Captain's Starlog, March 13th, 2156. We are on course for the Mu Virginis system to investigate the mysterious silence from the New Elysium colony there. It has been over two weeks since Starfleet last had contact with the colony administrator.
As he entered the launch bay, Captain Jonathan Archer briefly paused, reflecting on the state of his life. It was, he grudgingly realized, probably for the best that his father was no longer around. Jon could only imagine the horrified expression on Henry Archer's face if he saw his son doing something with the resident Vulcan that the younger Archer had been doing since she first came aboard. It was embarrassing to admit that, no matter what Jon's intentions were, he was drawn toward this very thing.
He was losing an argument with her.
Upon their arrival in-system, he had quickly declared his intention to lead the landing party and, almost as quickly, she had began pointing out why he should not. Her points were, as usual, distressingly logical and each of his counter-arguments had sounded weak even to his ears; she destroyed them with that casual efficiency he had come to expect from her. Were she not so essential for the mission, Archer would have seriously considered leaving her in command instead of Reed. So he let her rant.
"Are you done?" Jon asked as the door to the launch bay slid open. They both knew he would exercise his authority as captain, would overrule her objections with a direct order. It was the only way he had ever won an argument with her but he took great pride in knowing that no one ever did. Except Trip. And that irked Archer more than he cared to admit.
She paused ever so briefly and rolled her tongue against the inside of her cheek as she considered. Jon blinked in surprise; it was a trademark Tucker expression, one Trip used when he was uncomfortable or was thinking about how to best tell someone they were being really stupid, and T'Pol had used it as if she had been doing so all her life. He doubted she had even been aware of doing so and, not for the first time, he wondered what exactly was going on between the two. On the heels of this, however, came the realization that he really didn't want to know. It might hurt too much.
That the two were a couple was pretty much an open secret on Enterprise; the question that remained on everyone's mind was how serious it was. As the captain, he knew that he should discourage it, given Starfleet's official position on fraternization, but, like pretty much every other senior officer, he instead looked the other way. As long as they didn't let their relationship affect the job, he'd say nothing. And it didn't. Despite the almost common knowledge that the first officer and the chief engineer were ... well, dating, there were no visible changes. No one found them making out in the mess hall or having sex on the warp reactor or some of the other crazy things couples did. Not that Jon expected that from them. So he continued looking the other way.
If he had to be entirely honest, Archer would also admit to a small bit of jealousy, an emotion that embarrassed the living hell out of him. In the year before the Expanse mission, he had found himself nursing a serious attraction for T'Pol, one that he had nearly convinced himself was reciprocated. It'd become pretty clear to him that the attraction was mostly one-sided though - the horrifically awkward episode in Sickbay always seemed to spring to mind - so he stepped back, disappointed to be sure but firmly convinced that a Human-Vulcan relationship couldn't really happen. Once he had stepped back, he gradually recognized the tension between T'Pol and Trip for what it was, a mutual attraction that had been there from nearly the beginning. He still wasn't entirely sure exactly when he realized Trip and T'Pol had actually moved past the 'just friends' stage; his best guess put it at about a week or two before the incident with the second Enterprise. And T'Pol's reaction to Lorian's genetic ancestry had been all the proof Jon needed that his assumptions were right. She'd been surprised, yes, but there was clearly more discomfort than surprise; if he hadn't been so obsessed with the Xindi, he might have found it amusing. And then, after the Expanse, Trip and T'Pol danced around one another for months.
Up until baby Elizabeth. Their awkwardness seemed to vanish overnight as they grieved together. It was a Vulcan thing, Jon had later learned from - of all people! - Ambassador Soval; T'Pol had psychically bonded with their child and, since Trip was the genetic father, had linked him with the baby as well. The pain of losing the infant was nearly overwhelming for an unprepared Vulcan and Archer found himself glad Trip was there to help. Visibly, Tucker was the most torn up about Elizabeth's death but anyone who really knew her could look and see how close T'Pol was to emotional collapse. They grieved together and then moved forward. Together.
"Yes sir," T'Pol replied to his initial question with that maddeningly Vulcan calm. Jon noticed her eyes flicker away from him for a heartbeat and her entire stance seemed to calm, to soften. It remained unnerving no matter how many times he saw it; Vulcans weren't supposed to be ... soft.
"She convince you to stay yet, Cap'n?" Trip grinned as he stepped up beside Archer, his arms clasped together at the small of his back. The engineer had adopted the stance recently and yet seemed completely unaware of it. Just like T'Pol and her tongue rolling. Sometimes - quite a lot of times, actually - these two gave him a headache.
"She's explained her position," Jon replied slowly with an answering smile. "Since you seem to be the only one who can talk any sense into her, care to help me out?"
"Hey, don't look at me," Trip shot back, raising his hands in mock surrender. "I agree with her. You really should stay on the ship." Archer gave him a half-hearted glare although he wasn't really surprised. Trip and T'Pol argued constantly with one another but when it came right down to it, they nearly always sided with each other. Like any good married couple. And what part of his subconscious that thought had came from, Jon didn't want to know.
"Traitor," Archer groused as Trip sidled over to stand by T'Pol; he was fractionally too close to her to be 100% professional but Jon said nothing, pretended to not even notice that the Vulcan accepted Tucker's violation of her personal space without a thought or complaint. "I am leading this mission, Commanders," he finally declared, emphasizing their ranks. They said nothing, merely exchanged a brief look that was indecipherable to him yet clearly spoke volumes to each other. He hated when they did that, hated how they could finish each other's sentences because it reminded him so damned much of his parents, and was about to tell them so when the comm chirped.
"Bridge to Captain Archer," Lieutenant Commander Reed's clipped voice echoed around the launch bay and, with another sour look at his two senior officers, Jon walked to the nearest comm box. As he hit the transmit button, he couldn't help but notice how Trip inched even closer to T'Pol. Or maybe it was the other way around.
"Archer here," he responded curtly. "What is it, Malcolm?" His so-called "friends" were talking softly to each other now, whispering actually, and Jon wondered if they were coming up with a new battle plan to keep him on the ship.
"Sir, we're receiving a transmission from Starfleet. Admiral Gardner wants to talk to you immediately." Jon nearly sighed. The universe was well and truly against him.
"I'll be right up. Archer out." He hesitated for a moment before moving to rejoin his two senior officers.
"We had plomeek last night," Trip was griping as he approached. "It's my turn to pick the food." T'Pol glanced up at Archer's approach before responding.
"You did not find the plomeek agreeable?" she asked. Jon's almost grinned; they were arguing about food. At least they weren't trying to figure out how to keep him on the ship. Unless it was code...
"It needed pepper," Tucker replied. "Lots and lots of pepper. What's up, Cap'n?"
"Message from Starfleet." Jon barely paused, knowing one of them - probably T'Pol - would interrupt to gloat. The Vulcan had picked up far too many of Trip's bad habits. "All right, T'Pol, you win. I'll be on the bridge; report back as soon as you can." The Vulcan inclined her head slightly in a nod as Trip shot Jon a grin that said I knew you'd lose the argument. "And Commander T'Pol?" She looked back, waiting. "Look after your Chief Engineer." If she caught the inference, she gave him no clue aside from the raised eyebrow.
"Three MACOs should be sufficient to keep Mister Tucker out of trouble," was her reply as she turned back to the shuttle.
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Trip asked as he followed her toward the shuttle. He shot Jon a flat look that revealed he had definitely got the joke. Archer grinned right back at him and his expression had a meaning too: take that, buddy! Sometimes it was good to be the captain.
"You have the worst away mission record on Enterprise, Commander." She paused as she lifted her gear. "You have been stabbed, shot, abducted, cloned, blown up, seduced ..." She spoke the last word with distaste and, despite her Vulcan control, Archer knew she wasn't entirely happy about that. He couldn't help himself. The opportunity was just too ... good and he hadn't been able to rib Trip in far too long.
"Don't forget pregnant!" Jon shouted from the doorway. He ducked through it before Trip could retaliate, already starting to chuckle. It wasn't often that he got the last word.
The day was turning out to be okay after all.
It was turning out to be a pretty piss poor day.
Lieutenant Travis Mayweather leaned back in his chair, trying his best to ignore the strained atmosphere on the bridge. He knew his thoughts should be on his duties, on the job in front of him, but his mind kept drifting to the two letters in his quarters. One ... maybe good, the other maybe ... not so good.
He had no idea what to do.
Travis had been born in space and knew, somehow, that he would die in space. He didn't know what to do with himself when planetside for longer than a week. And now, Starfleet wanted to ground him. Permanently.
They didn't see it that way, of course. What Starfleet saw was opportunity: come teach our cadets how to fly and we'll promote you! It was a measure of how valuable he was on Enterprise that Starfleet even gave him the opportunity to decide his fate; usually, they just cut orders and demanded it. Instead, they gave him the option. Promotion and grounding or continue to fly.
And then, there was the other letter. The one from Gannet. The one in which she promised to wait for him and even hinted at a future together. On Enterprise. It bothered him a lot that he wasn't entirely sure which one was good news.
It just wasn't fair.
Normally, Travis would ask Hoshi what she thought and get her opinion. She was pretty much his best friend on the ship, despite their complete lack of mutual interests. She had an uncanny ability to see right through his bullshit - even when he couldn't - and identify the real core of his problem; more than once, her advice had allowed him to maintain his sanity, especially during the Expanse mission. But lately she was ... distracted. He glanced at Lieutenant Commander Reed, noted the intensity in which the senior tactical officer studied his board and hid a smile; he wondered if the commander was using the tactical board to avoid looking at Hoshi. They'd argued last night and, though Mayweather didn't know the specifics, he had a pretty good guess what it was about. Hoshi had been dating Malcolm for a while, started maybe a week after her promotion to lieutenant, but his recent increase in rank had caused some serious problems between them. Travis suspected that Hoshi still wanted to continue their relationship but Malcolm - proper, stuffy, British Malcolm - balked at the idea of having relations with someone he outranked. It was that, or she was pregnant but Travis doubted they were that dumb. Or sloppy. Either way, she had no time for his problems.
He'd considered visiting Phlox but quickly decided against it; the Denobulan was brilliant and had more degrees than anyone really needed but Mayweather still couldn't quite forgive him for the whole Sim incident. That thought led him directly to Commander Tucker and he crossed the engineer off of his list simply due to T'Pol; he had no desire whatsoever for the Vulcan first officer to learn that he was having problems making these sort of decisions since she'd probably make a note of it in the official record: demonstrated inability to make prompt decisions regarding personal career. Yeah, that'd go over well for future promotions. Sure, Trip might not intend to mention it but T'Pol had a way of finding things out. It wasn't that Travis was intimidated by the Vulcan or anything ... well, actually he kind of was but that wasn't the point. He almost sighed.
He really wished he could talk to Hoshi.
A beep from her console drew his (and everyone else's) attention; she tapped some keys, listened to something and then spoke.
"It's Commander Tucker, sir." Her eyes came up and she locked gazes with Commander Reed's; Travis could almost feel the tension, could feel the frustration and emotion. He glanced back down to his board.
"Onscreen," Reed ordered.
Suddenly looming before them on the immense viewscreen was Commander Tucker; he was half turned toward T'Pol, his face scrunched up in either annoyance or confusion. With those two, Travis considered, who could tell? Maybe it was both. Tucker glanced back to the screen.
"Yeah, oh hey, Mal." That was clearly not appropriate communications etiquette and Trip didn't seem to care. How the engineer got through Starfleet Training completely eluded Mayweather. "We should be reachin' planetside in about 10 minutes. We'll comm you when we get visual." Reed opened his mouth to respond but T'Pol interrupted first.
"Nine point seven minutes, Commander." Tucker shot her a look that could have meant anything from I'm going to shoot you to Let's make babies. Travis leaned toward it meaning the latter.
"Like I said, 'bout ten minutes."
"Copy that, Commander," Reed interjected quickly; his eyes never left his board. Neither seemed to notice.
"Your estimate was inaccurate; I was merely attempting to correct it."
"That's 'cause it was an estimate! Catch you later, Mal. Estimate's aren't supposed to-" The screen blanked out mid-sentence, returning to an image of the planet they orbited, and Travis found himself shaking his head. Silence reigned for a long moment but, from past experience, Mayweather knew it wouldn't last.
"They really do argue about everything, don't they?" It was Ensign O'Connor at the Science Board; he'd been aboard for less than a week. The new guys always notice that first, Travis grinned to himself. From the Engineering console, Rostov snickered. Several others chuckled at the question but not, Mayweather noted, Mister Reed. Either he actually was focused on his board or he was really trying to ignore Hoshi.
Dammit, he really wished he could talk to her.
Talking to her wasn't working so Malcolm threw himself into his work.
It was his way of coping with difficult situations, a technique he had inherited from his father. His Father ... How was he going to explain this?
He'd only recently reconnected with his parents. It had been ... difficult but his father had grudgingly admitted that Malcolm's decision to join Starfleet had merit. His old man was suitably impressed by the declassified reports of the Expanse mission and the way Starfleet had lauded the crew of the NX-01 as heroes without compare after their return, clinging to the "Reeds are always Navy" just didn't make sense anymore. And, from a couple of comments made by his mother, Malcolm suspected that Father was starting to look at Starfleet as the Navy. A space navy, sure, but a navy nonetheless. It was good to be part of the family again.
His console beeped at him and Reed input additional commands that sent a request to the Science Board for extra scanning resources. Twice now he had detected some unusual readings from the polar regions of New Elysium, readings he couldn't quite explain. Or identify. He hated mysteries.
Though he was not looking at her, he was aware of Hoshi shifting in her seat. For the briefest of moments, Malcolm squeezed his fingers into a fist, a fist so tight he felt tingles run through his hand. They'd been so damned careful...
She wasn't even talking to him right now and Reed blamed himself for that. His recent promotion to lieutenant commander had thrown their relationship into a bloody mess; it was fine when both of them were lieutenants but now that he outranked her, he hesitated. It wasn't that he didn't care for her, it was just that it was so ... improper. And now she was pregnant.
Malcolm still didn't know how that happened. Well, actually he did, having been rather intimately involved. All the appropriate precautions had been taken and yet, here they were. He'd proposed at once; it seemed like the right thing to do and the thought of spending the rest of his life with Hoshi was actually one he'd entertained often. But she hesitated. And his heart broke.
The turbolift door slid open and Captain Archer stepped onto the bridge; Malcolm gave him a quick glance before returning his attention to his board. The results of the scan he requested were starting to come in.
"All right, Hoshi," the captain said cheerfully, oddly exuberant for having been convinced to stay onboard. He must have gotten Trip good, Malcolm thought to himself as he studied the scan results. "Let's see what Starfleet wants. I'll take it in my ready room."
"Aye sir." Malcolm almost winced at the flatness of her voice; she sounded terrible. He hoped the captain didn't notice. Glancing up, he realized that Archer was looking at Hoshi with ... something in his eyes; he'd clearly noticed her somber mood. He said nothing though as he turned toward the door but Archer's eyes promised that he would later.
"Commander Reed, you have the bridge," he said unnecessarily. Malcolm nodded briefly as he studied the odd results of his scans. He heard the hiss of the door as Captain Archer departed.
"Ensign O'Connor," Reed said suddenly. The young science officer snapped his eyes toward the Tactical board. "I want a full spectrum analysis on the pole regions. All bands."
"Find something, sir?" Travis asked, twisting in his seat to look at Malcolm.
"I don't know," Reed replied sharply. His tone said everything. Something wasn't right.
The door to the captain's ready room hissed open and Archer reappeared, a bemused look on his face. The expression faded fairly quickly as he took in Malcolm's tense posture.
"Hoshi," Archer said as he strode forward. "The connection was scrambled; see if you can get it back." She nodded once to him, began working her board as Archer turned to Malcolm. "Status?"
"Scanner distortions, sir," Malcolm replied. He knew that he didn't sound particularly confident. "Atmospheric anomalies are playing havoc and we're reading multiple sensor ghosts." Reed's neck began to itch as the data from O'Connor's scans began pouring in; there was something ... familiar about these readings, something he had seen before. "Recommend we recall the shuttlepod, sir." Archer's eyes narrowed at that.
"Hostiles?" He didn't like the idea.
"No way to tell yet, sir." Malcolm let loose a mildly frustrated sigh; he decided right then that he hated this planet. "We can't get a good sensor reading." Captain Archer frowned then, glanced at the image of New Elysium.
"All right. Hoshi, contact the shuttlepod and recall them." He didn't sound happy. Malcolm's console beeped and his stomach turned to ice.
"Tactical alert!" Reed abruptly shouted, slapping his hand down on the key that brought the hull plating online and activated the newly installed shield generators. Archer spun toward him as the alarm began to sound, his face demanding an explanation.
Malcolm hoped he was wrong.
There was something wrong.
T'Pol wasn't entirely sure how she knew this, only that an intuition of danger, a "sixth sense" as Trip would say, was screaming at her that she and her mate were in terrible peril. The scanners on the shuttlepod - limited though they were - remained clear and T'Pol trusted Ensign O'Connor to note any planetary discrepancies from Enterprise in time to warn her; for a Human, he was quite efficient. A third look over the external sensors revealed nothing amiss, nor did a rapid scan of the internal sensors. As far as she could tell, all systems were fully functional. There appeared to be nothing wrong. And yet, she could not shake a sense of impending danger.
Trip felt her unease through their bond and slipped instantly into a more cautious frame of mind, what T'Pol unconsciously thought of as his Expanse mindset. Wary, his eyes traveled over the console's data displays, double and triple-checking everything. In nearly mid-sentence, their bickering about Trip's lack of accuracy simply ceased and their professional masks slid into place. She could tell that the passengers - Lieutenant Reyes from Medical and the three MACOs - noted the abrupt shift in the two senior officers, saw their unspoken communications, and automatically went into combat mode. Veterans all, they recognized imminent danger, even if it was unseen.
"Strap in," Trip ordered the four sharply. Gone was the extroverted engineer from Florida; a cool, collected combat veteran had taken his place. Though he had seen nothing amiss on his displays, he took T'Pol's unease absolutely seriously and she felt a surge of affection for her mate, one that she easily kept shielded. They were on duty, after all. "I've got nothin'," he stated calmly as the shuttle passed into the stratosphere. "Sensors?"
"Are negative," she replied. "As are communication frequencies." He rolled his tongue around in his mouth, eyes darting from one display to another. A thought occurred to her; whether it was his or hers was irrelevant as it was an extremely wise suggestion, and she began powering up the shuttle's weapons systems - they were admittedly minor but were much better than nothing at all. She continued to cycle through the comm frequencies quickly as Trip fed additional power to the maneuvering jets; they passed into the troposphere and were immediately buffeted by winds. Four point seven minutes remained before they would arrive at their destination. Perhaps her intuition was in error, she reflected uneasily. Another thought came to her and she transferred additional power to the sensors, effectively trebling their intensity; the cloud cover would still cause nearly ninety three point four percent of the sensor waves to be reflected but it couldn't hurt. Better safe than sorry. She frowned; that was most assuredly Trip's thought leaking into her own.
The strength of their bond continued to be a source of amazement to her, one that was as equally troubling as it was comforting. Both Ambassador Soval and Minister T'Pau had expressed cautious surprise at its intensity given that humans had never before displayed telepathic ability; it was one of the mysteries of her relationship with Trip that continued to defy explanation. There had been - and still were - Vulcan-Human couples who had formed a mating bond but in each case, direct telepathic communication required tactile contact. Not so with Trip. He had demonstrated a skill that was completely unheard of in non-Vulcans or, for that matter, many Vulcans themselves; Soval had even admitted that his own bond had never been this strong. No one could explain it.
She had some theories though. Something had happened to Charles Tucker when he nearly died of the silicate virus two years ago, something that she could not explain or understand. T'Pol knew Phlox suspected something as well; the Denobulan kept a discreet eye on Trip and Hoshi alike but had been unable to detect anything thus far.
"Adjust heading to..."
"Got it," Trip muttered softly, unconsciously accepting the new heading before she could say it out loud.
T'Pol returned her focus to the sensor board, adjusted the scanning bands. A discrepancy caught her eye and she blinked. Was that...?
"Shit!" Trip exclaimed, picking up her sudden flare of recognition. His fingers flew across the pilot's console and the whine of the engine spiked as he slewed the shuttlepod hard to starboard; the startled exclamation from Lieutenant Reyes was immediately followed by a crash - the lieutenant had clearly not been buckled in properly. A streak of ... something loomed by the viewport, incredibly massive and moving at escape velocity. T'Pol barely had time to register it as a starship when an explosion rocked the pod. Alarms shrieked and she heard the sound of tearing metal; a rapid glance to the rear of the shuttle verified her worst fears as Corporal Stiles was forcibly torn from his seat and disappeared through the gaping hole that had not been there moments ago. He didn't even have time to scream.
She could hear Trip's curses as he fought with the controls of the pod, oblivious to the howl of oxygen being ripped from the pod. They were in a rapidly deteriorating freefall, the shuttle tumbling end over end and now with significant, possibly crippling, structural damage. Less than five seconds had elapsed since the unexpected attack and T'Pol could already feel the pod's inertial dampeners beginning to fail under the strain. She could hear the engine suddenly misfiring, knew that it had been damaged. Fear suddenly pulsed through her but she pushed it away, suppressed it, all the time wondering if it was hers or his. It didn't matter. She wasn't as skilled a pilot as her mate but she had discovered an unexpected advantage of her bond with Trip; without speaking, she began aiding him, borrowing of the knowledge he freely offered while barely understanding exactly what it was that she was doing. Transfer power from sensors to life support like that. Cycle through the engine re-ignition sequence thus. Reroute power from communications. Maneuvering jets fired just so. Working in complete silence and seemingly without fear, they struggled with the pod's controls, fought the planetary gravity, hoping it was enough but knowing it wasn't.
They fell through the dense cloud cover, slowing the uncontrolled tumble with seemingly random bursts from the maneuvering jets but not stopping it completely. Gravity pushed them back in their seats, an implacable yet invisible hand that kept them rooted in place. Through the viewport, she could see mountains and woodland valleys racing to meet them. Trip's anger at the pod, his terror - not for him, she realized, but for her - filled the bond and T'Pol reached out, grasping his hand with hers. She felt his surprise that she had initiated the contact, followed almost immediately by his despair that she would die. The bond reflected her own fears but, in this moment, she was grateful that she would not die alone, that Trip would be here with her. Forever. They would part but never be parted. As it should be. The ground loomed...
And then everything went black.