This story is set around the end of Season 4 but happily ignores TATV, simply because I never watched that abysmal last episode – and never will.

Since there doesn't seem to have ever been any mention of Reed's SIC, I promoted my own character, Ensign Müller, to such a position :-)

SitaZ and RoaringMice beta read for me, greatly improving my story as usual. Thanks girls!

Hope you enjoy it!


Trip stopped pacing and turned abruptly towards the decon chamber, hearing its door opening. "What the hell happened?" he asked tensely.

Malcolm took a few steps inside sickbay and looked around with haunted eyes. "The Captain and T'Pol?" His voice was hoarse, anger and concern playing across his face.

In a couple of strides Trip was before him. "They're in surgery, they didn't look good," he replied, passing a nervous hand through his hair. "What in heaven's name happened, Malcolm?" he repeated, grabbing him by an arm.

Reed wobbled, grimacing and stifling a cry of pain, and Trip became aware of something sticky under his fingers. He removed his hand and looked in mixed horror and surprise at the blood on it. Malcolm's uniform sleeve was soaked in it. How could he have possibly missed that?

"Damn, I'm sorry," he apologised under his breath. He put a hand on Malcolm's back and guided him to a biobed, and Reed stumbled on without a word and climbed awkwardly to sit on it.

A medic was immediately at their side, cutting away at Malcolm's sleeve.

"What happened, Lieutenant?" Trip repeated yet again but more gently, the use of rank helping him keep his emotions under control, as he moved to the side to give the medic room to work.

Malcolm lifted his chin from his chest and turned his head, fixing furious eyes on Trip's very blue and currently very worried ones. "A bloody explosion," he began; but as he was about to continue the medic said, "I need to sedate you, Lieutenant." Before Reed could protest he pressed a hypospray against his neck and promptly emptied its contents into his bloodstream.

One moment Malcolm's eyes held fire in them, the next they became unfocused; his head lolled and his body went limp, and Trip marvelled, not for the first time, at the instant reaction of human physiology to whatever potions physicians used to put one under.

Swiftly and with professional expertise the young medic lowered the unconscious lieutenant to the biobed. "Sorry, Commander," he said, his voice truly apologetic. "But Lieutenant Reed has a projectile in his arm which needs to be removed, the sooner the better."

Trip watched as the privacy curtain was drawn around his friend and closed his eyes, clenching his jaw. With the Captain and First Officer, and now also the Armoury Officer, out of the picture he suddenly felt very alone, the burden of command weighing heavily on his shoulders.

He went to the lavatory and started to wash Malcolm's blood off his hand, taking a couple of deep breaths to clamp down on the queasiness that was threatening to overwhelm him. The image of Archer and T'Pol being rushed off to surgery was all that he could think of, and now, as he watched the pinkish water running down the drain, he felt another wave of nausea, and the weakness that comes with shock.

Damn, he was used to cleaning grease off his hands, not blood! As Chief Engineer his duties might well include working the transporter, but not to see people – friends – re-materialise wounded and unconscious! Get a grip, man! he scolded himself, leaning on the basin.

A few deep breaths later he felt composed enough to face sickbay again. As he looked around it, wondering if he should find an out-of-the-way corner and wait for news or try to contact the planet, he spotted Ensign Brown, of Malcolm's security team, leaning against the wall near the door to decon. In the frantic circumstances he had virtually forgotten that Reed had taken one of his men down to the planet with him. Brown was looking on with a strange expression on his face, one which Trip couldn't quite identify but seemed at odds with the situation at hand. He strode up to him and saw the ensign immediately straighten his posture.

"Ensign, report," he ordered without preamble, while he checked for obvious signs of injury on the man's body. None were visible.

"Aye Sir, but if I may… it would be better to find a quieter spot."

Trip didn't like the request and even less the way Brown made it sound; as if he weren't smart enough to have thought of it himself. Who the hell did he think he was? Nonetheless he pushed the door to decon open and strutted in, followed by the ensign.

"Is this quiet enough for you, Ensign?" he confronted the young man immediately, turning abruptly on his heels and looking down at him. Brown was of sturdy build but didn't stand taller than Reed.

"Yes, Sir," Brown replied, standing at attention and, to Trip's dismay, seeming unfazed by his brusque tone.

The engineer gave him a frosty stare. "Then I trust now you can tell me how a friendly diplomatic contact ended up with Captain Archer, Commander T'Pol and Lieutenant Reed bein' carted off to surgery," he said, keeping his emotions carefully in check.

"There was an explosion, Sir," Brown began, looking Trip straight in the eye. "In the building where the conference room is, the one Lieutenant Reed had checked pre-emptively."

Trip bristled at the possible insinuation but refrained from commenting. He nodded to prompt the man to continue, and Brown did in an emotionless, matter-of-fact voice.

"Captain Archer and Commander T'Pol had concluded their talks with the Prime Minister, Sir. Lieutenant Reed and I had rejoined them and we were all walking back to the shuttlepod. We were some thirty metres away when there was a sudden blast. Just seconds later things got chaotic, with people screaming and running. The Lieutenant ordered me to get the Captain and Commander to the pod while he covered our backs, but guards suddenly sprang out from the opposite side and, without warning, started to shoot at us. The Captain and Commander were in front and were hit right away. I dove to the side and found shelter behind an alien vehicle. Before I could think of my next move I was transported up to Enterprise, Sir."

Brown fell silent, his body perfectly straight, his face betraying no feelings, his eyes riveted on a spot behind Trip.

"You can thank your CO for that," Trip commented tersely, stopping himself from pacing; he wouldn't give this impassive man the satisfaction of knowing just how agitated he felt.

"While the talks took place, did you or Lieutenant Reed get any hint that somethin' may be brewing? Did you notice anythin' out of the ordinary?" he asked.

"No, Sir. Although…" Brown's gaze dropped briefly to the floor.

Trip stiffened. There is a limit to a man's self-control, and right now, for this man, that limit is dangerously low. "Go on, Ensign!" he prompted, in a command tone that made Brown snap back to attention.

"Aye, Sir. Permission to speak freely…"

Trip nodded, his eyes hard. For some reason he found the ensign's behaviour disturbing. He tried to remember something about him, but aside from the fact that he was one of Reed's team and had been with them since their mission in the Expanse he realised he knew nothing.

"Well, Sir… ever since we boarded the shuttle to go down to the planet Lieutenant Reed appeared quite nervous, as if… well, as if something were bothering him," Brown said enigmatically.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Trip ground out, barely able to contain his fury. Was this jerk actually suggesting that Malcolm had suspected something was about to happen and didn't act? Hell, Reed was Brown's Commanding Officer, the man should know him better than that!

"If you have anythin' to say, say it clearly, Ensign!" he ordered.

"Negative, Sir," Brown answered in military fashion, snapping back into his former rigid stance. "It was just an impression."

"Well, I'd appreciate if you stuck to facts," Trip commented darkly. Before he could add anything else the comm. sounded.

"Ensign Sato to Commander Tucker."

Trip dragged his eyes away from Brown and went to answer the page. "Tucker."

"Commander, we are being hailed from the surface."

"I'll take it in the ready room, Ensign. Just give me a couple of minutes to get up there," Trip replied. Before leaving he turned to Brown. "I want a complete report as soon as possible. Get on it."

The face that appeared on the screen wasn't alien enough to mistake the expression on it: plain outrage. Trip bridled in his own anger and braced himself for what was coming.

"You betrayed our trust! You spoke sweet words, talked of alliances while all the time you planned to attack us!" the grey humanoid spat out. "Our Prime Minister had barely left the hall when it blew up!"

His bulging eyes, a characteristic trait of his species, made him look even more furious; and of course it didn't help that their colour was a deep purple.

"Hold on a moment," Trip replied gruffly, livid at the man's allegation. "You can't just go throwin' accusations around without supportin' them with evidence! We were not behind the explosion. We know nothin' about it."

"That is a lie!" the man immediately shouted back. "The explosion signature proves it. The explosive used is alien to our world."

Trip paled. That could not be. His mind went blank for the briefest of moments. "That still doesn't mean we are responsible," he countered harshly. "It seems to me you have come to that conclusion a bit too fast, firin' on our people as you did." He made an effort to modulate his voice to a civil enough tone – this guy already thought they were barbarians; he'd better not prove him right. "Our Captain and First Officer are seriously wounded, and our Security Officer has a bullet in his arm."

"How did you expect us to react? Our Prime Minister and other innocent people suffered injuries; fortunately they were minor. You are lucky no one was killed. I suggest you review the data I'm sending you," the alien said, staring at him with such ruthless eyes that even through the screen Trip felt his blood run cold. "We have every one of our weapons trained on your ship." The being before him smiled, and Trip felt a chill run up his spine. "We may not be as advanced as you are, but if we fired all our weapons at once?" He left the rest unsaid.

Trip raised his hands in a calming gesture. "I can assure you, we are not here to start a war, Mr…?"

"Chief Advisor Asek. And you are…?"

"Commander Charles Tucker."

"Review the data immediately, Commander. We haven't had any other extra-planetary contacts recently. I trust that you'll take full responsibility," the Chief Advisor ground out. The screen went blank before Trip could even think of a reply.

With no one around to see him, Trip allowed his body to show the weariness he felt, slumping down in Archer's chair. What now? he wondered, burying his face in his hands. The Captain and T'Pol had looked quite seriously injured, even to an untrained eye such as his; he was likely to have to face this diplomatic incident without being able to rely on their experience. Damn, he silently cursed as he remembered he wasn't even sure if they were still alive.

His thoughts flew to sickbay but he refrained from calling – he had no doubt Phlox would inform him as soon as he had any news to report. He reached instead for the comm. link to the bridge.

"Hoshi, you should be receivin' some data. Please forward it to me as soon as possible."

"Yes, Commander, I am receiving it now." Hoshi's voice was tense but steady and professional, and Trip could not help but feeling grateful for the reassurance it gave him. Four years ago the young linguist would have probably toppled under today's pressure.

Some ten minutes later Trip was staring at the computer screen in Archer's ready room at data he could not quite believe. He swallowed hard. I'm no weapon expert, this can't be right, he thought. He was sickeningly aware, though, that he knew enough to tell the explosion indeed bore a Starfleet signature.

He pressed the comm. link to the Armoury. "Ensign Müller, please report to the ready room right away." He needed to have Malcolm's SIC confirm this. Then he pressed the comm. link to the bridge. "Ensigns Sato and Mayweather, there will be a senior staff meeting in half an hour."