Notes: Travis uses his knowledge of Boomer trade routes to his advantage, and finds an unlikely ally. Jon and Malcolm discover more disturbing clues that something isn't quite right.
Future pairings: TnT, R/S (Hayes/Sato mentioned)
Please R&R. Thanks.
Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Archer knew that he could rely on his instincts. Years as a diplomat under the tutelage of Ambassador Soval had honed his own observation skills. He had learned to read every nuance of a person's face, interpret their body language, and detect cadences of their voices. It was obvious what a Tellarite or a Betazoid thought; their emotions ran close to the surface. For a Vulcan, Jon needed to dig deeper under the cool surface.
Right now, those instincts screamed at him, Jon tried to keep the polite smile pasted onto his face, but it took an effort. He glanced sideways at Doctor Malcolm Reed. Malcolm's mouth moved in the familiar smirk, but it had no humor in it. His blue-gray eyes flashed a warning: We need to talk.
Jon nodded slightly. It was amazing how he read Malcolm's emotions through the subtle nuances of his expressions. Malcolm hadn't said much during the Consul's tour of the government building, but his sharp gaze took in every detail. The bureaucrats wore different colored loincloths, from the secretarial staff, who wore a completely different outfit from the menial help. As Consul S'Kal ambled past, all paused in their duties to salute him with a deep bow. S'Kal hardly acknowledged the gesture of respect.
In fact, S'Kal wide smile and shaky gestures reminded Jon of someone who was trying to make a good first impression, but was trying too hard. If the situation weren't so serious, Jon might have smiled and shook his head. The Earth Council wanted to open trade negotiations with Altarra and it was Jon's job to secure them.
S'Kal clicked his claws and a lackey lifted a crystal cover off a tray. A tall, narrow-necked bottle of something cold and three shot glasses sat on the tray, surrounded by an assortment of Altarran sweetmeats.
“Would you care for refreshment, Diplomat Archer, Doctor Reed? It has been a rather intense tour, and I like to see my guests taken care of.”
Jon summoned up his official First Contact representative's demeanor. “Thank you, Consul. We appreciate your generosity.”
S'Kal beamed as he reached for the crystal bottle, worked the stopper out of the neck, and poured a generous splash of green liquid in three shot glasses. With a flourish, he gave Jon the first shot glass, Malcolm the second, and raised the third one in his hand.
“Not to worry, Doctor. It's bad form to poison a potential ally,” the Consul remarked good-naturedly. “You can scan it if it makes you feel better, but this is Saurian brandy.”
Malcolm chuckled as he regarded the verdant liquid in his glass. “Powerful stuff, from what I understand, Consul.”
“If you overindulge, yes, but not in minute quantities. In any case, alcohol does not affect Altarrans the same way as your people,” S'Kal said, with a bob of his head. “We have an arrangement with the Saurian Confederation. They told us that a ship similar to yours visited their world not long ago, and that its captain was eager to open trade negotiations. A colleague of your Senahra Sato, a Captain Hayes?”
Jon raised his eyebrows at the not-so-casual tone and ignored Malcolm's visible flinch at the mention of Hayes. “Yes, he's a fellow officer of Captain Sato's. I've met Hayes briefly in the past; he takes his duties quite seriously.”
“The Saurians were quite impressed by him, especially for his quick thinking when events turned out...tense...for a moment. I'm sure Senahra Sato is proud of him.”
Jon allowed a smile as he said, “We're all proud of him and the crew aboard the Columbia, Consul. They did well.”
“It is my hope that our own negotiations will be just as successful.” The Consul raised his glass. “To our people's future...may it glow brightly like the sunset. I'ral te avirru. The strong are generous.”
Jon and Malcolm copied the gesture, but he caught Malcolm's stony expression in the reflection of his glass. He shook her head at Malcolm, then returned the Consul's toast. “To your health.”
“Cheers,” Malcolm added in a flat tone.
All three drank their shots at the same time ; Jon's eyes watered as the alcohol blazed a path down his throat to his stomach. He gave his glass a new look of respect.
S'Kal buzzed in amusement at his reaction. “There is one more room I would like you to see, Diplomat Archer.” The Altarran bobbed his head and flattened his lips in a smile. “I know it will interest you greatly.”
“Oh?” Jon asked.
S'Kal's ruby-colored eyes focused on him with an intensity that made him uneasy. “I believe you used to head the International Diplomacy Department at...Stanford University, wasn't it?”
He blinked in surprise, and Malcolm's scowl deepened. Yes, he had taught in Stanford's International Diplomacy Department, but that was nearly fifteen years ago. S'Kal could have read his service record, but the Altarran's attitude hinted at a different source.
S'Kal's trying to get information about Hayes and Starfleet. About us, and he's doing a poor job of hiding it. Jon pretended to be pleasantly surprised. “Yes, a long time ago. How did you know that?”
He rubbed his hands together as he bobbed his head at a closed door. He touched the control panel; it slid open to reveal a brightly-colored hexagonal chamber.
“Se'nahra. Fe'krhau bne'dar,” S'Kal announced in a sharp tone. We have visitors.
Heads swiveled around to see them, and Jon found himself the object of forty-five faceted eyes. Fifteen young Altarrans hastily got to their feet. “Karein'da, Denahrru,” they chorused as one.
He mentally translated their greeting: Greetings, High One. He nodded gravely and replied, “Karein'dar. Je'nanarra, ve'lan. Greetings to you all. Please, don't let us interrupt.”
“These young ones are among the best in their hatching,” S'Kal announced proudly, “and they are absorbing the wise words of our elders. In time, they will apply those concepts to their assigned stations in life. We have high hopes for them.”
The Altarran lecturer buzzed once. The fifteen smoothly turned back to face him, more precise than a military unit, and placed their hands behind their backs. The gesture looked painful, but since Altarrans were double-jointed, they showed no discomfort.
“Ta'nar be kahrin'se,” the lecturer intoned.
“Ta'nar be kahrin'se,” the students repeated.
“Vo'bhe te kahrin'se.”
“Vo'bhe te kahrin'se.”
“Na'bhe te kahrin'se.”
“Na'bhe te kahrin'se.”
Jon listened to this chant. The heart is loyal. The mind is loyal. The ears are loyal.
“Tin'nar se varras. Beh'ne se varras. Rhin'dar se varras.” The Elders are truth. The words are truth. Our history is truth.
Jon controlled his expression with an iron will. The repetition was hypnotic, soothing, like a prayer to the Gods. In a way, it was, for the Altarrans considered their people a living testament to history. This attitude was in the cultural files sent to him on , but seeing it in action unnerved him. He reminded himself that the Altarrans based their culture on different values, different attitudes, and he had no right to judge them for it.
“Is this how all your youth is educated?” Malcolm whispered. “By rote repetition?”
“Their minds are trained to be open, Doctor,” S'Kal replied. “The Teachers instruct them on what they need to know for the future. It depends on their proven abilities. These fifteen show great aptitude in governing our people, thus they have been Chosen.”
“Is there some sort of objection to our procedures, Doctor?” There was a definite challenge in the Consul's tone, as if daring Malcolm to object to the lecture.
“This is unlike anything I've seen, S'Kal. My upbringing was very different. It'll take me a little while to get used to it.”
“You must tell me about your own youth, and about your own customs. Information shared is joy doubled.” S'Kal buzzed in humor, but it held a edge “With open eyes, na?”
“With open eyes.” Malcolm answered with an ironic tone. “An interesting choice of words, Consul.”
“There are no such things as secrets, Doctor. Our lives are open for all to see, including mine. Including yours. And hers.” S'Kal's eyes glittered in the low light. “Or do you think I cannot see?”
Jon put a hand on his arm. “That's enough, Malcolm,” he ordered quietly. He turned his gaze towards S'Kal. “Thank you for your tour, Consul. I must consult my superiors in Starfleet for instructions on how to proceed with trade negotiations.”
S'Kal bobbed his head. “Of course, Denahrru. I'm sure you'll give us a favorable review?”
“I'll tell them what I've seen here and ask for their advice on how to proceed,” he answered smoothly. “I'm only a representative of my government and subject to their decision.”
“As it should be the order of things. My gratitude, Denahrru--”
A tremor rumbled through the floor and interrupted the “lesson”. The students all glanced at the ceiling with trepidation as the lights dimmed in response. Those lights brightened until they exploded in a rain of hot sparks and the room was plunged into darkness.
“Power surge!” Malcolm shouted. “Something's wrong.”
A telltale hiss reached Jon's ears; he'd heard it before, on Vulcan, a long time ago, but he never forgot the sound. “Gas leak! Everyone out!”
The students broke ranks and surged towards the door, nearly running over each other in their haste to escape. Jon tried to calm them, but they ignored him as they tumbled out into an equally pitch-black hallway. He felt a firm hand guide him to the door.
“Watch your step, Diplomat. It's a long fall from here.” Malcolm had used his function and not his rank, so Jon knew that the Consul was still within hearing range. “These stairs are slicker than engine lube.”
“Yes, that is to deter any intruders that may attack the Government Building,” S'Kal concurred. “That hasn't happened in millenya.”
Jon squinted as they burst out into a sunny courtyard. Teachers and lecturers gathered their classes into tight groups as they made sure everyone was accounted for. Medical personnel poured into the surrounding courtyards; one of them waved Malcolm over, and at Jon's nod, the doctor went to help.
Jon's communicator beeped and he flipped it open. “Archer.”
“Jon, are you and Malcolm all right?” Hoshi asked. “The Main Archive's had a massive power surge and we have casualties.”
“Malcolm's gone to assist the wounded. I'm with Consul S'Kal. We're all fine.”
At the mention of S'Kal, Hoshi's voice took on a more formal tone. “Let me talk with the Consul.”
“Of course, Captain. Here he is.”
The captain's tone had an equal balance of deference and urgency. Jon stifled a grim smile at how she accomplished that without sounding arrogant. “Consul, Enterprise's medical personnel are standing by to assist your doctors as needed. We can also use shuttles to ferry supplies if we need to.”
S'Kal pursed his lips in an Altarran smile and replied, “Thank you, Captain Sato; I will keep your generous offer in mind. The Main Archives...what is the status of the computer systems? Our society depends on those interconnected networks.”
She paused, presumably to talk to one of the Archivists, then she said, “Head Archivist Madarrah tells me that all the records up to the moment of the attack are intact in your planet's extensive back-up cores. She's coordinating with the Archivists in other cities to compile everything else since then. There was a sharp power drop before the attack, so they're hoping to retrieve a complete record.”
S'Kal whistled through his teeth. “I am relieved to hear that, Captain. Madarrah is highly skilled in information retrieval...I have confidence in her ability. Our small guild of system technicians will make sure nothing is lost.”
Jon frowned at his words. So, there were only a select number of technicians that maintained the vast Altarran network? He figured they'd been Chosen for their skills, just like the young Altarran politicians, but what if something happened to those technicians? With no one to repair the network, the Altarran society would grind to a halt.
Their specialization was both a strength and a fatal weakness.
“ ...stand by, in case we need additional assistance. Once we ascertain the extent of the damage, we'll rebuild what needs to be.” S'Kal nodded to himself. “We will find out the cause of the power surge and correct it swiftly, Captain. I assure you.”
“Thank you. I'd like to speak again with Diplomat Archer, please.”
Jon brought his attention back to his communicator. “I'm here, Captain.”
“Keep me appraised of the situation on your end. Tell Malcolm I'm sending Healer Kov and Lieutenant Cutler to help with the injured. Lieutenant Commander Tucker's already been asked to assist with the investigation here at the Archives, at Madarrah's personal behest.”
That got Consul S'Kal's attention. Jon kept one eye on the his reaction while answering Hoshi. “Acknowledged, Captain. I'll let Doctor Reed know. Archer, out.”
“Interesting,” S'Kal murmured to himself. He shook his head and said, “Let us make ourselves useful, Diplomat Archer. We cannot just stand aside.”
“Of course, Consul."
Commander Phlox sat in the command chair of Enterprise, calmly directing the emergency teams to stand by, in case they were needed. Ensign Wales, Jon Archer's gamma shift communications chief, kept him updated with news from the planet surface. The Altarrans' efficiency in responding to the crisis both impressed and disturbed him. Phlox couldn't pinpoint exactly why.
“The captain's on line one, Commander. She wants to speak with you.”
“Put her on, Ensign Wales.” At the ensign's nod, Phlox raised his voice and said, “I'm here, Captain.”
“Phlox, Consul S'Kal and Chief of Technology Turax has just formally asked you to come down to help with their network repair. I've got you emergency clearance to work with their teams.”
“The Altarrans requested me specifically?” Phlox asked, his voice betraying his surprise. “I was under the impression they guard their technological achievements quite jealously.”
“The leader of their Technological Upkeep Guild asked for our most skilled systems engineer. That's you. I managed to get dispensation for you and an extra person. I'm assigning Lieutenant Trace as your assistant.”
“Lieutenant Trace?” Phlox saw T'Pol's raised eyebrow from the helm station. “Very well, Captain.”
“Travis is returning to the ship to assume command. When he arrives, the TUG will send coordinates to their Central Processing Command. You and Lieutenant Trace are to give them as much technological support as they need.”
“Understood, Captain. We will do so. Enterprise, out.” Phlox closed the channel, then tapped a channel to the Armory. “Lieutenant Trace, please report to Transporter Room One.”
Bryan Trace sounded surprised, but he answered, “Yes, sir. On my way.”
T'Pol frowned slightly. “Lieutenant Trace is Lieutenant Commander Tucker's second-in-command, not an engineer. I am puzzled as to his inclusion. Why didn't the captain ask Lieutenants Hess or Rostov to accompany you to the surface?”
Phlox's mouth turned upward in grim amusement. “I believe the captain suspects her transmissions are being monitored, especially in light of recent events. She does not wholly trust the Altarrans' assurance of goodwill. So she assigns Lieutenant Trace to protect me while I'm there.”
“And she 'conveniently' neglects to identify him as security, and any eavesdroppers assume he is an engineer.” T'Pol didn't quite smile. “The captain is an expert in the nuances of language.”
“Indeed.” The turbolift doors opened, interrupting Phlox, and Travis Mayweather strode out. Phlox immediately stood up from the command chair. “Commander Mayweather.”
“It's a mess down there, Phlox. The quicker their information net's up and running again, the better they'll be.” Travis nodded at him. “Be careful. I've talked with the captain and Lieutenant Commander Archer. There's something weird going on down there.”
Phlox inclined his head in agreement. “Lieutenant T'Pol and I have talked with Captain Sato, and we've both come to the same conclusion. I'll be careful.”
T'Pol's board beeped and she checked the readings. “We have received the coordinates to the Altarran Central Processing Command. Relaying them to Transporter Room One.”
“Go, Phlox. Check in every six hours.”
“I shall.” Phlox disappeared into the lift. Travis watched him go, his expression becoming even grimmer as he turned to T'Pol. “Lieutenant, I need your help with something important.”
She raised an eyebrow and asked, “Commander?”
Travis pulled the memory box from the pocket of his jacket. He popped the chip out of its slot, then gestured for her to join him at the science station. “I need to access what's on this data chip. Something tells me that it'll help explain what's going on down there, but Altarran cards are pretty system-specific. I need to reconfigure some of Enterprise's to read it.”
She nodded and moved to the next station. “Very well, Commander. I shall access the computer's library from here. The two of us working in concert should speed up the process.”
“I'm counting on that, T'Pol.” Travis sighed and went to work.