Disclaimer: All things Star Trek belong to CBS/Paramount, not me.
Spoilers: This AU diverges from canon during the season 3 episode "Damage" and will never make it back. An earlier third season episode, "North Star," provides the setting for much of what follows.
Author's Note: What if the Illyrians had been ready and waiting to defend their warp coil? This AU goes on from there. I'm inspired by two AU writers I greatly admire, MaryContrary and Escriba - not to mention I've pretty much done canon to death at this point. This AU is not a particularly happy universe, but I guarantee it will not be as bleak as "Twilight." Although this is a work in progress, I have at least a vague idea where I am going with it.
Reviews are always welcome, critical or otherwise.
"Sheriff, one of those fellas who claimed to be from Earth has just shown up in the saloon."
MacReady put down the padd Bethany had loaned him and rose from his seat with a groan – in recent months he'd been reading too much and moving too little, trying to catch up on the 250 years of progress they'd missed out on. He took a moment to make sure he was properly armed. "Just one?"
"Yes sir, just one." Garcia looked worried. Then again, Garcia always looked worried. MacReady had hired a thinking man to replace Bennings, but he feared he had gone too far in the other direction.
Once inside the swinging doors of the bar, his deputy gestured towards a man sitting at the table nearest the fire, sipping something from a mug. The man's eyes were reverently shut, and both hands clasped the mug as if seeking warmth.
The few townsfolk in the bar – it was late afternoon – were watching curiously and keeping their distance.
"Tucker, is it?" MacReady said uncertainly. The last time he'd seen this man he'd been clean-shaven, well-groomed, and confident. This fellow didn't look nearly as impressive: his hair was long and unruly, his beard and mustache were ragged, his uniform was worn, his shoulders were slumped.
"Sheriff," he said in apparent acknowledgment, adding a tight, haggard little smile.
MacReady took his hat off and scratched his head. "Enterprise is back?"
Tucker didn't appear to have heard him. "Can't tell you how much I've missed coffee."
"Where's your captain?"
"Kinda got separated from my ship," Tucker said, and suddenly focused on him. "Have you heard anything from them?"
"If you didn't come with them, how did you get here?"
"I was dropped off."
MacReady took in the deep circles under his haunted eyes as the man hesitated, then scowled and said, "An Illyrian ship left me here. I'm afraid they weren't interested in visiting. Have you had any contact with Enterprise? With Earth?"
"No, nothing. We haven't had contact with anybody." Of course, there was a reason for that. He looked around the room, at all the wary faces. In the absence of communication, rumors had flourished. Resentments had developed. "Who are these Illyrians?"
Tucker sighed. "Long story. I'm sure Captain Archer warned you that it might take awhile before someone could get back here. I'd be happy to check that communications equipment we left with you, though. Right now, even."
"Lined up a place to stay yet?" MacReady asked.
Tucker shook his head.
"Better come along," MacReady said. "Let's get you sorted out." He nodded at Garcia and said, "Cover the shop."
x x x
"Are you hungry?" he asked, as he unlocked the door of his little apartment above the barber shop and walked into his rooms. Behind him, Tucker was breathless after just a walk up the stairs.
"I'd like to take a look at that equipment."
"Well, that's going to be a problem. It got wrecked."
"Not everyone was pleased with your visit or the changes it brought."
Tucker stared at him. "Maybe I can fix it." He rubbed his arms. Either he was trying to comfort himself or he was still trying to get warm.
MacReady grabbed an extra quilt from the closet and draped it around the other man. "You don't look so good. Sit down."
Tucker's mouth opened as if he might protest, then closed. He sank into one of the two wooden rocking chairs that sat in front of the fireplace. "Took half the night to walk in from where they set me down."
"You're lucky the sand vipers can't move when it's this cold."
Tucker grunted and sat huddled in his blanket. He wasn't even rocking.
MacReady poked at the embers of the previous night's fire and threw another split log on. He wouldn't normally waste wood this early in the day, but it was clear the man needed some warmth. "Who were these Illyrians?"
"And they just dropped you down in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night and expected you to find your way here?"
"They pointed me in the right direction. I'm just relieved they honored the deal they'd made with my captain."
"What kind of deal was that?"
"Like I said, long story."
"I've got time."
Tucker shook his head, jaw set, and stared bleakly at the fire.
"You need some sleep," MacReady said, giving up his questioning for now. He gestured towards his bed in the adjoining room. "You're welcome to use the bed, or you can lie right here on the hearth if you want. I'll keep an eye out."
"Thanks," Tucker said. He lay down on the little rug in front of the hearth, curled up in his blanket, and was asleep almost at once.
66.8 LIGHTYEARS AWAY
T'Pol was in engineering when the call came from the captain. "I need you in my ready room."
She nodded at Ensign Rivers and departed. She and the ensign had been gradually fabricating the parts required to rebuild their warp coil, and had made significant progress, but it was slow work marked by trial and error, especially without Commander Tucker's expertise available to them.
After the fiasco with the Illyrians, they had not only lost Trip, but missed their rendezvous with Degra. They hadn't seen or heard anything from either in the two months since, but they were still heading on full impulse towards the coordinates he had given them. This struck T'Pol as somewhat nonsensical, since without a functioning warp drive it would take them over fifteen years to get there, but Archer felt Degra might guess what had happened and meet them along the way.
The Illyrians had promised to leave their chief engineer with the Humans on the planet the Skagarans had attempted to colonize with Human labor, the one those same Humans – using utterly incorrect science - had named "North Star." This was the Illyrians' only concession to their refusal to return Tucker, who had been captured as he attempted to take their warp coil. She had pointed out to them that holding Tucker as a guarantee of their good behavior was unnecessary, since their warp speed could easily outrun a ship that lacked a functioning warp coil, but they had not found that idea persuasive. She had next offered herself for Tucker, reasoning that this would at least allow Enterprise to take advantage of its remaining Trellium-D supplies, but Archer had rejected that idea.
Naturally, Archer had then proceeded to offer himself, but the Illyrian captain said, "If I had you in my custody, Captain, I would have to take you all the way home for trial. Your engineer was following orders and that's why I am willing to let him go once we are secure from your predations. I believe that makes this the least objectionable solution for both of us."
"I'll be all right, Cap'n," Trip said, when they were allowed to see him on screen, though he looked quite pale. His MACO guard had been killed defending him. "They say you can beam Rivera's body back when you're ready. Tell his family how sorry I am." He pointed at a device of some kind around his neck. "I'm told this thing will blow my head off if you try to transport me out of here - so - better not."
"We'll see you at North Star, Trip," Archer had said, with a show of confidence.
Trip had just nodded. He'd glanced briefly at her where she stood at Archer's side before he was led off.
"He will be wearing that device as long as he is in our custody, Captain," the Illyrian said.
Archer said, "We did render aid to you when you needed it."
"Yes, and I'm grateful to you for it," the other captain said. "And if you hadn't signaled your desperation so clearly, we probably wouldn't have been so well prepared for your attempt. I wish you safe travels, Captain – but not at the expense of ours."
T'Pol had earlier supplied the Illyrians with navigational charts of the anomalies, and she hoped those might have helped them survive their journey back. Of course, even if Trip made it there, at Enterprise's current rate of speed he would die of old age before they could retrieve him.
That was only one of the reasons she was now focused on the warp coil. Achieving even a minimal warp one would at least allow them to resupply before shortages of food and other materials became life-threatening. If they could obtain a stable warp three, they might even be able to resume their mission to stop the Xindi from destroying Earth.
Ominously, however, nothing had been heard from Starfleet in 34 days. Of course, at this distance they were entirely dependent upon a network of communication relays that could have been disrupted by any number of failures.
She exchanged glances with Reed, Mayweather and Sato as she made her way across the Bridge, noting their curiosity - and wariness - about whatever was going on beyond the ready room door. The reason for this was explained when she walked in and saw Commander Shran sitting across from the captain.
"I'm told you could use a new warp coil," Shran said.
"We could," she agreed, and looked at Archer. His face was white. "Captain?"
He just shook his head.
"Earth was destroyed," Shran said. "Five weeks ago. The Xindi weapon was extremely effective."
"Why hasn't anyone communicated that to us?" The Vulcan High Command might have contacted them, at least.
"It was feared that subspace communications might help them target you," Shran said. "Those murdering Xindi have made it their mission to wipe out Humans wherever find them. Colonies, even research posts. We're sheltering some refugees on Andoria. Others are being sheltered on Vulcan. Of course, there's no guarantee they won't come after us next."
Archer finally spoke. "Shran's here to try to prevent that. Or so he says."
Shran scowled but didn't object to Archer's comment, which was certainly justified by the Andorian's duplicitous behavior the last time they'd worked together. "You people know more about the Xindi than anyone else does. I want your advice. We ... I ... also stand to ready to assist you."
Archer got up abruptly and went to peer out his window.
T'Pol watched him. "I take it you have provided the captain with some proof of Earth's destruction?"
Shran picked up an Andorian padd from the captain's desk and handed it to her. It was a recording made by a fleeing vessel as Earth shattered into rubble. Other documentation followed.
It was true, then. The entire population of Earth lost. Presumably as many as another billion Humans among the colonies. She wondered if Trip knew yet, wherever he was. "I grieve with thee, Captain," she said.
Archer's voice was hoarse. "I have to tell the crew."
To be continued