"Your Perfect World"

Author - wombat61 | Genre - Alternate Universe | Main Story | Rating - R
Trip * Malcolm Fanfic Home
 

Your Perfect World.
Author: wombat61
Beta: bat400
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13/R for violence and mature content.
Summary: Tucker is trapped on an AU Enterprise where many of the burdens he had before do not exist. Is it a perfect world?
Archive: Please do not archive outside of House of Tucker
Spoilers for "The Expanse", "Cogenitor", minor for "Minefield", "First Flight", "Strange New World", "The Crossing", "The Andorian Incident", "Broken Bow", "Candamar".
DISCLAIMER: The Enterprise (NX-01) and the characters of Enterprise do not belong to me but to Paramount. I have neither requested or received any payment for this work.

___________

Part One.

Ensign Kelly knelt in the awkward EVA suit and reached up into the external manifold port with the positive electrode attached to the manipulator she wore at her hand and forearm. Commander Tucker, stretched out beside her on the hull, aimed the light to the section of manifold about a meter away from the negative electrode he'd already attached.

Tucker watched as Kelly detached the manipulator from the electrode, but waited until she had ducked back out of the manifold entrance and he heard her calling, "Clear!" over the com. He answered, "Charging," and pulled the switch on the power supply he had anchored to the hull near them. They had been at this for a good forty minutes and they were nearly done. If he had known how trivial the problem was, he would have had Rostov or one of the other engineering crew come out here to clean the Impulse Manifolds of the final traces of isobaric cloud residue they'd picked up at the edge of the Expanse. But the internal cleaning sequence hadn't eliminated the problem, so he'd gone with Kelly to check it out. Considering the effort of kitting for an EVA, the Chief Engineer had decided they would clear the problem themselves on that trip.
He crouched to one side of the three meter wide port, watching as the electrical current heated the structure and the debris cracked off and floated out due to the positive pressure difference between the impulse engine at stand-by setting and the vacuum of space. The bits glinted slightly in the beam of the hand lamp. There were no stars nearby to light the surface of the Enterprise's hull and the lamp made eerie shadows of Kelly and Tucker, the manipulators like the giant claws of two monsters.

Monsters, Tucker thought. We came here to find monsters. The kind of monsters who massacred innocent people in their homes. He'd often found himself wondering what his sister Elizabeth had been doing when the weapon had torn through Zephyrhills, Florida, and kept on going south. Had she been working in her office? Napping? Had she seen the swath of destruction coming at her from over the horizon, moving at more than a hundred kilometers an hours? He imagined the beam of energy, a quarter-mile wide, sweeping over towns, orchards, lakes. Burning a great hunk of his heart away. He felt as loveless and unloved as he ever had in his life.

He wouldn't think about Lizzie now. Thinking about the Xindi was better. Thinking about the Xindi was almost as good as thinking about work. Thinking about work was best. He'd been running on automatic ever since they started the upgrades on the Enterprise, once he and Reed had returned from his one short visit to Earth. If Reed, or really anyone else, had visited Earth during that time period, Tucker wasn't much aware of it. He and his crews, as well as Jupiter Station's personnel, had been too busy. He'd wanted it that way. He needed the work. When he didn't think about the work, he'd think about the Xindi.

He realized his teeth were locked into place, his molars grinding away, and he consciously loosened his jaw. Doctor Phlox had given him something for the headaches it gave him, but had suggested a guard to wear at night to prevent damage to his teeth. 'My headaches will stop,' he'd told the doctor, 'when we find what we're looking for.' They would too, he thought with some satisfaction. It had felt good to read the report Captain Archer had sent out to the last Echo beacon they'd left behind, the report of destroying the Klingon ship at the edge of the Expanse. It was self-defense, pure and simple. It was time they stopped trying to be friends with aliens who wanted to kill them. He'd never thought he might feel that way, but now he saw that it had been building for a long time. He himself had been beaten up or held hostage too many times. Hell, Captain Archer had nearly ended up being hung one time and rotting in a Klingon prison another. Malcolm Reed had been right all along. They should have been more suspicious, more alert, and more proactive.

Reed. Now that annoyed and angered Tucker. He knew, more than most, that there was a lot more to Reed than the cold and calculating exterior he showed to most people. But if there was one thing Tucker thought Reed would be dead certain on, it would be need to find the Xindi and wipe them out, to prevent them from any future attack on the Earth. Oh, Malcolm was pretty damn proud of all those shiny new torpedoes. Tucker had watched Reed lovingly running his hands over the castings and describing the yield, the accuracy of firing, the reliability of the primer and warhead. But Reed would clam up and look as worried as an old lady when Tucker talked about what they'd do with those new weapons. The Klingon ship was just practice.

"I thought you liked firing back at other ships -- blowing those bastards into vacuum," Tucker had said after the engagement.

Reed looked at him from around the rim of the mug he'd had in his hands and had said, "I wished they'd just let us get on with it. I couldn't lock on to the propulsion systems to knock them out. Just had to broadcast and breach the structure."

Tucker had wondered what it had looked like. He'd been monitoring the engines. He wondered if the Klingons had had a chance to think about what was happening to them. He had realized there was a smile on his lips when he caught Reed starring at him, a shocked look on his face.

Tucker had snapped out, "What?"

"Nothing." Reed had looked down into his cup. "We had to use too many torpedoes. The shop crew and the Armory can only turn out two new castings and arming mechanisms a day. I don't like being short, or wasting the raw materials."

If Reed had any doubts, Tucker thought, he ought to stow them. Tucker would get them wherever they had to go. Charles Tucker the Third would be fine. He didn't need to cry and sob. He didn't need to moan or pray. He needed to see ships flying apart in space. He needed to see the power readings in Engineering showing him that the torpedoes were sucking the energy readings down each time one was armed and left the ship to blow some alien bastards straight to hell. When he thought about killing Xindi, he did feel vaguely unsettled -- but only because he wished that reason for it had never happened. He wished they didn't have to do this. But he also felt like he was heading for the end of a foot race, his legs burning with fatigue. It was going to feel so good when it was over. Then he'd be able to rest. Then he'd be able to think about something else, dammit.

The cloud of debris flying out the impulse manifold port thinned. Tucker thumbed the power switch and called to Kelly, "Power off." They watched the swarm of particles stop completely before he said, "Let's reset the electrodes." And she answered, "Yes, sir," before they moved forward, climbing back into the port. He aimed the light down into the manifold and they each grabbed hold of an electrode. Kelly's had spot welded to the structure and wouldn't come loose. She pried at it with the manipulator and Tucker left his own electrode in place to grab hold of Kelly's electrode as well.

"Let's try this together," Tucker said, trying to get some leverage with his other arm and body on the hull surface. He waited for Kelly to get into a stable position. The magnets in their boots weren't much help like this. "One, Two, Three, Pull," he said and they both tugged on the electrode to pull it free.

It came loose with a snap they felt rather than heard. There was one solid clump of debris under the electrode and it came flying up, almost too fast to see in the glow of the lamp. Tucker felt the impact on Kelly as her arm jolted against him. The lights in her suit showed her wide eyed amazement, but no sound came over the COM. They both were bouncing at the end of their tethers from the impact, Tucker pulling the manipulator off his arm. Then Tucker saw the hunk of debris embedded in the control panel on Kelly's chest. An emergency light came on like a beacon on her chest panel and the telemetry link triggered the warning bell in his own suit. Tucker saw a cloud of ice particles, like snow, streaming away from her. Kelly's air had vented. She was suffocating -- no, it was worse, she was breached to vacuum.

Everything went in a blur then. Kelly flailed in a sudden panic while Tucker tried to pull the fail-safe seal control on Kelly's suit. If he could make sure it was in place he'd link his own secondary hose to Kelly's secondary port. The EVA monitor inside the Enterprise was shouting over the link, "Commander, Kelly's vitals are off line. I've got a temperature spike in her power unit, too."

Tucker slapped Kelly's hand down and thumbed the seal control on her suit. The visual indicator popped out. "I've got you sealed, Kelly." How stupid. She wouldn't hear him until her suit was pressurized. He caught sight of blood on her faceplate. Nosebleed and capillary damage, he thought. He felt the click as he forced his secondary hose into place in Kelly's suit port, and heard the whoosh of his air pressurizing her suit again.

Then he smelled it, a hot burnt insulation odor. Kelly had an ignition source in her suit. Now that she had air Tucker could hear the Ensign as the fire ignited. She was howling in pain. "--Burning," she shouted, sounding wet and croupy. "Shut me off your system! Oh God, oh God." Kelly was trying to drag them back down to the hull, hand over hand, on her tether, the manipulator getting in the way. "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, -- God, I'm burning up." Tucker's suit was filling up with smoke as well.

His boots hit the hull and he latched on, and switched Kelly's suit off from himself and started making his way to the air lock, dragging her behind him. His suit was full of smoke and he was coughing. The light on the airlock was blinking to him, calling him to safety. The EVA monitor was trying to tell him something, but he just couldn't understand him.

Tucker was half way to the airlock and trying to hold his breath when he was suddenly aware of someone on the hull with them. He jerked to one side. It was a man. Just a man. He'd been walking beside Tucker, just keeping up with him. There was no EVA suit. The guy was just walking along the hull in street clothes.
"What a piece of work you are," the man said, smiling. Tucker could hear him as if they were standing in a room a few feet apart, not on the hull with no COM link.

Tucker bolted as fast as he could and fumbled for the hatch. He sucked in smoke filled air and shouted out, "Intruder alert --" over the COM before he spasmed with coughing. He was trying to get both Kelly and himself into the lock. He couldn't breathe. He was choking to death.

The man was pushing Kelly's body into the airlock after Tucker. "I really shouldn't be doing this," the stranger said. "You can hardly get your little tin-can-and-spit ship through space without pieces falling off it, and you're sure you can deal out death and destruction to beings you don't even know?" The fellow reached inside and palmed the control on the door jamb, starting the lock cycle. Tucker slid to the deck, coughing uncontrollably. His eyes were streaming from the smoke.

The last thing Tucker remembered as the hatch closed was the snide, superior voice of the stranger. "No wonder they're so insufferable about the strides they've made. You're positively medieval, Trip. I may call you 'Trip', may I? The things you think you want. Nobody loves me; Earth won’t be pushed around anymore; kill, kill, kill with veins in my teeth. How delightfully barbaric. It's amazing…"

ooooooo

Tucker woke to familiar ship sounds. The background hum of the engines -- impulse, he recognized, probably about a quarter light speed, blowers, a COM in the background. And a too familiar beeping noise. Medical monitors. He was in sickbay. Again.

He groaned and blinked his eyes, trying to focus. Someone came up and took his hand.

"Doctor, he's waking up," said Reed, standing by Tucker's side.

"Lieutenant," said Tucker, "there was -- someone -- on the hull --" he was coughing again, great hacking coughs. Reed efficiently grabbed him by his arm and the waistband of pajamas he was wearing and helped him roll over. Other hands were on him -- he felt a firm hand cupping his back with light blows.

There was a woman's voice, "He'll be all right. He's not choking. Just clear your airway, Commander."

Soon he was laid back. Someone was wiping his face with a damp cloth. It was a woman, older, in her late fifties, maybe, tawny skin and iron hair, pulled back. Who was she?

"Kelly?" he choked out.

"Resting. Getting better," said the woman. She was wearing a light blue smock with 'science blue' piping. She had a Commander's pips at her shoulder. "Ensign Kelly has moderately bad burns on her abdomen and one hip. Capillary damage and frostbite from the vacuum, but she'll recover nicely."

Reed still had Tucker's hand in his. "You saved her, Trip." The Lieutenant said quietly with a little smile, and squeezed his hand. That was odd. Reed wasn't usually so -- friendly.

"What about that -- alien, or whatever he was?" asked Tucker.

Reed glanced to the woman, and back to Tucker. "Well, we heard you out there. But we couldn't find any trace of any alien or a member of our own crew. There are no warp signatures or other signs of ships. And nothing here inside Enterprise, either. Kelly wasn't able to confirm anything about an intruder. You'll need to tell us more."

Tucker described the figure while the woman examined the biobed's readings and ran a scanner over him. (Was she an assistant to Phlox? Why didn't he remember her?) "It looked like a human male. Tall, light complexion, dark hair. It spoke -- English Standard." Reed and the woman look surprised.

"It spoke to you? You could hear it?" the woman said, "but it wasn't on a COM?"

"Yeah, yeah. Said a bunch of crazy stuff, too. Listen -- just who are you? Where's Doctor Phlox?"

Now both Reed and the woman stared directly at him. "Commander. Trip," said Reed, "this is Doctor Gupta. She shipped out on Enterprise over two years ago. We don't have a Doctor Phlox here."

He would have fallen on his ass if he wasn't already lying down. The doctor started taking more readings. Tucker was trying to get his head straight. What the hell was happening? Malcolm was looking at him like he was sick or something. The doctor was speaking directly to Reed now.

"Strike what I said earlier, Lieutenant. You're not going to be able to take Mr. Tucker back to your quarters right away. I need to run some more tests."

Tucker half rose and looked from the doctor to Reed. " 'Our' quarters? When did we start sharing quarters?"

Reed looked as if he'd been punched in the gut. The pale Englishman took Tucker's hand again. His voice wasn't much more than a whisper, "It's almost a year, Trip. September 2nd, you said -- a birthday present …" His voice trailed away. Tucker looked at his own left hand in Reed's. They both had similar looking silver bands on their ring fingers.

Tucker pulled his hand away. "You mean, like, we're married or something?" he nearly shouted.

Reed mouthed something Tucker didn't catch and then asked, "Doctor, what's wrong --"

The woman cut him off. She seemed horribly angry. "Commander Tucker," she said. "Everyone likes your sense of humor, but this is in terrible taste. Kelly is lying over there injured and sedated. You've warned us about some alien on the hull. We're trying to help you!" She suddenly grabbed Tucker's right hand and practically shook it in front of his own face. "Of course, you aren't married! What do you think this is?"

He found himself staring. He had a mark, a tattoo of some kind, on the back of his right hand. He glanced around as saw that both Reed and Gupta had similar marks. He held his own hand up to his face. It was like a bar code of some kind. Tucker looked up and said, "I don't know what the hell this is. What kinda game are you playing? Who are you, Lady?"

Reed and Gupta looked to each other. Gupta was just puzzled and stern looking. Reed looked absolutely horrified. Suddenly they were both all over him. Trying to get him to lie down, making comforting, reassuring noises.

Tucker forced his way to a sitting position and put his legs over the side of the bed. What was happening? He needed to talk to somebody. Talk to a friend, someone who'd set Malcolm and this woman straight. "I need to see the Captain," he said. "Where's Cap'n Archer?"

"Now calm down, Trip," said Malcolm, standing at arms length and holding his hands out toward Tucker. "Archer? Do you mean Jonathan Archer? Your friend, Jon?"

"Jonathan Archer is back home, Trip. On Earth." The voice came from the door into sickbay. It was familiar, but Tucker gasped when he saw A.G. Robinson standing there, in uniform, wearing Captain's pips. "He's the director of the Warp Seven Development Program. He's married, Trip. You were his Best Man. Don't you remember?"

As Robinson walked toward him Tucker felt dizzy and very nauseated. A.G. had never been on the Enterprise. A.G. was dead. He'd been killed in a climbing accident nearly nine months before. The Captain had told him. What was going on? What was wrong with him?

Robinson asked, "Commander Tucker. Trip. Do you know who I am?"

"You're A.G. Robinson. But, but you shouldn't be here. Jon Archer is Enterprise's captain. I -- I don't know what's wrong. This all; this isn't right. Something's wrong."

Robinson looked to the Doctor. She slowly advanced back toward Tucker and scanned him again. He let her do it.

"Commander Tucker, you were unconscious for longer than I would expect. You inhailed a variety of toxins, but none are known to have a neurological effect. You don't show overt signs of brain damage, stroke, concussion, or oxygen deprivation. Your vital signs are all elevated right now, but I don't think that's unexpected considering your apparent confusion." To Robinson, she said, "He doesn't seem to know me, and seems not to remember some past events."

"Commander Tucker." She said. "just humor me here." She started asking him questions. Who was he, what was the ship's name and registry, when did they ship out, what was his rank and job title, what was the date. He answered, and Robinson and Reed both seemed to relax a bit.

Robinson asked, "Who are the ranking officers on the Enterprise?" When Tucker answered, Robinson asked, 'tell me about the science officer and Doctor Phlox'. He did, and the three faces fell. He answered questions about his engineering team and the rest of the crew.

"Trip." Robinson said. "I'm sure there's some explanation for this memory problem you've got. But there are no aliens in crew positions on this ship. The first officer is Commander Nelson M'Butsu. You trained with him. We've got a Tellarite advisor and a few alien Wards of Star Fleet, but they've got no place in the chain of command. I don't know some of the crew you mentioned. There's no Lieutenant Hess in Engineering. Chief Rostov is your second there. We've got 128 crew and twenty or so supernumeraries on board. There are only eight women in the crew."

Tucker found himself clutching at the neck of the pajama shirt he was in. My god, what's happened? he thought. He'd been sick before. He'd been stoned on alien pollen, but this. This seemed so real. It seemed as real as the things he'd experienced when the Wisp Aliens had taken over his body. Maybe that's what had happened. But during that 'Crossing' he hadn't considered how strange it was. Things had just happened and he'd let them happen. This wasn't that way. Not at all. He knew this wasn't right.

Tucker started. Reed had stepped up and put a hand on his shoulder. The lieutenant took it away again, looking embarrassed and upset.

The doctor said, "Don't you remember any of that? " She gestured to Reed. "Don't you remember your civil union with Lieutenant Reed?"

Robinson's eyes widened and he said, "But I performed the ceremony here, Trip. On the Enterprise. Jon Archer and your folks were all on the sub-space feed."

Tucker shook his head, looking at the worried faces around him. "No. Malcolm and I are friends. I don't remember what you're talking about." Glancing at Reed's fallen face, he muttered, "I'm sorry." There was a pause. "Wait a minute. If that's what happened, why aren't we married? What's this 'civil union' thing."

If the three people had looked concerned before, they looked baffled now. Doctor Gupta seemed to be scanning the ceiling for some guidance. She finally pointed to the tattoo on her own hand.

"Tucker. I want you to consider this very seriously. If there is any thing you're not being truthful about, now is the time to be completely clear." She tapped the mark.

"People who are sterile, can't be married. The marriage laws were conformed world wide when Australia joined the World Union. Sterile people are allowed civil unions. You, I, the entire crew, the crews of all extra solar ships as well as people with Hazard One jobs back home, are sterile. It’s a requirement of service. You can't father children, Commander. None of us are lucky enough to be able to bring children into the world. I'm sorry, but it's true."

They all watched him. He thought about what he was hearing. He was farther away from his own reality than he could imagine. This was a totally different place.

The doctor looked very sad, but understanding. She took his hand in a very 'mothering' way. "Some of us ... had a very hard time when we were tested. A lot of men are very -- disturbed when they have to get the coding when they turn eighteen. It was hard for me, too, when it happened, so I understand. With so few live female births in the last fifty years, it's hard for any woman to have to be coded."

But, it also allows us to do other things. I know how important the Warp Five program was to you and Captain Robinson, and your friend Commodore Archer. The Captain's told me about it, and how much you wanted to be on this ship and on this mission. You wouldn't have been able to be here if you'd been able to marry and have children. And consider your partner, here," she gestured to Reed who was standing by with a sick look on his face. "Don't you want to tell us that something has upset you? That something is bothering you, and that you do, really, understand what's going on here?"

She thinks I'm faking this, Tucker thought. She thinks I'm emotionally disturbed and trying to fool myself into some sort of denial. Malcolm thinks I've gone nuts. Where the hell am I? And who is this "Robinson?"

"This" Robinson. "This" Malcolm Reed. "This" Charles Tucker. He was someplace else. Or he was in the place of someone else. He realized that it didn't make any sense to insist that "he" wasn't the Charles Tucker they knew. They obviously thought he was.

He decided to be as truthful as he thought possible.

"Ma'am. Doctor Gupta? I really don't understand this at all. I don't remember anything about getting checked out for fertility and 'marked' when I was a kid. I remember other people on this ship and other things happening to me. I remember a bunch of female crewmates, twenty-three. Lieutenant Reed's my friend; one of my best friends, but he -- we're not a couple. You must think I'm crazy, but it's like I don't belong here.”

There was a long pause and his companions looked at each other. Reed had gone ashen. Tucker hadn't seen him this shaken since they were both sure they were about to die on Shuttle Pod 1. Robinson looked stunned -- maybe the only time Tucker had ever seen him that way. The Captain finally shook himself and suggested that Tucker 'rest' while they spoke. The doctor called an aide in (Tucker didn't recognize him either) and the three officers went to the office area.

He ran his hands through his blond hair. First a man walking and talking in vacuum, now he woke up someplace 'else.' Tucker couldn't get his mind wrapped around this. The man. The man on the hull. That's where it all went -- wrong. Maybe Kelly remembered the same Enterprise he remembered. Maybe this creature did something to them, both of them. He had to find out where he was and he had to convince this Enterprise crew to look for a connection with the mysterious intruder and his predicament.

He could see Reed gesturing toward him and nodding violently. Robinson seemed to be reassuring the armory officer about something and the doctor agreeing too, maybe a bit reluctantly. The three approached him again.

Doctor Gupta began. "Commander Tucker. We've taken a lot of data on you today. We're going to analyze it and compare with baseline data taken in the past. Maybe that will show us something. Tomorrow we'll start all over again, and have more data for comparison. I can't tell you why you're -- not remembering this correctly." That admission seemed to have been pried out of some locked box.

Robinson chimed in. "Lieutenant Reed and the Science Department will review all the information we have on any possible alien presence that you might have seen or 'sensed' while you were on the hull. Maybe we'll find something this time." Uh, oh, thought Tucker, they've already chalked this up as a hallucination.

"Yeah, A -- Captain. Maybe this thing I saw has something to do with this. I just think I'm not in the right place anymore. Isn't that a possibility?"

"What," said Doctor Gupta, "a fantastic alien presence moved you to some sort of different plane of existence?"

He nodded slightly, watching the three dubious faces.

”We'll look at the readings, Trip." Said Reed. "Residue on your suit and Kelly's, the air lock, the hull, the region of space we're in." he nodded reassuringly. "If there is something, we'll find it." That made him feel better. Malcolm almost sounded as if he was willing to try to believe that something had happened to him.

"In the mean time," Gupta continued. "You can stay here in sickbay over night -- the Lieutenant can bring you anything you need. Or, you can go back to your quarters. Lieutenant Reed can make sure you don't have an onset of symptoms that we need to see immediately."

Reed leaned in while Gupta and Robinson pointedly looked away, 'ignoring' the conservation. Reed said with a lowered voice, "It's all right Trip. I won't -- badger you. You just might feel better if you're around your own things. Maybe you might start to remember something?" he finished hopefully, his gray eyes full of worry. "We've been friends a long time now. If you feel uncomfortable, you can come back here to sleep."

Tucker considered this. Malcolm was his friend. He found it hard to believe that this Malcolm Reed might be that different than the one he knew. Tucker slowly nodded, "Yeah. Yeah, I think I'd rather be out of sickbay."

Robinson and Gupta both smiled with relief at this. The doctor asked the aide to bring his uniform, brought from the kitting room. Reed and the doctor bustled to give the orders that would continue some sort of investigation.

"Don't worry." Said Robinson. "We'll get to the bottom of this, Trip. Jon said he'd skin me alive if I didn't keep you out of trouble." The man wearing the Captain's rank smiled at him and Tucker gritted his teeth and tried to smile back.

"You're dead, A.G.," he kept thinking.

ooooo

It was late. Reed's shift was well over. Reed took Tucker to the mess hall for a meal before turning in. Tucker tried to remain non-committal and show as little surprise as possible when he saw something or someone different than his own Enterprise. The deck configuration was different. There was apparently a huge science laboratory adjoining sickbay. They passed crew who welcomed him back and said how glad they were to see him again. When he did recognize a crewmate, he watched them closely for any difference. Malcolm was obviously relieved whenever Tucker recognized a face or made a turn in the passageway without prompting. But other friendly faces were ciphers to Tucker. He would ask Reed, 'who was that?' and Reed, this face masked with a forced and fleeting smile would tell him and add, 'Don't worry; you'll remember.'

They were sitting side by side and eating when Tucker felt himself nearly tackled from behind; someone small throwing their arms around him. He was nearly shoved into his plate, but he registered that the crew he could see in the mess were all smiling. A voice, a bit too loud in his ear, cried "Oh, Commander Trip. I'm so glad you're not hurt."

He thought he'd been shocked to see Robinson, but this was worse. Tucker jerked back against Reed when he realized that his admirer was Charles, the Vissian Cogenitor. The wiry figure flung itself down in the seat next to Tucker. The big grin on its face fading when it saw him.

Reed misunderstood. He spoke to the Vissian in a low voice. "Charles. Commander Tucker's not quite recovered."

The Vissian's plain young face registered worry. "I'm so sorry. I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"No, uh, no, Charles." Said Tucker. He felt as if his heart rate had gone through the hull. He was sweating. Here she was: the focus of the biggest mistake of his professional career, sitting in front of him astonishingly alive and well.

Reed could see something was wrong. He said in a low voice, "She's just come from the Life Sciences Lab, for her meal before Ward Curfew. Haven't you, Charles?"

So Reed called her 'she' just as he had. She had grown her hair longer and tied it in the back. She was wearing a Star Fleet jumpsuit without any insignia or rank. There was a plain patch on her shoulder with a number and 'WSF'. She was speaking standard now. There was no echo as one usually heard when the COM system translators kicked in. Tucker couldn't manage to do much more than stare at her.

Charles hurriedly got to her feet. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you like that."

He managed to say, "No. I'm okay. I just didn't think I'd see you -- tonight. I'll feel better. It's really good to see you." He tried to give her a grin. She shyly smiled and said goodbye, picking up a tray of food she'd left on a table behind them.

"Do you remember her, Trip?" asked Reed. "She's a ward. You brought her on board yourself. Captain Robinson gave --"

"Her asylum." Tucker finished. He stirred his fork around in the food left on his plate. He looked at Reed sideways. "I don't remember it happening quite that way." He dropped the fork into his plate and suddenly covered his eyes with one hand. He didn't want to have some sort of fit in the mess hall and he felt like that was exactly what was going to happen.

He felt Reed's hands on his arms, pulling him up from the table. "Let's get you back home," he said quietly. Tucker was nodding, his chin tapping against his chest as Reed guided him out of the room.

Tucker felt well and truly exhausted, but less stunned, as they went into the crew quarters. Reed walked slowly, Tucker supposed, so that he might have a chance to 'remember' where their quarters were. But he didn't and felt ill at ease when Reed stopped and keyed the lock code. But it was Tucker's own code that was punched. The room was only slightly larger than his own quarters had been, with an odd looking couch against one wall. (A hidden bed, Tucker supposed, gritting his teeth. He'd seen similar designs on other ships.) There were two small desks back to back. Two simple, but fairly comfortable looking chairs. A shelf above the couch with a hot pot, a teapot and a caddy with stacked tumblers and flatware (he recognized the pattern -- Reed had served him with those mugs on more than one off duty visit). Photographs on the wall, an exterior port, the door into the washroom.

But as he looked around he saw some of his own things. His old diving helmet, a set of PADDs in an old case he'd had since school, a wooden desk set with "Tarpon Springs" burned into the surface. Not much of the decor seemed to come from Reed, but Tucker remembered a print of a sailing ship that had been in Malcolm's quarters. He realized that Reed was watching him.

"Is any of this familiar?" he asked.

"A lot of it really." Tucker answered. He was looking at two chests built into the bulkhead. One somehow seemed familiar, though he couldn't say why, and he crossed over and opened the top drawer. He plunged his hand inside, moving underwear aside and brought out his harmonica, wrapped in a clean handkerchief. Reed smiled -- a beautiful, heartfelt smile as Tucker showed the harmonica and said, "Right where I always keep it." It was true in a sense, just as he somehow knew that the one set of drawers, a bit more worn and somehow messy looking, belonged to him, and the other set, each drawer unblemished, carefully and fully closed, belonged to Reed.

Tucker went into shower room, taking a fresh set of underwear and his sweats with him. His mind was a blur. When Malcolm had smiled at him, he'd felt supremely guilty and he didn't know why. And he had felt both guilt and shock when he had seen Charles. She wasn't alive. At least not where he came from. He'd seen to that. Killed her with good intentions. Suddenly the water felt colder. What if he was stuck here? What if there was really something wrong with him? Could he have not really done what he remembered doing? Maybe 'this' was right? Was he really sterile? His mind jumped around like a bug on a griddle as he shut off the shower and dried off.

When he came out into the room, the bed had been pulled down from the wall, fairly roomy, thank goodness. Malcolm was on his computer, and he looked up suddenly. Maybe a bit embarrassed? They hadn't talked much after they'd left sickbay. Tucker thought perhaps he should just keep his mouth shut and try to figure out more about where he was. When Reed, too, headed off to wash up, Tucker went to his own terminal and logged in. His password still worked. He found that he didn't seem to have access to all the engineering files. Damn. Perhaps Malcolm had locked him out; had been told to lock him out. But he was able to pull up the ship complement. About half the male faces he knew. Travis wasn't the alpha shift helmsman, or even a crewmember. Meyer was still on Reed's security team and Chef was still in charge of the galley. Of the eight females he knew Kelly, Branigan, and a biology tech named Katana. Hoshi Sato wasn't there. Neither were Hess, or Cutler, or any of the other female crew he knew. And of, course as Robinson and Reed had told him, there was no Doctor Phlox and no T'Pol.

The complement of each department was about the same as on his Enterprise for the eighty odd crew he expected. Of the additional forty-six personnel, thirty were in the science department, mostly listed as biologists and geneticists. The sixteen balances were under Ship's Security and the Armory. He puzzled over this until he pulled up a mission statement.

This Enterprise's primary mission was to collect, analyze and synthesize data and possible solutions to Human infertility. Secondary missions included negotiating and developing trade and transfer of scientific information, particularly emphasizing biology, genetics, and fertility, and enhancing security and protection for the Sol System.

He swiftly pulled up population stats for Earth, the Moon bases and Mars Colony, as well as the outer planet colonies and Alpha Centari. Fertility stats came up first and held not pride of place but a grim reckoning. In the last fifty years the number of eighteen-year-old males found to be sterile in each year's cohort had grown from 15 to 45 percent of the population. He thought females faired a bit better, with 5 to 8 percent infertile, but then he realized that the number of live births had also been dropping over the last half century. In the last statistical year one quarter of all male births were early miscarriages or stillbirths. Only 22 percent of total live births had been female; there was a huge female mortality during pregnancy. In his own cohort the population discrepancy was 65 percent male, 35 percent female. It was horrifying. It looked as if the human race was dying out.

He suddenly couldn't stand the thought of looking at the hideous population statistics anymore. Tucker had an overwhelming feeling that he was being watched. He turned but only saw photographs on the wall. He slowly went over and examined the photos.

He actually recognized some of the photos; he'd taken them himself. There were shots of planets they'd visited, often with different people in the shot from the picture he remembered taking. Here was Charles sitting next to him in the Mess on a movie night; sharing a big bowl of popcorn. He was saying something to whoever was taking the picture, and Charles was grinning at him.

There were a lot of photos of Reed. Reed training with his security team. Reed sitting on a shingle beach, wearing ridiculously small swim trunks. Reed and Tucker sitting on a bench outside an alien bar that Tucker recognized. They were lifting their glasses to whoever had taken the photo. And there was a slightly larger photo in a standup frame. Tucker picked it up, a bit ill at ease. Unlike most of the others, it was a formal sitting, but obviously taken on board ship. Both he and Reed were wearing their dress uniforms, a three-quarters view. Reed had his arms loosely crossed, hands on elbows. He, himself, stood behind Reed's left shoulder; his left hand lightly resting on Reed's left arm, his chest against Reed's back. They leaned into each other subtly but unmistakably. Reed looked supremely relaxed and contented; Tucker's own smile in the picture was wide and almost dopey with pleasure. The photographer had made sure the rings on their left hands were both visible. Tucker set the frame down. It was unnerving to see his own wedding picture.

There was another wall frame with multiple small photos. His own parents. He remembered taking the picture. Jon Archer with a handsome woman. She was holding a baby and there were boys about seven and five years old standing with them, holding Porthos' leash. Malcolm, younger, wearing a military uniform Tucker didn't recognize, with a stern faced man and a short, tired looking woman -- his parents.

Tucker choked when he saw the photo of Lizzie. He had never seen it before. She was sitting at a picnic table with a man Tucker didn't recognize. They were holding hands, but Lizzie was doing it pretty awkwardly because she was also holding a baby. Also at the table was a curly-haired girl of about eight-years-old and two twin boys, younger, sitting on booster seats. Tucker starred. Who were these people with his sister? The realization hit him.

His hand smacked hard against the bulkhead. He started making incoherent noises. He had hardly managed to holler out, "Mal, get in here!" when Reed was standing next to him, in briefs and his hair wet from the shower. Reed's arms wrapped around him, as if he needed to be pulled from a burning building.

"Trip," he cried out. "What is it? What's wrong?"

Tucker pulled one hand over his friend's as if to make sure he was anchored to someone before he spoke. He couldn't pull his eyes from the picture. "Mal? Mal, is Lizzie -- alive?" He wasn't aware how heavily he was breathing, or that he was shaking.

One arm tightened around him and Malcolm put a hand to Tucker's brow. He gently pulled Tucker's head back to touch his own. "Oh, God, Trip. Yes. Lizzie's alive. Shhh, it's all right. Oh, love, you thought she was dead?"

And then Tucker was shuddering, with relief, with fear. He didn't know what it was. Reed had pulled him down to sit on the edge of the bed and was trying to comfort him, running one arm over his bowed shoulders and gripping one of his hands. Tucker slowly got a grip on the shaking and looked at Reed.
"It's okay." he said. "Ah'm alright." He swallowed, and lightly moved himself out of Malcolm's grip. "Malcolm," he said. "Ya gotta tell me everythin', please tell me."

Reed looked at him, stricken. "I'll tell you anything you want to know," he said.

What did any of this mean, Tucker thought, closing his eyes? If this wasn't where he was supposed to be, then what did it matter if Lizzie was alive? But what if his reality: the attack on Earth, the deaths of all those people, Archer being popped in and out of the future, Klingons attacking them as they went to the Expanse; what if that had been some sort of delusion?

"First," he asked Reed. "Was there an alien attack on Earth -- with millions of people killed?"

Reed stared at him, eyes wide. "What? An attack? When? You can't mean the Vulcans. There were only a few hundred casualties. That was years ago; we were both children then. There have been some alien meetings within the Sol system since then, but no 'attacks.'"

"The Vulcans? What are -- No. No, that’s gotta wait. No, since then. Seven months ago. An alien probe didn't just suddenly 'pop' into Earth orbit an' cut a swath through Florida, an' Cuba, an' Venezuela?"

"No, Trip. Nothing like that happened ... Well, hmmm. Wait. There was an incident. A probe, I suppose. It appeared suddenly in orbit over North America. The defense grid disabled it immediately. They were never able to make much of the wreckage. And enough alien material to assume a pilot, or test subject. The power supplies were huge. The working assumption was that it was some kind of alien warp drive." While Reed spoke he leaned over and picked up an undershirt from off the bed and pulled it on. Tucker found himself glancing away. He wouldn't have done that normally.

"So, we're not going off to find these bastards that scorched Earth?"

Reed shook his head. "No, we're in uncharted territory about 70 light years out from Earth. It's believed to be one of the shipping lanes used by the Enolians." And he named the sector.

Tucker continued, "I've gotta find out what else is screwed up in history, but, hell, I'll let it wait. So, my family's safe? My big brother and my sisters; Mom and Dad?"

"Yes, lov - Trip, they're all fine. All the children, too. You got a letter from your brother only a week ago, on the Echo, and answered it right away."

"Kids." He looked to the photographs. "Those are all Lizzie's kids?"

Reed considered him very closely, a sad look on his face. He went to a shelf and pulled down a large format PADD. He brought it back and sat next to Tucker.

"Let's go through this, Trip." He said and opened the leaf and started clicking through the views in the photo album.

The shocks kept coming. Reed had another chance to try to hide his shock when Tucker didn't recognize a girl in a picture of his immediate family -- he appeared to have a much younger sister, named Anne, in this place. The Tucker family was lucky. Insanely lucky in some ways. The fact that his parents had produced five healthy children was amazing enough, but having three girls (the two oldest having turned out to be fertile, the third still too young to be tested) was a great blessing. Both Rebecca and Elizabeth had married young (as was usual) and started having children immediately. Tucker's face fell when Reed indicated that they had both had more than one miscarriage, but Reed only mentioned it in passing. It was obviously too common place to make much of. Tucker and his brother had both turned out to be sterile. When his sisters' children had started coming, Joseph had left his job as a teacher and took up a government stipend to help with his sisters' families. He spent his time as a member of both households, alternately. And of course, Trip's future seemed set in Star Fleet by that time.

There were many photos of his nieces and nephews, only one of whom, Rebecca's second, could he actually remember and recognize. Lizzie's older son, by ten minutes, Malcolm said, grinning, was named Charles Tucker the IV -- it had become common in their generation to use the mother's family name -- a reward of child bearing. He found himself unable to stop staring at and lightly touching the photos of Lizzie with his fingertips. She was alive. She looked happy. He hadn't lost her.

"You're really very lucky, Trip." Malcolm said, "Even if you couldn't have children of your own."

"What about your family, Malcolm? What about your sister, Madeline?"

Reed looked sharply at him. "Sorry, Trip. You're wrong on that. Our branch of the Reed family closes out with me. Father, we both, begged Mother to stop trying after fourteen years of miscarriages and stillbirths after I came along."

He was quiet for a moment. "It's odd you ask about 'Madeline'. Madeline was my mother's older sister. They would have named any daughter they had 'Madeline.'"

Suddenly Reed asked, "What is she like?"

Tucker didn't know what to say. "Malcolm? Do you believe me when I say that I don't belong here? That somehow this isn't 'my' Enterprise or 'my' history?"

"Tell me what Madeline is like."

"Well, I don't know that many details. We aren't as -- as close over there. She's a doctor, but I don't think a doctor of medicine. She's older than you by a bit. Her hair's blond. She's serious, the way you are. You miss her more than you miss your parents, but I don't think you're very close to any of your near family."

Reed mulled this over. "And us. As you remember. Just pals, mates? Do I have anyone back on Earth waiting for me? A pretty woman? A strapping man?"

Tucker felt himself going a bit ill. "Yeah, we're good friends. You say your family's on the Enterprise. You're good friends with the Helmsman, Travis Mayweather, and Hoshi Sato the COM officer. You like to eat with the ship's doctor and discuss things, but I think he kinda weirds you out sometimes. "

Reed looked a bit surprised. "That's it, hmm? " He suddenly smiled. "I think I like this world better. My Mum and Dad are a bit stiff sometimes, but we generally get along, better now than when I was a child. And you're going to have to forgive me Trip, but you're the best thing that ever happened to me." And Reed shyly got up and shelved the photo album.

Tucker thought he knew the answer, but he asked anyway. "Malcolm. Do you think I'm crazy?"

Reed gasped. "No. No, Trip, I don't think you're crazy. But I think your not well. I think something has happened to you, and I don't know what it is. That's why we're going to keep examining for something that's done this to you, so we can help you."

"But, what about 'Madeline?'" Tucker asked.

Reed sat down carefully by him. "I don't know, Trip. I really don't. You're not making any of this up. I know you too well to be lied to by you. You really believe you spoke to someone walking on the hull without an EVA suit. That's why 'Madeline' make me wonder." Reed looked pained. "But, love, it just doesn't make sense. It's not the most obvious answer."

And if--. If, if it's something about us, Trip. I want to know that, too."

Tucker hung his head. It was hard to even think about this. "Mal," he finally said, "I just do not remember anything like this. As far as I can remember, there's nothing you find finer than a gorgeous woman's behind. We even went bar hopping once, looking for alien babes."

Reed laughed, almost a cough. "Well, sort of 'looking', they were aliens after all. On Risa. Yes, but we weren't together then. And we've always known that we were both pretty 'flexible' in the past." Reed didn't shake his worried look. He said very quietly, "Do you want to know when we did get together?"

Tucker swallowed hard. "I don't think that’s a good idea, just now."

Reed nodded silently and let it drop, with little sign that it bothered him. He too, seemed to be truthful. He thought Tucker was sick, but that he would get better. As if he seemed to know what Tucker was thinking, Reed said, "I know you think you've been moved or exchanged. But you see, Trip, it's too pat. If you were really transported from somewhere else, why would so much of it be the same?"

"I don't know. I wish I knew how to answer. And I don't know how to feel. To be happy or sad that over here Lizzie's safe an nobody we know of is about to wipe out Earth. Ah, don't know what's right."

"Trip, you're exhausted. It's very late, you need to get some sleep. We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. You may wake up and be perfectly fine." The thought gave Tucker a creepy feeling. Would that be good, or bad?

Reed offered to sleep on the floor, but Tucker waved him off. He'd slept right next to Reed before, while on landing parties and during the time they'd been stuck in the Catwalk. They lay down in their under clothing to sleep. Tucker wasn't about to ask if that was usual or not. Reed lay against the wall and Tucker found himself forcing himself to relax. They both said goodnight and Reed thumbed the light.

Tucker lay still, trying not to move, but his thoughts were still racing ahead of him. What if this was real? What if he'd somehow had a false memory in his head? A false memory that substituted one horrible reality with different one, even worse for the human race?

But not necessarily a worse reality for him, Charles Tucker the III. He'd never have to worry that Jon was in a landing party. If anything happened to Robinson he wouldn't have that nagging feeling that his judgement was totally screwed up because his best friend was in danger. And Charles. Whatever he'd done here, it had been accepted. She was safe, with them: a Ward of Star Fleet.

And most of all -- Lizzie. His sister was alive. Alive. He could write her a letter tomorrow. She'd read it with a baby sitting on her lap and the warm Florida sunshine on both of them. She'd read his letter and think of him. She'd answer.

It was a fine feeling. A comforting feeling.

Tucker wished Malcolm would fall asleep. Reed was obviously still awake and holding himself as stiff and silent behind him on the bed just as Tucker was trying to. Afraid of touching him and 'badgering' him. Relax. Try to relax, Tucker said to himself.

"You know, " said a voice a few feet from the edge of the bed and slightly higher than Tucker's head, "if you ever had any fantasies about Malcolm, you are really missing your chance tonight."

It was the voice of the man on the hull. Tucker launched himself with a roar from the bed, his fists up, toward the voice. He slammed, hard, into the wall opposite. He managed to gasp out a warning to Reed.
"It's in here! That thing I saw - shit!"

There was suddenly a light. Not one of the room lights, but a spot light, aimed down from some great height, shining on the intruder, very human looking, who was now leaning calmly against a desk.

"Because, he's so worried about you right now, you could suggest anything and he'd do it. If you suggested a carefree romp using hot cooked vegetables, he'd be down in the galley right now, boiling water."

Tucker stepped forward and swung a hard jab at the thing's head. His fist seemed to pass through its jaw and he nearly over balanced and fell into it, but the figure lifted one hand and forcefully shoved him back. Where was Reed? Tucker glanced to the bed.

"Oh, don't worry." A light suddenly showed him Malcolm, still where he had lain down, his eyes open, and utterly still. Tucker moved closer. Reed didn't even seem to be breathing.

"What the hell have you done to him?" Tucker shouted.

"Now, now." Said the man. "He's fine. And that's not what you wanted to ask me anyway."

"Jesus! Who are you?"

"A reasonable guess, but incorrect. Doctor Gupta's description -- I don't know if I should be offended or not -- 'a fantastic alien presence.' But that's still not what you want to know."

Tucker suddenly picked up one of the chairs and hurled it at the figure. The chair passed right through him and disappeared, instantly reappearing in the exact place where Tucker had picked it up.

"Stubborn. Stupid. Self-centered. Bracing, really. Now ask me what you really want to know, Trip."

Tucker unclenched his fists, but remained at ready, or as close to 'at ready' as someone might be in his situation.

"What have you done to me? Where am I?"

"At last." The man clapped his hands. "Me. I. Yes, what really matters to you these days. You were actually just now realizing that this place might not be so bad after all. Ah, yes, by the dumbfounded look on your face I see you realize I speak the truth. But -- that wasn't much of a reach."

Tucker nearly screamed with frustration.

The figure raised a finger and rocked it back and froth at him. "Now, now. I'll answer. You were 'here' before. And 'here' is not where you are now. Call it 'there', if you will. You are actually right, Trip. Something did happen to you, because I wanted it to."

"Wait, Trip, you were about to say, --"

"Put me back!" Tucker screamed.

The figure put up his hands, palms up, as if to say "Presto!" "But, wait, Trip, there's more! This is your dream come true. Your perfect world."

"With Human's facing extinction? With us having wars with the Vulcans?"

"Oh pooh, the incursion? That was just a little spat to try to remove the diplomats you were holding hostage. They refused to hand over their data bases on the biology of races and planets throughout this section of the galaxy. You patched that up with a little peace treaty years ago. Now they try to ignore you while you blunder through the galaxy. You're just one more thing they try not to interfere with."

"And as for extinction. That's not going to happen for centuries. What's it to you? You may even find a cure. It is your mission."

Tucker was quieter now. "How'd it happen?"

"Ah. The last Human War. World War Three. The gift that keeps on giving. It was just a wee bit worse right 'there'. Mutantigenic viruses -- that sort of thing."

"Now, there, dammit! You said that again -- 'here' -- 'there'. Is this some sort of parallel universe? Are you with the Suliban or Daniels? Is this some sort of change? You went back in time and caused all this?"

"What does it matter? You're so Three Dimensional! But don't quote me, I didn't coin the phrase."

It doesn't really matter. You're 'there.' The Earth is armed to the teeth to propel invaders; you made sure of that after your little falling out with the Vulcans. You'll find out Human's have a real rep out here, already. You're still in charge of Earth's fastest ship; it's more advanced than you remember, too. Your family is safe; your best friend is safe. When this mission is over, they'll all be waiting for you."

'Welcome -- Home -- Tucker ! God's -- Own -- Engineer !' " The man thrust his arm out, moving it as if tracing each giant word on a huge banner.

"You'll have picked up so many great technical tricks, Archer will put you straight into the Warp Seven program. And for once, you're in a relationship that isn't so shallow that it falls apart as soon as you belch at the wrong moment. Malcolm loves you; I don't know why. Devoted, really. And its not as if he's going to have a lot of female competition -- most women are fertile and off limits to you. I'm sure you can get used to the physical aspect long enough to realize how lucky you are to have him. He's pretty willing to go in for a penny or a pound, depending on what you want, so I'm sure you can come to some sort of accommodation. And you can't say you haven't tried it once before."

Tucker fumed. "I was a kid! I was drunk most of that week!"

"He talks back to protest his manhood -- how predictable. But no cursing this time."

"Why is 'this' so different?"

"Do I detect a hint of acceptance?"

"No!"

"Oh, well. Why is it so different? Well if you were in charge of a world where men are outnumbering women 4 to 1, what would you have done? What government would like the idea of three-quarters of the male population, hot, horny, idle and frustrated? Wouldn't you do a bit of encouraging? Not just some people's natural individual inclinations, but 'Look on the bright side, you can live with your fishing buddy and get a tax break?' The majority of civil unions are based on non-sexual attachments; not that yours is one of those. Add generous rewards for selfless service to one's fertile siblings and the top-heavy aging population. The socio-biologists feel totally vindicated."

And in some ways it's not so different. The Malcolm Reed you know is actually a sentimental little fool about several of his crewmates, including you. He's just told himself that it's no more than a brotherly feeling. He'd rather you all found him turned inside out inside his closet before he'd ever admit anything else. This one's parents just saw which way the wind was blowing and didn't spend twelve years grinding him down and encouraging him to get into fights or act snotty to any other little boy who wanted to be friends with him."

In some ways the whole human race is better off. You're far more kinder to one another. Far more focused. Nothing like fear of extinction and advanced aliens landing, who might eat-your-lunch at any time? Humanity has really pulled together 'there'. I rather like it in some ways."

"Well, I don't. Put me back where I belong!"

"Really?" The guy was right behind him, leaning over his shoulder. "Is that what you want?"

And Tucker realized he wasn't sure.

The room went dark.

Reed suddenly started up and flicked on the light.

"Trip, what's wrong? Why did you jump up?"

"Good God, Malcolm. That thing was here in this room!" Tucker's chest was heaving like he'd just run a mile.

As soon as the words were out of his mouth he almost regretted saying them. Reed promptly and dutifully called in security and a science team, who were soon crawling all over their quarters, taking readings and swabbing each of them and all other surfaces for residue particles of something, anything. Nothing was found. Their faces told Tucker nothing he wanted to know as they all shot sympathetic looks toward Reed . They all thought he was crazy.

When the two of them finally fell into bed to get two hours of sleep, they were too exhausted to bother not to touch each other. Tucker could feel Malcolm's breath against his shoulder as he fell asleep.

end Part 1

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Continue to Part 2

 

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