Finding Home
by Philippe de la Matraque
Sequel to Alien Us

Chapter Seven

Trip entered Malcolm's room and found him back in his bed asleep. There was a covered plate on the tray at the side of the bed. The white noise device was off. Trip quickly checked the plate. Untouched. Malcolm's eyes--both of them--moved side to side under his eyelids. So he was asleep and not unconscious. Dreaming.

Trip hoped it was a good one this time. He carefully picked up the white noise generator and set it to a campfire and wind. Malcolm had been an Eagle Scout. Maybe he'd find it nostalgic and soothing.

Malcolm might wake in an hour or three. He'd probably be hungry and need the restroom. Mom and Dad weren't expecting Trip until after 2200. So he decided to head to the canteen to grab a quick dinner before returning.

A half hour later, he was back and Malcolm was still asleep, so Trip got comfortable on the loveseat and pulled up some schematics he wanted to go over before his time with R&D the next day. Reed woke up a couple hours into it. He didn't jerk awake so Trip thought maybe he'd found a good combination of white noise.

"Morning or evening?" Malcolm asked, as he raised the head of the bed. He lifted the lid off the plate to see what he'd been served.

"Evening," Trip replied. "You sat over here after breakfast, remember?"

"Not easy to keep it all straight here," Malcolm said.

Trip waved it off. "I get it. Especially when you gotta sleep irregularly and half that time you're unconscious. You seemed to wake up a little easier this time."

"Can't remember much," Malcolm told him. "But I think it wasn't as bad as usual." He must have decided the food was still good so he tucked in.

"Sorry for running out early on you yesterday," Trip offered.

Malcolm smiled. "Was the catfish good?"

"The best. Nobody makes it like my mom." Trip grinned. "You might even like it."

"I don't like fish, remember."

"At least you admit it," Trip told him. "Nothing wrong with admitting your likes and dislikes."

Malcolm's expression changed. The smile was gone and Trip wondered if that wasn't the way he was brought up. Maybe he wasn't allowed or got in trouble when he gave an opinion. Trip really wanted to just out and ask Malcolm, but he was sure Malcolm wouldn't give him a straight answer. He could ask Dr. MacCormack if his parents had called at all, but the doctor would probably tell him that it was none of his business.

"You know, I wish I could stay longer. I'd love to have you over to meet my parents, my brother. He and his husband have a boy they adopted from Ireland. Kid still has a little bit of a lilt to his voice. They live out of state but come over for visits on the weekends sometimes."

"Maybe another time," Malcolm said. He washed down his meal then hit a button on his bed's controller. He started to get up, so Trip jumped up to help steady him. Malcolm was only a little more stable than this morning. By the time he reached the restroom, he seems to be worn out. Trip could understand. Malcolm had hardly walked fifteen steps before the heart attack, and hardly had reason to walk or exert himself in the eleven months before that. And of course, he ended those fifteen months in a very much worse condition.

Trip helped him get around the arm of the loveseat. "You get back to the bed by yourself?"

Malcolm shook his head. "Trevon helped. I, um, didn't have the energy."

Trip let his eyebrows climb. "You must have discussed something a bit more difficult than yesterday."

Malcolm frowned. "The first, uh, time they--"

Trip decided not to make Malcolm go through it twice in one day. "I think I know." The first time they cut him open unconscious. "Still, Malcolm Reed actually opened up to a therapist."

"If you must know," Malcolm replied, rolling his eyes, "he caught me in a flashback." He indicated his right eye. "Had a bigger one when we got to this. I got impatient with the bandages."

Trip nodded. "It looks a little sore."

"I've seen it," Malcolm said. "And I can see with it. It'll heal. But yes, I talked to him. Hoshi told me I needed to and I trust her."

"How do you feel after?" Trip asked. Of course, Malcolm had only talked to the guy twice.

"Worn out." Malcolm tried to cross one leg over the other but winced and reconsidered. "Still waiting for all the weight to fall off my shoulders."

Trip smiled and shook his head. "It takes time. It's not magic."

"Trevon said it was," Malcolm argued. "At least things were mostly easier for a bit after that."

"Easier how?" Trip didn't want to push too hard.

"Well, after we healed some, Hoshi and I got to stay together," Malcolm began. "Our hair had grown out. We let it dangle in front of our faces and whispered very quietly. It was the most open communication we had until--" He hesitated then touched his temple.

"She was already in Buftanis by then?"

Malcolm nodded. "They tried to get me to communicate by showing us children's programs."

Trip grinned again. "With little toddler Raptors and such?"

Malcolm smiled a bit, too. "Some. And some were more like lizards. Like monitors. I never saw any of them in person."

The Council! Trip knew about this. "They were Monitors. Third species. All three had representatives on the Council. The country you were in had a very stratified culture. The smaller ones were under the bigger ones. Each species had its own spheres. Like a caste system. Wingeds were science; Raptors were military; and Monitors were administration, media, and the like."

"So you read the notes where they talked about us," Malcolm commented. "Why'd they move Hoshi?"

"Buftanisian spy," Trip told him. "This envoy showed up and said they knew Zheiren had some aliens. Gave an ultimatum. They got Dr. Enesh and Hoshi. But Zheiren wouldn't let them have their spy back. In return, the Buftanisians agreed to keep quiet and gave the location of your communicator. Oh, and they'd share scientific information back and forth."

Malcolm took a deep breath. "That explains a lot. We weren't just lab rats, we were political pawns. Maybe someday I'll want to read those reports."

"Therapy," Trip reminded him. "Right now, it would be too triggering. But I think small doses of the larger picture may help you get a new perspective. Those Wingeds, for example, tried hard not to get you tortured. Worked most of the year. The Raptors were sure we were gonna invade. They wanted info now, while the scientists had more patience."

Malcolm seemed to consider that a moment. "I never thought of the scientists as evil. Well, except for that Enesh. We didn't think they knew we were awake. Still wouldn't have been any fun but they weren't trying to be cruel. Except maybe at the end. The Raptors, though, the big ones...." He shook his head again. "I was afraid of the scientists, of going through that again. But it was a different fear. PTSD, I guess. T-Rex though. He wrapped one hand around my entire neck." He looked away. Trip noticed he was breathing harder. "I was terrified of him. And Sauron."

That was quite an admission coming from Malcolm Reed. "You had good reason to be. Especially when they were hopped up on testosterone and coming into power. I'm very sorry we couldn't get you sooner."

Malcolm nodded then met his gaze. "But I survived."

"Yeah, you did." Trip grinned. "You are not an easy guy to kill."

Malcolm chuckled. "You say that like you're up for the challenge."

Trip held up a finger. "No, never. I'm just glad you're on our team."


Malcolm eventually had had to return to the bed, and the dreadful IV and monitor hook-ups. But at least Dr. MacCormack had decreased the sensitivity again, so he might just get more sleep this time. But as yet, he didn't feel sleepy, and he'd already watched the entire Lord of the Rings extended cut. He wasn't sure what to watch now. He checked out the local news and flipped channels for an hour or so.

He really wanted to talk to Hoshi. He couldn't think to her. He couldn't call her. But he could write a letter. And Trip could deliver it. He used the call button to get a nurse then asked for something to write on.

Dear Hoshi,

I miss you so much. It hurts not having you to talk to. I have Trip twice a day and he's been great. But he's not you. He's not nearly as pretty. I know we spent most of that year apart, but those few days back on Enterprise when I could see your face and feel the touch of your hand, that was worth surviving for.

But now, I can't reach you. And the hours I lay awake without Trip or my new therapist are so quiet. He's a Betazed, my therapist. Dr. Koy Trevon. I can't say as I've ever heard his own language. He speaks pretty good English though he's only been on the planet for a little over a week. Betazoids, Hoshi, are all telepaths. Though it seems he can't do some of the things we did together.

It hasn't been easy but you told me I needed to talk to someone. So I've talked to him. Just a few times so far. He comes every day. Trip in the morning, then Trevon after lunch. Trip comes again after he's done with R&D for the day. Still, that leaves a rather long afternoon and a very long night. The nights are the hardest. We patrolled each other's dreams, remember?

I hope your nightmares are not too troubling. And that the captain isn't pushing you too hard. You may have emerged from the planet in better condition than me, but you need time to rest and recuperate as much as I do.

I got my new heart the day after Trip and I arrived. Got a few other things, too. Nerves in my wrists and ankles, some part of my eye. They said they strengthened my sternum, too. They're all doing well. I, on the other hand, am rather, well, weak. I started it, hoping to slow them down. They finished it in spectacular fashion. I get winded just walking to the other side of the room. But at least I can walk. My wrists are still splinted because those spikes were quite large, but my fingers all move. They're a bit stiff. Well, everything is. So even after they release me from the hospital, I'll have a lot to do to get back in shape. But if that's what it takes to get back to you, I'll do it.

I miss you so much. That mission came at the wrong time. You should be here with your parents. And of course, you could still visit. Or not. I know this hospital might not be somewhere you want to visit. Maybe I could eventually visit you in Japan. If you're amenable to me meeting your parents, of course.

Does the quiet bother you as well? Do you miss my voice in your mind? I miss yours in mine. I miss you sharing your quarters, the mess, everywhere but Sickbay.

Well, it's late. If I want to be awake when Trip gets here, I should really try and sleep. I hope I'll dream of you.

Love,

Malcolm


Trip woke up early. If he was going to find Madeline, he'd have to consider the time differences. He was surprised and not surprised to find his mother already up. "Mom, did you even try to sleep last night?"

"I did, Trip," she replied. "Why are you up so early?"

"I wanna try and talk to Malcolm's sister. She's British, so--"

"So you'll need some coffee," Mom decided.

Trip sighed and sat down at their comm console. He started in England. He knew that Malcolm's parents were in Malaysia, but Malcolm still seemed to consider England his home. Maybe his sister did, too. There were actually a few Madeline Reeds, so he had to find something to narrow it down. He knew what she looked like, so he put her platinum blonde hair and her height into the search. That narrowed the results, but not far enough. So he tried age, and set the parameters to five years on either side of Malcolm's age. That did it. He had an address. But he got no answer when he tried to call. He thought maybe he could try and find her friend, Darlene, but he didn't even know her last name.

He thought of calling Malcolm's parents but dreaded that idea. Hoshi had found an uncle and a couple of aunts. But again, he didn't have enough information. The uncle's name was Archie, but was he from Malcolm's father's side, and thus a Reed? Or was his from his mother's? Trip didn't know her maiden name. He didn't even know the aunts' first names.

So he decided, he'd have to do a deeper search for Madeline. And he couldn't do that from his parents' comm console. Starfleet Command could do it though. Hoshi had found her so he could, too.

Mom fixed him a breakfast burrito so he could eat as he flew to San Francisco. It was still dark when he landed. But Starfleet Command was a twenty-four hour establishment. So he found an empty terminal and pulled up Malcolm's personnel file. Then he looked up his family. There were his parents and his sister. No aunts or uncles. So he stuck with his plan and looked up Madeline.

He found articles from her graduation. She'd gotten top scores in her architectural school. Trip froze. Elizabeth had been an architect. What were the odds that Malcolm's only sister was one, too? So he tried to find where Madeline worked.

She'd worked in two firms since graduating, and the second one had been one of the companies contracted to work on the "Reclamation Area," the area destroyed by the Xindi prototype weapon. Another article told him that all such work in the Reclamation Area had been cancelled for medical reasons. Madeline had said she was sick.

So Trip dug further into that and found it was a new kind of brain cancer that didn't respond to any known treatments. In fact, those treatments made the tumors worse. Maybe that's why she hadn't answered. Maybe she'd gotten worse since he'd seen her at the hospital.

Well, either way, this wasn't good news for Malcolm. Staying with Madeline wouldn't be an option if she was that sick. But now he had a dilemma. How could he tell Malcolm his sister had an incurable brain cancer? Madeline seemed to really care about Malcolm. Maybe she was the one person Malcolm had gotten close to in his family. True, he never talked about her and she never called the ship, so he couldn't be sure.

Trip shook his head. He just couldn't understand Malcolm's family. Given, he only had little hints, like having only seven pieces to a thousand-piece puzzle. Even then, it was like he couldn't be sure they were even pieces of the same thousand-piece puzzle. And that hurt. Trip hurt for Malcolm. Whatever his family was, it wasn't normal. If he'd had a loving relationship with his family, would he ever have kept it so hidden?

The crowd began to pick up, and Trip realized he'd spent several hours on the computer. At least Starfleet Medical wasn't far. As he walked, he made up his mind. He'd already told Malcolm that Madeline was sick. He didn't have proof that she had that Xindi cancer. Malcolm didn't need guesses or theories about the potentially terminal illness of his sister.

He found Malcolm still asleep. Or unconscious. There was still that possibility as long as that IV was in Malcolm's arm. The white noise device was on. Trip got comfortable on the loveseat and waited. Malcolm needed all the rest he could get. And not just because he had surgery just a few days ago. But therapy was going to be rough. Trip's own therapy wasn't like that so much, but he'd just been bullied. Malcolm had been through a lot more than that.

Malcolm began to stir. "Morning, sleepyhead," Trip called out.

Malcolm started to rub his eyes but stopped. He reached for the controller and raised the bed. Then he hit the call button. "Morning?"

"Yep."

Malcolm looked at the empty tray. So breakfast hadn't arrived yet. "How long have we been here?"

"Five days since surgery," Trip replied. "So just under a week."

"Would've been nice to have a window," Malcolm said. "Then I could at least see the sky."

"Well, you keep healing well and they'll move you out of here," Trip replied. "Probably to a place with plenty of windows."

"It's just hard to keep track of the time."

"I am sorry about that," Dr. MacCormack said from the door. "I'll be sure to get a clock in here. However, if everything looks good on this scanner, I think perhaps Commander Tucker could take you out to the courtyard for a few hours. We have a small park there."

"In that case, I hope I pass."

Trip hung back while the doctor checked Malcolm over. It must have gone well because she turned and told Trip there was a wheelchair in the hall.

Trip happily went to the hall and wheeled the chair in.

MacCormack had unhooked Malcom and was walking beside him as he moved to the restroom.

"He's getting stronger," Trip commented.

"He is," MacCormack replied. "And he's taking the transplants well. No sign of rejection. He'll have to have regular checks for the next five years, you know."

"Five whole years?" Trip questioned. "Just to be sure?"

"Yes, but we've come a long way in regard to transplants," she reassured him. "Rejections only happen in point two percent of all transplants globally. The lieutenant's donor was a close genetic match. If he gets through the next three months, he'll very likely have no problems at all."

Malcolm emerged and eyed the wheelchair. Dr. MacCormack went to the bed to retrieve the blanket. "Have a seat, Malcolm," Trip offered, smiling.

Malcolm sat down and got his feet up. "Breakfast?"

"A man's gotta eat," Trip told the doctor.

"I'll have someone get you something portable," MacCormack answered as she tucked the blanket around his thighs. "Try and stay in the shade. You do not need another sunburn."

"Will do," Trip promised.

"Thank you, Doctor," Malcolm offered as Trip backed him out of the room.


"Well, this feels slightly familiar," Trip commented as he pushed him down the corridor.

"Except last time I ended up nearly dying again," Malcolm retorted.

"After a lovely date with Hoshi," Trip reminded him. "Besides, that was your old heart that nearly killed you. You got a new one now."

Malcolm knew that, of course. But, truth be told, it felt just like his old heart. Well, how it used to feel, before the crash, before the surgeries, before the end. He hadn't been outside since then either. He'd only seen it through Hoshi's eyes.

There was a set of double doors ahead, and he could see green beyond them. Grass, and, as they got closer, trees. Their leaves moved in a breeze. He leaned forward in the chair.

"Been a while, huh?" Trip asked.

"Hoshi showed me." Malcolm kept his eyes on those doors. "Trees and fields of a cottony crop, snow."

An orderly stood by the door. He had a box and a bottle. He approached them as they neared. Malcolm took them. The box was warm and the bottle cold. Breakfast. He was hungry. But he wanted to be outside more than anything right then.

The doors parted and the breeze hit him. He could smell the grass, hear birds chirping. Ducks! He heard ducks. There was a small pond in the center of the space. Malcolm looked up and saw a blue sky with a few wispy clouds.

Trip parked him next to a bench in the shade. He took the box and the bottle and motioned to the bench. Malcolm pulled back the blanket and put his feet on the ground. The grass tickled his toes. It was still a little damp from the morning's dew.

Trip sat down and put the food between them. "Better'n a window, huh?"

"Very much better," Malcolm agreed. "It's one thing being on the ship in the stars. Being free. But in that lab, I never saw the sky with my own eyes. No window, except the ones in the doors. And they only showed a hallway. Or a face."

"Maybe Dr. MacCormack will let you come out here more often," Trip suggested. "Ya might want to eat before it gets cold."

Malcolm opened the box. Sausage and egg in a roll with cheese. It smelled good. "The food is definitely getting more interesting."

"No more gelatin!" Trip was grinning.

"What about you?" Malcolm asked.

Trip held up his hands. "Enjoy it. Mom sent me off well provisioned. Are you cold?"

"A little," Malcolm answered. Then he took a bite of his sandwich. The flavors. He could taste them all. The slight spiciness of the sausage, the melted creaminess of the cheese, the thick breadiness of the roll, and whatever one called the taste of eggs.

But it was also a little dry. So he put down the sandwich and reached for the bottle. Milk again.

Trip had retrieved the blanket, and Malcolm covered his legs with it. He picked up the sandwich again and took in the scenery while he ate. There was a mother duck on the water with nine little ducklings paddling furiously behind her. He could still see the walls of the hospital all the way around, but he felt this was a little oasis of nature, and he was glad to be in it. "I wish I could share this with Hoshi."

"That's so cool that you could do that," Trip remarked. "What's it like? Does it sort of superimpose on what your own eyes are seeing?"

Malcolm had to think about that. It had been awhile. "Yes, and no," he answered. "When she shared her sight with me, what I had to see was a lab wall or something similar. Then, it was like seeing it. Like a daydream that could replace what I was seeing if I gave it attention. It was the same in Sickbay. I didn't want to see Sickbay."

"What if you're someplace nice like this?"

Malcolm shrugged. "I haven't been in someplace nice like this."

"Okay, I'll give you that," Trip said, giving in. "but you can share memories, too, right? So take this in. You can share it next time you see her. Or the next time she's in range."

It wasn't a bad idea, but Malcolm shook his head. "She should be in a place like this, too. Maybe the Buftanisians didn't cut her up, but she didn't like what they were doing, putting things inside her."

"I know," Trip agreed. "If they hadn't needed her for the mission, she would be. But I'm sure Phlox is letting her know what they were trying to do. They were trying to clone you."

Malcolm stopped watching the ducks and faced Trip. "Clones of me? They were mutants, malformed."

"Cloning isn't an exact science, and they are pre-warp."

"They are very good at life support," Malcolm told him, turning back to the ducks. "And that pink salve really worked." He spread the fingers of his right hand. "No visible scars."

"Maybe, but Phlox said they never got a viable embryo."

"They didn't value females," Malcolm commented. "That's why they never even tried to communicate with her. The Buftanisians only got a female and my genetic material. So they had to try and make a male."

Trip smiled. "And since that wasn't workin' out, they were workin' on a plan to abduct you."

"Oh really?" Malcolm hadn't heard that. "Do tell."

Trip was still grinning. "They were plannin' to set the two of you up in an apartment, with lots of cameras, of course. They were even tryin' to design more appropriate furniture. The long term plan was that you two would set up house, and nature would take its course."

Malcolm shook his head and looked at the ducks again. "Don't think we'd have much liked being zoo animals either."

"Yeah," Trip agreed. "Too many cameras for my taste, too."

"Did you see any drawing of the furniture?" Malcolm asked. "Or did you get a look at what Zheiren used for toilets?"

"Nope, but now I'm trying to imagine how one of the Raptors might go about that."

Malcolm chuckled. "I never saw them do it, but it seems like they'd sit forward on it. It was very awkward for us."

Trip laughed. "More for Hoshi, I'm guessing. You only had to try and sit half the time."

"Either way," Malcolm told him, "I didn't watch. We tried to give each other whatever dignity we could." The mother duck was leading her babies to the shore now. "You think she has a nest here somewhere?"

"Probably," Trip guessed. "The little ones are cute, aren't they? They have to waddle so fast to keep up with her."

They sat together and talked of small things as Malcolm watched the squirrels and the small ripples the breeze made on the water. But eventually, the sun climbed higher in the sky and the tree's shadow that had shaded the bench moved away from it. Malcolm was left in the sun.

Trip moved to the chair and released the brake. But Malcolm didn't want to go back to the windowless room. He knew he'd have to eventually, but he wanted to stay here in the courtyard as long as he could. So he stood up, taking the blanket with him. Instead of going to the chair, he walked to the other side of the tree. He tried to sit down slowly but his legs just weren't strong enough. Trip caught him before he fell and lowered him safely to the ground.

He knelt beside Malcolm. "You know I've gotta leave and get to R&D," Trip told him. "You were supposed to head back."

"She wasn't specific on when," Malcolm retorted. "Let Dr. MacCormack know I'm here. Trevon, too. Seems as good a place as any to talk to him."

"I'll leave the chair," Trip said. "Just in case."


Dr. MacCormack found Lt. Reed right where Commander Tucker said he left him. He was sitting cross-legged, absently plucking blades of grass. MacCormack realized she'd underestimated his potential discomfort in the hospital. Perhaps if she'd chosen a room that bordered the park, one with a window, she'd have received a little more compliance.

"I'm not in the sun," he told her when she got close.

MacCormack sighed and sat down beside him. She put the sandwich container and drink in front of him. "I did try with the room, you know."

He didn't look at her but opened the box. "I can tell. Color, plants, the loveseat. Do you know how long it has been since I sat in a chair, not counting my one trip out of Sickbay? I was there a year, and I never saw the sky from when we were taken to when they tried to execute me. And then it was a desert. What I wouldn't have given for a breeze." He took a bite of his sandwich.

MacCormack felt for him. She really did. But she had his physical health to think of, too. "What happens when your legs get stiff from sitting down here?"

"I might lay back and watch the clouds through the branches."

She took out the portable scanner, expecting to see issues. And he wasn't without them. Pain, for one. He hadn't had pain meds since this morning. But his heart was actually beating at a steady, relaxed pace. It was the most relaxed he'd been since he woke up. "What about the restroom?"

"I'm an adult," he responded. "I can hold it."

She considered it. He was okay. He wasn't asking for meds. He'd have to be weaned off them eventually so maybe that wasn't a bad thing. "You can't sleep out here?"

He sighed. "I'm not planning on camping out." He took a drink. "Have you ever been in a place that makes your skin crawl? Really crawl?"

She frowned. "I went on a desert hike once. On the way back, I had to run from shade to shade. I couldn't stand the sun on my skin anymore."

He nodded and swallowed the bite he had taken. "That's how I felt in Sickbay. The sounds of the machines helping me stay alive. That damn pulse monitor. That bed." He waved his hand. "This is nothing like there. For the first time, I don't feel the need to run way. The fact that I physically can't get away doesn't change the feeling that I need to."

MacCormack placed a hand on his shoulder. "You need to walk. That will start you getting stronger. You let us know when the pain is too much. We'll give you something, but less each time. You have to promise to let us know if something feels wrong. You can either be out here with Tucker in the morning or with Trevon in the afternoon. But then you go back. You walk as much as you can, from your door inward. We'll check your heart four times a day, change bandages daily as needed."

"Can I stay out here today?"

"Trevon takes you back," she said, agreeing. "You walk from the door."

"Deal."

"You'll walk farther, you know."

"That's a given," he retorted. "I hope I'll be able to walk right out of this hospital."

MacCormack chuckled. "Lieutenant, I don't doubt that you will. Enjoy your lunch. I'll send Trevon out." She stood and brushed off her pant legs. Trevon was right. Malcolm Reed was not a broken man.


For a man who lived on a starship in the cosmos, Malcolm Reed looked very much at home sitting on the grass under a tree under a partly cloudy sky. "Good afternoon, Malcolm."

Malcolm looked up at him. "Good afternoon. Are you going to sit?"

Trevon was looking at the other benches to see if any were in shade. The ones that were were perhaps too far for Reed to walk. Given, there was the chair. But at Malcolm's question, Trevon lowered himself to the ground and sat. "You seem quite comfortable here."

"This place is everything I didn't have in Zheiren. I was in the desert before and then at the end," Reed kept his eyes on the pond, the trees, the clouds.

Trevon nodded. "No reminders, here. I'm sensing a windowless room was an oversight. You were kept in windowless rooms."

Malcolm nodded. "At least there's no camera in mine here." He turned to Trevon. "There is no camera, right?"

"None," Trevon confirmed. "So they didn't just watch you from windows. They used cameras."

Malcolm went back to watching his surroundings. "There's no door to close here."

"No, but the concept hasn't changed," Trevon assured him. "I'll keep watch to be sure no one wanders too close. Anything shared between us will remain between us."

"Alright."

"So that 'surgery' is over. Where are you now?"


It was easier here to remember, Malcolm realized. Not as upsetting. "It was a different room. High ceiling, bright lights. I couldn't lift my head, move my arm. I remembered."

"Were you in pain?"

Malcolm shook his head. "They got the part right after the surgeries. I wasn't happy. To still be alive. I thought they'd do it again. They did do it again."

"Stay in the moment. What else did you feel?"

He was lying flat on his back. He remembered and his stomach felt bad. "Ill. I felt ill, my heart was pounding and I started to shake. There was a machine behind me. It was beeping with my pulse. It clacked and I could feel this warm liquid enter my neck. A sedative. I felt the tubes." He demonstrated with his left hand. "They were keeping me alive. I thought about pulling them out."

"What stopped you? The sedative?"

"Hoshi," Malcolm replied. "I turned my head to get a better grip and she was there, just a few feet away."

"Her presence didn't change the possibilities of them doing other surgeries. So why did she stop you?"

"I couldn't leave her alone," Malcolm told him. "I was the senior officer. She was my responsibility. And it would just have been cruel."

Trevon heard that descant again. "Did she know you were there?"

"Not at first." He remembered watching her, fighting to stay awake. "She started to cry, turned her head to wipe her eyes. She saw me, saw my tubes. She found her tubes and cried some more. So I reached my hand out to her. She took it, then I gave in to the sedative."

"Were you happy to be together? I don't mean happy with the circumstance."

Malcolm felt sad now. She was alone on Enterprise. Not alone but without him. As he was without her. "Yes and no. No because it meant they did the same to her. But yes, because we had each other."

"I read something interesting about a very bleak period of Earth history," Trevon told him. "Nazi concentration camps. Some survivors claim to have survived because they had someone else. Not someone to take care of them. But someone to care for."

"I can believe that," Malcolm agreed. "But it also doesn't hurt to have someone take care of you. I think it works both ways. It did for us."

"How else did her presence change things for you?"

That one was easy. "It made me feel like I had to be stronger." But God, he felt so weak now. He probably couldn't get himself off the ground at this point. But it wasn't that kind of strength. "I had to be strong for her. To believe that Enterprise would come. That Captain Archer wouldn't abandon us. And I was able to think more logically. They had to wait for us to heal from the crash injuries. They'd have to wait again."

"That was good," Trevon affirmed. "You were able to return some control to your cognitive brain. Now that you were together, did you communicate? Were you allowed to interact?"

"They probably hoped so," Malcolm smirked. "Even pushed our beds closer together."

Trevon lifted a finger. "Cameras! So they saw the hand-holding. Did you stop?"

Malcolm shook his head. "Give me your hand." He held out his right hand, since Trevon was to his right. "Your left hand." Trevon did so. Malcolm turned their hands over and tapped with his thumb on the back of Trevon's hand. Then he let go.

"Morris code!" Trevon exclaimed. "Very clever."

"Morse. But yes, out of the view of the camera."

"What did you 'talk' about?"

Malcolm sighed. "I apologized to her. She said I needn't. Then she told me she was awake. I told her I was, too. I told her the first codename: Sarumon. As a group, we called them orcs."

"Orcs are evil beings," Trevon remarked. "Did you think these orcs were evil?"

Not the scientists. T-Rex, sure. But at the time? "Yes and no. Yes because they did that to us. But no, because we could see they didn't know they had hurt us. They treated us well enough after, changing our bandages, putting this pink salve on to help us heal. They tried to teach me their names, get me to say mine. I did my best to ignore them."

"And when you were well enough to leave the beds?"

"We had mats on the floor. We sat close together, hid our faces behind our hair--it had grown out--and we whispered very quietly. We slept holding hands to help 'fight each other's demons' when we slept." He missed her hand so much now.

"Did that help?" Trevon asked, skeptically. "You still had nightmares?"

"Yeah, it didn't really help," Malcolm admitted. "But it didn't hurt either."

"Did the 'orcs' try to communicate in other ways?"

"They never stopped," Malcolm said. "They brought in a video screen, not unlike the one in my room. Children's programs to hopefully teach me the language. The first one was on a rack near the floor. So I turned it off."

Trevon grinned as well. "A little passive resistance. I assume they turned it back on."

Malcolm nodded. "Hoshi unplugged it. So they put it high on the wall. It was in this time that we made a plan."

"To escape?" Trevon asked. "But that didn't work out."

Malcolm shook his head. "Escape wasn't possible. Even if, by some miracle, we made it out, there was still a desert, and we didn't exactly blend in. No, the plan was for when they made one of us talk."

"Ah, so you wouldn't have to think 'on the spot', as they say."

Did he mean on your feet? Malcolm nodded. "We'd stick with Frodo and Sam and the story of The Lord of the Rings. Oh, and they brought in a linguist. I almost forgot about him."

"You could tell them apart?"

How to describe it? "Their faces weren't all that different," he decided, "it was more how they acted. Different personalities. Like when there are two words that sound alike, and you have to use context to get the meaning."

"I like that analogy," Trevon commented. "So you could differentiate based on their mannerisms, their 'context.'" Malcolm nodded. Trevon went on, "You had approximately four weeks between procedures. One week in a coma, at least one in bed and bandages. What else did you do?"

"I tried to keep Hoshi's spirits up." Malcolm remembered her fearful questions at night. Why hasn't Enterprise come? "I didn't remind her that they'd do it again, as soon as we were healed enough. I thought that was all we had to be afraid of."

"But you didn't believe what you were telling her then."

"Not really." But it was still worth telling her. "What good would it have done to take away any last hope she might have?"

"Did you have any?"

Malcolm dropped his head. "Only a thread. A very thin thread."

Trevon's voice was very gentle when he asked the next question. "You said you thought that another surgery was all you had to fear. What happened to make you afraid again?"

Malcolm shut his eyes tight. He uncrossed his legs and pulled his knees up tight to his chest.

"Malcolm, you can say it," Trevon coaxed. "Remember, I've been there."

That should have made it easier. But with his eyes closed and his face in his knees, he couldn't see the pond, or the ducks, or the squirrels. He felt sick to his stomach.

"Sexuality is a very private thing to most humanoids." Trevon's voice was quiet, close to his right ear. "It's a vulnerability. And when that vulnerability is violated it hurts us deeply."

"I wasn't raped," Malcolm breathed. As if there was a difference. It felt like he had been. "They touched—" No. He couldn't say it.

"No, you were molested," Trevon agreed. "That it was done in the name of science doesn't change how it felt for you."

Molested. A word he'd never thought would apply to himself. "I tried not to—" He couldn't finish it. He hadn't wanted it. Hadn't enjoyed it.

"Your body responded the only way it could have. You were restrained, drugged, and they followed through with their purpose. They stimulated you to collect a biological sample. You felt betrayed by your own body, but you couldn't have stopped it."

How did he know? Had he? But it didn't seem to be right. He never became aroused when a doctor examined him. "But with doctors?"

"They don't intend to stimulate," Trevon stated. "Women generally do not become aroused by their gynecologists. They feel uncomfortable but not violated. If a doctor here needed that same sample, she'd hand you a vessel and send you to a private room to come up with it yourself. And you would consent to do it. What was done to you was not done with your consent. And that is molestation. It was also not private, so it was embarrassing. A double violation. For me, it was private but still without consent. And he taunted me with my betrayal, told me how I'd enjoyed it. It took a long time for me to understand that, physically, it was not abnormal. Continued physical stimulation will lead to ejaculation. They knew that. They probably had done the same with other beings, animals, in that lab."

But it wasn't just that time. Why had it happened again? Then he remember what Trip had said. Enesh and a Buftanisian spy. A small Raptor. Biological samples. That's why Sméagol had apologized.

"They did this in front of Hoshi?" Trevon asked.

"She hid her face," Malcolm said, still so quiet he wasn't sure Trevon had even heard. A bird in the tree above him began to sing, and he remembered where he was. He still felt sick, but he lifted his head. "I broke their video screen."

"Really?" Trevon backed up a bit. "That wasn't in my notes. I only got medically relevant files."

Malcolm felt a breeze on the back of his neck. "I tossed a plate at it. Hoshi gave me her plate, and I broke the camera, too."

"That's a bit more active resistance," Trevon commented with a smile.

"Hoshi and I could talk openly for the first time in two months." The ducks were back for another swim.

"And what did you talk about then, in your brief moment of semi-freedom."

"I was stuck in what-ifs. If I had done something different as we crashed.... Hoshi reminded me that what-ifs never work. She suggested we use the broken glass to kill ourselves."

Trevon leaned back in surprise. "She jumped straight to suicide, just when you'd gained some privacy, some small victory?"

"That glass was our first real opportunity. With no camera, we'd have at least a few minutes to bleed out. However inadequate they were with anesthesia, they were brilliant with life support. If we accepted that Enterprise wasn't coming, there was no future. It wasn't an emotional decision."

Trevon seemed to consider that for a moment. "So why didn't you?"

Malcolm sighed. "I talked her out of it." Of course, he was glad now that he had, but then? Then when Radagast and the spy came, when they took her away and cut him open again. He felt that he'd missed his one chance. "And they installed a new camera, got rid of the screen, and switched us to paper plates. I had known it wouldn't last. And we both knew something bad would happen." A lot happened. He dropped his head again. He could rationalize it now, so why did it still hurt to remember?

He could feel Trevon leaning closer. "They collected another sample?"

He decided to use that. To rationalize it. "Not them. It was at night. Radagast and a Raptor, a spy. I know that now. They did it secret. Hoshi caught on to that."

"Was it easier to accept knowing that?"

He really felt sick. The sandwich box was still nearby, if it came that. "I didn't know. Hoshi was drugged. She told me after." He reached out and found the box. "Trip told me about the spy."

"So slightly more private but still without your consent," Trevon said. "You look ill. Are you feeling ill because of the memories, or do I need to get a doctor here?"

"Memories," Malcolm breathed.

"You can't vomit tucked up like that."

"I don't know that I will," Malcolm told him.

"But you might." When Malcolm didn't untuck, he went on. "You couldn't break the camera, so what did you do to regain your power?"

"I didn't," Malcolm admitted. "I wouldn't eat. I wouldn't hold her hand. I couldn't be strong."

"You lost your thread," Trevon surmised. "How did Hoshi react?"

Those memories flooded in and the nausea started to ease. "She held me, said she'd be the strong one. And she told me Enterprise would come." It felt like love, even then. "Bayzhoo even apologized."

"Bayzhoo was Radagast?"

Malcolm lifted his head. "No Bayzhoo apologized for what Radagast had done in secret. Radagast was a traitor. The Raptor was a spy."

"Were they punished?"

"Not that I knew then, but I never saw Radagast or the Raptor again," Malcolm told him. "But Trip told me the Raptor was executed. Radagast was Enesh, and he was traded to Buftanis with Hoshi."

"You saw them take her?"

Malcolm shook his head. "Found out after I came out of the coma." The ducks were halfway across the pond.

Trevon put it together. "The second surgery. After which you attempted suicide several times. That seems more of an emotional decision."

Malcolm sighed and lowered his legs. "I had nothing left. No future, no one to care for."

"You said they were very good at life support. They saved you, over and over. What convinced you to stop?"

That was easy. It was always the same answer. "Hoshi."

"But she was gone," Trevon argued.

"I didn't stop. They came up with new, very uncomfortable ways of restraining me. Then Bayzhoo told me that Hoshi was alive."

"And you understood?"

"A three-year-old could have understood," Malcolm told him. He grabbed a few leaves. He balled them up with his hands. "He used paper." Malcolm pointed a finger between him and Trevon. "You and I, Zheiren." He pointed to one side of the leaf ball. "Frodo. Buftanis." He pointed to the other side.

"You revealed her codename at some point."

Malcolm sighed. "I chanced calling out for her, quietly, and just once."

Trevon nodded. "What had they done, in this second surgery?"

"My back." He stiffened his back without realizing it. He concentrated on the ducks. The mother duck was on the opposite shore.

"Did they release the restraints, after Bayzhoo told you where Hoshi was?"

Malcolm shook his head. "No, and I didn't try again so they needn't have bothered, but I couldn't have told them that."

"You have a lot of will power to resist speaking for so long."

"It wasn't a matter of willpower," Malcolm explained, "but of preservation. The orcs weren't evil. But the T-Rexes, the Raptors, were military. If they knew I could communicate...."

"They'd do exactly what they did," Trevon completed his sentence. "Only it would have been sooner and thus more prolonged and probably more severe."

"Not sure it could have got more severe," Malcolm said. "Or did you not read the notes on the manner of my execution? But yes, it would have started much sooner. Hell, if it hadn't been the one year out of three they mated, things might have ended differently. Some of them couldn't handle the added hormones as well as others."

"Commander Tucker obviously read a different set of notes," Trevon replied. "I think it's time we get you back. Are you in pain?"

"Let me tell you after we get me into that chair," Malcom answered. Trevon helped him get off the ground but Malcolm walked the short distance to the chair under his own power. And yes, he was in pain. So he was given a shot before he got back to his room. Trevon stopped the chair at the door but stayed close to make sure Malcolm didn't fall as he made his way to the restroom. Malcolm returned to the loveseat after. The clock in the room read 1335.

Trip wouldn't be back for a few hours. He thought about turning on the video screen but the controller was at the bed. He'd have to get there and back or get there and stay there. And he didn't want to stay there.

He used the arm of the loveseat to steady himself. He told himself it wasn't far and that every time he made that walk he'd get stronger. But by the time he reached the bed, he was very tired, and his legs felt like the gelatin he'd been fed the first days after the surgery. So he made a deal with himself. He'd stay one hour then go back to the loveseat and wait for Trip.


Trip got back to the hospital at 1815. Malcolm was back on the loveseat, watching some program on the video screen, but he stood and walked, slowly, to the bed to switch it off. Trip noted he took a breather before heading back and dropping back onto the loveseat. "You're walking better," Trip commented.

"Or at least more," Malcolm said. "Still wears me out, but I made a deal with the doctor."

Trip grabbed the chair and rolled it over. "What kind of a deal?"

"Well, I really enjoyed my time in the courtyard," Malcolm responded.

Trip laughed. "She called you out."

"We made an arrangement," Malcolm countered. "I can either go out there with you in the morning or with Trevon. And back here, I have to walk if I'm in this room."

Trip frowned. "Seems a bit one-sided."

"Well, I'm to ask for pain meds when I need them and submit to exams four times a day." He smiled lightly. "And they pulled the IV from my arm. So I'm taking that to mean no more sedative, no more of that infernal machine."

Trip grinned. "So ya did get something good."

"Besides," Malcolm added, "the walking will make me stronger. And the stronger I get, the better my chances of getting out of here."

"Just don't push yourself too fast," Trip warned. "I know you want out of here, but it hasn't been a week yet. You got a new heart! And ya weren't exactly up to runnin' a marathon before that."

"I know," Malcolm replied, "I've got to be smart about it. I spent eleven months trying to weaken myself. I know it will take time—a long time—to get my full strength back. Besides, I still get winded getting to the bed. They should be bringing dinner soon. You had yours?"

Trip got an idea. "Nah, I'll wait and see what you get, then I'll run and get the same thing. We can have dinner together, almost like back in the mess hall."

"Sounds good. How are things at R&D?"

Trip sighed. "Wrapping up faster than I thought. Still, they're working on some big stuff there." Trip took a breath. This was going to be delicate. "Have you given any thought to what you'll do after you're all healed up?"

Malcolm was quick to answer. "I'll go back to Enterprise.

"I'm not saying you can't or you shouldn't," Trip held, "but maybe you've been through enough. It's dangerous out there."

"A little over a year ago, this world was waiting to be destroyed, and that after the prototype weapon killed seven million," Malcolm argued. "It's dangerous here, too. Trip, if Hoshi wants to retire, I'll retire. But if she's on Enterprise, I will be on Enterprise. Besides, I'm quite over being helpless and weak. I want to be useful again."

"You can be." Trip wanted to reassure him. "I can't hardly imagine Enterprise without you at Tactical, but if you—and Hoshi—want to stay planetside, you should give R&D a look. Hoshi can teach. You have a knack. R&D develops all kinds of systems, including weapons and defense."

Malcolm sighed. "I'll keep that in mind. But we don't know what Hoshi wants. We never discussed leaving the ship until I needed a new heart. And then it was just to tell me that I was leaving and she had to stay."

An orderly arrived with a tray of food. Trip got up and slid the tray over to where Malcolm was sitting. Malcolm lifted the cover, and Trip took note. Pork chops and a twice-baked potato. "I'll be back in ten minutes." Malcolm covered the plate again.

Trip walked to the canteen as fast as he could without running and put his order in to go. It took a couple of minutes, but he got it and tried not to spill anything on his way back to Malcolm's room. He maneuvered the chair to the opposite corner of the tray.

As they ate, Trip filled Malcolm in on some of the details of R&D projects that were more in line with Malcolm's interests, like explosives or energy-shielding. So Trip left him a PADD and promised to get more the next day. "You gotta work your mind, too," Trip said, "not just your body."


Malcolm spent a few hours going over the specs. It was nice to use his brain for more than watching movies. He'd spent more time bored than vivisected or tortured in Zheiren. But eventually his eyelids started to get heavy and he set that PADD aside. He wanted to update Hoshi before he tried to sleep. He picked up the PADD with his previous letter and started another.

Dear Hoshi,

Things have gotten better here. Not enough so that I don't miss you. I went to the courtyard today. I spent a few hours in the shade of a real tree under a blue sky. There's a small pond with a little family of ducks. I watched all the little ducklings swimming with their mother, first with Trip then during therapy.

I'm following your advice. It was hard at first but it's sometimes a bit easier. We talked about something very personal today. I won't, can't, write it in this letter. But you were there when it happened. Twice. So I think you can guess. You looked away, and I thank for that. And you were strong for me when I couldn't be.

Is it possible to love someone in reverse? I didn't think it was possible to love you any more than I already do, but I look back at our time together there, and maybe even before that, back on Enterprise, and I feel myself having loved you then.

I wanted to share that courtyard with you. You need it, too, I think. I know you got to go outside, but not in freedom. You shared those skies with me, the fields. The snow. Sometimes it seems so long ago and at others like it was just the last minute.

I still wouldn't trade any of it, if it means I wouldn't know I love you. You are the single most important thing in my life. Trip has talked about an option, if we should decide to leave Enterprise and live a quieter life. I don't know that I want any other options. My first inclination is to return to my post, protecting Enterprise and her crew. Maybe that will change after a few months here. And therapy. Maybe it won't. I don't know what you want in this regard. You weren't given a choice.

Let me just say, I want to be wherever you are. If you want to return to the safer life of a teacher, I'll stay. If you want to remain the Communications Officer on Enterprise, I'll work my way back to being Tactical Officer. If you want to retire to Risa, I'll follow you there. Anywhere you are.

I wish I could just talk to you like before. But I do feel better when I write these letters. You are helping me even from afar. I know you won't get my letters until Trip returns but maybe they'll make you feel better to read them, too. I guess I'm renewing that old tradition of long letters expressing my feelings to the woman I love.

I think this new heart loves you, too. I can feel it beating a bit faster when I think of you. Nothing to worry about. They scan it quite often but have only had good things to say. They have taken me off that damn pulse monitor. You know there was one there. I couldn't stand it. No more sedative. New nerves are doing fine as well. They added or replaced something in my eye. Fixed it, I assume from whatever they did to it the first time. I'm glad they never touched your perfect eyes.

I'm walking more. From the door to the bed, from the bed to the loveseat, to the restroom. Can't get out the door on my own yet, but I'm working on it. One day, I'm going to literally sweep you off your feet.

Love,

Malcolm

On to Chapter 8....

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