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Forced into killing as an act of self-defense, Vulcan Sub-Commander T'Pol fears that she has forsaken the teachings of Surak and vows never again to kill, for any reason, despite Captain Archer's warning that her actions could endanger the entire ship. Original.
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J.M. Dillard is the author of numerous Star Trek novels, including the movie novelisations GENERATIONS, FIRST CONTACT, INSURRECTION and NEMESIS, and the bestselling non-fiction pictorial history WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
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."
*Â Â *Â Â *
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...
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