"Your Perfect World" Part II

Author - wombat61
Trip * Malcolm Fanfic Home
 

Your Perfect World.
Author: wombat61
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 Two.

When he woke the next day nothing had changed in the few hours. He was still lost. Lost 'there'. Reed escorted him back to Sickbay. And as Doctor Gupta had promised they started all over again.

By midday he had provided every sample, scan, and survey comment possible, including a disturbing number that seemed to be geared to gauging his mental health. They'd confirmed that he was sterile, and he couldn't deny it gave him a shock when Gupta told him, with some sympathy. But from the look on her face he also felt that she had been expecting some sort of extreme outburst, denial, or anger.

He had met all of the senior staff at one point or another, as well as Gar Patah, the Tellarite advisor. They were either relieved that he was well (he remembered them) or concerned that he was sick (he'd admitted that he'd never seen them before in his life). Patah promised to argue with him again soon.

Kelly was on the mend, happy to see him and coherent, her skin a fearful mess from the dermal therapy she was getting for frostbite. She remembered no shirt-sleeved intruder on the hull. Only that they had been removing debris from the manifold -- not from any clouds at the edge of The Expanse, but a debris cloud from a shattered comet. Simply, she was not his Ensign Kelly. She belonged 'there.'

They kept him busy, and he hardly had any time to think at all. It did seem familiar. And everybody was so friendly. Not just to him, but to each other. Ensign Schliecher, the medical aide walked Tucker to the Mess for lunch, and at Tucker's suggestion sat with the crewman's friends, four crew from Life Sciences. Tucker knew two of them vaguely and he listened intently to them chat with each other. They loved their work. They understood that they were a front line defense to help solve humanity's problems. If they had any ill will at being segregated and marked as sterile, or felt a crushing burden of their responsibility, there was no sign of it in their conversation. They all seemed to know by now that Tucker has having 'memory problems' since the accident on the hull, but there was no sign that anyone felt threatened or upset that the third in command of the ship was ill. He would get better. They would solve the problem. The aura of support was tangible.

Mike Rostov came in the afternoon, friendlier than Tucker remembered him, with schematics and specifications. With him was Nelson M'Butsu, full of concern that his colleague was possibly unfit for duty. M'Butsu seemed knowledgeable, professional, friendly, and apparently he'd taught Tucker desert survival. Together, they reviewed the documents with Tucker, beginning with top-level specs that were general enough that Tucker realized that they were starting out by showing him documents requiring little or no security clearance. Tucker was somewhat relieved to find that the ship was nominally identical to his NX-01. As he correctly filled in details and showed his familiarity, M'Butsu would subtly cue Rostov to bring up more data, until Tucker was speeding ahead of Rostov and leading him through the review.

The mysterious alien had not lied. This Enterprise was more powerful and advanced than his own had been, but with improvements of margin, not new systems. The armaments at first seemed more advanced, but Tucker realized that the only real difference was that the systems had been on Enterprise longer, and the crew was more comfortable with their use. The biggest changes were the systems supporting the biology lab, including cryogenic storage areas, additional diagnostic systems, and numerous life support systems for plant and animal specimens. Some of this included systems he was not familiar with, but no mechanical or electrical systems outside of the capabilities of his own Star Fleet.

Some of the systems the Enterprise had shipped out with. Some had been fitted on the mission. His electronic signature was all over the documents, even ones he'd never seen before. For all intents and purposes he'd helped make this Enterprise, just as he had for the ship he remembered. A signature was unique, he'd heard. And when he found that Rostov was starring at him, Tucker realized he'd been absently running his thumb over the barcode on the back of his other hand, as if that unique signature could be rubbed out.

In the late afternoon, M'Butsu and Reed came to sickbay. Doctor Gupta, and they, in turn, informed Tucker quietly, and professionally, that absolutely none of the tests and analysis indicated that anything at all unusual had happened to him or the ship while he and Kelly had been out on the hull, or in his quarters the night before. There was no sign of any intruder or any change to Tucker, Kelly, Reed or the ship. There was nothing usual about this area of space. There were no gaps in sensor readings for the time periods, no puzzling discrepancies or sudden changes, no unusual tachyon particles or radiation.

"There's gotta be something," he said. M'Butsu shook his head and told Tucker that the senior staff, aside from the engineer would discuss the situation the following day and then he would be brought into the discussion. They'd decide a course of action.

Again, they gave him a choice of staying in sickbay or his and Reed's quarters. And they all seemed pleased when he left with Reed.

As soon as they were in their quarters, Tucker began to pump Reed for information.

Reed shook his head sadly. "Trip, listen. There's absolutely no sign that anything happened except that Kelly had an accident on the hull and that you were both injured. There's no sign that any alien has been here, or that 'you' aren't 'you.' "

"But it did happen. I saw this thing." protested Tucker. "Why do I remember all this stuff that never happened if I'm right where I've always been?"

"I don't know, Trip. Doctor Gupta says that some of itís a pretty common delusion for sterile people who've been clinically depressed for years, or people who are schizophrenic. They create a better place, a false world where they aren't sterile, where Earth doesn't have this problem."

"But Mal, I'm not sick. I'm not depressed. I'm not psychotic. I never have been. I don't have any symptoms of mental illness."

"Except that you have a delusion that you don't belong here." Reed spoke very quietly. He seemed to be keeping himself from something, Tucker didn't know exactly what.

Tucker felt so frustrated he couldn't keep still. He jumped out of the chair, pacing their quarters. He suddenly stopped.

"What about Madeline?" he asked. "You still believe me, Mal?"

Reed looked sad and very tired. "Trip, I don't know what I think about Madeline. Have I ever mentioned Aunt Madeline? I can't remember. She's been dead for years. Yes, it makes me wonder, but there's no other evidence. I know you truly believe that you've been -- placed here. I know you're not lying."
Tucker collapsed, dejected, into a chair.

"What are you going to do with me?" he asked.

"We've got to hash that out tomorrow." Reed said. "Gupta thinks you're unfit for duty. She wants to put you under observation and therapy. If there's no -- improvement, get you transferred back to Earth when we can arrange transport with an Earth ship or the Tellarites."

But Chief Rostov's not at all comfortable with taking over your responsibilities. The Captain and M'Butsu don't want to lose you. They think we'd all be better off, you included, if you got back to doing your job under some sort of supervision, and continued medical observation, and continue the mission. Robinson only wants to send you back if you can't do your job, or your condition changes for the worse. He's hopeful that you'll remember everything normally if you just get back into your old routine."

"What about you, Lieutenant," Tucker said snidely. "Am I a security risk? Don't you want me off the ship as soon as possible?"

He instantly regretted such a childish outburst when he saw the look on Reed's face. It was like he'd slapped a kid. No, that was wrong. A child wouldn't understand why he was being punished for nothing. Reed's face registered real fears as well as some hurt.

"I'm sorry." Tucker said. "That was low. You don't deserve that. I know you're worried about me and I just seem to be giving you all more reasons to be."

"You're upset," said Reed, excusing him. "I think you're -- not well. But you're still Charles Tucker the Third. You're a brilliant engineer. You've been absolutely necessary to perform our mission to date, and you've done everything imaginable to make it a success. The only way to determine if you can still do your job is to let you do it. The security risk would be your absence from the ship."

Reed stood up and came to Tucker's chair. He knelt down and put his hand on Tucker's lightly. Tucker felt as nervous as a bird in a cage, and felt sure he showed it, too. 'He's just touching your hand, dammit. Get over it,' he thought.

Reed said, "And as for wanting you off the ship. That's the last thing I want. I want you well and Ö I want things to be like they were before with us. I'm happy to wait for that to happen, whether it's because you remember it, or because we get to know each other all over again. If it doesn't happen, I'm still your friend, Trip. I won't let you down when you need help. You carried me through a bad patch. I wouldn't be much of a friend if I didn't do the same for you." He let go of Tucker's hand.

Tucker's guts boiled. What the hell could he do? Was he crazy? Malcolm said he knew Tucker wasn't lying. Well, he knew Reed wasn't lying either. The sincerity was as clear and obvious with all these people, 'this' Reed included.

Tucker said, "I know you already. I know you're my friend, Mal. I'm glad that's still the same. But understand, I've got to keep looking for a way to explain all this."

"If you didn't want to figure it out, I would reckon something was really wrong with you." Reed said with a smile.

ooooo

Nelson M'Butsu leaned out of the briefing room and said, "Come in Commander."

They were all waiting for him. Tucker was relieved to note that they all looked fairly optimistic, except for Gupta, who was grinding her hands together, absent-mindedly. All the senior staff including Hussein, the alpha shift COM officer, and Ensign Meyer, Reed's second, where there. Perhaps they'd wanted Meyer as a check on Reed's opinion, considering the circumstances.

Robinson came straight to the point.

"Commander Tucker. You've presented us with an interesting problem. When is a crewmember unfit for duty?

"You are physically cleared to return to duty. However, you persist in believing that you've only recently been present on this Enterprise, that you belong in another, different reality on board a ship that is similar, but not the same as this one. You insist that you lack any memory of specific crew and certain events, but your knowledge of your field of expertise shows only minor gaps. You appear to be quite competent to perform all secondary duties."

"Captain? Secondary?" asked Tucker.

"Yes. Secondary. Can you state what primary duties you might not be able to perform, Commander? And you can forget the position description. I've never realized until now how much it lacks."

Tucker thought for a moment. If he wasn't the Chief Engineer, what the hell was he? Then he looked at Robinson and the others and his eyes seemed to fall on the rank designations they all wore.

"Command," Tucker answered. "Star Fleet expects officers to be capable of command functions within the boundaries of the mission statement. If I am who I think I am, I may not be capable of performing those functions, on this ship. If I'm crazy," and he glanced toward the doctor, "because I believe what I do, then I'm equally un-trustworthy to perform the duties of command. You can check my engineering knowledge. You can't really check my capabilities as an officer. You can only see how I do my job."

Robinson glanced toward Commander M'Butsu, who nodded once, and then Doctor Gupta, who, after a long pause, said, "Yes," in a tight voice. Robinson then smiled, just a bit.

"Commander Tucker. I'm authorizing that you return to duty immediately under medical and security observation. You will be under the same curfew requirements as the wards. Your access to computer files and systems will be evaluated and approved by Chief Rostov, Commander M'Butsu and Lieutenant Reed, as needed. Chief Rostov will approve all engineering deviations and concessions you initiate. You'll report to sickbay for evaluation every other day. You'll start a review of all ship's systems and revisions of systems made since the NX-01 shipped out from Jupiter Station, as well as a review of mission logs. After a period of a month, your status will be re-evaluated.

"Can you comply with this order?"

Tucker actually felt happy as he said, "Yes, sir."

"There one thing I'd like to ask, Captain Robinson. I'd like to review the data collected during the accident on the hull and the incident in my quarters. In my off-duty hours."

Robinson looked relieved that it wasn't anything else. "Of course. Request the files from the department heads. Dismissed."

"There's one more thing," interrupted Gupta. "You'll need to discuss any billeting -- changes -- with security. Right now, the fact that you're quartered with Lieutenant Reed provides much of the restrictions you're still under. If that changes --"

Robinson cut her off with a quiet but firm, "Pavati." He looked up. "Lieutenant Reed knows what security arrangements are necessary. And any changes can be arranged when and if needed."

"Yes, sir," said Reed, without emotion.

"Dismissed," repeated Robinson.

When Rostov keyed the door into Engineering and Tucker climbed up beside the engine and checked the status screens, he felt great. He was no closer to being home than he had been, but he felt great.

He spent the rest of his shift doing all the usual tasks that he would have normally performed and with the addition of Rostov approving one deviation to a routine submitted from the communications officer.
They were cruising in this sector at sub-light, hoping to make contact with Enolian transport ships and individuals, as their previous contacts with the Enolian government had been fruitless to gaining the scientific information they wanted. The requirements for the ship's systems were low. The warp engines were in standby at the moment.

He was sitting in his office space, pulling down additional schematics for review, when a stooped little alien, wearing a plain WSF uniform came tottering up with a tray and a cup of coffee.

"Excuse me sir," he said. "Would you like some coffee? Chief Rostov said you'd like some." The alien's own voice was quite chattery, and the UT translated more out of synch than it normally did for humanoids. The little figure was about five feet in height, and had reddish face, full of wrinkles, but without any 'feelin' of great age. He (Tucker assumed it was a 'he') had a prosthetic in place of its right arm and hand.

Tucker nodded and took the offered cup. "Thanks," he said. "You're going to have to tell me who you are. I'm afraid I don't remember you."

"I'm Figan. I'm a Rampic. Chief Rostov said you might not remember. I was in the patrol ship that stopped you and your Captain in space near Enolia. I was a prisoner."

"I'm sorry. I still don't remember you. What happened?"

"They tried to take you and your little ship for smuggling. Ensign Meyer and you fought them off while your Captain contacted the Enterprise and sent a protest message to Enolia. I started fighting too, and I got on board your ship."

Figan didn't seem terribly bright. Or maybe he was just young and excitable. He jerked up and down as he spoke.

"How'd you manage that if you were a prisoner?" asked Tucker, remembering the restraints he'd been in when he had been captured and put on the Enolian prison transport.

Figan waved his artificial arm. He made a spitting, hissing noise. Laughter? Disgust? Tucker wasn't sure. "I just had one hand. The restraint was just on one hand; I could move it around and everything, even though they were shocking me. The local magistrate had cut it off when I was first sentenced. They were taking me to prison when we met you."

Tucker shuddered.

Figan continued. "You couldn't get the best of them and they couldn't get the best of you. So we all sat in space and waited. Then the Enterprise came." More of the spitting noise. "The prison transport couldn't fight Enterprise, it's too strong. Your little ship went home, with me in it! And then Captain Robinson talked and talked. Doctor Gupta treated me and I told you about me and Issy."

"Issy?"

"She was a prisoner too. She's Rampic too. She used to talk, but they beat her on Enolia and then she didn't talk anymore -- she still can't. She was still on the prison ship. So then Lieutenant Reed and Ensign Meyer and the others went on board with guns and brought her back. So now we're W-S-F." He bobbed up and down some more, showing his patch and number.

"So you two were Enolian prisoners and we took you out of their custody? At gunpoint?"

"Oh, yes. Now I help here in engineering. I check part numbers. I start and stop the remote control cleaners. I take things to and from the shop. Issy works in the galley. It's good. You Humans are nice. You helped build my arm. And I didn't mind marrying Issy." Figan actually said 'marrying'. Apparently his language didn't have the word.

"Marrying her?"

"Yes, Lieutenant de Silvo and Commander M'Butsu, said if Issy and I married, and mated, the Life Science Lab could take data." The little figure seemed very proud. "They say Rampic have very interesting reproductive cycles. It's not bad. I like Issy, even though she doesn't talk any more. The Captain said the words and we made marks on the PADDs and put down our thumbprints. We have a 'secondary civil union.' We have our own room. We only have to go to Life Sciences once in a while for examinations. And twice they took data while we mated. It wasn't so bad. But Issy hasn't had a baby start yet. Maybe next time."

"I need to start the cleaning R-C-V, Commander. Do you want more coffee?"

Tucker shook his head and the little figure tottled off. So much for non-interference. The lack of Vulcan influence had obviously changed things. He had to start reviewing the mission logs as soon as he was familiar with the system revisions.

At supper he ate with Reed and asked him about the Enolians.

"You don't remember this? Their lack of co-operation? The way they first refused to share biological data with us and then tried to abduct you?"

"Not this way. Captain Archer and I were actually captured. Then, before the Enterprise could secure a release, the ship was highjacked by some of the prisoners. The Enterprise, you, had to rescue us, with the help of the Enolian authorities."

Reed's fork had frozen in place on the way to his mouth. "You were captured? Prisoners? The aliens had you in those damn shocker restraints?"

"Yeah, it was pretty bad. I sure was glad to see you coming through the hatch with two phase pistols blazing."

Reed stopped eating, He looked sickened. "I remember when I first saw Figan in the sickbay. I was trying to determine what kind of a threat the Enolian ship was. He was waving an infected stump of arm around and begging not to be returned. If you and Meyer and the Captain had fallen into their handsÖ" The look in Reed's eyes was something Tucker didn't think he'd seen in Reed before.

Tucker, feeling as uneasy as when he'd heard Figan tell his story, asked, "Did we rescue the Rampics because we wanted to study their reproduction?"

Reed gave him an odd look. "Well, that's part of our mission -- and we had no other access to the Rampics; they're a subject race. But, no, we rescued Figan because he was already on the Shuttle Pod when we got you back, and you carried him out of decon yelling at Doctor Gupta to, 'Jus' help this pore lil' guy.' I've seldom seen you so angry."

Tucker felt confused. "What about Issy?"

"Trip, you were all for us getting her out once Figan described how she'd been treated. The fact that Figan's reproductive system was so interesting was just added incentive. Nothing's black and white. Yes, Figan and Issy were probably petty criminals. But nobody deserves to be tortured and beaten half to death if they're already in custody. When the Enolians refused to hand her over, yes, we disabled the weapons and boarded the ship. Issy would have been dead long before they reached that prison -- she was barely conscious. She had a fractured skull, brain damage, and other breaks. When I carried her out I could actually see the dent in one side of her skull! In decon when we rubbed her down you could see a boot print across her chest."

Reed made a noise of disgust, "The Enolians are our size and bigger. Issy doesn't even come up to here." Reed made a slash with his hand at about his sternum.

Tucker felt like a heel. "Okay, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I can't ask this stuff to anyone else. Malcolm, I can't remember this. I don't remember this happening. Figan tells me this story and it sounds like we just rescued them to get two more samples to watch."

"Watch?" said Reed. He began to redden. "You make it sound like the crew makes bets on them or something. They're not doing anything that human volunteers haven't done for researchers in the past. We're the first line of research out here. This is our mission. We've got two Rampics. That's it. Its not like we've got scientific support of governments as we do with the Tellerites and the Andorians. What's wrong with encouraging Figan and Issy?"

"It just seemed like they might not be bright enough to make their own decisions."

"Well, maybe they aren't. They both grew up uneducated, malnourished, part of street gangs. At least Figan is learning to read Standard now. And they'll probably be able to do something no human on this ship can accomplish."

Tucker's blank look got Reed's angry reply, "They'll be able to have children!"

Tucker sat silently as Reed seemed to seethe with anger and frustration. Several people at other tables had caught the last words of the angry outburst. They looked over with concern, and some of them looked away. Hussein stood and actually started toward them, but Reed saw him and snapped out of his mood, shaking his head and holding up a hand to indicate that he didn't want any help. "Sorry." He said out loud to no one in particular.

Tucker said, very quietly, "I'm sorry, Malcolm. I -- I didn't mean to -- to be so stupid."

Reed looked at him, worry in his face. "It's likeÖ It's like you missed the last two years of this mission. You remember some incidents. But it's like you missed the conclusions we've come to, the protocols we've initiated. It's like you flew in from some perfect world, where you don't have the same concerns we have. Trip. You realize that your -- feelings -- and reactions about some of this just feed right into part of that diagnosis the doctor wants to hang around your neck. I want you to talk we me first when you've got questions like this."

Tucker nodded, tight lipped. He was scaring Reed half to death.

That night there was a small party in the mess hall. Crewman Sorensen in the Armory and Ensign Branagin were already partners. But tonight they announced her engagement to his brother, back in Stockholm. The news had come in on Echo that the World Union legislature had finally passed a bill legalizing fraternal polyandry for civil unions. As their supervisors, Reed and Lieutenant de Silva both made toasts with punch Chef provided. Everyone drank to the future union, while Branagin looked a bit nervous and Sorensen seemed to radiate the vicarious pleasure he felt for this brother's good fortune.

Someone put dance music on the mess hall COM. Most of the pieces were line or circle dances for groups, and M'Butsu pulled both Tucker and Reed into the throng. Tucker managed to forget about his situation entirely for upwards of an hour. Then the selections turned to couple dances. The few women danced again and again, including Doctor Gupta, with their partners generally getting cut once or twice a dance, but some of the couples were male. The wards had been allowed to attend the party past their usual curfew, and Charles and even Figan's little wife, Issy, were dancing too with the male crewmembers. Tucker and Reed stepped back as wallflowers until de Silva came up and asked Reed to dance, glancing over to Tucker and adding with a laugh, "You don't mind, do you Commander?"

Tucker just shook his head nervously. While he stood watching Reed and de Silva dancing (he noted that Reed led despite being several inches shorter than de Silva), Commander M'Butsu cut in on Captain Robinson dancing with Doctor Gupta. Robinson picked up a cup of punch and headed over to Tucker.

"Captain." Tucker nodded.

"Tucker," said Robinson as they watched the dancers, "Boy, that de Silva, best dancer on the ship! But you, Trip, that's not what's on your mind. You look like itís a deep subject. I was hoping getting back in the engine room would relieve a lot of your doubts."

"No sir, it is good. It was good to get back. I missed the engine. I was just watching folks. I don't remember having a dance party like this before in the mess hall. Seems like you've got a lot to worry about, but nobody seems to let it get them down."

Robinson said, "We're all together; we've got the best of things to fight for. Why shouldn't we enjoy ourselves when we can? "

"No, don't get me wrong Captain. The crew needs to blow off some steam." said Tucker. And he thought, 'It's easier to see daylight outside the tunnel without your family burnt to a cinder.' Then he chided himself. These people were looking the death of their race in the face. Their families weren't dead; some of them just had never been born. Could he be this hopeful when he accepted this as his future? If. If he accepted this as his future.

Robinson spoke and brought him to attention again. "I'm glad you feel up to resuming your duties, despite the memory problems. I'm sure it's all going to come back to you. But we'd wouldn't have decided on this course of action if you hadn't recognized what you're up against..." and he let it hang.

"Captain, I understand itís a probation. I didn't say 'no,' but you know that 'memory problems' don't quite cover it. I still think there's something wrong. I am going to try figure it out."

"You heard what I said, Trip. I don't mind if you do. If proving to yourself that nothing has actually happened is going to make the transition easier, I'm all for it." Robinson continued, "Everything I said today in the meeting I said as your captain. Can I talk to you as if we were back in the 602 Club with Jon Archer? And we had some decent beer instead of this punch?"

"Yes, sir. Sure."

"You ought to write to Jon and tell him about what you think has happened to you. You ought to do the same for your family. You might hesitate because you think it might frighten them. God knows, it's been hard to tell people we care about some of the things we've seen out here. But, they deserve to know, and you deserve to contact them and let them convince you that you're right where you belong."

"I will. I want to write my family. I've got to see what's different."

Robinson ignored this and continued.

"Pavati Gupta is a good doctor. One of the best, with a heart like a lion. She was ready to crawl out on the hull with Reed and that alien mine to try to sacrifice his leg if it looked like your 'portable storm cellar' wasn't going to work. And every one of the three crew we've lost in the last two years hit her hard -- not that she shows that to most people. She's got a good head on landing parties and with alien contacts. But she's not a head shrinker, and she's got a few biases. Civil unions aren't marriages, no matter how women see them if they have a partner, or imagine them, if they don't. She's got no business poking into how you and Reed live your lives."

"Whatcha getting at, Captain?"

"I suppose I'm admitting that I'm a hypocrite, and I'm going to try to give you advice. You need to give yourself and Reed a chance to see what's changed between you, if anything. I've always felt envious of men who could make a go of it. You've both been better officers since your union, Reed especially. Itís a tough job he's got, and not everything's turned out the way we hoped it would be when the mission started. It can be a hell of a weight around his neck to follow some of the orders I have to give."

Tucker and Robinson watched Reed dancing. Tucker had to admit he was a good dancer. It was just awfully odd to see him dancing with de Silva.

"You're not telling me to 'lie back and think of Star Fleet,' are you Captain?"

Robinson choked on his punch. "Good Lord," he said, screwing up his face. "You and Jon. You are both such bull shitters. And to think I thought for a few seconds in sickbay the other day, that you might not be Trip Tucker. Okay, you made your point. But I hope I made mine. Go slow for a while. In everything."

"Yes sir."

Tucker had made the joke because it popped into his head. And because he wanted to get A.G. to drop the subject. Of course, he didn't want to hurt Reed's feelings. He just couldn't figure out how to avoid it. He did not belong here; not on this ship, not on this mission and not partnered to Reed. He was angry that he seemed to need to repeat that to himself. He was angry that he was beginning to consider that he might be trapped here. He was angry that he was beginning to consider that he might actually belong here.

end Part 2


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