her image of herself, but she seemed to be coping as happily as possible. If you could say that about a Vulcan. Reed was less sure about himself, but the trip to Arizona had seemed to have had some effect on him. If T'Pol could handle her affliction, he thought he somehow ought to be able to manage his own. He just didn't know how, yet.

Reed and T'Pol began a cautious, simple correspondence. She refused to use video letters and instead sent text, and so he replied in kind. At first he thought that she was merely trying to placate him and prevent any future visits to try and remove her from her hermitage. But slowly he realized that that was not her intent.

T'Pol wrote about the canyons. Reed wrote about his work and the very occasional messages he received from Mayweather and Sato. And they both wrote about English literature. She often sent him poems she had found and asked for explanation of the Human emotions she found confusing or problematic.

T'Pol wrote so often about her current favorite Human poet, Emily Dickinson, that Reed downloaded her collected works one night after reading T'Pol's latest letter. On reading some of the poems, Reed felt that T'Pol must be goading him in some obscure Vulcan way. The small, timid looking woman staring out from the photo from three hundred years in the past hardly seemed capable of the passion in the writing. Dickinson had many neat turns of phrase: "If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not have lived in vain," although she then often ruined it by writing about helping baby robins, or some such nonsense.
But Reed froze when he found the stanzas:

To my small Hearth His fire came --
And all my House aglow
Did fan and rock, with sudden light --
'Twas Sunrise -- 'twas the Sky --

He sometimes dissolved into bitter anger over T'Pol's questions. Asking him about Human emotion and feelings. Reed felt as if she were trying lead him through some mental exercise, like the one they had performed in the canyon. He had tried it himself, but it didn't work as it had when she had held his hand. Now he clutched at the rock wall and felt the visceral pull of empty space and the jagged rocks on the canyon floor.

But T'Pol had not sent him this poem, he had found it himself.

That's what it had been like, even when he and Trip had argued and sniped at one another. Like standing at a bright, warming fire. Like never having been in a truly warm and bright room before. Sometimes a spark would burn you, but how could you give up the warmth and light?

Reed snapped off the PADD, turning off the timid Lady Poet who had lived in her father's house her whole life and somehow divined his grief three centuries in her future.

The ashes on the hearth were dark and cold now. And so was he.

+++++++

The Romulan War did not seem to be going well, although rumors had it that Starfleet senior officers had actually been in long distance communication with someone, perhaps someone important within the Romulan government. Between this conflict and the residual fear left after the Xindi War, there were few arguments against the building campaign Starfleet was authorized to pursue, and the diplomatic overtures Earth was pursuing with friendly, or at least neutral, alien species. Archer was involved in talks with the Andorians, aimed at forming an alliance, a multilateral alliance, with the Vulcans involved as well. Archer was, still, bearing a bit of a charmed life. He was the devil everyone knew. But he was a diplomat on the mission. Not a commander.
At the research laboratory Reed and his team were trying to improve the strength of the force fields they could generate. One day during an exercise, Reed checked phase pistols out of the weapon lock-up for his people to use in tests. When he asked for them to reconfigure the power coils he was surprised that two of the engineers did not know how to perform the change.
"Haven't you received training on the phase pistols?" he asked.

"No, sir," said Ensign Liu, "Only the EM-31."

And Bennett added, "Our training focused on engineering energy systems and power supplies, Lieutenant Commander."

"Everyone," he called. "Come over here for a moment. How much specialized training do you all have in weapons and marksmanship? Self defense?"

Bennet glanced around and said, "I took the course in training, the four week course two days a week." The others nodded. Strakotewitz, an ex-police officer, said, "I had regular PT that included self defense. We were also taught how to prevent someone taking your weapon."

Liu chimed in that she had basic training on the long arm version of the EM-31. Most of them had had target shooting experience with air rifles or hand guns. Half of them were rated proficient in only the older personal weaponry. Their focus had been almost entirely on engineering and ship systems weapon design.

He was appalled.

"But everyone on the Enterprise had substantial personal weapons training. There were only a few specialists in the sciences that I had to bring up to speed."

Liu and several others looked uncomfortable. "The NX-01 was a picked crew, sir. Wasn't everyone an expert?"

"Just the opposite. Yes, everyone had a basic level of proficiency, but in a variety of disciplines. But the problem is, any one of you might be called up for shipboard duty. This won't do. It won't do at all."

They might end up being put into harm's way. Dying, doing their duty, to save others, to protect their planet and species, to advance knowledge. Or maybe just dying, for no particular reason. Dying for slim meaningless chances that some commanding officer thought were important in a moment's consideration.
Captain Archer had given Trip a brief eulogy that focused on how important he had been to the ship, to the mission, to Archer himself. He did not say that Tucker's life had been exchanged for something important. Sim's death had had more meaning. Reed and Mayweather had closed the coffin once again. Sim had died so silently, stilled; he had looked, literally, as if he were asleep. Phlox had dressed Sim's dead body in a clean Star Fleet uniform; one of the crew, one of them only in his death.

The doctor had done the same for Trip, but when Reed and the security detail had come with the torpedo casing that would serve as a coffin, Phlox had been sitting by Trip's still form as if in a trance. He said he wasn't sure if it would be appropriate to have the coffin open. The Enterprise had had several closed coffin services by that time. He wanted Reed's opinion as a Human and Trip's friend. Phlox said, I can't look any longer, I don't know what I'm looking at, at all. I don't know who I'm looking at, and he had abruptly risen and left Sickbay. So Reed had looked again; the damaged skin, the drawn features, one eye sunken under its lid from some pressure change from the force of the blow that had killed him, thank God, Phlox said the blow had killed him, not the vacuum. And Reed had nearly hyperventilated while they moved Trip's body and then he choked out to Tanner and Nguyen and Myer that the coffin would be opened for the service. Tanner and Myer had looked away from him, saying nothing, as if he were too painful to look at. Nguyen went to a cabinet and pulled out a square of shimmery thin semi-skin Phlox used for burn victims. He had laid it across Trip's dead face, softening, but not hiding the features, and quietly asked Reed if this would not be appropriate. Reed had agreed, full of guilt. He had hoped Archer would look. For a moment, in anger, Reed had hoped that the sight of Trip's dead, injured face might be like the Gorgon's Head. As they carried the coffin to the Armory for the service, Reed had thought with every step, Forgive me, Trip, forgive me, please forgive me for thinking of using you like that.

He looked up at his team's surprised and somewhat shamed faces. Any one of them might be called up for a combat mission going up against the Romulans and hazard their lives. Someone was letting them down. But it wasn't going to be him.

Before the workday ended he had made arrangements for his entire team to be using the firing range in two days' time. When they all came in for work the following day, they found Lieutenant Reed in the work room, five sets of the phase pistols and rifle laying on the tables.

"We're going to set aside the force field tasks for the next few days," he said. "I want to call up the schematics for the newest units. We'll all go over the designs first. Then we'll strip these down and make sure we all understand the functions of the components."

"Are these the standard issue to all the NX class ships?" asked Bennet.
"If any of you were reassigned to the Enterprise, the Columbia, or the Athena today, these are the weapons you would use. These are the designs being put on the Neptune class cruisers as well."

They made a good start on striping, servicing, and rebuilding units.
In the days that followed he gave them what he considered the basic fundamentals of the marksmanship, servicing and basic weapons handling under a variety of deployment conditions. He had to justify the time spent away from the force field work. He had to placate his own superiors. His rationale for the review of the weapons' theory, design and maintenance was accepted. The drill and target practice were not.

But he was pleasantly surprised that most of his people were enthusiastic about undergoing training in their off-hours. In the end they had all spent time outside of their working shifts practicing under his instruction. And he was surprised that he found instructing them to be as, well, enjoyable, as it seemed. It's keeping me busy, he thought. It's because they are a very talented group, quick to learn. They seemed to work well together and they seemed to like each other. They often left the firing range together, as a group, after their sessions, going out for drinks or something to eat. It made Reed somehow feel better watching them all together, as if they would take care of each other, and be safe.

At the end of one of their sessions on the firing range, he told them, "You've all done a lot of hard work. Those of you who had some deficiencies have improved. Greatly. I'm not sure there is any further reason for these group sessions, but I'd advise you to keep your certifications up to date." He added quietly, "Now, I think any ship in the Fleet would be glad to have any of you on board in action. You're all very good engineers. But, you can't just be engineers."

This night Bennet asked him to join them. Reed almost said no, but then changed his mind and accepted the invitation. What did he have waiting for him at the apartment? Trip had always liked a drink on special occasions.
They sat and drank. Reed tried to stay at the edge of the group so as not to put too much of a damper on their conversations. Reed was surprised at how pleasant it was to be there. He realized how much he had started to enjoy their company, at least on this level. Before, they had just been faces and names, sets of talents and capabilities. A bit uncomfortable to talk to, like most everyone he had ever worked with -- except on the Enterprise.
It was like Hoshi. She had always made him nervous, until they had to work closely together, just like this, getting her up to speed on the new weapons. And then she was his friend.

Witlow leaned over and told him, "Sir, my instructor on the EM-31 always made me feel like a fool. But teaching us how the design influences the firing really makes it seem simple."

"Maybe you should find out when he teaches now, and drop in on a class," he said, "You could probably show him a thing or two, Ensign."

And he supposed that some of his junior's nervousness around him had been worn away as well. But it never occurred to Reed that they ever had been afraid of him or afraid of failing him. If anything, he had only been concerned that he would be afraid of them, and do a poor job in the research and in getting the best out of them.

Glancing around at them in the bar, Reed had a sense of satisfaction at how well they all seemed to learn. He supposed that his team were becoming friends of a sort to him, not that he would ever inflict out-of-place familiarity on them. But he didn't want to see them hurt. He didn't want to ever hear that any of them had died in some pointless, foolish action or that they had been unprepared. Like Trip.

They should have all gotten more and better training. There might have been excuses before for failing them. Reed couldn't see that there were any excuses now.

++++++

"Captain Bromhead?"

"Lieutenant Commander, how are you? I got your message."

"I'm fine, thank you. The outline of curriculum you asked me to review for comments a few weeks ago, I want to speak to you about it again, before you meet again with the committee."

"Reed, this is an extremely thorough curriculum you've come up with, but it's greatly in excess of current training."

"But I thought the point of training in the actual academy was to improve over the current situation. And these are just my initial thoughts. I've contacted some officers that I think could really shape this into precisely what we'll need for the cadets, "

"I agree, and I, personally, would support more training. But, I just can't see the curriculum committee approving this amount of time spent on tactical and security studies for all the students."

"Captain, this is very important, especially for the trainees that are destined for command positions. Surely with your support --"

"I don't think it will fly, Reed. I know this is important to you, but we'd need others supporting this to try to get even the main parts of this into the core curriculum instead of what's been presented so far."

++++++

"No, Reed, this is fantastic. But there is so much there. It would take an entire year, at least, to cover these studies."

"Then it ought to take a year, Commander Wojnar. There are other specialties the Academy is planning to have focus on, engineering in particular."
"Well, I'll support this. But it seems unlikely, even if the committee agrees that we can get it entirely in place by the planned start of the Academy. But ---"

"But what?"

"This would go down smoother if we had someone to buttonhole the committee members. There is so much here on weapon systems and tactical situations, and, well, what with the way the Xindi War ended up, now I'm trying to say what other people are thinking -- this needs to be presented in the right way. There are several members, important people, who want to refocus on sciences, engineering, and diplomacy."

"But, Commander, this is a support to all those areas. How can you engage in diplomacy if you're about to be blown out of space at the next instant? If you haven't a clue how to protect your people in order to engage in diplomacy?"
"You're preaching to the choir, Reed. You've got to show that. An object lesson."

+++++

To: Lt. Cmd. Malcolm Reed, Star Fleet Engineering Directorate, Weapons Research

From: T'Pol, New Day Mining and Natural Resources Extraction, Chinle field office.

M:

I think you must surely be exaggerating the situation. I think it highly unlikely that a majority, or even a minority, of the Star Fleet officer corps believe you to be "barking mad." Your frustration is understandable, but I point out that the influence of a more senior officer, particularly in the command area, could be needed to help get your ideas for academy curriculum examined more favorably. I have suggested Rear Admiral Archer's assistance would not be unhelpful. Your concerns are supported by the facts, but Archer still has personal contacts throughout the highest levels of Starfleet, and you should not hesitate to use them, if Archer is in agreement with your ideas.

T.

++++++

Reed was miserable and intensely frustrated. He had contacted all the members of the Academy curriculum committee and gotten very similar responses. The planned start date for the academy was too close to drastically change the curriculum. His suggestions were laudable, but perhaps too specialized for planned training. Only a few came right out and said that his curriculum looked like Earth was preparing to act as an aggressor throughout their sector. He couldn't get them to see. Or he couldn't get them to see anything but him, a neurotic, twitching cripple.

In his small apartment he tossed a packaged dinner onto the kitchen counter and broke the seals that would start the reaction and heat the meal. He checked his personal COM account while it heated.

Reed was surprised to see two incoming messages, both from Alexandria Tucker O'Connell. The first was marked, "Robert O'Connell to Lt. Cmd. Reed." He opened the second message marked, "Mr. Reed, please view this message first." Reed had gotten a brief message from her once before, after he had sent a letter of condolence to Tucker's parents. She had been very kind, very full of grief. Now Trip's older sister appeared to be very flustered.

"Mr. Reed, I'm very sorry to bother you, but I want to apologize for the message my son has sent to you. It wasn't our intention that he bother you with his questions." There was a pause, possibly longer than O'Connell had intended, while she looked as if she were trying to think of how to say something. "Robert's old enough to remember his Uncle Trip and his Aunt too, but I'm afraid, well, some of the things he's heard -- he's old enough to understand the criticisms of the Enterprise, and it's made him ask questions. And argue with other kids, and even adults, some of his teachers." She paused again. "At any rate, Mister Reed, I don't want you to feel compelled to answer the message he sent, or even read it, if you don't wish to. I'm sorry to have bothered you."

His hand paused over the command to delete the first message. What was he afraid of? He'd been asked to explain, to respond to difficult questions before. As when Joseph Begay's Scouts had asked him the most piercing questions he'd imagined, although without the guile of adults, without the expectation of a response they'd already formulated and deconstructed in light of their own opinions.

It had been easier to talk to those boys than the adults Reed had been speaking to in the past week. He pressed the COM from Robert Charles O'Connell open.

He should have known the boy would be a young teenager. That much time had passed. He was blond, but broad and sturdy in a powerful footballer type way, and the accent his mother still had had not caught entirely on him -- an Irish lilt hung in his words. He looked pained and angry, and just a bit outraged. Well, Reed knew the feeling.

"Lieutenant Commander Reed, I'm Robert O'Connell and I have to know something. Something about my uncle, Trip, uh, Charles Tucker. My Grandpa says that Captain Archer was his best friend, but I don't think I could ask him about this, because he was the Captain, and Dad says the Captain's orders on a ship are law, and if something was done wrong it's the Captain's fault or else it's someone's head. But I think you'll tell me what really happened. In one of Uncle Trip's letters to Uncle Joe, he said you were a straight shooter and that you didn't tell people what they wanted to hear. You told them what you thought was right. That's why I'm sending this to you.

"Was my Uncle a hero? Or did he do wrong things? Bad things. Sometimes I hear people say the Enterprise 'put a blot by Humanity's name' and that what you all did were war crimes. And sometimes I hear people say all the Xindi had it coming and we shouldn't trust them and we should send a whole fleet to kill all of them. But I don't think my uncle would have done something that wasn't right. And maybe if he did anything bad, he did it because Aunt Elizabeth was dead.

"I can't hardly remember him, or sometimes even Aunt Elizabeth, anymore, not really. Mom and Uncle Joe say he was the best brother anyone could have ever had, and I do remember him taking us fishing and showing me how the scooter engine worked. But. But, Lieutenant Commander Reed, I want to know if I ought to keep trying to remember him."

Reed sat and stared into the screen. The boy had only been seven when they had shipped out, and Reed knew that Trip hadn't visited his family when they came back to Earth. And now this child was forgetting his uncle, just as it seemed that everyone was trying to forget them all.

Trip didn't deserve that: to be forgotten. Reed suddenly realized that he was digging into his fingers with his thumbnail -- again. He had started that to try to keep from thinking about Trip. He had tried to forget too. It all had to stop. Had to stop trying to forget.

The COM screen had security-locked, the sky outside was dark, Reed's back was horribly stiff. The clock said he has been staring into this computer screen for two and a half hours. Reed sat up, reopened the screen and wrote a text message back to Robert Charles O'Connell.

Robert. I plan to prove your uncle right by telling you the truth. Dying in the course of a war did not make your uncle a hero. But that is not to say that he wasn't a hero. There were many times that your Uncle Trip's actions saved the Enterprise and the lives of all of us on her. I can only imagine that those actions may have saved all of Earth.

He did not plan on being a hero. He wanted to explore, to learn new things, to understand and experience. He wanted to do all the great things people have hoped that space travel would bring us. When your Aunt Elizabeth and all those other people were killed, that real plan for the Enterprise had to wait.

I cannot tell you that everything we did was fine and noble; it was not. But I can only tell you that we did things because we had to do them at that moment. We were in positions with very few options and most of those options made it very difficult for us to stop the Xindi plan to destroy Earth.

I will tell you that no officer on the Enterprise was completely certain of the "right" of our actions all of the time. People on Earth may speak as if they know what we should have done. But I want you to remember that any Human who is dead set on a righteous cause, with no doubts, well, that person is only one step away from becoming a monster. One step away from doing horrible things. We did the best we could. Your uncle did the best he could. He was a fine man, and was, to me, a hero.

Your Uncle Trip loved you and your mother and uncle. He went to keep any harm from coming to you. I think your uncle and mother are right. He was the best brother that anyone could have ever had. He deserves to be remembered. By you and by me.

Very sincerely yours, Malcolm T. Reed

Trip did deserve to be remembered. And they, the crew of the Enterprise, had not deserved to be forced into a situation with only bad options. T'Pol was right. As loathe as Reed was to accept the help she suggested, he had just seen why he had to get that get that help. And he thought he had just seen how to get it.

End of Part 6

Final Graduation (Part 7) is a continuation of this story.

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This material is posted here with the author's express permission. Please do not repost this material without permission directly from the author.


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Four of you have made comments

Finally got all this read. Wonderful story. I've enjoyed it very much.

Truly marvelous. I wish I could put it into words: complex, thoughtful, utterly convincing. Thank you for sharing this haunting story.

This is excellent - had me in tears. I love the way you've written Malcolm, how he's coping (or not) with what's happened. You've shown his pain without ever making it soppy or trite. I really want to read the rest of this, looking forward to your next update.

Glad you like this. Did you like the interaction with T'Pol? (Perhaps the part I thought worked best.)

 


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