UES Enterprise. Orbiting Herroton.
Captain's Log, 28th November 2151.
It's taken a little bit of preparation, but we are ready to greet the official party from the colony. Apart from the Governor himself, we will be playing host to several councillors, plus a few of our own people from the archaeological site. No decision has yet been made as to whether or not we will be allowed shore leave, so I'm hoping to make a good impression. Chef assures me the dinner he is preparing will be sublime, a mix of human and Denobulan recipes. Everyone has been reminded to be on their best behaviour!
The confidential data has been successfully transferred to the courier: Commander Hernandez proclaims herself 'satisfied' with the security arrangements, which is as close as she typically gets towards showing enthusiasm. The courier is scheduled to leave tomorrow. If all goes well, the data will be with the Admiralty within two weeks.
It was a truism almost to the point of cliché that serious military officers disliked full dress uniform. Maria Hernandez despised it intently. While she had much love and respect for her normal uniform and all it represented, the variant she was required to wear for the most formal of events was, to her mind, both uncomfortable and ridiculous. The collar was too tight, the boots too stiff, and the braiding, in her opinion, entirely pointless. At least she had the option to wear trousers. She'd never been one for skirts. She had joined the military to serve her home world, not to parade around in this silly get up. Unfortunately, it seemed that formal events would be quite common on the Enterprise's diplomatic missions.
She followed Captain Archer towards the starboard docking port, taking care not to bang her head or trip over the spaghetti like tangle of pipes and conduits that littered the corridors. Complicating matters was Archer's little dog, Porthos, who followed his master just far enough back to be repeatedly getting under Hernandez's feet.
Archer seemed quite at home in his dress uniform. But then Archer was quite at home with situations like this. It's what he did, what he was good at. He knew the Denobulans, but even if he didn't, he'd find a way to get
to know them, to find similarities, to make connections. Hernandez only knew the Denobulans from reports, most of them Threat Assessments. The idea of giving them a meal and a tour of the ship wouldn't have come highly on her choice of actions. She could see what
he was doing it, trying to get goodwill to support their application for shore leave. She just couldn't see why
. Oh, yes, a bit of leave would be nice, but it was hardly vital at this stage of the mission. And while the archaeological dig was the sort of thing that Enterprise had been sent out to investigate, the human presence at the site meant Earth would learn of any discoveries, rendering Enterprise's participation unnecessary.
She'd raised this matter with him earlier, just before they left the bridge. He'd smiled and leant closer. "I'll let you into a little secret. Letting Earth know what we discover out here...that's my job. But that's not why I do this. Just being here, seeing things for myself. Not reading about it or looking at pretty pictures, but actually getting out there and experiencing whatever new thing the universe has to offer us...That's my motivation. That's what it's all about."
She had frowned at that. "To be honest, Captain, I don't see it."
He had looked disappointed with that.
He'd kept quiet during the walk, apparently deep in thought, but as they approached their destination he straightened up and seemed more cheerful, turning and shooting her a smile as they reached the entry hatch to the reception chamber. He spun the locking wheel and held the hatch open for her. She thanked him and passed through, almost tripping over the dog as it darted past.
Four people were already present. Hoshi Sato looked as uncomfortable in her dress uniform as Hernandez did. She was present to help with translations. Phillip Locke, the ship's doctor, also seemed fidgety and ill at ease, though in his case it was unlikely to be clothing responsible. As a civilian, albeit a former member of the military, he was dressed in a fairly smart, if a little threadbare, gray suit. The most remarkable thing about his appearance, to those who knew him at least, was the complete absence of a cigarette. Hence his clear agitation. The reception chamber was a no smoking zone. Locke usually flaunted such rules, but the presence of the ship's chief engineer, coupled with Archer's insistence that nothing be allowed to interfere with the smooth running of proceedings, not even a wisp of tobacco smoke, stayed his hand.
Said chief engineer, one Charles Tucker the Third, known as Trip to his friend, was also wearing full dress uniform. His looked like he had slept in it, and it had been a rough night. There was something inherently crumpled about the man, which fascinated Hernandez for some reason that eluded her. Had she been aware off the way she gazed thoughtfully upon him from time to time, she would have been shocked and disturbed in equal measure.
Trip was currently deep in discussion with the ship's chief scientist, Professor Polly Partridge. They'd first met many years ago at Cambridge and had remained close friends ever since. Whether they had been more than that was a matter for whispered speculation in some quarters, but Trip always insisted that he had '...been a perfect gentleman'. This was something that Hernandez found satisfying, for reasons she never thought about too closely.
Partridge had evidently realised, or had explained to her, that her customary figure hugging catsuits might not be entirely appropriate for the occasion, and wore instead an elegant powder blue trouser suit with frills at the neck and wrists, plus a pair of black gloves made from the same glossy high tech material as her usual attire. Hernandez wasn't sure why she always wore gloves, but speculated it might be a fear of cross infection. Given her self proclaimed cowardice that certainly seemed plausible. Or possibly it was down to her love of dressing up. Had Polly not been such an ardent pacifist, Hernandez thought, and had she joined the military, she would probably love
Polly also wore a pair of heels far higher than anything Hernandez would attempt, though just a fraction of her typical choice. That had nothing to do with the occasion. Over the past few weeks, the Maintenance department had detected unusually high levels of metal fatigue in the deck-plates of certain parts of the ship. It was eventually determined that the Professor's near constant use of stiletto heels was to blame, and very firm restrictions on what would be allowed were put in place. As first officer, Hernandez had been the one to put the new rules to Partridge, and it had taken a lot of effort not to laugh as she did so.
"...honest, I've really no idea how I'll react when I see him again." Polly was saying in her clipped, precise British accent as they entered. "It's been years
since we last met, and we didn't exactly part under the best of---Jonathan! And Commander Maria! There you are."
The two officers already present saluted, whilst Locke offered a vague grunt of recognition.
The intercom whistled. "Bridge to Captain Archer."
He lifted the handset. "Archer here. How's it going, Haleh?"
"Sir, the shuttlebus is approaching the starboard port, and is requesting permission to dock
"Permission granted. Also, remind them that the Enterprise has artificial gravity, and that the arrows in the access tube point downwards. Make sure they get orientated before they enter the gravitational zone, as suddenly dropping onto your head is not a good start to proceedings."
"Yes sir, I'll make sure they know. Bridge out
Tucker crouched down to scratch Porthos' head. "You sure this little fella's gonna be welcome, cap'n?"
Archer nodded. "Pets of all kinds are highly popular with Denobulans. And Porthos here had often met their diplomatic staff on Earth. He likes them and they like him."
"Marvellous." Hernandez said wryly. "The captain's dog has more cultural experience than me."
"To be fair, Maria, it's what we all suspected anyway." Partridge said airily.
The hatch opened, and Major Malcolm Reed entered, along with four of his Marines, looking resplendent in their immaculate uniforms. "Honour Guard reporting for duty, sir!" he barked, offering Archer a crisp salute. Like Partridge, he was British, but where the professor spoke with the cut glass tones of Received Pronunciation, his accent was the soft burr of Yorkshire.
Archer reluctantly returned the salute. He didn't much care for military formality. "Major. This is to be a formal event. Diplomatic. I don't think the weaponry is appropriate., do you?" Reed's belt supported both a holstered pistol and a sheathed sword, whilst the four troopers carried rifles.
say full dress, sir. This is part of the uniform, for us." He gestured to his troopers. "You'll notice my men are carrying the EM-400 rifle. For my unit, that has been supplanted by the EM-414. The '400 is only now used by us for ceremonial purposes. And while I could run someone through with my sword, I don't really think it'll come to that. At least, I hope not. It'd make a devil of a mess."
Hernandez glanced at the rifles. They were, as Reed said, the older model. As far as she knew, the marines hadn't brought any of these with them when they were assigned to Enterprise, so these particular ones must have been borrowed from the ship's security detail. In which case, for all Reed's comments about 'ceremonial usage only', they were still fully functional. The power packs were not attached, so they couldn't be used, but each marine had a number of belt pouches, each big enough for a couple of the packs. She caught his eye and offered the merest hint of a nod. She approved. It might not be diplomatic, but it seemed sensible to her.
Archer, she guessed, would not approve. He looked at Reed silently for what felt like an eternity, before sighing. "Very well. Fall your people in, Major." There was a tone to his voice that suggested, to Hernandez, that he knew precisely what was going on. but was willing to let it slide. This refusal to insist on doing things his way struck her as odd, almost inexplicable. It seemed inappropriate for a ships captain. Yet, she knew from experience, Archer's approach seemed to work.
With his troops lined up Reed took two steps towards the head of the line, hesitated, then headed to the other end. That, at least, Hernandez could understand, at least partially. Reed was avoiding standing next to Professor Partridge. He seemed nervous around her. Not the social nervousness many men experience around attractive, glamorous women, but actual fear. Mild, low level, but fear none the less. Others had noticed it too, and it was a matter for wild speculation and ribald commentary across the ship.
"So, I've been meaning to ask. Why are they docking at one of the ports?" Lieutenant Sato said. "Why not just use the shuttle bay?"
"They're usin' an old, civilian, Eagle class shuttlebus." Tucker explained. "We gave it to this colony when we joined their arc'logical dig. Bit too big ta safely fit through the bay doors. Good ships otherwise."
"I like Eagles." Partridge said. "Big, big windows, smooth ride...I get nowhere near as travel sick as I do on these military shuttles you insist on using. Plus, of course, the name reminds me of that time Earth's moon was hurled from orbit by a massive nuclear explosion."
Everyone paused. Eventually Hoshi hazarded "Early twenty first century internet meme?"
"Mid to late twentieth century television, actually, but that's a good try Hoshi. We'll make an expert of you yet."
A siren hooted, and lights flashed. Moshiri's voice, on the tannoy. "Shuttlebus is docking in five, four, three, two, one---
" a series of metallic, heavy clunks "---zero. Shuttlebus has docked. All lights show green, we have hard lock on all seals. Entry tube is pressurizing...entry tube is at standard pressure. It is now safe for passage
." The siren and lights ceased.
Archer picked up the intercom handset. "OK, Haleh. Give them permission to come aboard. Archer out." He nodded to Hernandez, who tapped an authorization code into the nearest keyboard. Slowly, ponderously, the heavy, vault like door to the entry tube swung open. The tube itself was well lit, flashing arrows pointing downwards. A figure was already floating towards them, guiding himself on the ropes attached to the tubes surface like the rigging on a sail ship. As she watched the newcomer swung himself round so he was orientated the right way up, and crossed the boundary into the ship. He dropped, fast enough to cause his knees to flex and force him to throw an arm out for balance, but quickly steadied himself.
Archer stepped forward to assist him, moving back when it was clear help was not needed. He said something in Denobulan, making the palms down salute Hernandez recognised from the footage of Archer's conversation on the communications link. From that footage she recognised the newcomer as Trex, the Governor of Herroton. He returned the salute and then, to her relief, spoke in English. "Captain. Shall we continue in your language? Because of the human presence at the site we all speak it to some degree. It might make things easier."
"It would indeed, Governor. Thank you for your consideration. And again, welcome onboard the Enterprise."
Trex beamed, an unnaturally wide smile. "Delighted Captain, absolutely delighted. We had a good look on our approach, we can see why you are so proud of it. Ah, here are the rest of my party. Be careful as you enter the ship, the gravity is a bit...sudden. Gravity. On a ship with no rotating sections. Remarkable. Oh, do watch your footing, Tovan, you'll be flat on the floor if you're not careful."
Of the half dozen or so Denobulans that entered only three really registered with Hernandez. The first, Tovan, was apparently the head of security at Herroton and had the air of an old warrior about him. When introduced to her he exclaimed "Aha! United Earth Military Authority, am I right? Yes, yes. Of course I am. It's the uniforms, Trex, that's how you tell. Blue for UESPA, black for UEMA Space Fleet. And those over there are in the green of UEMA Marines. Don't see any khaki. Do you not have any Ground Forces with you?"
"Ah, no sir." she replied, wondering how much of his bombastic buffoonery was an act. "We have no need of them with our current mission profile."
Next she was introduced to a Doctor Phlox, apparently a former colleague of Locke on the inter-species medical exchange. After greeting her enthusiastically he looked her up and down a few times, then asked if the qualadine she was taking to relieve the swelling of her right knee was causing insomnia or dizziness. Locke barked a single laugh. "Same old Phlox.Thinks he's Sherlock Holmes." Slightly off balance by the question, she replied that she had indeed had trouble sleeping recently. He nodded, and said he'd see what he could rustle up.
Then came Councillor Vrok, a young and pretty female who seemed friendly enough, yet there was something...off putting about her. There was a slightly predatory air, as if she was always on the look out. Unbidden, the word 'opportunist' thrust itself into Hernandez's perceptions, dangling in front of her demanding to be acknowledged.
For her own part, Commander Hernandez did her best to smile and greet the guests politely, giving the appropriate salute, but not attempting the traditional greeting. She'd practised saying it a few times, but wasn't confident enough to try it for real. Still, at least the next part should be easier. These guests were human, after all.
First came the head of the Earth representatives at the dig, a small neat man with a small neat moustache, who went by the unlikely sobriquet of Doctor John Smith. She was shaking his hand and trying to make out what he was saying in his small neat voice when she became aware of a disturbance in the line. Professor Partridge had left her place and stalked towards the latest newcomer, a silver haired man who despite his apparent age carried himself with youth and vigour. There was something familiar about him, though Hernandez was sure they'd never met.
"Polly!" he exclaimed, holding his arms out to greet her. "So good to---" He was interrupted by Partridge's fist, hitting him square in the face.
He staggered back, clutching his nose, blood streaming between his finger, and a cry of agony filled the room. Not from him, her. Partridge hopped away cradling her fist and wailing. I'll have to teach her to throw a punch if she's going to do that
, Hernandez thought.
The chamber was in uproar. Trex demanded "What's the meaning of this!?", Tovan shouted wildly in Denobulan, Smith said something incomprehensible and Vrok watched it all intently. Captain Archer held his arms out and called for calm, but Hernandez had her own ideas about how to achieve that.
"MAJOR REED!!" she bellowed at parade ground volume. That in itself had the effect of silencing the ruckuss. "Major, place Professor Partridge under arrest immediately. Take her directly to the brig, and detain her there until further notice."
"Better take to sick bay first." Locke said. Along with Phlox, he was attending to the silver haired man. "She's probably done more damage to her hand than she did to his nose."
"Understood. Carry on Reed."
Reed gulped. "Yes Ma'am. Delaney, Priest, you heard the XO. Get it done."
As the marines left with their sobbing prisoner, Archer leant closer. "Was that really necessary, Maria?"
She shrugged cheerfully. "Well, we wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident. We had to convince everyone we are taking this matter extremely seriously. I think it worked."
"Riiiiight." Trip Tucker drawled. "An' that's the only reason. I'm kinda surprised you did'na have Polly clapped in irons."
"We don't want her enjoying herself." she replied.
Archer snorted. "Things seem to be calming down. I'll talk to Trex. Let's see if I can salvage this situation."
Trip rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well, Polly did say she wasn't sure how she'd react when she saw him again. Guess we just found out."
"Yes." said the silver haired man, approaching them. He held a handkerchief to his nose, though it no longer appeared to be bleeding. "Understandable, I suppose."
Hernandez looked at him carefully, trying to work out where she had seen him before. "So you've met the professor before, mister...?"
"Oh yes, I've known her for years. Oh, sorry, we've not been introduced. Soong." He gave a formal little bow. "Doctor Arik Soong, at your service."