Nothing was ever easy in the
Barely fifteen minutes had elapsed since the other Enterprise docked with the NX-01, ten since Jon's urgent but frustratingly unclear message to get her ass back here because they "had a situation to deal with," and five since she entered Sickbay to discover two Sovals and a pair of white-eyed humans who looked enough like Malcolm Reed that they could have passed as siblings. Phlox's pronouncement that these people were who they claimed to be left the other Enterprise personnel present – Jon, Reed, Soval, Hayes, and the two MACOs standing guard by the door – reeling in open, visible shock, but did nothing to clue Erika in on what exactly was going on. So she'd asked, rather politely she thought, exactly that.
Which was how she found herself here, in this conference room, listening to a story that she could hardly believe.
The younger-looking Soval – how was she going to tell them apart? Soval the Younger versus the Elder? No, that sounded stupid – was vocally and physically emotive as he spoke, with flashes of barely restrained anger appearing and vanishing at random, unexpected intervals. His mood seemed to alternate from one heartbeat to another, transforming from giddy and excited to almost depressed in mid-sentence, and never with any explanation for why it changed the way it did. The other members of his crew seemed to accept it without blinking – First Officer Reed was especially good at redirecting the young Soval – Captain Soval, maybe? As opposed to Ambassador Soval? Yes, that would do nicely – when his mood darkened, though Erika did not get the sense the two were romantically involved. Rather, she simply seemed to expect his quicksilver emotions, as if she had dealt with them for decades.
This second Enterprise's arrival had thrown everyone for a loop, but, despite the shock that clearly hadn't set in for her yet, Erika had to fight the urge to snicker every time she glanced at Jon. Flabbergasted did not begin to describe his expression. As the unlikely story emerged from the younger-looking Soval, Archer alternately stared at him with barely contained disbelief or shot covert looks at the ambassador, as if trying to figure out how to blame this on him. Oh, there was no denying that Captain Soval was exactly who he claimed to be thanks to Phlox's examination, but the story itself? Well, even with the weirdness they'd experienced over the last year, it was difficult to comprehend, let alone buy.
Excepting, of course, the evidence staring them in the face. Erika shook her head in a vain attempt to clear it.
"Once they confirmed that Enterprise had, indeed, traveled back in time," Captain Soval was saying, "the command crew began investigating ways to return to their correct era."
"The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined that time travel is impossible," Ambassador Soval replied flatly, every centimeter the perfect Vulcan. For the last five minutes, he had been staring at his younger counterpart seemingly without blinking. Little sign of what the ambassador thought or felt at Doctor Phlox's pronouncement showed on his face, but Erika caught glimpses of the occasional facial tick that hinted at shock. Captain Soval gave the ambassador a look of open hostility.
"You've said that," he replied hotly. "Three times in the last ten minutes."
"Not to belabor the point," First Officer Reed interjected, casting a long suffering look at her commanding officer, "but they were unsuccessful." She frowned. "We were fortunate at the time that the captured Xindi warship was docked with Enterprise for repairs when they passed through the subspace corridor or key members of the command staff would have be lost." Erika blinked – that was interesting. According to their original schedule, they had planned on docking the Minnow to Enterprise so Kelby could lock down some abnormal power fluctuations in the smaller ship.
"None of that explains … this," Jon said, once more staring at Captain Soval. "The last time I checked, Vulcans don't get younger."
"We do not," the two Vulcans said simultaneously. The ambassador's expression tightened fractionally and he inclined his head toward his counterpart. "Three months after we arrived in that time," Captain Soval said, "several crewmembers of Enterprise were exposed to a spatial anomaly that caused them – us, I should say – to begin aging in reverse."
"According to the medical records our Phlox left before he passed," First Officer Reed added, "there were six officers and crewmen who suffered from this Merlin Sickness." She looked at Reed … Malcolm Reed, that was. Erika shook her head. Lord, this was going to get confusing. "You coined the term based on something from your childhood. sir."
"I was the only one still alive when the doctor discovered a cure but had regressed to infancy," Captain Soval said. He made a gesture that included both Jon and Erika herself. "The two of you raised me as your son once it became clear Phlox could not reverse the process." Erika blinked. Wait … what? Had she just heard what she thought she'd heard? The wide-eyed look Jon shot her confirmed it and Erika swallowed.
"Enterprise became a generational ship after that," First Officer Reed said, her disconcerting white on white eyes drifting back toward Lieutenant Commander Reed. "We encountered a number of difficulties along the way," she said. Captain Soval snorted, which earned him a dark glare Erika recognized as having seen on Lieutenant Cole's face a time or two. Not that there was ever any doubt who Miss Reed was descended from, Erika thought wryly. She made a mental note to arrange for Lieutenant Cole's duties to bring her back aboard Enterprise, just to see what happened. And to make sure that there was a recording device somewhere in the vicinity. "The Captain … you, sir," she said, directing her next comments to Jon, "warned us to avoid contaminating the timeline as much as possible, so we could not make contact with Earth or warn them of the attack."
"I can't see myself giving that order," Jon mused with a frown. "Our entire mission right now is geared toward trying to undo something that already happened."
"No one ever accused you of being consistent, Dad," Captain Soval remarked without thinking. He grimaced the instant everyone reacted to the title he automatically applied to Jon, and Erika suddenly felt a rush of empathy for him. From her studies of Vulcan culture, she knew that they experienced immensely powerful emotions and spent their entire lives working to suppress them. This young man had grown up without the benefit of that training and had likely spent his formative years being treated differently by those who remembered him as the cranky, old ambassador. And now, to actually face that cranky old ambassador and to see the disapproval mirrored in eyes he knew as his own? If she was in this situation, could she have done better? Somehow, she doubted it.
So she cleared her throat.
All eyes jumped to her, which gave her a moment of hesitation. Jon had the expression of a man on a sinking boat, desperately looking for a life preserver wherever he could find one, Ambassador Soval wore his Vulcan mask, though the effort it was requiring was plainly visible if you knew his tells, and the rest of the Enterprise crew … her Enterprise, that was, not this other one, all looked at her with open relief, as if they expected her to work miracles. At the same time, Captain Soval gave her a bashful half-smile that reminded her of her nephew when he looked at Erika's sister which only served to remind her of his words earlier and her alternate's maternal role in his life. The two other Reeds straightened and studied her with those creepy eyes.
Right. So … no pressure.
"Temporal mechanics aren't my strong suit," she said in a voice that sounded far calmer than she actually felt, "but isn't this action going to wipe you from the timeline somehow?" She noted several frowns. "If you warn us not to go through the subspace corridor and we don't, then how can you be here to warn us not to go through it in the first place?"
"Ugh," Weapons Officer Reed muttered. He grimaced, which instantly resulted in an annoyed look from the woman Erika suspected to be his sister.
"You are referring to a grandfather paradox, ma'am," First Officer Reed said. "It is not relevant in this case, as we have already passed the point when our history states your Enterprise passed through the corridor in the first place."
"And no one has inexplicably vanished yet," her brother chimed in, earning himself twin glares from both his sister and Captain Soval. He ignored them both with the casual ease of someone long accustomed to such expressions.
"We're here to help, Mo … ma'am," Captain Soval said, his body language open and positively vibrating with emotion. His verbal misstep caused Erika to almost flinch. Instead, she glanced away from him and met Jon's eyes. He pursed his lips.
"I'd like to discuss this with my first officer and Ambassador Soval if you don't mind," he said after a moment. Without waiting for any response, he shifted his attention to Lieutenant Commander Reed. "Malcolm, could you show our guests to the mess deck? I'm sure they would like some refreshment." All three Reeds rose – the woman was fractionally taller than either of the men, Erika noticed – and Captain Soval glowered for an extended heartbeat before standing himself. He was the first through the door, followed closely by Major Hayes and the three Reeds, and a moment later, the conference room was silent. Jon drummed his fingers against the table before looking up. "Recommendations?"
"I'm inclined to believe them, sir," Erika said automatically. "We've seen stranger things here in the Expanse and I don't see the advantages of them lying to us like this." She frowned. "And their presence … well, it explains why we've been greeted the way we have at the commerce planets." Jon nodded. "And if they've really been running around the Expanse for the last hundred years," Hernandez added, "they should have a better grasp of what's really going on."
"Agreed." Jon's fingers continued their steady cadence against the table though he appeared unaware of the unconscious gesture. "If they're really here to help," he said, "we should request a data dump from their computer, maybe get a leg up on the Xindi for a change." He didn't have to mention siccing Hoshi on the data – if this was an elaborate ruse, there really wasn't anyone better to find the flaws. "Ambassador?"
"I have nothing constructive to add to this discussion," Soval said flatly. "Both you and Commander Hernandez have adequately identified the logical course of action." He rose. "If you will excuse me, Captain," he said before striding toward the door. He was gone a heartbeat later.
"That looked suspiciously like an emotional reaction," Jon remarked wryly. He leaned back in his chair and almost smirked. "So," he said. "You and me, raising a Vulcan together."
"Raising Soval together," Erika corrected. She shook her head – how had her alternate managed? Especially given what had happened between her and Soval back before the Xindi attack on Earth? A slight shudder crawled up her spine. "Only in the Expanse," she said with a soft chuckle.
"Let's play ball for the time being," Jon decided. "Get as much data from them as possible and let our people know to keep their eyes open." He finally seemed to notice his impromptu drum solo and tightened his hand into a fist. "And prep the Minnow for extended operation," he ordered.
"She can take Soval to meet with Degra," Erika guessed. Jon nodded.
"We can't miss that rendezvous," he said. "Enterprise … both of them, I guess, can take the longer route." His expression turned grave. "It means you'll be out of contact for a while…" Erika blinked – she'd expected him to assume command of the Minnow on a mission of this importance and the fact that he trusted her abilities sent a rush of warm pride through her. She nodded.
"I'm confident my prize crew can handle it," she said simply. With a nod and half smile, she stood.
"Before you go, I'd like to rotate Lieutenant Cole back to Enterprise briefly," Jon said suddenly. He gave her a smile that was positively malicious. "I would be very curious to see her reaction to certain of our visitors."
Erika laughed out loud.