Spoilers: 1.12 "Silent Enemy"
Note: The title is from Walt Whitman, "Leaves of Grass": "ONLY themselves understand themselves, and the like of themselves/ As Souls only understand Souls."
Lieutenant Malcolm Reed barely managed to grasp the edge of his console with one hand, just keeping himself in his seat. His heart raced as Enterprise took another hit, and he kept that hand clenched to his station. The other sped across the controls as he desperately tried to guide their weaponry, reacting to each incoming shot while also compensating for the gyrations Enterprise's helmsman, Ensign Travis Mayweather, was putting the ship through to avoid being hit.
They'd only just entered this area of space when a ship, coming out of nowhere, had appeared off their bow. One moment they had been approaching an uninhabited star system, and the next, Enterprise had found itself under attack. Reed had recognized the ship immediately, even without Commander T'Pol's identification via the database--its appearance, so reminiscent of the old stealth bombers back on Earth, had stuck with him from the other times they'd met.
This version wasn't so different from the one that had attacked them, shortly after Enterprise had been launched, or from the one they'd encountered mere months ago when they'd been on patrol with Columbia. Same basic shape. Same sudden appearance. Same aggressive stance. Only this time, the aliens had found a way to defend themselves against Enterprise's weapons.
It was remarkable. The ship had basically looked the same--it even had the same green lights on its sides--but the first time they'd met, an ill-prepared Enterprise had struggled at first to defend itself, eventually running them off, but not before a hasty installation of their phase cannons. This time, Enterprise had been upgraded with some of the best weaponry Starfleet had to offer, fully installed, and it had so far been entirely ineffective. There was obviously some new sort of barrier technology being used by the aliens, but without being able to actually get any readings from their attackers, Reed found himself hard pressed to say whether that was due to a new sort of hull plating on the alien ship or something else entirely.
Enterprise's bridge had gone red when the aliens had first struck, and the warning lights cast a hellish glow. Something sparked near Reed, sending embers onto his clenched hand, and the sharp pain almost caused him to let go of his console. He hissed a breath and held on through sheer willpower more than anything else. He kept his focus on his console despite the smoke harsh in his throat, the smell of burning plastic, and the frantic activity around him. He focused entirely on what he was doing, because he had to.
"Travis, hard to starboard," Captain Jonathan Archer shouted from his seat in the command well. "Keep up with evasive maneuvers. Trip, how's the warp drive?"
As the voice of Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker, their chief engineer, came over the com, Reed felt the ship buck. Weapons fire had again made contact with their hull, and he returned fire even though their weaponry so far had been useless against this enemy. He was hoping that if they kept firing, kept trying new things, eventually something would slip past the other ship's defenses. Sparks hit his hand again, and he released his grip on the console for a moment, exhaling his pain as he shook feeling back into numb fingers. As he grabbed hold again, the fingers of his other hand flew over the controls, and he listened via his earpiece to the activity in his armory. During their past encounters, when the aliens had fired, they'd been able to pick up something in their scans; but that wasn't the case now. Maybe if they tried this, or perhaps, wait, no, damn it, this wasn't working, why--
Reed's head snapped up, his gaze meeting Archer's. The man sat in the captain's chair at the center of the bridge, the sleeve of his uniform torn, a smear of soot or grease on his chin. He pierced Reed with a gaze that probably revealed more than the man intended of his fear, his anxiety, and, under all that, the trust and hope that were so much a part of who Archer was.
"Not yet," Reed exhaled. He rolled his shoulders slightly, trying to release the tension there.
"Keep trying," Archer said simply.
"Sir," Reed replied with a nod, turning back to his work. He knew Archer had done that intentionally, catching his attention purposefully, at just the right minute. At one time in his career, he'd probably have thought Archer was berating him for his lack of success against this enemy. Now, he knew better. He...they...were doing the best that they could. And like Archer, he had faith in his team and in the people around him. They would succeed, because any other alternative was not an option.
Archer pushed himself up to stand, and the sudden movement caught Reed's eye. He watched the captain as he moved, footing unsteady, to Sato's station, where she was working intently at the com. Sato's mouth was moving, her hands frantically punching away at buttons on her station, as she tried desperately to communicate with the aliens attacking them.
"Hoshi, anything?" Archer practically shouted to be heard over the din of suddenly renewed pounding. Otherwise, he seemed oblivious to the smoke and destruction around him. No, not oblivious, Reed thought. Simply focused on the task at hand.
"No, sir," Sato shot back, eyes only for her instruments.
"And they're definitely receiving our transmissions?"
"Yes," she answered and, anticipating Archer's next question, she added, "Although I don't know if they are understanding us."
"They understood us well enough the first time we met," Archer said bluntly.
"Perhaps," Sato said. She met Archer's eye for a moment. "At that time, they were able to say something to us--using our own words, recorded and pieced together. That doesn't mean that we're being understood. Not fully."
Archer nodded, and in a voice almost too quiet to be heard over the tumult, he said, "Keep at it."
Sato gave him a relieved smile and returned to her work.
Reed remembered the strange message these aliens had sent to them, years ago. They'd cobbled together words that Archer had used in a transmission to them and fed them back to Enterprise, reshaped and with new meaning. It had been odd, hearing the aliens' demands coming through Archer's voice and appearance--the face and the voice the same, and yet so very wrong. But at least then, the aliens had made an attempt. Their last encounter with them had included no communication; after the aliens had destroyed a Romulan ship, it had left, but not before taking a shot at Enterprise.
Reed saw Sato's eyes widen. "Sir, I'm--" was all she was able to get out before there was a high-pitched screech.
Reed reflexively put his hands over his ears. As agony pierced his head, he heard Sato shout and a moan from Mayweather, but he was in too much pain to be of any help.
T'Pol, voice sharp, said, "We're being scanned."
The shrieking stopped as suddenly as it had begun, and Reed murmured a soft, "No kidding," before he could bite it back. Luckily, he'd spoken too quietly for the others to hear. He glanced up to see T'Pol give him a look. Well, for most of the others to hear.
The bridge rocked around them. Smoke started coming from the wall nearest Reed, the red warning lights turning it into a roiling mass.
"Warp drive is offline," T'Pol said, looking down at her console. The lights dimmed, and the emergency lights came on. "Main power is offline," she added.
"Tactical systems?" Archer asked. He was standing in the middle of the bridge, staring at the main viewscreen, which had gone dark.
Reed, not without surprise, replied, "Online, Captain."
"The aliens are gone," T'Pol said, her voice calm despite the implications of that statement.
And with that, the main screen flickered back to life, showing space that was, at least for the moment, blessedly clear.
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