He was not looking forward to what was about to happen.
A soft rumble of voices filled the large courtroom as observers filed in and took their seats, but Ambassador Soval of Vulcan paid it little mind. Seated in a boxed off section reserved for diplomatic visitors, he had a clear view of the proceedings to come and found himself frowning slightly as unease grew within him. Instinctively, his eyes sought out the defendant, and Soval could not help but to admire the almost Vulcan-like absence of expression on the features of Jonathan Archer. The captain sat alongside his counsel, back straight and eyes locked on the United Earth seal behind the presiding court officer’s raised chair. Only the captain’s white-knuckled fists resting on the table before him gave lie to the image of poise and control he was projecting.
For just under two weeks, Archer’s court martial had monopolized Soval’s time. As the representative of Vulcan, his presence had been officially requested as an observer, and he had grudgingly sat through testimony after testimony, initially feigning disinterest in the outcome while secretly longing for it to be over so he could return to grieving for the loss of Subcommander T’Pol. Even now, fifty days after her death, he struggled to accept that someone so talented and so young had been lost in such a senseless way. The broken expression that had crossed T’Les’ face for the briefest of seconds when Soval initially contacted her concerning her daughter’s demise continued to haunt him, forcing him to dramatically increase the amount of time he spent in meditation.
“It appears,” T’Les had told him flatly, visibly struggling for control, “that my husband’s faith in your ability to watch over and protect my daughter was misplaced.” She made no effort to conceal her anger at him, and it flared so brightly within her eyes that it caused him to stumble over his next words. T’Les had ended the transmission before he could recover, and had refused further attempts to contact her. Through proxies, she let it be known that she had nothing further to say to Soval, and that she would never forgive him for his failure.
Which was just as well, Soval reflected, since he would never forgive himself.
The court martial proceedings seemed to have begun almost before Archer had arrived on Earth and surrendered himself to Starfleet custody. They were entering the final day, with no further information to present and the last of the character witnesses – an illogical and completely emotional tradition; whether Archer was a “good” man or not had no bearing on his guilt or innocence – having been called to the stand the day previous. At first, Soval had paid little attention to the evidence – he had long ago decided that Archer was not ready to command a starship such as Enterprise – but at some point in the second week, the ambassador’s interest had become piqued, which forced him to begin carefully re-examining the data available. Covertly, of course, as it wouldn’t do to have Starfleet realize he was second-guessing them. And in his study of the evidence, Soval had discovered something quite unexpected.
Captain Archer had done nothing wrong.
It was a bitter admission, but one that Soval acknowledged to be incontrovertible. Following the Paraagan disaster, Starfleet had instituted new protocols for their starship commanders in an attempt to avoid replicating that catastrophe, and Archer had obeyed every single one of those procedures to the letter. Enterprise had monitored the planet – Ekos, according to Lieutenant Sato’s translations – for the appropriate amount of time before the sensor mask test went forward. Lieutenant Mayweather’s duty logs showed that the helmsman had taken great care – on Captain Archer’s orders – to keep a moon between Enterprise and the planet at all times to prevent detection. Ship-to-shuttle communications had been kept to a minimum to avoid being intercepted, as unlikely as that would be on such a primitive world. When Subcommander T’Pol and Commander Tucker – another tragic loss for Starfleet, though Soval would never admit it publicly – had appeared to be lost, Archer had not abandoned procedure to conduct a fruitless search-and-rescue attempt. Use of the cloaked Suliban cell ship had been a logical course of action, and even the mention by one of the warring factions on the planet of a space vehicle believed to be a sighting of Enterprise had been a random event, never again referenced, which meant it could easily be – what was the human term? – saber rattling. Any evidence linking Archer’s actions to the outbreak of atomic war was circumstantial at best.
And yet, with each passing moment, Soval could sense the captain’s career nearing its end.
For all of his negative history with the man, he was strangely ambivalent about Archer being cashiered from Starfleet, but was unable to comprehend his misgivings. Soval’s distrust of the captain was public knowledge, but even he had admitted that Archer was beginning to develop better instincts. T’Pol’s most recent reports had been littered with honest respect, and even the Vulcan ships assigned to discreetly shadow Enterprise had relayed their own grudging approval of the Starfleet vessel’s recent activities.
A flurry of activity heralded the arrival of the three senior officers overseeing the court martial. Taking his seat first was Admiral Gardner, followed quickly by Captains Leonard and Ramirez. Claiming a conflict of interest, Maxwell Forrest had recused himself from the trial, and Soval keenly missed the man’s presence. Gardner, who had never hid his dislike of Archer, allowed his personal biases taint much of the affair and permitted numerous assaults on the captain’s personal character that had nothing to do with the issue at hand. Fortunately, Leonard and Ramirez reined the more excessive of Archer’s detractors, and seemed to be uninterested in settling personal scores.
Nonetheless, Gardner’s role as chief magistrate did not bode well for Enterprise’s captain.
“Court is now back in session,” the admiral said coldly once the three had taken their seats. “Does the prosecution have anything else to add to the record before we proceed to closing arguments?”
“No, sir,” came the prompt response from the portly lieutenant leading the attack on Archer. Gardner nodded.
“And the defense?”
“My client wishes to make a statement to the court,” replied the defending lawyer, a sour expression on his face. “Against my advice,” he added with a frustrated look directed in Archer’s direction. Admiral Gardner conferred softly with the two captains on either side of him, their voices pitched too low for even Soval to make out what they said, before nodding.
“The court will hear Captain Archer’s statement,” the admiral decided. Archer rose to his feet slowly, his face resolute.
“Thank you, Admiral,” he said. “I will be brief. The decisions made over the planet we now know as Ekos were my decisions. As captain of Enterprise, I hold all responsibility for what occurred there and for the officers we lost.” To Soval’s surprise, Archer directed his next comments to the Vulcan ambassadors. “I can only ask,” he said with a decided lack of emotion that had to be intentional, “that the citizens of Earth and our stellar allies will not judge Starfleet by the mistakes of one man.” Back he turned to Gardner, his hands tightly clenched at his side. “I will not plead for clemency from this court, Admiral,” Archer continued, “but I do ask that my crew not be punished for any crimes I may be found guilty of. The errors that were made were my errors, not theirs.” Without further comment, he sank back into his chair.
Like soft thunder, the murmur of many conversations rumbled through the courtroom as the observers reacted to the captain’s short speech. Soval exchanged a subtle look with his associate, Tos, who sat alongside him. An expression of abject disdain was stamped upon the other Vulcan’s face, though to a human, he would simply appear bored.
Closing arguments consumed the remainder of the day, and as Soval expected, they were emotional diatribes espousing or condemning the virtues of Jonathan Archer rather than a logical recitation of the facts. Admiral Gardner recessed the trial shortly before dusk so he and the two captains could make a judgment. As he strode from the courtroom, the admiral gave Soval a telling look that clearly communicated a desire for Vulcan input.
Soval answered with a single, grave nod.
Twenty minutes later, however, he and Tos were standing before a comm.-panel inside their office, debriefing Administrator V’Las on the progress of the trial. It was an indication of how important the humans had become in regards to stellar affairs that the leader of Vulcan was keeping such a close eye on what should have been beneath his notice.
“What do you recommend?” V’Las finally asked. Tos did not hesitate.
“We should do nothing,” he replied. “Archer’s removal from command is long overdue, and this will prove to the humans that they are not ready for deep space exploration.” Soval frowned.
“I disagree,” he said flatly. “Unlike my associate,” Soval continued, “I have examined the data regarding this incident extensively, and concluded that there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Captain Archer.” Tos shot him a look of mild disdain, but Soval ignored it as he spoke. “Allowing him to be punished for obeying the first contact protocols we encouraged Starfleet to adopt after the Paraagan disaster will set a bad precedent and likely lead to a greater number of situations that would otherwise be avoidable.” V’Las leaned back in his chair, silent as he reflected upon Soval’s words. “Archer is often insufferable in his emotionalism,” the ambassador added, “but we have no idea whom Starfleet will appoint to replace him as Enterprise’s captain.” He paused for effect. “The humans have a saying that is surprisingly apt for this situation: better the devil you know than the one you don’t.” Hiding the dismay he felt at the very idea of defending the frustrating human, Soval continued. “I recommend that Vulcan make official its support of Captain Archer’s actions in light of the evidence provided,” he pronounced.
“I concede the argument to my associate,” Tos declared abruptly. “His logic is flawless in regards to this crisis.” His eyes glinting with something dangerously close to malice, he focused his entire attention on the vid-screen and the image of V’Las. “With Subcommander T’Pol deceased, however,” he said almost eagerly, “Vulcan High Command should insist on placing an observer aboard Enterprise, someone who has great understanding of and experience with human behavior.”
“A logical request,” the administrator agreed. “This liaison will require sufficient gravitas to deal with a human as recalcitrant as Archer.”
“Ambassador Soval fits the necessary criteria,” Tos interjected smoothly. The sidelong look he gave the ambassador reminded Soval of a le-matya pouncing upon its prey. “He has had many years to cultivate a relationship with the members of Starfleet, and is well known among their officers.”
“May I remind my associate that my … relationship with Captain Archer has been antagonistic at best?” Soval asked, his temper rising though the only evidence of it was a subtle flaring of his nostrils. He had long known that Tos desired his position as head of the Vulcan consulate on Earth, but had clearly underestimated the younger male’s ambition. It was yet another subtle reminder of how Vulcan had changed over the decades, more often than not for the worse.
“Yet you are willing to come to his defense when logic demands it,” Tos retorted. “Unlike Subcommander T’Pol,” he added smoothly, “you are unlikely to be corrupted by human emotion and will be better able to reign in his illogical impulses.”
“I concur,” V’Las said with approval glinting in his eyes. “This will solve many of our difficulties with the humans. See to it at once.” His image vanished as he terminated the transmission, and Soval turned cold eyes upon his fellow ambassador who was barely able to conceal his glee.
“I will speak with Admiral Forrest,” Tos offered, his lips turned upward slightly in an expression of delight that had no place upon Vulcan features. “And I am sure that you desire to coordinate with Captain Archer in regards to your new assignment.” He turned away and walked from the office.
Alone, Soval collapsed in the nearest chair. Frustration bubbled up within his stomach, but he firmly suppressed any sign of it from showing. He inhaled deeply, drawing the oxygen into his lungs where he held it for a long count of six before blowing the breath – and his rampant emotions – out through his mouth. It would have to do until he reached his quarters and the candles within.
If he was going to face Jonathan Archer today, Soval needed to meditate first.