Some hours later, Reed had been released from sickbay--mild concussion, according to Phlox--and, after a quick change of clothing in his quarters, was at his station on the bridge. The aliens had returned earlier--Reed had been correct about that--and as in his case, their return had coincided with several of the crew having some rather disturbing dreams. A few of them, like his, had been violent enough to end in injury.
"It may be a combination of factors," T'Pol said, addressing Archer where he stood in the center of the bridge. Most of the bridge repairs had been completed, including the panel that had fallen over T'Pol's station, so she was able to sit there again. "From my analysis of the reports from other ships, it seems that the longer they spend in this area, the more incidents occur, and the more severe they become."
She nodded toward Sato, who picked up the explanation. "At first, most reports read like ghost stories. People seeing things, flickers of things that aren't there. Then, as they spend more time here, people start having strange dreams."
Reed realized that his fingers had moved to where he'd cut his head, and he pulled his hand away.
"What happens next?" asked Mayweather from the helm.
"I don't know," Sato said with a shrug. "No one stays here long enough to find out."
"I'd imagine there's no reason for them to hang around," Archer said. "We're probably one of the few ships to come here and actually stay for any measurable length of time. Everyone else just passes through on their way to someplace else."
Reed looked up from his data. He'd been reading through what had happened, trying to get caught up. "Sir, if I may?" At the captain's answering nod, Reed went on. "The aliens made sure we can't leave, at least until our engines are fixed. What's so important here to them that they did that? What is it that they want from us?"
Sato winced, and at Archer's indication, she pushed a button at her station.
A familiar voice, but with the inflection and tone totally wrong, rang out over the speakers. "You will leave."
Reed sat back in his chair. Short, simple, and to the point. The aliens spoke with Sato's voice this time, cut up and repurposed. No wonder she looked unsettled.
Archer asked the obvious question. "If they want us to leave, why take out our engines, making it impossible for us to do so?"
Of course, no one had an answer.
"What if we do leave?" Sato asked. She turned to face Archer. "I figure Commander Tucker and I could rig up some warning beacons, warn people off this area."
"I'm afraid that may not work," Archer said. He sat down in his chair and called up some data on the armrest. "I contacted Starfleet. Similar events are being reported elsewhere in the populated areas closest to this region."
"But the closest one is thirty light-years away," Mayweather said, clearly surprised.
"It's expanding beyond the local area," T'Pol put in.
Archer nodded. "And who knows how far it will go?"
"So why here, and why now?" Sato asked.
"Sir," Reed said. When Archer looked to him, he went on. "T'Pol and I had an idea." He looked over at the Vulcan. "Whatever is going on, it seems to get worse whenever the pine..." He caught himself with a quick glance at Sato. That's all he needed right now--to start calling the aliens by another absurd name, as if "little green men" weren't bad enough. He rephrased. "...when the aliens come here. Could the instabilities be directly related to the aliens' visits? What if they are causing these incidents?"
"On purpose?" Archer asked.
"We have no evidence of that," T'Pol interjected.
Reed nodded. "It could well be a side effect of their presence."
Archer leaned forward in his chair, his interest apparent from his expression. "They may not even realize that they are the cause."
Reed added, "Or that anything at all is happening."
"And yet," Mayweather said, seeming thoughtful. He twisted his chair so he could face Archer. "The reports of these occurrences started only about three months ago, and we know these guys were around six years ago, when we ran into them for the first time."
"But they weren't here," Archer said, emphasizing that last word. "Maybe it's something about them being in this particular area."
Sato looked at Archer. "Sir, you could be right. I mean, we met them a hundred light-years away from here. Maybe they'd never actually been to this area of space before." She sat up straighter. "We have no reports of anyone, other than us and maybe the Romulans, encountering these aliens, so maybe they weren't around to encounter."
"Until now," Archer said, frowning.
"Yes, sir," Sato replied. "Until we--Boomers included--started coming to this place."
"Let's assume that if these aliens are here, they are here in this particular place, and perhaps at this particular time, for a reason," Archer said.
Reed could almost see Archer's mind working. And yes, it was likely that the aliens' visits here were purposeful, but there were more immediate issues at hand.
Archer stood and began pacing the bridge. After a moment, he said, "If these incidents are related to the aliens being here in this space, and if the effects are expanding, we need to get the aliens out of here, and they need to stop whatever they are doing that's causing these problems." He pressed a button on his armrest and triggered the comm. "Trip, how are the engines coming?"
"Good, Captain," Tucker said. Reed could tell from his voice alone that the man was exhausted, but confidence rang in his voice. "Maybe another twelve hours, we'll be ready to test."
"Thanks," Archer said, clicking off. "So we can't leave until then, unless we care to stroll out of here on impulse."
He glanced at Mayweather, who responded with, "Probably take three days at that speed, sir."
"We need to explain to these aliens that we need more time," Archer said. "And more than that, if what T'Pol and Malcolm are saying is true, we also need to find a way to get them to leave, or else all this is likely to continue to get worse, maybe even spread further." He turned to Sato. "Hoshi, put together a message. Tell them that we are damaged but that we'll leave as soon as we can. Tell them that we're not sure why, but we suspect something about their presence here is affecting this space, that it could be hurting people." He said the last with a glance Reed's forehead, where a bandage covered his injury. "Tell them they need to leave."
"Yes, sir," Sato said, already beginning her work.
"Next time they show up, don't wait for my order," Archer said firmly. "Transmit that message."
Reed sat at the desk in the armory, once again poring over all the data they had on these aliens. He'd been hoping that by approaching it with fresh eyes after a good night's sleep, he'd find something new. But he hadn't. First of all, his sleep had again been disturbed by dreams--nothing violent this time, but enough to leave him ill rested. And the data had given him nothing new to work with. Not precisely. Just hunches and assumptions, nothing that would stand up to logic's harsh scrutiny. But looking at the same information again was making him think that maybe...but that didn't make any sense. Why in the world would...?
He looked up in surprise. Directly in front of him and leaning against his desk was an exhausted-looking Tucker.
"I'm not exactly a model of stealth, here," Tucker said, an amused smile lighting his pale face. "You've got to be pretty damn involved with whatever you're doing. You didn't hear me come in."
Reed, about to answer, smothered a yawn instead.
Tucker pursed his lips. "Or pretty damn tired. You been sleeping?"
"Yes," Reed said simply, not going into detail. He suspected that Tucker already knew, or assumed. He rubbed a hand across his eyes and glanced at the clock. More than three hours had passed since he'd sat down. "Sorry," he said. "How long were you standing there?"
"A few minutes," Tucker said, sinking into the chair beside the desk. "I wanted to see how long it would take before you noticed me."
Tucker was right. He must have been so wrapped up in what he was doing that he'd become oblivious to the world around him.
"Were you able to repair the engines?" Reed asked.
Tucker nodded. "Done and done. I just wanted to get caught up on stuff before I hit the sack." He gave a slight smile. "Hopefully, I'll end up getting more rest than you did. Is everyone else...?"
Reed shook his head. "No, only some of us."
"Lucky us," Tucker said sarcastically.
Phlox hadn't been able to figure out why some crew members seemed to be more affected than others, and honestly, Reed didn't particularly care. He wanted these aliens out of here. That done, all this would end.
"What are you doing?" Tucker asked, peering at the screen of the monitor.
"Going through the data again," Reed replied. He leaned back in his chair.
Reed hesitated. It wasn't exactly as if he had.
Tucker leaned forward, arms on the desk. "Out with it."
"It's a hunch more than anything," Reed finally admitted, keeping his voice quiet although no one was near enough to hear.
Tucker gave him an expectant look.
"I wonder..." Reed began. He took a deep breath. "There may be something about the aliens' new shielding that is causing these incidents."
Reed could tell that comment had piqued Tucker's interest. From a strictly technical standpoint, Reed knew that the engineer couldn't help but be curious.
"What do you mean?" Tucker asked.
Reed answered, "From what little we know, nothing else about their ship has changed: just the power of their weapons and their defensive equipment. But their weapons appear to be much the same as they had been. It's their defensive capabilities--part of it seems to be some sort of electromagnetic shield."
"Were you able to get any scans--?"
Reed stopped Tucker with a shake of his head. "I have no real data to back any of this up. But it's the only thing I can think of that fits what we've observed."
"So I'm assuming they're probably not doing this on purpose," Tucker said with a frown.
"Not likely, no," Reed said. "They may not even realize it."
Tucker pierced him with a look. "Or maybe they don't care."
Reed shrugged. Tucker had a point.
Reed spent his next shift on the bridge, and it was thankfully uneventful. Warp drive was back up, but they were waiting, hoping the aliens would come back so they'd have an opportunity to transmit their message. As the end of his shift approached, Reed wondered how much longer they'd have to wait.
Then something flickered in front of him. He didn't even get the chance to call out before the room spun around him, and he found himself on the deck beside his console, blinking into flashing red lights, T'Pol's face hovering over him.
"Are you all right, Lieutenant?" she asked.
Reed's answer was interrupted by a loud voice from the ship's comm: "You must leave."
Reed levered himself on an elbow, trying to see what was going on. He seemed to have been the only one on the bridge so severely affected. At least, he was the only one who was on the floor, although he felt all right.
T'Pol put out her hand to keep him from rising. "You should remain where you are. We have summoned medical help."
He could see Sato working her console, and knew that she was likely trying to transmit their message to the alien ship.
"I'm fine," he said to T'Pol. At the doubt in her eyes, he tried for a bit of a smile. "Really. They can check me when they get here."
The demand issued again from the speakers. "You must leave," came Sato's voice, pitch and cadence all wrong.
Reed made to stand, and perhaps sensing the inevitable, T'Pol helped him up with a hand at his elbow. He gave her a grateful nod as he slid into his seat. His eyes moved to the main viewscreen, where the green lights of the alien ship glowed strongly.
Archer, who had been seated in his command chair, stood, and with a nod to Sato to indicate that he wanted an open channel, he began speaking. "This is Captain Jonathan Archer, of the starship Enterprise." When he got no response, he went on. "Can we please meet? I'd like to discuss--"
"You must leave." Sato's voice came again, interrupting Archer.
Archer stepped forward, closer to the screen. "There is something about your ship being here that is causing harmful effects," he said, cutting right to the main issue.
The eyes of everyone on the bridge snapped to Reed at that single word.
"You must leave."
In a sudden panic, Reed realized it was he who was speaking. Not a cobbled-together mishmash of words stolen from a recording and broadcast over the com system, but he himself.
Archer's eyes widened slightly. "What are you doing with my crew member?" he asked evenly.
"You must leave," Reed heard himself repeat. He felt himself stand. He could see Sato, just beyond where Archer was standing, whispering into her console. He assumed--he prayed--that she'd just called security.
From nearby, he heard T'Pol say sotto voce, "Reports are coming in. Others have been affected as well." She paused, listening to the communications. "Six people so far, including Mr. Reed."
Eyes on Reed, Archer addressed a question to her. "What are they doing?"
"They are saying the same things as Mister Reed. They all appear to be speaking as one."
"Anyone harmed?" Archer asked.
"No. There was no struggle," T'Pol answered.
Reed tried desperately to move, but he couldn't. He felt his pulse rise and sweat break out on his forehead, but he was unable to do so much as lift his own finger.
"Do not struggle," Reed's voice said. He sounded remarkably calm, although a bit wooden, as if he were reading from a script. "There could be harm if there is struggle." He felt his head tilt to the side. "There could be harm."
Archer nodded to T'Pol, who spoke into the comm beside her, relaying that message to the others who'd been affected. Reed himself tried to relax, but that was near impossible. Instead, he simply stopped trying to move, at least for the moment. At least until he could figure out a way to make this stop.
The doors to the bridge opened, and Reed saw two members of his security team there, weapons drawn. Archer didn't even look at them. He simply raised one hand, halting them just inside the door.
"You must leave," Archer said to Reed, repeating the exact words that the aliens had used. "Something about you being here is--"
"No," Reed said, more forcefully than before. He took an unsteady step forward, and he saw the security staff raise their weapons. "Something about you being here is..." He paused. "You being here is," he said firmly. "There is harm."
Archer exchanged a glance with T'Pol before continuing. "You're saying that it's us being here that is causing these incidents?"
"I am saying," Reed answered.
Archer's eyes showed his surprise, although his face remained composed. "If we leave, all this will stop?" he asked.
"No," Reed said. "If you leave." He raised his hand and pointed a finger at the viewscreen. "And you. And you. And you," he said, moving the finger from place to place on the screen, implying multiples.
Reed realized what the alien was trying to say. It was all the ships that had been here. They were causing the problems. He felt his gut clench. He'd been wrong all along. He'd thought it had been the aliens, when in reality, it had been them--and the Boomers and the cargo haulers--from the start.
Archer must have realized this as well, because he said, "We can place this area of space off limits."
"Off limits," Reed echoed. He could almost feel the aliens considering the words.
"And the incidents will stop?" Archer asked.
Reed felt himself nod sharply. "If you leave," he said again. "The incidents will stop. We will leave."
"Thank you," Archer said. "Perhaps, in the future, we--"
"No," Reed cut across him again.
And with that last word, Reed saw everything go black, and he felt himself fall.
Reed woke in sickbay. Tucker was on the bed nearest to his, and four other crewmen were occupying the other biobeds. They all appeared to either be unconscious or asleep.
"Well, that sucked," Tucker said softly. He opened his eyes slowly.
"Indeed it did," Reed answered. Like Tucker, he kept his voice low so as not to disturb the others.
Phlox came by and checked first his, then Tucker's, status. He injected something into their IV lines, then moved away with a smile and a soft, "Welcome back."
"Hold on a second, Doc," Tucker said, pushing himself up on an elbow. As Phlox turned back, Tucker asked, still keeping his voice low, "What the hell happened?"
Phlox's face crumpled in concern, and he immediately returned to Tucker's bedside. "Do you not remember, Commander?" The doctor began fussing around his patient, pulling out a hand scanner as he simultaneously flashed a light into Tucker's eyes while also checking the overhead monitors.
Tucker peered around Phlox and gave Reed a resigned look. "I remember plenty. I just..." He waited until Phlox had backed off a bit. "The aliens took us over, right?"
It was the same assumption that Reed had made, waking up and seeing Tucker and the other crewmen here. He'd known that he'd been used, and he'd known that others around the ship had been as well. This was the same group of people who'd had the worst of the dreams. He'd figured that they'd been the lucky ones who'd served as mouthpieces for the aliens.
Phlox nodded. "That is true, Commander. The six of you."
Tucker went on. "We were all..." He let the words trail away.
Phlox stared at him, waiting calmly.
"I feel like we kind of got the short end of the stick, here," Tucker said with finality, nodding toward the others on the biobeds. "I wondered--why us?"
"Ah," Phlox said. He pocketed the scanner. "Interesting question." He paused a moment, head cocked in thought. "There is no reason that I have been able to discern." He held up a hand to hold back Tucker's next comment. "Our tests show nothing out of the ordinary. You're all in perfect health, beyond a headache and some residual tiredness." He waved a hand. "I'm running additional tests to be sure."
But Reed got the impression that the doctor didn't expect to find anything. "So there's nothing connecting us?" he asked.
"Other than the fact that you all suffer from allergies." Phlox held up a finger to stop Reed's reply. "As does over 60 percent of the crew." Phlox counted off his next points. "All of you are, at least in part, of Irish decent. Each of you has spent some time in tropical or semitropical climates before entering Starfleet. Five of the six of you have broken one or more fingers. Two of the six have, interestingly enough, passed their gold-level tests in a sport called 'ice dancing.'"
Reed cast a glance to Tucker, who was nodding in time to Phlox's recitation.
"But for each of these things that link you, there are others in the crew who were not affected who also share these characteristics." Phlox's smile changed, softening a bit. "Be assured that this is something that I have considered, but there really does seem to be no clear reason why the six of you were so chosen. None that I have been able to determine, that is."
"But--" Tucker managed, before Phlox shook his head, silencing him.
"There are other incidental commonalities, but I do not believe these things are related to what occurred."
"Luck of the draw?" Tucker asked with resignation.
"I suppose so, Commander." And with that, Phlox broke into one of his trademark grins before moving off.
Reed and Tucker exchanged a look, and Reed could tell that his friend didn't agree with the doctor. And it made sense for Tucker to feel that way. There had to be some reason why they were chosen. Didn't there? He sighed. Perhaps not. Who was he to read anything into the motivations of another species?
Reed stretched cautiously. Other than some soreness in his shoulders and one blistering headache, he felt fine. In fact, whatever Phlox had given him was already taking the edge off the headache. He tried to relax into the pillow. Perhaps if he slept, he could help the medication along and get out of here sooner.
He shut his eyes, only to open them again at Tucker's next words.
"So if they wanted us to leave so badly, why did they take out our engines?"
Reed sighed. Tucker had a good point--one Archer had raised before--but he'd given it some thought while the aliens had been using him as their mouthpiece. Which, to think about it, was still as creepy as hell. "I think they wanted to keep us here."
"What?" Trip asked sharply. A crew member on a nearby bed stirred, and Tucker repeated, more softly this time, "What?"
Reed rolled onto his side, careful not to disturb his IV. "Not forever, but I think they wanted to keep us here long enough to get us to understand what was going on here. After all, they didn't fire on us after that first attack. I think they wanted us to understand, to be able to explain what was happening to others who might come here."
"So you believe them?" Tucker asked.
Reed looked at him in surprise. "I have no reason not to."
Tucker seemed to accept that. "So what's so different about this area of space? And why did the aliens even care about what was happening here?"
"I have no idea," Reed said, letting his eyes fall shut again, and he found that he didn't care. The painkiller Phlox had given him seemed to be making him drowsy. That, or recent events had affected his body more than he'd realized. "We may never know."
"I don't like not knowing," Tucker said.
"Still, I would have at least liked to have known their name," Tucker said. "Little green men."
Or pineapple aliens. "I don't suppose it matters," Reed said. He figured if the aliens had wanted to tell them, they would have. They obviously hadn't felt it was necessary.
"We can use all the allies we can get," Tucker added, not satisfied with Reed's response. "I guess I'm hoping that we've made another friend out here."
"I'd be surprised," Reed answered.
"We found a way towards a peaceful end, yes," Reed said. "But that does not mean that we've found an ally, or that we even want these people as our allies. After all, they started the conversation by shooting at us, and they ended it by taking over our bodies. Not my idea of friends."
"True," Tucker admitted.
Reed opened his eyes again and met Tucker's gaze. "I'm not sure we should think it possible to understand a people," he said, stressing the last word, "who are so different from ourselves. And when they themselves seem uninterested..." He sighed. "I'm not sure it's worth it even to try."
"I think it's a human thing," Tucker said pointedly.
Reed let his eyes fall shut, his point made. "But they aren't human."