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SCIENCE LAB, E-DECK
1/15/2151 1804 HOURS
Lieutenant Malcolm Reed turned the metal fragment over in his hands, brushing away some of the dirt clinging to it as he did so. It was roughly the size and shape of a brick, a thick, dull gray-colored mass that he'd fully expected would weigh about the same as titanium. When he picked it up, though, he was surprised to discover it was significantly less heavy -- literally as light as a feather. An unusual alloy, one that had already proven resistant -- in fact, impervious -- to the usual battery of scans.
Scattered on the table in front of him were a dozen or so metal fragments identical to the one in his hand -- debris the landing party had brought back from the ruins of the Sarkassian outpost to analyze. Standing behind him were Crewmen Duel and Perkins, whom the captain had assigned to help him.
Normally this kind of scientific analysis would have been out of Reed's field of expertise. But Captain Archer had agreed with him that a different approach to analyzing the material -- an approach that focused on determining what sort of weapons could have destroyed it -- might prove helpful. And that kind of analysis, Reed could handle.
Except now, Reed wondered if the captain had been humoring him.
Everyone had handled him with kid gloves all day -- Trip ("Maybe you should take some time"), Dr. Phlox ("If you want to talk, my schedule is wide open"), even Hoshi ("I'm around if you need me"), they all treated him like he might go to pieces at any second. Well, that wasn't going to happen. He was fine. Tired, but fine.
He looked up and saw Perkins staring at him.
"Did you say something?"
"Did I say something?" Had he spoken aloud? Reed shook his head."No. I most certainly did not."
"Yes, sir," Perkins said, with a look of sympathy on his face."Sorry, sir."
Reed almost snapped at him. Then he remembered that with Hart gone, there was a vacancy in the armory rotation. He also remembered that Perkins had put in for a transfer to weapons duty some time ago, and so Reed would more than likely be working very closely with him for the foreseeable future. There was no sense in getting off on the wrong foot with the man.
So instead of snapping, Reed took a deep breath, and turned back to the fragment.
"All right, let's get started."
"What's up first, sir?" Duel asked.
"A stress test, I would think," Perkins said instantly."Even if we can't directly scan the material, we can infer a number of things from its behavior under various conditions. Wouldn't you agree, sir?"
The two looked toward Reed expectantly. Reed looked back at them. Duel was short and squat, Perkins tall and thin. An old nursery rhyme floated through his mind, and he smiled. Only for a moment.
This was not an occasion for levity.
"No. I'd prefer to start with a spectrographic analysis of this dust. Perhaps it can provide us with some clues." Reed brushed off another chunk of caked-on dirt from the fragment."We might be able to pick up traces of whatever material. . ." His voice trailed off.
"Sir?" Perkins prompted.
"Hang on a minute." Reed ran his fingers along the fragment. Clearing away the debris had exposed a raised surface on one side of it -- a design of some sort?
He laid the fragment down on the table so that the raised surface was facing up. Then he began clearing away dust from some of the other fragments. Behind him, he sensed Duel and Perkins crowding closer.
Fully half the fragments had the same sort of ridges on the back.
"Are those more symbols?" he heard one of them ask.
"Yes," Reed said, nodding."Indeed they are." They looked, in fact, identical to the ones they'd found throughout the outpost. Symbols, though, were not his field of expertise.
He walked over to the com panel, and opened a channel.
"Reed to bridge."
"Bridge. T'Pol here."
"Can I speak to Hoshi, Sub-Commander?"
"No. She and the captain are in launch bay two, greeting the Sarkassian ambassador."
Reed's mouth almost fell open.
"The Sarkassians are here?"
"That is what I just said."
Reed nodded grimly. He would have expected to meet with the Sarkassians as well. He should be there -- a potentially hostile race coming aboard Enterprise. Mentally, he added the captain to the list of those treating him with kid gloves.
"We've found some more symbols -- on the fragments in the science lab," Reed said to T'Pol."She should know about this."
"She is occupied right now," T'Pol told him.
"But -- "
"Is this an emergency?"
"Then it will have to wait. T'Pol out."
Reed stared at the com panel a second. It wasn't an emergency. But Hoshi would likely be with the captain, and the Sarkassians, for the rest of the day. At least several more hours.
This might be a clue. And Reed couldn't wait that long to find out.
"I'm going to launch bay two." He cleared his throat."I'll be back shortly. In the meantime, I'd like a full spectrographic analysis. You can run your stress test too, Mister Perkins -- only not on any of the fragments with symbols. I want Hoshi to see these just as they are."
Perkins nodded."Yes, sir."
"Of course, sir," Duel said.
"Carry on then," Reed said, and set off at a brisk walk toward the nearest turbolift.
When he arrived at launch bay two, Captain Archer and Hoshi were standing on the main deck, facing the Sarkassian ambassador and two others of her race.
The Sarkassians were humanoid, and as pale and thin in person as they'd appeared on the viewscreen. They looked anemic to him, as if they'd spent their entire life indoors. Perhaps they had -- they clearly had no aversion to enclosed spaces, as the ambassador's shuttle, like the larger ship that had first contacted Enterprise, was windowless, a seamless surface of shining black metal.
"We want to accommodate you," Captain Archer was saying."But -- "
"Good," the ambassador interrupted. Her voice had a harsh, grating quality that hadn't been clear over the com system."Then you will turn the prisoner over to us."
Ambassador Valay stood front and center in her party. She wore a long, iridescent purple robe that shimmered in the bright glare of the overhead lights. Her long red hair was held back from her face by an elaborate silver headpiece, more of a crown almost, with three sparkling red gems set in its face. Each stone was about the size of an egg -- by Earth standards, Valay was wearing a fortune in jewels on her head. Whether or not Sarkassians valued such things the same way humans did was an open question, but at any rate, the headpiece made for an impressive display.
Reed was not as taken with the woman wearing it.
"I grow tired of having to repeat myself, Captain," Valay said.
"Forgive me, Ambassador," Archer said."I'm afraid turning the prisoner over to you is not as simple a question as you make it out to be."
"It is precisely that simple, Captain," Valay said."Our war is none of your concern."
"It is now," Archer said."One of my crew is dead, and I'd like the chance to question this man about that."
"You have my sympathies, Captain," Valay interrupted, though her tone of voice suggested anything but compassion. She shook a long, thin finger at Archer."But let me put the matter in perspective for you. You have one dead crewman. There were close to sixty people working in the facility below us, and every single one of them is now a body for me to bring back to their families. You are holding the person responsible for that outrage, and I want him."
"You may see him," Archer said."But until I know exactly what went on down there -- "
"Have you not heard what I've said? This man is responsible -- for your crewman's death, the death of our scientists, everything. There is no doubt."
"There is in my mind," Archer said."The pictures you transmitted to us are not an exact likeness. Moreover -- "
"He has most assuredly been using drugs to alter the pigmentation of his skin," said the third member of the Sarkassian party."Which is no doubt how he got onto the outpost in the first place."
"I will provide you evidence, Captain," the ambassador said."He has used similar methods in the past. This man is a murderer many times over, a butcher, a -- " The translator spluttered in a burst of static.
"I'm sorry. Could you say that again?" Hoshi said, stepping forward and holding the translator out in front of her.
The ambassador repeated the phrase and -- as before -- the translator spluttered.
Valay turned away, exasperated.
"We are wasting time!"
Hoshi exchanged a frustrated glance with Archer. At that instant, the captain caught sight of Reed.
"Excuse me, Captain," Reed said, taking a step forward."If you can spare a minute."
Everyone on deck -- including the Sarkassians -- turned his way.
"This is Lieutenant Reed," Archer said, motioning him closer."Our armory officer. Lieutenant, this is Ambassador Valay."
Reed inclined his head in greeting. The ambassador did the same.
"Lieutenant," she said."May I present Commodore Roan, and Dr. Natir."
Reed nodded to each of them. They, in turn, bowed back. Both wore robes similar to Valay's, though of different colors -- Natir's a lighter purple than Valay's, Roan's a simple black. Natir was the man who had accused the prisoner of deliberately changing the pigmentation of his skin. And now that Reed was closer, he recognized Roan from their first contact with the Sarkassians. The commodore was older than Valay, his skin even paler than hers, save for a mottled patch of red and brown running all the way down one side of his face and neck. It looked like a very bad burn.
"Armory officer," Roan said, nodding to himself."I guessed right, then."
"The other day, when we first made contact? Before the translators were working?"
"I remember," Reed said, images from those chaotic moments -- rushing back from the planet's surface, Phlox working on Ensign Hart, the few brief glimpses he'd had of the Sarkassian ship's interior -- flashing through his mind.
"I had my communications officer maintain visual contact with your ship. Which offered me a chance to see you all at work."
"And in those few moments, you managed to pick me out as the armory officer?"
"I recognize the type," Roan said."Having been one myself for quite a long time."
"I'd be interested to know what gave me away."
"Perhaps if we have a few moments later, I can tell you."
"I would like that," Reed said.
"And I would like to get back to the business at hand," Valay interrupted.
Roan turned and bowed to her."Forgive me, Ambassador."
"Your efforts at establishing relations are appreciated, Commodore," Valay said, in a tone of voice that suggested just the opposite."Please bear in mind, however, our primary duty is to those who perished on the outpost below."
"Of course," Roan said, tight-lipped.
Reed looked from one of them to the other, puzzled. He sensed a lot of hostility bubbling underneath the surface of their polite conversation, and wondered where it all came from. He caught the captain's eye, and knew Archer was wondering the same thing.
"Though I am curious, Captain," Valay continued, turning her attention to Archer again."Your earlier statements led me to believe that Enterprise was primarily an exploratory vessel, not a warship."
"We use our weapons in self-defense only," Archer said.
"As do we," Valay said."All civilized species recognize self-defense as their fundamental right. Which is why you must allow us to take custody of this prisoner. He has committed multiple acts of war against my people!"
Archer smiled tightly. Reed rarely saw that smile. In his experience, it usually preceded one of the captain's very infrequent outbursts of temper.
"Excuse me a moment, will you, Ambassador?" Archer put his hand on Reed's arm."We'll be right back."
The captain pulled Reed off to the far side of the shuttlebay.
"Not that I don't appreciate the interruption -- but if I had wanted you to be here, Malcolm. . ."
"I'm sorry, sir, but we've found something." Reed told the captain about the symbols."I thought Hoshi would want to see them -- see if they -- "
"I can't spare her right now," Archer interrupted."The situation here is too delicate. Car-
stairs has been doing a lot of the work on what we found down there. Use him." The captain looked back toward the ambassador and her party."If that's all -- "
"Yes, sir." Reed tried not to let his disappointment show."I'll be back in the armory then -- if you need me."
As he turned to go, Archer put a hand on his shoulder.
Reed spun back around to see the captain looking at him with concern."Did you get any sleep at all?"
"A little. I think."
Reed shrugged."Maybe. I don't know."
In fact, he was pretty sure that he hadn't, that the few dreamlike hours he'd spent lying in his bunk had been just that -- dreamlike, not actual sleep at all. But he didn't need rest -- that could come later.
What he needed now were answers.
"We're going to find out what happened. I give you my word," Archer said, as if reading his mind."Why don't you take the rest of today off, let Trip and Lieutenant Hess cover the armory -- "
"Not necessary, sir."
"Malcolm, there's only so much you can do."
Reed nodded. The captain was right about that. In fact, right now there was absolutely nothing for him to do -- except wait.
Which, given his state of mind, was simply unacceptable.
He glanced back toward the ambassador and the other Sarkassians, and an idea popped into his head.
"Captain," he began."Forgive me for speaking plainly, but Ambassador Valay -- is she as difficult to talk to as she seems?"
"More so," Archer said."But she's who we've got to deal with."
"That you have to deal with."
Archer eyed him curiously."Malcolm?"
"I might be able to speak more freely to Commodore Roan."
"I take it you're volunteering to accompany us."
The captain frowned."I don't know. This is a first contact. A very delicate one. I don't want Starfleet to be speaking with two different voices to the Sarkassians."
"The point is for him to talk, sir. Not me."
Archer thought for a moment."All right," he said finally."Why don't you join us, and see what you can find out about that outpost."
"Yes, sir. I'll try and find out more about the prisoner as well. This -- " Reed struggled to remember his name.
"Goridian. Yes." Reed hesitated."Are you going to let the ambassador take him?"
"Eventually, I suppose. But not before I find out what was going on down there. If it had something to do with what happened to Ensign Hart."
"Yes, sir," Reed said. His voice took on an edge."Hard to see how it couldn't have."
"I agree." The captain put a hand on Reed's shoulder."No one blames you, Malcolm."
"I know that," Reed said.
But his hands were fists. His heart was hammering. He blamed himself.
All night long, that was all he'd been doing. Thinking about the past, about what he'd done, and what he hadn't. Thinking about Alana, her voice so clear and vivid in his head it was as if she were right there with him, as if the past had suddenly come back to life.
His vision blurred for a second, and he remembered.
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