Captain Jonathan Archer was going insane.
As he paced back and forth in front of his command chair, Jon could feel the eyes of his junior officers tracking his movements. He knew that his nervous pacing wasn't entirely professional, but his growing concern over his two lost officers – his two lost friends – made it impossible for him to just sit down and wait until they could see the crash site again. Besides, if he sat down, Archer knew that he would end up drumming his fingers on the chair's armrests.
On the main viewscreen, the image of the planet appeared peaceful, despite the fierce fighting that was even now raging across much of its surface. There had been no additional atomic bombs used since the opening minutes, although the conventional weapons being used were no less lethal. According to the intercepts that Hoshi had translated, the warring nation-states seemed intent on utterly obliterating one another with guns and knives instead of weapons of mass destruction. It was the kind of abject insanity that Earth had only recently evolved beyond, and Jon swallowed the self-disgust that tried to swell up from his stomach when he thought about his role in precipitating the war. Though no additional reference to Enterprise's presence behind the moon had been made, Archer still knew that this war was his fault, and he desperately didn't want to add two more deaths to the tally.
A chirp from the science board broke him out of his morose thoughts, and he gave Ensign Ling – Amy, he reminded himself – a sharp look. She input commands into the console before glancing up.
"Re-establishing visual of the crash site," she said. With a flicker, the viewscreen transformed, and Jon heard someone gasp.
There was very little left of Shuttlepod One, and what remained had clearly been smashed into pieces or ripped apart by explosives. The entire area was crawling with soldiers intent on salvaging the shattered chunks of metal, and nearly a dozen prop-driven aircraft circled the crash site. A trio of what looked to be hot air balloons was also orbiting the military formations.
Far, far worse, though, was the sight of two blanket-covered forms clearly visible near the crash.
Jon felt his legs give out, and he collapsed into his command chair. The sound of someone fighting back tears – Hoshi, he realized – hit him like a physical blow, and he closed his eyes against the surge of fury and despair that almost overwhelmed him. After everything that had happened, it seemed absolutely impossible to believe that Trip and T'Pol could be dead.
"Sir." Lieutenant Reed's voice was controlled, and when Jon opened his eyes to look at the armoury officer, he could find no hint of grief in the man's face. "Request permission to leave the ship to retrieve their bodies." He nodded toward the shell-shocked Ensign Mayweather. "Travis can fly the cell ship, and we can use its cloaking device." He was grim as he continued. "I'll make sure that we aren't detected."
For a moment, Archer hesitated. More than anything else, he wanted to be the one to fly that ship. Putting himself into harm's way to retrieve the bodies of his friends seemed the least he could do after sending them to their deaths. At the same time, though, he recognized what Reed left unspoken: as the captain, Jon had a responsibility to his crew, and jumping into the cell ship to assuage his sense of guilt would be an abrogation of that duty. Right now, his crew needed him to act like the captain, not the man who had just lost two friends. Archer nodded.
"Bring them home, Malcolm," he ordered, even as he straightened his posture.
"Aye, sir," the lieutenant replied. He and Ensign Mayweather moved toward the turbolift, the latter still wearing his shocked expression.
"Ensign Sato," Jon said, drawing Hoshi's reddened eyes. "Contact Starfleet Command," he instructed. "I need to speak with Admiral Forrest at once." Archer rose to his feet, schooling his features into a mask that showed nothing of what he was feeling in this moment.
"Yes, sir," the communications officer responded softly, and turned to obey.
"I'll take it in my ready room," Archer declared. "Hoshi, you have the bridge."
Tears prickled his eyes the moment that the door slid shut, but Jon fought to keep them from spilling free. He glanced around the small room, wishing that there was something available for him to punch. With a grunt, he dropped into the desk chair and let his head sink into his hands. It didn't seem fair, after all that happened in the last year, that the two people he cared for the most could be taken away in such a ridiculous manner. The crew would take their loss hard, and Archer couldn't even imagine how hard this would be for Trip's family.
"Oh, God," Jon moaned, "his mother..."
He couldn't stop the tears this time.