The damage was catastrophic.
Standing on the bridge of Enterprise, Soval stared at the jagged scar on Earth's surface currently displayed on the viewscreen with poorly concealed horror. He was no stranger to violence – in his youth, he had served with the Ministry of Intelligence and had witnessed firsthand how brutal war could truly be, especially with species like the Andorians – but this? This was monstrous. It was barbaric.
It was … illogical.
The space around Earth was dense with debris from shattered Starfleet vessels as well as the remains of the massive, spherical object that had appeared out of nowhere to unleash horrific carnage on humanity's homeworld. Very little of the weapon truly remained – the dying actions of a man Soval had once disparaged had seen to that – but what little could be salvaged was still being shipped back to Starfleet headquarters for analysis and study in the hopes they could uncover who was behind this act of unspeakable terror.
No one spoke as they stared at the destruction before them. Lieutenant Sato had already fled from the bridge in hysteric tears the moment the jagged scar that bisected both Japan and Korea before cutting through mainland China came into view, and no one, not even the captain, thought to call Mister Mayweather back to his post when the helmsman instinctively pursued Sato. Archer simply grimaced and sank down before the flight controls to assume control of Enterprise. Commander Hernandez had followed her captain's lead and taken over the communication board without comment, although Soval could see that she was near tears.
Only Lieutenant Commander Reed seemed visibly unaffected as he stood at his station, his face a mask of rigid control that even a kolinahr master would have approved of, although Soval suspected Reed was far from fine. According to the preliminary reports they had received during their return trip to the Sol System, Malaysia, where the armoury officer's family lived, had been devastated by tsunamis as a result of the weapon and the Reeds remained among the many still yet unaccounted for. Millions were already dead, three or four times that number missing and the whole quadrant seemed to be in shock. Not an hour had passed since the attack that they did not receive a casualty list update from Starfleet Command and each new name made a visible impact. And far too many of those names were familiar.
Admiral Daniel Leonard. Captain A.G. Robinson. Captain Carlos Ramirez. Lieutenant Commander Anna Hess. The list went on. And on. And on.
It had taken Enterprise thirty-four days at maximum warp to reach Sol, during which time the sheer scope of the attack slowly became known. The spherical weapon had mysteriously appeared just beyond the Terran moon's orbit, somehow evading the numerous detection systems in place for this very situation, blown through the perimeter defense ships, before opening fire on Earth. Had it not been for Captain Robinson's decision to ram the heavily damaged Columbia into the weapon array, which then triggered a catastrophic explosion that ripped both vessels apart, there was little doubt that the rapidly increasing power of the energy beam would have ultimately destroyed the planet. Billions had been saved with that heroic action, and Soval swallowed the bitter taste of self-disgust. His had been one of the loudest voices decrying Robinson as unworthy of command.
"Incoming transmission from Admiral Forrest," Commander Hernandez announced abruptly from the communications panel. Archer nodded.
"Onscreen," he ordered, his voice dark.
Maxwell Forrest looked haggard, with dark circles under his eyes and two days worth of stubble on his chin. His uniform was rumpled, as if he had recently slept in his clothes, and for someone as conscious of appearances as the admiral, it was telling.
"Admiral," Archer said by way of greeting. Forrest nodded, his expression never once changing.
"Good to see you, Jonathan," he replied before glancing in Soval's direction. "Ambassador."
"It is agreeable to see you, Admiral," Soval said smoothly. "I grieve with thee." For a moment, Forrest's face crumpled at Soval's heartfelt words, revealing the admiral's inner turmoil and absolute anguish, but his mask of professionalism reappeared almost at once.
"As soon as you're docked," Forrest said, once more directing his full attention to Archer, "we need you at Command for a full debrief." His eyes cut toward Soval quickly. "Ambassador," he added, "I'd appreciate your presence as well."
"Give us thirty minutes, sir," Archer stated. The admiral nodded once and reached toward the screen. A moment later, the transmission ended. "Ensign Hutchison," the captain called out as he pushed back from the flight controls. The relief helmsman darted forward, ducking around Soval and sliding into the seat Archer vacated. "Erika," Archer said darkly, giving the image of Earth now on the viewscreen another dark look. "You have the bridge."
"Aye, sir." Hernandez gave Soval the briefest of glances before quickly looking away, her expression tightening.
Soval bit back a sigh.
Thus far, he had been utterly unable to issue her the apology she sorely deserved for his actions in decontamination a month earlier. He had been so far gone in the emerald haze of the artificial blood fever that, even if she had not consented to mating with him, Soval truly feared that he might have simply taken her on the spot. And even though she had consented, he continued to struggle with both embarrassment and guilt.
Knowing that Phlox had recovered from Soval's nerve pinch in the middle of their mating only served to make the situation even more uncomfortable.
"Shall we?" Archer asked as he strode by Soval, the words jerking the ambassador out of his momentary reverie. He followed the captain to the turbolift without a sound, pausing only briefly to glance once more at the scarred Earth still displayed upon the screen before stepping across the threshold. "What kind of monsters would do something like this?" Archer wondered aloud. Soval was unsure if it was intended to be a rhetorical question or an honest one, so he chose to presume that it was the latter.
"I can name any number of species that would be willing to make an attack like this, Captain," he said simply, "but capable of it?" Soval shook his head. "That is another matter entirely." Archer frowned and began to respond when the lift door slid.
And revealed … chaos.
Where an empty corridor should have been, there was instead a kaleidoscope of color that stretched on into infinity. It seemed to have no form or substance, no beginning or end, no logical explanation for even existing. Images of other places, other times appeared at seemingly random and haphazard intervals with no apparent context or apparent order. Soval automatically took a step back from the unexpected view, but Archer harbored no such fears. Instead, the captain stormed forward, his face pinched with fury.
"Daniels!" he bellowed as he strode through the swirling multi-colored mists. The captain's hands were balled up in tight fists. "Show yourself, dammit!"
"Hello, Jonathan." Matthew Daniels – if that really was his true name – stepped into view, his form coalescing as if he had been transported, and Archer rounded on the man.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't punch you in the goddamned face," the captain snarled.
"Because I'm here to help," Daniels replied quickly. He gestured toward one of the larger images where the last moments of Columbia were being replayed. "This wasn't supposed to happen," the erstwhile crewman declared. "History records that you and I have a conversation about the Xindi on this day and I warn you about their weapon … but they weren't supposed to attack!" The image abruptly shifted to what was clearly a construction facility, with a distinctive-looking spherical device taking shape.
"They're building another one?" Archer asked with horror. Daniels shook his head.
"No," he said flatly. "This is happening right now," he continued grimly, "but the weapon they're building is the same one that attacked Earth."
"I don't …" Archer began before frowning. "Someone moved it out of the timeline," he guessed. "The Suliban's benefactor?"
"Yes," Daniels said.
"Then we can still stop this thing," the captain said with growing enthusiasm. "There's a chance we can undo all those deaths!" He immediately began peppering Daniels with questions and demands about these Xindi and where they could be found.
Cautiously inching forward out of the lift, Soval fought the urge to dismiss these wild claims as nothing more than fantasy or utter fabrication. Once, long ago, he would have pointed out the scientific impossibility of time travel, but that was before T'Pol sent her private reports concerning the nature of this Crewman Daniels and his alleged temporal cold war. She had tried to remain skeptical, but in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, she had been forced to reluctantly concede that she simply did not have adequate data to formulate a purely scientific rebuttal to what she had witnessed firsthand. As her skills in that area far exceeded his own, Soval had silently deferred to her judgment, even as he continued to spout the dogma demanded of him by the High Command.
With his attention only partially upon Archer and Daniels, Soval let his eyes wander over the various images flashing into existence around them. None of them really made sense and he was about to put them out of his mind entirely when his attention was drawn to a specific block of images, all centered on members of his species.
There was a dark-skinned Vulcan male whose features indicated a rare deep-desert genotype wearing an uniform of gold and black; a Vulcan female sleeping in the arms of a blonde Human male; a composed-looking Vulcan male in a blue shirt with the Starfleet seal upon his chest; a Vulcan who could only be Surak interacting with the blue-shirted Vulcan and another Human male, this one wearing gold; a Vulcan male kneeling before a Human woman, their fingers touching as a priest droned on; another Vulcan female wearing medical smocks and assisting an operation alongside a red-haired Human woman; another male…
Wait. Soval paused and searched back through his memory to focus on one specific image. Could it be…
His breath caught. It was.
Subcommander T'Pol and Commander Tucker.
They were thinner than he recalled, and dirtier, but otherwise appeared to be in good health. A light blanket covered their bodies, making it impossible to tell if they wearing clothes or not; Tucker at least was shirtless and Soval could not decide if it was a good thing or not that he was unable to determine whether his adopted brother's daughter was nude or not. T'Pol's long hair seemed strange to behold – no more stranger than the shoulder-length hair or light beard Tucker possessed, the ambassador finally decided – but it was most assuredly her. From the possessive hold Tucker had on her and comfort she appeared to be deriving from the engineer's presence, only one explanation came to mind. Soval raised both eyebrows a full millimeter in surprise.
T'Les was not going to approve.
The sensation of being watched caused Soval to glance away from the images of other Vulcans continuing to appear at haphazard intervals, and he found Daniels studying him with the calculated dispassion of an experienced operative. Archer seemed unaware of the moment and, when Daniels returned his attention to the captain, the temporal agent abruptly underwent a phase-shift in attitude, once more appearing to be a harried, barely competent man one would barely trust to carry discarded animal waste to the nearest receptacle bin.
"I've already told you everything I can," Daniels said quickly, interrupting Archer's latest demand for vital intelligence. The captain's face tightened.
"Then send us back," he ordered softly. It had a far more menacing sound than Archer's usual boisterous anger, and when the temporal agent visibly hesitated, the captain leaned forward. "I said," he began angrily.
But he vanished in mid-sentence.
"State your case," Soval instructed the moment Daniels turned toward him. The temporal agent once again seemed to shift in personality, this time so abruptly emulating a Vulcan that it was quite startling.
"It is essential that Captain Archer returns from the Expanse," Daniels said simply.
"And you believe I can ensure this outcome," Soval said dryly. If he had a sense of humor, he would have found the notion positively hysterical.
"Yes." The simple statement hung heavy in the air. "He will require your assistance to deal with the Xindi threat."
"You presume much, Mister Daniels," Soval declared. "It is not likely that the High Command will agree to assist in an endeavor such as this."
"Which is why you'll need to act appropriately, Ambassador," Daniels replied. "The fate of Vulcan is more closely tied to that of Earth than most comprehend. What affects one will affect the other." Soval raised an eyebrow – he recognized the words just spoken as something he himself had composed and shared with like-minded diplomats some months before Enterprise launched the first time. "And she is alive," Daniels added suddenly. "You will see her again." Soval's lips tightened.
"And Commander Tucker?" he asked calmly. Daniels' mask of composure slipped as he smirked.
"Him too," the temporal agent said. "Where one goes, the other will follow. Think of them as a more intimate example of how Earth and Vulcan are … bonded together." Soval's nostrils flared as he struggled for control. No, T'Les was not going to approve in the slightest.
"I see," he said, wondering at his own thoughts on the matter. It would require meditation and deeper contemplation.
"One last thing, Ambassador," Daniels added with his earlier good humor vanishing. "The Suliban benefactor … he's Romulan." Soval barely blinked an eye.
"That name is not familiar to me," he lied.
"Would you prefer I called them Rihannsu?" the temporal agent demanded. "A war is coming," he said grimly, "and your distant cousins are coming home." He gestured.
And Soval found himself once more in the turbolift.
"Send us back!" Archer's words came as a surprise and nearly caused the ambassador to jump before he realized that the captain was finishing his earlier order. "I hate it when he does that," Archer muttered a moment later. He slammed his hand down on the emergency stop button. "I'm going to need your help, Soval," he said through clenched teeth. "If Daniels was right, we have a chance to actually stop this weapon from being launched."
"You are presuming that his information is completely accurate," Soval pointed out. "The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined that time travel is impossible," he added. Archer hissed out a frustrated sigh.
"Yeah," he snapped back, "but they also said my father's engine would never work and that Emory Erickson was crazy." Soval could not help but to nod slightly.
"Conceded," he admitted calmly, deriving more satisfaction from the dumbfounded expression on Archer's face that was entirely appropriate. "You realize," he said after a moment, "that without actual evidence, the chances of convincing Starfleet Command to mount an expedition into the Delphic Expanse is miniscule at best."
"I know," Archer said softly. "But I plan to do whatever is necessary to stop this threat."
"You have a plan," Soval theorized. The captain nodded. For a moment, Soval remained silent, unsure about his course of action. He briefly considered informing Archer about T'Pol and Tucker, but just as quickly discarded the notion; the captain needed to focus on the immediate mission rather than contemplating mistakes of the past. And Vulcan's fate, however much the High Command wished it otherwise, was intrinsically connected to humanity. "I will assist however I can," Soval declared simply. The captain nodded his appreciation.
And then, he began to talk.