“This is Area Forty-Seven A,” T’Marui said, pointing to an area on the holographic projector. “We will start here. I will take Group Alpha to the north side of the site, T’Illiya will take Group Beta to the south, Commander Mayweather will take Group Gamma to the east, and Lieutenant Commander Archer will take Group Delta to the west. All groups will take preliminary scans and holopictures of their assigned areas. We will all rendezvous back here in three hours. Is that clear?”
There were sounds of affirmation from all four groups, all eager to begin the morning's work. Travis noticed that his Group Gamma was equally split between T’Marui’s Vulcans and his science department. He readjusted his scanner, then said, “All right, people. Let’s do this.”
Area Forty-Seven A was a flat area, with a stone wall bordering it on the east. Travis gestured for Lieutenant Ellen Varianis to take readings on the wall, while he and some of the Vulcans made scans of the general area. He compared the surface scans with the ones he'd taken on Enterprise and nodded to himself.
“It appears that our ancestors took a logical approach to their city plan,” commented T'Yalle. The archaeologist's soft tone made him jump in surprise. “This particular set of buildings are situated around a former spring.”
Travis managed a nod, but thought, Damn, I wish they'd quit doing that. T'Yalle and the others followed T'Marui's near hero-worship of him, which was beginning to grate on his nerves. The only time any of the Vulcans left him alone was the few times he'd went back to Enterprise. Granted, he enjoyed missions like this as a change of pace from his usual duties, but there were more people on Enterprise with more experience in archaelogy than him. In fact, the constant attention was creeping him out, and it took a lot to creep him out.
Aloud, he said, “Looks like it. You build your settlements near the most available source of water. T'Yalle, just me, or are there several shallow depressions in the ground, here and here?”
She craned her neck to look at his scanner, then replied, “Indeed there are, Commander. These are less than five meters deep.”
She paused for a moment before she answered him. “Perhaps. Vulcans still bury their dead, although it is not unusual for the body to be cremated and scattered to the desert winds.”
He shivered, despite the stifling heat. “Any bodies would've been long decomposed by now.”
“But there would be traces of genetic material that might still be retrieved. It would still be an indicator of the physical make-up of our ancestors.” T'Yalle's mouth quirked up in grim humor. “If you are concerned about 'disturbing the souls of the departed', I am willing to take that responsibility.”
Travis winced. “Paid attention to the ghost story last night, didn't you.”
She didn't smile, but her tone carried a note of amusement. “It was enlightening, Commander. Very well, I will take Sevruk, Sworien and T'Liet. Will that be acceptable?”
“Go ahead. Keep me updated on what you find.” Travis turned his attention back to the stone walls, which still had a bluish-green tint.
“Commander, over here!” called Shoshek. The archaeologist waved Travis to his side. “Here is some sort of stone arch leading into the next area. The wall narrows here—“ he indicated a passageway, “—as if this was some sort of inner hallway.”
“Part of a building,” Travis thought aloud. “Some kind of structure spanning Areas Forty-Seven A and Forty-Eight A.”
“Indeed. I will scan the section to see if any of its foundation remains.”
“Good job, Shoshek.” He smiled at him, then left him to do his scans. They determined that a foundation ran deep into Beta Polaris’s soil. The building had been of considerable size, but very little of it remained, aside from a few interior walls.
“Archer to Mayweather.”
“Commander, we’ve found some stone mosaics on the ground here. I think the west side used to be a courtyard of some sort.”
“That’s awesome, Lieutenant Commander. Pictures?”
“It’s hard to tell; they’re incomplete and faded. I’ll have to do a more thorough analysis.”
“Keep at it, Lieutenant Commander.” Travis snapped his communicator shut as Lieutenant Varianis called him to her side.
The three hours seemed like three minutes. Apparently, Doctor T’Marui also felt that their mission was going so well that she agreed to extend the deadline by two more hours. Travis's team decided to gather as much information as possible within the new deadline.
“Commander!” Travis’s head snapped up at Varianis's shout. “We’ve found a stairway!”
“Where?” Travis asked as he, T'Yalle and Shoshek came over to the her side. Varianis pointed towards a tall stone column at one corner of the foundation. An opening had been cut into the column and cleverly concealed in the late afternoon shadows. Travis took a closer look at it; he wouldn’t be able to enter it because it was designed for someone much shorter and slimmer than he was.
“How far does this thing go?” he asked.
“As far as the scanner can reach,”T'Yalle answered with a raised eyebrow. “At least fifty meters.”
“That’s a ways down,” Varianis commented, “and it looks like a tight squeeze for most of us.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t be able to fit in there,” Travis said, eyeing the dark interior with a suspicious expression. “The tallest person would have to be, what, a meter and a half?”
Varianis nodded. “A little over five feet five inches. Whoever they were, they were pretty short.”
“It would be logical to assume that this is their method of accessing the lower levels and that there should be other stairways at all corners of this building—“
The ground trembled under their feet. Travis automatically reached out to steady T’Yalle’s arm, forgetting the Vulcan taboo on invading personal space. He felt a slight jolt up his arm, as if he’d touched a live current and he jumped. The feeling was quickly forgotten as they all saw a cloud of dust rising on the horizon. Travis did the calculations in his head. The west. Jon Archer’s group.
“Archer to Reed!” came Jon’s shout over the comm. “We’ve got injured here!”
“Acknowledged,” replied Malcolm Reed’s accented voice.
“Ellen, take over,” Travis said. “T’Yalle, Shoshek, with me.” They took off at a run, both Vulcans rapidly outpacing him with their speed. When they reached Archer, he was sitting on the ground with Lieutenant Cutler hovering over him. Jon waved her to one of the Vulcans leaning against another one of the stone columns.
“What happened?” Doctor T’Marui demanded. She came up from behind Jon and dropped to her knees next to him.
Jon's voice was hoarse with pain and worry. “Lieutenant T’Pol and two others were examining the column. She stepped just inside to take scans of the interior when the ground just went. She’s down there with T’Lun and T’Niura. Sonak and his team ended up sliding down an incline directly into one of the lower chambers. Sonak says they’re all right, other than some bumps and bruises, but T’Pol hasn’t answered any of our hails—“
Travis was immediately on the line with Hoshi Sato on Enterprise. The captain immediately ordered scans to locate all of the missing Vulcans and told the transporter room to stand by. The news was not optimistic.
“T’Pol and the others are about thirty meters down,” Hoshi said. “Their bio signs are pretty strong, but they might still be injured. Chief Raymer’s having trouble locking on to them.”
Doctor Reed’s voice cut in. “Captain, we’ve reached Sonak and his team. Request permission to beam them to Enterprise. We’ve some injuries that I can’t treat properly here.”
“Granted, Doctor Reed. Relay your coordinates to the transporter room.” Hoshi paused, then addressed Travis again. “Travis, can you and Trip lead a rescue team?”
Travis glanced at Trip Tucker, who was talking rapidly with Doctor T’Marui and Security Officer Sysek. He gestured for Trip to come over and talk with Hoshi. The Armory Officer’s face was pinched with worry.
“Travis and I can’t get down there, Cap’n. The stairways and the passages are too narrow for us. We’re gonna need people who’re about five-five or shorter. I’ve got two people here who’ll fit, but most of us are taller’n that.”
“All right. Travis, I want you to go ahead and bring all of our extra personnel back up to the ship. We’ve got enough information to analyze for a while. Tell Lieutenant Cutler to stand by...I’m coming down.”
“What?” The word was out of Trip’s mouth before he could stop it. He wasn’t the only one, for he heard a low growl from Doctor Reed’s end of the line. Travis nearly managed to get a protest in, but Hoshi cut him off.
“I fit the height requirement; you gentlemen don’t, and I need Cutler with me in case I need a medic.” Hoshi’s voice was firm. “Trip, tell your security personnel to stand by. I’ll be there in ten minutes. Sato, out.”
Trip sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward. “Damn it, woman. Stubborn as hell.”
Travis shook his head. He was worried about T’Pol, and now his captain was going to be in danger as well. No wonder Trip was so tense; Doctor Reed wasn’t too happy about it either. Maybe...no, though Reed was shorter than average and had a wiry build, he still wouldn’t make it down the stairway. Hoshi and Liz were T’Pol’s best hope. Time to take command. Hoshi and the others depended on him.
“All right,” he shouted over the chaos. “Let’s get moving...everyone to the shuttles.”
“We will not leave our colleagues behind,” Doctor T’Marui, with a dangerous glint to her eyes
. “We don’t know if the ground will fall out from under us again,” Travis pointed out. “Captain Sato will get them out. Right now, your safety is the most important thing to us. Please, Doctor T’Marui.”
She glared at him and for a moment, he worried that she would defy him, but then she nodded abruptly and snapped an order to her colleagues in Vulcan. They obeyed her, though grudgingly, and Travis saw anger deep within their carefully contained looks.
“So much for the smooth missions,” Travis muttered to himself, and he heard Trip’s soft agreement next to him.
A fine powder rained down on T’Pol, tickling her nose and eyelids. She opened her eyes to utter darkness. The sharp rocks under her back dug into her spine. Carefully, she moved her body to ease the pain. A quick self-check reassured her there was no permanent damage, save for a few bruises. It was also utterly silent.
“T’Lun? T’Niura?” she whispered hoarsely. T’Niura was the senior geologist of her group; T’Lun was her apprentice. They had been directly behind her as she had scanned the interior of the stone column, but now she couldn’t see or hear them.
“Here,” came the response. T’Pol reached for the glowstick on her belt and snapped it. T’Niura’s pale face appeared in the cone of blue light. T’Pol frowned as she saw T’Lun’s head in T’Niura’s lap.
“How is she?”
T’Niura shook her head and replied, “She has a concussion, Lieutenant. The ceiling is unstable.” T’Niura’s tone was controlled, but T’Pol heard the worry within it. “We must get T’Lun to the surface, Lieutenant. I do not know how serious her injures are.”
T’Pol nodded and slid her communicator out of her belt. “T’Pol to Mayweather. Respond.” A constant buzz answered her, so she knew her communicator had been damaged in some way and that also meant that Enterprise would have difficulty in achieving a transporter lock on them.
The senior geologist had managed to activate her own glowstick and cast the light around her. “We are in a passageway, Lieutenant. Here are more of the mosaics that Lieutenant Commander Archer found on the surface.”
“Look at the edge of the mosaic; do you see that?”
T’Pol brought her glowstick closer to the mosaic; a clear glowing line appeared at its lower edge, extending down the length of the mosaic and the wall itself, disappearing into the darkness. T’Pol eyed the line more closely and was surprised to see two colored lines entwined with each other. One was the green of Vulcan blood, the other the red of Human blood.
“Yes, perhaps it is meant as a directional aid,” T’Niura said.
“Perhaps it will lead us to the surface. Let me follow this and discover where it goes. Stay with T’Lun; I will return as quickly as I can with help.”
“Be cautious, Lieutenant.”
T’Pol ventured forward, one hand holding the glowstick, the other touching the glowing lines on the wall. They were pleasantly smooth and cool, incandescent in the dim shadows. The stone floor became slick underfoot and she was forced to look where she placed her feet. The mosaics ran in a continuous line along the walls. Their colors shimmered under the light of the glowrod: crimsons and greens, bright golds and silver. The figures appeared to be some kind of deities or spirits, in some kind of heavenly tale.
T’Pol paused next to one particular mosaic, one that portrayed some kind of cataclysm. A flock of huge birds hovered in the blue background, over the heads of the figures, claws outstretched. Bright beams of light extended from the birds’ “stomachs” to the people, catching them in their grip. T’Pol frowned and took a closer look at the “birds”.
Fascinating. They do not look like organic avians at all...are those actually atmospheric craft? And the beams...possibly transporter beams? Our ancestors did possess that technology . She noted the pointed ears and the upswept eyebrows of the figures in the mosaic. Again, she thought, what happened to our ancestors here? Did they return to Vulcan? Were they forced to abandon the Colony and go elsewhere? Were they wiped out in a natural disaster? She suppressed a pang of sorrow for those lost Vulcans. It was illogical to mourn the deaths of those dead for millennia.
The passageway seemed to close in on her; now the walls were close enough for her to touch with her arms extended. The ceiling had dropped several inches and now the top of her head brushed it. T’Pol closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. There had to be an exit to this passage. T’Lun and T’Niura depended on her to find a way out...
And just like that, the corridor expanded into a huge cavern. She blinked as she cast her glowrod around her. Now the ceiling was lost from view, and the remains of stone walls divided the huge space into sections. T’Pol stood at the entrance to one of those “rooms”, which extended horizontally for several meters. The remains of living quarters, with stone pallets and brass candle-holders, and several ancient recording devices scattered on the floor.
Her hand trembled as she touched one of those recording devices. Nothing happened. Of course, its power source would have been long drained by now. It would be impossible to access its information...as she thought it, the device crackled, and a beam of light erupted from the screen. A shadow appeared on one of the walls, a hologram of a tall male Vulcan in a strange uniform: black breeches, scarlet and silver tunic. His mouth moved, but no sound came out.
“Who are you?” she murmured. The holoprojection of the Vulcan faded after several moments, and no amount of adjustment could bring it back. T’Pol had managed to capture a few minutes of it on her scanner, but little more than that. She examined the other recording devices, but none of them came to life.
T’Pol continued to the next chamber, then the next. The whole scene reminded her of old pictures of the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, those golden coffins surrounded by everyday items they would need in their afterlife. Vulcans didn’t hold to the same kind of beliefs, but the objects told T’Pol stories of the Vulcans’ lives here:
a statue of something between a sehlat and a Terran badger, engraved with some of the mysterious characters at the bottom. A child’s prize possession? A memento of a long-dead pet?
a board game, with dice and ivory-colored spheres. Still scattered in the moment of play. Why had the game been abandoned?
T’Pol quietly took pictures with her scanner, but left the artifacts as they were. T'Marui would be ecstatic, were she here. Commander Mayweather, too. She shook her head as she contemplated the irony of her discovery.
She felt a slight tremble through the walls and the muffled sound of an explosion rang through the cavern. T’Pol glanced upwards as a chunk of stone fell from the ceiling. She dove out of the way just as it landed on the board game, crushing the pieces underneath it. She turned and ran for the opposite end of the cavern, where the floor sloped toward the surface. T'Pol hoped it would lead her back to the base camp, and help for T'Lun and T'Niura.
“Watch your step; it’s slippery as ice here,” warned Liz Cutler. She gripped her scanner with white-knuckled fingers. “They must’ve had a hard time trying to stop themselves from falling.”
Hoshi nodded and crept down the steps. Steps was a misnomer; it was more like a ramp constructed of thin slabs of marble, each one tightly fitted to the ones before and after it. She clung to a metal handrail that ran above and parallel to the ramp. Crossing a rickety wooden bridge over the Amazon in a stiff breeze was easy compared to this!
One of Trip’s Security officers preceded her, then behind her were Liz, Doctor T’Marui, and the second Security Officer. Travis hadn’t been exaggerating about the tight fit; even Hoshi had a difficult time squeezing between the walls. A vision of someone like Travis or Matt Hayes getting himself stuck brought a grim smile to her face.
She took a deep breath and forced her feet to keep going. Yes, enclosed spaces bothered her, but not as much as they used to. In fact, she had faced her fears during her Starfleet training. The isolation pool, where you have to find your way out using your sense of touch and hearing. The Survival Course in the Rocky Mountains that first year, the other Survival Course in Canada’s Yukon Territory...She couldn’t let her fear paralyze her; as a Captain, her crew depended on her. So she had trained herself to function in closed spaces. That didn’t mean she enjoyed it, though.
Hoshi heard a snort of repressed laughter. It was so unexpected that her head snapped around to find its source. She hadn’t been the only one; Liz glanced over her own shoulder with a quizzical look on her face. They both realized it at the same time: Doctor T’Marui was running her fingers over the pictures on the wall with the joy of a child seeing a butterfly for the first time.
“Amazing,” T’Marui murmured. “Our ancestors managed to construct a whole society both above--- and underground. Look at these mosaics! The colors are as bright as when they were painted.”
Hoshi shook her head at the single-minded monologue. T’Marui had insisted on accompanying the rescue party, but now she didn’t seem at all bothered at the possibility of either of her geologists being hurt or dead. The scientist seemed enthralled by the discoveries she was making. Hoshi had seen the type before; it never ceased to amaze and annoy her.
“I’m getting a couple of lifesigns,” Liz spoke up. “One of them is pretty faint—“
Another tremor shook them. Hoshi slipped and Liz grabbed her before she began to slide. T’Marui stumbled, her feet going out from under her, and she tumbled between Hoshi and Liz, going down the ramp head over heels.
“T'Marui!” Hoshi yelled. She sat on the ramp—and with a silent apology to the Ship’s Quartermaster for what she was about to do to her uniform—pushed herself into a controlled slide after T’Marui. She heard several muttered curses behind her as the others followed her lead.
“Shit,” muttered one of the Security guards, echoed by Liz Cutler a minute later as they slid deeper and deeper into the earth. The tunnel split into two branches, then three, then four. Hoshi caught a glimpse of T'Marui desperately clawing at the marble chute as she disappeared into a left-hand tunnel. Hoshi reached out and tried to redirect her forward momentum, but it was no use. She ended up going into the right-hand tunnel.
Hoshi abruptly ended up on her rear at the foot of the ramp. She scrambled out of the way as Liz came to a stop behind her. She heard a string of shouts and curses ahead of her and she took off in that direction.
“Captain Sato!” shouted one of the Vulcans. T’Niura, one of the geologists, Hoshi remembered. “Over here!”
Liz immediately dropped to her knees next to T’Lun. After a minute, she looked up at Hoshi. “We have to get her topside, Captain. Now.”
Hoshi nodded and directed one of the Security guards to help Liz with T’Lun. “Liz, get T’Lun and T’Niura up to transporter range, then get Phlox to beam you out of here. Where’s Lieutenant T’Pol?”
T'Niura shook her head. “She went to look for a way out, but she has not returned.”
“We'll find her. Crewman Mason, with me.”
“Aye, Captain,” the security woman said as they ran further down the passageway.
T'Pol finds T'Marui and some more clues to what might have happened to the Lost Vulcan Colony. Hoshi stumbles over what might be a Vulcan cover-up. Enterprise is attacked by a mysterious winged ship and Travis proves himself as an able battle commander for the first time.
And yes, Enterprise does have shields of some sort. That was one of my technological beefs with the "regular series", as well as that useless grappler.
January 27, 2151
Trip tightly reined in his temper as he and Security Officer Sysek made adjustments to the team's hand sensors. T'Pol was missing, possibly injured, and Hoshi was now out of communications range. It had been a day and a half since either of them had contacted him. Murphy's Law on Starship Missions was alive and well. He ignored the distinct feeling that T'Pol was in some sort of mortal danger unless he rescued her soon.
He hid his own concern about T'Pol. Granted, he'd barely known the woman for less than a week, but she was part of the Enterprise crew, and therefore her well-being was his responsibility. She's a Vulcan. She can take care of herself. The thought hardly reassured him. He'd promised Soval he'd look after her, and now...again, he forced his mind back to the present. What the hell was wrong with him? He needed to focus on his job; distraction could be deadly.
Sysek sealed up the back of the Starfleet-issue sensor. “Try this now.”
Trip accepted the sensor and activated it. After a few moments, he nodded in approval. “Yeah, that'll do it. The range's a little shorter, but it's more accurate. We should be able to track the Captain with this.”
“And find Lieutenant T'Pol and Doctor T'Marui. I am concerned for their safety.”
Trip noticed the odd expression on Sysek's face and realized he'd been lost in thought for several seconds. Again. “Me too. There's no tellin' if they're injured somewhere and can't call for help. If only there was some way for us to squeeze into those tunnels ourselves---”
“Our ancestors lacked the height of modern Vulcans, and thus their living spaces reflected that.” Sysek studied his own sensor. “I believe I am receiving a signal moving due west of our position.”
“Confirmed.” Trip flipped open his communicator. “Tucker to Mayweather.”
“Go ahead,” came Travis's reply.
“Sysek and I have picked up what looks like the captain's biosign, heading due west of here. How's the quick-and-dirty sensor upgrade going up there?”
Sysek looked askance at him at his turn of phrase, but Travis understood. “I think Lieutenant Commander Archer's catalogued some ten or so new Denobulan curses, but Phlox says we should be able to distinguish Vulcan and Human biosigns more accurately, though we've had to trade off range for that accuracy.”
“Yeah. Can't ask for everythin' under the sun. Okay, we're gonna try to locate T'Pol and T'Marui. I'll keep you posted, Travis.”
“All right, Trip. Be careful; there may still be aftershocks, so watch where you step.”
“Definitely. I'll check in later. Tucker, out.” He looked over at the command tent. “Tell your squad to gear up, Sysek---”
The ground trembled beneath his feet; he would have fallen if Sysek hadn't grabbed his arm. Trip heard a soft bang, then a cloud of dust rose from his right, followed by a steady stream of what sounded like...Vulcan curses? Sysek winced and raised an eyebrow, then returned his studious gaze on the electronics in front of him.
“Isn't that T'Yalle?”
Sysek shook his head and answered, “The tremors have destroyed the shi'vukhut of our ancestors.”
Shi'vukhut meant 'grave'. He understood why T'Yalle was upset, but her emotional display disturbed him. Then again, T'Marui's team wasn't made up of your typical stoic Vulcans. “Yeah, I'd be upset too, but hearin' a Vulcan use that language...my mother would've washed her mouth out with soap.”
Sysek hesitated, then admitted in a low voice, “True, T'Marui's scientists are not as reserved as other Vulcans, which is the reason she specifically picked them for this mission.”
Trip nodded; he'd suspected there had been something odd about T'Marui and her archaeological team. He recalled walking into the medical tent when she'd been talking to Malcolm, and getting the feeling Malcolm had been in trouble. Combined with T'Les's concerns, Trip kept a close watch on the members of the archaeological team.
“But not you. You were T'Pau's security advisor for decades; I doubt she would've just let you join T'Marui.” Sysek flinched, then stared at Trip. Trip only gave him a measured look back. “I've got my own sources of information, Sysek.”
Respect and irritation flashed across Sysek's face, then he admitted in a low voice, “I was under orders from Minister T'Pau not to reveal any information that may give our enemies an unfair advantage, Forgive me; I should have told you from the beginning, Lieutenant Commander Tucker, much as I may not have...cherished the fact. The welfare of Vulcan supercedes T'Marui's ambition.”
Trip nearly dropped the hydrospanner he'd borrowed from Phlox. He knew how to read between the lines. Dammit, I knew there was something weird about that woman. “T'Marui's gonna use her findings here to undermine T'Les and the Vulcan Science Council. She's been schmoozing up to us so we can help her with this dig and as long as Captain Sato doesn't see anything wrong with it---” He shook his head and whistled. “Damn. I hate political manuvering.”
Sysek's eyebrows climbed higher and higher; he understood the concept of 'schmoozing', if not the exact term. “T'Marui is coldly logical in her plan...she has taken care to collect as much data as she can to support her theories. Even T'Les and V'Lar will not be able to argue against her.”
“She's found a potential landmine here on Beta Polaris, right? What is so volatile that it's got T'Les and V'Lar so jumpy?”
Sysek was about to answer, when Doctor Kov, Jon Archer and Malcolm Reed approached them. All three were prepared for a hike through the jungle, and Malcolm and Kov each carried his field kit. Trip was pleasantly surprised at the doctor's willingness to tough it out, but the man had spent the better part of the past eight years on Vulcan, so it was a welcome surprise.
“This conversation isn't over, Sysek, not by a long shot.”
Sysek nodded. “Understood, Lieutenant Commander.”
Trip nodded at the trio and handed each man a modified sensor. “Malcolm, Kov, the one you two've got is specifically geared towards Vulcan biosigns. If T'Pol and T'Marui are anywhere within an six-kilometer radius, you should be able to pick 'em up.”
Malcolm nodded, although he gave Trip a knowing look. “Thank you.”
Trip exchanged a casual salute with Sysek and said in his normal tone, “All right, let's move out.”
T'Pol made her way through another large cavern, this one much like the countless others she'd seen. She suspected that there had been two different societies on Beta Polaris, one who lived above-ground, the other here in the caverns. The artifacts indicated a thriving Vulcan community, complete with a set of schoolrooms and even an infirmary of some sort. Why would some live in the dark, while others live in the light?
Was it a matter of choice or other factors? T'Pol made sure to record images on her PADD as she jotted down notes. If she was an exo-archaeologist like T'Marui, she would have been ecstatic. For the first time, she understood the allure of the past and the questions that begged to be answered.
She had no idea how long she'd been down here; it could have been days, for all she knew. Faint aftershocks rumbled through the walls and each one renewed her fear of another cave-in.
The ground under her feet began to slope upward and she emerged out into a brilliant sunset. She shaded her eyes with her hand until they adjusted to the light. Somehow, she'd ended up at the top of a flight of marble stairs leading down into a valley. A dusty, broken-down boulevard ran through the middle of the valley, with the remnants of stone buildings on either side.
It reminded her of the layout of an ancient Incan city on Earth; the similarities were too striking to ignore. T'Pol noted how logical it was to use every available square centimeter of land in the mountain valley for habitation. In that sense, Humans and Vulcans were quite similar.
Shangri-La. She'd studied philosophy during her sojourn at Mount Seleya, and the Human story of a golden city both fascinated and repulsed her. A mythical city of peace. Little wonder no one had been able to find it, if it had actually existed---Wait. Is that a torch of some sort?
T'Pol squinted in the distance at the bright beacon floating between the ruined walls. Someone was out there, perhaps the members of the archaeological team. She carefully climbed her way down the stairs until she reached level ground. Debris littered the boulevard, gaping potholes marked every few meters and wide cracks ran in uneven trails. T'Pol took the same care in navigating the road; in the gloom, it would be easy to twist an ankle or break a bone.
A cool wind blew over her and she shivered in its wake. Despite herself, she thought about Commander Mayweather's ghost stories. Vulcans do not believe in ghosts, she admonished herself, but the spirits of the Lost Colonists seemed to linger in the ruined buildings.
“T'Pol? Is that you?”
“Doctor T’Marui?” T’Pol croaked. She turned the corner and found T'Marui sitting on a pile of stones, her scientific equipment arrayed all around her. T'Marui's tunic was torn in places, and a bruise covered the left side of her face, but there was a look of flinty determination in T’Marui’s eyes, a gleam of triumph. Then she took a deep breath, and T'Pol saw the utter exhaustion mixed with the triumph.
“Welcome to Daha'Kahr,” T'Marui said, indicating the ruins with a hand. “This was the original Vulcan settlement here on Beta Polaris.”
T'Pol raised an eyebrow as she glanced around her. “Daha'Kahr? Vulcan history states that Daha'Kahr was destroyed when the original Colonists disappeared.”
“Vulcan history postulates Daha'Kahr was destroyed. Assumed. It appears that our historians erred in their assumptions.”
T'Pol's lips thinned at her words. “It appears so.”
“This is the proof I have spent my life searching for, T’Pol. Your mother and the others deny they exist. They want to deny the past...the truth! They prefer the lie, but now they cannot hide behind the lies!”
“What are you talking about? What lies?”
“The lies they have been telling every Vulcan child for the past several thousand years, T’Pol!” T’Marui's eyes were glassy with shock; she must have hit her head underground and was suffering from a concussion. “The ones who ventured into the stars, they went out to explore the galaxy, they are out there, just waiting to be rediscovered!”
T’Pol shook her head and placed a gentle hand on T’Marui’s shoulder. “You are not thinking logically, Doctor. Our ancestors are dead, and have been for millennia.”
The scientist blinked, then flushed green. “Forgive me; I did not know what I am saying. I emerged from atop the temple steps like you did, just as the sun began to set. In my haste, I stumbled and acquired this bruise.”
“It is quite substantial,” T'Pol said as she ran her scanner over the injury. “You should be in Sickbay.”
T'Marui shook her head and replied, “My communicator was damaged in the earthquake. I had no way of contacting your ship.”
She nodded and flipped open her communicator. “T'Pol to Enterprise. Captain Sato, Commander Mayweather, please respond.” There was no answer, not even static, so she tucked the device away in the pocket of her jacket. “ I do not recall Commander Mayweather mentioning this place when he scanned the planet.”
“He might not have known. The mountains are a natural barrier.” She managed a weak shake of her head. “I decided to make good use of my time, as best as I can.” T’Marui pointed to several of the artifacts, including the recording device that had shown the holopicture.
“It seems that we both had similar thoughts,” T'Pol mused, as she tapped her PADD.
T'Marui's eyes gleamed with that dangerous light. “Very good. I would be interested to see what you have found.”
A crackling noise startled both women. T'Pol reached for a sharp piece of concrete, tested its weight in her hand, and held it ready. “We must find shelter, Doctor. The temperature is dropping rapidly.”
“Of course.” T'Marui unfolded herself from her perch and stood on shaky legs. “I am afraid my night vision has diminished with time, but I will help as much as I can.”
“This way. It seems that the structure over there has survived intact.” T'Pol helped her to the only remaining building with a roof. Her mind was already occupied with thoughts of survival, so she missed the self-satisfied expression on T'Marui's face.
“It's a virtual city down here,” Crewman Mason said, as she swept the beam from her flashlight on the various items in the caverns. “Seems like the Colonists spent a lot of their time underground.”
Hoshi nodded. “Maybe they spent their winters down here, or took shelter from bad weather.”
“Maybe, but it looks like at least some of them lived here on a permanent basis.” Mason knelt and touched the floor. “The dust's been disturbed. Either Lieutenant T'Pol or Doctor T'Marui went through here, or both.”
“Let's keep going, Crewman. There's got to be a way out of here.”
Hoshi shivered as the temperature dropped several degrees. Then she realized the floor sloped upward towards the surface and abruptly, she found herself just outside the entrance to a cave. It was sunset, but enough light remained to illuminate the gaping crater several meters away from her feet. The grass around it had been burned to gray powder long ago, and any trace of life was gone. Mason frowned at the sight, then jumped as her boot crunched on something substantial that rolled away, stopping in front of Hoshi.
A Humanoid skull, and from the look of it, it was definitely more recent than the remains of the Lost Colonists.
“It looks like we aren't the only ones who discovered Beta Polaris,” Hoshi said in a hushed voice. There was no reason to be quiet, but the air carried a hint of solemn sadness on the wind.
“Yes, ma'am,” Mason said, just as quietly. She swept the area with her scanner and added, “I'm reading debris scattered for at least half a dozen kilometers in every direction. Tritanium, deuternium, steel...I think we've stumbled over a crash site, ma'am.”
“I'd say between twenty-five and thirty-five years ago. The data's consistent with the materials used in Vulcan ring ships.”
“I don't recall High Minister V'Lar or Doctor T'Les mention anything about losing any ships on their initial survey of Beta Polaris.” Hoshi walked up to the edge of the crater and saw a pile of twisted metal at the bottom of it, with other stray bits of debris scattered around it. It was impossible to tell what kind of ship it had been, ring ship, shuttlecraft or otherwise.
“There's a path that's been cut through the brush, heading towards those mountains. It could've been made by any survivors of the crash.”
“Any chance those survivors might be still alive?”
Mason shook her head. “No way to tell, Captain, but the mountains are blocking my sensor readings. If there are any left, they're hidden pretty well.”
Hoshi nodded and flipped her communicator open. After a few moments, she shook her head. “Still nothing. If the mountains are interfering with sensors, they're messing up communications as well.” She judged the shadows of the dying sun. “We should get some rest and follow the trail in the morning. It's too dangerous to do it in the dark.”
Mason sounded relieved. “I heartily agree, ma'am.”
She gave the Security officer a sideways glance. “Something humorous, Crewman?”
“No offense, ma'am, but you're the first captain I've been assigned to , who believes in some prudence on Away missions.”
“It tends to prolong your life expectancy by a few days,” Hoshi said dryly. “Thank you, Crewman.”
“You're welcome, Captain.”
“Commander, we have a ship approaching at full impulse.”
“What?” Travis frowned at Jon and pushed the comm button on Hoshi’s Ready Room desk. “I’m on my way out, Lieutenant Trace.”
“I don’t recall the Vulcans sending any more ships here,” Jon commented.
“We haven’t,” T’Nu said flatly, as they made their way to the doors. The other Vulcans had made the sociologist the de facto leader of the expedition after T’Marui’s disappearance. As they came out onto the bridge, she stopped so abruptly that Trip ran into her.
“What’s wrong?” Jon demanded.
They gazed at the ship on the screen: all boxy angles and triangular points, adorned by multicolored lights that glittered like poisonous jewels. It reminded Travis of a massive raptor bird in flight, and just as intimidating.
“Lieutenant Trace, do we have an identification?” Travis asked, his normally friendly voice as cold as ice.
“No, sir.” replied Trace, who was Trip's second-in-command. He swiftly moved back to the Tactical station as Travis reclaimed the center chair. “No matches in the Starfleet or Vulcan databases.”
“Lieutenant Commander Archer, open a channel. Lieutenant Trace, activate defense systems and call yellow alert. T’Nu, I might need your assistance, so I’d like you to stay on the bridge.”
She nodded. “Of course, Commander. I will stay as long as necessary.”
Travis and Jon exchanged glances and Travis mouthed, What's that all about? Jon only shook his head, mouthed back, I don’t know, and turned his attention back to his comm board. “Channel open,” Jon reported.
“This is Commander Travis Mayweather of the Enterprise,” Travis began, but a harsh voice interrupted him in a different language. Jon started in surprise; T’Nu’s eyebrow shot up to her hairline. The bridge crew didn’t understand the words, but the gist of it was obvious: Where is T’Marui?
Trace's voice went up in alarm. “I'm reading an energy buildup on their port bow—“
Travis quickly made his decision. “Red alert, raise shields, Lieutenant. Ready phase cannons and photonic torpedoes---” An abrupt jolt shook the Bridge as the scarlet alert lights darkened the bridge. “Damage report!”
“Shields are down, three percent. Minimal damage so far.”
Travis smiled grimly and mentally thanked Admiral Max Forrest, Admiral Henry Archer and Captain A.G. Robinson on their insistent requests for energy shields for Enterprise and Columbia, instead of just the ablative hull plating that the Starfleet brass was willing to afford. That so-called “expensive indulgence” was going to repay itself in lives and equipment saved.
“Phlox to Bridge. The new shielding is holding. Remind me to send a thank-you note to Admiral Archer and Captain Robinson.”
“Let me add my own thanks before you send it off, Commander.” A second volley of weapons fire punctuated Travis's words. “Full spread of photonic torpedoes, Lieutenant Trace, wide dispersal. Fire.”
Trace nodded and punched the button on his console. “Torpedoes away.”
The torpedo barrage splashed brightly against the other ship's shields. To everyone's surprise, it reversed course and began backing away from Enterprise. Moments later, it shimmered and appeared to glow before it simply vanished.
“Where'd they go?” Travis shouted.
“Nothing on sensors, Commander. They're gone.” Trace sounded as frustrated as Travis felt.
“Damn. I want a full damage report and sensor analysis of...whoever that was.” Raiders? Claim jumpers? Treasure hunters? As a Boomer, he unfortunately had the unsavory experience of dealing with all three, and considering how valuable Beta Polaris's secrets were, it was a distinct possibility.
The captain was not going to like this.