UES Enterprise. Orbiting Herroton.
28th November 2151.
"...and if Captain Archer hadn't figured it out when he did, well, I very much doubt I'd be here today." Polly Partridge said, waving a spoon full of apple pie and cream for emphasis. Her ability to tell stories rivalled her desire for attention, and the guests had been held spellbound. Although too much of a scientist to exaggerate or embellish, she was able to gauge her audience well, discussing in detail matters of interest whilst glossing over quickly the less exciting elements. She did have a tendency to dwell on what Archer thought of as irrelevancies, most notably precise descriptions of what she had been wearing at the time.
"By Kralon, a most harrowing ordeal!" exclaimed Commissioner Tovan gallantly. Next to him Hernandez rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. And on the other side, Archer noticed, the young councillor, Vrok, maintained a politely neutral expression. It was difficult to work out what she was thinking, like Hoshi Sato on poker night.
"Indeed, we must be grateful to the captain for his quick wittedness." Governor Trex said, finishing off his desert. "And, for providing us all with such a splendid meal!" There was a chorus of "Hear, hear!" from the human guests, whilst several Denobulans responded with "Egreeta!
", literally 'seconded'.
"Thank you, it's been our pleasure." Archer said. "I'm glad the dishes we were able to offer have met with your satisfaction. I had hoped to finish with a guman fruit pie, but even Chef, genius as he is, was unable to accurately reproduce it's taste with the ingredients available, based solely on my memory of the flavour. A pity, as I rather enjoy it myself."
Vrok grinned widely. "Then you're in luck Captain. The Governor has quite a large supply, grown in our hydroponic greenhouses. I'm sure he'll be able to provide you with some. In the interests of interplanetary relations, of course. Right, Governor?"
"Of course." Trex said through a brittle smile. "I'm sure we can find some."
Tovan cleared his throat noisily, still fixated on the earlier anecdote. "So, Professor. There's one aspect of your narrative I didn't quite understand. A phrase you used, an Earth expression I presume...hog-tied?"
"Ah, I'll explain later." Partridge said, finishing her pie, before adding mischievously "Or perhaps I'll demonstrate."
Not for the first time Archer wished his chief scientific advisor would show a little more decorum. He caught her eye and shook his head, mouthing 'behave!' at her. She just grinned. Still, at least she'd deflected Tovan's interest in the Enterprise's combat capabilities. You could give him a pad with the entire ship schematics right now and he probably wouldn't notice, the captain mused.
Archer signalled the waiting crew to remove the dessert bowls. They were serving the final course of cheese and biscuits when Crewman Daniels approached with a whispered message. Archer listened, then nodded.
"Governor Trex. Your Command Centre wish to speak with you. We can have the message piped through to here, if you like, or if you prefer privacy the communications suite is at your disposal."
"Thank you, I'll take it here."
As Daniels showed Trex to the intercom, Archer helped himself to a large chunk of cheddar, cutting a slice off for Porthos. The little dog, who had sat patiently by his chair, caught the piece in mid air, gulping it down in one go.
"That didn't even touch the sides, did it?" Archer asked rhetorically, cutting off a larger piece.
Reed took a sip of wine. "So, tell me Doctor Soong. Why does an archaeological expedition need a geneticist?"
"Good question." Soong replied. "Early investigations found traces of DNA at the site. Possibly belonging to whoever built the complex. It's hoped we can use this to learn about them, maybe even figure out what they looked like."
"Any luck so far?"
"Not really, the DNA traces are unbelievably corrupted. Ancient. I can't even be sure the builders were from this planet. There's genetic similarities with some local species, but unless we can find more samples it will be impossible to make certain."
Tucker leant forward. "Who ever built it, we ain't talkin' 'bout diggin' away with stone axes, right? From what I hear, it's a pretty major construction, right?"
Doctor Smith, head of the group, answered. "Oh yes. From our studies of the the site, clearly they had burrowing and construction abilities equal, probably superior, to our own. Indeed, it's possible that, quite apart from the archaeological value, we may learn new construction techniques."
"Something our financial backers would be rather pleased with." Soong added. A few of his colleagues chuckled at that.
"So are there any other structures on this planet?" Tucker asked. "Cities, roads, other sites like this one?"
"Possibly." Smith replied, taking a sip of wine. "Hmm, this is rather good. What you have to remember, Commander, is this site is old. Very old. On our world, the oldest known site is Gobekli Tepe, in Turkey. That's about eleven thousand years old. As far as we can tell, this site dates from at least two hundred thousand years
ago. Possibly more. That's about the time humanity, in it's current form, first evolved."
Tucker let out a low whistle of surprise. He hadn't imagined the site dated back anywhere near that far.
Smith continued. "Furthermore, this world is...damaged. There's evidence of a great environmental crisis sometime in the past. Something, we can only speculate as to what, caused mass extinctions. If the builders were native to this world, they certainly perished, along with more than half the species on the planet, practically over night. If there were cities and roads here, they've long since eroded from sight."
"Besides," Soong added, "there's never been a full topographical survey done. The funding didn't run to that!"
Archer said "Well, while we're here we can help with that. The Enterprise is outfitted for planetological surveys. It should be easy, right, Professor?"
Partridge nodded. "Absolutely. If
there's anything left to find, I dare say we'll find it. Shouldn't take more than a day or two at the most. Pass the stilton."
Vrok snorted. "Forgive me, but I would have thought that the pride of Earth's fleet could do it quicker than that."
Partridge went very still. "Oh, we could do it faster, much faster, a matter of hours. But that would involve pumping a great deal of concentrated ionising radiation directly into the atmosphere." She gestured through the domed ceiling to Herroton, though her eyes never left Vrok's. "You have such a...pretty
little world, and it's already had one environmental catastrophe. It'd be such a shame
for it to have another." Vrok looked away.
Opposite Hernandez, Sato mouthed meow!
and made a clawing gesture. Hernandez wiped her mouth with a napkin to disguise her smile. Partridge could be annoying at times, but Hernandez found this Vrok insincere. She'd tried to ignore her feelings, perhaps that was just how female Denobulans behaved, but over dinner Hernandez had found herself hoping that the rest of the tour would include the Enterprise's gym, and that Vrok would show an interest in the boxing ring, and Hernandez would have the opportunity to demonstrate it's use...She shook herself, driving the image, pleasing though it was, away.
Trex returned to his seat, his face grim. Archer caught his mood. "Is there a problem, Governor?"
Rubbing his forehead wearily, Trex nodded. "Yes. There's been another power failure. The entire colony was affected. For nearly eight minutes. Eight minutes!"
"Was anyone hurt?" asked the Denobulan doctor, Phlox.
Trex snorted. "Some young idiot thought that, with the traffic control system down, he had a licence to drive how he liked. An inconvenient building put paid to that idea. Broken leg and a couple of fractures. Just himself mercifully. It's only a matter of time before something really bad happens."
"Governor, I'm sure your technical staff are more than capable," Archer said, "but if there's anything we can do to help, please, let us know."
"Thank you Captain." Trex said, seeming to relax slightly. "To be honest, even if it weren't for this latest incident, I had intended to ask for your help in this matter. These power losses are becoming more and more common."
"What sorta power plant you guys got?" Trip asked.
It was Tovan who answered. "It's a small fusion generator, more than adequate for our current needs. But the problem doesn't seem to be with the plant itself."
"Our records indicate it's all been working normally. The problem seems to be with the power broadcast system."
"A wireless transmission system?" Tucker asked. "Yeah, they can be a bit tempremental. Mebbe some enviro'mental factor, messin' things up. What d'you say, Polly?"
"That's plausible." Partridge absently wrapped a blonde strand around her index finger. "As I recall, the high atmospheric particulate levels on the Alpha Colony played havoc with their attempts to install a broadcast system. In the end they just went with big cables for distribution."
"Yeah, thought I read something 'bout that. At any rate, Governor, me an' mah gang'll be happy to have a look see at your system."
"Thank you Commander. How soon can you send a team down?"
"One moment." Vrok said. "The Council has yet to vote as to whether to allow visiting privileges. No offence Captain, I'm sure they will vote in favour, and I myself am entirely in support, but surely the Governor would not wish to exceed his authority by ignoring due process."
Tovan muttered something under his breath. Even sat next to him, Hernandez couldn't make out the words, or even the language. She did recognise his tone of voice, and suspected that she would agree with whatever sentiment he offered.
"Surely..." Captain Archer started, then paused. Very deliberately he dabbed at the sides of his mouth with a napkin. The Professor wasn't the only one adept at getting attention. "...surely, though, this is a different matter? The Council has yet to vote on the matter of shore leave, it is true, but that is recreation. What we are discussing now is the crew of the Enterprise providing assistance to Herroton Colony. Now, if you are certain that these outages pose no threat, and that no one will be harmed by them...no one else that is, we've already heard of one injury...if you are certain that you are safe, then we will of course remain in orbit until your Council decree otherwise.
"On the other hand, if it is felt that there is a risk to the colonists, then perhaps we should move ahead with all due haste."
"A most valid point, Captain." Trex said. "Indeed, I think enough of the council are present for an emergency quorum. And now that we have reports of an injury, this certainly classifies as an emergency. Of those Council members present, who votes for allowing the Enterprise crew to investigate, and hopefully fix, the power supply problem?"
All Denobulans present raised their hands. Hernandez was interested to see that Vrok was very quick to respond.
"And does any one oppose?" Trex continued. No hands raised. "Then it is settled. On behalf of Herroton Colony I formally request your help in this matter Captain."
"We'll do what we can, Governor."
Vrok sounded pleased. "Oh, thank you Captain, I'm so glad to hear we can rely on your help. I hope you will forgive my apparent opposition earlier. I merely desired to see that all the formalities were properly observed."
Archer regarded her steadily. "Of course. Protocol is so important in matters such as this."
She smiled, demurely. "I'm glad you understand."
"Oh, I understand completely." he replied.
Turning to the Governor, Smith asked "Any news on Halliwell, or your guard?"
"I'm sorry Doctor," Trex replied, "nothing yet."
"Another problem?" Archer asked.
"Two of the dig team have been missing for a couple of days." Smith said. "One of the Denobulan guards, Velen, and Doctor Halliwell, our xeno-linguist. We've been---"
"Halliwell?" Sato interrupted. "Carl Halliwell?"
"Yes. You know of him?"
"Of course. He was a tutor of mine. And a friend. That was a long time ago, but still....And you say he's missing?"
Smith paused, marshalling his thoughts. "Two days ago he signed into the dig site, several hours before the rest of the team were scheduled to start. He preferred to work on his own when he could, said he could concentrate better without the rest of us distracting him. And he tended to rise early anyhow."
"Yes," Sato said softly, remembering, "he always did say that dawn was the best part of the day."
"Yes. Anyway, when we arrived at the site, we found Velen was not at his post. But his distress beacon was still in the charging port. As a rule anyone who leaves the main chamber must take a beacon with them. The place is a maze down there, very difficult to navigate. The beacons are a wise safety precaution." Smith explained.
"Of course, it's possible that Velen left the main chamber for some reason, and simply forgot to take his with him. Doctor Halliwell, however, had taken his. We were able to trace it to section four, chamber D. Hardly surprising, that's where he had been working recently. We got there, and found his briefcase, with the beacon and his mapper inside. Of the Doctor himself, not a sign.
We've been searching systematically since then, but so far, nothing."
"But what was he doing here?" Hoshi demanded. "Last I heard he was on Vulcan!"
"Ah, I'm afraid that's my fault." Soong said hesitantly. "When I was recruited, they mentioned that whey had found ancient writings at the site. I'd got to know Carl quite well, there weren't that many humans on Vulcan, and thought he'd be interested. I think he was enjoying his work, but found the gravity and heat oppressive, So he agreed to come here for a couple of years."
Sato said nothing, but Archer noticed she gripped her cutlery so tightly her knuckles went white.
Reed said "Well, if you need more bodies on the ground, me and my people have some experience in searching."
Vrok spoke quickly. "Governor, again I hate
to point this out, but allowing military personnel to conduct operations on our territory is another matter entirely. While I can not overstate my concern for the missing personnel, our sovereign rights as a---"
She got no further, as Archer spoke, steel in his tone. "Governor Trex. Whilst I fully recognize the legal status of Herroton as a Denobulan colony, I must emphasize that one of the missing people is a citizen of Earth. As such, he is under the protection of the UEMA. I must insist, then, that you give your permission for Enterprise to carry out a search using all the means at our disposal." Come on, come on Trex, figure it out!
Trex looked puzzled, hesitant. Then understanding seemed to spread across his features. "Forgive me Captain, I have no wish to appear obstructionist...but surely insist
is to strong a word? Legally speaking, we are entitled---"
Again Archer broke in. "Governor, I said 'insist', and that is what I meant. I intend to send troops to search for the missing persons, both missing persons. If you refuse permission, it could cause a lot of...unpleasantness."
"Ah." Trex leant back in apparent submission. Turning his head so Vrok would not see, he offered Archer a wink. That gesture was not part of Denobulan culture, but he may well have learnt it from the humans. "Well, I suppose you're just looking out for you own. So, let's put it to the quorum."
Unsurprisingly, no one seemed all that willing to bring 'diplomatic unpleasantness' to Herroton. The vote was unanimous in support of sending down a search party.
And later, as the tour resumed with the shuttle bay, Tovan took Archer to one side.
"Well played, lad." the old soldier said with a smile. "Well played."