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Desert Landing

Aeryn Alexander

"I have finished scanning the planet, captain. It is indeed Menshara class." T'Pol told Captain Archer.
The planet on the screen did not look all that earth-like. There was enough blue, oceans and seas, but not nearly enough green, forests or grasslands. Both of the major land masses looked rather arid and unfriendly.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, captain."
"What's the surface like?"
"The planet contains some plant and animal life, mostly shrub-like vegetation and insects of various kinds. The climate is warm but tolerable throughout most of the planet, although it is markedly cooler near the northern polar region and in areas of higher elevation."
"Should I have Commander Tucker prep a shuttlepod, captain?" asked Lieutenant Reed.
Archer frowned and took a deep breath before saying, "There doesn't seem to be anything of real interest here." Then he shook his head. "But let me think about it." he added, leaving his chair and walking toward his ready room.
Almost as soon as the door closed behind him, the comm chirped, "Phlox to Captain Archer."
He flipped the switch and asked, "What do you need, doc?"
"I could not help but noticing the planet we are orbiting. Are you considering taking an away team down?" asked Dr. Phlox cheerfully.
"I was doing just that. The planet seems rather boring, just desert-like and unfriendly. Do you have any special interest in it?"
"Looking at the scans, I consider it highly probable that something of medical value could found there."
"Why is that?"
"Hostile environments produce interesting things. I once ..." began Phlox, undoubtedly launching into a story at least as uninteresting as the planet spinning below them.
"I suppose I should assemble an away team then." Archer cut in.
"Ensign Cutler informed me just the other day that she only needs one more flight to be checked out on a shuttlepod. I would consider it a favor if she could pilot for me. I wouldn't need to take up anyone else's time."
Archer smiled and chuckled quietly. The Denobulan was becoming awfully fond of that young ensign.
"Sure thing, doc, but be careful down there. It is, as you said, a somewhat hostile environment."

"Captain, are you sure it's a good idea to send just the two of them down there without an armed escort?" asked Lieutenant Reed as the bridge crew watched the pod zip toward the planet.
"They'll only be gone for an hour or two. I'm sure Phlox and Cutler will be fine." Archer replied.

Ensign Cutler had been taking supplemental classes on the operation of small shuttles when she had been called up to serve aboard the Enterprise. If she had had one more week on earth, she could have easily been qualified to fly regular missions.
"Some people have all the luck." she thought, thinking on Ensign Mayweather and his vast piloting experience.
"Are you excited, ensign?" Phlox asked her as their shuttle departed from the ship.
"Nervous is more like it. I haven't handled a shuttle in months." she answered, frowning as she glanced from the controls to the view screen and back again.
"Ah, but we will be visiting a new world. Doesn't that intrigue you?"
"Maybe a little." she admitted, glancing away from the controls and smiling.
The pod vibrated, causing Ensign Cutler to return her focus to the panels in front of her. Phlox leaned forward in his seat, not nearly so alarmed.
"What was that?" he asked curiously.
"Just the atmosphere, I hope. I am changing our approach vector slightly to compensate." The vibration subsided and Cutler sighed in relief.
"Well done." said Phlox.
"I should have double checked our approach when we took off. If we had hit the atmosphere at the wrong angle, the pod could have easily burned up in the atmosphere." she said, shaking her head.
"No harm done." he said mildly.
No more than a minute later a violent jolt rocked the pod and a loud alarm sounded. The hastening of their descent toward the planet could be felt. They were spinning and dropping rapidly.
"We have lost the starboard engine. Firing maneuvering thrusters." said Cutler. "Contact the ship. We're going to crash." she told Phlox as the thrusters refused to come on-line.
"Phlox to Enterprise. We have a situation." he said, keeping his calm as Cutler continued to working on the problem. Nothing seemed to be working: all of the various thrusters were out, even the landing thrusters.
"A situation, doctor?" asked Archer over the comm.
"Captain, we have lost an engine and the thrusters are all refusing to fire. We're losing power, and we are going to crash!" said Cutler breathlessly.
"Stay calm, ensign, and try to bring the pod down gently."
"I think we hit an electromagnetic field or something, captain. I have limited helm control."
"She's right, captain," they heard T'Pol saying, "there does appear to be some form of disruptive field in the area where they are attempting to land."
"Could they get around it?" asked Archer.
"The shuttlepod appears to have sustained too great of a power loss to do so. The field covers an area of almost 1000 square kilometers." she replied coolly.
"It looks like we are on our own, ensign. Is there anything I can do?" asked Phlox.
"Brace for impact in thirty seconds." she said, gritting her teeth as she continued to struggle with the helm.
The interior of the pod went dark seconds before the crash landing. To Cutler's credit, she brought the shuttle down right side up with nothing to guide her but gravity and instinct. Unfortunately, the craft was also exceeding the maximum recommended landing speed by almost four times. The substantial impact knocked both occupants unconscious and threw the Denobulan doctor from his seat with considerable force.

"Captain, they have crashed." T'Pol informed Archer.
He left his chair slowly and asked, "Can you detect their life signs? Are they still alive?"
"I have two life signs, one human and one Denobulan, but the life signs of the Denobulan are fluctuating. He may be seriously injured." said T'Pol.
"Hoshi, can you reach the shuttle or their communicators?" Archer asked Hoshi, who looked a little pale and out of sorts.
"The field is impeding the signal. I don't think I can raise the shuttlepod." she answered. "If I could amplify the signal slightly, maybe we could reach them, but ..." she trailed off, shaking her head.
"Hoshi, I want you and Trip to work on boosting that signal." he ordered. "T'Pol, I want you to find out what kind of field we are dealing with down there. If we can get through it or around it with the second shuttlepod, I want to know how." Archer told his science officer. "Malcolm, have a shuttle on stand-by to go after them." he told the ordinance officer. "And if anyone has some kind of medical or even first aid training, I want to see them as soon as possible." he told the bridge crew.

The last thing Ensign Cutler expected to see when she opened her eyes was sunlight shining down through an enormous crack in the shuttlepod. She coughed as she inhaled acrid smoke that was slowly filling the shuttle. Was something on fire? Cutler sat up and rubbed her head. A few alarms were continuing to sound, but not so loudly as before the crash. The smoke seemed to be clearing, escaping through the cracks in the shuttlepod.
"Phlox?" she called quietly, continuing to cough.
Cutler turned her head and looked toward the rear of the shuttle. Phlox was lying face down and motionless on the floor where he had been thrown by the impact. Cutler struggled to her feet, feeling dizzy as she looked at him.
"Don't be dead." she whispered quietly as she knelt and checked his pulse. Unaware of Denobulan norms, she was glad just to be able to detect a pulse, though it would have been considered erratic for a human. Cutler sighed with relief and coughed again. "Outside." she thought, "We would be safer outside."
The side entrance of the pod had been blown open by the impact. Using considerable effort and a strength that Ensign Cutler almost doubted that she possessed, she managed to drag Phlox from the nearly demolished shuttlepod and into the clean, cool air outside. She looked around as soon as they were both free.
"It looks like Nevada." she said aloud.
The landscape was dry and gritty with brush and bramble scattered here and there. A few stunted trees and a rock outcropping caught her eye. It looked as though it would provide some shelter in the event of inclement weather or other danger. She shook her head.
"No, we need supplies first." she thought to herself.
Re-entering the pod, she salvaged the things that they would need most: medical supplies, blankets, and a pair of canteens that the doctor had brought for their mission. He had come well prepared for the arid conditions.
She chose to move Phlox from the area of the shuttle to the shelter first, thinking, "If it explodes or something, we had best be well away from it." Although she really didn't think it would explode, Cutler wasn't going to take any chances.

"Captain, they are moving away from the pod." T'Pol informed Archer. It had been almost an hour since the crash. "But Phlox still registers as unconscious, or close to it. She must be carrying him." she added.
Archer managed a smile at that and said, "Dragging is more likely. He's twice her size."
"If they leave the vicinity of the shuttle, how will we contact them, sir?" asked Lieutenant Reed.
"Archer to Hoshi and Trip, any luck amplifying that signal?"
"This kind of thing takes time. It can be done, but not for at least another hour." answered Trip.
"Dr. Phlox may not have an hour for all we know."
"We're doing the best we can, sir."
"Understood. Archer out."
"Couldn't we just transport them out of there?" asked Ensign Mayweather.
"The strength of the electromagnetic field is much too high, ensign." answered T'Pol.
"Do you have any suggestions, sub-commander?" asked Archer.
"Not yet, but I have not finished my analysis of the phenomenon." she replied.
"All we can do is wait and hope that Ensign Cutler can take care of things down there." said Captain Archer, returning to his seat.

Cutler was out of breath and dizzy when she finished moving Phlox and their supplies from the pod to the sheltered area several hundred yards away. She could not tell if minutes, hours, or even days had passed since the crash landing. How long had she been unconscious? Was the captain already mounting a rescue attempt? Ensign Cutler did not know. She only knew that she had to keep Phlox and herself alive until someone came for them.
Phlox was still unconscious, but he seemed to be holding his own. Cutler wrapped a blanket from the shuttlepod around him, convincing herself that warmer must be better. The wind was chilly and made her wish that they had chosen to land somewhere farther south, somewhere a bit warmer. Cutler removed a medical tricorder from among the medical supplies. At first she thought that she wasn't using it correctly, but then she realized that it had somehow been fried by the field they had passed through. It was useless.
Cutler quickly located a communicator, momentarily afraid that it had suffered the same fate. Luckily, the communicator seemed undamaged by both the crash and the field they had passed through.
"Ensign Cutler to the Enterprise, do you read?"

"Captain! It's Ensign Cutler." Hoshi informed Archer. She had just returned to her station after leaving Commander Tucker to finish their task.
"How can that be? I thought the field was disrupting communications." said Archer, frowning.
"Apparently, the field only disrupts transmissions from ship to shore, and not from shore to ship." said Hoshi.
"So we can't reply?"
"It might go through, but it would probably be garbled or incredibly faint."
"That's better than nothing. Put me through, Hoshi."
"Yes, sir."

"Enterprise, do you read?" repeated Cutler desperately.
"Ensign ... we read ... not resp ... ond ... Calm ... Don't ... worry ... We are ... on ... problem." crackled Archer's voice over the communicator. The line hissed and faded in and out, but Cutler knew that she could be heard.
"I can hear you! Phlox is wounded and the shuttlepod is a wreck. What should I do?"
"Stay ... calm ... We are ... working ... on ..." replied Archer.
"Thank you, sir."
"Ensign, just ... hang ... in ... Do the ... best you ... can. Archer ... out."
It was comforting to know that the crew knew they were alive and were working on the problem, but that solace and the hope of rescue were of little practical use to the young ensign. She looked at Phlox and felt more and more convinced that time was running out for him.
Cutler cautious lifted one of his hands and squeezed, telling him, "If only you were conscious, then you could tell me what I should be doing for you." His eyelids fluttered as she spoke to him. Cutler shook him by the shoulders, hoping to rouse him.
"Not so rough." he complained as he regained consciousness. Phlox looked around and frowned.
"Careful. You've been unconscious for ... a while." she told him.
"We crashed then?"
"I am afraid so."
Phlox slowly sat up and touched his head, wincing and telling her, "I think I should sit up, ensign."
"How do you feel?" she asked, helping him to recline against the outcropping.
"Do you want the good news or the bad news?"
"The good news, I guess."
"For Denobulans, death is a natural stage of life, and while painful to ourselves and our friends, we do not fear it, for it is part of a greater cosmic cycle."
"You aren't going to die, Phlox." said Cutler forcefully.
"Ah, sweet optimism! But, yes, I am reasonably certain that I will. Denobulans have good instincts about such matters."
"And there isn't anything I can do?"
"The medical supplies from the shuttlepod only contain crude necessities, and I simply haven't taught you enough to handle traumatic injuries. It is a pity that I never will." said Phlox, sighing and looking at Ensign Cutler with considerable regret.
"I have some Star Fleet training."
"I took quite a beating in there, and Denobulan anatomy is quite complex."
"They will find a way to rescue us, Phlox. Captain Archer says that they are working on it. Don't be so pessimistic. They could find a way to beam us up or land the other pod. Anything could happen."
"I try to have a balanced approach to life. Moderation. I haven't thrown my hands up despair, but I am not ignoring the unpleasant and rather substantial possibility that I will die on this planet."
"I'll take optimism any day."
Phlox smiled at her almost gratefully and said, "I know, and it's one of the things I like best about your people."

"I have some good news, captain." said T'Pol, turning toward Archer with a neutral expression on her face. "The field is very wide, stretching over a large portion of the land mass, but it is very thin, no more than fifty meters in the upper atmosphere. A shuttlepod could easily enter the atmosphere outside the area covered by the field, descend, and reach the crash site by flying lower to the ground. It's systems should be unaffected." she informed him.
"What about the amplifier? Can we apprise Ensign Cutler of our plan?" Archer asked.
"It will be on-line within the next fifteen minutes. We are routing the signal through the downed pod to Cutler's communicator." Hoshi told him.
"And the shuttlepod?" asked Archer, turning to Lieutenant Reed.
"It is ready when you are, sir." he affirmed.
"Has anyone located crewmen with medical training? We need to have some people in sickbay ready to receive the casualties when we bring them back on board."
"Commander Tucker has a pair of crewmen certified in first aid, but we can't do any better than that, I'm sorry to say." replied Reed.
"Then I guess I will have to lend a hand too." said Archer, frowning. "I've been in and out of so many sickbays that I will at least be able to offer some assistance." he added as Ensign Mayweather turned around and looked at him oddly.

"The sunset is rather pretty, don't you think?" asked Phlox as they sat looking westward across the valley where their shuttlepod sat smoking. The grayness of it cast a veil before the deep orange of the alien sun.
"I suppose." said Ensign Cutler.
She barely trusted herself to speak. Even with her rudimentary knowledge of Denobulan physiology, she could tell that he was beginning to fade. His eyelids were heavy, and his breaths sounded labored. It took all of her strength not to give in to the overwhelming feeling that he was right, that he was going to die on that hostile and almost barren planet.
Phlox laid his head on her shoulder and sighed, "I think it is the nicest sunset I have seen in some time."
"I thought Denobulans don't like to be touched." she said.
"The rock is hard; your shoulder is soft. I hardly think it matters so much now. Do you mind, ensign?"
"No, of course not." said Cutler, tears starting to well in her eyes.
Phlox looked up at her curiously as the first tear rolled down her cheek and asked, "Come now, ensign, those tears can't be for me, now can they?"
"Of course they are." she sniffed in response.
"You shouldn't cry. I don't blame you, and the pain is subsiding."
"That isn't why I'm crying."
"Why then?"
"I don't want to lose you."
"Ah, I see. Thank you, ensign."
"For what?"
"Caring so much."
Just then Ensign Cutler's communicator chirped. She took a deep breath before answering it.
"Cutler here."
"We are coming down to get you in just a little while. Our estimated time of arrival is thirty minutes. How are you holding up, ensign?" asked Captain Archer, coming through crystal clear.
"Not too well, captain. Phlox isn't looking good. He says he's going to die."
"You tell him to hang in there and that's an order. We will be there before you know it."
"I can hear you, captain." said Phlox, smiling.
"Then stop that talk about dying. No one is going to die on this away mission. You got that, Phlox?"
"Yes, sir."
"Don't worry, Cutler. We will be there before you know it. Archer out."
"Well?" she asked Phlox, putting the communicator away.
"Well what, ensign?" he asked.
"Will they make in time?"
"I don't know."
"I thought Denobulans knew about these things." she prodded.
"There is hope." he conceded.

"Malcolm, Travis, you're with me." said Archer, leaving his chair as Hoshi closed the comm channel. The two officers obediently followed their captain to the bay where the second pod was waiting for them.
They walked briskly through the corridors of the ship to where a shuttlepod awaited the three officers, prepped and ready, in a launch bay. Their faces were grim. Phlox had saved so many lives aboard the Enterprise, it would be a cruel irony if they could not return the favor.

The orange sun had sunk behind the gritty and dusty hills, and darkness was falling swiftly upon Phlox and Cutler.
"I think I hear music." said Phlox softly.
"Music? I don't hear anything, not even insects."
"When members of my species are terribly injured and dying, they often report hearing strange faraway music. It is usually written off as a hallucination, albeit a harmless one, but it is difficult to be so objective when one hears the music for oneself."
"In more primitive times humans reported seeing a white light."
"Did they now? How fascinating!"
"What does the music sound like?" asked Cutler after a long pause.
"Strange, but comforting, like a single perfect note on a stringed instrument analogous to what your people call a violin."
Cutler listened for a moment and her heart began to pound. Then she laughed.
"That isn't music! It's the engines of the shuttlepod, Phlox!" Cutler told him, laughing with relief and renewed hope.
Phlox raised his head from the ensign's shoulder and listened more intently.
"It is indeed!" he agreed.

"I think I've spotted them, captain." said Ensign Mayweather, who was at the controls of the pod.
"Where are they?" asked Archer.
"Near those rocks. I can land us a few meters away on the hill top."
"Put us down as close as possible."
"Yes, sir."

"Captain! Over here!" yelled Ensign Cutler as three figures with flashlights began approaching them from the shuttle.
"I told you not to worry, ensign. How are you holding up down here?" he asked her as she came shakily to her feet.
"I'm all right, captain, but Phlox is seriously injured. We need to get him back to the ship fast or else." she said bluntly.
"Doc, can you walk?" asked Archer, shining the light on the Denobulan.
"I'm sorry, captain, but I don't think that will be possible." he replied, raising his head slightly.
"Travis, escort Ensign Cutler to the shuttlepod." Archer instructed. "Malcolm, we will have to give the good doctor a bit of assistance." he said.
"Yes, sir!" said Mayweather and Reed.
Ensign Mayweather neatly scooped Cutler up and carried her to the waiting pod while Archer and Reed managed to half walk, half drag Phlox in the same direction. They were stunned that Cutler had been able to move him at all and chalked it up to adrenaline. By Archer's estimation Phlox was only half conscious and comparatively pale, but he looked like he was going to make it.

"Ready to get this shuttle off the ground, sir?" asked Mayweather as Archer closed and sealed the hatch. Malcolm was busy securing their passengers.
"Take off, ensign." nodded Archer.
"How long will it take, sir?" asked Cutler as they lifted off.
Archer glanced back and saw her take Phlox's hand. Looking at unfortunate young woman, he surmised that she had a mild to moderate concussion and that the few hours on that planet's surface had been some of most difficult of her life.
"Less than half an hour, ensign. The both of you just have hang in there." Archer told her.
"We will give it our best shot, captain." said Phlox, struggling for both words and breath.
"Keep him quiet and conscious, Cutler." Archer told her, silently willing Travis to make the best time possible. "Reed, contact the Enterprise and let them know that we are returning." Archer ordered.
"Yes, sir, and I will make sure those crewmen in sickbay know as well." he replied.

Commander Tucker and three other members of the crew were waiting for them with two obviously make-shift stretchers when they brought the shuttle in twenty minutes later. Reed and Mayweather hoisted Phlox through the side hatch to waiting Trip. He was nearly unconscious and protested weakly in Denobulan as two crewmen lifted the stretcher upon which he had been placed. Archer helped Ensign Cutler out of the shuttlepod.
"Let me go with him, captain." she requested as the crewman began carrying Phlox from the shuttle bay.
"Hop on, ensign." said Trip, lifting one end of the second stretcher.
"I can walk." she insisted.
"Very well." agreed Archer, offering her his arm. "I should get down there too. We are short on qualified medical personnel." he explained.
"Hell, we're short on all kinds of medical personnel." said Trip, dropping his end of the stretcher and following them out of the bay at a brisk pace.
"Nice job on those stretchers." Archer shot over his shoulder. "You're going to have a shuttlepod to repair soon. " he added, guiding Cutler down the corridor.
"I think the pod is probably beyond repair." said the ensign, sounding a little woozy.
"Aw, nothing's beyond repair. It just might take some time." said Trip, giving the captain a deferential nod before taking another corridor toward engineering.
Ensign Cutler stumbled and watched in vain as the crewman and stretcher rounded a corner.
"I can't keep up, sir." she told Archer as he caught her.
"You should have taken Trip up on that ride." he said, lifting her rather easily and striding in the direction of sickbay.
"Thank you, sir."
"Don't mention it, ensign."

The crewmen were just moving Phlox from the stretcher to a biobed when the Archer and Cutler caught up with them. Archer deposited the ensign on another biobed close at hand and squeezed her shoulder in encouragement.
"Report." barked Archer as he shouldered between the two crewmen who had bore the stretcher from the shuttle bay.
"He doesn't look so good, captain." said the crewman first class, who was staring intently at a medical tricorder. He glanced up and added, "Sub-commander T'Pol, sent us all of the medical data we have on Denobulans."
"Anaprovalin." said the second crewman, looking at the readout.
"I can fill a hypospray. Stay with him." commanded Archer.
"His anatomy is incredibly complex. I don't know how we're going to stabilize him if the Anaprovalin doesn't work." the first crewman, shaking his head.
"I don't care what it takes. We aren't going to lose him like this." said Archer, filling the hypospray and passing it to the crewman.
The crewman pressed the hypospray to Phlox's neck, and it gave out an audible hiss.
"Is it working?" asked Cutler, looking at the computer panel above the bed.
"Give it a minute, ensign." said Archer, his eyes on the screen as well.
"He's stabilizing, sir." said the senior crewman, putting the tricorder aside as he watched a few of the readings normalize.
"Is he out of danger, crewman?" asked the captain.
"At least for now." he nodded. "And when he comes around, I am sure he would be a better guide as to how to handle things further than anything we could find on the computers." the crewman added.
Archer heaved a sigh of relief and turned to Ensign Cutler, asking, "I bet you could use some Anaprovalin too, huh?"
"She should have a monstrous headache." mumbled Phlox, startling the captain. His eyes fluttered open. "I know I have one." he said, turning his head and smiling at her.
"Do you hear any music, Phlox?" she asked.
He listened for a moment and answered, "No, I am glad to say that I don't, ensign."