The Stronghold

Story By: Barbara Brennan

A stand-alone adventure set during the time of the first series (please note, I haven’t seen any of the later series yet so this story may not fit in with future plot explanations).

While visiting a new planet, Archer and T’Pol are roped into helping the local government negotiate with rebels intent on destroying this stable society. But it’s Hoshi who holds the key to the solution.

The Stronghold

“Evening Captain, Sub-Commander, Doctor” Trip said cheerily, nodding to each of them as he slid into his seat for dinner. “Looks good” he commented, leaning over the table and picking up the dish of pasta. He spooned large amounts of it onto his plate, “So, did you find anything interesting in the scans today?” he asked Archer.
It was T’Pol who answered, “There are several interesting phenomena along our present course, in particular there is a binary star system which appears from the scans to have one planet orbiting both stars. This is incredibly rare and any scans we take will be of great scientific interest.”
Trip looked excited, “A planet? Does it show any signs of life?”
“No, Commander,” T’Pol replied evenly, “There is no atmosphere at all on the planet. There is no way there could be any life there.”
Trip’s enthusiasm dissipated instantly and looking over to Archer, he sighed, “Captain, not another ‘great-for-science’ experience, how about some actual adventure?”
“This is very important,” T’Pol commented reprovingly.
Trip appealed to Archer, who laughed, “Don’t worry Trip, we’ve adventure lined up as well. On our way to the binary stars we pass the Macabean system. The third planet’s inhabited, the Vulcans have been dealing with them for years.”
Trip brightened again, “Great, so we get to visit without worrying about cultural contamination!” He rubbed his hands together in glee, “Fabulous, visiting a new planet without having to have Doctor Phlox cover my face with extra bits of skin. My forehead still itches from the last time, you know.”
Phlox laughed, “That’s purely psychosomatic Commander, I assure you.”
Trip shrugged, “Well, whatever… But, you can’t deny Captain, it’s a lot more fun to go exploring when you don’t have to hide in the shadows!”
Archer laughed and raised his glass to Trip, “I agree, and I take it you’ll be volunteering for the landing party when we arrive.”
“Hell, yes!” Trip replied vehemently, “Now if you could just pass the pepper Doctor…”

The Enterprise arrived at the Macabean system two days later. Archer asked Hoshi to open a channel to the main city on the third planet.
Taking a deep breath, he spoke, “This is Captain Archer of the starship Enterprise. We’re a ship of exploration from Earth and we would like to come and visit.” Archer looked over at Trip and shrugged slightly, he always felt slightly foolish as he tried to figure out how to introduce himself to new worlds. No-one this far out in space knew what “Earth” was – an unfortunate side effect of being the first humans to explore this region.
Archer tried to stay calm and patient as he waited for a response. He didn’t want to make Hoshi nervous by glancing over at her too often. Ensign Hoshi Sato wasn’t your standard bridge crew officer and he was often aware that she felt very much out of her element here in deep space. He resolved to wait patiently until she had something to report – staring at her wasn’t going to make it any quicker.
A few seconds later, Hoshi looked up with relief; “I’m getting a response, Captain.”
“Put it on screen, Ensign.” Archer looked over at T’Pol, “You’d better join me here – might as well show them a familiar face.”
T’Pol nodded silently and moved round to join Archer within the range of the view-screen. Archer nodded to Hoshi, who activated the comm. channel.
The face that appeared on screen appeared male, his skin was dark, darker than Travis Maywether’s, but his eyes were a startling green and rather than eyebrows he had three stripes of exposed bone – well that was what Archer assumed they were. He made a mental note to remember to ask T’Pol to provide pictures of the races the Vulcans knew.
“Welcome to the Stronghold. I am Leader Trasic, what may we of the Stronghold do for you?”
Archer smiled at the welcome; “We are explorers, Leader Trasic. We would like to visit your planet.”
Trasic considered this, “Then we will have to see what we can do. The people of the Stronghold are always welcoming to visitors.” He paused and his gaze switched to T’Pol who was standing next to Archer patiently waiting.
“A Vulcan?” Trasic murmured.
T’Pol nodded in greeting, and Archer replied, “Yes Leader, this is Sub-Commander T’Pol, my science officer.”
“Then it looks like you might be in a position to do us a good deed, ” Trasic remarked. “Let me know when you are ready to come down to our city and I’ll make arrangements for your arrival.” Trasic switched off the communication at that point, and Archer got the impression that Trasic wasn’t being rude, rather that he was suddenly distracted by an idea that had only occurred to him once he realized there was a Vulcan on board.
Archer looked at T’Pol, “Do you know what that was about?”
“I do not,” she replied, “With your permission I will scan the logs to see if there has been anything recorded about Macaba recently, that might explain his…” she paused trying to find the correct word to describe what she read of Trasic’s reactions, “… concern.”
Archer nodded, “Do that.”
As T’Pol went back to her station, Archer walked around to the Engineering station where Trip was working, or rather sitting listening with excitement.
“Interesting name they have,” Trip commented, “Stronghold? – Do you think that’s the name of their city or their planet?”
“No idea,” Archer felt Trip’s enthusiasm, it was going to be fun getting out of the ship for a while. He turned to look over at T’Pol and asked “Sub-Commander, is that actually the name or was it some sort of a translator error?”
T’Pol looked up, “That is the name of their main city, once they began space travel, they adopted it also for the name of their planet.”
“Hmm, an interesting idea.” Archer mused.
Hoshi joined the discussion. “Perhaps it’s their philosophy? A sense of security based on the strength of the city – that used to be common in history.”
Archer smiled, “I take it you’re volunteering for the away mission too, then?”
Hoshi broke into a broad smile, “You bet Captain, getting to see their city and have access to their language for our translation database…”
Archer nodded, “Count yourself in, Hoshi. Gather your things and we’ll meet up in the shuttle bay in half an hour. You too, Trip, Travis, sort out your replacements for while we’re gone and head down to the shuttle.”
Travis jumped up, as excited as Trip, “Thank you Captain!” He and Trip left the bridge to organize going down to the planet.
Archer turned to Lieutenant Reed who was sitting at the security station with a resigned look on his face.
Before Archer could speak, Reed interjected, “Sir, you are going down to a completely new planet with no real idea of what might happen. You should take a security contingent with you.”
“Malcolm,” Archer replied patiently, “This isn’t an uncharted planet we’re going to, these people have had relations with the Vulcans for decades. The Vulcans like them.”
“Even so sir,” Reed was implacable, as he always was. Archer sighed, Reed’s world was one full of suspicion and planning for betrayal, it made for a great tactical officer, but it did make him a little inflexible.
He tried again, “All the more reason I need you to remain on Enterprise, Malcolm. If something does go wrong you will be in the best position to help us.”
Reed nodded, that was an argument he could believe in, “Very well, sir.” Reed smiled and relaxed slightly now that he knew that the Captain wasn’t completely ignoring the risks, “But I will be able to go down to the planet later though sir?” he asked, “I would like to see it.”
Archer grinned, “No problem Malcolm, if all goes well, I’d like everyone to get a little R&R while we’re here.”
Reed smiled and nodded, “Looking forward to it, sir.”
Archer had turned away to go to T’Pol’s science station to see if she was now able to explain Trasic’s curious comment when Ensign Sinclair arrived as Travis’s replacement. Archer smiled as she walked passed him and she shyly returned his smile, she was slightly older than Travis but without the easy confidence that he had gained from living and working in space since he was born. As Archer watched her take her place at the helm, and begin to calmly work through the checks and diagnostics to familiarize herself with the ship’s position and condition, he felt proud. Even the young members of his crew really were the best of the best. He could see a future when Starfleet had more ships like Enterprise and in that future Ensigns like Sinclair would be the captains leading their own ships into the wide unknown and he would be… Archer shook his head, he must be getting old – it wasn’t like him to get whimsical. He definitely needed a holiday.
Get back to business and fast, Archer thought to himself. “Is there anything in the logs?” he asked T’Pol as he walked over to her station.
“There is a message from the Stronghold to Vulcan High Command requesting a diplomatic team, but the request doesn’t include any details other than the fact that it is to do with an internal dispute. High Command dispatched the T’Kron three weeks ago from it’s station on Carsallas Prime, which would mean it is due here in another two weeks.”
“Interesting. Maybe whatever it was has got worse in the meantime.”
“We have no way of knowing what it is that Leader Trasic requires of us until we have more information. It may not even be connected to this message.”
Archer grinned, “Bet you it is though.”
T’Pol looked over at him forbiddingly, “I do not bet, Captain.”
Archer laughed, “Shame, that would have been easy money.” He swept his arm out towards the door of the turbo-lift; “Shall we get to the shuttle bay and find out?”
T’Pol favored him with what Trip called the Vulcan look, which meant she was trying to decide whether humans really were an intelligent life form, and then she led the way into the turbo-lift.
“You have the conn, Mr. Reed” Archer called out as he left.

In the shuttle bay, Trip, Travis and Hoshi were already there and waiting when Archer and T’Pol arrived.
“We’re all ready to go then?” Archer asked with a smile.
Travis grinned and replied, “Ready and waiting with bated breath, Captain.”
Archer laughed, “We’d better get started then. Hoshi, open a channel down to the planet so that we can let them know we’re coming. T’Pol”, he said turning to his science officer, “since they seem so keen on Vulcans we might as well reassure them that you’re coming – you get their instructions on landing.”
T’Pol nodded and followed Hoshi into the shuttle. Archer grinned at Trip and Travis; “The adventure begins, then?”
“Sure thing, Captain.” Travis grinned back. He turned and followed T’Pol into the shuttle.
Archer looked over at Trip who hadn’t moved. “You seemed to have lost some of your excitement. What’s up?”
Trip shrugged, “I may have been hanging around Malcolm too long, but something’s bothering me about this, I guess I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Archer patted Trip’s shoulder, “Malcolm would be proud of you – come on, let’s see what’s out there…”

Inside the shuttle, Travis was running the preflight checks in the pilot’s seat and T’Pol was at the comm station with Hoshi receiving instructions on entering the Stronghold. Once the call was finished, she turned to Travis to give him the instructions on flying down to the Stronghold.
“Engineer Croaj has given me precise co-ordinates for entering the airspace over the city. There is an energy shield that surrounds the city, when we are on approach, they will open the shield just wide enough to allow the shuttle through.”
Trip paused in climbing into the seat beside Travis and raised his eyebrows, “Seems a bit severe. Is this another cultural thing, to do with the name?”
T’Pol considered it, “It is possible. I have never been to this planet before. There is no mention of such a shield in any of the reports, but that does not necessarily mean that it was not there. The Vulcans would have been expected, so preparations could have been made.”
“Plus Trasic seemed to indicate something was going on.” Travis interjected, “Maybe this is part of that special circumstance.”
“Only one way to find out.” Archer decided resting a hand on Travis’s shoulder, “On you go Travis.” He leant over and activated the comm. panel, “Malcolm, we’re on our way.”
“Very good sir, Let me know when you’ve landed.”
Archer shook his head and smiled “Naturally.”

Leader Trasic was there to meet them when the shuttle landed in a large courtyard in the center of the large building, which was itself at the center of the main city of the planet. Trasic was flanked on both sides by three security guards, all three holding their rifles ready to shoot at the first sign of trouble.
Trip looked over at Archer, “Maybe we should have brought Malcolm” he muttered.
Archer frowned and stepped forward, “Leader Trasic, if you didn’t want us to be here, all you had to do was say so.”
“Forgive me,” Trasic stepped forward, “The guards are not because of you, but are a standard fixture at the moment. I do want you to be here.” He paused, considering his words, “I need your help.”
Archer remained stern, “Then you had better explain, because otherwise…”
T’Pol touched his arm to interrupt, “Please Captain,” she whispered, “Try to remember that you are talking to a head of state.”
Archer nodded but his expression did not change. He took a deep breath and tried to keep his voice calm. “Let’s start this again shall we? How about you tell us what’s going on. We will help if we can.”
Trasic lead them to a small meeting room off the main courtyard, He signaled for the guards to remain outside. Archer was unable to follow what they were saying, but going by the body language of the guards, this looked to him like a break in protocol. Those guards looked just like Malcolm did when he was trying to hide his annoyance at the rash actions of his Captain. Which reminded Archer of something he had forgotten to do and he pulled out his hand-held communicator.
“Archer to Enterprise…”
No response.
“Enterprise, this is Captain Archer, come in please.”
No response.
Archer looked over at T’Pol, who tried her own communicator without response.
“It might be their shield,” Trip suggested, “If they’re that worried about security, they could have constructed it to stop all electronic signals as well as ships.”
T’Pol looked up at the sky, it was just possible to see the shield in the shimmer of the sunlight, “Very impressive,” she commented.
“That’s as may be,” Archer was getting very annoyed at the way this mission was going. “But that doesn’t help us trying to contact Malcolm to let him know we’re all right. I don’t particularly want him trying out our weapons against those shields.”
“Not yet, anyway,” Trip muttered.
T’Pol nodded and walked over to where Trasic was arguing with his security guards. “Leader Trasic,” she interrupted, “We need to be able to contact our ship. It is standard procedure.”
Trasic looked surprised, as if he hadn’t considered the inconvenience of the shield to visitors. “Oh, of course… sorry, I had forgotten to warn you. My apologies… I have a lot on my mind at the moment. None of your electronic equipment will work while the shield is up.”
Hoshi reacted with surprise, “None of it, not even our translators or recorders?”
Trasic shook his head, “None of it, but then you don’t need translators, ours work as well with your language as anything you could achieve, and as for contacting your ship, you can of course use our communication units. Dravac will take you to one now if you wish,” Trasic gestured to one of the guards, who stepped forward.
“Thank you.” Archer replied, through gritted teeth, and as he left with Dravac he shot a look at T’Pol that very clearly said his patience was running out, and she needed to have found out what the hell was going on by the time he returned.
Archer wasn’t the only one taken aback by this turn of events. Hoshi turned to Travis and whispered, “Now I feel like a fifth wheel, I only came along because of the chance to learn their language, how am I supposed to do that if we can’t use our recorders or our translators?”
“Don’t worry, ” Travis replied, calm and relaxed as always, “I’m sure the Captain will think of something.”
Hoshi was envious of Travis’s ability to meet any new situation without worrying about the outcome, she didn’t know if it was just his personality or the fact that he had been in space all his life. Compared to him, her life as a language scientist had left her woefully unprepared to deal with life on Enterprise. She took a deep breath and tried to appear as relaxed as he always did.
T’Pol stepped forward and spoke in a carefully neutral tone, “Leader Trasic, if you could explain what is happening here then perhaps we could help you.”
Trasic nodded slowly and sank into the chair behind the central table; he gestured for the Enterprise crew to do the same. As he waited for them all to be seated, Trasic rubbed the bone ridge above his right eye. Hoshi saw this and wondered if it was the Macabean version of the human gesture of rubbing the bridge of the nose when tired. Trasic did look very tired, she thought.
“My people, “ Trasic began, “are experiencing a level of turmoil that we have not known in centuries. A faction has risen from Drusii, one of the outer cities, saying that the Stronghold is archaic, that the concept should be,” he struggled to finish the sentence, the opinion that he was attempting to express was obviously one that he strongly disagreed with, “dismantled.”
T’Pol concentrated hard to hide her surprise. This was illogical – the Stronghold had been a stable part of interstellar politics for longer than the Vulcans. Societies like that rarely suffered from violent upheaval.
“What has caused such discontent?” she asked carefully.
Trasic ran the palms of his hands across the ridges on his forehead as though wiping them clean.
“At first it didn’t look like anything different from the usual discussions that we have every year. There are always dissenting voices in the Stronghold – as there should be in any good society”
T’Pol raised an eyebrow at that but made no comment.
Trasic continued, “Usually when these discussions occur we all – that is, the Council and anyone else who is interested – talk through the issue and we take on board any changes that are useful and so the Stronghold grows. But this time” Trasic stopped, genuinely unable to comprehend what was happening, “this time they just won’t listen.”
Trip laughed, “Sounds just like Earth politicians.”
Trasic looked over at him in amazement, “What is the point of arguing if you aren’t willing to compromise?”
“Hey don’t ask me, I’m just an engineer.”
“They wouldn’t compromise at all?” Hoshi asked.
Trasic held up his hands, palms upward, “No, they just kept demanding the destruction of the Stronghold.”
“Did they say why?” Travis asked leaning forward, “They must have had a reason.”
Trasic raised his palms again, “None that I could comprehend. That’s why I asked for Vulcan intervention. I needed their logic.”
“The T’Kron.” T’Pol stated.
“Yes,” Trasic agreed, “Vulcan High Command said they would dispatch it immediately, that it would be here in six weeks local time.”
“And how long ago was that?” Travis asked.
“Four weeks.”
“That fits with the reports.” T’Pol agreed, “The T’Kron left Carsallas Prime just over three Earth weeks ago.”
“And we thought that would be plenty of time but matters have deteriorated rapidly. The opposition have started threatening terrorist action.”
“Have there been any attacks?” T’Pol asked.
“Thankfully no. But the threat is enough – all of our defenses are designed to deal with attacks from outside the Stronghold. No-one ever dreamed of needing to defend against attacks from within.” Trasic began rubbing his right eye ridge once more.
“Sounds like you’ve had it lucky.” Trip commented. “In Earth history acts of terror play a big part.”
Trasic looked over at him speculatively. “Then perhaps it is not Vulcan’s help I need, but Earth’s”
T’Pol said nothing as she looked over at Trip with a raised eyebrow and an expression of disdain. But further discussion was halted by Captain Archer’s return.
Archer stopped just inside the door. “Well, do you know what’s going on yet?” he asked T’Pol.
“Yes, Leader Trasic is trying to negotiate with a group of intransigent rebels who are threatening to commit acts of terrorism if they don’t get their way. It is a situation that Commander Tucker appears to be very familiar with.”
Trip grinned and shrugged, “Not me personally, Captain, I was just talking about Earth in general.”
Archer nodded, his face remaining serious, “And how do you want us to help?” he asked Trasic.
T’Pol interjected before Trasic could speak knowing her answer would be more succinct, “Leader Trasic has requested the aid of the Vulcan High Council, they dispatched the T’Kron.”
“Which isn’t due here for another two weeks.” Archer finished.
“Yes Captain.”
“And you want our help in the meantime?” Archer asked Trasic directly.
“Yes. The situation has deteriorated far faster than I imagined.” Trasic looked over at T’Pol, “At first when I saw you had a Vulcan on board I desired her help, but listening to your crew I think perhaps it is you I need.”
“If any of us help, what would it involve? Negotiations?”
“Yes Captain, I need someone who can talk sense into these people because I cannot.”
Archer gestured for Trip and T’Pol to join him outside.
“Well?” he asked the two of them.
“It would be good if we could help them.” T’Pol replied, “The Stronghold is a steadying power in this quadrant.”
“Plus doing a favor is a great way to make friends – which we can never have too many of out here.” Trip commented.
“I agree. But I am no diplomat.” Archer said doubtfully.
“That much is certain, Captain.” T’Pol interrupted calmly. “But I will, of course, remain to aid with whatever you decide.”
Archer nodded. “Here’s what we’ll do. T’Pol and I will stay here and help Trasic.” Archer looked around quickly to make sure none of Trasic’s guards were close by, “Trip, I need you to head back to the Enterprise – work with Malcolm, see if there’s anyway you can break through the shield.”
“Captain”, T’Pol interrupted urgently, “I hardly think…”
Archer put up a hand to forestall her complaint, “Just to be on the safe side. I don’t like being out of contact with my ship.”
T’Pol nodded in acceptance.
Archer paused and then nodded once in decision, “Travis will go back with you, Trip, between the two of you, sort out a schedule so that there are always two good shuttle pilots on duty for as long as this lasts. If this all goes to hell in a hand basket then we are going to need to move very fast.”
“And with their shield, we can’t even use the transporter” Trip agreed.
“My thoughts exactly.”
“And Ensign Sato?” T’Pol asked.
Archer shook his head; “Given the fact that she can’t use a translator because of the shield it’s not vital that she be here with us. I’d feel better with her on Enterprise.”
T’Pol nodded, “Having her working with the computers could be useful to the negotiations. We are not going to have the opportunity to fully investigate what has happened so far. If Leader Trasic gives Ensign Sato transcripts she can begin the research.”
“Good plan – ask Trasic to give Hoshi the transcripts.”

Trasic lead the way into the debating chamber flanked by two guards, next came T’Pol with two guards and then Archer also with two guards assigned to him. Trasic had told them that these guards would be assigned to them for the duration of their stay. Archer didn’t like it and would rather have had two of his own security team but Trasic gave them no choice. Archer didn’t feel comfortable at all with placing this much faith in strangers in an unknown situation – there just too many variables that he had no control over. He was beginning to feel sympathy with the rebels.
That sympathy dissipated quickly after the first morning in the negotiation hall. The rebels were belligerent and antagonistic – refusing to listen to anything he, T’Pol or Trasic had to say. The two leaders of the group who did most of the talking contributed nothing except to repeat with ever-increasing volume that their demand was the dissolution of the Stronghold and they would accept nothing less. Frankly, as Archer commented to T’Pol during a break, it was all just giving him a headache.
“It is illogical to continuously restate a position in an argument that you are not going to win.”
“More than that”, Archer muttered, “It’s a definition of insanity.”
T’Pol raised an eyebrow in question.
“To repeat the same action over and over expecting to get a different result.”
“Commander Tucker suggested that this is how politicians on Earth act.”
“Most don’t, thank goodness. But, yes, there are some groups who see it as weakness to move from their core request.” Archer paused as a disturbing thought occurred to him. “Those groups aren’t interested in negotiating – they just use the failure of talks as further justification for violence.”
“A disturbing trend – and one that is new to the Stronghold.”
“It’s more than disturbing.” Trasic interjected having arrived for the end of the conversation. “It could mean the end of the Stronghold. I cannot allow violence to occur within these walls. If that happens the Stronghold is destroyed anyway.”
“Equally, you cannot dismantle something so important on the whims of a few.” T’Pol replied firmly.
“There must be some options we haven’t tried yet.” Archer tried to raise Trasic out of his defeatist mood. “What about a separate settlement for these people to live in how they choose?”
“Outside of the control of the Stronghold?” Trasic asked doubtfully “That’s unheard of.”
“But worth suggesting, though?”
“I agree.” T’Pol commented, “It is a solution that could be workable. Perhaps you should talk it over with your advisors.” she suggested carefully, making sure it came out only as a suggestion and not as an order which would have been her natural inclination.
Archer smiled slightly as he noticed her struggle – but it was successful. Trasic nodded, considering the idea, and left. Archer sighed a small sigh of relief; at least they weren’t out of options yet.

Back on Enterprise, Hoshi sat hunched over her communications station deep in concentration. She was listening to the recordings of the negotiations to help her understand the Macabean language and mindset. It was more than just listening to the words; she was listening underneath the words to the undercurrents of meaning, the hidden inflections that reveal the true intentions of the speaker. As she worked Hoshi felt herself become energized; this is what she was on Enterprise for. This is why Archer had asked for her, her ear – her ability to hear what everyone else ignored.
She stopped suddenly – hearing something that didn’t belong. She must have heard it several times by now but she hadn’t noticed the implications. Hoshi replayed the last section of the recording to make sure she wasn’t imagining things.

Travis came back to the Bridge carrying a tray of sandwiches and mugs; he went over to the engineering station where Trip and Reed were arguing softly trying to figure a way of breaking through the shield.
“Thought you might like some refreshment, sir,” he said offering the tray to Trip.
“That’s good thinking Travis.” Trip replied gratefully taking a sandwich and a mug of coffee. “Hadn’t realized how hungry I was.”
“Me neither.” Reed agreed inspecting the choice of sandwiches.
“I brought tea for you sir.” Travis said pointing to one of the mugs with his chin.
“Very impressive – thank you!” Reed took the mug, grinning. “Milk and no sugar?”
Travis nodded. “Just the way you like it.”
Trip laughed, “You looking for reassignment to catering or bucking for a promotion?”
Travis grinned, “It always worked on my parent’s ship!”
Leaving the two of them laughing, Travis went over to Hoshi at the communications station. She was staring out into the distance concentrating on her own puzzle and didn’t hear him approach. Not wanting to interrupt her train of thought Travis left her a sandwich and mug of herbal tea on the desk beside her and went back to his own station.
A couple of minutes later Travis heard Hoshi gasp with a deep intake of breath as though she’d been underwater. He went over to her.
“Hoshi, are you okay?”
Hoshi looked around at him vacantly and then she blinked and looked at him again with more focus. “Hmm? Oh yes, I’m fine. I was just… er… thinking.” She blinked again and looked around. “You know, actually I’m quite hungry.” She stopped speaking as she noticed the sandwich and looked back up at Travis.
“How long has that sandwich been there?”
Travis laughed, “Not long. I brought them up from the mess-hall.” He shrugged, “There’s not much for a pilot to do while the ship’s in orbit so I figured I might as well make myself useful. The tea should still be warm enough.”
Hoshi reached over for the mug and picked it up breathing in the scent of the tea. “Rose-hip and chamomile” she commented, “Perfect.”
She looked over at Travis, recognizing in him her own feeling of restlessness from the beginning of the mission. It made her feel better knowing that other people felt the same way that she did.
“Travis, would you be able to give me a hand with some research?”
“Sure thing, what do you need?” Travis grinned showing his relief at having some actual work to do.
Hoshi paused, trying to formulate a coherent train of thought from the jumble in her mind. “The opposing group in these negotiations are called the Komor Vas – it means League of Peace,” she explained. “I want to know how long they’ve been in existence.”
“You think there’s something funny about them?”
Hoshi shook her head, “I’m not sure yet – I’m curious about them and because of the shield I can’t get access to the Stronghold records. Could you search the Vulcan records for me?”
“I’d be glad to. I’ll get started right away, while you take a break and eat that sandwich.” Travis grinned.
Hoshi smiled and nodded “Sounds like a fair deal to me.”
She picked up the mug of tea and sipped it slowly, ruminating over the ramifications of what she had heard.
When time and a full stomach didn’t weaken her conclusions, Hoshi was more certain than ever of the importance of what she had heard. She copied out the segment of the recording for easy access later, taking the time to listen to it again to remind herself of the voices: Trasic and Komtas, the leader of the rebels.
“Did you find anything?” she asked Travis as she walked over to his station.
“Nothing specific,” he replied, “There are some mentions of the group being involved in the government of the Stronghold as far back as 2037 but no details.”
Hoshi was interested, “They used to be involved in the government – so they weren’t always extremists?”
“Doesn’t look like it. I mean there are no details of what they were doing with the government, but I doubt the Vulcans would even mention them unless they were an accepted part of the main leadership.”
Hoshi nodded, “I agree… Interesting…” she paused and reaching a conclusion asked, “Has the Captain called in recently?”
Respecting her need to keep her thoughts to herself until she was ready, Travis swallowed his curiosity and answered her question simply, “Not since lunch-time when he called up to see how the Commander was getting on.”
Hoshi nodded vacantly, back in thought again.
“Do you want me to send a message?” Travis prodded, bringing Hoshi’s attention back to the conversation.
“I don’t know… I think I do need to talk to him but I’m not sure what to do first…”
“You’d better talk to Commander Tucker then, he’ll be able to figure out what to do.”
“Good idea – I’ll explain it to him. If I’m going to make a fool of myself I’d rather it be with the Commander than the Captain and the Sub-Commander.”
Travis grinned in agreement, “Very good idea.”

Hoshi went down to Engineering to find the Commander. He was working with Malcolm Reed over a display of the planet. Reed looked up as he heard her enter.
“Ensign,” he said on greeting, “You don’t often frequent Engineering, what can we do for you?”
Reed was always formal, it was his nature, but Hoshi had noticed that of late he had been even more careful with her. Occasionally it bothered her, but at times like this, when she was pursuing a puzzle, she was grateful for his apparent disinterest in social chat of any kind.
Trip looked up at Reed’s words and grinned when he saw Hoshi. “Hey, Hoshi, you looking for me?”
“Yes Commander, I’ve found some things in the recordings that might explain what’s going on in the Stronghold.”
“Sounds interesting – step into the office” Trip gestured to his small office-cum-workroom, “Malcolm, you come too – I could do with your opinion.”
Reed nodded and followed them into Trip’s office. Trip sat in his chair behind the desk and Hoshi sat in the only other chair, Reed leant against the wall facing both Trip and Hoshi. Hoshi looked across at both of them beginning to feel very nervous, realizing this, Trip smiled over at her.
“Relax Hoshi, whatever it is, I want to hear about it.”
Hoshi took a deep breath and blurted “I think the leaders of the rebels are imposters.”
Reed raised his eyebrows, “Imposters?”
Hoshi nodded and said with more confidence, “I don’t just mean that they’re not real rebels. I mean they’re not real Macabeans ”
Trip and Reed stared at her in stunned silence.
“Not real Macabeans?” Trip repeated.
“Two questions,” Reed said softly, “One, with all the Macabean security, how is that possible? And two, how do you know?”
Hoshi answered confidently, she felt on surer ground now that the two officers seemed to be taking her seriously. “The first question I can’t answer, maybe the Captain can, but as for the second I know because their speech patterns are wrong, they say ‘Stronghold’ as though it’s just a place.” She held up a hand to forestall their questions. “As a start, trust that in the area of language I know what I’m talking about. For Macabeans, the Stronghold is more than just a place, it’s a way of thinking, their whole philosophy and society is based around the nature of the Stronghold, it is a sense of security that is the pillar of their lives. You can hear it in the reverence of the way they speak, even when they are just referring to the place.
“That’s why the idea of dismantling the Stronghold horrifies Trasic. Anyway, when Komtas and Reaydet – the two leaders of the rebels – say Stronghold they sound just like you and I would – with no undertones or feeling at all.”
“Why wouldn’t Trasic notice?” Reed asked.
“I guess the physical disguise is very good – no-one would spot the language undertones unless they were looking for it.”
Trip looked over at Reed, “What do you think?”
“Makes some kind of sense.” he decided, “It would explain why they aren’t interested in negotiating. Still, it raises a lot of questions.”
“The first of which,” Trip agreed, “is how the hell could they do that?”
Reed looked over at him, “Maybe the question isn’t how, it’s who”
Realization of what Reed meant struck Trip, “The Suliban?”
Reed nodded.
Trip shook his head, “Jeez, what is it with them…  Anyway, Suliban or not, the Captain is definitely going to want to hear about this.”
Trip thumbed the comm-link on his desk, “Tucker to the Bridge”
“Maywether here, sir” Travis’s voice came out over the speaker, calm and confident.
“Travis, get a message through to the Stronghold for me. I need the Captain or T’Pol to contact me as soon as possible.”
“Will do, Commander.”
Trip switched off the comm and leant back in his chair. He grinned over at Hoshi, “Nice work Hoshi – the Captain is going to receive this like manna from heaven!”
Hoshi blushed and looked down at the floor not sure how to react.
“Don’t get too excited, Commander” Reed commented wryly, “the problem’s not fixed yet.”
Grateful that the attention was off her for a moment, Hoshi took a quiet breath and willed her face to cool down. Feeling a little more composed; she looked back at Trip.
“Lieutenant Reed is probably right sir, this may not make a difference.”
Reed interrupted quickly, “I didn’t say it wouldn’t make a difference, if nothing else it’s going to turn Stronghold security upside down. I just said the problem wasn’t solved yet.”
“The two of you are just pessimists anyway,” Trip said laughing.
The comm unit chiming interrupted further argument. He flicked the switch to activate it.
“Tucker here.”
“Trip? What can I do for you?”
The Captain’s voice sounded a little distorted, Trip figured it was probably a side effect of the shield surrounding the Stronghold and raised his voice slightly to compensate for the distortion. “Hoshi’s figured out something about these rebels that you ought to hear about but I think it’ll be best done face to face.”
Trip glanced over at Reed who nodded his agreement with the plan, “When can you get back up here, sir?” Trip continued.
“We should be done for today in about an hour” Archer replied, “Send Travis down for us then.”
“Will do, Captain.”
Hoshi raised her hand to attract Trip’s attention.
“Hold on a second, Captain.”
Trip nodded to Hoshi and gestured to the comm unit. Hoshi leant forward to make sure the unit picked up her voice clearly. As a communications officer she was already used to pitching her voice so that it traveled clearly through distortion.
“Captain,” she said “could you ask Leader Trasic for the Stronghold records of the history of the Komor Vas?”
“Sure can, what do you need?”
“Mostly information on the two leaders, their history that kind of thing.”
“You think they…”
Trip interrupted before Archer could get any further, “Hold that thought, Captain. We’ll explain when you get here.”
They could hear Archer’s chuckle through the distortion, “I hear you Trip, see you soon.”

When Captain Archer returned to the Enterprise he called a meeting of his senior staff. They met in the mess hall; one of few places on the ship that would seat all of them comfortably, and besides, Archer was hungry and he was in the mood for invoking the Captain’s privilege of being allowed to eat whenever the hell he wanted.
As Hoshi explained her findings and played to him the recording of both Trasic and the leaders of Komor Vas in an attempt to show him the difference, Archer worked his way through a beef and salad sandwich.
When he had finished eating, and she had finished explaining, he lent back and put his hands behind his tired head lacing his fingers to provide a cradle to rest it in.
He closed his eyes and thought in silence working through the possibilities, after a few minutes he opened his eyes to look over at Trip.
“How impenetrable is their shield?”
Surprised by the change in subject, it took Trip a moment to gather his thoughts. In the silence awaiting his answer Hoshi began to fidget, worried that maybe she hadn’t explained herself clearly enough. She leant forward and took a deep breath readying herself to launch into further argument. Archer saw the movement out of the corner of his eye and waved her back.
“Relax Hoshi, I understand your point.”
Hoshi subsided back into her chair feeling a little embarrassed.
“Trip?” Archer prodded.
“Ah, yes sir. Nigh on 100% proof, as near as I can tell, Cap’n. We took scans of the shield’s composition and density and ran simulations to see if there was anything that would penetrate it but nothing me and Malcolm have able to throw at it has even made it blink.”
“No change in energy output or density of cover at any time during our investigations, sir.” Reed elucidated.
T’Pol nodded, she, at least, appreciated the explanation.
Archer nodded, “So you think it’s good enough to shut anyone else out too?”
Beginning to see where Archer’s train of thought was going Trip leant forward concentrating hard; “I’d say so sir, from what we know of the Macabeans this shield’s going to be top-notch. Security’s too much of a priority for them to take any chances. It’d have to be a race significantly advanced on from the Stronghold, and I don’t think there’s too many of them about. Is that right Sub-Commander?” he looked over at T’Pol. After a frosty beginning, he was finally beginning to understand the Vulcan, and he respected her judgement.
“That would be correct.” T’Pol agreed in her measured tones, “There are races sufficiently advanced of the Stronghold, but they would not be concerning themselves with internal politics of another race.”
“Well, that’s reassuring at least.” Archer muttered. Trip, hearing, grinned over at him. T’Pol also heard just as well, but chose to ignore what she recognized as Archer’s lingering resentment at what he saw as Vulcan meddling in Earth’s development.
“So,” Reed interjected, “we can be pretty sure that this shield is as impenetrable to everyone else as it is for us?”
“Correct.” T’Pol asserted.
“Which means,” Archer said continuing with his main train of thought, “that if Komtas and Reaydet are impostors of some sort they will have to leave the shield to relay any information they have.”
“Which means we’ll be able to track them!” Travis exclaimed in surprise.
Archer nodded and smiled, “And that means we’ll be able to figure out who they really are and what they really want.”
“The issue is how to get them to come out from the shield.” T’Pol pointed out.
“Oh, that’s easy,” Archer replied. “We just give them something so amazing that they rush out to report home.”
“And that would be?” Trip prompted.
Archer just grinned.

Trasic sank back into his chair in horror, “You want me to do what?” he whispered faintly, his dark skin turned darker in reaction to the shock making his bone ridges stand out even brighter. He rubbed them again trying to comprehend the reason for Archer’s near blasphemous request.
“You want me to offer the Komor Vas the Stronghold?” he whispered again.
“Perhaps you did not break the news ‘gently’ enough” T’Pol murmured quietly.
Archer shrugged and, taking a deep breath, tried again. “Leader Trasic, I have no intention of you actually having to hand over the Stronghold. We just need to make sure that Komtas hears something that he has to report back to whoever’s controlling this.”
Trasic sighed and stopped rubbing his bone ridges, resting his hands on the table between him and Archer. “I understand your plan Captain but look at it from my point of view. Even if you are correct in your theory about Komtas and Reaydet, even then, this suggestion will go down in the records of the Stronghold. There will be precedent, the Leader of the Stronghold actually offered to hand it over to a group of rebels who were willing to argue for long enough. And if you are wrong…” Trasic trailed off, unable to voice that fear.
Archer leant back in his chair with a deep sigh. T’Pol had warned him that perhaps he had overlooked some of the ramifications of his plan. It looked like she was right, although that realization didn’t help his current situation.
T’Pol sat down beside him and spoke calmly to Trasic. “Leader, we understand the issues, but you have to admit that you have tried all the diplomatic paths. None of them have worked.”
Trasic raised hands palm up, “I do understand that. It’s just that what you suggest… It’s just that what you are suggesting… It goes beyond recklessness…”
“And we understand that, Leader.” T’Pol reassured him, “If we thought there was another choice we would offer it to you. But if we are correct, then this is the only way.”
“If you are correct…” Trasic repeated under his breath.
Archer tried to think of a way through this. He could think of only one option.
“What if we record a message from us explaining that your offer was only an attempt to smoke out the genuineness of the rebel’s claim? That way if we are wrong no precedent is created.”
“The precedent will still be there, Captain, but perhaps it will, at least, allow a chance of defending the Stronghold in future.”
Trasic stood up and walked to the door. “However, I will not allow you to take responsibility, Captain. I will make the recording explaining what we are attempting. If it fails, I will stand down as Leader. This recording will, I hope, give my successor some hope of preserving the Stronghold”
Trasic ran a hand across his brow ridge in a gesture of tiredness.
“Not quite the legacy that I would have wished for.” He sighed, “You are right though, Captain Archer, when you say that I am out of options.” He opened the door and gestured for the guards. “Come Captain, Sub-Commander, time to design my legacy – good or bad.” Trasic smiled and Archer felt a swell of pride for this man who was willing to risk everything he had, but unwilling to risk the chance of anyone else having to pay the price.

Once Trasic had recorded his message and set it for a time-delayed delivery – to be either deleted by him because the plan was successful or to be read with gratitude by his successor, Archer explained his plan to the bridge crew.
“Malcolm, Travis, I want the two of you to return with us to the surface. Travis, stay in the shuttle and be ready to track Komtas and Reaydet as soon as they leave the shield. Malcolm, you’ll come to the meeting hall with us. If you can, follow them when they leave.”
Reed nodded.
“Trip, you stay here on Enterprise. It’s vital we find out who these aliens are. If there is a ship out there and you need to stop it to find out then you have my authority to use any means necessary.”
“How are you going to get them to leave the Stronghold?” Travis asked.
Archer grinned a feral grin; “Leader Trasic is going to make them an offer they can’t refuse – he’s going to give them the Stronghold! Then one of two things will happen, either we’re right and the aliens will want to report their success to their people. At which point you will be able to use the sensors to prove they are aliens and we can stop their plan in its tracks.”
“And if we’re wrong?” Travis asked.
Archer smiled briefly, “Then we’re in an awful lot of trouble.” he pronounced. “We’ll be responsible for destroying one of the most stable societies in this sector.”
“Don’t worry,” Hoshi reassured the group, “They’re either aliens or working for aliens, I’m certain of it.”
Reed pressed the point home, “And Travis and I will prove it.”
Archer nodded, pleased at their certainty, “Any other questions?”
There were none, and Archer disbanded the meeting. As the officers filed out, Archer touched Hoshi’s arm, “Stay a moment, Hoshi.”
Hoshi sat next to Archer and together they waited for everyone else to leave. Once the room was empty, Archer smiled reassuringly.
“I just wanted to make sure you knew how impressed I am with your deductions,” Archer said. “If this works out, there’s no way we could have done without you.”
Hoshi smiled briefly, embarrassed but very pleased by the praise. “Thank you sir.” she managed to speak.
“And you understand why I need you to stay on board Enterprise?”
“Oh yes.” On surer ground here, Hoshi was able to speak confidently. “The Enterprise is the best place for me to be available to everyone.”
Archer smiled in response, ” Good, I’m glad you’re happy with this. I, certainly, will be grateful to know you are on board the Enterprise, if it all goes badly!”
Hoshi grinned, “Thank you sir. Good luck!”
Hoshi got up and left the briefing room, leaving Archer deep in thought, continuing to work through all the possible outcomes of the plan.

Travis piloted the shuttle down to the surface, once again following the specific flight-path given to him by the Stronghold technicians. Lt. Reed disembarked with Archer and T’Pol, once they were on the ground Travis took the shuttle back into the air, having previously received permission from Flight Control to maintain a low-level station above the Stronghold. All he could do now was wait.

After Archer and T’Pol had left to restart the negotiations Reed paced up and down a short distance in the side corridor where he had positioned himself to be able to get a clear view of the only entrance to the main hall of the Stronghold. All he could do now was wait.

Trip tried to settle in the Captain’s chair but he couldn’t. It just didn’t fit. Hell, he was an engineer. Chief Engineer was as high as he wanted to go up the chain of command. Yet here he was in charge of the Enterprise and he was on his own – Archer and T’Pol would be unreachable without a lot of negotiation with Communication Control at the Stronghold, so there was no speedy help to be had there. He looked around the bridge, only Hoshi was part of the Alpha shift bridge crew, most everyone else was almost a stranger to him. I really should get to know the rest of the shifts more, Trip thought idly. He shook himself; he needed to pay attention. What he would not give for an engine to take apart right now, but all he could do was wait.

“Message coming in from the Stronghold, sir.” Hoshi reported.
“Put it through.”
Hoshi opened the channel, and Reed’s voice came through. “Commander? I just spotted them, they left the hall together, no-one else came out so my guess is that it’s not a general break, I’m going to follow them now.”

The waiting was over.

Reed followed the two leaders of the Opposition through the corridors of the Stronghold. It wasn’t a difficult task to remain hidden from them, since they were making no effort to be discreet; the news they had to report was consuming their attention. That part of Archer’s plan was working as expected
Reed followed the two of them outside the central building of the Stronghold, at which point they took a sharp turn to the left and followed a side alley that appeared to lead into an area of low-level buildings. Most likely this was the quickest route to get out from underneath the shielding. If the Captain, or rather Hoshi, was right about what was going on, these aliens had to have figured out the quickest way to get out from within the shield so that they could get instructions from whoever they worked for.
This was the part of the plan where it got difficult. The Stronghold’s shield did not show up clearly on the Enterprise’s scanners and so they had no idea of exactly where the shield ended. It was also not information that Trasic could give them for the simple reason that he didn’t have it. The co-ordinates of the shield randomly fluctuated and could only be exactly computed within Security Control at the center the Stronghold. Reed admired the Macabean approach to security; it was single-minded in a way that he could truly appreciate, although right now it was a real pain.
Since Enterprise did not know where the shield ended, Travis could only wait until he saw a signal and try to read from that. It was going to be a split-second task if the aliens had some sort of a transporter set up, but Reed doubted that – it would leave them open to detection as aliens if they were spotted. That would be too much of a risk given the trouble they had gone to creating these identities. Reed followed them as close as he could, ready with his tri-corder to take a reading in case Travis wasn’t able to pick them up with the shuttle’s scanners in time.
The two men turned left down a narrow alley, which ended in a stone wall set about waist high. Reed watched them vault over this wall and move out into the field beyond. At this point they slowed down and started moving casually about, as though they were simply taking the air.
Reed realized they must be out from under the shield, but their position out in the open meant that it would be very difficult for him to follow them and come out from the shield himself. He tried his communicator just in case he was already clear but the line was still dead. Crouching behind the wall, Reed waited for a moment when they were both facing the other way and when the chance arrived he slid over the wall and lay in the tall grass on the other side.
“Travis,” he whispered, but the line was still dead. Reed had to hope that Travis had spotted them by himself and was even now transmitting the scans and location back to the Enterprise. However, waiting and hoping wasn’t something Reed was very good at and he began to carefully shuffle forward lying flat on his stomach. Every couple of seconds he lifted his head to check what was happening with the two men, reassuring himself that they were still there and hadn’t spotted him yet. Each time, once he had seen it was still safe, he tried calling back to the shuttle.  On the fourth such tense try, the comm-line finally hissed into life – he was out from the shield!
“Travis,” he hissed, “are you there?”
“Sure am,” Travis whispered in reply, “And I’m getting clear signals  – I’m sending them up to the Enterprise for analysis right now sir.”
“Thank goodness,” Reed sighed, “Okay I’m heading back to the main hall to meet up with the Captain. Well done, Ensign.”
“Thank you, sir.”

“I have a signal coming from the shuttle.” Ensign Kozlowski reported from the science station.
Trip leapt from his seat and went over to Kozlowski’s station; Hoshi followed on his heels.
Kozlowski stood up to let Trip sit at the station himself, but he gestured to Kozlowski to remain seated. “You’re the expert here, Ensign. Tell us what we have.”
Kozlowski nodded, pleased at being given the responsibility – “What I can tell you immediately, sir, is that they are definitely not native to Macaba.”
Trip sighed with relief, “That’s all I need to hear for now. Keep studying the scans, see if they exist in the Vulcan database.”
Kozlowski nodded.
Trip turned to Hoshi, “Get a channel open to the Stronghold. Let the Captain and Leader Trasic that we have the information they need. And send them the information Kozlowski has.”
Hoshi nodded and grinned. “I’m on it, sir.”
As Hoshi bent over her communications desk, Lieutenant Hopkins turned round from the tactical station where he had been searching the space around the planet for any sign of the alien’s ship and called out, “I’ve found it sir!”
Trip spun round, “The ship? Where is it?”
Hopkins pointed down onto the visual display, “It’s just moved out from synchronous orbit, sir, it looks like it’s moving to leave the system.”
“Do we go after it sir?” Sinclair asked from the helm.
Now that was the question, Trip thought. What would the Captain do, track the ship or stay here? Where was it more important to be? Instinctively his need for action made Trip want to race after the ship, but he was the acting Captain of the ship that meant there were larger concerns to consider. Trip was painfully aware that everyone was watching him, waiting for a response. He took a deep breath and tossed a mental coin.
“No, we stay here. Track it as far as you can, Hopkins, but we’ll not follow it. The Stronghold is our concern right now.”
As he sank back into the Captain’s chair, Trip concentrated on looking as calm and confident as Jonathan Archer always did, and prayed that his choice had been right.

When the steward came into the meeting room to tell him the Enterprise had information for him, Archer knew the moment of truth had arrived. He quietly excused himself and left the hall. Out in the communications center he took one look at Hoshi’s face and knew the news was good. He grinned down at her and asked for the details.
“We were right sir, definitely not Macabean, I’m sending you the scans now.”
“Nicely done, Hoshi – you get the credit for this. Have you been able to tell who the actually are?”
“Yes sir.” She took a breath. “They’re Suliban, sir.”

Travis piloted Archer, T’Pol and Reed back to Enterprise. Trasic was still leader of the Stronghold and more importantly for Trasic and the Macabeans, the Stronghold still existed. As soon as the two Suliban realized that their cover was blown they had returned to their ship and it left the system at high warp, tracked by Lieutenant Hopkins.  With their leaders exposed as aliens, the Opposition collapsed and were more than happy with Trasic’s offer to keep this whole event secret if they were to publicly declare their unstinting support for the Stronghold.
Back on Enterprise, Reed leant back in his chair at the tactical station and leaned over to Trip, now gratefully out of center stage. Reed spoke softly not wanting to attract attention.
“What is it with the Suliban? Why do they keep butting their noses into things that don’t concern them?”
Trip smiled and shrugged, “I don’t know, but do you think at some point they are going to get annoyed that we keep stopping them?”
“You see, that’s a thought that keeps coming back to me. What if that’s their actual plan?”
“What? To get us involved?” Trip was incredulous.
Reed nodded firmly, “Yes. What if it’s us they’re trying to manipulate?”
Trip shivered, “Come off it Malcolm. Don’t you think you’re being a bit paranoid?”
Reed shrugged, “Possibly.”
He glanced back over his shoulder and saw that T’Pol was starting to pay attention to their conversation, so he smiled over at Trip, who was now looking very disturbed by the conversation, and started to pay very close attention to the tactical display.


Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.