The Enterprise Strikes Back
by David Marshall
Nestled in the cockpits of their respective Jedi Starfighters, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker were on the run from an overpowering flotilla of vulture droids and the looming threat of the Invisible Hand, a gargantuan Separatist warship under the command of the notorious General Grievous.
A deadly barrage of bright-green laser fire hounded the two small, wedge-shaped vessels on all sides. A consummate pilot, Anakin deftly evaded most incoming assaults, but Obi-Wan, who deplored flying in all its forms, was having much greater difficulty staving off the bombardment.
"My rear deflectors are down, Anakin," said the Jedi Master into his mouthpiece, as a sudden jarring impact rocked him in his seat. A shrill alarm began to sound and his control console flashed crimson. "There are too many of them on my tail; I'm not going to make it back to the freighter in one piece. Go on without me."
Skillfully manipulating his control yoke to tilt the wings of his ship away from incoming enemy fire, Anakin tensed in his seat. "You won't get rid of me that easily, Master. Stay close to my wing. I'll protect you."
"We're in deep space, Anakin!" said Obi-Wan despairingly. "Do as I say or we'll both be blasted into ion particles! That's an order!"
"Yes, Master. Please stop talking. You're breaking my concentration."
With deceptive ease, Anakin cartwheeled his starfighter over the top of Obi-Wan's, targeted two vulture droids that were swooping to intercept them, and squeezed his firing triggers. The mechanical warships exploded in a blinding flash of sparks and short-lived blue flame.
"Nice shooting," Obi-Wan commented.
"Thank you, Master," said Anakin.
Suddenly, R2-D2, the dome-headed utility droid wedged into an external socket outside Anakin's cockpit window, emitted a yelping noise.
"Artoo is detecting a strange energy void in quadrant five-one zero," said Anakin, flipping switches on his command console to recharge his weapons. "Could be a way out of here."
"Or a quick way to get ourselves killed." Obi-Wan had detected the same anomaly. His scanners were still functional. Just about.
"Maybe we should wait for the Senate to vote on its safety before we proceed," said Anakin dryly.
"Sarcasm is unbecoming of a Jedi …"
"Unless you're the one being sarcastic, you mean?" Anakin countered.
'Exactly," said Obi-Wan.
Anakin chuckled. "Follow me."
As the Invisible Hand closed in for the kill like a great shark homing in on two wounded porpoise, Anakin took the lead, guiding Obi-Wan into the heart of the swirling black-and-blue energy vortex. In an instant, the two spear-shaped vessels had vanished.
Captain Jonathan Archer and Lieutenant Malcolm Reed were walking side-by-side down a corridor of the starship Enterprise, discussing the state of the ship's weapons systems.
"How long will the tactical array be offline?" Archer asked Reed, concerned by the news he'd just received.
"No longer than five days, sir," Reed replied somewhat hesitantly.
"Five days?" Shocked, Archer stopped in his tracks and stared keenly at Reed. "And what if we're attacked by a Klingon warbird tomorrow, or the day after? Should I expect them to be chivalrous and wait patiently until we're ready to fight back?"
"Trust me, sir. When the new DX-9 weapons upgrades have been properly installed, you'll be glad we tolerated the inconvenience. The new torpedo targeting system alone will make this the most imposing human vessel ever to grace uncharted space."
Archer squinted at Reed. Although a good man and loyal crewman in every respect, his First Tactical Officer sometimes spoke about deadly artillery with an affection that made Archer uneasy. "Sometimes I worry that you enjoy your work a little bit too much, Lieutenant."
"Surely that's better than doing a half-arsed job, sir?" the British man offered wryly.
Archer cracked a smile. "Five days? I think I can keep us from butting too many heads for that long."
Suddenly a female voice interrupted over the ship's speaker system. "Hoshi to Captain Archer. Please report to the bridge immediately."
Reed swallowed, the confidence draining from his face. "I'm sure it's nothing serious."
Ensign Hoshi Sato gave Archer an update the moment he arrived on the bridge.
"Captain, I'm detecting two small craft several hundred kilometers off the starboard bow."
T'Pol spoke next, the Vulcan's tone characteristically impassive. "Their transceiver signatures are like nothing I've ever detected, yet the life-forms on board appear to be human."
"Can we hail them?" Archer asked.
"No," said Hoshi. "Their communications are unresponsive – most likely damaged."
T'Pol scanned her data screen. "Sensors reveal that both vessels are extremely low on fuel, and we're light-years from the nearest star base. Unless we intervene, I'm afraid they won't survive."
Archer considered his options, then after a brief delay, said, "Sub-commander, please arrange to have these two drifters brought onboard. Let's hear what they have to say for themselves."
"Yes, sir," said T'Pol.
Thirty minutes later, word had reached Jonathan Archer that the occupants of the two recovered alien vessels were alive and well. Nevertheless, they had been sent straight to Sickbay for a cautionary checkup, and this was where Archer and T'Pol decided to make their acquaintance.
Doctor Phlox greeted them the moment they entered through the automatic glass doors. "Captain. Sub-commander," he said, acknowledging each in turn.
The room was brightly illuminated as usual. Archer made a note of the two strangers sitting on adjacent bunks behind Phlox.
The Denobulan doctor spoke quietly so he could not be overheard. "I'm pleased to report that both men appear to be in excellent health. What's more, preliminary bio-molecular scans confirm that they are indeed human – virtually identical to your species in every way. Though, I did discover extremely elevated motor-neural synaptical readings."
Archer frowned. "Meaning?"
"To use an archaic, rather juvenile, human metaphor, they both appear to be stronger, faster and smarter than the average bear."
Archer lowered his voice another octave. "Do you think they're dangerous?"
"Any life-form with half a brain cell can be dangerous, Captain," said Phlox wisely.
With T'Pol by his side, Archer approached the two strangers, who had been watching him with ill-concealed interest as he had spoken to Phlox. The two men rose in greeting.
They were plainly dressed in long robes and bland tunics. One of the men was of average height with kind blue eyes, short neat auburn hair and a beard lining his strong jaw. The other was taller, younger, with longish blond hair and a scar on his right cheek. They certainly seemed to be human, but Archer wouldn't be adopting their fashion sense any time soon.
"My name is Jonathan Archer. I'm the captain of this ship. We found you drifting in open space and thought you might appreciate a little assistance."
"Where are we?" said the younger man abruptly. There was impatience scrawled across his handsome face. "I demand you allow us to contact the Jedi Council immediately and –"
"Patience, Anakin," said the bearded man to his companion.
He turned to face Archer with an apologetic expression. "I am Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, and my tempestuous counterpart is Anakin Skywalker. Regrettably, being dubbed the 'Chosen One' by the holonet appears to have swelled his head." He shot a mildly reproachful glance over his shoulder at Anakin. "Good manners used to be among his vast repertoire of talents, I assure you."
Anakin averted his gaze. "I apologize, Master," he said sheepishly.
Master? At least Archer had discovered who was in charge.
"No harm done," he said. "You must both be extremely tired. I won't use too much of your time right now. If I could just ask a few questions …"
"Certainly," said Obi-Wan.
"My chief engineer informs me that the design of your ships is like nothing seen on Earth," said Archer, "but my doctor tells me you're both human. It seems like a contradiction. Care to fill in the gaps?"
"Earth?" said Obi-Wan Kenobi, stroking his beard. "I'm afraid I have never heard of that star system."
"Earth is a planet," Archer clarified. "The human home world." He examined the men's faces for any sign of recognition or deception, but found neither.
"You mentioned a Jedi Council," he continued. "I'm afraid I'm unfamiliar with the term."
Obi-Wan and Anakin exchanged disbelieving looks.
The awkward silence was suddenly and irrevocably shattered, however, by the impromptu arrival of a dustbin-sized, dome-headed robot on tracks, which erupted out of a curtained cubicle nearby. The blue-and-white dome portion spun wildly; the thing was beeping, hooting and trilling like an excited puppy.
"What the …" Archer took a step back.
"Ah, yes," said Doctor Phlox, rejoining the conversation. "This excitable contraption is a droid, apparently."
"His name is Artoo," said Anakin tetchily.
Phlox was unperturbed. "With the, um, designation R2-D2. A moderately advanced form of artificial intelligence, I believe."
Artoo trilled indignantly at the use of the word "moderately".
"Fascinating," said T'Pol, crouching down to observe the bipedal robot.
"Quite," said Archer, less impressed. "But why isn't this – Artoo – being stored elsewhere? This is a Sickbay, for sick people."
Phlox was eager to explain. In fact he could hardly keep a boyish smirk from his lips. "Oh, I believe Commander Tucker tried to have a look at him. But it turns out that the little fellow is remarkably willful – and a surprisingly adept combatant. He refused to leave his owner's side. Mister Tucker has the scratches to prove it."
"Why is it making that noise?" Archer asked, wincing as R2-D2 produced another ear-splitting series of illegible beeps and whistles.
"He's trying to be helpful, aren't you Artoo?" said Anakin, patting the droid's exterior plating affectionately.
"Helpful?" said T'Pol, who had resorted to covering her highly sensitive ears with her palms.
"Artoo's memory core contains a history of holographic transmissions," Anakin elaborated. "He thinks showing them to you might help you understand who we are and where we come from."
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea, Anakin," said Obi-Wan, turning his back on Captain Archer. "We're at war. If any sensitive information falls into the clutches of Count Dooku …"
"I sense no deceit in these people, Master. And I have a feeling we're a long way from Coruscant. What choice do we have?"
Captain Archer sat on his bunk watching the final minutes of a three-dimensional holographic recording that R2-D2 had been projecting onto the floor of his quarters for the past forty minutes. Obi-Wan had grudgingly agreed to lend him the droid, and, now that the small bucket of bolts had stopped screeching like a dying owl, Archer was growing quite fond of it. The technology that powered it was anything but "moderate", as Phlox had suggested; and since Archer had voiced this opinion aloud, the droid seemed to have taken a liking to him.
The high-definition hologram stood about half a meter high and emitted a faint blue aura. From what Archer could gather, the present exchange was between Obi-Wan Kenobi and a very small, old, pointy-eared alien named Yoda, who was apparently the human's immediate superior.
"… must not underestimate General Grievous, Obi-Wan," Yoda was saying. He had a funny, back-to-front way of speaking, but the sound quality was pristine. "Devious, he is. Trained by Count Dooku, he was. Advise you to wait for backup before attempting to infiltrate his ship, the Council does."
"I understand, Master," said the prerecorded voice of Obi-Wan. "But Anakin is adamant that we can defeat Grievous alone and end this war if we act now, catch him off guard."
"Hm, a trap I sense, Master Obi-Wan. Rash and self-confident, young Skywalker has become. However, trust you to make the right decision, I do."
"Thank you, Master."
"May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan."
"May the Force be with you, Master. Artoo, end transmission."
The hologram flickered and faded. Almost immediately after, the door buzzer sounded, bringing Archer back to the present.
"Come in," he said clearly.
Charles Tucker entered the room. The chief engineer looked excited. "Cap'n, I've been spending some time with one of the new arrivals and –" He stopped suddenly, his face paling when he spotted R2-D2. "What's … what's that thing doing here?"
The look of terror on Trip's face amused the captain. Climbing to his feet, he said, "Don't worry, Commander. Artoo here has been regaling me with some useful information about our robe-wearing guests."
Tucker looked less than reassured. "Just make sure it stays on that side of the room. It might look harmless enough now, but I've seen all the gizmos and thingamajigs it uses to stab and prod and poke when it throws a temper tantrum."
R2-D2 chirruped innocently.
Archer smiled. "From everything I've been able to learn so far, Mister Kenobi and Mister Skywalker are from ... somewhere else ..." He was afraid that if he gave form to his thoughts, they'd become a deck of cards, swept away by the right hand of Reason.
"Cap'n?" Trip promted.
"Another galaxy, Trip! Even a parallel dimension, with different races, integrated cultures … It's incredible. Just incredible." He felt like a schoolboy on Christmas Day. In Archer's opinion, any Starfleet Captain who hadn't taken the job to unravel the mysteries of this marvellous universe was unworthy of the rank. "This could be the greatest discovery in the history of Starfleet."
"You think new cultures are impressive?" said Trip, still eyeing Artoo as if he suspected the little droid might have a psychotic meltdown at any moment. "Follow me, Cap'n. Wait 'till you get a loada this."
Author's Note: My punctuation and spelling are British, not wrong. There is a difference. :P