The tension in the conference room was thick enough to cut with a knife.
From where she sat at the far end of the long, narrow table, Lieutenant Hoshi Sato was able to easily see the faces of Enterprise’s command staff with the notable exception of Travis who was seated directly to her right. With little to offer during these early morning status briefings once her initial report had been given, she instead turned her attention to watching the usual personality conflict play out. Months ago, before Ekos and the tragedy that had taken place there, she had actually enjoyed these moments as they always seemed to result in good-natured disputes between Commander Tucker and Subcommander T’Pol over whatever happened to be on the docket that day. More often than not, Captain Archer would let their lively arguments continue longer than was entirely necessary, a glint in his eyes always revealing that he took great pleasure in refereeing the debates.
Today, however, the captain was certainly not enjoying himself.
“The Alvera trees that surround the Hall of Diplomacy are considered sacred to the Kreetassans,” Ambassador Soval was saying, his words and his unblinking gaze directed at Archer. “It is essential that you do not get closer than two meters to these trees.”
“Why would they consider trees sacred?” Commander Hernandez asked, curiosity written upon her face. She was seated next to the Vulcan ambassador, directly across from Malcolm and to the left of Captain Archer. As was normal for her since her assignment to Enterprise, the commander avoided making eye contact with either the captain or Lieutenant Commander Reed, though Hoshi had long since deduced it was for different reasons. To someone trained in deciphering body language, it was obvious that Hernandez and the captain had a history, one that made both of them uncomfortable which meant it had to be sexual in nature. With Malcolm, however, it was something else, a sense of jealousy or discomfort that Hoshi believed to be rooted in the new first officer’s annoyance that Archer persistently turned to the armoury officer for advice rather than Hernandez, or that Reed’s suggestions were correct more often than not.
“The tradition dates back to First Contact between the Kreetassans and the Tellarite Consortium,” Soval answered, automatically lapsing into a lecturing tone that prompted Hoshi to tune out what he actually said. She wasn’t missing anything – unlike Hernandez who was still learning the ropes of her new job, Sato had plenty of spare time at her disposal when she was off duty, so she’d already committed to memory the pertinent facts about the Kreetassans that directly affected her department.
Out of the corner of her eye, Hoshi could see Captain Archer grimace and look down at the PADD in front of him so he could focus on something other than the Vulcan ambassador. The antipathy between the two men was almost always present, but they made a calculated effort to rein it in while around other members of the crew. Hoshi wasn’t sure if their mutual dislike of the situation they found themselves in had resulted in that unspoken pact, or if it was something else entirely, but in the fourteen days since Enterprise left Earth, Archer and Soval had somehow developed a way to interact that bordered on professional.
It still didn’t mean they liked each other, though.
Uninterested in the history lesson regarding the Kreetassans, Hoshi left her eyes drift around the table so she could study her fellow officers. Only Hernandez, Doctor Phlox and Ensign Ling actually seemed interested in the ambassador’s explanation, though the other four – Archer, Reed, Lieutenant Commander Kelby, and Travis – were at least making the effort to appear like they were listening. Reed was the hardest to read, with only the tightness of his lips revealing his utter disinterest in the subject matter, but Kelby appeared openly bored. Or maybe that was tired – he was still settling in as the chief engineer and Hoshi doubted he’d had a full night’s rest in three weeks.
“We have interacted with them before, Ambassador,” the captain said, interrupting Soval.
“And had it not been for Lieutenant Mayweather’s quick thinking,” the Vulcan retorted, “you might have caused a diplomatic incident because of your lack of proper preparation.” Travis squirmed slightly at the compliment, and Hoshi shot him a quick smirk. For reasons that continued to elude understanding, the Boomer had been constantly singled out for praise by Soval – in his Vulcany way, of course, which was more often than not veiled within sarcastic jibes directed at the captain. Not to be outdone, Archer had started taking Mayweather under his wing, giving him more important responsibilities and duties.
Needless to say, the sudden attention was driving Travis up the wall.
“It’s like I’m some sort of damned trophy for their pissing match,” he had grumbled to her after one particularly frustrating day that had begun with Soval cornering Mayweather to quiz him about his life as a Boomer and ended with the captain calling Travis into his ready room to inquire about the lieutenant’s career goals. “Why me?” he had moaned.
At the captain’s side, Commander Reed raised a hand to conceal the smirk threatening to spill across his face, and Hoshi caught his gaze. The armoury officer rolled his eyes briefly before turning his attention back to the latest escalation of the Archer-Soval conflict. Since Ekos, Reed had become closer to the captain, stepping in to assume Commander Tucker’s role as sounding board for Archer. Neither man seemed fully comfortable with one another, though they certainly made the effort. It was as if they were trying – too hard, in Hoshi’s opinion – to be to one another what Trip had been to them in the late commander’s memory.
“Once Enterprise enters orbit,” Soval continued, as if the captain had not spoken at all, “we are expected to synchronize our schedules with that of the planetary capital.”
“Makes sense,” Commander Hernandez admitted. “I’d sure hate for visitors to knock on my door at three in the morning just to say hi.”
“Everything we have on the Kreetassans has been published on the shipwide web,” the captain said, his tone hinting at his eagerness to get onto other matters. “Make sure your departments have studied it. We can’t afford any mistakes.” Soval grunted slightly at the comment, though whether it was in agreement or disapproval of Archer’s statement, Hoshi couldn’t quite tell. From the captain’s quick, sidelong glance in the direction of the ambassador, he wasn’t sure either, and the frown that had been on his face for months – since Ekos, actually – deepened. “Commander Kelby,” he said, his attention shifting to the new chief engineer. Seated to Hoshi’s immediate left, the lieutenant commander still looked uncomfortable, made more so by Enterprise’s always temperamental engines. When Kelby simply looked at his commanding officer for an extended heartbeat, Archer sighed and voiced the question he’d clearly thought to be implied. “What’s the status of engineering?”
“We’re still having a problem with the port nacelle,” Kelby said, his words causing Travis to tense. Ever since Anna Hess was reassigned, Mayweather had been insistent that Enterprise was still upset over Trip’s death. Kelby was cursed, according to Travis, doomed to fight a never-ending battle against a starship still grieving over her lost engineer. For that matter, Columbia had a dark destiny ahead of her too, since Kelby transferred from the partially complete NX-02 to serve under Captain Archer. Even the man’s close friendship with Tucker and his personal involvement with the construction of Enterprise would not help him. According to Boomer lore as told by Mayweather, one did not change chief engineers without there being terrible, life-threatening consequences, especially if the starship in question wasn’t fully constructed. To Hoshi, it sounded like superstitious nonsense.
And she still wasn’t sure if Travis actually believed it or was just playing a practical joke on her.
“It shouldn’t affect our capabilities, Captain,” the engineer continued, “but I would like to take the nacelle offline while we’re in Kreetassan orbit to find out what’s wrong with it.” Archer opened his mouth to answer but hesitated. A moment later, he looked directly at Soval.
“Will that offend their sensibilities, Ambassador?” he asked.
“Probably,” Travis muttered under his breath. Soval raised an eyebrow, shot a quick glance in Mayweather’s direction, and pursed his lips.
“I would advise against doing so while in orbit over their homeworld,” he replied. “The Kreetassans have a reputation for being …”
“Prats?” Malcolm offered helpfully. Hoshi snorted lightly as Travis and Kelby snickered. Phlox’s ever-present smile widened though whether he understood the meaning of the word was questionable, and even the stern Commander Hernandez nearly cracked a smile. Only the captain and Soval seemed unamused.
“Difficult,” the ambassador corrected.
“Then we wait to take the nacelle offline until this mission is over,” Archer decided. “Anything else?” he asked, his eyes quickly darting from officer to officer.
“Yes, Captain,” Phlox said. “We have several members of the crew whose annual physicals are outstanding,” the doctor continued at Archer’s nod. “I am having difficulty convincing these recalcitrant individuals of the importance of a medical screening.”
“Give me their names,” the captain said with a sigh, “and I’ll order them to Sickbay.” Phlox glanced down at the PADD in front of him, making such a great show of examining the data device that Hoshi knew it was an act.
“Ah, here we are,” the Denobulan said. “The names are … Archer, Jonathan and Soval of Vulcan.” Phlox looked up, his smile widening to inhuman proportions. “Is ten hundred hours good for the two of you?” The disgruntled expressions the two men gave the doctor were utterly identical, and forced Hoshi to do the one thing she knew she shouldn’t.