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By Alison M. DOBELL
SUMMARY: "With the stakes rising higher and higher the Enterprise nears the edge of the Expanse. Travis realizes that he cannot afford to confide in Hoshi. Down on the Zenari homeworld Hell is being refashioned as time runs out."
Captain Archer stared at the Sub-Commander in disbelieving shock. She calmly watched his reaction and waited. His mouth worked once or twice before he could articulate the words he was having such trouble finding.
"I did warn you Captain that the Zenari do not terraform planets like other species. They terraform minds."
"You're saying that nearly a hundred years ago they tried to do that to the Vulcans that made first contact and the result was the sundering of the Vulcan race?"
"Those they managed to reach lost their devotion to Surak. Logic no longer was an integral part of the Vulcan mind set. Everything they had thought and believed had been undermined at a single manipulative stroke. The Captain of that vessel had enough presence of mind to retreat but the Zenari did not want to let go, to release their latest test subjects."
"That was why they opened fire?"
"It was a desperate battle, Captain. More at stake than you could possibly realise. They broke free and returned to the Vulcan homeworld to tell their story but at a price."
Captain Archer nodded slowly. "They brought back a ship full of dissidents."
"Some were more affected - altered - than others but in essence that is correct."
For a couple of minutes neither of them spoke. The Captain frowned. "I don't understand what the Zenari thought to gain from their interference."
"Remember those incidents? The disruptive pattern of seemingly random 'accidents' across space and time? Lt. Reed said they had nothing in common, nothing to connect them to the Zenari. That is not exactly true."
The Captain raised his eyebrows. "Oh?"
"The one thing each incident had in common was that in each and every case the disruption was caused by mind manipulation. The fact that this was not common knowledge owed more to the reticence and paranoia of the times than any insidious attempt to cover it up. Taken in isolation no one understood what had happened."
"But you did. Somehow the Vulcans pieced it all together."
"As you would say, we had a vested interest."
"You were following the Zenari?"
She shook her head. "No, Captain. The Vulcan High Command considered the risk of further contamination too high. We withdrew. The area of first contact was forever regarded as off limits and we were forbidden to speak of it."
Realisation dawned. "That first contact happened here, didn't it? In the Delphic Expanse?"
T'Pol inclined her head.
The Captain pursed his lips. "I take it the manipulation could not be reversed?"
"Not without further damaging the minds involved. The Kohlinar was created. A voluntary method of mind wiping. It provided a safe way to remove what had been done before slowly rebuilding the psyche in a manner which would stabilise the Vulcan mindset and permit a return to normalcy."
She inclined her head a second time. "Now perhaps you understand why loss of logic is such a disturbing thing to us?"
"Yes. It explains the hostility towards the 'Vulcans without logic'. An awakened fear of what had gone before. No wonder you cling to Surak."
"Vulcans do not cling, Captain."
Captain Archer resisted the urge to smile. "Of course. My apology Sub-Commander." He paused a moment. "What happens now?"
"Now we find a way to recover our missing crew members and leave this place as quickly as possible."
"You saw copies, Captain."
His acceptance of the correction was smooth. Flawless. "Of course. Where is the copy of the Commander?"
"Have you tried Engineering?"
For a moment he simply looked at her, no emotion in his eyes. She was staggered by the level of control exhibited as she beheld the bland unfeeling face. Had she not suspected she would not have realised the truth and that would have placed not only herself but every other member of this crew in terrible danger. Even so she was careful not to openly lie to him. The Zenari were nothing if not subtle. While she could easily mask her emotions she could not risk an outright lie. T'Pol stood.
"How long Captain, until we rendezvous with the MACOs?"
He blinked and something shifted behind his eyes. "Hours at most."
T'Pol nodded. "What do you intend to do?"
"I think we'll do what Lt. Reed suggested and pick them up then return to Zeon. Hopefully with the help of the MACOs we can get our people back and continue our mission."
"What about the copies on board the ship?"
"Do nothing for now, Sub-Commander. If you are right we don't want the Zenari realising we're on to them."
The Vulcan nodded as if acknowledging the wisdom of his plan. Yet she detected the glimmer of something alien lurking in the Captain's eyes. A coolness shivered through her torso but she resisted the urge to shudder with alarm and revulsion. She knew her enemy now. Suspicion slowly solidifying into fact in her mind. Why would they want to keep the original Captain in situ? Why not replace him as well? Ruminating on the seemingly unnecessary risk she realised something that chilled her even further. What if they were perpetuating this mummery not to fool the ship's crew but as a blinker for Starfleet and by extension the Vulcans? T'Pol decided to leave before she gave away her growing concern. Somewhere buried under the image he projected was Captain Jonathan Archer. As she stepped through the door and listened to it hiss shut behind her she wondered who or what had been staring out at her.
* * * * *
Lt. Malcolm Reed was beside himself with worry. He could get no movement out of the Commander and Dr. Phlox seemed to be reduced to a bag of pain-filled jelly. What the hell had those bastards done to him? And how was he going to get the three of them out of this ornate prison and back to Enterprise? As he looked at his friends he saw Trip try to wet his lips and moved closer. "Don't exert yourself, Commander."
"Have to get outta here."
He nodded back at him, keeping eye contact and trying not to move too much. "I know but right now I have no idea how to accomplish that. You can't move and neither can Dr Phlox though for different reasons. While I can move there is nowhere for me to go so if you have any ideas at all I am more than willing to listen."
Trip had difficulty swallowing. The Armoury Officer felt his heart lurch. Wondering if Trip's throat was swelling up and hoping he would not be destined to watch him slowly choke to death. But no. Trip managed to swallow and was speaking again. Thank God. It seemed he simply had a dry throat. "Sorry, Malcolm. Guess you were right after all."
Lt. Reed frowned. "Right about what?"
The attempt at humour however feeble made Malcolm want to cry. He patted Trip's shoulder clumsily oblivious to the fact that his friend could not feel his touch. The action as much to reassure himself as Trip. He glanced at the doctor. "How do you feel, Dr Phlox?"
"As if all my bones have been liquified."
The Lieutenant went pale. "Oh my God..."
"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to say they had been just that they feel as if they have."
He was unsure which was worse. Wanted nothing more than to bury his head in his hands and sob but he had to be strong. His friends were relying on him. That was a joke. As if he could do anything but commiserate about the hopelessness of their situation. Trip's voice shamed him out of his descent into doom and gloom.
"Don't give up, Malcolm. Remember, we're Starfleet's finest."
"I wish I had your optimism, Commander."
The Chief Engineer sighed. "Malcolm, can ya at least call me Trip?"
"I don't know why you persist with that ridiculous nickname."
"Humour me, okay? If I'm gonna die I'd rather have a smile on my face."
The Lieutenant stared at him in anguish then shook the mood off. "You're right, Trip. I apologise."
"Don't apologise Malcolm just don't go all starchy an' remote on me. I know we're in a bad spot but at least we're still alive, right? Now if we can only figure out how to contact Enterprise maybe we stand a chance of gettin' outta here."
He did not like to tell his friend that it was a forlorn hope. Seldom had he seen circumstances stacked so heavily against them. Not to mention the fact that the Zenari seemed able to alter the fashion of reality around them. He frowned as he ruminated. "Trip? What the hell happened?"
"Huh? What d'ya mean what happened? We fell."
"I know you fell but how?"
"I had climbed up through this grate in the ceilin'. Found the doc an' was thinkin' about how we were gonna get outta there when the gratin' and ceilin' frieze tipped forty five degrees and we both slid straight down. Nothin' to hang on to, not even a prayer."
Trip blinked. Confused. Had he missed something? "What are ya so excited about?"
Malcolm looked intently from Trip to Phlox and back again. "You should have died."
"No, I didn't mean it like that but you and Dr Phlox should have died after falling so far."
"I cushioned the doc's fall, remember?"
The Lieutenant nodded thoughtfully. "Yes you did Trip but what cushioned yours?"
* * * * *
The inky black backdrop of space warped around the sphere, slowing the compression of its passage into the arms of Sacred Space. Something shifted in the unrelieved seamless structure and it refined its' trajectory. Almost, space hummed around it whether in greeting or alarm was unclear. One by one the last of the stars winked out. The unrelieved darkness closing around it like an eyelid shutting.
* * * * *
Ran Tok moved his shade with practiced ease and took a good look round the sleek Human vessel. Now clear his presence was invisible to mortal sight. Only when his shade became semi-solid would it be visible, like a smoky vapor or column of shadow. The disassociation was momentary. His merging with Captain Archer had enabled him not only to adjust their manipulation on his mind but also to read the Sub-Commander a little clearer. Still he could not tell whether she knew of his presence or not. Her responses seemed as logical and detached as ever but he sensed a quality of awareness that disturbed him. He did not follow the Vulcan when she left, not willing to risk detection when she was already teetering on the brink of suspicion. Instead he delved into the Captain's mind. Touched his very real concern for both his crew and ship. His almost panicky worry about the Xindi threat. The notion that he and his crew were all that stood between the Xindi and the total annihilation of the Human Race.
The Master at Arms savoured the richness of his fear. Carefully sifted through the Human mind for clues as to what made this species such a danger to the Xindi in the first place. Why they thought they could simply enter this Sacred Space and not pay any penalty. The arrogance and ignorance of the species was mind numbing. He decided it would be worth relaxing some of their control on the Captain to see what he would do next. Not enough to allow him to detect Ran Tok's shade but just enough to give the illusion of free will.
* * * * *
The low elongated groan roused him. At first he could not remember where he was then his vision blurred as he began to focus on something looming over him. Blinking, he slowly recognised the worried face of Lt Reed. "Hey, Malcolm." He murmured.
Relief lit up his friend's face. "How do you feel?"
"Numb. Cold. How long I been out?"
"Four maybe five hours."
Trip raised his eyebrows then heard that moan again. He managed to turn his head. It was the only movement he had. Everything below the neck was like a foreign country and about as accessible to him. "Doc? Can ya hear me?"
The Denobulan was no longer a light shade of blue; the colour had darkened into a murky unhealthy looking bruise that covered all the visible skin on his bloated body. Trip tried not to imagine why. The man appeared to be in utter agony but trying desperately to hide it from them. It made him feel both humble and emotional. With an effort he tried to curb an excess of either.
"Doc, that's twice you've saved my life."
The doctor ignored his attempt to thank him. "You have to find a way back to the ship."
"Workin' on it, Doc, but we're kind'a between a rock an' a hard place right now."
Lt. Reed shuffled over to Dr. Phlox but was powerless to even know where to begin in helping him. His internal injuries had to be massive and he knew that the merest touch, no matter how gentle, would cause the physician great pain. Seldom had he felt so helpless or useless. "Is there anything I can do for you, doctor?"
"No, Lieutenant. Just get the Commander back to Enterprise."
"When we go," Said Trip emotionally. The words evenly spaced for clarity and impact. "We *all* go, doc."
"You don't understand..."
Lt. Reed cut him off. "Trip's right."
"No," Persisted the doctor weakly. Trip and Malcolm stared at him and did not interrupt this time. "The Zenari aim to delay you here."
"Delay?" Said the Lieutenant in a baffled voice. "Don't you mean trap?"
"No. This construct is merely a means to prevent your leaving. It is not intended as a form of incarceration."
"Ya could'a fooled me."
He ignored Trip's comment and continued. "The Zenari intend to keep Enterprise and her crew here until the Xindi arrive."
"How can ya say that, Malcolm? Those bastards planned this an' we fell into the trap."
"No." Said Dr. Phlox weakly. Both men turned their attention back to him. "Imagine the Expanse as a huge sticky spider's web. We are the ones who stepped into *their* parlour Commander."
"I don't understand. If that's true then how d'you know the Xindi are comin'?"
"Because these two species know each other well."
Lt. Reed gave him a suspicious look. "How would you know that?"
"Denobulans have had dealings with the Zenari before."
Trip looked as if he had been sucker punched. "Yet ya never told the Cap'n?"
"I regret I was not at liberty to disclose that information."
"Christ, doc, ya sound like T'Pol! Just what the Sam Hill is goin' on?"
"Yes," Said Malcolm calmly. His intent gaze fixed firmly on the doctor. "I would like to know the answer to that question myself."
"I'm afraid I must disappoint you gentlemen yet again."
The Chief Engineer could not believe his ears. "Ya gotta be kiddin' me? We're trapped in this *not trap* waitin' for our mortal enemies to come and finish us off an' ya won't tell us what the hell's goin' on?"
"We are never alone."
Lt. Reed homed in on that little snippet. "Not alone?"
"No." Whispered Dr Phlox. "I cannot speak and neither must you."
"What'll happen if we do?" Asked Trip with a trace of belligerence surfacing.
"You will be tortured and your life extended to accommodated that torture until not a cell of your body escapes unbruised."
The Commander paled even further. Nasty thoughts joining hands inside his head. "That what they did to ya?" He asked softly.
"What did they think you knew?" Asked the Armoury Officer thoughtfully.
"It is not safe to talk."
"We aren't talkin'," Said Trip stubbornly, his voice soft. "We're listenin'."
Impossibly, a small smile quirked up the corners of the Denobulan's mouth. The Commander's persistent humour was something he had always liked about the southerner. "They call me a spy."
His answer surprised them both yet as if by mutual consent they made no comment. Not wanting to say anything that would cause the Denobulan to clam up again. Lives might well depend on what they could learn from him. Including their own.
"In our history, this species is both mysterious and frightening. It is not their advanced technology that terrifies but what they do with it. Their arts of manipulation have no equal."
"But what's their purpose? They must have some agenda?" Malcolm asked.
"They terraform minds."
Trip frowned. "Why? Surely they got everything they want already? An' we already know they're more advanced than we are."
"Imagine Trip if you could subvert each new species you encountered so that you could obtain whatever you wanted without having to fight a war. Manipulate the various sides in any conflict so that the outcome would leave your own species the dominant one in that area of space. Coerce others to your will without their even knowing it."
"If they are capable of all that," Said Lt Reed slowly. "Then what chance do we have of escape letting alone stopping them?"
Dr. Phlox looked at him, his expression deadly serious and not a hint of superiority in his voice. "You have me and the Sub-Commander."
They blinked. Trip looked puzzled. "What's this gotta do with T'Pol?"
"I have known the Sub-Commander for some years, Trip."
The Denobulan would have shrugged if he could have. "Nearly twenty years."
"Bloody hell!" Malcolm paused to catch his breath and exchanged a stunned look with Trip. "I know you don't want to talk about any of this but I'm afraid the time for secrecy is passed, don't you?"
* * * * *
Ensign Hoshi Sato had rarely been so shaken in her life. True, space terrified as well as fascinated her. The idea of meeting strange and exotic aliens was not nearly as comforting as listening to them through a com link then trying to piece together the mechanics of their language. Brain teasers she loved. Physical conflict of any kind simply made her sick to her stomach. Travis tried to convince her it did not make her a coward.
"We all have fears, Hoshi. It's a safety mechanism so don't go telling yourself that you are any less qualified to be out here than any of us because I just won't buy it and neither would the Captain."
"Yes, but if you'd seen Dr. Phlox crunching those bones..." She shuddered and closed her eyes.
Travis put his arm around her and gave her a big warm hug. For a moment she lost herself in a feeling of intense safety and well being. There was something very comforting about being with the boomer. Travis was not sure how to word what he was going to say. Knew he needed to tread carefully. The Vulcan Sub-Commander had impressed on him the need to give as little information away as possible though why that should extend to Hoshi he did not know. He could tell she was no copy. He would do as T'Pol instructed but he would also be there for Hoshi. After all. What was happening to them was affecting everyone. "What do you want to do? Want me to walk you back to your quarters or go get something to eat? We've still got two hours until we're back on duty."
"I think I should see the Captain. Tell him what I saw."
The boomer was not sure whether that was such a good idea or not. If Dr Phlox was a copy as now seemed likely would telling the Captain put them in more danger or less? He was sure the Captain was the real Jonathan Archer but the Sub-Commander seemed particularly careful around him. As if they had to watch their step even with him. But if they didn't go to the Captain wasn't that just as bad? Surely if they just kept this to what Hoshi had seen in sickbay it would not endanger anything? Hoshi gave him a dig in the ribs and he looked down with a slightly sheepish look on his face. "Sorry, I was trying to imagine the doctor eating his bat then telling the Captain."
She pulled a face. She did not fancy the task either but what else could she do? "You think I should leave it?"
Travis shrugged, wanting to be honest with her. "I don't know. I don't know enough about Denobulans to know if this is something they might do or whether it's some kind of aberrant behaviour we should be worried about but I suppose it can't hurt to tell the Captain."
Hoshi beamed at him. "Come on, let's do it."
He hesitated. "You want me to go with you?"
She gave him a big grin. The kind that set her eyes alight with sparkling amusement. The kind she knew he could never resist.
* * * * *
Sub-Commander T'Pol was in her quarters. She was deep in contemplation. Kneeling on a satin cushion and staring unseeing into the flame of a meditation candle. Incense burned and her breathing was light and even although she was deeply troubled. Her thoughts kept coming back to a certain irrepressible Chief Engineer. His laughing blue eyes gazing into hers with humour and trust. So many things she longed to tell him that now might never be shared. Something inside ached but she ignored it. Closing off the part of her that would keen if she examined it too closely. Her expression became harder. She reviewed everything gleaned so far and was glad to have the confidence of Ensign Mayweather. Her concern for the Captain though was growing stronger.
She decided to go deeper. Mind opening wider, breath changing and taking her below the surface trance she was now skirting. Her thoughts consigned to the waiting room of her mind while she delved into that rare and exotic wellspring all Vulcans shared from birth. Surak help her. Surak help them all.
* * * * *
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Four of you have made comments
An interesting part, but their are a couple of problems. In the TOS ep. "Balance of Terror" it was made quite clear that the Vulcans had no idea that the Romulans were a Vulcan off-shoot. And I belive the races split much longer ago. Didn't Riker once make a comment the some set of catacombs had been used in the last Vulcan civil war "over 2000 years ago"?
To address the above comment, maybe it's all smoke and mirrors. T'Pol could have been spinning a yarn to get Archer off her back about the Zenari. Especially since she suspects it wasn't the captain at all. My disbelief is suspended easily enough. :D
I'm loving this story, Alison!
maybe spock didnt know but that dosnt mean others dindt..
How would the Romulans get so far away from Vulcan? They would have to split off before Surak. Logical Vulcans would have the records. Maybe the Romulans were refugees fleeing a big war on Vulcan.