Once she was off duty, Erika took a walk.
It had become a habit of hers in recent months, ever since the mess with Lieutenant Kelby and the Vissian cogenitor, and was mostly intended to act as her ‘open door’ time. Through the department heads, Erika let it be known that she was available to talk with any member of the crew on any subject while she was walking around. At first, no one seemed to take her offer seriously, which gave her plenty of time to just get familiar with Enterprise, something that Starfleet’s rush to put her back into the field had always prevented. Rather than stick to the places she found more familiar – the bridge, the science labs, the mess deck – she began poking around in areas she’d otherwise have little need to visit. Engineering, for example, where she insisted on Kelby putting her to work so she had a better understanding of what Rostov’s people did – and they were right: cleaning the impulse manifolds was an ideal punishment detail as no one sane really wanted to do that job – or the armoury, where she spent three days helping Crewman Zabel tear down and rebuild one of the phase cannons. She even spent a week in the galley, listening to Chef Killick moan and complain like a superstitious Boomer while she tried to avoid burning water and proved to everyone that she sucked as a cook. Eventually, the crew started accepting her presence, especially when she made a conscious effort to act more like an officer than a diplomat, and she slowly found herself holding court with enlisted men and women who wanted to vent grievances, make suggestions, or just ask questions about things that fell into her area of knowledge.
And finally – finally – Erika started to feel like a member of the crew.
Jonathan had teased her nonstop about her ‘walkabouts,’ even though she had gotten the idea from his stories about how he’d gotten the crew of the Saratoga to accept him shortly after his reassignment to the older ship following the NX-Alpha misadventure. She took his jokes in stride, though, especially when she heard the subtle approval and pride in his voice at her proactive attempts to make a better impression on the crew. For the first time since she came aboard Enterprise, Erika didn’t feel like an outsider. And it was all due to Lieutenant Commander Reed.
“We need to talk,” the armoury officer had told her two weeks after Kelby’s demotion. He had appeared at her cabin long after she went off duty and the first thing she had noticed was that he wasn’t wearing his rank. Erika had been caught completely off guard when he began their ‘off-the-record’ conversation by listing his own deficiencies as an officer and a gentleman with frightening accuracy, so much so that Hernandez had actually started to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed for him. And then, after apologizing for not doing a better job for helping her become part of the crew, he began listing her flaws without any malice in his voice.
It had been an eye-opening experience.
From that point on, Reed had made a visible effort in front of other personnel, both officers and enlisted, to defer to her whenever appropriate. When the captain issued an order that should have actually come from her, the armoury officer would look to Erika for approval, and whenever crewmembers came to him with personnel issues, he promptly sent them to her. In return, Hernandez began actively consulting the lieutenant commander on many shipboard and policy matters to the point that she realized that she was treating him as if he were her de facto number two as well. Both Lieutenant Kelby and Petty Officer Rostov followed Reed’s example without hesitation, and slowly, the rest of the crew began to do the same. Jonathan was actually the last person aboard who seemed aware of the subtle shift of power, but he was so busy dealing with his own issues – Erika wasn’t ignorant of the routine visits to sickbay or what they entailed; she had cornered Phlox out of concern that her former lover’s career was about to implode and the doctor had assured her that he was taking steps to help Archer – that she forgave him for not noticing.
Although, now that she thought about it, Jonathan had started to act more like the man she once knew at around the same time that Reed paid her a visit…
As it did every time she thought about Commander Reed, Erika’s thoughts turned to the improper sexual relationship he was engaged in with the MACO corporal, Amanda Cole. The moment she’d become aware of the relationship, Hernandez had retreated to her cabin where she spent several hours researching Starfleet regulations, not in order to punish Reed, but rather to find a loophole that would excuse what he was doing. Officially, Starfleet fraternization regs were pretty clear and since Jonathan had effectively incorporated the MACOs into the command structure before they even reached this damned Expanse – despite technically outranking them, Hayes fell below Kelby and Mayweather in the chain of command – Cole was definitely considered to be one of Reed’s subordinates. Erika had briefly considered making a discreet suggestion to the armoury officer to cease and desist, but after having seen him in the gym, seemingly trying to kill himself with exercise so he wouldn’t have to face his demons, she’d decided to simply hold her tongue. If this dalliance with Cole – who, according to her declassified education transcript, was well on her way to becoming a clinical psychologist – helped Mister Reed grieve, then who was Erika to get in the way?
So instead, she’d surreptitiously begun to enable the relationship. Cole, she assigned – with Hayes’ approval – to sickbay where the corporal would no doubt begin picking Phlox’s brain and hopefully obtain new weapons to help Reed through his recovery. To cover for the fact that Cole was quite often in Reed’s cabin (which was in officer country), Erika then proposed a billeting arrangement for the MACOs that would spread them all across the ship rather than concentrating them solely in one area. Not only would it allow them to more easily integrate into the crew (always a plus), it would also help in the event of a boarding action. Naturally, when Jonathan approved it, she then relocated Corporal Cole to a cabin close to Reed’s. Erika had been quite pleased with herself at that stroke of subtle manipulation, right up to the point when Jonathan showed up at her cabin later that very night.
“That was good work today,” he told her with that all too familiar smile of his. “How long have you known about Malcolm and Cole?” Jonathan then asked with the casual air of someone who wasn’t as oblivious as everyone thought he was. They’d talked then, like they used to even before they started sleeping together, and it reminded Erika of what she’d always liked about this man. It shouldn’t have surprised her that Jonathan was looking the other way in regards to the Reed/Cole mess – he’d have been a hypocrite if he hadn’t given their own past – but when he’d sheepishly revealed that he had known about it from the first day thanks to insomnia that had sent him to the gym where he’d overheard some of their initial conversation, Hernandez had laughed out loud.
“Good evening, ma’am,” Crewman Wilcox greeted as he strode by her. His words snapped her out of her momentary distraction, and Erika gave him the engineer a quick nod. Ever since she’d decided against charging him with insubordination after their previous confrontation, the damage controlman had gone out of his way to treat her with respect and Hernandez knew it had made an impact on his fellow engineers.
“How’s the hand?” she asked with a smile. Wilcox flushed in slight embarrassment – he’d broken two of his fingers during one of the MACO training sessions and still hadn’t quite lived down the blue streak he’d cursed afterward – before showing her his hand and waggling his fingers.
“Doc fixed me up, ma’am,” he replied. “Could have done without the eels, though.”
“You should see what he recommends for headaches,” Erika retorted, and Wilcox shuddered theatrically before continuing on his way once she gave him another nod.
The mess still bore the evidence of Ambassador Soval’s most recent lecture on diplomatic training seminar, although the Vulcan himself was nowhere in sight for which Erika heaved a silent sigh of relief. Just over three months had passed since that decon nightmare and she still hadn’t found a way to really interact with the ambassador without blushing. By mutual agreement, they didn’t talk about it at all, although Erika sometimes lamented that the unexpected encounter had been the last really good sex she’d had since … well, since she and Jon broke up. At first, when those thoughts struck late at night while she was lying alone in bed, Erika had been suddenly afraid she might be harboring some subconscious desire for the ambassador, but upon further reflection, she’d realized she was just feeling a little sorry for herself because of her long period of celibacy. She wasn’t harboring some unrequited longing for Soval – the very thought about getting involved with a Vulcan just didn’t appeal to her in the slightest and she had to question the judgment of any human who thought it would be a good idea – and she wondered if having to work alongside Jonathan for the first time in ten years was responsible for the prurient direction her thoughts went to.
Of course, knowing that Phlox had been there in decon, watching while she was in the most vulnerable state a person could get … she grimaced.
And then, just because the universe had a perverse sense of humor, Hernandez realized that the doctor was there in the mess. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to notice her, so engrossed was he with whatever it was that he was doing with Lieutenant Sato at their table. For a moment, Erika considered joining them – she had missed dinner, after all, thanks to the overly long briefing she’d had to sit through with the science department as Lieutenant Ling reported their findings over the last few days (which could have easily been boiled down to a simple ‘we haven’t found anything of actual note, Commander,’ instead of the abundant thirty syllable words that were all synonymous with ‘nothing.’) From their body language, though, Hernandez suspected the doctor and Lieutenant Sato were discussing something personal – perhaps Hoshi was finally seeking grief counseling? – and Erika decided to simply get something small and take it with her.
Crewman Masaro was at the beverage dispenser, dividing his attention between making a cup of coffee and shooting unusual looks in the direction of the Denobulan doctor and Lieutenant Sato. When Erika approached, he mumbled a quick greeting before darting for the door, nearly forgetting his coffee in his haste. Hernandez shook her head – according to what she’d read between the lines in Kelby’s crew evals (and Tucker’s as well), Masaro was technically astute but admittedly odd duck, with a remarkable talent for coaxing a little extra out of the injectors.
But that didn’t stop him from being just a little creepy.
From the mess, she wandered toward the command center, noting with an utter lack of surprise that Mayweather and Kelby were ensconced within. Since they’d arrived in the Expanse a week earlier, the helmsman had spending all of his free time trying to plot successful routes through this part of space and had been coordinating often with the chief engineer regarding just what Enterprise could handle. The two men made an unusual but surprisingly effective team, and she spent thirty minutes listening to them debrief her about the difficulties they were facing. Ultimately, she simply recommended they bring Lieutenant Ling’s science team into the equation – something that they should have thought of themselves – before excusing herself and leaving them to their argument-slash-discussion.
On impulse, Erika decided to pay one of the hydroponics bays a visit and was pleased to discover it empty. She took a seat in between the larger plants and breathed in the calming scents that filled the air around her. Once, an eternity ago, she’d loved sitting in her grandmother’s garden and listen to the elder woman regale a wide-eyed innocent with unlikely tales about what was waiting for her. Even now, thirty … something years later, Erika could still see the wrinkled face of the woman she’d been named for and it made her smile.
She had lost track of how much she sat there, simply relaxing and enjoying smells, when the shrill chirp of the intraship sounded.
“Archer to Hernandez.” Erika sighed – so much for having an uneventful night – and rose to her feet.
“Hernandez here,” she replied once she crossed the hydroponics bay and located the wall panel.
“I need you on the bridge,” Jonathan declared. “We just detected a freighter that’s about three hours out and I sent Malcolm to his quarters.” Erika nodded, even though Archer couldn’t see her – Lieutenant Commander Reed had been on watch, but it made sense to have him get some rest just in case this freighter turned out to be hostile. And if they were very lucky, this ship might give them a lead on where the Xindi might be found.
“I’m on my way,” she said. At the door, she paused, giving the bay another long look in the hopes she would be able to remember this sense of peace. Sighing, Erika turned away and began walking toward the nearest turbolift.
And behind her, the overhead lights blinked out.