The klaxon jolted her from sleep.
Hoshi was out of bed and partially dressed before she fully registered that the alarm was sounding, which could be laid solely at the feet of one Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Reed. In the five weeks since they had departed Earth space, the armoury officer had become so obsessed with the level of readiness for the crew that he’d quickly eclipsed Commander Hernandez as the least liked senior officer among both the enlisted personnel and the junior officer corps. Drills of all sorts – repel boarders, general quarters, fire in the armoury – came without warning and always seemed timed at the most inappropriate times. While Hoshi understood and agreed with the point of these drills, being roused out of a deep sleep to go sit at her station on the bridge for an hour without actually doing anything never ceased to be annoying.
Nearly as frustrating was the captain’s decision to let Major Hayes and his insane MACOs start overseeing physical training for the Starfleet crewmembers. Hoshi generally considered herself to be in good shape – she spent an hour and a half in the gym every other day and ate fairly sensibly – but the level of fitness Hayes and his people demanded was bordering on the absurd. Six minute miles, push-ups until one’s arms fell off, sit-ups until a person could barely bend over to lace up their boots, and other calisthenics that seemed solely intended to embarrass the Starfleet crew. The only bright side was that her aikido training ensured that she mostly held her own during the self-defense courses mandated by the captain and ironically led to Sergeant Kemper using her as a co-instructor.
And nothing was more amusing than the two times she’d been paired off with the captain. Throwing Jonathan around without repercussion had turned her into the envy of many crewmembers.
The corridors were thick with personnel rushing to their alert stations, but most appeared to already be stationed on this deck so Hoshi suspected the wait for the turbolift would be minimal. She reached it mere moments after departing her cabin, pausing in mid-step when she caught sight of Corporal Amanda Cole waiting in front of the closed door. The MACO was balancing on her left foot, with the right one braced against the wall so she could lace up her boot. Automatically, Hoshi’s lips turned downward and she barely restrained the urge to remind the MACO that she wasn’t even supposed in officer country this time of night. It was almost an open secret aboard Enterprise that Cole was spending nearly all of her nights in Malcolm’s cabin, although she’d not seen any indication that the captain or Commander Hernandez were aware of it. The mostly male crew of the ship seemed either openly envious of the armoury officer’s dalliance with the attractive corporal or generally indifferent to it, but the women were starkly divided in their opinion. Fully half of them thought it was noble of the MACO to help Reed through his grief this way, with many of them theorizing a past relationship during the lieutenant commander’s mysterious (and completely unofficial) work with the MACOs, whereas the other half thought Cole was acting little better than a prostitute.
Even though she knew it was a little hypocritical on her part after her escapade on Risa, Hoshi fell firmly in the latter camp. For some reason, she simply could not shake her distrust of the corporal and very much feared this entire relationship was going to mess Malcolm up even more.
“Ma’am,” the MACO corporal greeted with a quick nod toward her boot. “Sorry about this,” she said.
“It’s no problem,” Hoshi replied, her voice a shade frostier than she intended it to be. Cole gave her a quick, sidelong glance and frowned slightly. She didn’t say anything, though, for which Hoshi was grateful. She had seen the other woman systematically take apart Crewman Zabel during one of the mandated sparring sessions without even breaking a sweat, which was impressive in and of itself since Zabel was one of Malcolm’s top security personnel. It wasn’t like Hoshi thought Cole would do something as stupid as taking a swing at her, but just the memory of watching the MACO wipe the floor with the much larger, much heavier, much stronger Zabel … well, that image just wouldn’t go away.
When the lift door finally opened, Hoshi exhaled softly in relief and stepped forward, Cole a step or so behind her. They both reached for the wall panel at the same time, but the corporal quickly drew her hand back so Hoshi could hit the ‘A deck’ button first.
“The armoury?” Sato asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” Cole replied. “Thank you.” With a hiss, the doors of the lift slid shut and Hoshi felt the subtle vibration that was the only way to really tell that they were moving.
It was easy to tell when they had stopped though. The abrupt, screeching halt caused Hoshi to stumble slightly and quickly grab for the central handhold to keep her balance. She started to reach for the call button on the wall panel to contact engineering when it crackled to life.
“This is a damage control drill,” a recording of Malcolm Reed’s voice announced and Hoshi heard Cole mutter a soft, annoyed curse. “Please identify yourself so your current location may be logged.” Hoshi sighed.
“Lieutenant Hoshi Sato,” she said flatly before glancing in the direction of her companion.
“Corporal Amanda Cole,” the MACO said. She leaned back against the wall and crossed her arms, glowering at the closed doors.
“Drill specifications are thus,” the recording continued after beeping. “You are injured and unable to call for assistance. Do not attempt to contact anyone outside this turbolift. Estimated time of drill duration unknown. If an actual emergency is encountered, this drill will be automatically suspended. That is all.”
“I swear to God,” Cole muttered darkly, “I’m going to punch him in the face if I find out he did this on purpose.” Despite herself, Hoshi couldn’t help but to smile.
“Do it during one of the training sessions,” she suggested, “and I think you can get away with it.” Cole’s expression brightened.
“Good point,” the MACO said. She slid to the floor and leaned her head back against the wall. “Might as well get comfortable, ma’am,” she pointed out. “We could be here for a while.” The corporal had already closed her eyes. Hoshi shook her head – these MACOs seemed capable of sleeping anywhere, anytime, which was something she seriously envied. These days, it was hard enough for her to just sit in the dark for any length of time because her thoughts always turned to the ragged scar that had cut through her home city, bisecting the nation of her birth, and turning her into an orphan. Hoshi’s eyes welled at that thought. So few of these … gaijin realized just how important family was to her cultural identity. Even with all the problems she had with her distant father, he had still been her otoosan who gave Hoshi her first book on languages.
“I thought you were from Florida,” Hoshi said suddenly, desperate to find something else to focus on so she wouldn’t break out into tears, and her words caused Cole’s eyes to snap open. “You have some interesting vocal inflections,” Sato explained. “Israel?” she guessed. The corporal snorted.
“You are good,” she murmured. “I was born in Florida,” Cole said, “but spent the first ten years of my life in Tel Aviv with my mother.” Hoshi nodded. She was about to test her very rusty Hebrew on the corporal when Cole abruptly spoke once more. “Can I ask you a question, ma’am?” The hairs on the back of Hoshi’s neck stood up and somehow, she just knew that it would be smarter to simply ‘no, you can’t.’
“Yes,” she said instead.
“You’re Malcolm’s friend, right?” the corporal said and Hoshi felt her face harden.
“I don’t think it is appropriate for you to discuss him with me, Corporal,” she nearly snapped. Cole’s body language shifted fractionally from open but reserved to defensive and wary – most people wouldn’t have even noticed it, but then, Hoshi wasn’t most people.
“Is this because I’m sleeping with him?” the MACO asked bluntly. “It’s just sex.” Abruptly, the corporal’s eyes narrowed. “Are you interested in him?” she asked. “Just say the word, ma’am,” Cole continued calmly, “and I’ll steer him in your direction.” Hoshi blinked in sudden surprise and confusion. It must have shown on her face because Cole offered a tight smile. “My arrangement with the commander is purely sexual, ma’am.” She shrugged. “I was hoping I might be able to get him to open up a little bit about his family,” she admitted, “but I swear, he’s locked down tighter than a damned Vulcan.”
“Why would you care about his family?” Hoshi demanded. She didn’t even bother trying to keep the suspicion out of her voice and Cole’s eyes narrowed.
“Why wouldn’t I?” she retorted. “The commander is the third-in-command, ma’am,” Cole stated flatly. “We’re heading into enemy territory with no guarantees that Archer and Hernandez won’t buy the farm along the way.” She frowned. “Don’t know about you, Lieutenant,” she said softly, “but I’d rather not go into combat with an armoury officer who can’t concentrate on his job.” The smile she flashed was both predatory and sensual. “If that means I’ve got sleep with a damned sexy man who knows what he’s doing in the sack,” Cole said brightly, “well, hell, I’ll gladly jump on that grenade for the sake of the crew.” Hoshi stared at the other woman for a long moment before finally cracking a smile.
“Amanda Cole,” she mused aloud, “sexual philanthropist.” The corporal’s eyes lit up.
“I am so going to us that,” she said with a snicker.
“You’re nothing like I thought you would be,” Hoshi murmured. The MACO smiled and her body language indicated a slight relaxation.
“Toda,” Cole said. She sobered a moment later. “I know a lot of you Starfleeters think I’m just taking advantage of him,” she said, “but I do know what I’m doing.” She pinned Hoshi with her eyes. “And I was serious earlier, ma’am,” the corporal said. “If you’re interested in the commander, I’ll get out of your way. You won’t have anything-”
“No,” Hoshi interrupted quickly. “No need for that. I like Malcolm, just … not like that.” Unbidden, an image of a shirtless, sweaty Travis sprang to mind, but she quickly pushed the thought away, especially when she remembered the skinny, whiny Kriosian yariman he’d clearly slept with. “I was just … worried…”
“That the big, bad MACO was going to break his heart?” Cole asked with another grin. “Not going to happen, ma’am. I know my role.” It was said with such simple honesty that Hoshi once more found herself gaping. This woman was turning out to be more complicated than she’d thought.
“And it doesn’t bother you that people think you’re …”
“A whore?” Cole finished wryly. She shrugged. “If I spent all my time worrying about what people thought of me,” she said simply, “I’d never get anything done.” The MACO leaned her head back against the lift wall. “I just focus on being me and let the rest sort itself out later.”
Hoshi was silent for a long moment as she studied the reclining woman with open curiosity. There was something very attractive about Cole’s outlook on life and Hoshi silently acknowledged that she was more than a little jealous. This woman knew who she was and wasn’t afraid to let other people know.
“I owe you an apology,” Sato began, but the corporal waved it off.
“No need, ma’am,” she said. “Malcolm’s your friend and you were worried about him.”
“He is my friend,” Hoshi agreed as she took a seat across from Cole, “but I don’t really know a lot about him.” She nodded toward the corporal. “Like you said,” she remarked, “he’s as bad as some Vulcans when it comes to talking about himself, so if you were hoping I could tell you what makes him tick, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.” Hoshi looked down. “I think Commander Tucker was the only person aboard who really got Malcolm.”
“No surprise there,” Cole said. “Trip’s been like that since elementary school.” Hoshi’s eyes widened.
“You knew Trip?”
“Went to school with his sister, Lizzie,” the MACO said before shaking her head. “I was really hoping that you of all people would know how to get into Malcolm’s head,” Cole muttered. The expression that appeared on her face was bleak. “Keeping all his anger and grief bottled up might work for Vulcans, but it sucks for us humans.” Hoshi started to nod…
But almost at once, she realized that Cole’s remarks weren’t just about Malcolm. Both Doctor Phlox and Travis had been after her in their own ways to open up to them, to talk and let the healing process begin, but she’d pushed them away because it just hurt too much to think about the watery grave that had once been her family home. She’d spent the last sixty-seven days hiding from everything and going through life in a numb fugue because it was just easier than dealing with the tragedy that her life had become. Swallowing, she looked up and met the steady gaze of the MACO now studying her with something akin to clinical dispassion.
“You do know what you’re doing,” Hoshi remarked. Cole’s eyes twinkled.
“I did warn you, ma’am,” she said. Sato shook her head before smiling.
“Hoshi,” she said. “My name is Hoshi.”
“And I’m Amanda. Pleased to meet you, Hoshi.” Before Sato could continue, the lift suddenly shuddered and the door slid open, revealing C Deck. A trio of Kelby’s engineers stood there, harried expressions on their faces. The moment the door retracted, the wall panel crackled to life and Malcolm’s voice emerged.
“Attention, damage control personnel,” the recording announced, and all three of the engineers groaned. “The personnel inside the turbolift are to be considered badly injured and require immediate medical attention.”
“That man needs to get a hobby,” Crewman Mammana muttered as he stepped into the lift and hit the comm. button. “Simulated medical emergency in alpha lift,” the crewman declared flatly.
“This is Phlox,” came the instant reply and Hoshi had to smile at the unbridled enthusiasm in the doctor’s voice. “I’m on my way!”
“Damn,” Amanda abruptly said. “I wish I could bottle his energy and sell it.”
“You’re supposed to be very badly injured,” Hoshi pointed out with a smile.
“Right.” The corporal turned her attention to the sleepy-looking engineer. “It hurts,” she said in an astoundingly bored-sounding voice. “Oh, God, oh, God. It hurts so much.” When Mammana gave her a flat, unamused look, Cole’s lips curled up into a mocking smile. “I don’t want to die,” the MACO continued, still sounding like she was reading off a script. “Oh, God, the pain.”
And decided right then that she was going to be friends with Amanda Cole.