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Author - Shouldknowbetter | Genre - Action/Adventure | Genre - Angst | Genre - Drama | Main Story | R | Rating - PG-13
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This series begins with “Down a Dark Road” which was originally part of the at TRIP! Fiction contest. The complete series is as follows:
“She’s afraid we might enjoy ourselves,” Tucker observed from the engineering console. “Can’t have that, Cap’n. The crew getting shore leave, releasing some tension …”
The science officer straightened to turn a forbidding eye on the engineer. “The risk involved in allowing significant numbers of the crew to leave Enterprise is already high without increasing it by failing to take proper precautions.”
He just grinned at her, knowing it would increase her irritation, and Archer added peaceably, “We know the risks, T’Pol, but the crew are tired. They need a break, even if it’s just a short one. Is the planet uninhabited?”
Still not convinced of the necessity, she said repressively, “Currently.”
“Currently,” Archer repeated cheerfully, knowing full well that Tucker would be smirking behind his back. “That sounds promising, sub-commander.”
“If it’s currently uninhabited,” Reed went straight to the heart of the matter, “are the inhabitants likely to come back while we’re here?”
“I believe not.” The Vulcan caught Archer’s eye and decided that, as usual, nothing but a full report would stop the questions. “There are structures on the surface but they appear to have been abandoned for approximately two centuries.”
“What sort of structures?”
Silently, T’Pol turned to her console and diverted the images to the main screen where the humans watched the foreshortened orbital images with interest.
“They’re kind of … square,” Tucker, the architectural philistine, offered after a moment and got a disgusted look from the woman.
“They are reminiscent of some of the most ancient buildings found on Vulcan.”
“No kidding? I guess your ancestors didn’t have much imagination, either.”
“Enough!” Archer said firmly. “T’Pol, is it possible that these buildings were constructed by the Rihannsu?”
“Extremely improbable. It is more likely to be an example of parallel development, such as the ‘kind of triangular’ structures that occurred in widely separated cultures during Earth’s early history.”
“The word’s pyramids, T’Pol.” Tucker demonstrated that he had paid some attention to lessons other than maths and physics in school although his erudition didn’t impress the Vulcan and Archer again got in quickly before she could retaliate.
“Can we go down for a preliminary look around, sub-commander?” He thought he’d missed the interplay between engineer and science officer, but now he wasn’t so sure; they’d been at it almost continuously since Skon left and while Trip seemed to be enjoying himself it was hard on everyone else’s nerves.
“I have been unable to determine a reason why not.”
“I presume you don’t want to come along, T’Pol?”
It was Archer’s turn for a resigned look. “You will require a science officer in order to carry out a more detailed survey on the surface.”
“In that case you’d better join me and Trip. Get a shuttle pod warmed up, commander. Hoshi, start to draw up a schedule that’ll give everyone twelve hours on the surface.”
In the rear seat of the shuttle pod, Tucker occupied himself during the short descent in reading some more of the Rihannsu legends that Skon had provided. They were kind of fun and the activity had the advantage of annoying the hell out of T’Pol. Tucker had been forced to realise that avoiding the Vulcan woman caused more problems than it solved so had reverted to his old game of provoking her in order to disguise the fact that he was hopelessly in love with her. If he could keep her in a state of simmering annoyance, he never had to see those brown eyes looking at him with the sort of warmth and approval that made him want to snatch her into his arms and never let go. He knew it was only friendship but T’Pol had a way of staring at him that could utterly overset what good sense he possessed – and he wasn’t about to make a fool of himself with his best friend’s prospective lover. It might only be false hope, but he wasn’t convinced that Archer and T’Pol had gone that far yet, if only because the command structure stood in their way. He certainly wasn’t generous enough to take on the first officer’s role just to allow captain and science officer to tumble into bed together; he shouldn’t begrudge Archer some comfort but he did.
The very thought of them together turned his stomach and he forced himself to concentrate on the words in front of him. “Hey, Cap’n, listen to this.” He’d read it before but not when there’d been a Vulcan around to annoy. “´Persecuted beyond endurance by the followers of Surak the Traitor, S’Task took council with …’”
A slim hand reached back and snapped off the recorder. “If you have developed an interest in the history of my people, Commander Tucker, I suggest that you consult the Vulcan database.”
“Nah, that leaves out all the best bits.”
“It is an accurate representation of events.”
“From the Vulcan viewpoint. Aren’t you interested in what the other side has to say, T’Pol?”
She turned to face him. “The Rihannsu rejected Surak’s vision.”
“Doesn’t make them wrong.”
“It makes them dangerous. Besides,” the recorder was plucked from his hands, “the information is classified.”
“Hey!” He grabbed for it back. “It’s a bunch of fairy stories. How can that be classified?”
Somehow he had ended up with his hand clasped in the Vulcan’s as she held him off and the feel of warm skin against his was too damn good to pull away. “Officially there is no contact between Vulcan and the Rihannsu, hence these ‘fairy stories’ should not exist.”
“We’re coming in to land.” Archer glanced behind him and then took a longer look, grinning. “No fighting in the back row, please.”
T’Pol snatched her hand from Tucker’s, glared at him – as if it was his fault! – then turned a similar expression on the back of the captain’s head, although she kept a firm grip on the recorder she had confiscated.
Once out on the dusty grey surface of the planet, Tucker dropped his needling of the science officer in favour of professionalism, helping T’Pol with the survey of the structures near which they had landed then undertaking a photographic record of the more interestingly square buildings. Archer wasn’t sure when his chief engineer had wriggled his way into the role of Enterprise’s official photographer, but Tucker was too firmly established and too plain good at it to be dislodged. Leaving the engineer to his record making, T’Pol joined the captain who had been wandering in a frankly idle manner and was now studying the front wall of a long abandoned structure. “Can you make out a pattern here, T’Pol?”
She stared, consulted her scanner and took another look. “No.”
“I’m sure there is. See …” He broke off as she consulted her scanner again and an eyebrow climbed, then an agonised cry reached them and they both jerked around in time to see Tucker collapse to his knees, hands pressed to his head. They reached him at the same moment, dropping down on opposite sides as Archer put a concerned and supportive arm around his friend. “Trip, what wrong?”
The engineer was moaning softly between gasping breaths. “My head.”
T’Pol cast a searching look around the rubble strewn ground. “You were struck by falling masonry?”
“No. Just hurts.”
“Let’s get him back to the shuttle pod,” Archer said anxiously, surprised when his order was rejected curtly.
“Momentarily.” The Vulcan woman moved in front of Tucker, gently pulling his hands away from his head and clasping them in her own. “Commander Tucker, look at me.” Her voice was firm and obediently he squinted at her, still gasping in pain. “Focus on your hands.” Archer could see her thumbs moving rhythmically against his palms. “Breathe with me. Do not think of the pain.”
Slowly Tucker’s breathing eased, some of the strain fading from around his eyes as he nodded his thanks.
“Can we move him now?” Archer asked, relieved that T’Pol had been able to sooth the other man, and she moved to one side although without losing contact with the engineer.
It required their combined efforts to get Tucker on his feet and to keep him there although he had steadied a little by the time they reached the shuttle pod. He accepted the water pouch T’Pol held to his mouth, sucking greedily while Archer ran the scanner from the emergency med kit over him. “What is wrong?” T’Pol queried when the captain frowned over the result and he looked up to where she was stood beside Tucker, a hand resting on his shoulder.
“According to this, nothing.”
“The device must be defective.”
“I guess so.” He tossed the scanner back into the locker. “I’ll take us up. Stay with him.”
“No.” It sounded as if it was still an effort for Tucker to speak but he raised his head to look up at Archer. “I’m OK. You should finish the survey.”
“We’re getting you back to Enterprise.”
“You need to finish up here. Not much time if you wanna give the crew a break.”
That was true and Archer hesitated, torn between the desire to get Tucker into Phlox’s hands as soon as possible and the need to rest his crew.
“I detected a brief power surge just before the commander was taken ill,” T’Pol observed. She still seemed to believe that Tucker couldn’t remain upright without her support. “It should be investigated before allowing more of the crew to come down. I suggest that you return to Enterprise with Commander Tucker whilst I complete the required work here.”
“Absolutely not!” Archer was certain on that front. “No one goes solo, T’Pol.”
“I’ll be OK,” Tucker insisted and the captain capitulated.
“All right. But we’ll keep it short.”
“Meditation may help relieve your discomfort,” T’Pol added and Tucker turned a rather feeble smile on her.
“Call if you need us, Trip,” Archer ordered. “Are you coming, sub-commander?”
“Of course,” but it was with seeming reluctance that she followed her captain out of the shuttle pod.
He glanced down at her faintly frowning face. “You seem worried, T’Pol.”
“Commander Tucker is still in considerable pain.”
“He said he’d be OK.”
The look she turned on him was mildly contemptuous. “The commander would endure worse than a headache if he felt it would inconvenience you to do otherwise.”
Archer grimaced, annoyed with himself for not spotting the obvious. “You think we should have gone straight back to Enterprise?”
“I think we should not delay long in doing so.” She bent her head over her scanner, clearly switching to the business in hand and Archer sighed and did likewise.
“Another energy emission.”
“Can you locate the source?”
Behind them in the shuttle pod, Tucker dropped to the floor as another spike of agony rammed through his skull, fumbling for his communicator before a second jolt put all thought from his mind.
Archer and T’Pol were pushing further into the ruins, hoping that the science officer would be able to triangulate the source of the apparently random power surges, when the sound of a lifting shuttle pod engine reached them. They exchanged an alarmed look and headed back, Archer reaching for his communicator as he ran. “Trip, what’s going on? Commander Tucker, answer me!” They came out onto the edge of the paved area where they had landed and watched the shuttle pod climbing away as Archer shook his head more in disbelief than anger. “What the hell does he think he’s doing?”
Sure enough the small craft was banking, bringing its nose to bear on their position as it flew in. Its intent was so outrageous that neither realised what was happening for a near fatal stretch of time then Archer leapt into action, dragging T’Pol backwards. “Run.”
They had retreated no more than a few metres when the wall behind them exploded under the impact of the shuttle pod’s phase cannon, hurling them to the ground and showering them with debris.
It was the shuttle pod’s erratic flight as much as its unscheduled return that alerted Enterprise to a problem and caused Reed to put a hail through when it was no more than five thousand kilometres up. Weakly Tucker raised his head following the onslaught of another agonising attack and groped for the controls. “Go ahead.”
“Commander, is there a problem? We weren’t expecting you back for some hours yet.”
“Problem.” The engineer swallowed, shaking his head. “Yeah, there’s a problem, Malcolm. The Cap’n and T’Pol … they’re dead.”
Reed was waiting in the launch bay when Tucker docked, grabbing the man’s arm as he nearly fell as he exited the shuttle pod. “What happened?”
The engineer raised a hand to his forehead, pressing in the heel of his hand as if trying to force something back inside. “One of the buildings fell on them.”
“But … are you sure they’re dead?”
The Englishman shook his head, trying to come to terms with the shocking and somehow so pointless loss. They’d survived far worse and now to lose their captain and first officer on a simple away mission … “Could you recover the bodies?”
“They were buried under tonnes of rubble, Malcolm.”
“We should go back.”
“No.” Tucker gasped and nearly fell, hand going to his head again.
Reed stepped in to grab his friend. “Let’s get you to sickbay. You didn’t say you were hurt.”
“I’m OK. I need to get to the bridge.”
“I’ll notify Starfleet. Get some rest at least.”
“No.” Tucker caught Reed’s shoulder, gripping hard. “One thing we did find, Malcolm: the location of the Xindi home world.”
“T’Pol found an old star map carved on one of the buildings. It showed the Xindi.” He shook the other man. “We have to go check it out.”
The return to consciousness was slow but Archer was at last forced to the realisation that he was awake and really ought to move. Slowly he pushed himself up, feeling the slide of rubble from his back, wincing as numerous bruises made themselves felt, and managed to get into a sitting position, rubbing a hand over his nose and mouth to clear them of dust. There was dust in his eyes too which didn’t make for easy viewing. “T’Pol?” There was no response and he blinked furiously, feeling the tears running down his face as nature took a hand to clear his vision. “T’Pol?” A pale blur appeared a few feet away and he lunged across, feeling the small hand more clearly than he could see it as a numbing sense of déjà vu took him. He fumbled for a pulse and then had to take a steadying breath as he found it still beating strongly. Relieved beyond measure that that nightmare hadn’t repeated itself whatever else might be happening, he rubbed his eyes again and was finally able to make out that the science officer wasn’t as deeply buried as he had initially feared. The rubble lying across her legs and lower back appeared thicker than that which had covered him but her head was free although a trickle of drying blood behind one ear showed why she was still unconscious. Carefully he brushed the rubble away then hesitated. Instinct wanted to move her somewhere more comfortable but first aid training said to leave her immobile until help arrived, but would it? If Trip had so lost his head as to have fired on them … Cursing himself for being a blithering idiot, the captain belatedly reached for his communicator only to find that his delay had made no difference. The device was badly cracked and didn’t even return static when he flipped it open.
Archer sat back on his heels and took a longer look around, something else that perhaps he should have done sooner. It showed that the blast from the shuttle pod had only brought down half the building nearest them. The rest was canted at a dangerous angle and unfortunately it was angled towards them. At least that settled the question of whether or not to risk moving T’Pol. A cursory check found no broken bones and he lifted her carefully into his arms, carrying her into the shelter of a building that still looked sound apart from its empty windows. She stirred as he set her down and he placed a firm hand on one shoulder. “Keep still, T’Pol.” Narrowed brown eyes frowned up at him. “You were knocked out. Do you hurt anywhere?” Something of a stupid question when she was probably as sore as he was but she only rocked her head slightly.
“No idea.” He stripped off his jacket and folded it into a pillow to which she didn’t object as he slid it under her head, although she winced a little and raised a hand towards her ear. He removed her hand and gently checked the injury himself. “You’ve got a bump and bad graze but the bleeding’s stopped.” She nodded slightly and closed her eyes although they shot open as Archer tentatively started to loosen her jacket. He pulled back guiltily. “I want to try your communicator. Mine’s smashed.” She fished it out of an inner pocket but it was as dead as his and the captain sighed in frustration.
“You should attempt to locate Commander Tucker.”
He shook his head in growing annoyance. “If I had the slightest idea where to look, T’Pol, I would.”
“I didn’t check,” he admitted and rose to his feet, wincing himself as his bruises protested. “Don’t go anywhere.”
On that front they were lucky or, as the Vulcans would undoubtedly have claimed, their technology was more robust than that of humans. The scanner was only a few feet from where T’Pol had been lying and its face was still illuminated. Unfortunately its readings were expressed in Vulcan so Archer had no choice but to return it to its owner. She turned onto her side to fiddle for a few moments then let it fall. “The shuttle pod is not in this vicinity.”
“Is Enterprise still in orbit?” She gave him a look that told him she hadn’t thought to check but then shook her head slightly. “Hell.” He slumped down rubbing his face, reminded that his mouth was unpleasantly gritty. Best make use of that survival training again. “We need to find water. Can you set your scanner up to lead me to it?” She did so and then closed her eyes, head still on his jacket. Archer gazed down at her for a moment, wondering if he was right in thinking that they were both worried about precisely the same thing. On the whole, he decided not to enquire. He had a feeling that the Vulcan woman would be far too embarrassed to admit that she was desperately concerned about their chief engineer.
Through the ready room view port, the stars made their usual streaks against the blackness of space but neither man was paying them any attention. “I thought our orders were to investigate the origins of the Delphic Expanse,” Reed protested and Tucker nodded firmly.
“That’s what we’re gonna do, Malcolm. The Xindi must know.”
“Because they gotta. They live here.”
“What about the fact we were told not to approach them? Isn’t that supposed to start a war?”
“I’ve been thinking about that one. That story T’Pol told about dying and being taken to the future was crazy. It must have been the Xindi who found her and brainwashed her into believing in Daniels and the rest of it. Don’t you see, Malcolm, they just wanted to get us off their backs!”
“I suppose so.” The armoury officer was frowning. “But, commander, we’ve got to clear this with Admiral Forrest.”
“Sure. I’ll get Hoshi on it now,” but try as the communications officer would, she couldn’t establish a channel back to Earth.
It could have been quite a romantic setting with the ruins attractively lit by the leaping flames but with his ship gone, his chief engineer apparently out of his mind and a first officer who was peacefully meditating, Archer wasn’t feeling romantic. He hadn’t wanted to discuss what had happened with T’Pol when she was still groggy from the explosion but by the time he had located water, something to carry it in and enough wood to keep a fire going through the night, she had insisted that she needed to meditate and he hadn’t liked to deny her. But now he was just plain frustrated and needed to talk. “T’Pol.” Very slowly she withdrew her gaze from the flames and looked over at him. “What the hell could have made Trip flip like that?”
Her surprise was plain. “You cannot believe that Commander Tucker would deliberately endanger your life whatever his state of mind.”
“Then what’s your explanation, sub-commander?”
“That it was not Commander Tucker in the shuttle pod.”
“You’re going to have to explain that one. You said that this planet was uninhabited.”
“Perhaps life has evolved here that we cannot detect or some form of clocking technology is in use.”
“So they over-powered Trip and took the shuttle pod?” Archer shook his head. “I can’t buy that one, T’Pol. They didn’t have time to capture the shuttle pod and figure out its controls. What’s your other theory?”
“That someone or something took control of Commander Tucker’s body to make use of him – a phenomenon we have encountered before.”
Archer’s forehead furrowed as he nodded reluctant agreement. “Those power fluctuations you’ve been detecting?”
“May be related. The first occurred at the same time as Mr Tucker’s headache.”
“We need to find the source.”
“Agreed, but I would advise against doing so in darkness.”
“You’re right.” Archer sighed and shifted position. “I hope they spot there’s something wrong with Trip on Enterprise.”
“Given that the commander’s behaviour is likely to be profoundly uncharacteristic, it is probable that they will.”
The captain gave his first officer a long look. “You’re very fond of Trip, aren’t you, T’Pol?”
She looked away a shade too quickly. “I consider Commander Tucker a friend.”
“I’m sure you do,” but his expression was thoughtful as the Vulcan woman returned pointedly to her meditation, wondering just when it was that he had realised that their friendship wasn’t going to develop into something warmer – and when T’Pol had started to become quite so protective of their chief engineer.
A long way from the planet, Tucker was also trying to meditate although his thoughts were so chaotic that it was all he could do to light the candle and seat himself in front of it. That done, he couldn’t even remember what he had intended to do and lowered his head into his hands. What was happening to him? The last few hours were nothing more than a confused series of barely understood images, none of which currently made the least sense. He should go find Archer, tell him that he needed to be relieved of duty, but … the captain wasn’t on the ship, it was he who was in command … The pain lanced through his skull again and he cried out, bending over still further, head almost on his knees.
A few minutes later, the engineer arrived in the armoury, nodding a cheerful greeting to the surprised ensign on duty. “Commander Tucker! Can I help you, sir?”
“That’s OK, Hassan. Just something I wanna check out.” He crossed to the main console and the woman followed him curiously. “Why don’t you take a break? I won’t tell Malcolm.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that, sir.”
He grinned at her and jerked his head towards the door. “Get out, ensign. That’s an order.”
Un-offended she grinned back and took the hint. If Commander Tucker was planning on pulling a stunt on Lt Reed she really didn’t want to know about it - then she could look genuinely surprised when the lieutenant found his displays reconfigured to shocking pink or something equally outrageous.
Alone in the armoury, Tucker pulled up the inventory and scanned through it, eyes intent as he studied the effective payload of each weapon. The result didn’t seem to please him in the least.
In the cold light of dawn, the ruins looked even less inviting than they had the previous day, although Archer was prepared to admit that some of his dislike could be due to the fact that he was abominably stiff and extremely hungry. T’Pol appeared none the worse for her brush with being crushed to death which didn’t improve his mood. She had woken him with the news that another of the power surges had occurred and that she had narrowed the area of search somewhat. He climbed slowly to his feet, stretching carefully, and she regarded him critically. “You should consider more regular exercise.”
“I’ll bear that in mind, sub-commander, the next time I expect to have to sleep on a rocky floor.” He had the daunting feeling that if he had been someone else, she might have offered sympathy and a backrub. “Which way?”
Tucker bent over the terminal in his office, face expressionless as he watched the simulation of Enterprise plunging through a planet’s atmosphere, the superstructure breaking apart, sending long streamers of burning debris through the skies. But the warp core, the reinforced heart of the ship, kept its integrity and ploughed on to impact the surface, only then breaching with sufficient force to send fallout swirling around the planet to ensure it was plunged into a nuclear winter that no weather-control technology could prevent. Satisfied, the engineer snapped off the terminal and leant back in his chair. Not very long now and then those seven million dead could sleep easy, secure in the knowledge that a hundred times their number of Xindi had followed them into extinction.
It hadn’t been easy picking a way through the ruins of the settlement and still harder to locate the source of T’Pol’s energy readings. It had taken hours and now they finally stood by the side of an opening in the floor of a roofless building, staring dubiously downwards. The science officer consulted her scanner yet again and eventually raised her eyes to Archer’s. “I can offer no other possibility.”
“But you’re not sure?” Her head moved fractionally in the negative and he sighed as he inspected the opening again. “I guess we don’t have much choice. Let’s see what’s down there.”
The stairs were steep, dank and slippery and the smell of decay intensified as they made their way carefully down through the scant illumination provided by the glowing lichen on the walls. The pain hit Archer on a small landing and he stopped abruptly, raising a hand to his head.
“Captain?” From a pace or two behind, T’Pol came to his side. “Are you injured?”
“No.” He rubbed his temple where the small pain was subsiding. “Touch of neuralgia, maybe.”
“The air here is poor.” She was very close to him, elegant head tipped back to look up at him, the soft light illuminating her elfin features. Slowly she raised a hand to his temple, fingers sliding down to his cheek where they lingered. The invitation was obvious and the only thought in Archer’s mind was to answer it. He pulled her to him and lowered his mouth to the generous lips tilting to meet his.
It was still proving impossible to contact Starfleet and Reed was getting nervous even if Tucker remained convinced of what they were about. While he couldn’t put his finger on any single point that was troubling him, the armoury officer had a very bad feeling about the fact they were rushing off to find the Xindi without a pause for breath following the loss of their captain and first officer. Unless, he admitted to himself as he left the bridge after another fruitless attempt to convince Tucker that they needed to slow down, it was the engineer’s reaction to that loss that was at the root of his disquiet. Tucker had taken T’Pol’s earlier ‘death’ relatively calmly, but Reed had never doubted that his friend had been grief-stricken and now the engineer had lost not only the Vulcan woman but the close friend he’d known for years. No, Trip wasn’t reacting right and maybe it was shock and maybe Malcolm had a suspicious mind, but he was responsible for Enterprise’s security and so he’d make sure that there really was nothing untoward going on.
Determinedly, Reed headed for the lower decks and let himself into one of the Jeffries tubes that accessed the inner workings of the ship. There was no reason to doubt Sato’s ascertain that she couldn’t raise Starfleet but he had to start somewhere. It took him five minutes to reach the access panel he was after and only a few seconds longer to work out why the communications officer had been unsuccessful: the external comm. system had been disabled. Reed sat back on his heels and stared at the disconnected circuits. It was a primary system needing authorisation to access the compartment and the only people currently on the ship who could grant access were himself and Tucker, and Reed knew that he hadn’t done it.
“Malcolm.” Reed grimaced; he’d been too abstracted to notice the approach of the other man. “What are you doing back here?”
“Just taking a look.” He slipped the access panel back into place, hoping that the engineer wouldn’t have had a clear view of exactly which system he’d been investigating.
“That’s good.” The wrench caught Reed behind one ear as he failed to be sufficiently wary of the man he suspected of leading them astray. “But I don’t believe you, lieutenant.” For a moment Tucker stared down at the unconscious Englishman, dispassionately watching the steady flow of blood from the wound he had inflicted. Then he jerked open the access hatch to an unused compartment and remorselessly bundled the other man inside.
T’Pol was several inches too short for comfortable kissing. The entirely inappropriate thought returned Archer abruptly to sanity and he pulled back, almost pushing the woman from him. For a second her look of desire remained then it changed to one of shock, perhaps even distaste, and she moved back as far as the limited space allowed. “What the hell,” the captain said softly, “was that all about?”
T’Pol had turned her back but he saw her raise a hand to wipe her mouth in the unmistakable gesture of a woman who hadn’t liked what had just happened to her. “I believe that we were being manipulated in the same manner as Commander Tucker.”
“That would account for it.” The complete lack of chivalry in his response belatedly struck him and he added hurriedly, “Not that you aren’t a very attractive woman, sub-commander, but …”
“I’m sorry about that.” He’d apologised at the time but not for that crass remark. “Perhaps you could put it down to … eh …”
Archer winced, wondering just what logical deductions she had made about his real preference. “The voice of experience, T’Pol?” Not the fairest of questions and he squared his shoulders, returning to business. “I’m getting very tired of dancing to someone else’s tune. Let’s see who it is this time.”
Sato didn’t often venture into the bowls of Enterprise, not least because she detested the enclosed spaces, but a day spent in a futile attempt to establish a link to Starfleet while her requests for assistance from the engineering team were ignored had left her in a state of severe annoyance. She was a linguistics specialist and it wasn’t her job to deal with equipment failures but if no one else was going to help her, she would damn well do it herself. The sense of outrage got her into the Jeffries tube and most of the way along it until the space started to close in on her. She stared doubtfully at the walls but they didn’t visibly move so she repeated a series of semi-audible curses aimed at Commander Tucker and his entire department and crawled on.
Her progress was slow so she saw the stain on the floor from several metres away and frowned. Enterprise was usually spotless. It just showed that the no-good engineers never came down here to check out her equipment. A closer view of the stain showed that it looked suspiciously like dried blood and she paused, doubt starting to push aside indignation. Maybe someone had come down to check out the problem and injured themselves, but … There were other blood stains leading a few metres down the tube but then they stopped. If someone had been hurt badly enough to bleed that much, wouldn’t they have headed for the nearest exit, not towards a dead end?
Unhappily, Sato tugged at the hatch where the marks ended, gasping as it came free. “Malcolm!” She reached in a hand to help him as he blinked groggily at her and he flopped out, ending on his hands and knees, heading hanging down. “What happened?” Gingerly she parted his blood-caked hair and he flinched away. “Stay here. I’ll get help.”
“No.” Reed’s voice was strained but she heard him clearly enough.
“Just give me a minute.” Reed shuffled into a sitting position, leaning his head back against the side of the tube.
“Lieutenant, what happened? Did you fall?”
“Into a locked compartment?” he asked in something nearer his usual tone. “”No, ensign, I was attacked – by Commander Tucker.” She gaped at him. “Don’t ask me why.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Hope that the captain’s not dead after all.” Reed eyed the young woman thoughtfully. “How do you feel about a little mutiny, Ensign Sato?”
There was a passage at the bottom of the stairs where Archer halted in surprise, reaching up to brush streamers of plant growth away from a roof panel that glowed faintly. “Is this the source of your power readings, sub-commander?”
“No.” T’Pol directed the scanner upwards. “The emissions from this are too low to register except at extremely close range.”
“At least we know there is working technology around.”
“There is also someone here. I am detecting a life reading.”
“So much for uninhabited.” Archer drew his phase pistol and took a couple of steps down the corridor before he realised that T’Pol was not following him. “What is it?”
The Vulcan woman was studying one of the walls and didn’t look up. “A star chart.”
“What?” He came back to look for himself, brushing at the dirt. “Are you sure?”
“Positive.” She indicated the barely visible symbols scattered across the surface and he frowned.
“I don’t recognise them.”
“You would not.” The calm voice was dry. “They are in an ancient form of the Vulcan language.” He looked at her, startled, and her head tilted sideways in resigned acceptance. “It seems that the Rihannsu were here.”
Archer shook his head fractionally, but he was rapidly approaching the point where nothing could surprise him. “What does the chart show?”
“The Delphic Expanse.” T’Pol reached out to indicate one point. “We are here.” She moved slowly along the wall, scanner recording the mural. “And here,” she glanced up at Archer who had followed her, “are the Xindi.”
He frowned back, disconcerted. “How do you know?”
T’Pol indicated a group of symbols to the left of what Archer assumed were a set of coordinates. “A notation has been added. ‘Xindi of the Destroyers.’”
“The Destroyers.” He raised a hand to rub his mouth. “I could agree with that. Anything else useful?”
“Undoubtedly, but it will require time to analyse the data.”
“Then we’d better push on. The sooner we get Enterprise back the better.”
They continued for some way down other decorated corridors that T’Pol said contained a history of the Rihannsu in the Delphic Expanse and eventually the science officer halted in front of a doorway blocked by hangings black with dirt. “I have just detected another power surge. It emanated from in here.”
Her voice was low and Archer emulated her. “The life form?”
He nodded, took a firmer grip on his phase pistol and pushed the hanging carefully to one side. There were a number of workstations in the room but most looked beyond hope of repair. Apart from that it was empty and they entered slowly, Archer frowning in puzzlement until T’Pol indicated another hanging on the far side of the room. Cautiously the captain moved across, wincing when his foot caught on something that skittered loudly across the floor. At once the curtain was pulled back from the other side and a head emerged, the face obscured by long hair that might have been white if it hadn’t been so filthy. Archer raised his phase pistol but there was no need; after a cursory look at him the old woman had focussed on T’Pol and tears began to flow down her face as she said something in a cracked voice.
Without much hope that they could communicate without a Universal Translator, Archer glanced over at T’Pol to see that she was frowning at the other woman, head cocked as if listening hard. “Can you understand her?”
Slowly she shook her head. “The sounds are … familiar but if we once spoke a common language our ways divided two millennia ago.” The woman had shuffled closer and now raised a hand to touch the Vulcan woman’s cheek, tears still pouring down her face.
“She seems to like you.” Archer was edging towards the alcove from which the woman had emerged.
“I suspect that she has been alone a very long time.”
The captain pulled back the curtain and drew in a quick breath. “Take a look at this.”
T’Pol did not have the chance. The old woman whipped around at the sound of his voice, screeched in fury and flung herself at him, hands curled into claws. He raised a hand to protect his face and she reached under his up-flung arm, fingers closing around his neck with dangerous force. Then the pressure relaxed and the woman crumpled to the floor, T’Pol’s hand still on her shoulder. “Thanks!” He rubbed his throat where he could still feel the imprint of fingers.
“She was attempting to break your neck.” T’Pol knelt by the fallen figure and delicately lifted the matted hair away from one ear to reveal the upswept point.
“So one must assume. She is dead.”
Archer frowned. “I thought that neck pinch of yours just put people to sleep.”
“Usually it does.” T’Pol rose to her feet. If she felt regret, none was visible. “But she was very old. That and the shock of finding us here were too much for her.” She peered into the alcove Archer had uncovered, an eyebrow rising.
The captain joined her, trying to put aside his feeling of guilt. If they were right, this woman had been responsible for Tucker’s attempt to kill them and their subsequent abandonment – not to mention an incident that was really too embarrassing to think about. “It looks like … voodoo.” He poked at a crude representation of what was clearly Enterprise, half buried in another globe of clay.
“Superstition imposed over the use of technology no longer understood.” T’Pol swept the clutter of other objects away, one of which appeared to represent two figures locked together. Underneath there was the glow of a plasma screen, a scatter of symbols visible.
“Can you shut it down? Whatever it is.”
“I believe so.” Her fingers moved confidently over the display and the glow faded.
“Now we just have to hope that Enterprise comes back for us.”
This time Reed took no chances. He armed himself and Sato, picked up a couple of his armoury team – his head ached far too much to face a prolonged argument with Casey over the best way to handle the matter – and headed for the bridge. Tucker was in the command chair, eyes focussed on the view screen, fingers drumming impatiently on the arm, and he didn’t even look around when the lift doors opened. Reed halted a safe distance behind the engineer and levelled the phase pistol at the back of his head. “Time to explain what’s going on, commander.”
The man turned slowly. “You know that, Malcolm.”
“No, I don’t. What happened on that planet?”
“I told you.”
“I’m afraid I don’t believe you.” It looked like Trip, it even sounded like him, but Reed was convinced that it wasn’t his friend. “Who are you? What do you want with Enterprise?”
“We’re going to destroy the Xindi!” There was a passionate light suddenly burning in Tucker’s eyes. “That’s what we’ve been aiming for ever since they destroyed us. Now we can do it!”
“We’ll crash Enterprise into their planet. The warp core’ll do the rest.”
“With all the crew onboard?”
“What does it matter? The Xindi will be gone!”
“I don’t think so.” Reed took a step closer. “”Not until we’ve repaired the comm. system and asked Starfleet anyway. And gone back to make sure that the captain and sub-commander are as dead as you reported.”
Tucker’s teeth were bared in a frustrated grimace then he gasped and bent over, a hand going to his head. In automatic concern, Reed put out a hand to steady him and was sent flying as the engineer snapped upright, grabbing for the armoury officer’s phase pistol. Already weakened from the earlier blow to his head, Reed was too dazed to give the order to take Tucker down any way possible and his phase pistol had already dropped one of his team when Tucker again stiffened, the weapon falling from his hand as he dropped to his knees.
Reed dragged himself up and whipped the phase pistol out of Tucker’s reach as the engineer slowly sat back on his heels, shaking his head. “Stay right where you are, commander.”
Narrowed blue eyes looked up at him over the barrel of the phase pistol in Reed’s hand. “Malcolm, what the hell are you doing?”
“By the sound of it, stopping you from killing us all.”
Reed sighed. So it was going to be one of those days. “What happened on that planet, commander?”
“I don’t …” Then his eyes widened with horror. “Oh, shit.”
“Exactly.” Since his head was killing him, Reed slumped into the command chair and nodded to Mayweather who had been a silent and puzzled spectator. “Return us to the planet where we left the captain, ensign, warp 5.”
The ready room door opened to admit Enterprise’s first officer and Archer looked up into a coolly indifferent gaze. “Captain, I have completed my analysis of the technology we discovered on the Rihannsu planet.”
“It appears that the device used to control Commander Tucker transmitted sub-space messages directly into the brain stem, prompting the individual to carry out the instructions delivered. It would be particularly effective where there was already a predisposition, as with the commander’s desire for revenge against the Xindi.”
“I thought Trip was over that.”
“He has learnt to channel and contain the emotion, no more.”
He nodded acceptance of the dogmatic verdict and leant back to view the Vulcan woman more easily. “A predisposition, you say. Well, I guess that’s why it didn’t work too well with us, sub-commander.”
They watched each other in silence for a few moments then Archer said briskly, “I hope this won’t affect our friendship, T’Pol.”
“I see no reason why it should.”
“Good.” He nodded dismissal but as she reached the door he added quietly, “T’Pol.” She swung back sharply. “Don’t hurt him.” She paused apparently on the verge of speech but left without speaking and Archer sighed in resignation that had lasted a decade and returned to work.
On the bridge T’Pol halted outside the ready room door then approached the engineering console. Tucker looked up doubtfully as she halted at his side. “I owe you a real big apology.”
“You were not acting of your own volition, commander. Besides I believe I ‘owed you one’.” He frowned in puzzlement and she clarified. “When you were affected by the psychotic pollen, I was forced to shoot you. You have now shot at me.”
He grimaced, not amused. “At least you used the stun setting.” She acknowledged the comment then stayed at his side, absently watching his hands moving over the controls. “Is there something I can do for you, sub-commander?”
For a moment brown eyes met his steadily and he felt the familiar rush of longing then she moved slowly away. “Not at this time, commander.”
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Eight hardy souls have made comments
Don't leave it there! PLEASE. I hope there is going to be some kind of reckoning with the Rihannsu as well. Great story, keep going! Ali D :~)
Always I am in awe of your skill at plotting. The strength of this one, however, is the pacing. It rattles along, propelling the reader along with it.
Whoa! Dude, that was awesome! i totally loved the last line. its a pefect set up for the next installment. write soon!
You have got to be one of the best writers of Trip-T'Pol - no, make that Enterprise! - fanfiction that I have ever come across! Even though your fics are primarily T/T, you handle the character and plot developments very well to come up with a well-rounded story. I wish the writers of the series could write episodes like you write your fics. ^_^
I second Sqewed's comment about writing for the series. Your stories are absolutely wonderful! Thank you and I look forward to your next installment!
Another Great One!
But they kissed!!! Archer & T'Pol KISSED. I don't know about any fancy brain stem controlling thing but they kissed. I wonder what Trip's reaction would be........
I have to leap in and agree with some of the comments above. Your plotting is amazing. So many fanfic writers (myself included) rely on dialogue and/or personal reflection to develop their stories. You go all out and come up with intricate, involving storylines that are not only exciting in their own rights, but lead to character growth and interaction. Well done (yet again!).