Author’s Note: This story presumes events from my two previous “Perspective” installments have happened, but it’s only loosely a sequel. Also, for the record, I like T’Pol, but Trip didn’t during S1 and that’s the Trip I wrote here: flaws, prejudices and all.
For a few perfect hours
The world lets me be
You know how to calm down
The panic in me
–Elton John, “The Panic in Me,” Road to El Dorado soundtrack
Last thing I remember was calling Jon’s name and getting no answer. Must’ve passed out after that, because here I am looking up through some sort of film at what looks like an angel.
Then she bends closer and I recognize those blurred features. Oh, thank God. It’s not an angel–it’s my Star. My Hoshi. She looks away, then, and I can only assume she’s checking on the Captain or something, but I still don’t have enough strength to move even my head.
Or does that thing just still have me? Is that why I can’t move?
I can feel myself panicking again even as some little rational part of me tries to point out that if that thing still had me I wouldn’t be conscious right now, let alone frightened.
Hoshi reaches for me and I latch on to the soothing sound of her voice. “Easy, Commander, it’s okay. You’re okay.”
Even though she’s being formal–T’Pol must be around somewhere or something–I can feel myself calming. And when her hand touches my arm, I relax into it. God, that feels good. Real human contact. The kinda contact I want to have, not some sorta artificial psychic whatever between me and Jon.
Hoshi sets down the gizmo she had in her other hand–some sort of improvisation on the translator from the look of it–and it starts to sink in. Damn, she saved my life. All our lives, if that thing means what I think it means. She talked to the critter, got it to let us go.
I feel a slight tug as she puts her other hand under my arm and starts to pull me to my feet. Aw, Star, you don’t have to do that–little thing like you, even if you could lift me I wouldn’t ask you to–
“Come on, Commander, I need a little help here,” she coaxes.
One hand slips and I realize I’m still covered in the thing’s slime. And here Hoshi is getting herself covered with the stuff trying to help me. I push myself up–if she’s gonna ruin her nice clean uniform to get me back on my feet, the least I can do is give her a hand like she asked.
Between the two of us, somehow we manage to get me standing–or something like it–and I turn to look at the Captain who’s leaning just as heavily on T’Pol. There’s a surprise–I thought Vulcans didn’t like to be touched. He smiles at me as if to say, “told you we’d win,” and I grin back. Yeah, we sure did, thanks to this here All-Star player who’s still got her arm around me.
“Come on,” Hoshi speaks again as if on cue, still smiling. Wonder if she’s half as relieved to be here as I am? “Let’s get you back to your quarters. You look like you could use a shower and a long nap.”
I give the cargo bay one last look around. Looks like T’Pol’s got the Captain, and Reed and a couple of his men are helping the others, so I guess they can spare me. Nodding, I let Hoshi lead me out of there and the two of us start lumbering down the corridor. When we reach my quarters, she presses the button to open the door and helps me in, looking for a place to drop me. I see the dilemma–if I sit down on the bed or one of the chairs, I’d have to steam clean the damn place. As it is I’ve already got slimy footprints on the carpet.
After a moment’s thought, she steers me towards the bathroom, finally easing me down on the toilet. “You’ll probably feel a lot better once you’re clean,” she speculates.
I nod and reach for the hem of my shirt, but my fingers don’t want to cooperate. After I fumble for a minute, she lays a hand on mine and brings it back down to my side. “I can do it…if you don’t mind.”
Geez, now why would I mind having the prettiest girl on the ship undress me? But talking takes too much energy so I just shake my head a little. Her lips curl into a tiny smile and she slips her fingers under the fabric, lightly brushing my stomach as she pulls the ruined thing over my slimy head.
Any other time I would be enjoying this immensely–too bad I’m too damned tired even to think straight.
She casts the shirt aside, leaving me naked from the waist up, then gestures for me to lean on her again. I stand shakily and let her pull down my pants, then she braces me against her while she bends down to tug off first one boot and then the other. When she’s done, she gingerly gathers up my pants and tosses them in a corner.
I look at her, really look at her, for the first time since we got back here. This is Hoshi, the same gal who lost it on one of her first away missions when we found all those bodies, yet here she is half covered in that creature’s slime from touching me and doesn’t even look perturbed. As if I needed any more proof that she’s a lot braver than she thinks she is.
“Looks like I’m not the only one who needs a shower now,” I slur out apologetically. Wait–that didn’t come out right. It almost sounded like–
“Is that an invitation, Commander?” she teases.
I grin. I like it when she flirts with me. Usually I do most of the flirting and she just fights that cute little blush that makes her cheeks all rosy. But every now and then she hits me with a zinger too, and I’ve started to prize those moments.
“Hell, considering I’m not sure I can stay upright in there it might not be a bad idea,” I retort, only half kidding.
She laughs. “Much as I hate to pass up this golden opportunity, I can’t. We’re on our way to the life form’s homeworld–as soon as I can change into a clean uniform, T’Pol, Malcolm, Phlox and I are taking it down to the surface.”
For some odd reason, I feel a surge of anger when she mentions Malcolm. How is it he ends up working with her so often and I always get stuck with the Ice Vulcan? Okay, so I’m the chief engineer, I know my job doesn’t have much call for a translator, but you sure as hell don’t need one to talk to the weapons’ systems either! About the only time I see her these days is when she has a problem with her console or at our weekly language lessons. Not that I don’t treasure that hour a week, even if she probably despairs of ever making a Spanish speaker of me, but with someone as special as Hoshi Sato, it’s not enough.
“Do you think you can handle the rest yourself?” Hoshi asks, snapping me out of my mental rant. She eyes me critically, her gaze going places I’d be embarrassed to have her see if my body wasn’t too spent to function like it normally would in the presence of an attractive young lady.
“If I must.” Here’s hoping the disappointment in my voice doesn’t sound genuine.
Still smiling, she lays a brief, reassuring hand on my shoulder and leaves.
It’s only as I’m crawling out of the shower, feeling refreshed but still weak, that I start to take stock of everything that happened to me. Thinking back, I feel a wave of humiliation, heightened by the fact that it was Hoshi who got me out of this. Hoshi, who I gave that little lecture almost a year ago about our grand adventure. Yet in the moment I realized that thing was linking us up, I turned into a plucked chicken the likes of which my Star has never been except maybe in her wildest imaginings.
If she’d been there to see me fall apart…I don’t know how I’d ever be able to face her again. It’s bad enough that anyone saw me like that…and, oh God…two of ’em were my people. How the hell am I ever gonna go back down to Engineering and face them now that they know what kind of coward I really am?
I groan, dropping my head into my hands and sinking down on the bed. All my blunderbuss bravado shot to hell by a panic attack.
I can’t go out there again. Here I am, the space cowboy chief engineer, third in command of this ship, and I’m suddenly scared to death to set foot outside this room. How the hell do I know what happened isn’t written plain on my face for anyone to see? In nice, big, block letters, no less: TRIP TUCKER LOST IT.
I can see the smug, superior look on T’Pol’s face now.
But hell, I don’t care about that. Nothing I do is ever gonna be good enough for that damned Vulcan so I’ve just stopped trying. But my team…I let them down. Worse, I let Hoshi down. Here I was trying to be this great example of the intrepid space pioneer and at the first sign of a danger I couldn’t shoot, slice, or reprogram, I wigged out.
And she saved my life. She took all those fears and insecurities of hers, shoved ’em in a corner, and pulled a rabbit out of her hat. Okay, so I don’t know that for sure, but I’m wagering it’s a pretty good guess.
Guess we know now which one of us really doesn’t belong out here, huh Star?
The intercom beeps and Jon’s voice breaks the silence of the room. “Archer to Tucker.”
I drag myself over to respond. “Here, Cap’n.”
“How’re you feeling?” he asks quietly.
“Better,” I admit. Well, physically anyway. “You?”
“Pretty good. Grateful to be back.”
“Yeah. Know what you mean.” Do I ever.
I can almost hear him smile. “Think you’re up to going back to work?”
“Trip?” Jon’s voice fills in the space left by my hesitation.
“Sure,” I lie. “Just let me get into a fresh uniform and I’ll head on out.”
“All right. But make a stop at sickbay on your way down. Phlox wants to look us over just to be sure the symbiosis had no lasting effects.”
“Will do, Cap’n.”
He disconnects and I sigh. Here goes nothing.
It was worse than I expected. I think I could’ve handled people openly staring, ’cause at least then I’d know that the whole ship knew I was chicken, but instead everybody just went about their business like nothing had happened. Except for a few people who took the time to tell me they were glad I was “okay.”
What’d they mean, “okay”? “We’re glad you’re not being integrated into an alien life form anymore” or “we’re glad you’re not falling apart at the seams anymore”?
The doors of the hydroponic garden hiss open and I start looking for a particular leafy plant. Maybe I should’ve just gone back to my quarters after my shift was up, but I figure no one’ll come looking for me here. No “are you okay, Commander” and “shouldn’t you be resting, Commander” to deal with.
There. That’s where I found Hoshi when I fled here after the incident with the Xyrillians. Sitting right behind there where no one could see her from the door. I settle myself into that spot now, noticing with a little amusement that the grass is a bit flat–guess that wasn’t the last time she’d come in here–and just try to relax.
It’s not working. Instead of taking my mind off what happened, it’s all I can think about. Wondering what Jon–my Captain, my friend–thinks of me now that I’ve shown my true colors. Wondering how many people know that the great Trip Tucker has been humbled. Wondering how long it’ll take before T’Pol decides to use that as yet another example of how we humans are so damned inferior. Okay, so I know that’s not fair, but sometimes I really hate her. God only knows what gave me the crazy idea to talk her into staying on board.
I’ve been sitting here wallowing for about an hour when the doors open again. Damn–if I’m lucky, maybe whoever it is won’t see me.
“Well this looks familiar,” an amused voice shatters that hope. “Although I think last time I got here first.”
I look up–sure enough, it’s Hoshi. Should’ve known.
“If you’re here to ask me if I’m ‘okay’ or tell me I should be resting, forget it,” I caution.
She sits down beside me. “Well, those are both probably good ideas, but I’ll refrain if you’d rather.”
An awkward silence follows. Or at least it’s awkward on my part. I don’t know whether to ask her to go away or thank her for finding me.
“Captain Archer told me–” she begins. Oh God, here it comes. “–that you lasted longer than any of them, as far as he knows. That when he passed out, you were still conscious. You never stopped fighting.”
Huh? Well that sure ain’t what I expected to hear.
“You mean he didn’t tell you–” I blurt, then catch myself. Damn, that was close.
“Tell me what?” she looks me straight in the eyes.
“That I lost it,” I finally admit with a deep sigh. “When that thing started linkin’ us up, feedin’ me stuff on water polo from the Captain’s head, I panicked. If he hadn’t talked me down, I probably would’ve hyperventilated right there.”
“I know the feeling,” is her droll response.
I shake my head. “Nah, Star, you may think you’re chicken, but you’ve always sucked it up and faced whatever you were afraid of. This is different.”
“How?” she demands. “You’re here, aren’t you?”
That gives me pause. “Whaddya mean?”
“If you’d really given in to your fear, you probably wouldn’t be here. You would’ve hyperventillated, and quite possibly taken everyone else in that cargo bay with you.”
“Only reason I didn’t is ’cause–”
“–the Captain talked you down, I know,” she interrupts. “But remember, if it weren’t for you, I’d have caught the first transport home months ago. Just because you need help to face your fears sometimes doesn’t mean you didn’t face them. And if there’s anything you’ve taught me, it’s that it’s okay to be afraid sometimes. Especially out here.”
I almost laugh as she throws my own words back at me. Still, I’m not convinced. “Try tellin’ that to T’Pol, or my engineering staff.”
“I don’t think I’d have to,” she reflects with a thoughtful frown. “You know what T’Pol told me today? When we were working together on that translation?”
They worked together on it? Now that’s a surprise–I didn’t think T’Pol worked “with” anyone. She follows orders or she gives them. But working as equals, especially with a junior officer…
“She told me,” Hoshi continues, “that she holds me to a high standard because she knows I’m capable of meeting it. I’d be willing to bet that if pressed, she’d say the same thing about you.”
To say I’m taken aback would be an understatement. “But what about my staff?”
“If they let one mistake outweigh all the good you’ve done on this mission, they don’t deserve to be under your command,” is her concise, firm assessment.
I look at her, amazed. “Y’know…sometimes I think you ‘n I have a lot more in common than I thought.”
She grins. “Now if only that similarity extended to your grasp of the future subjunctive.”
“Hey, I’ll have you know I’ve made a hell of a lot of progress for a mere mortal, Miss Fluent-in-Everything…” I retort.
She smiles again, and I realize I’m feeling a lot closer to normal. Bless her heart, as my grandma used to say.
She’s sure blessed mine.