A/N: I was more than a little put off at the way the episode "Zero Hour" went down. Particularly by the fact that the writers would have us believe that after almost a year of preparation to defend against an enemy seeking to destroy the planet, the people of Earth had gathered together for its defense...nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. The only thing in orbit was a freakin' unarmed space station. And it was only put there by the writers so the Reptilians could destroy it to allow the humans on Degra's ship a little emoting. Well, this is how I think it should have happened.

ZERO HOUR: ALTERNATE ENDING

Captain Robert T. Hammond paced the bridge of the starship Columbia (NX-02), the newest addition to Starfleet. A communication from the Enterprise, still in the Delphic Expanse, had warned Starfleet Command that the Xindi superweapon was on the way, escorted by two Xindi warships: one Reptilian, one Insectoid. As soon as they received word of the launch of the superweapon, the authorities of Earth had set the defense of the planet in motion.

Earth was as ready as she will ever be, Hammond thought. Over the course of the last year, priority had been placed on Columbia's completion. While the overall hull frame was the same, Columbia was not built as an explorer like her older sister Enterprise had been. Columbia was a pure combatant, reconfigured during construction with the Xindi's impending attack in mind. In addition to added armaments, Columbia boasted Vulcan shields.

Our allies had finally come through for us, Hammond decided as he peered out the view screen at the Vulcan ship Ni'Var that hovered off the Columbia's port bow. Hammond had always felt it ironic that the Vulcans would get into a shooting war with the Andorians over a dustball of a planet, but they at first wouldn't lift a finger to defend their allies from genocide.

Someone in the Vulcan High Command had developed a backbone, and just in time.

Columbia and Ni'Var were not alone. Over the last year Starfleet had recalled every starship in the fleet. Most of the warp-one or warp-two capable ships wouldn't arrive in time, but a good assortment of ships were in Earth's orbit. Several orbital stations, bristling with phase cannons and torpedo tubes, had been placed in strategic places around the planet. Old missile silos had been reactivated and loaded with rockets to carry volleys of photonic torpedoes into space.

Hammond's first officer, Commander Scott Goldman, stood beside him. "According to Starfleet Command's calculation, judging from the Enterprise's observations of Xindi corridor transits, the weapon should be dropping into normal space sometime today."

"Any word from Archer?" Hammond asked in his baritone Texan accent.

"Last communications from Enterprise indicated Captain Archer was aboard a Xindi-Primate ship pursuing the weapon."

Hammond shook his head. This entire operation had been poorly planned. Enterprise never should have attempted to attack the weapon. Though she was the best ship in Starfleet (until Columbia), the Enterprise was still one lone out-matched, out-classed ship tangling with superior numbers and superior technology. After his men had obtained the intelligence on the weapon while it was still submerged on that Xindi-Aquatic planet, Archer should have gone balls to the wall to speed back to Earth to deliver the intelligence.

What had Archer accomplished? Nothing, except succeed in getting himself captured and his ship turned into a crippled wreck that was now in no position to defend Earth. Granted, his foolhardiness could now in hindsight be excused because he had turned some of the Xindi races to their side, but that still doesn't detract from the fact that his actions were wholly irresponsible.

Hammond's was a minority voice in Starfleet, an organization of idealistic explorers. Although the Vulcans had been generally benevolent, Hammond was one of the handful of Starfleet officers who believed that not all the aliens to be encountered by mankind would be like the Vulcans. Many could very well be aggressive and pose a danger to Earth. Even with the belligerence posed by races like the Klingons and the Suliban and others, no one was willing to propose a fleet of pure combatants for Starfleet.

Hammond and those like him advanced slowly in Starfleet, and Hammond saw younger, more idealistic men like Archer and A.G. Robinson pass him by. Robinson, a runner-up to take command of Enterprise, had been slated to take command of Columbia until his untimely demise.

Then the Xindi's prototype weapon had wiped out seven million people in Florida and Venezuela, and Starfleet Command rushed to complete Columbia. Ironically, the man whom they had wanted to drum out of the service for his archaic ideas was tapped to command Starfleet's newest ship.

The crewman manning the sensor console looked up from his instruments. "Captain, we have an energy signature on sensors. Two vessels are entering normal space just within the lunar orbit."

"Battle stations, all ships," Hammond commanded.

Admiral Forrest had given tactical command of the defense fleet to Hammond. As the ships went to battle stations, the captain of the Ni'Var contacted Columbia. At Hammond's direction the Vulcan was patched through, and the alien's face appeared on the main viewer.

"Archer said there were two ships with the weapon," Captain Serak said. "The Xindi-Insectoid vessel seems to be missing."

"One less worry for us, Captain," Hammond said. "Our first target is that Reptilian ship. Get it out of the way."

"We'll follow your lead, Captain."

The viewer's image returned to the field of stars. The ships of the defense force were at battle stations.

Columbia and Ni'Var led the attack, probing the Xindi warship with phase cannon beams and volleys of photonic torpedoes. The Columbia shuddered under the Xindi's return salvoes, but the Vulcan shields enshrouding her held.

A blast from the Ni'Var's cannons succeeded in disabling the Xindi ship's engines, and Columbia delivered the coup de grace by slamming a wave of torpedoes into the foundering ship's hull. The Xindi vessel disintegrated under sequential explosions.

The rest of the defense fleet, meanwhile, pounced on the Xindi weapon. Phase cannon blasts and photonic torpedoes peppered the spherical vessel. Columbia and Ni'Var joined in with their own firepower.

The orbital stations opened fire, sending waves of photonic torpedoes into the enemy weapon. The ground-based missile silos launched their rockets, and once clear of Earth's atmosphere they disgorged their torpedo payloads. More and more photonic torpedoes poured into the weapon as the orbital stations and ground-based silos unleashed their hellish fury.

Overwhelmed by the firepower of Earth's defenders, the Xindi weapon finally exploded in a brilliant flash. Hammond ordered the fleet to maintain battle stations for a few minutes more, just in case the Xindi had a surprise or two heading through that subspace corridor, or whatever the hell it was. Surely, bent on genocide, the Xindi would have sent more than one ship to protect the most important asset to their plan.

"We have another ship on sensors," the man at the scanner console reported. "It's Xindi. She's a small little bugger."

"They're hailing us," the comms officer said. "It's Captain Archer."

"Put him on," Hammond said.

Archer's face appeared on the screen, the backdrop behind him unfamiliar.

"What the hell are you doing aboard that ship, Jon?" Hammond asked.

"My plan was to board the Xindi weapon and destroy it from the inside," Archer said, "but your way works too."

"We weren't sitting on our thumbs here while you were gallivanting around the Delphic Expanse."

"I can see that," Archer said with a smile.

A corner of Hammond's lip turned up. "Contrary to popular belief, Jon, Enterprise isn't the only ship in Starfleet."

Archer glanced at someone to his right. "I think my hosts are itching to get back. There are a lot of Starfleet ships here who may yet have some itchy trigger fingers for a Xindi target."

"Columbia is fully operational. I could take you back and escort Enterprise home."

Archer shook his head. "The Aquatics are going to carry her home in the belly of one of their ships. You should see them, Bob, those things are huge."

"Hurry back. Hammond out."

"Archer out."