"Gotcha Last"
by Braycat

Rated PG
Feedback always welcome at braycat@yahoo.com

The crew of the Enterprise are owned by Paramount and Starfleet, but Captain Duvall is mine (not that I really want him.)


Most days Jonathan Archer was proud of the fact that he was an emotional being. After all, he considered that a passion for life was one thing that set humanity apart from the Vulcan's, and despite the advances of that oh, so logical race, Archer firmly believed that the Terran drive to explore the unknown, which was based on a bunch of very emotional principles after all, would eventually take his own people farther than the Vulcan's had ever been.

Even though Jon was a firm believer in the value of feelings, he knew full well that too much sentiment was a bad thing and even if he didn't, Enterprise's science officer would always be there to remind him. So, Archer made it a rule to concentrate on the positive and usually he tried to avoid indulging in any negative sensibilities, but today he couldn't help it. Today a situation showed itself to be just too tempting to fight so the captain surrendered to this particular negative emotion without even a whimper. Today Jonathan Archer not only allowed himself to feel smug, he wallowed in it.

"Captain." The voice of his comm officer, Hoshi Sato, broke into his thoughts. "We're being hailed." The ensign reported loudly, then leaned forward, knowing full well what the situation was, and whispered the rest of it. "It's him."

Archer's smile went deep. Ohh, he was going to enjoy this. "Put him on."

Hoshi pushed a few buttons and then the image of a human male, dressed in Starfleet's best, was displayed in living color, on the forward view screen and the color was truly vibrant. Christopher Duvall, captain of the Shenandoah, one of only four NX starships in Starfleet's fleet was displaying a cornucopia of hues at the moment. Duvall's cheeks were tinted with red, while the tip of his nose and his tightly clenched lips were a bloodless, pale white.

Jon knew Duvall was fighting to maintain his proper captain's demeanor and Archer worked hard to knock the Starfleet's second captain off of that precarious perch. "How are the repairs coming along?" Jon could have tried to remove the small trace of superiority that surrounded the edges of his tone, but he didn't. Archer had the upper hand, for the first time in his life, and he was going to crank the handle for as long as he could. "I hope Commander Tucker has been able to help you with your 'little' problem."

"He's been a great help." The Shenandoah's captain was experiencing a whole spate of emotions on his own. Duvall hated this whole situation and Jon well knew it. The straight-laced, prissy perfectionist had always demanded that his ship run like a well oiled machine and had little tolerance for any mistakes, therefore he was predictably enraged when the Shenandoah experienced major engine trouble three weeks into her maiden voyage. What made things even worse was that Duvall was forced to ask Enterprise to come to their assistance. Starfleet's flagship was on her way home from her successful first tour of duty when she picked up her sister ship's call for aid and Jon was more than willing to help his friendly nemesis. From the beginning, Archer's laid back, amicable command style was a direct contrast to Duvall's by the book manner and the two men clashed each time they met.

It killed Duvall to have to ask Archer, of all people, for assistance, but Starfleet's second ranking captain wasn't going to have to endure this intolerable situation much longer. "I am happy to report that Commander Tucker has finished up the repairs and will be returning to your ship shortly."

"Glad to hear it." Archer said that but in truth he was a little sad that his time for lording it over his rival was drawing to a close. "Is there anything else we can do to help? After all, we have over a year of deep space experience that you don't..." Jon took great pleasure in pointing this out. "We'd be happy to share our knowledge with you."

This had the expected results. Jon knew damn well that Duvall had wanted the Shenandoah to be humanity's first representative in deep space and was predictably enraged when Starfleet gave Enterprise the nod, but Duvall didn't reach the rank of captain by being a fool. He was well aware of the fact that Archer was trying to get his goat, again, so he fought to remain calm. "That won't be necessary. You've done more than enough."

"Are you sure?" Jon said, rubbing it in. "We'd be most willing to help."

"I'm sure." Duvall glanced at a console, a last ditch effort to distract himself before he lost control and said something that he would regret later. "You're shuttlepod has just undocked. Commander Tucker should be back to Enterprise in just a few minutes, so we'll be on our way." Duvall glanced up at Archer again and, for the first time a hint of a smile could be seen on the rigid man's features. "Oh, by the way, there was one last thing that I forgot to tell you."

"What was that?" Archer asked, a sinking feeling beginning to permeate his gut.

Duvall smiled. A full, evil smile. "Gotcha Last!" A hideous cackle from the Shenandoah's captain filled the room for a second then the comm was cut off.

At the sound of it everyone on the bridge suddenly tensed and Jonathan Archer's eyes widened as he got to his feet. This surprised T'Pol who had been watching the interchange with interest. She was aware that there had been an undercurrent of some sort of emotion that was prevalent throughout the conversation, but she put it down to what the humans called friendly banter. Yet, judging by her companions' reactions, Captain Duvall's last comment was anything but friendly.

In fact, the bridge crew acted like they were facing some sort of imminent threat. "What's the status of our pod?" Archer snapped the order to Reed.

The armory officer checked his readings. "The shuttle is halfway between Enterprise and the Shenandoah. Commander Tucker should be back aboard within five minutes."

"Hmm." That sounded like a standard report to T'Pol, but obviously Archer read more meaning into it. Her supposition was confirmed when he turned to her. "Scan the pod."

"Sir?" T'Pol arched an eyebrow. Scanning your own vessel in this situation was not standard procedure. Something highly unusual was going on here.

"You heard me, Sub-Commander." Archer was on edge and not tolerating any delay in his orders.

"Aye, sir." If T'Pol was capable of curiosity then the current situation would send her concern raging, but as things stood she simply scanned the vessel. "The shuttle pod contains one human life sign. All other readings are nominal."

Archer seemed to latch on that. "Only one life sign? Are you sure?"

Once again that surprised the Vulcan. Over the months Jonathan Archer had grown accustomed to her expertise as science officer. She wasn't used to her reports being questioned. "I'm sure."

"Damn." Fully on edge now the captain made his way to his seat. He hesitated for a moment, then summoned up his courage and activated the comm. "Enterprise to Shuttlepod One."

"Tucker here." Archer analyzed his friend's voice carefully. He knew Tucker well and, even though it was subtle, the captain had no trouble picking up the stress in his chief engineer's tone.

"Are you all right, Trip?"

"Oh, I'm just peachy!" Now everyone could hear the irritation in Tucker's inflection, and Archer's fears multiplied.

"I want you to come up to the bridge as soon as you dock, Commander."

A burst of static followed that pronouncement. "I'm sorry, Cap'n." Tucker could barely be heard over the interference. "I'm having trouble picking you up."

Like hell. The pod was only a few kilometers from her mother ship and there was no way they could be experiencing any communications problems. Archer didn't need Hoshi to translate this one. The white noise really meant that Tucker desperately did not want to come to the bridge so he engineered this little electrical disturbance in order to express his displeasure to Archer, without having to come right out and disobey a direct order. The captain got the message all right. "Never mind, Trip. I'll meet up with you in the launch bay after you've docked."

Low and behold the interference suddenly cleared up. "Roger that, Cap'n." Tucker acknowledged and the shuttle entered into it's docking procedure.

Sighing Archer got to his feet. Tucker's arrival happened to coincide with a shift change so the captain gladly turned command over to the beta head, then he and his bridge crew headed for the turbolift. Jon wasn't surprised that the others wanted to come along. They all knew the score, well, everyone except T'Pol that was, and Archer had the feeling that Tucker was going to need all the support he could get.