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"Captain, I believe you should come down to see this."
The captain of the Enterprise smiled at what almost sounded like enthusiasm coming from his Vulcan science officer, filtered through the intercom speakers in his quarters.
"See what, T'Pol?" Captain Jonathan Archer asked. He was currently kneeling on the floor, scratching his beagle Porthos behind one floppy ear.
"I believe that we have found evidence that this planet is, in fact, the homeworld of the Zalkat Union."
The planet to which the Vulcan sub-commander referred was Beta Aurigae VII. Enterprise, the still largely experimental flagship of Earth's nascent Starfleet space service, had been given a mandate to explore new worlds, and the Beta Aurigae system was full of them. The seventh planet even had an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere (what the Vulcans referred to as a "Minshara-class" planet), so Archer had authorized T'Pol to lead a team to explore the surface -- after a thorough scan, naturally. Archer had made the mistake of not making sufficient preparations for visiting an Earth-type world once, and several members of his crew almost paid for that with their lives. Jonathan Archer liked to think that he learned from his mistakes.
They had not detected any sentient animal life -- indeed, the largest animal they'd been able to detect was an insect -- nor anything especially dangerous to humanoids. There was plenty of plant life, and the probe and sensor readings indicated a scattering of refined metals and the remnants of a system of roads.
"Let me guess," Archer said, standing upright, thus prompting a hurt look from Porthos, "the Alley Cat Union's another one of those races we're not meant to know about yet?" He reached for the cup of coffee on the nightstand as Porthos started sniffing his boots.
"Zalkat, not 'alley cat,' Captain, and hardly," T'Pol said in the tone that Archer had come to recognize as the one she used when he was being annoyingly human. As far as he could tell, those times were roughly whenever Archer was awake. Sometimes, however, the teasing was impossible for him to resist, hence his deliberate malapropism.
She continued: "Archaeological evidence of the Union has been found on several worlds throughout the sector -- and all of it indicates that the Union's heyday was over ninety thousand years ago."
Archer almost sputtered his coffee. "Ninety thousand?"
"Wow." It took Archer a moment to wrap his mind around the number. Ninety thousand years ago, Homo sapiens didn't even exist. "What have you found?"
"The remains of a building that, as best I can tell, was recently unearthed. I've been extrapolating the weather patterns, and it would seem that erosion has been caused -- "
"T'Pol," he said with a smile, "please tell me you didn't call to talk about the weather."
"Excuse me?" she said archly.
Archer sighed. "Just give me the basics of what you found. Save the details for your written report."
A noise that Archer chose to interpret as static rather than a tcha of disapproval preceded T'Pol's next statement. "We have found several items containing markings consistent with other Zalkatian artifacts, as well as humanoid bone fossils that are consistent with those found at other Zalkatian sites. Ensign Sato has also discovered a box."
"A box?" Archer prompted when no further details were forthcoming.
"Yes, sir. Mr. Reed has been attempting to gain ingress to the box, thus far with minimal success."
"What, blasting it open with a phase pistol didn't work?" Archer said with a laugh.
Archer blinked. "T'Pol, I was kidding."
"So was Mr. Reed when he first made the suggestion. However, after all other avenues were exhausted, he did attempt to, as you so eloquently put it, blast it open. That proved as fruitless. The box is made of a material impervious to coherent phased light."
After gulping down the remainder of his coffee, Archer asked, "What's the big deal about this box anyhow?" At Porthos's pleading look, Archer disposed of the coffee cup and then knelt down to scratch the canine behind the ears some more. "You're not getting any cheese, so stop giving me that look," he said to the puppy.
"Nothing," he said quickly. "What about the box?"
"Ensign Sato has concluded, based on a very limited linguistic database that I provided, that the box contains critical documents relating to Malkus the Mighty."
"Dare I ask what Malkus the Mighty is?"
"Was, Captain. Several of the documents that have been recovered from Zalkatian sites have made reference to Malkus -- apparently a tyrant who ruled for many years. Accounts have chronicled his reign at anywhere from ten years to a thousand years -- the former is more likely, though the latter more prevalent in the accounts. The box is probably of the same tenor as most other documents relating to Malkus: tributes to his glory, accounts of his greatness, and other such emotional outpourings."
Grinning, Archer asked, "Is that distaste I hear in your tone, Sub-commander?"
"Certainly not," T'Pol said indignantly.
"In any case, you've sold me."
"Sounds like this is a major archaeological find." He cradled Porthos in his arms and then stood upright. The dog made a happy bleating noise in response and licked Archer's hand. "I'd like to get a good look at it. Mr. Tucker, Porthos, and I will be on the next pod down."
"Sir, I don't think it's necessary for you to bring -- "
Archer sighed as he interrupted. "Are we going to start this again? Porthos is a beagle. He's spent most of his time sitting patiently in my cabin when every instinct in his little canine body pushes him to run yapping all over the ship. I'd say he's earned another chance to run free in the great outdoors for a while."
After a brief pause, T'Pol said slowly, "If you'd let me finish, sir, you'd have known that I have no objection to bringing your animal down -- assuming he is kept out of the main archaeological site we have established. My objection was to the presence of Mr. Tucker."
"I can't see why -- you two haven't gotten into an argument for hours," Archer said dryly. "You must be suffering withdrawal."
"I simply do not see what Mr. Tucker can contribute to the landing party -- plus it would place Enterprise's four seniormost crew members off-ship."
"Travis can handle the conn while we're gone. And Trip's an engineer. They're good at opening things that don't want to be opened -- in fact, that's a particular talent of Trip's."
"Really?" The dubiousness practically dripped from T'Pol's voice.
"Really. We'll be down within the hour. Archer out." After cutting off that connection, he opened another. "Archer to Tucker."
"How'd you like to take a little trip, Trip?"
There was a pause, then a snort of what might have almost been laughter. "Cap'n, however long you been waitin' to use that line -- you shoulda waited longer."
It took Charles "Trip" Tucker all of forty-five seconds to open the box.
Malcolm Reed stared daggers at him. "How in the hell did you do that, Commander?"
"Sorry, trade secret," Tucker said with his toothy smile.
"Look, I went at that thing for the better part of an hour," Reed said, his normally dry face looking positively sour. "I think -- "
"Forget it, Malcolm," Archer said with a grin. "Trip's not one to reveal a trade secret."
As his security chief continued to regard his chief engineer with disdain, Archer looked around the dig site. One of Reed's people had been detailed with keeping an eye on Porthos as he ran around a bushy area. Archer, meanwhile, looked admiringly at a pile of stones that vaguely resembled pictures of Greek ruins he'd seen. The architectural style was completely different, of course, but it evoked the same feeling of treading on ancient ground. Ninety thousand years, he thought, still in awe of the number. Once, this barren, brown kilometer-wide patch of dirt was probably a thriving metropolis. Now there was nothing but an assortment of rocks and broken trinkets. Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair, he thought, recalling the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem.
T'Pol had collected several items -- some seemingly ordinary pieces of rock, others that appeared to have a particular shape -- into a sample case, each tagged with a notation written in the severe Vulcan script. Archer instinctively wanted to rebuke her for that -- Enterprise was an Earth ship, so to Archer's mind the documentation should have been in an Earth language -- but he realized immediately how foolish that was. The two people who were going to be spending the most time with the artifacts from this dig were T'Pol and the ship's linguist, Ensign Hoshi Sato. It mattered only that those two could read the notes. Their reports would be in English in any case.
Speaking of the young ensign, she was now kneeling down in front of the box, pawing through its contents, her hands clad in sterile gloves. "I was right! These have the same markings as the box." She held something up to T'Pol, who stood next to her. Archer leaned in close to see a very small cube -- barely two centimeters on a side -- with surprisingly elaborate markings, given its size. Sato easily held the cube between her forefinger and thumb. "See? That glyph is definitely the symbol for 'mighty,' " she added, pointing to a marking on one side, then pointed to the opposite side, "and that's the one for 'story.' It's got to be more of those Malkus Chronicles."
T'Pol, her hands also gloved, took the cube. "The evidence does seem to point to that conclusion."
"The word 'mighty' shouldn't be a clue all by itself," Archer said. "I mean, this Malkus guy can't have been the only person to whom that word would apply."
"Actually it is," Sato said sheepishly. "See, that," she said, pointing to one corner of the glyph, "indicates that it's a proper name, and belongs to a great personage."
T'Pol added, "The word 'mighty' written in that particular style has thus far been exclusively found in relation to Malkus. It would seem that Ensign Sato's hypothesis was correct."
Smiling, Sato stood up. "Told you."
"This is an even greater find than you might think," T'Pol said. "These are a type of data storage. Other such items have been found -- many of them fragments of the so-called Malkus Chronicles. Until now, however, we have not found any units in such pristine condition."
"They were certainly well preserved in that damn box," Reed muttered. Then, louder, he added, "Actually, that's probably why that box was so bloody hard to get into. If it was related to such an important figure..."
T'Pol nodded. "That is a logical deduction."
"Pristine or not," Archer said, "it doesn't do us any good if we can't read it. I don't think we have anything on board that'll interface with that thing."
Tucker walked over to the box. "Lemme take a look at that."
Sato grabbed the box and moved it away from Tucker. "Not until you get some gloves on."
"Whoa there, Ensign Squeaky Clean, I took a shower 'fore I came down."
"I don't care if you dipped yourself in a vat of decon gel, you're not touching my artifacts without gloves on."
"Your artifacts?" Tucker said with a laugh. "You said they had this Malkus fella's name on 'em, not yours."
"Malcolm, give the commander a pair of gloves," Archer said before the argument went on.
"Fine, fine, gimme the damn gloves," Tucker said with a look at Sato. For her part, Sato continued to look defiant. She had obviously taken a personal interest in this find.
Reed smiled as he went to the supply box, and said in a perfect imitation of Tucker's drawl, "Keep your shirt on."
Archer managed to maintain a straight face, as, naturally, did T'Pol. Sato had somewhat less discipline, and burst into a giggle.
Tucker turned to Archer. "Y'know, if I wanted abuse, I coulda stayed home. Next time, open y'own damn boxes." However, he took the gloves Reed profered a moment later, put them on, then looked at Sato. "May I?"
Presenting him with the box, Sato said with a smile, "Knock yourself out, Commander."
Tucker studied one of the cubes for several seconds, then said, "I think I might be able to modify one of the readers. It'll take a couple hours, though -- and I'll need to take one of these with me."
"All right, take them back up to Enterprise," Archer said. "T'Pol, go with him and give him a hand."
"Captain," Sato said, "request permission to go back -- "
"Denied -- for now," he added at the ensign's forlorn look. "Once they've rigged the reader up, then I'll want you in orbit translating what's on these cubes, but until then, with T'Pol going back to the ship, I want you down here cataloging what we find."
"You will be remaining as well?" T'Pol asked Archer.
The captain nodded. "Not quite a first contact, but close enough for me. I'd like to learn more about this Zalkat Union. Besides," he added with a smile, "Porthos could use a little more running-around time."
Five hours later, Archer took a pod back up to Enterprise, along with Reed, the rest of the archaeological crew, a crate full of samples, and a very content beagle (who spent the entire trip from the surface asleep in Archer's lap). An hour prior to that, T'Pol had sent a pod down to fetch Sato, and by the time Archer had settled back onto Enterprise, the two of them had a preliminary report for him.
The captain sat behind his desk. T'Pol stood calmly on the other side of the desk, while Sato was pacing around the cramped space, seemingly ready to burst. Archer found it an amusing contrast.
T'Pol said, "This chronicle is somewhat different from the others that have been unearthed."
"It was written after Malkus was overthrown," Sato added excitedly.
"I have to say, Ensign," Archer said with a smile, "you're remarkably enthusiastic for someone who'd never heard of the Zalkat Union two days ago."
"It's a fascinating culture, Captain," Sato said, now sounding a bit more sheepish. "I could spend days just listening to their language -- it has so many layers and nuances. They took their words very seriously. And their sculpture -- what we were able to unearth and what the sub-commander's shown me in some other records -- it's just amazing."
Smiling indulgently, Archer said, "Continue your report, Sub-commander."
After a brief nod, T'Pol said, "Ensign Sato is correct in that this chronicle was written after Malkus was overthrown. In addition, it also provided the first evidence of how Malkus was able to rule for so long."
"Apparently," and here, it seemed to Archer, T'Pol spoke with the greatest reluctance, "he truly did reign for the rough equivalent of one thousand years. Malkus had four items constructed which served as the instruments of his rule. They were devices of impressive power -- far in excess of the Union's baseline technology level."
"Did he steal the technology from another spacefaring power?"
"Unknown -- and unlikely. Based on the descriptions that Ensign Sato and I have translated, it is in keeping with the Union's technology curve, simply farther along on that curve than the rest of the Union of that era. To give an Earth analogy, the creator of these devices was the Zalkatian equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci. Unlike da Vinci, however, who could not construct the ornithopter he designed, Malkus was able to provide the material for these devices to be created."
"So what do they do?" Archer asked, shifting uncomfortably in his chair.
"One was capable of controlling the weather, one imparted a fatal virus, one served as an immensely powerful energy weapon, and the final device could be used to channel telepathy."
Archer sat up. "Mind control?"
"Basically," Sato said as she paced back and forth past the images of other, older ships named Enterprise on the office wall, "he could force people to do what he wanted, and if they still didn't obey, they had their choice of dying by disease, tornado, or being blasted into oblivion."
"That's quite a combination." Archer knew his words didn't do their meaning justice. He thought back to the tyrants of human history, and imagined what Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, or Colonel Green would have done with even one of those devices, much less all four. Hell, he thought, any sufficiently crazed Japanese shogun or Russian czar would have a field day. "So what happened to the devices after Malkus was overthrown?" He snorted. "For that matter, how was he overthrown?"
"We haven't found that part, yet," Sato said. She had moved to stand next to T'Pol. "Captain, each of the cubes we found had different things on it, but the information we're giving you about Malkus's devices is on all of them. I think that's why the box was so well preserved -- the Zalkatians wanted someone to find these chronicles in the future."
T'Pol said, "As a warning. The devices proved impossible to destroy. According to the chronicle, they tried every method they could imagine, including dropping the devices into a sun."
"That didn't work either?" Archer asked, surprised.
"No. The devices were able to resist the gravitational forces of the sun and drift back out, unscathed. However, the Zalkatians could not risk another possessing even one of them, much less all four."
"Smart move. So what'd they do?"
"Spread them to the nine winds," Sato said with a grim smile. She started pacing again. "The Zalkat Union was huge, Captain. It included parts of the galaxy we're probably never gonna see in our lifetime. And the rebels buried them in four different places on the outskirts of their territory."
"That information was deliberately withheld," T'Pol said, "in order to keep anyone from finding them. The only definitive information is that they are in four separate locations and that they are simple black boxes."
A wry smile played across Archer's face. "The Zalkatians have a thing for ordinary-looking boxes, don't they?"
Sato also smiled.
T'Pol, of course, did not, but simply went on as if Archer hadn't commented. "This rather generic form makes recognizing the devices visually difficult. However, the devices do give off a distinctive energy signature when they're active. That signature is encoded into all of the cubes we found, and can easily be programmed into Enterprise's sensors."
Archer stood up. "We need to do more than that."
Sato frowned. "Sir?"
"Think about it, Ensign -- we're not the only ship out here. More to the point, we're not the last Earth ship to explore; we're the first. If someone comes across one of these devices when it's active, they need to know what it is -- especially if they're so unassuming looking."
The look of trepidation on Sato's face showed that she was thinking about it now, and understood the potential danger.
"Ensign, prepare a message to Admiral Forrest. I want him to know everything you just told me -- along with my strong recommendation that the information about these devices be programmed into every Starfleet ship and also be made available to any civilian ship."
T'Pol nodded what Archer guessed was an approving nod, and said, "I would like you to prepare a similar message to the Vulcan High Command, Ensign."
Archer's eyes widened as an idea hit him. "Actually, I think the recommendations to both Earth and Vulcan should come from both of us, Sub-commander. And we might want to provide this information to the Axanar, too -- as a goodwill gesture to our new friends."
Another approving nod. "An excellent idea, Captain." Enterprise had made first contact with the Axanar only a couple of weeks earlier. At last report, diplomatic relations with them were going well.
Sato headed toward the door. "I'll start preparing the message right away, sir."
"One other thing, Ensign," Archer said. Sato stopped, her arm hovering over the door control. "I also want to recommend to the admiral that a general order is created that requires any Starfleet vessel that does encounter this energy signature be ordered to confiscate the device immediately."
"Yes, sir." Sato touched the control to open the door and departed.
"Another excellent idea, Captain," T'Pol said.
"Twice in one lifetime, Sub-commander," Archer said with a wide grin. "When you're hot, you're hot."
Archer waited expectantly for some kind of comeback. When none was forthcoming, he realized that T'Pol knew that Archer was expecting some kind of rebuke, and she had decided not to give him the satisfaction of rising to the bait.
Well, I did bring her along to keep me on my toes. "What say we head belowdecks so you can take a look at the other goodies we dug up down there?" Archer asked, heading for the door.
T'Pol nodded in acknowledgment. "After you, Captain."
Copyright © 2002 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2002 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
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