Title: Another Planet's Hell
Author: Sita Z
Genre: Angst/ Action/Adventure
Rating: PG 13 (please note that some chapters are rated separately (R) )
Summary: When Archer finds shuttle pod I empty and drifting in space, he assumes that his officers have been killed. However, Trip and Malcolm are not dead. But maybe they wish they were.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Star Trek, I mean. The story, and all original characters belong to me.
AN: First, thanks and hugs to Gabi, the best beta reader ever, for all the feedback, encouragement, and discussions... ganz ganz großes Dankeschön ;-)!!!
Please note that this story deals with violence and mentions sexual abuse (nothing graphic). It also contains some strong language. If this offends you, please do not read any further!
If it doesn't... then please read and review ;-)!
Maybe this world is another planet's hell. Aldous Huxley
"No life signs," T'Pol announced, her voice ringing out clearly in the silent room.
For a moment Archer tore his eyes away from the screen where Shuttle Pod I was drifting aimlessly in space, like an empty cardboard box someone had thrown into a brook.
"What do you mean, no life signs?"
It was a stupid question, and he knew it. At this close distance, the scanners worked with an efficiency of 98.8 percent. Interferences or other disturbances jamming the subspace became irrelevant if the object in question was only a hundred meters away. So when T'Pol said "no life signs", then that was exactly what they were going to get. The Vulcan Subcommander gave him a look, one of those subtle twitches of the eyebrow she saved for these occasions, but the gesture was only a hollow imitation of her usual caustic spark. Her look was supposed to tell him you are being illogical, but Archer was able to read the message behind her dry facade. I am sorry.
The shuttle on the screen hadn't moved, still floating, hanging in space at a disturbing angle that indicated there was no one left aboard to keep it on course. In fact, Archer had known the second the small craft appeared on the view screen that there were no life signs in there waiting to be picked up by Enterprise's scanners. But one could always hope; hope that T'Pol was going to say "Two life signs, Captain, but they are rather weak" (meaning his men were injured but still alive) or "I'm picking up a distress signal" (the shuttle's systems had been incapacitated by an asteroid hit, leaving Malcolm and Trip no choice but to wait, adrift in space, for Enterprise to come and pick them up).
"Captain?" Travis' voice. The Captain straightened up in his chair, tightening his grip on the soft imitation leather of the arm rests. The material felt strangely cool under his hands.
"Bring the grapplers online," Archer said, wondering in a detached part of his mind if his voice sounded as numb as he felt inside. He watched Ensign Hsan, Malcolm's substitute, move to the left and press a few buttons to activate the grappling device, one of many ingenious innovations Starfleet's engineers had come up with to get their proud new ship ready for her journey into deep space.
Hsan had to try twice before the clamps got hold of the small shuttle. She threw Archer a nervous glance, as if she expected him to rebuke her for her poor aim, but the Captain watched in silence, his eyes never leaving the screen as the shuttle was pulled into the hangar bay. A small green light lit up, indicating that the hangar doors had closed. Archer got up.
"T'Pol," he said, but the Subcommander was already on her feet, following him to the turbolift. Archer looked at Hoshi whose face was very pale, her fingers closed around the edge of her console.
"Tell Dr. Phlox to meet me in shuttle bay two. You have the bridge."
On entering the turbolift, Archer felt himself switch to "Captain mode", a sure sign that this time it was going to be hard. Really hard. Captain mode, a phrase he had coined for himself years ago, meant that Jonathan Archer, the being who ate, slept, cared about his friends and made mistakes, backed away, making room for Jonathan Archer, the Captain. The Captain stayed calm, no matter what circumstances, he was a diplomat, and sometimes he gave orders in the line of duty that Jonathan Archer the man wouldn't approve of. And the Captain was in control of his feelings. That was important. He set an example, he didn't burden his subordinates by indulging in emotional displays, as T'Pol would've put it. Well, mostly he didn't. There were times when Jonathan the person showed through, giving the Captain a hard time, especially when it came to things you had to do in the line of duty.
"Gettin' a little schizophrenic here, Cap'n, ain't we?"
Trip's voice echoed in his thoughts as if his friend were right here, commenting on his captain's musings in that exaggerated drawl he always put on when he was teasing someone. Despite himself, Jon felt a twitch in the corner of his mouth, and was only too aware of T'Pol's eyes on him. The Vulcan seemed to be watching him very closely, probably interpreting his muscle twitch as a sign of tension, and Jon knew that right now she was racking her brain for something to say that was logical and comforting at the same time. Unfortunately, though, these two things mostly proved mutually exclusive, and so they stood in silence, waiting for the turbolift to finally come to a halt.
When the doors opened, Jon realized that this time he was going to need the Captain more than ever before. Phlox was already here, waiting next to the shuttlepod which was standing in the very middle of the hangar. Archer noticed the black streaks on its side, proof of past weapon fire. One of the wings was broken, its jagged remains burnt and charred.
Phlox, for once, didn't smile as they approached. His round face was solemn, almost grave, and the look in his eyes told Archer that the doctor was worried. Worried about him. Phlox' next words confirmed his guess.
"Captain, if you don't mind I'd like to go in first. I need to take a few scans, and I don't want the data contaminated by interfering readings."
It was a lame excuse if Archer had ever heard one, but he knew as well as Phlox did that interfering readings had nothing to do with his wish to be the first one to enter the shuttle pod. The first one to go in could prepare the others for the sight awaiting them in there, could clean up the mess, maybe pull a blanket over the face of a charred corpse. He could make things a little easier for those coming after him.
The Captain shook his head. "No, doctor. That'll be okay."
The doctor hesitated, then lowered his head and stepped aside. Archer was very aware of their eyes on his back as he approached the shuttle. Stepping closer, he noticed that the hatch's edges were charred as well, slightly bent and scratched in some places, as if someone had forced their way inside. Very briefly, he hesitated, then reached out and pushed the opening mechanism. A clicking sound confirmed that the hatch was open, but it was stuck, leaving only a small gap between the frame and the bulkhead. Grabbing the handle, Archer gave the hatch a sharp jerk, and it sprang open.
Jon climbed inside, fully expecting to discover Trip and Malcolm lying in some far corner where they'd been hurled during the attack, dead, their necks broken. But there was nothing there. The shuttle was empty.
Jon sat down hard on one of the benches, letting his eyes wander across the shuttle's interior. Only then did he notice that besides the absence of his crewmen, the shuttle was in quite a state of disarray. The compartment doors were open, their contents strewn all over the floor, and there were several dents in the wall paneling, looking as if something - or someone - had been slammed against the wall.
"It seems that a fight has taken place in here." T'Pol's voice came from the direction of the hatch, and Archer turned his head. The Subcommander and Phlox had followed him into shuttle, taking a quick, tense look around just like he had done. The doctor pulled out his hand scanner, and began to run it over the chairs and benches. T'Pol had knelt down, and was now methodically going through the equipment that had been thrown out of the compartments. Pulling himself together, Archer got up again.
"Anything missing, T'Pol?"
She looked up at him, a small crease between her eyebrows. "No, Captain. But..."
She picked up a phaser that had been half hidden under one of the benches, turning it over in her hands. "It looks like this phase pistol has been fired not too long ago."
Archer nodded, his mind coming up with several new scenarios at once. They had used their hand weapons. Meaning that someone had forced their way in here. Meaning that whoever had attacked them had managed to dock at the shuttle. Meaning...
Both Jon and T'Pol turned their heads. Phlox had come to a halt at the helm console, his scanner still poised for receiving new data, but he wasn't moving it anymore. After staring at the display for another moment, the doctor slowly lowered his hand, and sat down on the floor with a small sigh.
The gesture was so untypical of the Denobulan that Archer was immediately alarmed.
"Doc?" he asked, and when Phlox looked up at him, his eyes were sad.
"Captain..." He glanced down at his scanner. "I can't be entirely sure my readings are correct, but only a short while ago the air in here seems to have contained a huge amount of... vaporized protein. The compound analysis shows that the vaporization took place less than forty-eight hours ago, that's why there are still traces left in the air. Captain... I'm sorry."
For a short moment, Archer stood motionless. Vaporized protein. No mangled bodies, no corpses burnt beyond recognition. Just some vaporized protein. Something you couldn't see, couldn't even smell.
He felt a hand coming to rest on his arm, Phlox' hand, presumably.
"Captain," T'Pol said quietly, and a distant part of his mind was surprised at the fact that she was touching him. Usually, the Vulcan kept a safe distance between herself and her human crewmates. Her quiet voice stirred something within him, and suddenly Jon was able to move again, straightening his shoulders and stepping away from his second-in-command.
"I want a full analysis of the shuttle's interior," the Captain said. "Get some of Malcolm's staff to take a look at these phaser burns. I want to know exactly what happened in here."
He heard Phlox' voice behind his back, but didn't turn around, keeping his eyes straight ahead as he climbed out the hatch. "You have your orders. Get to work."
He knew he was making a mess of it. He knew that Captain Jonathan Archer was supposed to stay with his officers, was supposed to find words of comfort and encouragement at times like this. Captain Archer wouldn't order his crew to do the dirty work, leaving them with nothing but a tense "You have your orders". But Jon, the man who had lost his two best friends, couldn't act any different.
All the way to his quarters, Jon nodded numbly at the crewpeople he encountered, feeling their worried looks on his back as he walked past them down the corridors.
Vaporized protein. The image of a weapon blast, glaring white and hotter than fire, suddenly appeared in his head, and he sat down on his bunk after the door had closed behind him, ignoring Porthos who timidly crept closer, instinctively sensing that something strange was going on.
Jon closed his eyes, resting his forehead on his hands. In his mind's eye, he could see it happen, the scene unfolding in front of him as though he had witnessed it in person. A weapon was being raised, and a second later there was a scream, lasting only the split of a second before it was literally killed. Vaporized.
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't erase that scene from his mind. It kept re-playing in his thoughts over and over again, and even hours later, when Jon finally got up, washed his face and went to the bridge to inform his officers that Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed were missing in action and had most likely been killed, he still saw that white blaze, reminding him that his friends were gone. Dead.
Except that they weren't. Less than one light year away, in the cargo hold of an alien freighter, Commander Charles Tucker opened his eyes, staring at the dark that surrounded him.
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