This was … not
what he had expected.
When the second NX-class starship first showed up on their scopes, Jon very briefly thought that Starfleet Command might have possibly (finally) pulled their collective heads out of their butts and gotten Challenger operational on time. Being this close to the rendezvous point with the Xindi engineer, Degra, he'd also contemplated giving the order to make a run for it – if Challenger was carrying Admiral Forrest or, God help them, Gardner, then it was entirely possibly Jon would no longer be considered the theater commander, ignoring the fact that he and the crew of Enterprise were technically guilty of desertion, theft, disobeying a direct order from a flag officer, and a whole host of other crimes. Almost immediately, Archer rejected the instinct, though; this mission was too damned important to get mired in petty squabbles and Jon wouldn't hesitate to accept anypunishment meted out as long as he knew the mission would be completed. Too many had already died to not see this through.
As the vessel drew closer, however, it became readily apparent that she wasn't Challenger, not with that power signature or sensor silhouette. No surface of the ship appeared unscarred and entire sections of the upper hull looked to be exposed to space. Buried in those vicious gaps were weapons of alien design including something that looked like an overamped disruptor cannon. Adding to the starship's ungainly appearance was a completely new port nacelle – easily twice as wide as the one on the starboard side and half again as long, it emitted an odd greenish glow.
And then, the final surprise: the name still embossed upon the upper hull.
Communications were still spotty in the wake of Azati Prime – Lieutenant Kelby's team had been more focused on restoring warp drive and sealing up any hull breaches than dealing with other damaged necessities like comms – so the digital image they received from the Frankenstein ship was garbled and distorted. They saw flashes of humanoid figures on the same bridge Jon stood upon, but the transmission froze and stuttered, making it impossible comprehend what was being said or even who was saying it.
"I can't clean it up anymore, sir," Hoshi said when Jon looked at her. She frowned. "They should be able to boost the power of their transmission," she added, "and compensate for our signal loss."
"Unlikely," Lieutenant Ling interjected. She was bent over her console, eyes glued to the displays in front of her. "I am detecting massive damage on their end as well. I can't even tell what their comm array is made of, but it certainly isn't human technology." Jon grunted and gave his armoury officer a glance.
"Their weapons don't appear to be charged, sir," Reed said automatically. "I have already polarized the hull and instructed torpedo tubes to be loaded." Jon wished he could accuse Malcolm of overreacting, but the way the last few weeks had played out, he instead was tempted to ask for targeting solutions as well.
"That doesn't look like an attack vector," Travis offered quickly. "It actually looks more like a docking approach." Mayweather glowered. "Their impulse manifold is running way too hot," he remarked as if insulted. "Whoever they've got at the helm doesn't have a clue what they're doing." Jon nodded. He'd noticed the same thing just at a glance over Travis' shoulder.
"Hoshi," he began, but to his great surprise, she held up her right hand – a clear 'wait' gesture if he ever saw one; if he wasn't the captain and she his communications officer, it might have been amusing. Hell, if he'd seen her do this to Erika, he would find it funny. Still, he took great comfort in how far she'd come in the last few years; she certainly wouldn't have done anything like this when they first shipped out.
At almost the same moment, though, Travis twitched in his seat and glanced up at her, his own expression one that was a mixture of curiosity and questioning. Hoshi nodded in reply to whatever Mayweather had observed, which caused Jon to almost shake his head. Sometimes, those two seemed to have their own language, one that no one else aboard was privy to.
"They're using their navigation lights to signal us," Lieutenant Sato finally announced. She frowned. "That's old Morse code," she mused before she began tapping her finger against the hard console surface. It took Jon a moment to realize she had to remind herself what the dashes and dots meant. "To, Commander, Enterprise," she relayed slowly. "Request meeting. Important information. Route to Degra not clear." The tension on the bridge dramatically increased at that pronouncement, but Hoshi continued translating, either oblivious or, more likely, intentionally ignoring it. "Recommend dock. Can come to you. Please respond. From, Commander, Enterprise." Jon leaned back in his command chair.
"Well, that's interesting," he murmured. Out of the corner of his eye, he noted the sour look that flashed across Reed's face and turned his attention toward the armoury officer. "I know you don't like it," Jon said, "but if they have intel on Degra, we need it."
"Yes, sir," Reed replied tightly. "Security team bravo to port docking hatch," he ordered into his comm. Jon shifted his attention to Hoshi.
"Let Commander Hernandez know," he instructed. "I want her on overwatch while this is going on to make sure it isn't a trap." It had been Malcolm's idea to form a 'prize crew' under Erika to command and operate the captured Xindi warship which Jon had grudgingly agreed to. He hated not having her around to bounce things off of or even to just talk to, but having a heavily armed starship – Reed had classified it as a corvette and was openly envious about some of its firepower – providing additional fire support while the engineering teams focused on patching up Enterprise was a monumental relief, even if it made Archer feel less like an explorer and more like a soldier. That feeling was mitigated only slightly at the name the crew hung upon the captured warship: S.S. Minnow.
"Hoshi," Jon said slowly, "signal back to them that we're prepared to greet them but to only send three personnel."
"Aye, sir," Sato replied.
"Amy," Jon continued, this time addressing his senior science officer, "keep an eye on our sensors. We don't want to get caught with our pants down again."
"No, sir," Ling said. "I mean, yes, sir. I mean…"
"Commander Reed, with me," Jon ordered as he stood. "Let's go meet our visitors. Travis, you have the conn."
"I have the conn, aye," Mayweather replied automatically. He did not budge from his station, but that was not unexpected for a pilot. It had taken Jon years to get out of the habit of staying at the helm and he was still doing it right up until he was promoted to commander.
"And let Soval know as well," Archer added as he strode toward the turbolift, Malcolm several steps behind him. "We might need him."
"Time travel or alternate universe doppelgangers?" he heard Hoshi ask Travis in the seconds before the lift door fully closed. It was a good question and, for a moment, Jon considered repeating it to see what Malcolm thought – Jon was leaning toward time travel though that was probably due to his past experience with Daniels and the fact he had trouble wrapping his head around the concept of alternate dimensions; was there one where he was irredeemably evil? Or one where Jonathan Archer was actually Joan Archer? That sort of thing always caused his brain to ache. – but the bleak, distracted look on Reed's face changed his mind. He didn't know whether the armoury officer was busy thinking about potential security scenarios they might be facing in the very near future, or how the frustrating hunt for Silik was going – that slippery bastard had vanished once again, though Malcolm had expressed confidence that the MACOs had injured the Suliban – or even what Lieutenant Cole was doing over on the S.S. Minnow, but whatever was on the tactical officer's mind, it looked to be important. Besides, Jon suspected they were ready for anything.
But, as it turned out, he was completely wrong. He wasn't ready for this at all.
The other Enterprise had sent just three people as instructed and they waited patiently just beyond the airlock while Major Hayes' team kept a close eye on them. Two of their visitors were human in their mid to late thirties and looked enough alike that Jon suspected they were siblings. Both were oddly familiar-looking for some reason, though Archer didn't think he'd met them before and couldn't quite put his finger on who they reminded him of. Their hair was dark and full, and both had sharp, almost angular cheekbones. They also shared those disconcerting white on white eyes that made Lieutenant Cole so hard to talk to, and at his and Malcolm's approach, they fell silent and stared at Reed. The third man was Soval.
Or rather, a Vulcan who looked disturbingly like a much younger version of the ambassador. A son, perhaps? Or a clone?
"Captain Archer," the Vulcan said, his lips curving up in an unmistakable smile, which was enough of a shock on that face that it made Jon stumble. "I am the commanding officer of Enterprise," the Vulcan said calmly, "and these are my senior officers." He gestured to the woman. "First Officer Maddie Reed," he said, the words causing both Malcolm and Major Hayes to frown. "And Weapons Officer Galahad Reed," the Vulcan added with a nod toward to the other human. If the woman's name caused surprise, the man's resulted in every single MACO present going rigid with shock though Jon had no idea why. Malcolm himself looked like he had been punched in the stomach by a very angry, very strong Klingon.
"Galahad?" Hayes repeated, his voice strained. The white-eyed man glanced at him.
"A family joke, sir," he said with a tight smile. His voice was deep and hinted at an accent that was nearly impossible to identify. "My grandmother called my grandfather Galahad when she was angry at him, and when I was born, my parents thought it would be amusing to give me that name."
"We tried to intercept you before Azati Prime," the Vulcan commander said, his expression betraying annoyance at the side conversation, "but encountered some trouble along the way." He held up a hand and the woman – Maddie? Why was that name so familiar? Didn't Reed have a sister by that name? – quickly placed a battered-looking PADD in it. "The subspace corridor you are heading for isn't an option," he said as he offered the data device to Jon.
"And we have it on good authority that the corridor is an option," Archer replied. The sound of approaching boots caused him to briefly glance away from the Vulcan and allow him to confirm that it was Soval. From that brief look, Jon could tell that Soval was staring at the Vulcan with as close to open shock as he would allow himself to show.
"From Degra," the Vulcan commander said with a nod. "His information is flawed. He's presuming you'll be using their subspace vortex technology, not warp drive. The corridor reacts negatively to warp fields."
"Negatively how?" Reed demanded.
"It threw our Enterprise back one hundred and seventeen years," Weapons Officer Reed stated. Jon blinked and returned his attention back to the Vulcan standing in front of him.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"My name is Soval," came the response. The younger Vulcan smiled again as he met Jon's eyes.
And then, dropped the biggest bombshell of all.
"Hello, Dad," he said.