Pressure Cooker by Djinn

Phlox shook out several pieces of food and let them settle to the bottom of the osmotic eel's tank. He smiled as it edged delicately toward its dinner. Studying other creatures was one of Phlox's great joys. He loved finding out what they were made of, what they were capable of. He looked around sickbay, checking out the other lifeforms he had brought with him. They all seemed fine. He turned down the lights and prepared to retire to his quarters, when an unexpected hail stopped him.

"T'Pol to Doctor Phlox."

"Phlox here, Sub-Commander. What can I do for you?"

"Could you meet me in decon, Doctor?"

"Of course. I'll be right there."

She was waiting for him. No trace of impatience in her stance but the look she shot him as he approached seemed tighter than her normal stoicism.

He gave her the same big grin he'd given Archer the day they launched. "I trust you are settling in? Quite a surprise to have you assigned here permanently, I suppose?"

She ignored his pleasantries, turning instead to the unit. "The decontamination function is one of the responsibilities of the medical officer, is it not?"

He nodded. "It is."

Her look tightened. "Perhaps you need to review the operating procedures of this unit."

His expression was sheepish. "Ah. The gel."

"The gel." She turned and looked into the unit. "Which was unnecessary, Doctor. I took the liberty of reading up on the unit after the Commander and I underwent your version of decon."

"My version?"

"You are the one that ran the procedure." She turned back to him, her look hard. "The gel was redundant, if it did anything at all. The unique properties of the light in the unit are the primary means for killing parasites and other dangerous agents."

"Yes. I know that now."

"Only now, Doctor?"

He cocked his head. "I'm puzzled, Sub-Commander. Are you accusing me of something?"

"I have not made an accusation...yet. I have merely expressed concern. But tell me, Doctor, what else in your purview have you not read up on?"

He sighed. "Like you, I did not expect to be here. Had no time to prepare. Barely had time to pack up my various creatures and medicines and get on board." He saw her look tighten. "I know it is not an excuse in your book, but no one was supposed to be flying those shuttles till we arrived at Kronos. I had my hands full with the Klingon. I planned to read up on some of my ancillary duties once I knew he was out of the woods."

Her expression relaxed a bit.

"I'm sorry if you found the procedure uncomfortable."

"I did not say I was uncomfortable with it."

"You must have been. Why else would you have taken the time to look the unit up?"

"I was struck by the illogic of the procedure. For example, if a single crewman were affected, how would he apply the gel to those areas that were not within easy reach?"

"Ah. I see." He smiled. "I assure you, Sub-Commander. This will not happen again."

"Good." She nodded graciously, then walked away.

He watched her go, then turned back to the decon unit. He remembered the tension that had been so abundantly clear when he had ordered the two officers into the unit. He smiled as he saw again their expressions when he had told them about the gel, but he had never specifically said that they had to strip down. That had been T'Pol's logic at work. He chuckled, remembered how he had fought back laughter at the time.

He had known exactly how the unit worked. There wasn't a machine or procedure that had to do with his job that he didn't know backwards and forwards. T'Pol was right. The gel was redundant. They should have just stood fully clothed in the light. But the experience hadn't hurt anyone. In fact he was tempted to think that it helped the vulcan and human improve their relationship.

He laughed again. His mentor at the medical academy would have approved of this. She had always said that it was best to observe other creatures when they were under stress, that only then did they act in ways truest to their nature. He had always believed she was right, had told Captain Archer that the perfect opportunity to study human beings was when they were under pressure. He was finding the same applied to vulcans.

He turned away from the unit and was startled to find Commander Tucker watching him. He smiled at the engineer. "Hello, Commander. Did you need me?"

Tucker was not amused as he said, "About that gel..."