Wrong Turn by Travis Anderson
“Where the hell did they come from?” Commander “Trip” Tucker, the NX-01 Enterprise’s Chief Engineer, hissed.
Crouched beside him, T’Pol shook her head. They’d landed on this world in order to peruse the bazaar near the main spaceport. Enterprise’s stores could stand replenishment and Trip had begged Captain Jonathan Archer for the opportunity to examine the local’s technology. With dozens of alien ships and freighters in orbit, the last thing they expected to find was a group of Andorians strolling through the market.
“If I knew that,” she whispered icily, “I would not have come here.” Tensions between T’Pol’s native Vulcan and Andoria remained at an unprecedented high.
She stole another glance over the countertop of the booth they were both hiding behind, “More of them have arrived.”
Trip’s face twisted into an expression of amused fascination, “That wouldn’t happen to be anxiety I hear would it?”
She gave him a blank look in return; “You are undoubtedly the most illogical being I have ever met.” T’Pol informed him disdainfully.
At least I rate being now instead of human, Trip mused, That’s one huge leap for mankind.
“We must move.” T’Pol quietly insisted, “They are coming this way.”
Staying low, they scuttled off to another booth. Trip could hear the blue-skinned Andorians’ sibilant voices as they perused items in nearby booths. They sounded relaxed and jovial. There was no indication they were searching for him or any of his comrades.
A female voice rose above the others, “Rhian here.” She went silent as a minute voice transmitted through her communicator. The transmitted voice was too quiet for either T’Pol or Tucker to hear from their hiding spot. All they could make out was Rhian’s grunts of acknowledgement.
“Understood, sir.” Rhian said at last, “We will rendezvous with the ship upon capturing our quarry.” Silence, then, “You heard the Captain. Move!”
Their exit from the market was much swifter then their arrival. T’Pol and Trip slowly rose to their feet. T’Pol had her scanner at the ready. She quickly swept the square.
“It is clear.” She announced, “They have moved on.”
“Really, T’Pol?” Trip asked sarcastically, “Maybe their leader telling them to move out followed by loud tromping footsteps would have told you that.”
She gazed at him with a clinical detachment as she answered, “And perhaps they left a rear guard that could kill you if you did not confirm their supposed withdrawal.”
“I can take care of myself, y’know.” Trip protested. “Like Earth, I don’t need a Vulcan babysitter tellin’ me what t’do.”
“If you had heeded my counsel during your last shore leave,” She replied flatly, “You would not have needed to requisition a replacement uniform.”
“I did all right,” Trip defended, “what makes you boss?”
“I am your superior officer.” T’Pol reminded, “My people also have far more experience with the Andorians than yours.”
“There you go,” Trip sputtered, “goin’ off on about your Vulcan superiority!”
“As you do about human emotion and innovation?” T’Pol asked with and arched eyebrow.
“That’s different.” Trip protested weakly.
“How is it different?” T’Pol asked pointedly.
“I don’t know.” Trip snapped in frustration, “It just is. At least human beings aren’t afraid of their own damn feelings. We may not always be proud of ’em, but at least we’re aren’t afraid of our shadows.”
T’Pol examined him closely, “Your arguments are irrational. Vulcans do not shirk from our emotions. We master them so they cannot prove a danger to those around us. Trust me, if my emotional control were not maintained, you would be one of the first to discover it.”
“Tell me about it.” He remarked sourly, once again reining his frustration with the eternally tight-assed Science Officer.
T’Pol flipped open her communicator, “T’Pol to Ensign Mayweather.”
Travis’ exuberant voice came back, “Mayweather here, what is it Subcommander?”
“We have just encountered Andorians.” T’Pol informed him, “Exercise extreme caution while proceeding to the shuttle pod.”
A brief pause proceeded Mayweather’s reply, “I understand. How many of them are there?”
T’Pol’s eyebrow rose even though Travis couldn’t see it, “A standard Retrieval squad is sixteen persons.”
“Dr. Phlox and I are on our way back to the pod.”
“Commander Tucker and I are proceeding there as well.” T’Pol agreed, “Contact us if there is any more trouble.”
“How do you know they’re a Retrieval squad?” Trip asked.
“Did you notice that they are wearing red and black?”
Trip nodded, “Yeah, so?”
“That’s the uniform of the ’Drathr clan. The ’Drathr clan specialises in tracking and capturing escaped Andorian prisoners and fugitives.”
“Oh, shit.” Trip muttered.
“If that’s anything like faeces, I agree.”
Trip blinked in surprise, “That almost sounded like a joke.”
“You are mistaken.” T’Pol’s tone defied contradiction, “We had best be on our way.”
T’Pol and Trip moved quietly through the back streets. The planet was very damp and the streets were made of thick, clay-like mud. The walls of every building were covered with brown and purple algaes. T’Pol took point. Trip followed behind and tried not to touch anything.
They’d gone about three blocks (as best as Trip could figure, seeing as how the streets didn’t divide up at regular intervals) when he saw a shimmer appear in an alley stretching away from the street he and T’Pol were traversing. He stopped and peered down the alley for a closer look. It was darkened by shadows and hanging moss. He couldn’t make out what was in the alley, but he could definitely see movement.
“T’Pol.” He hissed. He turned to his left and saw that she’d continued further down the street. “T’Pol!” he whispered more loudly. She was too far away. Tittering noises that sounded like laughter drew Trip’s attention back to the alley.
He stepped forward slowly. He held his hands up, palms out. He glanced side to side, wondering if he’d imagined seeing someone or something down here. He heard another burst of high-pitched noises.
Sounds like a buncha squirrels, he thought, aloud he said, “Take it easy. I’m not here to hurt anybody.”
He hoped his voice sounded calmer than he felt. The noises sounded like they came from just ahead. All he could see was a moss and algae shrouded shape that he guessed had been a table once. A fungal soup was ingesting it.
On top of the table were two figures. Trip stopped and slowly lowered his hands. Before him stood the smallest humanoids he’d ever seen. They stood about twelve centimetres tall. They were dressed in gold and bronze coloured armour.
Their heads, however, were bare. They had ovoid heads that crowned in points. They had black, almond shaped eyes and a round little mouth. They had no discernible ears. Two vertical slits between their eyes and mouth served as a breathing orifice.
“My God.” Trip barely breathed, “It’s little green men. I can’t believe it! They actually exist.”
The two aliens exchanged glances. A burst of chitters and squeaks followed. One nodded to the other and raised a gauntlet-clad hand towards Trip. He returned the gesture.
A burst of phosphorescent orange energy discharged from the alien’s gauntlet. The burst caught Trip in the chest and bowled him over. He flew backwards in a summersault. As he fell prone on the street, the aliens disappeared in a shimmer of light.
“Commander, can you hear me?” T’Pol’s voice resounded in his dreams. She floated above him clad in a flowing black gown. Her voice and expression radiated concern. Her eyes shone with much more. He came awake as he was roughly jostled.
“Commander.” T’Pol’s voice again, but definitely not warm, “Are you still conscious?”
A harsh cough racked him as his eyes fluttered open. He was lying on his stomach, face down in…what the hell was he in? He tried to push himself up but was having trouble finding a purchase. His hands kept sliding across the mud and algae.
T’Pol grabbed his shoulder and rolled him over. “It appears you are still alive.” She observed dryly.
“Thanks.” He croaked. He looked down at his garments and saw that they were covered with some kind of slime.
“Oh...God, noooo. What is this stuff?” he moaned, “It’d better come out.”
“I cannot predict how these substances will react to the cleaning solvents aboard Enterprise.”
“Then you’d better hope it comes out, ‘cause I ain’t runnin’ around B.A.’d for the world to see.”
She looked at him sceptically, “B.A.’d?”
He waved it away, “Never mind. Just trust me. You don’t want it to happen.”
“Of that, you can be certain.” She assured him.
“You don’t even know what it means.” He complained.
“If it involves you, I can be certain that I do not want it to happen.”
“Yeah, whatever. Help me up.”
He regained his feet with a helping hand pulling him, “What happened?”
He shrugged, “It was weird. I came down here and there was these little green men.”
“Little green men?” she asked cynically.
“Yeah, about yea high.” He held his hands approximately twelve centimetres apart.”
T’Pol did not comment
“Yeah, and these guys wear armour.” He warned her, “And they got a ray gun that packs a hell of a punch.”
Her eyebrow rose, “Then where are they?”
He shook his head, “I dunno. Just before I passed out, there was this shimmering light. It’s like they beamed out or something.”
She blinked, “Beamed out?”
“Never mind.” He muttered. There was no way he’d be able to explain that joke.
“Good.” She said firmly, “We need to get moving. Mayweather spotted several more Andorians headed our way.” Her expression became stern, “And we need to discuss your tendency to wander away.”
His shoulders slumped in surrender as he followed her out of the alley.
“There!” Rhian said excitedly. She handed the sensor gun to Tullik. He was the squad’s sensor specialist. She was a damn fine Science officer, but he was a wizard with a scan board. She smiled at him as he read the read-outs from her portable unit.
“There was a slide moments ago.” He confirmed, he looked up and met her eyes, “Good work Lieutenant.”
She glowed inwardly at the praise. Although she out-ranked him, he was a verified legend in his field. Carrier Captains quaked in fear of Tullick’s assessment of their sensor data. He’d ended the career of more than one officer by proving that their data records had been falsified. In the Drathr clan, the end of a career was also the end of life.
The Specialist was known for his irreverent disregard for higher caste authority and protocol. His ability had saved him thus far. Rhian also knew that would only protect him for so long. Since embarking on this expedition with her squad two years ago, she’d tried to convince him to moderate his views. She hadn’t had much success, but he was listening.
“Can we determine their emergence point?” she asked. The attenna atop his head twitched as he focused on the instrument readings. He finally shook his head.
“No.” he said grimly, “We were too far away from their jumpoint.”
“Hopefully it won’t be far from their original position.” She said, “We’ll head that way and see if we can find their trail.” She turned and motioned for the rest of the squad to follow. The rings of her hair swayed across her shoulders as she did so. Tullik noticed but returned his attention to the scanner without comment.
He took the lead. Unlike the five others, he only wore a sidearm. He kept it clipped to his right thigh. His white hair was still regulation length, although he hadn’t shaved for days and his face was covered with stubble. His dark brown eyes were sharp and focused as he watched the sensor readings and his surroundings.
He ignored the various aliens and natives that his sensor revealed were nearby. They weren’t his quarry. His only concern was two Poolquens. No other species mattered.
“How much further?” Trip asked impatiently.
“Not far.” T’Pol replied, peering around a corner.
“I wouldn’t have to ask if I knew where we were going.”
“We’re going back to the ship.” She answered evenly.
“This wasn’t how we got to the market.” Trip replied, “How do you know this is the way back?”
“Because I have an infallible sense of direction.”
Trip’s head cocked back a little, “Oh, yeah?”
“Yes.” She replied.
“So which way is the pod?”
She pointed to three a clock, “There.” she declared confidently.
“So why don’t we get going?”
“Are you attempting to get yourself killed?” she asked.
“No.” he said with forced patience, “But you’re also not the one with ooze in your shorts. I’d like to get out of here as fast as possible.”
“As would I.” She assured him, “But only when I am certain that we will not get killed in the attempt.”
“When do you think you’ll be certain?”
She peered around the corner, “I believe it is clear.”
“You think?” he asked sarcastically, “You mean you aren’t certain?”
“Stop talking and follow my lead.” She said turning the corner.
They walked down the entire street unmolested. There were no creatures of any description to be seen. The planet’s axial spin was moving the continent away from the solar bombardment from the system’s primary. If they didn’t reach the pod soon, darkness would overtake them.
They were reaching a “T” in the street. T’Pol considered backtracking, but rejected the idea. She wanted to reach the pod before sunset. She had no idea what kind of predators might arise out of the city’s nooks and crannies after dark.
She held her phase pistol as she stepped around the corner to the right. Trip followed. They travelled several metres before the saw the figures coming towards them. Six Andorians were advancing towards them.
“Another slide!” Tullik announced.
“Did you get the vector?” Rhian asked quickly.
“Yes!” he broke into a feral grin. The display on his sensor showed a city map. “They’ve jumped in this direction the last three times. If we proceed to this location, we should intercept.”
“You’re a miracle worker.” She said, then shouted, “How long do we have?”
“A quarter hour.”
“Move people!” She shouted, “This is it!”
They humped down the street as fast as they could run.
“Where are they?” Mayweather asked for the third time in as many minutes.
“Soon, I would imagine Mr. Mayweather.” Phlox suppressed a sigh; “They are grown beings and more than capable of taking care of themselves. Given Subcommander T’Pol’s usual chain of reasoning, she ordered us here in order to reunite with our party.”
“I know.” Mayweather did sigh, “I just wish there was something I could do.”
“You can.” Phlox advised, “You can remain calm and prepare the shuttle and yourself in case they do require assistance.”
“We’re almost there.” Rhian gasped. She slowed and her squad followed suit. Tullik retook the lead. He held the sensor gun in front of him as he strode.
“We’ve made it.” He informed her, “They haven’t emerged from their last jump.”
“Good.” She was tempted to relax out of relief, but there was no time for such luxuries. “Spread out. I don’t want to get caught bunched up. That’s how Malloi’s squad got themselves butchered.”
The other four positioned themselves in a skirmish line across the street. Rhian stayed close to Tullik. The Specialist had some field experience, but nowhere near her own. She had a vested interest in seeing him safely off this planet.
“Sir?” one of her men, Licturn, asked wonderingly.
Licturn was staring further up the street. Rhian followed his line of sight. Two figures were approaching, and one was armed. It took Rhian a moment to realise that the woman was a Vulcan.
She motioned for her troops to hold position, “You there! Identify yourself.”
T’Pol and Trip stood exposed with no visible cover. If a firefight broke out, they were dead. T’Pol’s only hope was to try and stall them long enough to get Trip back safely around the corner.
“Back away.” T’Pol whispered, “Try to get back around the corner.” With luck, he would evade the Andorians long enough to reach the shuttlepod and update Captain Archer as their situation.
“I can’t leave you.” He whispered.
“Do it!” she hissed, “Or I will report you to Captain Archer.”
Trip took several steps back as T’Pol called out, “I am Subcommander T’Pol, Science Officer aboard the starship Enterprise.”
Rhian looked confused, “That is not a Vulcan designation.”
“It is a human craft.” T’Pol replied. She began moving to her right, towards the entrance of the nearest building. “The humans have embarked upon a mission of interstellar exploration.”
“The pink skins?” Rhian asked.
“Yes.” T’Pol called back, she could almost make it if she sprinted, “They came here to meet the local populace and purchase supplies.”
“I’ve never seen one of them.” Rhian replied, “I have heard of them from Shran.”
T’Pol though it was going well. Trip was several metres behind her and creeping towards the corner. The Andorians were edgy, but it didn’t seem directed at her. She wondered what they were up to when the one with the scanner gun got very agitated.
“Transport!” Tullik shouted and ripped the pistol from its thigh latch.
Two shimmering lights appeared eight metres to T’Pol’s right. It was atop a flight of stairs. Two armoured, little green men appeared from nowhere. T’Pol was momentarily stunned, Trip had been right!
Both aliens began hurling bolts of energy from their hands. Two blasts caught Andorians, tearing them to shreds. Another was caught in the shrapnel from a blast that caught the side of an adjacent building. T’Pol started to raise her rifle when one of the aliens turned in her direction.
The ambush had become a disaster. They were the ones that had been ambushed. Rhian tried to assess a way out of disaster. She couldn’t see one. Licturn, Shalla, and Janos were all dead since the Poolquen’s weapons were tailor made for use against Andorians. Jenna was still alive, but she sported an ugly wound across her forehead. Rhian wondered how much longer she’d stay conscious.
The Poolquens’ personal shields were deflecting the bulk of the fire they were receiving. Tullik had dropped onto one knee and was delivering a steady barrage. The Vulcan and…a Human(?) were also engaging the enemy. Maybe she stood a chance.
Firing several bursts as she ran, Rhian made it to Jenna. The scout’s knees were buckling as the Lieutenant reached her. Keeping her rifle trained at the Poolquens, she fired off random shots as she dragged Jenna by her battle harness. She managed to get the other woman to an alcove.
T'Pol felt a bone jarring impact hit her from behind. An orange discharge sizzled the air as it passed overhead. She felt his hands gripping his own phase pistol. Particle streams started flying toward the aliens from over her shoulder. Commander Tucker!
She scrambled up onto one knee and added her weapon's weight to the fire. The gossamer discharge effect surrounding the aliens was diminishing. She launched herself into a roll as another blast scorched where she'd been seconds before. She carried her roll until she regained her feet. She snapped her pistol back into position and resumed fire.
Trip had his pistol in a two handed grip. He hit the alien to the left three times. It staggered backward. The Poolquen loosed a shot at T'Pol while he stabilized himself. Trip was relieved to see her get out of the way. He jumped to his right as another energy blast was loosed towards him.
Tullik concentrated his fire on the stairwell itself. The constant barrage of shrapnel caused the alien’s shield to collapse sooner. After seeing the discharge effect disappear, he aimed squarely for the alien. The shot made it’s armour glow briefly, but did not disintegrate it.
Out if the corner of her eye, T’Pol recognised Tullik’s tactic. She levelled a volley at the stairwell’s surface. Combined with Trip’s shots, the shield dropped in short order. It collapsed next to its fellow.
Trip let out a whoop of victory and jumped up and down. Tullik slowly rose to his feet. He recovered his sensor as he did so and approached the downed aliens. T'Pol stood and kept her pistol ready in case one of the Poolquens twitched.
“Subcommander T’Pol.” Rhian’s voice caused T’Pol to spin towards the sound. Rhian stood there smiling. T’Pol saw something else in her light blue eyes: gratitude. Rhian saluted her.
“Thank you for the assistance.”
T’Pol felt simultaneous rushes of relief and amazement. She returned the salute.
“It was the least we could do.” She managed to say.
“I’m forever in your debt.” Rhian insisted, “If you ever require assistance, of any kind, I’ll shall provide it.”
“I hope that will not prove necessary.” T’Pol replied.
“As do I.” Rhian agreed, “But the debt stands.”
“Thank you.” T’Pol mumbled, then pointed down the street awkwardly, “Can you manage the ongoing situation? We need to get back to our ship with the supplies.”
“Oh, certainly.” Rhian replied with a wave of her hand, “Tullik has the situation under control.”
“Very well.” T’Pol replied, she motioned for Trip to follow her.
Rhian went to confer with Tullik as he placed the aliens in restraints of some form. Trip followed T’Pol silently. After they were out of the Andorians’ sight, he moved alongside her. He noticed that she seemed troubled.
“What’s wrong?’ he asked, “We won, we got away, and you even got accolades from an Andorian officer.”
“Yes.” She said, “That is an unprecedented circumstance in Vulcan-Andorian relations.”
“T’Pol.” Trip’s voice was gentle; “The reason she thanked you is because you helped saved their asses. You’re a hero because your damn good at what you do, and you did it to the best of your ability.”
She stopped and faced him. Her eyes bored into his. She could see the respect and concern for her in them. She remembered her earlier thoughts and how her only priority had been his safety and that of the rest of the landing party. Not sure of how to respond, she nodded.
“Happy to help.” He replied happily, “Now do y’think you could use that ‘infallible’ sense of direction of yours to get us to the pod?”
Despite herself, T'Pol refrained from reprimanding him and pointed out the direction they should go.
The following day, Enterprise left both the system and the Andorians behind. Trip finished pulling his boots on. He was wearing an entirely new uniform. He didn’t know if he’d ever get his old clothes clean again.
He turned and found T’Pol standing in his doorway. She wore usual stoic expression.
“What do you think?” he asked, splaying his arms out.
“I think it resembles your old uniform precisely, as is the point with uniforms to begin with.” T’Pol commented.
“What?” he asked, turning around in a circle, “It makes me look fat?”
“Not quite.” She said enigmatically then held out her hand.
He glanced at her hand, then at her face, then back at the hand, “Are you sure you want to give me this.”
“When the situation become unstable, you handled yourself with poise and aplomb.” T’Pol said, “It was…impressive.”
“That had to be a hard admission.”
“Very.” T’Pol replied with a straight face. Then her expression became curious, “Where did you learn to shoot like that?”
“My dad used to take me to the range.” Trip admitted, “I even competed a little as a kid. Just because I don’t like to wave weapons around doesn’t mean I don’t know how to use them.” He told her with a wry smile.
“Perhaps.” She turned to walk away and stopped at the door. It slid open but she paused at the opening, “It seems I am continually surprised by the behaviour of both the crew and of the races we meet.”
“It’s ’cause you look down your nose at ’em before ya get to know ’em.” Trip replied, “If you loosened up enough to just find out who they really are, you wouldn’t be surprised because you’d never have had an opinion to begin with.”
Her eyebrow arched, “Like you did on Rigel X?”
Trip’s cheeks coloured slightly, “I admit I made a mistake back then. It’s hard to look at people without relating ’em to your own world. The point is, I learned from that mistake and I did it with your advice and help. I’d like t’do the same for you. You seem to approach people like they’re A, a Vulcan, or B, a bug. There’s nothing in between and I gotta tell ya, bein’ a bug is no fun.”
T’Pol stood still, as unperturbed as ever; “I will consider your words, Commander. I appreciate your somewhat misplaced sentiment and will accept your offer of assistance provided I find a need it.”
Trip shook his head and wore a wry grin, “The offer stands, any time or place. I hope you take me up on it some time.”
“Very well.” T’Pol replied, changing the subject; “Good evening then.”
“Happy meditation or whatever it is before you go to bed.” Trip replied, “Sweet dreams and good night.”
T’Pol paused again, “Vulcans do not dream.”
“Their loss.” Trip retorted, “It explains a lot.”
T’Pol departed without further comment. Trip had been surprised she’d stayed as long as she had. Maybe there was hope for her after all. If there was hope for a Vulcan changing and growing then maybe there was hope for them all.
|Last modified: 10 Apr 2012