You are alone in the dark reaches of space, surrounded by aliens who do not understand who you are and what you are, and who will not accept your beliefs. Under such circumstances, an emotional human would feel lost, cut off, adrift, but Sub-Commander T’Pol is a Vulcan, and Vulcans control their emotions. However, no other Vulcan has served for longer than a few weeks on a human ship. Has she, as others imply, lost her way?
Pulled, once again, into one of Captain Archer’s dangerously impulsive attempts to make first contact, the sub-commander finds her life threatened. T’Pol reacts, draws her phase pistol and kills. It was a simple act of self-defense. But is killing ever simple? Has she forsaken the teachings of Surak?
Determined to be true to her heritage, T’Pol forswears violence. She tells Captain Archer that never again will she kill—even if ordered. Is she, as Archer suggests, endangering the entire ship?
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Captain's Starlog, Supplemental. While mapping an area of uncharted space, we have encountered a populated planet -- which is sending out a beacon that our Universal Translator has garbled. Communications Officer Ensign Hoshi Sato is currently trying to decipher what she can.
Jonathan Archer sat in his command chair on the bridge of Enterprise and stared at the image of the Minshara-class planet on the main viewscreen before him: the larger-than-Earth globe, blue-speckled with large verdant islands rather than continents, rotated lazily.
Frankly, Archer was grateful for the signal, and suspected the rest of his crew was, as well; the process of mapping lifeless planet after lifeless planet had grown tedious, and he was looking forward to some interspecies interaction. He was hoping that this particular planet, which they would have labeled Kappa Xi II, was transmitting its signal in order to welcome interstellar travelers.
He was, in fact, hoping for a distraction. Today was a day that came every year -- and every year Archer found a way to remember it, to mark it, and then spent the rest of the day trying to forget so that emotion would not interfere with his efficiency.
That very morning, shortly after he had risen from his bunk -- even before he had fed his reproachful-looking beagle, Porthos -- he had stepped barefoot over to his tiny closet, removed a picture from the top shelf, and stared at the image for a full minute. It showed Zefram Cochrane, a tall, lean man, all sharp angles, shoulders, and elbows, with a tanned, deeply lined face and a shock of white hair to match his shocking white grin. One of his long, skinny arms was thrown over the shoulders of an equally tall man -- this one younger, with dark hair, but with a grin just as wide.
"I'm here, Dad," Archer had said. "I'm really here." The words brought with them both a tightening of his throat and a deep sense of satisfaction; they brought, also, disappointment that his father, Henry Archer, had not lived to see the ship he spent his life building launch.
Today marked the anniversary of Henry Archer's death; and his son Jonathan Archer's life was devoted to fulfilling Enterprise's intended mission -- to explore the unknown.
Now, hours later, Archer was seated in his command chair on the Enterprise bridge, doing exactly that -- and hoping to establish contact with another new race of aliens.
But, as he turned to look expectantly at Hoshi (already under the scrutiny of Ensign Travis Mayweather at helm, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed at tactical, and Sub-Commander T'Pol at the science station), his hope grew fainter. As Hoshi listened and relistened to the message, her dark eyes focused on a far-distant point, her lips resolved themselves into a thinner and thinner line, and the crease between her delicate jet brows deepened.
"Anything?" Archer prompted at last.
"I need more time to do a thorough translation." Hoshi shook her head, then added, "It's not good."
"I'm pretty sure it's a distress call. Some sort of medical emergency. But I can't get any more detailed than that...." She sighed. "From the articulation of the sounds, I'd say the population is humanoid; at least, their lips and tongues and teeth are similar to ours."
Archer considered this for no more than a matter of seconds, then turned to T'Pol, lithe and spare in her formfitting, no-frills Vulcan uniform, and an equally understated and efficient cap of nape-length ash hair. "What's the atmosphere down there?"
The Vulcan swiveled gracefully to her station, then looked back at the captain, her expression and tone impassive, despite the news she conveyed. "Breathable. However..." Her gaze became pointed. "I detect very few life-forms."
It took Archer no more than an instant to make a decision. Regardless of the number of survivors, Enterprise was present, capable of assistance, and therefore obligated to intervene. An entire spe-cies, perhaps, was at risk of annihilation. He pressed the intercom. "Archer to sickbay."
Keeping his gaze fixed on the worried Hoshi, Archer said, "Doctor, we have an unknown medical emergency down on the planet's surface; the population is probably humanoid. Bring whatever you need to the shuttlepod launch bay. Archer out."
He stood. "Hoshi, I'll need you to translate what you can. T'Pol, Reed..." He gestured with his chin, and together the four of them headed for the bridge doors. "Mr. Mayweather, you have the conn."
* * *
The flight down to Kappa Xi II's surface was pleasant; Archer was privately cheered by Hoshi's attitude toward it. She had made up her mind to learn to enjoy such expeditions, and peered through the small viewscreen at the looming image of large emerald islands adrift in a vast turquoise sea -- a far different distribution of land to water than on Earth.
"Gorgeous," Archer murmured, half to himself, as he piloted the shuttlepod closer to one of the larger islands, their destination.
"Yes," Hoshi echoed, while Phlox made an enthusiastic noise. "Too bad they're having an emergency. This looks like it would be a beautiful place for shore leave...."
"Quite the tropical paradise," Reed added.
Archer smiled faintly to himself, remembering the pleasant times he had spent on the island of Kauai. "Just don't expect to be welcomed with garlands of flowers, Lieutenant."
"It is rather Earthlike," T'Pol commented neutrally from the jump seat, which made the captain consider that a blue-green planet might seem inviting to humans, but perhaps to Vulcan eyes, a red desert planet would be more aesthetically pleasing.
Still, the ride down through the atmosphere to the coastline of the island was breathtaking; the water closer to the shore was celery-colored and so clear that even from a distance brightly colored creatures could be seen swimming beneath the surface. The sand was pure white, reminding Archer of a Florida beach he'd once visited; at the meeting of water and shore, long-legged birds raced to pluck buried meals from the wet sand before waves rolled in again. Too bad Trip isn't here to see this. Trip Tucker, Enterprise's chief engineer and the captain's best friend, had spent years scuba-diving in the Keys.
Archer brought the shuttlepod to a smooth landing at its destination, a large paved strip closest to the largest cluster of remaining life-forms. He had wondered whether this large paved area was used strictly for planetbound air travel -- but a glance at his surroundings made it clear that this culture, if not used to extraterrestrial contact, was probably capable of spaceflight. In a nearby hangar, a number of sophisticated vessels rested; Archer eyed them covetously as he brought the shuttlepod to a halt, wishing there were time to inspect them. Instead, he pushed the hatch controls open, and followed his away team out onto the landing strip, adjacent to the coastline.
Once outside, the first thing Archer noticed was the sun: the sun, shining bright in a cloudless Earth-blue sky, the sun reflecting off the nearby diamond-white sand, off the dappled water, off tall, spiraling buildings that shone like mother of pearl, reflecting pale green, turquoise, and rose. Tall trees, their great blue-green leaves draping down like weeping willows, rustled in a light breeze.
"An island paradise." Archer sighed. The landing party had dressed in their copper-bronze colored spacesuits on Dr. Phlox's insistence. Had the captain been alone, he would have risked exposure and relied on the decontam procedures on board Enterprise just for the chance to feel the sun and wind against his bare skin. The notion of breathing in a lungful of sea air was enticing. Besides, the suits, with their domed helmets, might make them look rather outlandish to any species unused to regular extraterrestrial contact. But he respected Phlox's opinion, and where his crew members were concerned, he would take all precautions. Reed had insisted on them arming themselves with phase pistols. Medical emergency or not, it was impossible to predict exactly what they might encounter.
"Beautiful," Reed breathed.
"Ambient temperature twenty-five degrees Celsius," T'Pol announced clinically, her gaze on
her scanner. "Life-forms..." She paused, then pointed in the direction of the spiraling buildings. "In that direction, Captain. Very few, and very faint."
"Let's move," Archer said, all appreciation for his surroundings dismissed. He led the group at a rapid pace, slowing only when Hoshi cried out behind him.
He turned and followed his communication officer's gaze. Peeking out from the profile of one of the silver ships was a hand. Not a human hand -- this one was six-fingered, curled in a limp half fist, the skin a deep greenish bronze.
Archer arrived at the humanoid's side first, closely followed by Phlox. In the open hatch of the shuttle-sized ship, a male had fallen backward, so that his torso lay faceup on the stone-and-shale landing strip, his legs on the deck of his vessel. Clearly, he'd been stricken as he attempted to leave...fleeing, perhaps, whatever had decimated his people. His complexion was deep bronze, his scalp and ridged brow were entirely hairless; the cartilage of his nose terminated in a sharp, triangular tip, framed by large diagonal slits for nostrils. He stared up at the cloudless sky with almost perfectly round, dark eyes, dulled by death. His expression was entirely neutral, his lipless mouth open to reveal a hard dental ridge mostly covered by pale gums. The hands that fell so limply from his flailed arms were slightly webbed, suggesting that his people had evolved from the sea that covered most of their planet. His clearly muscular body was draped in a soft white, semi-sheer toga with full, winglike arms that made Archer think of the snow angels he'd made as a child.
Whatever had taken his life, Archer decided, had not inspired fear in him, even if he was running away. He got the impression that the man had sagged gently to the ground, as if he had simply no longer been able to hold himself erect.
Phlox crouched over the body and scanned it briefly. He glanced up at Archer and said softly, sadly, "Already dead, I fear. Very recently."
Archer gave a single regretful nod.
The doctor studied his readouts, then gently touched the dead humanoid, examining the eyes, nose, mouth, and torso. "I'm not detecting anything microbial in his system...." He looked up at Archer, his features furrowed with puzzlement. "In fact, I can't really tell you what he died of. My first guess is that these readings are normal for him...but it would help if I had a healthy member of his race for comparison."
Reed drew his phase pistol and disappeared into the ship for several seconds, then emerged again, his expression one of awe. "No other bodies, sir. But these people are definitely capable of spaceflight. I know Commander Tucker would love to take one of these apart -- we could learn a thing or two...."
"Later, Lieutenant," Archer answered shortly.
"Captain," T'Pol said quietly. Archer took a step toward her and glanced over her shoulder at her scanner. "Chances of finding such a being are becoming slimmer. Since we have left Enterprise, many more life-forms have died. I'm now reading only eleven on this island. The signals are growing increasingly faint."
"Let's move," Archer said again, gazing down at the dead man, feeling oddly reluctant to leave him without some acknowledgment, some rite to mark his passage. But as the captain turned to face the alien city, he realized the necessity for speed -- else they would be needing a memorial to mark the passage of an entire civilization.
As the quintet strode quickly over a shale-and-sand street toward the building T'Pol indicated, they were met by grisly sights: pedestrians fallen as they walked, in different stages of decomposition under the bright sun. Airborne vehicles carrying single passengers, sometimes pairs, had dropped from the sky, leaving mangled wreckage and toga-draped corpses -- some on the ground, others caught in the swaying trees, or on shrubs, or lying atop a bier of brightly colored flowers. At one point, they passed a body being attended to by a carrion bird; Hoshi briefly closed her eyes, but moved stalwartly onward. Once again, Archer got the impression that the victims had surrendered easily and unexpectedly to death, in the midst of going about their lives.
He was finally glad for the awkward suit, with its self-contained atmosphere; the smell of decay must have been overwhelming. He thought of Earth's past plagues, and the terror that must have been felt by the survivors. During the Black Plague in medieval Europe, there had been so many dead, the living could not bury them all; a similar thing had happened during the plagues that swept mankind after the third World War. And it had happened to these poor people, in the midst of their beautiful paradise.
Death came too swiftly sometimes, Archer decided. He was an enormously lucky man; he had lived long enough to be able to do exactly what he wanted to do with his life....Yeah, and Dad lived long enough, but was denied the one dream he had....Archer forced himself to ignore the last thought. At least his father had had the time to create something of real value. But these people -- they were stricken in midstride, without warning. Had they had the chance to achieve their goals?
He maintained silence, forcing himself to concentrate on the waiting survivors who needed their help; only Hoshi spoke, uttering a single plaintive remark.
"I only hope there's someone left for me to try to talk to."
No one replied -- not even Phlox. The streets were still, quiet save for the sound of wind rustling through long leaves, and the cries of seabirds.
The landing party soon reached their destination: a building with shimmering, nacreous walls that coiled delicately skyward. Large windows overlooked the sea.
"Like a nautilus shell," Malcolm Reed said as he stared upward, his tone hushed and reverent in honor of the dead. His chiseled, somewhat hawkish features -- so distinctly British, Archer decided -- stood in profile against the cyan sky.
Yet the building's beauty belied the horror that waited inside. As Archer and his group entered, they were met by an eerie sight. In a large sun-filled room with a view of the sparkling beach, some sixty or seventy bronze-skinned people sat cross-legged on the padded floor -- some fallen forward, faces pressed to the ground, others fallen back against the walls. All wore the same gentle, relaxed expression of the first casualty the away team had encountered.
Hoshi failed to entirely surpress a gasp; even T'Pol's eyes, behind her visor, flickered for an instant as she steadied herself to do a quick scan.
"Survivors this way," she said softly, pointing down a gleaming corridor.
Phlox turned his broad body directly toward the sight, absorbing it fully. "A shame," he said. "A peaceful people, able to build such a marvelous city...and now, most of them gone."
Archer put a hand on his shoulder. "Let's go find those survivors, Doctor."
Phlox turned, shaking his head as he moved alongside the captain. "You read of such things happening in history, but you never wish to see such a thing yourself...."
Reed remained altogether silent, keeping his pistol drawn.
T'Pol led the way down the corridor; they passed several rooms, all of them filled with exotic-looking beds made of a shimmering gelatinous material that caught Archer's eye, but there was no time left to stop and inspect them. Atop each one lay one, sometimes two, bodies; after a time, Archer stopped looking.
A moment or two later, the Vulcan said, with the faintest hint of something suspiciously akin to excitement, "Survivor, Captain. This room..."
They entered; Archer moved aside so Phlox could attend to his patient at once. Eagerly, Hoshi moved beside the doctor, in case she was needed to communicate. The alien -- this one, judging by her more delicate features and smaller size, female -- was partially encased in a bed composed of a blue-green gelatinous substance suspended in the air.
Phlox scanned the woman, then exchanged a knowing glance with T'Pol.
"What?" Archer demanded of the two.
Both paused, then Phlox spoke. "This woman has just died."
"Another survivor," T'Pol added swiftly. "Aproximately zero-point-one-seven kilometers down the corridor...."
Archer made his way into the hallway at a speed just shy of a full run; T'Pol outpaced him, leading the way as Reed, then Hoshi and Phlox followed. Two doors down, the Vulcan entered what appeared to be a large, fully equipped medical laboratory. Several suspended beds lay empty, but on the one nearest the entrance lay a patient -- half covered by the body of another alien, who had apparently been standing over the bed when he was stricken.
The bed itself was glowing, phosphorescent, slightly pulsating; Archer could feel the warmth it emanated as he helped Reed lift the body of the male off the smaller, prone patient.
"Poor sod," Reed murmured. "Probably died trying to save her."
As the Enterprise officers gently eased the male to the floor, Phlox leaned forward and ran a scanner over his chest. "Dead." The doctor turned and swiftly made his way over to the reclining patient -- a female. "But she's alive!" His tone was one of pure triumph; as he ran his medical scanner over her, he reported, "But weakening with each second. Electrolyte readings differ from those found in the dead victims...." He opened his medical case and prepared an injection. As he administered it, the blue-green bed flickered, then began to brighten, shot through with glowing phosphorescent veins.
"A nutrient bed," Phlox murmured, while he attended the woman. "Probably to counteract the weakness. I'll wager it's to help stabilize her electrolytes...." He trailed off, absorbed in his work.
Archer, meantime, could not help noticing the expression on the male victim's face; of all the dead the captain had seen, only this man's countenance was not peaceful. Indeed, his features were contorted with what a human would call outrage, even -- Am I reading my own cultural cues into this? Archer wondered -- recognition, as if he had recognized the cause of his own death and been incensed by it.
"Anyone else still with us?" Archer asked softly of T'Pol, who was busily scanning for readings.
Her eyes narrowed. "No survivors in this building. But roughly zero-point-five-four kilometers northeast, there's one fairly strong signal left."
"And the others?"
Her gaze grew pointed. "There are no others, Captain. Not on this island. Not anymore."
You said there were eleven, Archer almost said, then realized the futility of challenging the accuracy of T'Pol's reading. In the moments since they'd arrived on the island, nine of those survivors had died.
He made a decision. "Stay with her," he told Phlox, who was busily bent over the surviving female. "Reed, Hoshi, you come with us. T'Pol and I are going to go find the last survivor and bring him back here; Hoshi, we might need your help communicating after all."
"Fascinating medical apparatus," Phlox murmured, his gaze fixed on his patient, but Hoshi nodded in acknowledgment.
Despite the fact that they were in the midst of a city, T'Pol led the captain, Reed, and Hoshi into what seemed to be a livestock facility, where smooth-skinned quadrupeds, looking rather
like overfed manatees on legs, lay motionless, perished in their separate stalls. Troughs of untouched grain and water lay in each pen. Overhead were storage lofts holding containers of what appeared to be feed.
There was an endearing ugliness about the creatures, and the fact that the pens were clean and in fact padded for comfort made Archer somehow sadder than he'd been before. It was hard enough to witness the death of a sentient being, who was aware of his own mortality; but there was a special poignancy about the demise of a less intelligent creature who trusted others for its care. The image of his beagle, Porthos, flashed in Archer's mind.
A single glance at Hoshi's heartbroken expression made Archer look away. Reed managed not to react, but his brow remained deeply furrowed, and one corner of his mouth was pulled taut with horrified pity.
"All recently deceased," T'Pol said clinically, passing them with no more than a cursory glance.
Archer hardened his attitude and followed the Vulcan closely, focusing on the task at hand. "So the plague -- or whatever's caused this -- has affected their animals, too."
"With the exception of some of the smaller fauna," T'Pol remarked -- then came to an abrupt halt, lifting a hand for silence.
Archer and Reed stopped behind her; Hoshi, last in line, bumped into them both.
The two women heard the noise first -- of course, given T'Pol's acute Vulcan hearing and Hoshi's amazing exolinguistic ears. Both looked upward, expectantly, at the same area in one of the lofts.
Hoshi uttered a few tentative sounds in the aliens' tongue, her voice a little higher-pitched than normal -- whether from proper pronunciation or fear, Archer could not tell. A greeting, perhaps, or an offer to help.
What happened next happened so quickly that for Archer, it all blurred together.
An alien face -- deep bronze, with round, luminous, living eyes -- appeared overhead amid the stacks of feed containers. A male, given the size and bulk; the low-ceilinged loft forced him to crawl on hands and knees. He scrambled to the edge of the loft and looked down at the landing party.
Glowered, actually, but Archer's observation was overwhelmed by the jubilant thought: Alive! He's alive and strong enough to talk!
And, indeed, the alien opened his lipless mouth and let go a sound. An unarticulated sound, more like a low growl that began deep in his broad chest and left his throat as a shriek...
...As he came springing down, arms outstretched, one webbed, many-fingered hand grasping, its target Hoshi's throat.
The communications officer screamed as the alien leapt atop her, knocking her down hard -- so hard that, despite the protection provided by her helmet, Archer could hear her skull thud.
Weakened or not, the alien produced a small object -- a utility knife, Archer thought -- and lifted it upward with the clear intent of disconnecting the oxygen hose that fed from the body of the suit to Hoshi's helmet.
Archer had no way of knowing whether the knife could pierce the strong fiber of the hose, of knowing whether the alien could do her any serious harm. He responded out of pure instinct -- drawing the phase pistol from his utility belt, putting his gloved finger on the trigger, aiming and preparing to fire.
But before he could do so, another's phase blast, painfully precise, caught and illumined the alien in the instant before he could bring down the blade.
He shuddered, hesitated in the air a half second, then fell heavily to one side, allowing the terrified Hoshi to scrabble backward, crablike, on her arms and legs.
Archer and Reed reached Hoshi's side at the same time; she sat up, grimaced, and rubbed the back of her skull -- in vain, since her helmet kept her from any hands-on contact with the injured area. "I'm fine," she told the captain ruefully. "I tried to say that we were here to help, but the alien...he didn't seem sane." She looked up at the crouching Reed. "Thanks for stopping him."
"I didn't shoot," Reed admitted, awkwardly; he actually flushed. "I didn't have time."
The three humans glanced over at the fallen man, then at T'Pol, who bent over him with her scanner. Her phase pistol was already reholstered, her air already that of the impassive scientist; yet there was the subtlest catch in her tone as she looked up at Archer and announced:
"Dead, Captain. Given his weakened state, my stun blast killed him."
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