Diversions & Digressions | fanfiction by mara

Call Me Charlie

Call Me Charlie

by Mara

Summary: “Oh, Trip…can I call you Trip? That’s what your friends called you, wasn’t it?”

NOTES: This story was inspired by the last line of a round robin on the
Linguistics Database Forum. Josephine ended the story with Trip telling Hoshi,
“Call me Charlie,” and it got me thinking. Once again, thanks for the beta go to
the marvelous and talented Captain Average, the speedy superhero who says nice
things about my fic. This is the newly revised version, created for the Strange
New Worlds contest, which it obviously did not win 🙂

* * *

Charles “Trip” Tucker figured out something was wrong when Rylan pulled a weapon
out of a drawer and pointed it at him. The sun streaming gaily through the
windows contrasted oddly with the situation.

//I’m getting real sick of people pointing weapons at me,// he thought as he
slowly raised his hands. //Next time, I trust my instincts. Hell, next time I’m
staying on the ship to realign the plasma coils.//

“Whoa, hold on a minute there,” he said, trying to sound calm, “What’s goin’

Rylan, her lavender skin and downy hair apparently hiding the soul of a snake,
slid the weapon into her right hand and tapped a button on the wall with her
left. Without taking her eyes off him, she spoke. “Ixy?”

“We’ve got them,” a voice said, booming out of what was obviously the comm. In
the background, he heard noises that suddenly resolved into voices.

He held his breath as he recognized the sounds of an angry Jon and Hoshi. “What
do you want with them?” he asked, his breath catching with concern.

Rylan smiled. “Oh, Trip…can I call you Trip? That’s what your friends called
you, wasn’t it?”

“You can call me Ishmael if you want, just tell me what’s goin’ on.” He found
himself shuffling his feet on the opulent carpet, impatient to move into action.

“Please, sit down while I explain.” She gestured at a heavy chair in front of

“I’d rather stand,” he said.

She narrowed her eyes and aimed the weapon at his torso. “That may have sounded
like a request, Trip, but it wasn’t. Sit down.” Still, he hesitated, and she
continued. “I don’t think you realize how thoroughly out of your control this
situation is. We have your friends, and shortly we will have your ship. The only
question is whether or not you are alive to see that.”

//I’m no good to anyone dead.// He sat, hands clenching into fists and yearning
for one of Malcolm’s beloved phase pistols.

“Much better, Trip,” she said, strolling around the chair, but keeping her
distance. Even with the weapon in her hand, she was apparently too canny to get
close enough for him to grab her.

She walked behind him and he turned his head trying to keep her in sight. “If
you’re takin’ my ship,” he said, “why am I still alive?”

Her voice floated from behind him. “Because I need a good engineer, Trip. What a
lovely name. It sounds so very close to one of my favorite words in my language:
money. Trip.” She laughed.

His eyes darted around the room, looking for a weapon, a plan, something, but he
found only objets d’art casually displayed around the room.

The door opened, and he tensed, hoping for a rescue, but it was more of Rylan’s
friends, come to help her. Before he could do anything, the three burly aliens
had tied him to the chair, his arms digging into the firm padding.

“So, Trip,” she said, strolling over to stand right in front of him, “what can I
offer you to convince you to become our engineer?”

He stayed silent. //There isn’t a good answer to that, is there? “Not a damn
thing in the universe” isn’t good for my health, but somehow I don’t think she’d
buy it if I tried to pretend anything else.//

She smiled as he struggled to not react. “Oh, don’t worry, I don’t expect a
decision right away.” She paused for effect, then leaned over to look him right
in the eyes, “Trip.”

He winced involuntarily, then looked away.

She grabbed his chin and forced him to look at her. “I don’t expect an immediate
answer, but you should know that if you don’t help us learn how to run your
ship, we’ll start killing your crewmates right in front of you. Who should I
kill first? Your choice…Trip.”

* * *

“No!” he yelled, sitting bolt upright in bed, sweating and shivering at the same
time, heart racing as if he’d completed a marathon. It took several long moments
for his eyes to adjust to the darkness and for him to realize he was in his
quarters on Enterprise–that the events of his dream were over a week in the

In fact, none of his shipmates had died, although it had been a close call on a
few occasions. And he’d even had the great satisfaction of knocking Rylan on her
butt, 48 hours after his capture.

But ever since their escape, he’d found the sound of his nickname distasteful.
It didn’t matter who said it, every time he heard someone call out “Trip!” he
saw that alien bitch threatening him.

He lay back down in bed and tried to bring his breathing and heart rate under
control. But the more he concentrated on them, the more ragged they became,
until he felt light-headed and his stomach heaved. Tears of shame pricked his
eyes and he jumped out of bed and threw water on his face. The cold water and
the movement seemed to help and he felt a little steadier.

//I’ve got to stop this,// he thought, sitting down on the edge of the bed. //If
I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I’m gonna be no use as an engineer. But if I
ask the Doc for drugs, he’s gonna want to know why. How can I explain what’s
bothering me?//

He lay back down and tried to find a comfortable position, squirming under the
covers. //It’s so stupid. Nobody died, just another fun couple of days out here
on the frontier, what am I so worked up over that I can’t even sleep?//

Tossing and turning, he tried unsuccessfully to fill his mind with neutral

* * *

The next morning, he stared at his plate of eggs. The Captain’s mess was quiet,
the steward moving silently to place food in front of him. The smell of
breakfast was nauseatingly strong, and he had to resist the urge to push the
plate away.


As he fiddled with a glass of cranberry juice, the voice floated toward him, but
it seemed unreal. He continued to watch the light shining through the glass,
casting a red glow onto his fingers and the table. Like blood, he mused.


A hand tapped the edge of the plate in front of him and he jumped. “What?”

Jon peered at him. “Are you okay? I’ve been trying to get your attention for the
past few minutes.”

He shook himself all over once, like a dog shaking its hair back into place.

“Yeah, Cap’n, I’m fine.”

“You sure? It looks to me like something is bothering you.”

He looked up at his friend. “Can I ask a favor?”

“Sure, if it’s within my power, I’ll do it, you know that, Trip,” Jon said

Deep breath. “Call me Charlie.”

Jon sat back in his chair and stared at him for a long moment. “Did I do
something? What-”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s nothing like that. I just…I don’t want
to be called Trip any more.”

“Can I ask why?”


“Okay,” Jon said slowly. “Well, if that’s what you want, I’ll call you Charlie.
You do realize it’s going to take some time for me to break years of habit.”

“Yeah.” He wanted to say more, wanted to explain, but the words just weren’t
there. He lapsed back into silence and waited for a response.

Jon still looked a little hurt. “If there’s something bothering you, you know
you can talk to me at any time. About anything.”

“I know.” Digging into his cold eggs, Charlie tried to look normal.

* * *

Over the next few days, Charlie made the same request of other crewmates who’d
become accustomed to addressing him as Trip, and collected a whole series of
strange facial expressions, hurt looks, and confusion. Somehow, the more people
he asked, the more important it became.

He knew everyone thought he was acting oddly, but it was becoming an obsession.
//I don’t want to hear that nickname ever again.//

He spent as little time with the rest of the crew as he could, working odd
shifts, sticking to the depths of engineering and off-hours in the mess hall.
When he did encounter his crewmates, he limited conversation as much as
possible, making excuses to leave.

He had an idea the engineering staff was humoring him most of the time, when
they weren’t avoiding him, but couldn’t be bothered to be upset. //Eventually,
folks will get the message and leave me alone, right?//

* * *

After five days of avoidance, Charlie had learned that 0300 was the safest time
to get something to eat. So, when he ventured out of his quarters, he found the
mess hall empty.

With a sigh of relief, he grabbed a plate of whatever was closest and a glass of
milk, which he took to the farthest corner so he could stare out at the stars.
He dropped the dish on the table and told himself to eat it.

He’d just stuck a fork into the unappealing spaghetti and meatballs when the
door to the mess hall opened behind him. //Can’t I be alone anywhere except my
quarters? Well, if I’m lucky, whoever it is will leave without bothering me.//

“Trip, I mean, Charlie, I had the late shift, but what are you doing here at
this hour?” Travis’ cheerful voice was about the last thing Charlie wanted to
hear at this moment. The friendly boomer wasn’t likely to let him brood in

“Just needed somethin’ to eat,” he managed to say politely, “then back to

“Why? Is something wrong with the ship?” Travis asked as he sat down at the
table with a dish of chocolate ice cream, flashing a grin at him as he took his
first spoonful.

“No. Just things to do.” Charlie took a bite of his spaghetti, but it tasted
vile. He managed to swallow around the large lump in his throat and wondered how
much he really needed to eat.

Travis said, “Well, I wanted dessert before I went to sleep.”

“Hmm.” Mindlessly rolling the spaghetti around his fork, he stared blankly out
at the stars, hoping Travis would get the message.

“So…I’ve been wondering…”

Restraining the urge to bang his head on the table, Charlie asked, “Wondering

“You’ve been kind of tetchy recently, and-”

“Tetchy?” He shook his head in disbelief as he looked at the young ensign.
“Jeez, you’ve been spending too much time with Malcolm.”

“Look, you’ve been a pain in the butt, and I’m wondering if there’s something I
can do to help.” Travis’ voice was filled with so much concern, Charlie had to
look away.

“No, there isn’t.” He choked down another bite of pasta, then made himself say,
“But thanks for askin’.”

“You’re sure? I was kind of thinking that it might be T’Pol. Or Hoshi. Or
Malcolm. Something like that.”


Travis blushed slightly and stirred his ice cream into mush. “I’ve just noticed
that people tend to get grumpy when they’ve got woman troubles. Or man troubles.
Whatever. So, if that’s what’s bothering you, it might help to talk about it.”

A wave of weariness swept over him. “No, I’m not pinin’ away for anyone.” //I
wish it were that easy.//

Travis ate more of his liquefied ice cream. “Well,” he said, “if you do find
something you want to talk about, let me know.”

“Thanks.” Charlie got up from the table. “I’m not as hungry as I thought. Maybe
I’ll just get some sleep now.” He left without waiting for a reply, leaving a
startled Travis staring after him.

* * *

Not wanting to be caught in a lie, he went to his quarters to lie down, but
sleep continued to elude him.

Sleep required relaxation, the clearing of thoughts, and these were things he
couldn’t manage. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw that face leering at him.

Then, the thoughts would begin.

//What if they’d all died?//

//They didn’t.//

//But if they had. It’d be my fault. I failed them. I didn’t save them.//

//But they’re alive.//

//They might have died. What I heard, it could have been real. It could still

//It won’t.//

//How do I know it won’t? How do I know it won’t happen tomorrow, next week,
next month? I can’t just sit around and wait for them to die. I can’t. I can’t
do it.//

* * *

Hoshi tracked him down in his quarters the next evening, the only person brave
enough (or foolhardy enough) to bother him there, other than Jon. When Charlie
realized who was at his door, he groaned silently. I don’t have the energy to be
nice to her.

“Hoshi, can’t whatever it is wait?” He was lying on his bed, staring mindlessly
at a wiring plan.

“No. Can I come in for a few minutes?”

“Fine.” He looked around the room, distantly noted the mess, then ignored it.

She bounced in, slowed slightly as she looked around, but bravely continued.
“Hi, Charlie. I wanted to see how you were doing.” She cleared the padds off his
chair and balanced them precariously on top of a stack of unwashed uniforms.
Perching on the seat, she looked expectantly at him.

“And that couldn’t wait?” He looked down at the wiring plan, which blurred as
his eyes became unfocused, and he had to blink several times to refocus.

“Charlie?” she called, her voice soft.

He looked up from the schematic in his hands and waited for her to get on with
whatever she had to say.

Face clouded by some emotion, she studied him for a few long moments, and he
started to get annoyed. He put down the schematic, folded his arms behind his
head, and examined her in return. “What do you want?” he asked.

She looked a little hurt. “You’ve been down recently and I thought you might
need a friend.”

He laughed, but it wasn’t his normal good-natured chuckle. “Jon thinks
something’s bothering me, Travis says I’m ‘tetchy,’ and you tell me I’ve been
‘down.’ Have any of you considered that I might just want to be left alone? If
T’Pol’s hangin’ around waitin’ for her turn, tell her to go back to her
meditation, ’cause I don’t need anyone’s help. And if the Cap’n sent you, you
can tell the ol’ busybody that I’m just fine.”

As he spoke, she bit her lower lip, and for a moment he felt bad, but that faded
quickly under the onslaught of suppressed anger. //I just want to be left alone.
Is that too much to ask?//

Hoshi nodded slowly when he was done. “If it’s what you want, I’ll go. But you
know where to find me if you change your mind.”

“Fine, great. Don’t let the door hit ya on the way out.”

By the time the door hissed shut, he’d already gone back to staring at the

* * *

Engineering was quiet (even though it was alpha shift) except for the gentle
pulsing of the warp core. Charlie sat at a station and watched the ebb and flow
of the energies of his engines, allowing himself to be soothed by their familiar
sound and the subliminal vibrations that passed through his body.

His reverie was interrupted by the comm. “T’Pol to Tucker.”

He stomped over to the comm and stabbed the button. “Go ahead.” Crossing his
arms, he leaned against the bulkhead, careful not to jostle the levers of the
adjacent coolant system.

“Commander, I need to speak to you at your earliest convenience,” T’Pol said. “I
have been examining the records of the engine’s performance during…”

She continued to speak, but he wasn’t really listening to her, his attention
drawn by the other sounds of the bridge. Behind T’Pol’s even tone, he heard Jon.
Then, Hoshi’s voice, obviously annoyed by something. The two of them sparred,
voices raised, and it was familiar.

Jon and Hoshi, voices coming through the comm system clearly. He gripped the
arms of his chair, every muscle tensed, and he stared at Rylan.

“What are you doing?” Jon yelled.

The echoing sound of a hand hitting flesh, a startled yelp from Hoshi. “Leave
him alone! Don’t-” Her words were cut off by the hackle-raising whine of a
weapon being fired.

“No!” Jon’s anguished cry was the last thing he heard before Rylan cut off the

“So, Trip,” she said, “what’s your answer now. Yes or no?”

“No?” T’Pol asked. “No to what, Commander?” If a Vulcan could sound perplexed,
she was managing it.

“No…” Charlie forced the words out, “No, I can’t deal with this now. I’ll get
back to you. Tucker out.” Through blurry eyes, he pushed the button to close the
channel, his heart racing with the need to take action. The elephant perching on
his chest impaired his breathing, and a sudden fever came over him, a prickling
heat that seemed to ooze out his pores.

Hands flat against the bulkhead in front of him, Charlie tried to concentrate on
the here and now. //I’m on Enterprise,// he thought fiercely. //Everyone’s

The sound of his breathing rasped in his ears as he struggled to block the
memories flooding his mind.

Shouting and shooting and gut-wrenching fear. Straining against his bonds.
Yearning to wrap his hands around a pale throat and squeeze the life out.
The fear of those two days came back as if it had never been gone. “No,” he
whispered into the stillness of engineering.

He was going crazy. Having a heart attack. Dying. Something. He shivered and
gasped for air. Held upright by the bulkhead, he wanted…to die? To live?
How long he stood like that, he never knew, but gradually he came back to
awareness, still leaning, sweat-slicked palms trembling, sick to his stomach.
Somehow nobody seemed to have noticed him and he made a dash for the doors,
startling a crewman or two as he flew by.

He made it to his quarters without being stopped, where he spent long moments in
the head, throwing up the little food he’d taken in, then collapsing on his bed.
“No,” he said again. “I can’t take this.”

But he didn’t know what to do, so he lay shivering on his bed, hoping for an
answer. Gradually, his tired body allowed him to drift off into sleep long

* * *

He dragged himself on duty next alpha shift and was fiddling with the wiring in
an out-of-the-way Jefferies tube when he heard Malcolm’s voice. “Need any help
there, Commander?” The words, determinedly casual, echoed down to where Charlie
was buried headfirst in the conduit.

He closed his eyes. //I figured I could get some peace here, at least.// With a
sigh, he called back, “No thanks, everything’s under control. Just checking on a
squirrely connector.” //Now, go away.//

“Oh. Well,” Malcolm paused, and Charlie barely restrained a growl, “that’s not
really why I’m here.”

“I thought not,” Charlie muttered.

“Did you say something?”

“No. Look, can we do this when I’m off-duty?”

“Perhaps, if you weren’t avoiding everyone.” Malcolm sounded exasperated, and
Charlie had a vague feeling that should amuse him. “I believe that we are
friends, and as your friend and your crewmate, I’m concerned about you. What’s

“I’m fine, Lieutenant,” Charlie said, bearing down on the last word. He slid out
of the conduit until he was leaning against the bulkhead facing Malcolm, a piece
of the recalcitrant machinery in his hand. “Why does every damn person on this
ship feel compelled to ask me what’s wrong?”

“Perhaps it’s because we’re your friends. And with all due respect, I don’t
think you’re fine.” Malcolm stood calmly in that parade rest attitude he always
used when saying unpalatable things. “Something is bothering you that you won’t
talk about, and we’ve all let it go too long. I’m tired of it.”

“You’re outta line, Lieutenant.” Charlie felt an inexplicable anger boiling up
and the words dripped from his mouth like acid.

“Am I?” An insolent eyebrow rose. “As security officer, part of my job is
ensuring the health and safety of the crew. I’m beginning to consider you
neither healthy nor safe.” Pause. “Trip.”

With an inarticulate bellow, Charlie lunged at him. //Wipe that goddamn

Malcolm smoothly stepped to one side and grabbed his arm. Charlie felt the arm
used to lever him face-first against the cold bulkhead, and he heard the clunk
as he dropped the connector he’d forgotten he was holding.

For a long moment, Malcolm held him pinned, and Charlie felt his anger slip away
into confusion. When Malcolm let go, Charlie slowly turned around and slid down
the bulkhead to sit on the deck, hands clenched on his knees, head hanging. What
just happened?

He looked up as Malcolm knelt in front of him. “Commander? Did I hurt you?”

Utterly at a loss, he said, “Malcolm? I…I didn’t…”

“I know.” Malcolm examined him for a long moment, his face solemn. “Talk to
someone. Me, Hoshi, the Captain, Chef, I don’t care. Just do it before you try
to hit somebody who’ll remember it later. You know where to find me.” He waited
to see if he got a response, then stood up gracefully and left.

Mind whirling, Charlie sat for a long time staring at nothing before finding the
nearest comm unit.

“Tucker to Archer.”

“Go ahead.”

“You got some free time, Cap’n?”

“Sure. Ready room or my quarters?”

“Your quarters, I think.”

“Okay, meet you there in 10.”

* * *

When Charlie got there, Jon was already sitting on his bed with Porthos on his
lap, giving the room an air of normality.

“So, what’s up?” Jon asked, scratching behind Porthos’ ears, as Charlie settled
into a chair.

Charlie could hear the barely-suppressed “Trip” at the end of the sentence, and
he ground his teeth before forcing himself to relax. //Malcolm’s right. I’m just
getting worse.// He looked down at his hands. “I’ve gotta speak to you as a
friend, not as the Captain.” He couldn’t look up, but he heard Jon shifting.

“Okay, so as a friend, what’s wrong?”

He stared at his hands, twisting, almost wringing them. He heard Jon put Porthos
on the ground, and he looked up. Jon was leaning forward, looking worried.
“Charlie? What’s happened?”

He looked away, staring at the bust of Zephram Cochrane. “I just tried to beat
the crap outta Malcolm.”

“What?” Jon sat up straight.

“He pushed me. To see what would happen, I guess. Or to show me what would
happen.” He stared down at his hands again, seeing himself trying to smash
Malcolm’s head. “I lost it. Badly. He said I had to talk to someone.”

“I’ll have to remember to thank him later,” Jon said. “Does this mean you’re
ready to talk about what’s made you so ornery lately?”

“Geez, Jon, I don’t know where to start.”

“If I say start at the beginning, will you try to hit me?”

Charlie managed a weak smile. “No. I think I’m done with that.”

“Glad to hear it. I’d hate to have to dump you in the brig before I get a chance
to find out what’s wrong.”

Leaning back in his chair, Charlie took a deep breath. “I guess it all started
when we were captured by Rylan and her bunch.” Even saying the words made him
choke up, and he struggled to continue.

Jon finally spoke. “That’s not the first time we’ve been captured by hostile

The words burst out of Charlie like projectiles. “I know, that’s the problem!
Lately, it seems like every time I turn around, somebody’s gettin’ shot, or
kidnapped, or something, and all I can do is sit around and wait for people to
die.” He heard his voice getting louder and shut his mouth for a moment,
starting again in a more reasonable tone. “I’ve been having these…nightmares.
These flashbacks. I’m back in that room, with that bitch stalking around me,
crowing about how she’s going to kill y’all, and there’s nothing I can do.
Remembering when I thought people were dying.”

“Trip, you-”

“And she kept calling me Trip, like she had any right to use that name!” He
pounded the side of the chair in impotent anger.

Jon sighed, his brows furrowed. “That’s why you wanted us to call you Charlie.”

“Yeah.” He leaned forward and scrubbed his face with his hands. “Every time I
hear someone say ‘Trip,’ I hear her saying it, gloating it, laughing it. It just
makes me want to rip someone’s throat out. I thought if I didn’t hear the name
anymore, I could forget.”

“I take it that didn’t work very well.”

“No. I’ve still been gettin’ the nightmares.”

“You’ve also been avoiding everyone. Acting like a bear wakened early from

“That good, huh?”

“Even worse.”

Charlie sighed, fiddling with the cuff of his uniform. “I don’t know how to
describe it. It’s like I can’t stand to be near anyone. Everything rubs me the
wrong way, making me edgy, itchy in my own skin.”

“It’s not exactly unusual to be upset by something like what happened with
Rylan, or any number of other things that have happened to us since we left

“I’m not crazy!” He pounded the chair again.

“I didn’t say that. Although I should point out that you just told me you tried
to hurt Malcolm. That’s not exactly a hallmark of rational thinking, either.”

Charlie buried his head in his hands. “I don’t want to think about it. That’s
one of the reasons I’ve been avoiding everyone.”

“You’ve got to think about it, talk about it. You’ve been through, we’ve all
been through a hell of a lot, and you wouldn’t be human if it didn’t bother you.
You’d be Vulcan. And then I’d have two Vulcans on my ship, and that’d be one too

Jon deadpanned the last two sentences, and Charlie looked up at him in surprise.
Suddenly, he snickered, and put his head in his hands again. Then, he started to
laugh–full-bodied, all-out, take-no-prisoners laughter–with a hysterical edge,
perhaps, but the first real laughter in weeks.

The laughter subsided into near-sobs, and Jon let him calm down before speaking
again. “Charlie…Trip…let me help you. Let us help you. Don’t push us away.”

“I’m sorry, Jon,” he finally said. “I…it’s like everyone expects me to just
brush off what’s happened, but it happens over and over again.”

“I don’t think it’s what we expect of you, it’s what you expect of yourself.
You’re not a superhero, you know. And it’s not as if you’re imagining
things,” Jon said with some exasperation. “You’re bothered by horrible things
that actually happened.”

“I know.”

“I think you need to start with getting some sleep–without nightmares. Let’s go
talk to the doctor about something to help you with that.”


“And then I think we should put in a call to Starfleet and find you someone a
little more qualified than me to talk to.”

Charlie looked up at that. “I don’t want-”

“That’s an order, Commander. I need my Chief Engineer healthy, and he’s going to
do what it takes to get that way.”

“Yes, Cap’n.”

“There’s no shame in needing help.” Jon leaned forward far enough to touch
Charlie’s knee. “It doesn’t make you weak.”

* * *

Once he managed to ask for (and accept) help, he got it in spades. “I don’t
think I ever realized how many friends I have on this ship,” he said at one
point, somewhat dazed.

“They were there all along,” the psychologist told him, “you were just afraid to
see them. Afraid to lose them.”

And once he managed to talk about his fears, he found they diminished in size.
They didn’t disappear, of course, but they became manageable.

The nightmares finally went away as well, although that took a little longer and
some pharmaceutical intervention.

One day, about six months after it all began, he was eating breakfast with Jon
and he looked around and realized he was happy again. Honestly, truly, deeply
happy to be out in space and on the Enterprise.

It was a bit of a shock, actually. He’d gotten so accustomed to fighting through
storm clouds of misery, that it took him a few minutes to accept that he might
be essentially recovered. He poked at the painful memories experimentally, in
the way you can’t help poking at a sore tooth, and was surprised to find they
didn’t bite back.

He stared at his plate of eggs.

“Charlie?” Jon asked, concerned.

Eyes wide with astonishment, he looked up and grinned at his friend. “Call me


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