by Josephine

Trip sighed and ran his grease-covered hand through his hair, causing it to stick up in a rather comical manner. He grabbed ahold of the wrench and pushed down on it again.

“Son of a…!” The wrench had slipped from the valve, narrowly missing Trip’s head. Unfortunately, this meant that it hit his shoulder instead. Leaning against the wall, he waited until most of the pain had gone. Trip glared at the two-foot wrench lying on the deck. “It ain’t over yet,” he muttered to the inanimate object. However, leaning down brought a new, sharper pain to his shoulder. Moving his arm only reaffirmed that something was wrong. Sighing again, Trip put the wrench away and walked to sickbay, keeping his arm very still.

“Hmm, yes, a hairline fracture. You say you hit yourself with a wrench?” Phlox finished scanning Trip’s shoulder.

“The wrench slipped and then hit me. Almost smashed into my head.”

“It did. You have a slight scrape near the temple. Nothing serious, I assure you.” Trip could feel a sting as Phlox spread a gel over the abrasion. He hadn’t noticed it, what with his shoulder hurting so much.

The doctor stepped back to admire his handiwork. “The analgesic will help with the pain. There’s nothing else we can do about the break. It’s not serious enough to need a cast, but you won’t be able to use it for a few weeks. You’ll have to keep it in this sling until then. Don’t be a martyr, Commander. It won’t heal if you push it.” Phlox gave him a frown.

“No problem, Doc.” Trip hopped off the examining table, feeling pretty good, actually.

“Take the rest of the day off, and see how you feel in the morning. If the shoulder starts to bother you, let me know.” Phlox looked at Trip’s hair. “I would recommend a shower too, Commander.”

“Sure thing, Doc.” Trip gave Phlox a salute, then ambled out of sickbay.

Moseying down the corridor, he turned the corner and found himself in a part of the ship where the walls were painted green. Nice color. When did we do this? Feels like I’m in a forest. A few yards on he found a tree was growing up through the deck, it’s branches forming a canopy across the ceiling.

I am in a forest. Trip was happy he was right, smiling at the trees as they grew thicker. It’s getting hot in this here forest. The trees had turned tropical, and Trip could see flashes of color as parrots came to look at him.

Struggling a bit with only one hand, Trip managed to get his uniform off and stood bare foot in his t-shirt and boxers. Looking down, he saw he was on a dirt path that wound through the trees. Wonder where you go? Only one way to find out!

The jungle got thicker, and Trip had a hard time pushing past the trees. It was getting even hotter; soon he was drenched in sweat and took off his t-shirt. Gotta wrap it around my head. Trip wasn’t quite sure why, except all the jungle explorers he ever saw did it.

Five more steps brought him to an intersecting path. Trip looked right, then left. He picked up a forked branch and threw it up in the air. It landed pointing right. It also pointed left. And it pointed back the way he came. Again Trip looked right, then left, then behind him for good measure. Peering at the jungle, he thought he saw movement to the left. Plunging in, he went after it.

Trip burst through the foliage to find himself at the edge of a lake. He jumped in, rinsing off the dirt and sweat from the hike through the jungle, sinking down under the cool water.

Coming up for air, he saw the jungle pressing in close against the shore. Trip turned and looked across the lake, shielding his eyes from the sun. He would have to swim. Pushing off the bottom, he started for the other side.

A few minutes in, he heard a voice. “Trip?”

Trip tread water, wiping off his face so he could see better. A girl with long, black hair was swimming up to him. “Trip, koshii? Are you all right?”

Trip looked at the fluke behind the girl. “You’re a mermaid! I thought mermaids lived in the ocean, not lakes.” He stared at her tail as she moved closer.

The girl followed his gaze. “… yes, they usually are. But a few of us decided we liked fresh water better than salt, so we moved here.”

“Makes sense.”

“Are you feeling all right?”

“I’m fine.” Trip looked at her closer. She had beautiful brown eyes, a full bosom, and a trim waist. Now that she was in front of him, he couldn’t see her tail very well. “Do you mind if I take a closer look at your tail?” Before she could answer, he dove under water.

Trip ran his hands over the mermaid’s tail. It as smooth, like a dolphin’s, instead of scaled, like a fish. Trip could never understand why the Little Mermaid in the stories his sister made him listen to had a fish tail. The mermaid was human, a mammal; she should have a dolphin’s tail. His sister had laughed at him, but it looked like he was right.

Trip came to the surface, flipping his head to get the water out of his eyes. “What’s your name? Are there more of you? Where do you live?”

“My name is Hoshi. There are more of us; we live on the other side of the lake. Would you like to visit us?”

“Sure, that’d be fun.” Trip smiled at her. She sure was pretty.

“Let me call … my brother, and tell him I’m bringing you. Okay?”

“Okay.” Trip watched as Hoshi took out a shell and spoke into it.

“Hoshi to Archer.”

“Archer here.”

“I met someone named Trip, he would like to come visit us. I think that our friend, Phlox, would be very interested in meeting him, too.”

“Ok … we’ll meet you at Phlox’s. Archer out.”

“How’d that work?” Trip, ever the engineer, asked.

“How’d what work?” Hoshi replied.

“The shell. You spoke into it, and your brother spoke back.”

“Oh, well, I don’t know. I just use it. Lets go, they’re waiting for us.”

“It’d be faster if I held on to you.” Trip put his arm around her shoulder. Hoshi looked at him strangely. Trip continued: “With your tail, you’re a stronger swimmer than I am.”

“Of course,” Hoshi said. “Hold on.” With that she took off, swimming powerfully for her home.

What would have taken Trip two hours was done in a few minutes. “Is that it?” Trip pointed to a cave opening.

“Yes, right through here.” Hoshi led him through a vine-covered entrance where two men waited inside. “This is my brother, Archer, and our friend, Phlox. Phlox has never seen a man before. Can he take a look at you?”

Trip laughed. “Sure, if I could look back. I’ve never seen a merman before.” Phlox began to look him over with different shells.

Out of the corner of his eye Trip noticed Hoshi talking to her brother. Soon some big mermen led by a smaller, scrappy one joined them. Hoshi kept shaking her head at whatever they were saying. The other merman tried to lead her away, but she kept looking back at Trip.

“Hey! Where are you taking her?” Trip moved toward Hoshi, but her brother stopped him, motioning to Phlox. He felt something cool against his neck, and a small hiss. “Come back! Don’t go! Leave her alone!” Trip struggled against the burly mermen as the scrappy one led Hoshi through the vines.

His breathing becoming labored, Trip could feel his body grow heavy. I’m drowning. Without her, I drown.

The first thing Trip became aware of was the voices. Three of them: Phlox, Archer, and Hoshi. Then the light, then the bed under him.

“He’s awake.” Phlox’s voice came closer.

“Trip? Can you hear me?” That was Hoshi.

“Yes. But I have the most incredible headache. What happened?”

“You had a reaction to the painkiller I gave you for you shoulder. You were hallucinating. What do you remember?” Phlox gave him another hypospray.

Trip told them; starting from when he walked out of sickbay up to thinking he was drowning.

“That’s quite a trip you had, Commander. I’ll have to note in your medical logs not to use that particular mix again. I’ll need you to stay here overnight to monitor you, and to help that shoulder heal. Your adventure didn’t help it any.”

“Don’t worry, Doc, I ain’t goin’ nowhere. Not for a while.”

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