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 | Genre - Action/Adventure | Genre - Angst | Genre - Drama | Genre - Friendship | Main Story | N
Fan Fiction Main Page | Stories sorted by title, author, genre, and rating
This series begins with “Down a Dark Road” which was originally part of the at TRIP! Fiction contest. The complete series is as follows:
“Sub-commander.” Archer stepped onto the treadmill next to her own and began to run. He had at least ceased trying to turn it into a competition.
“Captain.” The civilities over, perhaps he would now allow her to continue considering her latest dilemma.
“Are you sure you’ve got no idea what’s going on, T’Pol?”
“I am positive.”
“I thought he might have said something to you privately.”
“Since Commander Tucker is avoiding me, that is hardly likely.”
Archer nearly tripped and had to slap the emergency stop to prevent an ignominious landing on the floor of the gym. “I was talking about Soval.”
T’Pol’s stride did not falter although she flicked him a brief glance. “I apologise.”
He reached over and halted her exercise machine. “What’s the problem with Trip?”
“He has ceased to meditate with me.”
“We agreed he was OK.”
“Indeed. However, I believe that he would still benefit from periods of calm and reflection.”
“I’m sure you’ll nag him into submission eventually.” Archer ignored the Vulcan’s outraged stare and began to run again with a poorly suppressed grin. “Now we’ve got that cleared up, do you know why Soval’s had a sudden change of heart?”
“Care to speculate?”
“It’s quite an about-face.” T’Pol also re-started her treadmill, suppressing a sigh. Discussing an issue when they had no facts was pointless. “One minute he’s supporting Starfleet’s decision to recall us. Now he’s petitioning for us to stay.” If her companion had been Commander Tucker she would have suggested that Ambassador Soval was endeavouring to delay a meeting between them, but she did not think that Archer would be amused. “Maybe you’ve won him over to the notion of time travel.”
If she did not respond, he would no doubt interrupt her exercise programme again. “I doubt that.”
“Bridge to Cap’n Archer.” T’Pol kept running while the captain went to respond to the hail; hopefully he would be needed and leave her in peace. “Cap’n,” Tucker sounded confused, “we’ve detected a small ship closing with us – fast.”
“No, sir. Vulcan.”
Tucker slipped out of the command chair as Archer appeared on the bridge, mouth tightening as he noted T’Pol following close on the captain’s heels; neither had bothered to change into uniform. “Sorry to disturb you, Cap’n.”
Archer appeared not to hear the edge to the engineer’s voice. “You did right. What else have we got?”
“Not much. The ship’s still catching us up – at warp 8.”
“Impressive. Hoshi, are we in hailing distance?”
“Just coming in range, sir.” She raised a hand to her ear before Archer could give the order. “They’re contacting us now.”
“Put them on.”
The man who appeared on the main screen was Vulcan, apparently in his mid thirties although that was certainly deceptive. “Captain Archer, I presume?”
Disconcerted, Archer told himself sternly that no Vulcan would have heard of Stanley and Livingstone and wouldn’t have made the joke even if he had, but his hesitation gave his first officer time to act. T’Pol pushed past him, anger clearly visible on her normally calm face. “What are you doing here?”
One of the man’s eyebrows rose slightly. “I was sent to rendezvous Enterprise.”
“You may tell the High Command that I will not return to Vulcan.”
The eyebrow climbed higher. “I will do so, of course, but you mistake my presence here, T’Pol. I have not come for you.”
Her glare didn’t abate but this time her pause gave Archer an opportunity. “You clearly know who I am. Would you care to introduce yourself?”
“Sub-Commander Skon, attached to the Vulcan High Command. I …”
“Captain, you must not trust him.” T’Pol’s voice was fierce. “He is an undercover agent. He is trained in deception and subterfuge.”
Taken aback by his first officer’s unprecedented behaviour, Archer looked between the two Vulcans, frowning, and Skon added calmly, “T’Pol is correct. Many of my missions are covert in nature. Not this one, however. There would be no logic in sending me secretly where I am known.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
“I have information for you.”
“What’s wrong with sub-space communication channels?”
“Ambassador Soval thought the data best delivered directly.”
“Soval sent you?”
“Indeed. He takes a … personal … interest in your mission, captain.”
Archer took another look at T’Pol then turned back to the screen. “Then you’d best come onboard, Sub-Commander Skon. Prepare for docking, Ensign Mayweather.”
For once Archer disregarded courtesy in favour of curiosity and dispatched Tucker to welcome their guest, bundling T’Pol into the ready room for a brief inquisition. “All right, T’Pol, what was that about?”
“Captain?” She had herself in hand again and turned a blankly questioning look on him.
“Don’t play games with me, T’Pol. What have you got against this Skon?”
“I believe I made myself clear. He is an undercover agent.”
“You said that I shouldn’t trust him. Is that a personal opinion or a professional one, sub-commander?”
There was a pause while Archer watched with interest the faint play of emotion across the normally expressionless face. Leaving aside outside interference, the last time he’d seen the Vulcan so moved was during their encounter with Menos, also a relic of her past. “If Skon has indeed been sent by Ambassador Soval … I have no reason to doubt his professional integrity.”
So his first officer had a personal reason for her dislike of the other Vulcan. Now that was interesting and invited a lot more questions, none suitable for the ready room. Fortunately for his self-control, Tucker ushered Skon into the room at that moment and Archer rose to his feet as T’Pol glared and retreated to the farthest corner. “Sub-Commander Skon, welcome to Enterprise.” The Vulcan was tall, well built and, Archer noted, extremely attractive – at least by Earth standards. Was he just overly suspicious? No, he didn’t think so. “I’m surprised to see you in the Delphic Expanse after the warnings I received from Ambassador Soval before we left Earth.”
The Vulcan’s head tilted slightly as he took the seat Archer indicated. “The risk was judged acceptable given that you had reported that it was technology rather than the Delphic Expanse itself that had an adverse effect on Vulcan mental discipline.”
“They gave you a fast ship,” Tucker remarked with a definite trace of jealousy and Skon turned to observe him.
“A risk reduction measure.”
“An experimental ship?” T’Pol’s tone was scornful. “That was a risk in itself.”
“An acceptable one.”
“You’ve obviously gone to a lot of trouble to find us,” Archer put in firmly. “What do you have to tell us, Sub-Commander Skon?”
The Vulcan leant forward a little, steepling his fingers as he rested his hands on the table before him. “My information concerns the origins of the Delphic Expanse.” He paused to be sure he had their full attention. “It would appear that it is not a natural phenomenon.”
There was a moment’s stunned silence then Archer said slowly, “I find that very hard to believe. Something two thousand light years across …”
“I would have agreed with you, captain,” Skon’s voice was as level as T’Pol’s when she was delivering a report, “had I not investigated the matter myself.”
Skon flicked a look at the other occupants of the room before meeting Archer’s eyes. “Captain, I must stress that what I am about to tell you is highly classified. That is why I was charged with delivering this report personally.”
“Surely Soval’s told Starfleet.”
“Not yet. If you choose to believe me, then the authorities on Earth will be told what I have already reported to you. They will not be informed of the source of the intelligence.”
“Why is Soval prepared to trust me?”
An eyebrow moved slightly and Archer recognised the signs of mild amusement. “He is not, captain, but he was confident that without the background information you would not accept the plain fact … and Ambassador Soval considers it imperative that you do believe.”
“I’m flattered by the ambassador’s trust.” The captain’s tone was sarcastic and again he noted Skon’s amusement: not the most inscrutable of Vulcans they’d ever encountered, but easier to deal with than some. “I take it you won’t object if my officers are present for this report of yours?”
“It was anticipated that you would tell them anyway.”
Archer considered becoming annoyed but decided against it. “Well?”
“Has T’Pol spoken to you of the Rihannsu?”
The captain glanced over at his first officer who was still regarding Skon with visible dislike. “A little. We ran into them a while back.”
“Then you know that they are an offshoot of the Vulcan people, ones who rejected the teachings of Surak and left our planet to follow their own path over two thousand of your years ago. But perhaps you do not know that for nearly five hundred years, before they found a planet where they could settle, they were nomads, roaming space in the days when few other species in our sector of the galaxy had progressed beyond their own solar systems.”
“There has been no contact with the Rihannsu since they left.” T’Pol’s tone was aggressive. “How do you know this?”
“No official contact.” Skon looked up mildly at the other Vulcan. “We have … monitored … the Rihannsu from time to time over the years.”
“What have the Rihannsu got to do with the Delphic Expanse?” Archer queried before T’Pol could speak again and Skon turned politely back to him.
“Once it became obvious that you were determined to enter the Delphic Expanse despite all warnings of the dangers you would face, the High Command decided to assist you.”
“The Vulcans want to help us?” Tucker asked in patent disbelief and Skon shot him another of those amused looks.
“Let us say … the High Command was persuaded that it would be in our interests to do so.”
“Ambassador Soval,” T’Pol said flatly. “He authorised your mission.”
“I believe that I will allow the ambassador to answer your questions himself.”
“This is all very interesting,” Archer intervened again, “but can we keep on track here?”
“Of course, captain. To be brief … I was sent amongst the Rihannsu to see if their oldest records contained any references to the Delphic Expanse. I am, after all,” and the look he shot at T’Pol was wry, “an undercover agent.”
“And they did?” Archer was becoming annoyed with the by-play although Tucker was plainly enjoying it.
“They did. You must understand that the references are fragmentary. The Rihannsu have frequently fought amongst themselves over the centuries and much has been lost. But it seems clear that during their time of wandering a significant proportion of their ships were lost … as thermobaric clouds formed around them, cutting them off from the main fleet.”
“You’re telling me that the Delphic Expanse came into existence two thousand years ago?” Skon nodded in response to Archer’s disbelieving question. “Who created it?”
“The records are silent on that subject.”
“Did any of the Rihannsu ships survive?”
“A few. Enough to be sure that the area of space they described beyond the thermobaric clouds was the Delphic Expanse as we know it today.”
Archer rose to pace, hoping the action would settle his mind that was having trouble keeping up with the flow of preposterous information. “And Soval expects us to buy this story?”
“I do not believe the ambassador expects to be paid for the information.”
“He means,” T’Pol told the other Vulcan repressively, “that we are expected to accept the truth of what you have told us.”
“I have told you what the Rihannsu records say. I may be trained to lie, Captain Archer, but I am telling you the truth on this occasion.”
“I don’t doubt your sincerity, Skon.” Archer came back to lean on the table. “But …”
“It is true,” T’Pol said slowly, “that the existence of the thermobaric clouds has never been explained. They should dissipate.”
“Agreed.” There was a faint tightening of the muscles around Skon’s mouth. “The most recent Vulcan expeditionary force to enter the Delphic Expanse was intending to investigate the matter.”
Archer shook his head slightly. “I’m going to need some time to think on this one, Skon. What you’ve told us … at the moment, I have no idea what to make of it.”
“Of course, captain.” The Vulcan rose. “May I be permitted to stay on Enterprise while you debate the matter? My own ship is a trifle cramped.”
“You certainly can, sub-commander. The least we can do after you’ve come all this way is to offer you our hospitality.” Archer wondered what he had done to earn himself the glare from T’Pol – then realised that it was obvious.
T’Pol had thought that Skon would have the common decency to avoid her, but when he approached her in the science lab she recalled that common decency had never been one of his outstanding characteristics. “T’Pol.”
“I have nothing to say to you.”
“Indeed? I thought that there were many things you wished to say to me, T’Pol.”
She turned away from the dry humour that had attracted her when she was too young to recognise that it masked a lack of principle and a great deal of inconstancy. “Our association ended long ago – at your choice.”
“At the time it seemed the logical thing to do.”
Her shoulders stiffened. “You could have spoken to my father.”
“I could. He may even have listened – right up until the moment he recalled that I carry the gene that allows me to join my mind with that of another.” T’Pol whipped around to face him and Skon regarded her widened eyes sadly. “He would not have allowed you to break your betrothal for such as I, T’Pol.”
“I do not believe you.”
“Because our government allows me to serve our people? Are you still so naďve, T’Pol? I am a useful tool and so my … taint … is overlooked.”
“You were always cynical.”
“As I trust I will always be.”
“I did not marry Kos.”
“So I heard. I could hope it was for me if I did not believe otherwise. At least I can discount your shipmates.” She glared at him in furious silence and one of Skon’s eyebrows climbed. “You surprise me. Although if you hope to win your father’s support …”
“I told you that we had nothing to discuss! Leave!”
He regarded her furious face a moment longer and obeyed. She would not talk to him now, but he was curious to know which of the humans had attracted her; it might tell him whether her preferences had changed over the intervening years.
When Tucker entered the mess hall in search of a late night snack, he found their guest staring disapprovingly at the mug in his hand and went to offer his help. “Need a hand?”
The Vulcan’s mouth was firmly set in a straight line but Tucker got the distinct impression of distaste. “I believed that I had mastered the interface to your drinks’ dispenser. However, when I requested ‘tea’, I was supplied with this.” Skon directed a frowning look at the golden brown liquid. “It is … unusual.”
Tucker grinned and relieved the Vulcan of the mug. “You’ve got Malcolm to blame for that one. He moaned for six months until we had the dispenser programmed to give him just what he wanted.” He slipped a fresh mug into the slot. “Mint tea.” He gestured for Skon to take the mug. “T’Pol drinks it, so I guess it’s acceptable to the rest of you.”
“Thank you. It is … refreshing.”
“Care to join me?” Skon inclined his head in polite thanks and followed the engineer to a table. “You’re not eating?”
“Not at this time. You are familiar with T’Pol’s habits, I see.”
Tucker grimaced. “Small ship. You get to know everyone’s likes and dislikes soon enough.” He slanted a pseudo-casual look at the other man. “I got the impression you’ve known each other quite a while.”
“We commenced our training at the same time and served together many times until T’Pol withdrew from covert operations.”
“I didn’t know she did that.”
“She was very good.”
“Yeah, I guess she would be.” Tucker’s tone was faintly mocking and Skon’s eyebrow twitched.
“I see that you are familiar with T’Pol’s tendency to excel at whatever she undertakes.”
For a moment, Tucker met the Vulcan’s calm stare with a frown then noted the amusement and grinned. “Oh, yeah. Doesn’t that just annoy the hell out of you?”
“It can be … provoking.”
“So how old is she?”
This time he got a fully lifted eyebrow. “If T’Pol has not told you, Commander Tucker, I cannot betray her confidence.”
“I might have known you’d stick together.”
“Of course. As two Vulcans amongst so many humans, we have no choice. T’Pol has my respect for serving here so long.”
“I guess it’s not been easy for her.”
“She has friends on Enterprise?”
“Yeah.” Tucker turned his attention to his food. “She and the cap’n are real close.”
The other man’s tone was thoughtful and Tucker reflected belatedly on the nature of the conversation and frowned at his companion. “Are you sure you’re Vulcan?”
“I have no reason to doubt the matter. Why do you ask, Commander Tucker?”
“You’re not much like any other Vulcan I’ve met.”
“And how many of my people have you encountered?”
“Dunno. Maybe … ten?”
“Hardly a statistically significantly sample. We are all individuals, commander, although we follow the same path. Would it surprise you to know that T’Pol’s father cares for her deeply? He was grieved when she insisted on entering the Delphic Expanse.”
“Are you gonna take her back?”
“I believe you heard her reject that idea from the first. Taking T’Pol somewhere against her will is not something I would care to attempt.”
“Can’t argue with you there.”
The Vulcan drained his mug. “Thank you for the tea and for your company, commander. I hope we have the opportunity to speak again.”
Conferences via sub-space communication channels were never easy and the fact that Forrest knew that information was being withheld from him did not make this one go any more smoothly. “How many times do I have to say this, Jonathan?” After fifteen minutes the admiral was growing angry. “Given your recent performance, Starfleet will simply not accept any more uncorroborated theories from you or your officers.”
“Hardly uncorroborated,” Soval put in icily from the table beside Forrest. “You have Sub-Commander Skon’s word on the matter.”
“And I don’t see, ambassador, why the Vulcan High Command found it necessary to communicate directly with Captain Archer rather than via official channels.”
“The information is classified.”
“Then declassify it and Starfleet will decide how to proceed!”
“We have recommended a way forward.”
“Enterprise is a Starfleet vessel, Ambassador Soval. She’s not available for your use.”
“Admiral, if I may,” Archer put in when it became clear that the two men on the other end of the line were likely to argue all day, “all we want is the chance to investigate the theory that the Delphic Expanse is not a natural phenomenon. We’re not asking to go after the Xindi again.”
“Jon, you’ve got no evidence to support the theory – and don’t tell me that’s what you intend to find. Your credibility’s low even with me at the moment. First you get a mysterious message from the future telling you that the Xindi are responsible for the attack on Earth. Then you encounter another universe where you find out where this weapon site is, only that proves to be a trap. Then Sub-Commander T’Pol returns from the dead with another message from the future that contradicts the first. Now you want me to believe that the Delphic Expanse is an artificial construction.”
“I admit it doesn’t sound very plausible, admiral.”
“It sounds like a bad science fiction series!”
“The time travel can be dismissed,” Soval stated firmly. “The Vulcan Science Directorate …”
“The Vulcan Science Directorate be damned!” Archer was also losing patience. “How else do you explain T’Pol’s presence?”
“The logical explanation is that she was not killed.”
“I have reason to believe that my experience was genuine.” T’Pol’s interjection was quiet but they all looked sharply at her and she continued with difficulty, “Dr Phlox will confirm that I was suffering from Pa’nar Syndrome before my … death. All sign of the disease is now gone.”
Soval was looking at her in shock. “There is only one way to contract Pa’nar Syndrome.”
“Did you consent?”
“No.” She was clearly uncomfortable while the ambassador was equally obviously furious.
“Who was it?”
“The matter is closed.”
“Give me the name, T’Pol.”
“I will not.”
“The fact is,” Archer took over again, “that T’Pol’s been cured of a disease for which there is no cure. It supports the case for time travel.”
Forrest shook his head. “Jon, there still isn’t …” The image began to break up and the admiral frowned, indicating that the problem was visible at his end too. “What’s …”
The screen blanked as Mayweather’s voice came over the comm. “Captain Archer to the bridge.”
It was a scramble with four of them packed into the ready room but Archer emerged first, closely followed by T’Pol and Tucker while Skon brought up the rear, although they all halted at the sight of the main screen where the stars that should be visible were fading rapidly. Mayweather barely glanced behind him. “Captain, I’m losing navigational references.”
“I don’t know, sir. We were proceeding as normal, then ahead of us the stars … started to go out.”
The science officer had moved to her station and Archer looked over hopefully. “Anything, T’Pol?”
“Nothing.” She straightened, expression carefully neutral. “Quite literally nothing. Sensors are showing a blank.”
The view screen was now completely black.
“Captain,” Skon said firmly, “if you will permit it may be that the sensors on my ship can prove of more use.”
Archer nodded and the Vulcan left swiftly while the captain took his seat. “How far have we moved since you first saw the effect, Travis?”
“Only a few thousand kilometres, sir. I held our position as soon as I saw what was happening.”
“Good thinking. Can you back us out manually?”
“I can try, sir, but without reference points, I’ll be guessing.”
“Give it your best shot, Ensign.”
“Ay, sir.” Ten silent minutes later Mayweather was forced to shake his head. “This isn’t working. We’ve travelled twice as far as we did coming in.”
“Hold your position.” Archer looked over at Sato. “Any luck, Hoshi?”
“No, sir. I’m not even getting background noise.”
The bridge doors opened and Skon reappeared, shaking his head at Archer’s silent question. “My sensors show nothing. Navigation is impossible. Communications are dead.”
The captain faced front, glaring at the view of emptiness before him. Why the hell did these things keep happening to them?
Tucker slid himself into the cramped space inside the Vulcan ship and looked around in surprise. “No wonder you wanted to stay on Enterprise.”
Skon leant back in the single chair that appeared to double as a bed and surveyed the scene himself. “Space is … limited.”
“You can say that again,” then the human added hurriedly, “Not literally.”
“I was assigned to Earth for some years, commander. I find your language confusingly idiomatic, as do all my people, but I can usually infer the meaning.”
Tucker regarded him suspiciously. “So when you made that crack about Soval not expecting to be paid …” An eyebrow twitched and the engineer shook his head. “You could take some getting used to. Have you found anything?”
“Nothing: a word of which I am growing tired.”
“Will Captain Archer attempt to move Enterprise again?”
“I don’t see what other choice we have. He’s discussing it with T’Pol and Mayweather right now. Will you want to cut loose if we try?”
“I believe it would be prudent for us to remain together at this time.”
Tucker grunted in half-hearted acknowledgement and took another look around. “So this baby does warp 8, huh?”
“I suppose I couldn’t have a quick …”
“The information is classified.” Tucker grimaced and Skon looked at him with amusement. “If it is any consolation, commander, I do not believe that this prototype will be developed further. It is proving impossible to create a stable warp bubble that would be large enough to encompass a ship of a practical size.”
“You wanna try twin nacelles.”
“That option is being discussed.”
“However there is resistance to adopting an idea developed by your species.”
“Perhaps. Commander, do you know how T’Pol came to contract Pa’nar Syndrome?”
Tucker started at the abrupt change of subject then his face darkened. “I didn’t even know she was sick! You’d have to ask her … or the Cap’n.”
“She has made it clear that conversation with me is insupportable.”
“You two were real close, weren’t you?”
Skon’s expression didn’t change. “Such things are not spoken off.”
“The fault was mine, commander. I raised the subject; I should not have done so.”
“Wanna go get something to eat?”
“Given our lack of progress, it seems the logical option.”
It was not one of the most comfortable decisions Archer had ever made but, as T’Pol so succinctly pointed out, they really had no other option than to proceed on their way – cautiously – and hope that they would pass through the area of nothing-ness into which they had inadvertently stumbled. Mayweather was confident he could steer a straight course even though he would be flying blind and that was the main concern dealt with. The captain packed his helmsman off to bed – there seemed no reason why they shouldn’t all get a night’s sleep before attempting to leave the area – and then realised that he had missed lunch. “T’Pol.” She had been on the point of leaving the ready room. “Care to join me for dinner?”
“I was intending to meditate.”
He took her arm, steering her out of the room. “Plenty of time afterwards.”
“I am sure Commander Tucker would bear you company.”
“Indulge me, sub-commander. It’s been a long day.”
It had been a long day for her too, and her captain had not been forced into company with someone he had hoped never to see again, but since she was not prepared to tell him that she had to comply. There were times when she wished Archer would take her personal opinions into account rather than forcing her to do something she would rather not, but … he was her friend as well as her captain and she trusted him – which was more than she could say of some of her own people.
They entered the captain’s mess via the mess hall and T’Pol halted abruptly when she caught sight of Skon and Tucker seated together, deep in conversation. She should have guessed that the engineer would find much in common with her former … colleague. “T’Pol?” Archer’s query and the hand on her back urging her forward made her aware that she was standing in the middle of the room glaring at the two oblivious men and she allowed herself to be propelled into the private dining area. “What’s wrong?” Archer was shaking out his napkin, regarding her from under lowered brows. “You only look that annoyed when Trip’s done something outrageous.”
“The commander is dining with Sub-Commander Skon.”
“You know Trip. He likes new company.”
“Indeed. They are much alike.”
“Trip and a Vulcan? Are you sure about that, T’Pol?”
“Skon is irreverent, unreliable, lewd and … annoying.”
Archer accepted a plate of food and waited for the steward to leave. “That’s … pretty damning.”
“They will no doubt encourage each other.”
By now, Archer was having trouble controlling his mirth although T’Pol was so focussed on her condemnation of the two men that she had not noticed. “Do you want me to rescue Trip?”
“I am sure that Commander Tucker does not consider himself in need of rescue.”
“T’Pol,” finally she looked up at him, disapproval plain, “just what happened between you and Skon?”
Tucker signally failed to extract any technical information from Skon over dinner, just as he had failed to persuade the Vulcan that pepperoni pizza would be a lot more interesting than salad, so he reverted to something that had been bugging him all day. “Why has the Vulcan High Command suddenly decided that we deserve their help?”
The other man regarded him levelly over the rim of a mug of mint tea. “It has been Vulcan’s policy to aid humanity ever since we established contact with your species.”
The engineer’s mouth pulled to one side. “Yeah. But your idea of help wasn’t ours. Now you’ve gone to the trouble of contacting these Rihannsu and coming into an area of space you told us to avoid. Why?”
Skon returned mug to the table although his hands continued to clasp it loosely. “You have a very low opinion of us, Commander Tucker.” He continued before the human could protest. “Your planet does not stand alone against the threat it faces. You may think that the Vulcan people care nothing for your fate, but that is not true. We fear you, yes, but never would we condone what was done to your world.”
“You fear us?”
“Indeed. You are a passionate, restless species. Perhaps we recognise in you something we lost when we took to the way that Surak found for us – something we do not regret losing. By your presence amongst us, you change us and the universal order we have known, and change is never comfortable.”
“We’re one species! Years behind you in technology.”
“You will close that gap more quickly than you believe and then the rest of us should beware.”
“We’re not a threat to you.”
“Are you not? I think that Captain Archer is one of those rare individuals who can summon the future and all my knowledge of my history and yours tells me that such men are dangerous.”
“Christ? Ghandi? Surak?”
“Hitler. Khan. S’Task who led the Rihannsu from Vulcan. Just because one man has an overwhelming vision of how the world should be and the force of personality to bring it about does not make him right.”
“You mean Surak didn’t just logic them to death?”
Skon came as close to a smile as Tucker had ever seen a respectable Vulcan. “My ancestors would not have taken the time to listen to the logic of Surak’s arguments before putting him to death had he not been a great leader as well as a man of vision. I think sometimes our politicians forget that.”
“You should be a politician yourself.”
“By long tradition, my family are scientists. My son, perhaps.”
“You have children?”
“Not as yet.” Skon turned his head to look at the blackness beyond the window. “My wife was serving on the last Vulcan ship to enter the Delphic Expanse. That ship was destroyed.”
“T’Pol told me. I’m sorry.”
“We had been married less than a year. We did not know each other well.”
“I thought Vulcan couples lived together for the first year.”
“Traditionally that is so. My wife preferred to return early to her duties.” Skon looked thoughtfully at Tucker. “You know surprising details about us, commander.”
The engineer shrugged uncomfortably. “You pick up stuff.”
“So I see.” He sighed, glancing again at the window. “If you will excuse me, commander, I must meditate for a time.”
“Sure.” Almost shyly, Tucker added, “Would you mind if I joined you?”
An eyebrow rose. “I have no objection, but I was not aware that your species followed the practise.”
“We don’t but … I had some problems and T’Pol taught me. It helps.”
“Then you must certainly join me. Has T’Pol rejected your company?”
“No.” Tucker rose to his feet. “Your cabin or mine?”
Archer had been asleep but it took him no more than five minutes from the time Phlox called until he reached sickbay. “T’Pol?” She was seated on a biobed, arms clasped tightly around her knees, her eyes fearful as she looked up at him. He crossed to her at once, dropping a hand onto her shoulder; she was trembling slightly. “What’s wrong?”
“It was Skon.” Her voice was barely audible. “He came to my quarters. He … forced me …”
Shocked and furious, Archer swung on Phlox who was hovering nearby. “The sub-commander claims that she had been subjected to a forcible mind-meld again,” the Denobulan said calmingly, addressing what he clearly saw as the captain’s primary concern.
“Claims?” Archer’s tone suggested that he wasn’t happy with the doctor’s phrasing.
“There is little physiological evidence. Last time …”
“He forced me!”
T’Pol’s distress was obvious and Archer’s brow furrowed. “No one doubts your word, T’Pol, but … you told me that the telepathic ability was limited to only a few Vulcans. Is Skon one of them?”
“He is. He told me so only yesterday.”
Archer’s mouth compressed as he looked over at Phlox. “Any sign of the Pa’nar virus?”
“It’s too early to tell, I’m afraid. I would have to examine Sub-Commander Skon.”
“You’ll have the chance, doctor.” The captain’s voice was grim as he crossed to the comm. outlet. “Lt Reed, find Sub-Commander Skon and bring him to sickbay.”
It was barely fifteen minutes later when Reed escorted the other Vulcan into sickbay, although why Tucker had come along Archer didn’t bother to ask. He rose from his seat next to T’Pol, who still hadn’t uncurled herself, subjecting Skon to a hard scrutiny. “Can you account for your whereabouts this evening, Sub-Commander Skon?”
The man was looking at T’Pol, a faint frown visible, and he spoke absently. “I can.”
Archer scowled, not appreciating what he saw as equivocation. “Then tell me.”
“I ate in the mess hall then I returned to my cabin to meditate. I have been there ever since. T’Pol …” She flinched and turned her face away and Tucker sidled closer, clearly worried.
“What’s happened, Cap’n?”
“T’Pol says that Skon forced his way into her cabin and mind-raped her.”
He got a startled look from both men while Reed frowned and shifted his weight, a hand automatically dropping to check the location of his phase pistol. “When?” the engineer demanded.
“Within the last hour.”
“That can’t be, Cap’n.” Tucker was clearly uncomfortable, not wanting to disbelieve the science officer. “I’ve been with Skon the whole evening.”
“It’s the truth, sir. We ate together and then we went to his cabin to meditate.”
“No!” T’Pol had raised her head to glare at Tucker. “You are wrong. He forced me!”
“T’Pol …” He didn’t know what to say, too honest to prevaricate.
“Skon has assaulted him too.” She was looking at Archer. “His memories have been changed.”
Frowning, Archer looked over at the tall Vulcan. “Is that possible?”
“If you are asking me if I could do such a thing, I do not know. If you are asking if I would, then the answer is no.”
“He is lying.”
Frustrated, the captain looked around at the assembled people finishing on T’Pol who was staring at him, still far from her normal self. He trusted her and the other Vulcan was an unknown quantity. “Lt Reed, place Sub-Commander Skon in the brig. I want you to lead the investigation into this matter – but not until we’re out of this region.”
“Yes, sir.” Reed had drawn his phase pistol but it wasn’t needed. Skon met Archer’s eyes for a moment then inclined his head and preceded the armoury officer from the room.
Phlox decided that T’Pol needed to stay in sickbay overnight so Archer left with Tucker. “You’re not to blame, Trip.” He had taken note of the other’s gloomy expression but the words, spoken as soon as they were in the corridor, only made the engineer scowl.
“Sure! Just call me as a character witness. I liked the guy.”
“So did I.” Archer sighed, shaking his head. “I can’t understand why he’d do such a thing.”
“Maybe he was jealous.”
“You think he and T’Pol …?”
Tucker shrugged. “He wouldn’t say.”
“Neither would T’Pol.” The captain was looking grim. “I can see why she doesn’t want to go back to Vulcan if this sort of thing happens.”
“Are you sure you’re OK, Trip?”
“Phlox couldn’t find anything wrong.”
“That’s not an answer.” He still didn’t get one and resorted to old-fashioned tactics. “Come on, I’ll buy you a beer.”
They never got to have a quiet drink: the scream reached them when they were only a few metres further on. They took one quick look at each other and ran, sliding to a stop as Lt Hess appeared from a side corridor and clutched at Tucker, panting. “What is it?”
“Xindi.” She gestured behind her. “I saw a Xindi climbing into the Jeffries tube.”
With a silent curse, Archer headed for the nearest comm. unit to initiate an intruder alert, leaving Tucker to calm his usually unflappable second, but although they combed the ship electronically and manually they could find no sign of an alien presence. Tired, angry and frustrated, Archer ordered Mayweather to get them moving; he was no longer prepared to take the risk that this area of space wasn’t as empty as it appeared.
The beam from the Xindi probe moved with agonising slowness across the Florida countryside but however slowly it moved, he couldn’t get there in time. It was always just ahead of him and as it reached the edge of the town he could see what it did to the people, vaporising flesh, turning bones to dust, destroying everything he’d ever loved. He wouldn’t be in time, he never was, but he still tried so he got there as the beam reached Lizzie’s house, saw her run outside, saw her eaten alive and as he howled in protest because the beam never touched him, a second woman stepped out of the house and his voice stuck in this throat so that he couldn’t even shout a warning or tell her that he loved her too.
Tucker jerked up in his bunk, the warning coming out as little more than a protesting grunt. For a moment he could do no more than try to catch his breath then he stumbled into the bathroom to splash cold water over his sweating face, still breathing hard. It hadn’t been that bad in a while and having T’Pol in there as well was a new twist that he could do without. Shaken despite the familiarity of the dream, he ran a wet hand over his face again and stared at his reflection in the mirror, which was hardly reassuring: the man who stared back looked scared to death. He closed his eyes, admitting that it was his own fault. He’d been avoiding T’Pol because he was afraid she’d notice his changed feelings towards her but he needed her help to control the dreams; the basic meditation he could manage alone, but not the advanced version that made him feel so very calm. Maybe he could persuade her to let him try by himself, but she’d been reluctant whenever he’d asked before. Pity he couldn’t convince himself that she wanted his company. More likely she didn’t want to have to explain to Archer why his chief engineer had ended up in a coma.
Slicking his damp hair back from his face, Tucker headed for the shower. Trying to sleep any more would be pointless. He might as well get some work done instead - and if his route to Engineering took him past sickbay, then no one was likely to notice.
When Reed dropped by the armoury during the morning, he didn’t expect to find three of his staff in a huddle so it was with some irritation that he stared them down until they scattered to get on with their work. It was only then that he noticed that the fourth member of the team was missing. “Where’s Hendricks?”
“We don’t know, sir.” Hassan hesitated and then added cautiously. “That’s what we were just discussing.”
“It’s a touch late to be oversleeping.” Although it wouldn’t be the first time. “All right, Hassan, go and get him up – and tell him to report to me here.”
“Yes, sir.” The woman departed, wishing that they had chased up their absent colleague before their boss appeared. Lt Reed was famed for the virulence of his rebukes – and all uttered in the politest terms possible. Personally, she’d rather be shouted at by Commander Tucker.
It wasn’t Hassan’s lucky day. Hendricks didn’t answer his door buzzer so she let herself in, starting to lose sympathy with him. If he stayed up half the night drinking beer and watching terrible old movies it was his own affair but she wasn’t going to cover for him any more. “Robbie?” The cabin was dark and she fumbled for the switch, glad that all the cabins had the same layout. “Rob…” She didn’t even complete his name as the lights came up and reflected in the dead eyes staring back at her.
Archer was getting very tired of visiting sickbay, particularly when it was to view a corpse. He’d spoken to Hassan who had refused his suggestion of taking the rest of her shift to recover, preferring to return to work, and was now staring down at the lifeless body of yet another of his crew. “What happened to him, doctor?”
“I have no idea.” The Denobulan drew a sheet over the man’s face. “I can tell you the cause of death but I can’t explain it.”
“He suffered multiple injuries consistent with having fallen from a considerable height.”
“But he was found in his bed, doctor,” Reed protested, coming to stand at Archer’s shoulder, his arms folded.
“And he died there, lieutenant. But his injuries say he fell.”
“Could he have been moved there after he was dead?” Archer suggested, but Phlox shook his head.
“There is no indication that the corpse was moved.”
Reed shook his head in silent disbelief. “Do you want me to investigate this as well, Captain?”
“If you would, Lieutenant.” The Englishman nodded and headed for the door while Archer drifted across to the bed where T’Pol was sleeping, curled on her side. “How is she?”
It was the Denobulan’s day for resigned ignorance. “Her symptoms aren’t responding to treatment. If anything, they’re getting worse.” He sighed. “She is still adamant that Sub-Commander Skon attacked her.”
“You doubt that, doctor?”
Phlox gave a small shrug to indicate his uncertainty. “I have no reason to question Sub-Commander T’Pol’s word but … the synaptic damage is different to when she was attacked before.”
“Keep me informed, Doctor.”
“Of course, Captain.”
Sato didn’t bother asking permission but took one of the free seats at the table where Tucker and Reed were eating lunch. “I heard about Hendricks. I’m sorry, lieutenant.”
“So will the bastard be who did it,” the armoury officer said firmly. “Once I find him, of course.”
“Small ship,” Tucker offered encouragingly. “There aren’t that many places to hide.”
“Do you think it was those Xindi that Lt. Hess saw?” Sato asked anxiously, but Reed shook his head even as he swallowed a mouthful of food.
“We made sure the ship was clear, Hoshi. They didn’t stay onboard.”
“But they could’ve come back.” She shivered. “I dreamt that there was one in my cabin last night. It was horrible. I was glad to wake up.”
Tucker gave her a strange look as Reed shrugged. “If we jumped every time one of us had a bad dream, we’d be on constant alert. Odd thing though.” Annoyingly he ate another mouthful of steak pie before enlightening his colleagues. “Hendricks used to have those dreams where you think you’re falling.”
“Everyone has them.” Sato was dismissive. “I’ve had a dream where I was abducted by aliens.”
“We’ve all had them, Hoshi.” Reed was smiling at her, glad of the distraction from the death of one of his team. “It’s called serving on Enterprise.”
“No! This is where you think you wake up but you can’t move because you’re really still asleep. In the 20th century, people who had that sort of dream thought that they’d been abducted by aliens.”
“Probably the Vulcans.” Tucker hadn’t really been listening.
“What you are talking about?”
Sato shook her head and gave up on intelligent conversation. The men just weren’t interested.
Tucker slipped into sickbay on his way back from lunch, pulling Phlox to one side. “How is she?”
“Much the same as this morning.” The Denobulan was plainly amused by the engineer’s frequent visits although Tucker was too distracted to notice.
“Can I talk to her?”
“Of course.” Phlox watched the human approach the bed and allowed himself a smile. If he was any judge, Captain Archer had acquired a rival.
The Vulcan was still curled on her side and Tucker hesitated before saying softly, “T’Pol?”
She couldn’t have been asleep because she opened her eyes at once, staring up at him for a moment before saying with faint indignation in her voice, “You have been avoiding me.”
“Yeah. Sorry about that.” He kept his voice down, not wanting Phlox to overhear. “T’Pol, are you sure that Skon attacked you?”
She withdrew immediately, putting her back to him. “I should have anticipated that you would take his part.”
Tucker sighed; he’d put his foot in it as usual. “I think there’s something strange going. I just want to know if this is part of it.”
“If something is wrong, you should tell Captain Archer.”
“I will.” The Vulcan was very far from her normal self and Tucker never could cope when that happened. “T’Pol, please, just listen to me.”
“I am listening.”
“Could you look at me too?”
Slowly she moved back, raising unusually vulnerable brown eyes to his. Tucker winced; if T’Pol didn’t hate him for this, he’d hate himself enough for the two of them. “Have you ever dreamt about being attacked like this?”
“You do not believe me.”
“I do!” Without thinking, he gripped one of her hands. “And I know you can control your dreams but … have you ever had one like that?”
She didn’t answer at once and he was sure her mouth trembled a fraction. His fingers tightened instinctively. “Yes.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“I’ll tell you later.” Reluctantly he released the warm, soft hand that surprisingly hadn’t tried to pull free.
“Why will you not meditate with me anymore?”
Tucker grimaced, a hand reaching out to touch again before he pulled it back. “I will later.” Then he left before he could do anything stupid.
Tucker spent the next hour failing to achieve anything at all on his schedule then gave in. He’d take his theory to Archer and let the captain tell him he was crazy and then he could get on with his work.
The bridge was quiet and the view screen still showed nothing but unrelieved darkness. Tucker turned his back on it and buzzed for entry, hardly registering the delay although even his degree of abstraction didn’t stop him from noticing that Archer was white. “Cap’n,” concerned he moved around the desk to perch on the edge nearest the other man, “what’s wrong?”
The captain looked up at him from dazed eyes and raised a hand that shook to rub his mouth. “We’re too late, Trip. We took too long. The Xindi … they’ve destroyed Earth.”
Tucker thought that he’d faced the worst when he’d heard the news about which part of Florida had been hit; he’d been wrong. “What …?” He had to stop to force air into his lungs. “When? When did it happen?”
“Uh.” Archer didn’t appear to be functioning any better than Tucker was. “I’m … not sure.”
Sick and shaken, Tucker rubbed his hands over his face, trying to absorb the news, and looked up to see the blackness through the view port. “Cap’n,” he didn’t dare hope yet, “how d’you know what happened?”
“The Vulcans called.”
“But the comm. system’s dead. We’ve been out of touch for over twenty four hours.” Tucker crouched in front of the other man, hands on his arms. “Cap’n, when did the Vulcans call?”
“Twenty minutes, half an hour ago.”
“They can’t have done.” Tucker released the captain to grab the terminal and swing it around, pulling up the incoming message listing. For a split second, he thought an additional message wavered at the bottom but when he blinked it was gone. “Look!” Archer looked at the younger man through narrowed eyes, clearly not understanding what he was getting at. “Cap’n, there’s no message listed. Look!”
Almost reluctantly the captain focussed on the screen, frowning in concentration before finally raising confused eyes to the engineer. “What … happened?”
“Cap’n, have you had dreams about Earth being destroyed?”
Archer took a deep breath, still shaken. “Haven’t we all?”
“I dunno, but what I reckon … our dreams are starting to become more intense, maybe so intense we believe they’re true.”
“Hendricks used to dream that he was falling and he died from injuries sustained in a fall. Hess saw Xindi on Enterprise and I’ll bet she’s had that dream before. T’Pol admitted that she’s dreamt about being attacked.”
“I wasn’t asleep.”
“Maybe you just took a nap. Did you get any sleep last night?”
“No, but … Trip, are you serious?”
Tucker slumped down in the other chair. “I hoped you’d tell me I was crazy.”
Archer closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I don’t …” He looked over at the message list again and his eyes glazed, the look of profound shock returning. Horrified, the engineer took a look at the screen himself and the extra message was flickering there again.
“No!” He lunged for the other man, shaking him. “Cap’n, it’s not true!”
“It’s too late.”
“Cap’n, it’s just a nightmare.”
“Trip, you have to accept the truth.”
Tucker glanced at the screen again and this time it was solidly there, time tagged within the last half hour, a message from the Vulcan High Command. He could feel the idea reaching out to engulf him, to suck him down into despair. “No.” That was muttered to himself as he began to drag Archer from the room, although he quickly released his grip on the other man; better that the bridge crew weren’t infected with this particular nightmare. He hated to abandon his friend but he needed help to deal with this.
The bridge seemed normal but as soon as he stepped out of the lift Tucker found himself mobbed by Hess and another pair of crewman, insisting that they had seen Xindi on the ship. Unhappily aware that he had also seen the message that formed part of Archer’s nightmare, he brushed them off and hurried on to find Phlox working over Reed’s body. “What happened?”
Phlox threw him a harried look. “His lungs are full of water – salt water.”
“Sea water,” Tucker corrected absently. “He’s scared of drowning. How’s T’Pol?”
“Unconscious. I fear she was correct about Skon’s attack. Her symptoms are now definitely the same as those she experienced before.”
Tucker was too distracted to register the fact that this wasn’t the first time the science officer had been attacked. “Doctor, do Denobulan’s have nightmares?”
“Not while we’re awake.”
“Good. Doc, when we dream there are certain parts of the brain that are active, right?”
“That is the case. Commander, I am rather busy at present.”
“Is there anything you can do to suppress them?”
“Not without side effects. Commander …”
“Doc, people’s nightmares are starting to become true! Can you stop them dreaming?”
The Denobulan’s eyes widened. “Possibly.”
“Then get on it.”
“Of course.” Tucker nodded his thanks and left at a run and Phlox frowned down at Reed. “Once I’ve stopped Lt Reed from dying.” His eyes drifted around the room where shadowy shapes were forming, lying on beds and stretchers. “And all the rest.”
The crewman on duty in the brig was curled in a corner, hands over his head, muttering incoherently about everything being too soft or too hard. Tucker left him and unlocked the door trying to ignore the fact that the metal felt suspiciously yielding under his hand and Skon looked up at him from his kneeling position, eyes reassuringly calm and lucid. “Tell me you don’t have nightmares.”
“Meditation performs the same function for us that dreaming does for humans.”
“Tell that to T’Pol.” Briefly Tucker filled the other man in on his theory and the Vulcan nodded slowly.
“It fits such facts as we have.” He was frowning slightly. “Except that you are unaffected.”
“I think maybe I was but … hell, I’ve been through my own nightmares for real the last few months. Maybe I’m all scared out.”
“The last Klingon vessel that emerged from the Delphic Expanse …”
“Everyone was inside-out. Yeah, Soval told the cap’n that.”
“No explanation has ever been proposed. They should not have lived but they did.”
“You think …” Tucker broke off, deciding that he didn’t want to put the thought into words.
“It is a possibility. Klingons prefer death in battle. To be left living, mutilated beyond description, is unlikely to be a pleasant prospect for them.”
“But … they left the Delphic Expanse. So if they encountered this area …”
“It would mean that the physical effects imagined here persist beyond the area.”
“If I might make a suggestion, commander?”
“We should attempt to find a way out of this … darkness.”
“What d’you think we’ve been trying to do?” Tucker was scared and therefore easily provoked. “We’re getting no where.”
“Then I suggest we try harder.”
“Fine! D’you wanna go to warp blind?”
“Will you give me access to the computer?”
Tucker barely hesitated. “Sure. Let’s get to the bridge.”
That simple act was harder than it should have been. Their way was littered with men and woman lost in terror or despair and in front of the lift doors they encountered one of the crewman who had claimed to have seen Xindi on the ship – he was dead, the burn of an energy weapon on his chest.
Skon pulled the distressed engineer to his feet. “I believe we should not linger here, commander.”
The reminder came nearly too late. They were in the lift, doors about to close behind them when with a silent rush a Xindi launched an attack, storming the lift with its weapon raised. The Vulcan calmly pushed Tucker to one side as the Xindi fired and the engineer watched the energy beam pass through the other man as the doors closed. “Why … aren’t you dead?”
“I did not believe in the reality of what I saw.”
“But you did see it?”
“I saw movement. I deduced that the experience was more vivid for yourself.”
“Yeah.” Shaken, Tucker straightened as the doors opened onto the bridge where the silence was broken by the sound of someone sobbing and he looked around to see Mayweather seated on the floor by the comm. station, cradling Sato against his chest. The young man looked back at Tucker, expression hard.
“They did it, commander. They destroyed Earth. We have to find them, pay them back!”
“Damn it!” The engineer spared a glance for Skon who had gone straight to T’Pol’s station.
“Ignore them,” the Vulcan advised. “Commander Tucker, look at this.”
“What is it?” The primitive drawings made no sense and the script was unfamiliar.
“One of the legends from the Rihannsu’s time of wandering. I downloaded the information believing that T’Pol would find it of interest. It speaks of one of their heroes who encountered a region where all light was lost, ‘even the light of hope’.”
“You think it was this?”
“I think we have no other information.”
“How did he get out?”
“In the usual way of heroes – through his courage, strength and belief in his destiny.” Skon paused briefly to look up at Tucker. “Perhaps more informatively, by confronting his fears. He ‘passed through the eye of despair and came again to starlit skies’.” His head inclined to one side in appreciation of Tucker’s disgust. “I apologise for the language. Ancient legends are … poetic.”
“They were space-going! Why all the flowery imagery?”
“They passed through a dark age where all but the most primitive technology was lost to them. The information regarding their encounter with the Delphic Expanse was transmitted orally.”
“Great! So all we have to go on is a myth.”
“I prefer to follow a myth than nothing at all.”
Tucker nodded reluctant agreement. “How do we find this eye place?”
“The eye of despair.” Skon was looking thoughtful. “What is it that this crew most fears, Commander Tucker?”
“I guess … that we’ll fail. That Earth really will be destroyed.”
“Then I suggest,” he nodded towards Sato and Mayweather, “that we encourage their belief.”
“We know that nightmares are becoming reality. If we allow one overriding fear to predominate then perhaps we will find the eye of despair.”
“And perhaps we’ll destroy Earth without any help from the Xindi! Those inside-out Klingons made it out of the Delphic Expanse, remember.”
“But other Klingons were not affected. We have to assume that the effect is restricted to Enterprise.”
Tucker scrubbed a hand over his face. “All right.” He glared at the Vulcan. “Can you be sure you won’t be affected?”
“My fears are different. I will endure.”
“Through your courage, strength and belief in your own destiny?”
Skon indicated wry agreement and nodded towards Sato and Mayweather. “Send them to spread their fear.”
Tucker had intended to take the helm himself, at least to start with, but he halted with a grunt of fear and backed hastily away.
“A problem?” Skon was at his shoulder, blessedly unruffled.
“Is there something on the helm?”
“Nothing that should not be there.”
“None. What do you see, commander?”
“Not a logical possibility even on a human vessel.” He slipped into Mayweather’s chair and reached unconcernedly for the controls, and Tucker winced as the cockroaches crawled over the man’s hand. “I find it curious,” the Vulcan continued, “that you were able to overcome your captain’s vision of Earth’s destruction, yet cannot dispel a fear of harmless insect life.”
“That’s humans for you.” Tucker had retreated to the command chair, looking sick. “Not logical.” The door to the ready room opened and he turned to see Archer appear. “Cap’n.”
“Skon.” The older man shook his head. “What are you doing here? I thought …”
“We’re trying to get out, Cap’n.” Tucker steered the man to his normal place. “Skon’s got a theory.”
“He should be locked up. T’Pol …”
“He didn’t attack her, Cap’n. Promise you. It’s this area of space, it’s making us think bad things have really happened.”
“Leave him.” Skon’s voice was flat. “He is too far lost in delusion.”
Tucker glared at the Vulcan. “How the hell do you know?”
“Look at him. He does not even see you.”
Affronted Tucker looked back at Archer and flinched as the man’s eyes did indeed seem to look straight through him. “Cap’n?”
“There’s no one left. I got the entire crew killed.”
Skon’s summons brought Tucker’s head around, distracting him from his captain, and he squinted at the view screen where finally something was becoming visible. “What is it?”
“I do not know.”
“Earth.” Archer’s soft, despairing comment made Tucker wince as the older man rose to his feet. “Dear God, they did it. Every living thing wiped out.”
The image on the screen was firming, swimming into focus and Tucker gasped in horror for it was indeed Earth, the continental pattern clear, but where there should have been the green of living land there was only scorched blackness from pole to pole. “No.” It was a moan of protest and Skon said softly, “I see it too,” then he adjusted the controls in front of him and Enterprise leapt forward, heading straight for the dead planet.
Some residual need to protect his ship got through to the horror-struck engineer and he dived for the Vulcan. “What are you doing? You’ll kill us all.”
“I believe not.” Skon held the human off with careless ease. “The eye of despair, Commander Tucker. I trust it is an allegory.”
The planet loomed ever nearer, too near for a starship not designed to make planet-fall, and Tucker reared back, throwing up an instinctive if pointless hand to ward off the inevitable collision – and then there was space before them, dark but blessedly scattered with stars.
Skon leant back at the helm. “Definitely an allegory.” It was spoken to himself as he was well aware because he immediately turned to check on the state of the two humans. “Captain Archer? Commander Tucker?”
Archer straightened in the command chair while Tucker, after a moment’s thought, simply sat back down on the floor again. “Nice flying.”
Skon acknowledged the engineer’s comment with an inclination of the head and looked to Archer. “I apologise for my presence here, captain, but there is sufficient reason for it.”
Archer was frowning. “You attacked T’Pol.”
“I trust an investigation will prove otherwise.”
“Do you remember a message telling you that Earth had been destroyed, Cap’n?” Tucker queried and the captain’s forehead creased.
“Yes, but … communications have been down for hours.”
“Glad you think so, Cap’n!”
Archer frowned at the engineer then at the view of space ahead of them. “What happened to the dark area we entered? And where the hell are the rest of the bridge crew?”
Forrest was not a happy admiral. Not only had Enterprise dropped out of sight again, but when communications were restored her captain had yet another preposterous story to report – one that the visiting Vulcan calmly endorsed. Add to that the fact that Forrest had been closeted with Ambassador Soval for the last thirty six hours while that gentleman nagged him incessantly for a change in policy regarding Enterprise’s recall and he was ready to break Archer back to crewman and order a warp core breach.
He heard Starfleet’s supposed best captain out in silence and rubbed his throbbing temples: alternate realities and time travel had stretched his credibility, now they had added fairy tales to the mix. “For Captain Archer’s benefit, Ambassador Soval, tell us again why you think that Enterprise should investigate the possibility that the Delphic Expanse is an artificial construct.”
The elder Vulcan’s eyes moved from the human is whose presence he stood to the human on the screen. “If it is true that the Delphic Expanse is not a natural phenomenon, it means that we are dealing with a technology that far exceeds our own. We need to understand the threat we face.”
“Are you accepting that time travel could be involved here?” Archer asked curiously and Soval’s expression took on its normally pained aspect.
“I spoke of advanced technology, captain, not of the impossible.”
“We?” Forrest had swivelled to look up at the ambassador. “That’s not a word we’ve been used to hear from the Vulcans, Ambassador Soval.”
“If the Xindi have access to technology that can create something such as the Delphic Expanse, Earth is not the only planet threatened. Perhaps it is time for antagonism to be buried – on both sides.”
“You could send one of your own ships in.”
“As I have told you before, the last Vulcan ship to enter the Delphic Expanse was destroyed within hours. Enterprise has survived for months. Whether this is mere chance or some faculty of the human psyche I do not know but logic dictates that it should be Enterprise that investigates this possibility.”
Forrest sighed and turned back to the screen. “Jon, are you prepared to keep Enterprise in there a while longer?”
“I am, Admiral.”
“Very well. But your orders are explicit this time, captain: stay away from the Xindi. Don’t try and approach them. Don’t go looking for the weapon. We’ll deal with that at our end. You’re to look into the possibility that the Delphic Expanse isn’t natural and that’s it. Is that clear?”
“Very clear, Admiral.”
“Then I’ve nothing else to say at this time. Starfleet …”
“Return.” He was curt. “I have a use for you here.” Skon inclined his head politely although an eyebrow had twitched and Soval sighed faintly. “Do not try to anticipate me, Skon. Simply return.”
“Of course, Ambassador.”
Confused, Forrest glanced between the two Vulcans and gave up speculating. “Starfleet out.”
“Enterprise is not out of contact with Starfleet. They will pass on a message should I wish to send one.”
“He misses you, T’Pol.”
“My duty is here.”
“Is it? Or is it affection that keeps you amongst the humans?”
“That is none of your concern.”
“Agreed, but a word of advice if you will permit. If you must have a human, T’Pol, select the one to whom you are attracted, not the one that logic tells you is suitable.”
She glared up at him. “I do not understand you.”
“I believe that you do. You cannot have them both, T’Pol.”
“They are my friends!”
“I am glad you have such friends.” He stepped suddenly closer. “But if you decide to return to Vulcan, I will be waiting for you.”
She edged backwards. “You cannot wait indefinitely.”
“It will seem … eccentric … but pon farr need not necessitate marriage.”
“You are still unsuitable.”
“Should it come to the question, your father may well be of the opinion that I am not as unsuitable as a human. Think on it.” He regarded her pensive face for a moment then stretched out a hand, the first two fingers extended, to caress her check. The skin quivered under his fingers and he knew it was not desire this time. “I still have great affection for you, T’Pol.” She made no response and Skon withdrew his hand, raising it instead in the formal gesture of farewell. “Live long and prosper, T’Pol – and try to believe that you can still trust me.”
“Hey.” Tucker raced up, interrupting anything the woman might have had to say. “I didn’t realise you were off so soon.”
“I must return my ship to the laboratory,” Skon explained carelessly and Tucker grinned.
“Tell them to think about those twin nacelles.”
“I will certainly do so. Farewell, Commander Tucker. I know that I may leave T’Pol in your safe keeping.”
“Sure!” Startled, Tucker could think of nothing to say to that and Skon inclined his head and retreated into his ship, leaving the human looking at T’Pol. “Are there many at home like him?”
She raised her head to glare at him. “Fortunately, no.”
Without further ado, she strode away and Tucker chased after her, asking cautiously, “Can I join you tonight? For meditating, I mean.”
“I thought you had concluded that you had no further need of my aid.” She was still irritated.
“I was wrong. I do need you, T’Pol.” That came out far too sincere and Tucker continued hastily as the Vulcan woman turned her head sharply to look up at him. “2100?”
“If you wish. Unless …” She was frowning.
“You care to dine with me first.” It was her turn to add a little too quickly, “I would be interested to know what misconceptions Skon implanted regarding my people.”
“OK. As long as the cap’n won’t mind.”
“Why should he object?”
“Er … no reason, I guess.”
“Then I will see you at 1930 in the mess hall. Good day, commander.”
She strode on her way leaving Tucker to look wistfully after her. Friendship was good. The only problem was that it omitted a whole lot of other things that he wanted from her.
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 brilliant! I am very impressed with the way in which you envisaged the use of people's fears/nightmares as an affect of the Delphic Expanse. Very neat and a useful way to extend the plot in an unforseen direction that also heightens the peril our trusty crew are facing. I very much liked Skon and feel there is a heck of a lot more still to come from him and T'Pol's past etc. Very well done! I look forward with baited breath to the next part. Many thanks for engrossing story telling, Ali D :~)
Wow. I missed dinner thanks to this. Very, very enthralling.
And Trip has only even hinted at his feelings for T'Pol, so I'm sure that there is plenty yet to come. I'm waiting, impatiently at best. :)
ooh, this is good. I'm really enjoying the series.
Really enjoying this series. You're the best writer on here.
Absolutely amazing. I really liked Skon.
Ah, I like the additions to the ending. Most excellent.
Very nice writing. On the bright side, at least no one got killed this time. So, what happened to the crew? All who were dead were once again alive?
“It sounds like a bad science fiction series!”
Keep it coming, I'm anxiously awaiting the next story in the series!
Excellent... waiting patiently for the next story.... hurry!!
Excellent -- this series keeps getting better and better!
Great story. Skon is very cool. Wouldn't mind seeing him turn up again.
You write T'Pol as well as the ENT house writers.
You write Trip well also. Accent is just about dead on. I get so tired of seeing him written as though he speaks like Gomer Pyle. "Ahm 'a waitin fer ya TaPaul", yikes.
Skon? Wasn't that the name of Sarek's father? If its the same person does this mean that the legendary Sarek himself will be popping up in these stories?
It is the Skon who is Sarek's father, but I'm afraid Sarek won't be making an appearance, even though he is my favourite Vulcan of all time. But I couldn't resist using his father at some point.
Great story. I too (like so many others here) really liked Skon. I hadn't realized me was Sarek's father. It makes the comment about his son becoming a politician all the more amusing.