Written for fun, Paramount/CBS owns the boys... you know the drill. Betaed by the lovely and talented LoyaulteMeLie. Reviews are much appreciated!

4 – On Tenterhooks

Archer stepped onto the bridge from his ready room, watching as T'Pol took her station, and sat in his chair as he looked over at Hoshi. "Any news on the pod?"

The Comm Officer shook her head. "No hails, Captain."

The captain swiveled to face his Science Officer. "T'Pol?"

Her fingers danced over the console for a moment before she turned to check her viewer. "I'm still detecting Shuttlepod One on long-range sensors, but we are at too great a distance to conduct a more detailed scan." She turned to face the captain again, wearing what he had learned to recognize was the Vulcan version of confusion.

He narrowed his eyes at her. "Is there a problem?" It was his experience that on the rare occasions when T'Pol became confused by something other than Human customs, bad news was usually imminent.

She examined her instruments again. "I'm not certain. They are not in the asteroid field, and their current heading indicates a course towards a blue giant which we passed last week."

Archer frowned in what he knew was a very Human expression of confusion. "That doesn't make sense." He turned to Hoshi. "Hail them about the new rendezvous."

Hoshi nodded, one hand to her little earpiece. "Enterprise to Shuttlepod One. Commander Tucker, please respond."

The Bridge was silent as they waited for a reply, but none came.

The captain stepped over to her station. "Hoshi?"

Hoshi pressed a few buttons on her console and frowned. "The channel's open, sir. They should be receiving us."

Archer was starting to get worried. He couldn't imagine a situation where either Trip or Malcolm would ignore a hail, and he started picturing possible scenarios. Images of his officers injured, or worse, flashed before his mind's eye, but he quickly got a hold of himself. There was no use in getting worked up over one unanswered hail. Maybe something was wrong with their transceiver. He shook his head, hoping that the explanation was something that innocuous. "Keep trying them."

"Yes, sir." Hoshi turned all of her focus to the comm channel. "Shuttlepod One, this is Enterprise. Please respond. We are transmitting new rendezvous co-ordinates. We have been forced to change our heading because of dangerous micro-singularities in the asteroid field we were mapping. Set a course for the new coordinates immediately and prepare to rendezvous in forty-eight hours. Shuttlepod One, please respond. Adjust your heading to the new co-ordinates. We will rendezvous in two days. Commander and Lieutenant, please respond."

Hoshi repeated variations on the same hail for the next minute while the atmosphere on the Bridge became more and more uneasy. Archer paced, trying to channel his worried energy by moving around, but it didn't help. He noticed that after each repetition of the message Hoshi would wait for ten seconds, during which she leaned slightly to her left, pressing her earpiece close as she strained to hear a reply. She did a good job of keeping the frustration out of her voice, but towards the end of the most recent transmission she had sounded worried.

The captain stopped pacing and stood by her station. He put a fatherly hand on her shoulder and tried for a reassuring smile, but he had a sinking feeling that it ended up being more of a grimace. "That's enough for now, Hoshi. Try them again in half an hour."

She nodded, smiling faintly. "Yes, sir."

He patted her arm and stepped back to his chair, addressing T'Pol as he sat down. "Keep an eye on long-range sensors. I want to know the second we're close enough to scan for bio-signs."

T'Pol nodded, turning to look into her viewer again. After less than five minutes, she spoke again. "Captain, I'm detecting some anomalous energy readings at the coordinates where Shuttlepod One was a few moments ago."

Archer felt his heart leap into his throat at her words. He shared a worried look with Travis and Hoshi as he stood up and moved to stand in front of the Vulcan's station. "What do you mean 'where it was'? Isn't it there anymore?"

T'Pol turned back towards the main Bridge and analyzed the readings on her console for a few moments before she raised her head to reply. "Inconclusive. The Shuttlepod's mass has decreased by approximately twenty-seven percent and I am no longer detecting an active propulsion system. These changes occurred immediately following what seems to have been an explosion."

Archer felt his eyes go wide. The uneasiness that had settled in his gut when the Shuttlepod didn't respond to their hails was rapidly congealing into a tight knot of fear. "Travis, change course to intercept the pod, and step on it. Best possible speed."

The helmsman nodded, making the necessary adjustments. "Aye sir, new course laid in and increasing speed to warp four-point-five." He didn't turn around, so Archer couldn't see his face, but Travis' back and shoulders tensed in a way which suggested that the young ensign was worried.

'You and me both, Travis,' the captain thought as he sat back in his chair. "Let's hope those two haven't gotten themselves into too much trouble."