If you are seeing this paragraph, the site is not displaying correctly. You can see the content, but your current browser does not support CSS which is necessary to view our site properly. For the best visual experience, you will need to upgrade your browser to Netscape 6.0 or higher, MSIE 5.5 or higher, or Opera 3.6 or higher. If, however, you don't wish to upgrade your browser, scroll down and read the content - everything is still visible, it just doesn't look as pretty.
Author - Shouldknowbetter | B | Genre - Action/Adventure | Genre - Angst | Genre - Drama | Genre - Friendship | Main Story | Rating - PG-13
Fan Fiction Main Page | Stories sorted by title, author, genre, and rating
Rating: PG13, Angst, Drama, Friendship, Action/Adventure
Summary: Archer leads an assault against the construction site of the weapon being built by the Xindi to destroy Earth.
This series begins with “Down a Dark Road” which was originally part of the at TRIP! Fiction contest. The complete series is as follows:
Alternatively, it could be something quite otherwise.”
Archer maintained the impassive demeanor that he had adopted weeks before whenever the subject of the presumed site of the Xindi weapon construction site was discussed. “What else can you tell us, T’Pol?”
“Very little at this range. The second planet is Minshara class. Its energy emissions suggest the use of a limited amount of advanced technology.”
“What’s the probability of detection if we get closer?”
“High. As I said, there is space traffic within the solar system.”
“We could send in a probe, Cap’n,” Tucker suggested. “Those things don’t have much of a signature to give themselves away.”
The captain nodded slowly. “How long will it take to prepare a probe?”
Over his head, science officer and chief engineer exchanged silent opinions. “Three hours.”
“All right.” Archer rose to his feet. “Tell me when it’s ready for launch. I’ll be in the ready room if I’m needed.”
He left and the rest of the bridge crew relaxed just a little. Their captain hadn’t been his usual confident, out-going self for some time, and that and the strain of being in hostile space were starting to tell on them all. Now they could be near the end of their quest and tension had been rising for days, yet the thought of a respite before they might be required to take action was still welcome.
Tucker lowered the new module into the payload bay of the probe and clipped in the interface leads, running a quick check for integrity. “T’Pol, check that out, will you?” There was no response and he looked up to where the Vulcan was studying a screen to one side of the launch bay. “Hey! Sub-commander?” She looked enquiringly over at him. “Are you getting telemetry from the video module?”
She checked briefly. “Yes.”
“OK. Only half a dozen to go. You sure you want this many sensors modules?”
“It’s your call, I guess, but you won’t get much life from the battery.” Again there was no answer and Tucker frowned, unused to not being put in his place when he questioned the science officer’s judgment. “T’Pol?”
“Are you OK?”
Not satisfied, he scrambled to his feet to lean against the wall beside the terminal at which she was working, his arms folded. “Then why are you looking at the telemetry from the last module, not the new one?”
The Vulcan shot him a fiercely disbelieving look, checked her board and hurriedly switched to the next channel. “I apologise.”
“So what’s up?”
There was no response and Tucker was just about to give up waiting, disgusted with himself at having wasted his concern where it wasn’t wanted, when T’Pol said quietly, “Do you concur with the captain’s decision to investigate this planet?”
“Sure.” The woman kept her eyes on the board before her. “I thought you’d come round to the idea.”
“The source of the intelligence that led us here is still suspect.”
“Doesn’t the fact that there’s a planet right where the cap’n said there would be support the case?”
“It may eliminate the possibility that the captain’s experience was a delusion.”
Tucker grimaced at the bald statement. “Has he told you much about what happened?”
“Have you ever read any of those ‘what if’ history books?” He got only a blank look. “Where someone takes a pivotal moment in history and assesses what might have happened if things had turned out differently.”
“Such speculation is futile.”
“Maybe. But what d’you think would have happened if that Surak guy of yours hadn’t succeeded in convincing you all to give up your emotions?”
“It is generally held that we would have destroyed ourselves within a few generations.”
“But what if you hadn’t? Maybe you’d have ended up repressing the rest of us instead of yourselves.”
“Do you have a point to make, Commander Tucker, or are you merely insulting my people as usual?”
“My point is that the story the cap’n told was internally consistent. It could be that there’s another universe where the Vulcans are murdering bastards and we’re no better than pirates.”
T’Pol left a pause before replying. “To be believed, such consistency would be necessary.”
She raised her face to his, eyes intent. “We know that there is technology in the Delphic Expanse that can disrupt a Vulcan’s emotional control. Have you considered that there could be something which has an equally disruptive effect on a human?”
He stared at her in shock. “You think the cap’n could have been made to believe that he encountered another reality?”
“So you think that this is a trap.”
The woman turned back to the workstation. “I believe it is a possibility we should consider.”
“Have you told the cap’n?”
“Naturally.” She really did not need to say more. Tucker knew as well as she that for once Archer was not prepared to discuss their current agenda with his senior officers.
The engineer remained silent for a moment more and then moved briskly back to the half-constructed probe. “Let’s see what this can tell us.”
Archer was still in his ready room when they finally completed the pre-launch checks and Tucker took the message to the captain in person, more unsettled by T’Pol’s doubts than he was prepared to admit. The Vulcan science officer was always coolly certain of her facts and frequently condemned him for what she described as idle speculation. If she had a bad feeling about this … Not that T’Pol would admit to having anything as human as a feeling, but even so … He didn’t doubt Archer’s judgment but it was unusual for the captain to withdraw so completely from his officers … and from his friends. He’d barely spoken to Tucker for weeks about anything expect Enterprise and for once the engineer didn’t believe it was his fault. Archer had spent no more time with his first officer than with his chief engineer.
The ready room door slid open at Archer’s command and Tucker stepped inside, not comforted when he was greeted by a professional mask that hid any real feeling. “The probe’s ready for launch, sir.”
“I’ll be out directly.” Tucker hesitated and the captain looked enquiringly back. “Was there something else, commander?”
“No, sir.” He retreated in a welter of confusion and apprehension, but there was just no way to breach the impersonal wall that Archer had erected. At the moment, the Vulcan first officer was a hell of a lot more approachable than her human captain and that was unsettling enough in itself.
“Is anyone sitting here?”
Mayweather looked up with a pleased smile. “Be my guest.” He let Sato seat herself before reminding her, “I’m still waiting for that re-match, Hoshi.”
“No way.” She smiled back in the manner of someone who knows when to quit. “I am not going anywhere near a judo mat when you’re around.”
“You should give me a chance to even the score.”
“Oh, no.” The petite woman shook her head firmly to emphasise the point. “I’ll admit I got lucky, Travis. I am certainly not going to give you the chance to humiliate me.”
“Yes, you would.”
The banter over, Mayweather leant forward. “You still train with the marines, don’t you? What are they saying about this latest plan?”
“You know.” The young man took a cautious look around. “The plan for destroying the bomb.”
Sato’s expression was pitying. “We don’t even know yet if it’s really what we’re looking for, Travis. Besides, even if the marines knew anything, you can’t expect them to gossip about it.”
“Why not? We do.”
“We shouldn’t.” Determined to change the conversation, she stuck her fork into her meal. “Have you heard that movie night might be re-introduced?”
“What are they going to show? War of the Worlds?”
“That’s not funny!”
Mayweather sighed forlornly. “What is these days?”
T’Pol didn’t look up when Archer entered the science lab although he didn’t doubt that she was aware of his presence. Captain and first officer were treading warily around each other these days and Archer knew the fault was his but at the moment there was only one subject dominating this thoughts. Maybe one day soon there’d be time for other things, like friends and cultural exchanges, and if there wasn’t … then it was doubtful that he’d be around to regret it. “What have you got?”
“The results from the probe are inconclusive.”
“Tell me anyway.”
There was the faintest hint of a sigh from the science officer as she pulled a summary up onto the display. “A Minshara class planet. Such sentient life as there is, I judge not to be native to the planet. There is a single settlement in this area of the southern hemisphere.”
“Any sign of what we’re looking for?”
She gave him a look that suggested she would have liked to ask him to clarify, but in the end did not bother. “Possibly.” The simulation of the planet changed orientation slightly. “Approximately one hundred kilometres from the settlement, there is a large crater, the result of meteor impact some few thousand years ago. Within that,” she paused fractionally, as if reluctant to continue, “it appears that …something … is being constructed.”
“Can you be more precise?”
The woman’s full lips thinned at the harsh tone. “It is a large structure, although clearly incomplete. The power signature emanating from it suggests an matter/anti-matter reactor.”
“Capable of powering a warp engine.”
“There are other uses.”
“It’s good enough for me.” Archer straightened. “Thank you, sub-commander.”
“Captain!” He halted, barely looking at her over his shoulder. “There are other factors to be considered.”
“Why a weapon capable of destroying a planet would be constructed on the surface rather than in orbit.”
The captain turned slowly to face the Vulcan, expression hard. “You’ve fought me every step of the way on this one, T’Pol. Now we’re here and the evidence supports my case and I’m not about to back out.”
She regarded him in silence for a moment, chin raised. “Then I will not trouble you with my ‘damn scepticism’ again, captain.”
A flicker of emotion crossed Archer’s face then it was gone and shortly after the man followed it, leaving the Vulcan to stare pensively after him.
Archer halted at the door to the expanded gym where the contingent of marines were doing brutal but fortunately harmless things to each other, knowing that he had been spotted and was being ignored just to show him that Enterprise’s captain carried very little weight in this department. Eventually, Casey slapped his sparring partner on the back and came unhurriedly across, slinging a towel around his shoulders. “Captain.”
“I’d like to discuss a mission with you, general.” Behind them, he was aware that the other marines were watching attentively.
“About time.” The other man’s tone was sardonic and Archer’s hardened in response.
“You keep telling me to leave it to the professionals. Now you’ve got your chance.”
“A marine-only mission? No Starfleet personnel along for the ride?”
“I guess I don’t have to ask what our target is.”
He was told anyway. “There’s a planet a few hours flight by shuttle pod from here. I’ve reason to believe it’s the construction site for the weapon the Xindi are building to destroy Earth. I want you to take it out.”
“Consider it done.”
The arrogance was annoying but Archer let it stand. He simply nodded and was at the door before he delivered his ultimatum. “One condition on your autonomy, general.” The marine commander had returned to his team but looked back. “I’m going with you.”
It was late in the ship’s night when Tucker buzzed at the door to Archer’s quarters, but the immediate response told him that the captain had not been asleep. Sure enough, when he entered his friend was seated on the bed, dressed in sweat pants and tee shirt, the water polo ball lying in his lap. As usual, Porthos had had more sense than his master and was curled up in his basket in happy oblivion. To make the point that he wasn’t about to be shrugged off this time, Tucker dragged up a chair and straddled it, resting his chin on his folded arms as he watched the other man.
“Maybe. I heard a real crazy rumour that you’re taking off with only a pack of marines for company.”
Archer tossed the ball up and caught it. “That’s right.”
“No, it’s not! Come on, Cap’n,” Tucker’s frustration and anger were obvious, “you can’t do this.”
“Four pips say I can.”
“Take me with you.”
“No! Trip, listen to me.” Archer leant forward, finally putting some of his feelings over the past month into words. “This could be the final push and it’s dangerous as hell. The marines are trained for it. We’re not. I’m not going to risk the crew when I’ve got professionals who can do the job.”
“Then why are you going?”
The captain leant back with a grimace. “Because I have to.”
“So do I.”
“Now you listen to me, Cap’n!” Tucker’s pointing finger was accusing. “You didn’t lose anyone in the attack on Earth. I did! I’ve the right to hit back at these bastards.”
“Trip,” Archer scooted forward to take the engineer by the shoulders, “that’s why I can’t let you go. I can’t take the risk that you’ll lose your temper down there.” He gave the other a brief shake. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“I can handle it.”
The captain retreated to the far end of the bed. “I’ve made my decision, Commander Tucker. That’s final.”
“Here is the final analysis of the results from the probe, Captain.”
“Thank you.” Archer leant across the ready room table to take the PADD held out to him. “Is there anything else, Sub-commander?”
“I understand that you intend to accompany the marines when they attack the installation.”
“May I ask why?”
He sighed and rested his head back against the headrest behind him. “Let’s just say … this is something I have to see through to the end.”
“I will join you.”
“Run that one past me again, Sub-commander. I must have misheard.”
An eyebrow twitched. “Logic dictates that the installation you wish to destroy will be heavily guarded and protected by surveillance equipment. I am sure that the marines can deal with the guards. I doubt that they can neutralize the surveillance equipment.”
“I can handle that if necessary.”
She took a step closer and dropped her voice. “You need me.”
“What’s changed your mind?”
“Yesterday, you thought this was a wild goose-chase. Now you’re proposing to come along. Why the change of heart, T’Pol?”
“I am merely attempting to minimize the risk and increase the probability of success.”
Archer rose and crossed to a view port. “I wanted to leave Enterprise in your hands.”
She followed him, sensing victory. “I am sure that between them Lt. Reed and Commander Tucker will be able to return Enterprise safely to normal space.” He glared at her for second-guessing his feel that, win or lose, their chances of survival weren’t high, and she repeated quietly, “You need me, Captain.”
“Malcolm.” Archer looked up as the armoury officer entered. “Have a seat.”
“I feel it my duty to point out, sir, that I really ought to go with the assault team.”
For a moment, the captain’s mouth pulled into the first smile, almost a laugh, that Reed had seen in a long time, but it faded even as he shook his head. “Not this time, Malcolm. Sit.” He waited for the Englishman to get settled then leant forward, hands clasped loosely in front of him on the desk. “These are my orders, lieutenant. Once the assault team leaves Enterprise, we’ll maintain radio silence. You’re to wait two days. If we haven’t returned by then, you’re to run like hell for the border with normal space because I expect the area will soon be swarming with Xindi ships. Is that clear?”
Reed was frowning. “You expect us to abandon you, sir?”
“No, lieutenant, I’m ordering you to abandon us. If we fail, Starfleet will need Enterprise and the experience we’ve gained here. If we succeed,” Archer shrugged, “then we’ll be back.”
“Things are rarely that simple, Captain.”
“Let’s assume they will be.” The captain rose and held out a hand. “Good luck, Malcolm.”
Tucker was fussing over the retro-fitted hull plating of the second shuttle pod when Archer came to find him, not bothering to extricate himself from the compartment he was buried in even when the captain crouched down for a look. “How’s it going?”
“How much protection will it give us?”
“About 30% extra.”
“It was 80% for Enterprise.”
“Enterprise has a warp reactor to supply the power.” The engineer finally crawled out of the cramped space. “You wanna get there any time soon?”
“That’s the plan.” Archer settled into a nearby seat – there were plenty of them, the small ship had been stripped to carry as many people as possible – watching his friend running a series of checks on the engineering board. “Trip.”
“I’ve told Malcolm, but I’ll tell you too: no rescue attempts if this goes wrong.”
Tucker’s reaction wasn’t what Archer had expected. He whipped around, eyes narrowed. “T’Pol’s going with you.”
The other man’s teeth closed hard on his lower lip then he turned away. “Fine.”
“She offered, Trip.”
“So did I.”
“I know.” There was no response and nothing else that Archer could think to say. An apology just didn’t seem appropriate. He moved slowly towards the exit, lips pressed tightly together.
“Cap’n.” He glanced back and met Tucker’s eyes. “Watch your back.”
Archer nodded and left; there still wasn’t anything appropriate to say.
Tucker didn’t bother with a greeting, wasting no time when T’Pol opened the door to her quarters. “The cap’n says you’re going with him.”
“You thought this was a trap. What changed your mind?”
She moved a few steps away to put a more decorous distance between them. “I am still of that opinion.”
“So why are you going? No, don’t tell me: the Cap’n needs you.”
“It is a fact.”
“I’ll swap you.”
“I doubt that Captain Archer would consent to such a suggestion.”
“No, I guess he wouldn’t.” The tone was unforgiving and Tucker was still staring angrily at the Vulcan. “Aren’t you worried that the Xindi might use one of those mind twisting devices on you again?”
Unconsciously or not, Tucker had moved closer again and again T’Pol increased the distance between them. “Having experienced such a device once, I am sure I will be able to deal with the consequences should I encounter one a second time.” For the first time since he entered, she met his eyes and Tucker frowned.
“You’re scared, aren’t you?”
“No rational creature purposely courts danger. However, fear is an emotion that I do not …”
“Don’t.” He halted bare inches from her, forcing her to look up at him. “If you think I don’t know by now that you have emotions same as the rest of us, then you’re wrong.”
She stared back for a long moment. “Then do me the courtesy of ignoring my … weakness.”
He grimaced at the rebuke, looking away for a moment before catching her eyes again. “Keep safe, T’Pol.”
“Commander.” He turned back from the door. “I was about to meditate.” There was no reaction from the human. “Would you care to join me?”
He hesitated a moment longer. “Sure.”
“Hoshi.” Archer stared at his communications officer for a moment, trying not to sound as if he would rather be left alone. “What can I do for you?”
“I was just passing, sir.” The fact that her cabin was two decks below her captain’s went unchallenged by either. “I was wondering … would you like Porthos to stay with me while you’re away?”
At mention of his name, the beagle came over to see what was on offer, jumping up to rest his forepaws on Sato’s knees, and Archer laughed reluctantly. “I think you’ve got your answer, Ensign.”
She smiled back. “Then I’ll pick him up in the morning.” Her full attention was suddenly on the small dog as she crouched down to pet him. “I know he worries about you when you’re not here.”
Archer’s mouth pursed. “I’m sure you’ll tell him that I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll do that, sir.” She gave Porthos ears a final pull and straightened. “Goodnight, captain.”
The two shuttle pods disengaged one after another and dropped away from Enterprise, the second falling into position behind and to one side of the first once Mayweather had confirmed that they were clear. The view screen on the bridge tracked them while they remained visible then there was just the normal view of space and an oppressive silence.
Tucker left the engineering board where he had been checking that the shuttle pods’ new shielding was functioning correctly and wandered over to tactical. “Aren’t you gonna try out the cap’n’s chair?”
Reed lifted his head to look first at his friend and then across at the vacant command position. “I thought I’d stay here for a bit, actually.” He returned to studying his board. “They’ll be back soon.”
The engineer rubbed thumb and forefinger over his eyebrows and returned to his own station. So he wasn’t the only one with a bad feeling about this mission. That knowledge didn’t make him feel the slightest bit better.
They approached the solar system on a vector that took them through the asteroid belt, hard flying for the pilots but with a lower probability of detection, then paused in the frozen shelter of one of the outer planets for T’Pol to collect what detailed data she could. Aware that there were nineteen humans impatiently awaiting her findings, she still took all the time she needed before flashing her conclusions up on a side display and repeating them to the other shuttle for Casey’s attention.
Archer gave the information a cursory look and nodded approval. “It supports what the probe told us.”
“Then it’s a go. We can’t refine the plan anymore until we’re down. Tell Casey.”
“The general just said the same, sir,” the marine communication officer reported, gently reminding the Starfleet captain that this was not his operation. “He said we’re to go in separately and meet as planned.”
“Fine.” Archer slipped back into the pilot’s seat. “I’ll follow him.”
They went in fast, descending at a dangerously acute angle through the atmosphere that pushed the design envelop of the shuttle pods as hard as it would go, but which might just duck them below the detection threshold of the planet’s surveillance equipment. Fighting the shuddering controls, Archer thought briefly that this must rival the first flight of the NX-Alpha, then required every scrap of skill and concentration to hold his course as they broke through the upper layers of the atmosphere and hurtled onwards. The landing was far from smooth and earned him a hard look from T’Pol when she was tossed practically onto his lap as the shuttle pod slid to a final halt on the very edge of a noticeable drop. Archer drew a deep breath and politely set his first officer on her feet before turning to check the rest of his passengers. “Everyone OK?”
There was a muttered chorus of agreement from the eight marines and Moreau, the troop leader, immediately set about disembarking while Archer looked over at T’Pol. “Can you locate Casey’s shuttle pod?”
“It came down approximately 15km from our current location.’ She added calmly, “I do not believe it is intact.”
Archer silently cursed himself for not having insisted that Mayweather come along. “Survivors?”
“Then we’ll head for the rendezvous as agreed. Casey will get word to us there. Were we detected coming in?”
“I have no way of knowing.”
He nodded acceptance; it had been a long shot. “Let’s see about camouflaging the shuttle pod.”
Archer was sure that T’Pol was amused once they had stepped outside and seen the trail of ploughed earth and disturbed vegetation that Shuttle Pod 1 had created as it landed. “I believe,” the Vulcan observed dryly, “that camouflage may be inadequate. Terra-forming, perhaps?”
He glared at her as Moreau said, “The sub-commander’s right, captain. We’d be wasting our time here. We should clear the area.”
He nodded agreement and swung his pack onto his back. “Lead on, Lieutenant.”
It took them over four hours hard climbing to reach the pre-defined rendezvous point and even then the result was disappointing. Surface mapping by the probe had indicated that their vantage point should provide a view into the crater where construction was ongoing but the clouds had come down and even T’Pol’s scanner could reveal nothing further.
Cold, damp and none the wiser, Archer settled down beside the Vulcan to wait for the other party of marines to join them, chewing on a ration bar. “Want some?” She shook her head and pulled her thermal blanket more closely around her shoulders. Concerned, Archer silently offered her half of his and after a moment’s hesitation she moved closer and settled it in place. “This could get to be a habit.”
“Twice in three years is hardly habit forming.”
“You never know. You said you didn’t mind the smell anymore.”
“I said that I had become accustomed to it. I did not say that I found it pleasant.”
They sat in silence for a few moments then Archer added quietly, “I’m glad you’re here, T’Pol.”
She turned to look up at him. “Commander Tucker is not.”
He ducked his head. “I know.”
“Why were you so reluctant to allow him to participate in this mission?”
“You know the answer to that, T’Pol. He’s too unstable.”
“He is not.”
“That decision must be yours.”
“You’re the one who’s been working with him.”
“He is your friend.”
“You think I’ve let personal feelings get in the way of command judgment?”
Archer raised a hand to rub his mouth. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I didn’t want Trip here. So where does that leave us, T’Pol?”
The sound of climbing to reach them before the Vulcan could answer and the whole group came to their feet, weapons leveled until Casey’s head appeared over the lip of rock behind them. He nodded acknowledgement to Moreau and approached Archer, expression grim. “We crash landed. I lost two dead, another four injured. I’ve had to leave them in a safe location – I hope.”
The general grimaced and went to peer over the far edge into the drop where the crater should have been visible. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Archer. All right, let’s move out.”
Another long period of careful scrambling brought them to a lower level and a narrow gap between rocks from which the faint sound of running water emerged. For the umpteenth time, T’Pol consulted her scanner while the rest waited patiently then she looked up. “This cave network connects to the complex built into the northern face of the crater.”
Casey peered at the map on the small display while Archer asked doubtfully, “Any sign of surveillance equipment within the caves?”
He scanned the grey-cloaked sky above them. “And no sign of an aerial search for us.”
“Be grateful.” Casey pointed two of his men. “Secure this entrance. From the look of, it’ll take us a couple of hours to reach the target.” He beckoned the rest to follow him and started through the narrow gap. “Let’s go.”
They made slow progress within the caves even with the equipment they had brought and more than once Archer was grateful for happier times spent climbing with Tucker and Robinson. Their way was always down and that worried him. It meant the way out would be up, but then the important thing was to get there; no one had been under any illusions about the risks they ran.
The walls and floors of the caves gradually grew wetter and eventually T’Pol brought them to a dead end in the lowest corner of a small chamber where water trickled through a hole in the floor, presumably at some times of year completely flooded. Puzzled, Archer frowned a question and she gestured through the hole. Cautiously he stretched out full length on the wet floor and peered downwards, letting a little torchlight shine through. There was water running below and he was about to ask again when he noticed that the walls of the stream were smooth and straight – shaped by technology, not by nature. One by one they lowered themselves into the drain and splashed onwards.
There was a relief team on the bridge when Tucker wandered in although Reed was still there, now sitting in the command chair as he stared pensively ahead.
“Anything?” Tucker leant on the side of the chair to ensure his question wasn’t overheard.
“Not a thing.”
“Early days, I guess.”
“It is with a comm.s blackout in place.” Reed shook his head. “I don’t like being out of touch.”
“Better than calling attention to themselves, I guess. D’you wanna take a break?”
“Not just now.”
“Not thinking of sitting it out for the whole two days, are you, Malcolm?”
“Did you have a better plan?”
“Now you mention it … maybe not.”
“They’ll be fine.”
“Sure.” The two men exchanged faintly sheepish looks and Tucker sighed. “Maybe I’ll go and polish the main reactor.”
Several hundred metres down the drain there was an access hatch in the ceiling. Archer lifted T’Pol up so that she could reach the control panel and was only starting to breath a little heavily by the time she had it decoded and could ease the hatch aside and crawl out. They pulled themselves out after her into a dimly lit but dry corridor. Again Casey left two marines behind to hold the position while the rest crept on to an intersection where the general called a halt, holding out a hand for T’Pol’s scanner. “Where are we and where are we headed?”
“It may be easier to consult that map.” Archer suppressed a smile at the other man’s chagrin as the Vulcan indicated a stylized map printed onto the opposite wall: he’d pretty much become inured to T’Pol doing that sort of thing to him. She crossed to it and indicated a point in the lower left hand side. “We are at this junction.” Her finger moved to the centre. “Power readings indicate that this is some form of control room. I suggest we head there.”
“Where are the official exits?” Casey asked and she pointed to the upper edge of the map.
“There are two, one into the crater itself and another onto the plain beyond, through a long tunnel.”
“No easy way out then?”
“All right.” The general took a look around and prepared to move on. “But I’d feel happier if there was anyone else around.”
“It’s the middle of the night,” Archer heard one of the marines murmur. “Maybe they don’t work shifts.” He hoped that was true.
They met their first check when T’Pol, who had her scanner constantly to hand, touched Casey’s arm to bring him a halt. “The corridor is blocked by movement sensors.”
“Can you neutralise them, ma’am?” Archer had noted that the marine’s respect for the Vulcan had been increasingly steadily over the course of the last few hours.
“I believe so.” She slipped off her pack and extracted a small device into which she entered a few instructions before setting it on the floor and consulting the scanner again. “Proceed.”
They still slid by cautiously, but no alarms sounded and they continued through the eerily silent corridors, pausing only when necessary for T’Pol to check their route or to overcome more of the security measures they encountered. She brought them at last to a larger corridor and, ahead of them, high double doors decorated with a spiral design.
“The control centre?” Archer whispered and she nodded.
“The doors are sealed but there appears to be no one within.”
“Why the hell not?”
“I have no idea.”
“Can you open the doors?”
“I believe so but it may take some minutes.”
Casey took charge once more, again splitting his party as he left four of the marines to guard the last opening behind them and took the remaining three forward to keep watch with himself and Archer while T’Pol worked on the doors. She was the only one not breathing hard by the time she had finished, the rest succumbing to the unease that the echoingly empty place provoked, then she stepped back and nodded to Archer. He stretched out a hand and the doors slid obligingly open.
Casey and the marines dived through and the captain followed more slowly, T’Pol so close on his heels that she ran into him when he halted only a pace inside, feeling as if he’d been kicked in the stomach. The room was empty apart from a single terminal in the middle of the far wall that consisted mostly of a large window overlooking the crater. Through the window the half completed structure could be seen, rearing up a dozen stories high. While Archer still stood dumbfounded, T’Pol walked slowly across to the terminal and studied it briefly. Then she reached forward, made one slight adjustment and through the window the image of the weapon shimmered and flicked out, banished as easily as the fog that had earlier concealed it from their view.
On Enterprise, the strain of waiting was taking its toll. The senior staff had all drifted back to their posts hours ahead of schedule and were now doing some serious worrying and very little work. Sato broke first. “We should call.”
“And if they’re hiding from a Xindi patrol and a communicator goes off at the wrong moment?” Reed asked from where he had retreated to the tactical station. “Radio silence means radio silence, Ensign.”
“Malcolm right, Hoshi.” To Reed’s surprise, Tucker for once came down on the side of reason. “They know what they’re doing.”
“I think they’re in trouble.”
The engineer sighed and shook his head. “We all do, Hoshi. There’s just nothing we can do about it.”
T’Pol turned to where her captain still stood frozen. “Captain, this is a decoy. We should leave immediately.”
It was Casey who nodded and pointed his marines towards the door, waving T’Pol ahead of him. She had to tug on Archer’s arm to get him moving as ahead of them the marines reached the room’s threshold and all hell broke loose as a cacophony of alarms went off and the light levels rose sharply. The noise was sufficient to make them all reel and clap hands to their ears then Casey recovered and forced them on to where the other marines were waiting and the sound was perhaps a bit less deafening. “Quickest way out?” he yelled at the Vulcan woman and she signaled one direction then hesitated, eyes widening as she consulted her scanner. “What is it?”
“Blast doors are coming down. The corridors are reconfiguring.”
Casey swore. “Which way?”
This time they ran since concealment was clearly no longer an issue, T’Pol keeping an anxious eye on Archer. He had not spoken since they entered the mock control centre and she had never seen him look so dazed, almost stumbling as he ran. Ahead one of the marines rounded a corner too fast and fell back screaming with blood pouring down her chest. The others returned fire instinctively while Casey edged forward for a look and to drag the woman back, although he left her after the barest check and waved them all back the way they had come. “Too many. We need another route, sub-commander.”
Another two marines had fallen by the time they fought their way back to the centre again and then there was only one way to go. Casey grimaced and nodded in response to T’Pol’s silent point; the crater would at least give them room to manoeuvre and maybe they could climb out although privately he doubted it; they had reached the end of the road and it wasn’t going anywhere.
Whatever Casey’s private opinion, perhaps the Xindi thought that their quarry was succeeding too well. The party from Enterprise were nearly out into the crater when T’Pol’s warning flung them all to the ground so that the blast rippled mostly over them. Shaking his head, Archer picked himself up slowly and took a quick look behind him but the explosion had perhaps done them some good. The ceiling had come down and maybe that would give them time to get clear. Casey was urging them on and Archer reached down to help T’Pol up. The arm he grasped was limp and he gritted his teeth as he stooped to pick her up. If she was badly hurt … Then Casey was back at his side. “Leave her.”
Archer blinked upwards, thinking he must have misheard. “What?”
“She’s dead. Leave her.” The captain hardly heard the last, staring blindly down at the woman in his arms whose head was lolling back at an unnatural angle. “The blast caught her. Captain, come on.” The words still didn’t make sense and Casey swore, dragging the stunned man to his feet. “Archer! Move!” He shoved the captain onwards by main force and then they were out into the empty crater. Casey took a quick look around and gestured to the steepest slope above them. “Up there.”
“Commander!” Sato’s voice snapped them all out of their silent brooding, even if her outburst wasn’t directed at the man currently in command of Enterprise. “I’m receiving a distress call.”
“Who from?” Tucker also ignored the fact that Reed should be asking the questions.
“General Casey. He says they’ve taken heavy casualties and are under attack. He says,” she raised panicked eyes to the engineer who had moved to her side of the bridge, “it was a trap.”
Tucker’s eyes closed as his mouth moved silently for a moment. “Anything else?”
He spun around to face the helm. “Travis, take us in.”
“Belay that order!” Reed moved out from behind the tactical station. “Commander Tucker, do I have to remind you that you’re not in command here?”
“Then what’s your plan, Malcolm?”
“Captain Archer’s orders were explicit. No rescue attempts.”
“Maybe those were your orders, Lieutenant. They weren’t mine.”
Reed dragged the engineer to the side of bridge. “You’ve been relieved of command! This is mutiny!
“Then I’ll stand court martial for it. But I’m not gonna leave our people to be slaughtered.”
“Trip, it was Casey who made the call.” There was compassion in Reed’s voice. “The captain and T’Pol must be dead.”
“It doesn’t matter.” That possibility was gnawing his heart out but he couldn’t think about it now. “What’s it to be, Lieutenant? Are you with me or against me?”
Reed would have liked to accuse his friend of being crazy with anger but the eyes holding his were calm: determined, yes, but calm. This wasn’t the infuriated maniac who had been ready to murder a child in cold blood but a Starfleet officer who was focused on saving as many of his crewmates as he could. The hell with orders; his great-uncle would have understood. “We can’t go in blind. We need a strategy.”
Appreciation flickered briefly on Tucker’s face. “That’s the easy part, Malcolm. There’s only one option left.”
“You got it.”
“How long will you need to get a lock?”
“Fifteen, maybe twenty seconds.”
“With the hull plating discharged?”
“If they hit us with those high energy weapons during that time …”
“You’ll have to see that they don’t.”
“You won’t have more than one shot at it.”
“Better than none. Is that enough strategy for you, Malcolm?”
For answer, the Englishman turned to the front of the bridge. “Ensign Mayweather, set a course for that planet. Maximum impulse.”
They had managed to climb a scant 100m up the face of the crater before the Xindi broke through the blocked tunnel below them and a dozen or so surged out into the open. The marines picked off enough to send the rest back into cover then Casey directed them a little further up to where a lip of rock gave them limited shelter from below. The five of them sank down panting and Casey took an assessing look at Archer who had still not spoken. “We can’t hold out for long, not if they call in air support. How long will it take Enterprise to get here, Captain?”
The other man shook his head in the manner of someone climbing out of deep water. “They won’t come.” His voice was husky.
“I sent an emergency message before we started climbing. Unless the Xindi have dropped a jamming screen around the planet, it should get through.”
“I told Malcolm not to risk a rescue. His orders are to get back to normal space.”
Casey grimaced and peered downwards. “How good are your officers, Archer?”
“Then I’ll not give up hope yet.”
Wearily, Archer leant his head back against the rocks behind him. How much of Casey’s optimism was assumed for the sake of his men’s morale, the captain could not bring himself to wonder. They’d lost – and the blame was entirely his.
Enterprise’s run into the planet wasn’t unopposed. She was barely half way there when Mayweather said sharply, “Three Xindi ships, sir.” ‘Sir’ seemed the safest form of address at the moment when it wasn’t entirely clear who was in command. “They just emerged from behind the sun.”
“I can see them, Ensign.” Reed was at his usual station. “Tactical alert. How’s the new shielding looking, commander?”
“Adjust your course, ensign. Intercept those ships.”
“They pack more firepower than usual, Malcolm,” Tucker warned from engineering and Reed grinned as a rare mood of recklessness gripped him. He was committed now and if this venture cost him his commission then he fully intended to make the most of it.
“Loading torpedoes, maximum yield.” Giving himself orders could get to be a habit; they were such sensible orders. “In range in three, two, one, firing.”
A torpedo sped away and must have caught the first Xindi ship napping because it erupted in a satisfyingly large explosion although Enterprise shuddered not long after as they came within weapons’ range of the remaining Xindi ships.
“Hull plating’s holding.”
“How long for?”
Enterprise rocked again and they all grabbed for handholds. “At this rate of fire … five minutes.”
“Is that it?” The protest was instinctive. Reed was already targeting a second ship although that failed to disintegrate. “Damn.”
“Target their aft sector, Malcolm, just behind the plasma manifold. There’s a glitch in their shielding there.”
“Got it.” The armoury officer spared a look at the wider tactical view. “Travis, can you bring us up under them? It’ll shorten the torpedoes’ intercept time.”
This time it was Mayweather’s piloting that had them grabbing for support as the inertial dampers failed to compensate for the wild manoeuvring and Tucker winced as a conduit failed behind him although he didn’t protest the abuse of his ship; for once he was fully in favour. It paid off, at least. As Enterprise hurtled up towards the two remaining Xindi ships, who appeared to have momentarily lost their target, Reed launched a further four torpedoes that all found their targets, one ship exploding, the other beginning to drift helplessly.
Reed nodded in fierce satisfaction. “Resume course for the planet, ensign. Who’s on the transporter, commander?”
“I am.” Tucker headed for the lift at a run. “Watch out for more of those ships, Malcolm.”
“Good plan!” Unfortunately the engineer was already gone and so missed the biting sarcasm.
Having reached the transporter room and relieved its operator, Tucker could only wait for Enterprise to reach orbit and it gave him time to think, not something he wanted to do at that moment. He swore softly and ducked his head, breathing deeply as he calmed himself. If … He wrenched himself back into focus. Not now, Trip: concentrate. “Bridge to Tucker.”
“Go ahead, Malcolm.”
“We’ll be in position in approximately 90 seconds. I’m discharging the hull plating now.”
“You’ll have to be.” The Englishman’s voice was calm but there was an edge to it. “There are another five ships approaching from the outer solar system. We’ll be in range of their weapons in less than five minutes.”
“I’m on it.” Again Tucker took a deep breath as he began to correlate sensor results forwarded to his console with the output of the transporter’s targeting scanners. One shot; he’d better make it a good one.
“We’re in position.” Reed’s voice had become more urgent. “Have you got them?”
“No.” There were assorted life signs in the target area and none were human.
“Four minutes to intercept.”
There. A small group – far too small given the twenty individuals who had left Enterprise. Tucker could feel himself starting to shake as he locked on the transporter.
“I’ve got a lock. Energising.” The patterns solidified slowly, five filthy men and women crouched together on the platform, who looked up in stunned surprise as the room appeared around them.
Casey recovered first. “I’ve more people down there. Can you find them?”
Tucker had located Archer amongst the group and was searching in mounting disbelief for someone else, but forced himself to look down at the sensor results again. “There are no other human life signs, general. I’m sorry, sir.”
“Commander,” Reed again, “have you got them?”
“Yeah.” Tucker heard his voice shake and bit his lip hard, willing the emotion away.
“Is Captain Archer there?”
Tucker nodded, realized that was no use over the comm. and forced himself to look at his friend who was slowly picking himself up. The captain met his eyes for the briefest moment then headed unsteadily for the nearest comm. outlet. “Get the hell away from here, lieutenant. Out.”
“Cap’n,” it was about the most stupid question he’d ever asked but he couldn’t prevent it escaping, “where’s T’Pol?”
Archer didn’t respond, just walked out of the door that closed silently behind him.
Through a process of elimination, Archer had already worked out where Tucker had to be, so he wasn’t surprised, when he opened the door to T’Pol’s cabin, to find his chief engineer there. What did surprise him was finding the younger man cross-legged in front of a meditation candle. “Trip.”
For a long moment, as Archer sunk onto the low bunk, there didn’t seem to be a lot else to say. Then, “You came here to meditate?”
“Yeah.” Archer wondered if he sounded as hoarse and wrung out as Tucker; almost certainly he did. “I never got around to asking permission to have an open flame in my quarters and I guess … I wanted to be here.”
“You were very fond of her, weren’t you?”
“Yeah.” Tucker’s lips pressed tightly together for a moment then he looked up. “I know you and she …” He broke off shrugging.
“She was a good friend. Like you said once before … I’m going to miss her.”
“Me too.” Tucker glanced around the cabin, breathing deeply. “I can’t really believe she’s just … gone. Nothing left. Not even a body to bury.” Archer sat very still as his friend continued softly, “I always wanted to protect her … even though I knew she didn’t need it.” He paused, swallowing. “And I couldn’t save her.” He gulped, starting to shudder. “I wasn’t even there.”
A hand rose to cover his eyes as he fought the long buried grief and Archer, who had realized seconds earlier that it wasn’t just T’Pol whom Tucker was talking about, did the only thing left to do. He slid off the bed onto the floor and caught Tucker in a hard embrace, holding him tightly while he sobbed for T’Pol, for Lizzie, and for who knew how many others. And while Tucker cried and clung to him, Jonathan Archer sat dry eyed, rubbing his friend’s back, wondering how long it would be before the engineer worked out that the only person to blame for T’Pol’s death was her captain.
Have a comment to make about this story? Do so in the Trip Fan Fiction forum at the HoTBBS!
A whole mess of folks have made comments
Absolutely BRILLO PADS! Poor Trip, poor T'Pol - stupid Archer!!! Arrrggghh, I can't believe he would not listen to T'Pol even if he wanted to ignore Trip. But you know what? I don't believe she is dead. I think she'll find a way to let Trip know and he'll find a way to go back for her. If not, I'm going to have some mightly sad dreams for like...forever. Thanks for an excellent story Ali D :~)
Oh my goodness, can T'Pol really be dead?
Somehow, I think not, but that was an excellent installment in the chain of stories. But then, they're all excellent. Looking forward to the next part, and thanks.
And Ali, I loved that line about denial, tee-hee.
This series has me on the edge of my seat. I, like everyone else, refuse to believe T'Pol is dead. There must be some twist, flaw, anything, that kept her alive.
STUPID ARCHER! POOR TRIP! ARGH!
Nice ending though, even if Archer is waiting for the other shoe to drop. At least Trip finally allowed himself to grieve. And maybe, just maybe, it helped their friendship that he grieved like that in the presence of Archer.
NO!!! You can't you haven't no!!!!!!!!!!!
Casey you ass, she wasn't dead she can't be.
Archer you stupid idiot! It was a trap.
As always, great stories. Little different than your usual?!? but great none the less. Definately looking forward to your next installment.
very powerful and very sad but needed that trip finally allows himself to grieve..
is tpol dead..
i wonder if ShouldKnowBetter is familar with the tos episode private little war..
You do have a knack for weaving wonderful stories! I can't wait for your next installment! (And like the others, I do hope you didn't kill off T'Pol.) Thank you!
Aaghhh!! I knew the information from the Mirror Universe was too good to be true in Archer's universe too...
::grits teeth:: Must resist urge to bash Archer... must resist...
I'm crossing my fingers that T'Pol isn't dead, or that it's all been some kind of weird hallucination...
Very good action scenes -- I generally skim over them, but these had me on the edge of my seat -- and the ending was brilliant.
Oh! You had me grieving right along with Trip. Say it ain't so, Joe. T'pol can't be =dead=, right? RIGHT????