UES Enterprise. Orbiting Galador III. November 6th, 2151.
The Observation Dome.
"I do hope it's not going to be a regular occurrence." Professor Partridge said, buttering a slice of toast. "Nearly getting killed is not the sort of thing I feel that I could get used to."
Sitting opposite her at the table, Travis Mayweather shook his head. "I have to say I'm surprised to hear that, professor. Given your love of old traditions, and dramatic ideas and so on, I'd have thought you'd fit the role of....what's it called, the damsel in danger?" He looked round the rest of the group. Half a dozen members of the initial landing party had come together for a quick meal before the Enterprise broke orbit.
"Damsel in distress." corrected Dumont. "He is right professor. You are far and away the most qualified person on this ship to occupy that position, and I think it very remiss of you to turn it down."
Partridge munched a bit of toast thoughtfully, then shook her head. "No. I'm not cut out for the job. OK, I got my self captured and hog-tied on a supposedly uninhabited planet, which is an achievement, certainly. I'll grant you that. But I also picked up a near terminal concussion, severe facial bruising, and some pretty unpleasant nasal haemorrhaging. A proper 'damsel in distress' may get knocked out and tied up, but she wouldn't smudge her make up. Having a face plastered in blood and snot would be right out. What d'you reckon, Hoshi?"
"I reckon you're all a load of perverts." Hoshi said. Privately she was relieved. This was the first time she'd heard Polly speak about her ordeal with something other than fear and trepidation. She seemed to be recovering mentally as well as physically. She resolved to let the captain know about this as soon as she saw him. He worried about those under his command.
"Don't include me in that!" an aggravated 'Red' Grant said.
Hoshi sipped her coffee, leant back and looked up through the transparent panels. The day lit crescent of Galador III filled half the sky. "Just a simple survey..." she muttered to herself.
"Hey everyone!" Tucker called out as he entered the dome. "So, Polly, any sign o' intelligence?"
"Amongst this lot?" she replied, gesturing round the table. "Not a trace. I've met moss with a higher IQ."
"I meant 'mongst the ferrekats." He dropped into a spare chair, and waved to the crewman at the bar. "Can I get a coffee, here?"
"Halt!" Polly commanded, pointing at the crewman. She turned to Trip. "And what do we say?"
He let out an irritated breath. "May I have a coffee, please?" he said, with exaggerated precision.
She nodded indulgently, and turned to the crewman. "Proceed."
Tucker shook his head ruefully. "Y'know, that wouldn't be half as irritating if'n you didn't use slang an' bad grammar yourself."
"Me? Employ slang or bad grammar? I ain't never done that or nothing." She grinned, and held up a data pad. "I got your report, and have been going over the footage of the attack on Porthos. Happened right in front of the probe so we saw everything. Are you sure Porthos is alright by the way? John's been going mental."
"Yeah, tell me about it. I ran into him in sickbay. Between him worryin' 'bout his dog, an' Locke bitchin' that he's a doctor, not a vet, I was sure glad to get out of there. So. Intelligence 'mongst the ferrekats?"
Polly tapped a finger on her chin thoughtfully. "To be honest....I'm not sure. And that's not something I say very often. Look. We've been observing this group quite closely. They've got a highly developed pack mentality. There's a lot of gifting behaviour. A young male will give food to a female, or to those of superior social standing in the pack. All perfectly normal, what you'd expect from a societal species such as this. But you are not part of the group. So why give you a gift? Especially the body of one of their own kind?"
"Well I'm guessing it was 'cause that one attacked Porthos. His body was a sort o' peace offering." Trip said.
"Probably so. And that is suggestive in itself. It shows an awareness that the rules which govern their own behaviour might also apply to others. A very crude, simplistic, theory of mind. So....I don't think this is intelligence. But it might be...the beginning of intelligence." She sighed. "I wish I could come back in a couple of hundred thousand years or so. It'd be interesting to see how they develop."
"Tricky proposition." Mayweather mused. "Though with time dilation at near light speeds, it should be possible."
Hoshi asked "What I want to know is, why did Porthos get attacked in the first place? There was no trouble any other time."
"Pure speculation on my part, but it could be something to do with the rivalry between Mr Watchy and Mr Bitey." Polly said. She looked round at their faces. "It's what I've been calling them. Mr Watchy is the one who stood on the probe and watched for danger, and Mr Bitey is the nasty little bugger who bit me. And Porthos. Anyway, they seem to have been rivals for dominance in the group. Lots of aggressive posturing between them. Typical males. I'd guess that when you fed Mr Watchy that peanut Trip, Mr Bitey must have thought you were on his enemies side."
"What, and attacked Porthos 'cause he was with me?"
Partridge shrugged. "He might just have been trying to demonstrate courage to his followers. Difficult to say. Given the complexities of the pack behaviour we've seen just in our short time here, we'd need a lot more data to figure out exactly what's going on. Still, we've made a good start. I do hope Earth invests in a follow up survey, we could learn a lot. I'd have to recomend---"
She broke off as the ship-wide intercom whistled for attention. Hernandez's voice followed. "Now hear this. Final countdown to break orbit is under way. All personnel to their assigned posts, all departments report ready status. That is all.
The dome became a hive of activity as everyone quickly finished their meals and drinks, before heading to the exit hatches. The distant hum of quiescent engines began to rise in both pitch and volume, as the Enterprise was readied for full power.
"All stations report ready to break orbit. We will have full warp power when we reach the departure zone." Hernandez said, brandishing a pad for Archer's approval. He looked it over and signed it at the bottom.
"Thank you, Commander. Hoshi, any word from crewman Stucchi?"
She nodded. "Yes sir. A text message. Guess he's still a little uncomfortable with the spoken word. He thanks us again for the offer to take him with us, politely declines, and wishes us Godspeed."
Archer said. "Very well. Send back an acknowledgement, and let him know our prayers are with him. Haleh, lay in a course to the departure zone. Once that's done, Travis, sound the manoeuvre alert and get us on our way."
The chimes rang out, and on the view screen the planet dipped away.
"So," Hernandez asked, "is that typical for a planetary survey?"
Archer rubbed the back of his neck as he thought this over. "Not really. Most are much more interesting."
The surface of Galador III.
In the night sky, Enterprise was just a dot. A rather bright dot, being positioned to still catch the sun light, but otherwise little different to the stars and planets scattered amongst the dark. Until it began to move. The ideal departure zone was 'above' the orbital plane as perceived from the planets surface, so the bright dot appeared to race upwards, fading from view as it did so.
Eyes watched it leave.
In the forests of the mountains a man who once thought himself Axanar peered through high power binoculars. He felt no regret over their leaving, though he did over some of his own actions. Lowering the binoculars, he turned back to his cave. It looked different now. The supplies of food and medicine now took up a substantial amount of space, and the camp bed looked luxurious compared to what he was used to. With a final glance into the sky he entered the cave and returned to his life.
And down on the plains the sentinel stood once more upon the boulder. Normally he wouldn't be out this late, the rest of the pack were safely within the burrows, but a lot of unusual things had been happening recently. Eventually though he scampered down, heading for the nearest burrow entrance. A few of the younger, more aggressive males were clustered there, but they cowered back as he approached. This was... satisfying.
There was a female there as well, body language indicating that she had accepted him as a potential mate.