Title: No Particular Night or Morning

Authors: The EntSTSlash Round Robin (Leah, TheGrrrl, Squeaky, Kipli, Tim Ruben, MJ, Alltara, Cinmbria, Ragnall, Kylie Lee)

Contact author's E-mail: kylielee1000@hotmail.com

Contact author's URL: http://www.geocities.com/kylielee1000/

Date: 03/17/03

Length: ~25,000 words

Fandom: Star Trek: Enterprise

Pairings: Archer/Reed, Sato/Cutler

Type: M/M slash

Rating: NC-17

Status: Complete

Summary: The ship is being haunted by a malevolent entity that threatens Archer and Reed's blooming relationship.

Feedback: Yes; send to Kylie and she'll forward it on to the group.

Series/sequel: No

Archive: Yes to EntSTSlash, Archer's Enterprise, Tim Ruben, WWoMB, Allslash, Complete Kingdom of Slash, Luminosity, ASCEML, Situation Room, and individual archives of all EntSTSlash Round Robin authors who contributed to this fic. Anyone else, obtain permission.

Disclaimer: Original material copyright 2003 by the EntSTSlash Round Robin. This is not an attempt to infringe on Paramount's copyright. No money was made.

Spoilers: None

Warnings: None

Beta: Kim, Kylie Lee, Sarah

Comments: This round robin was written in a structured manner, with chapter sequence assigned and a general story arc laid out ahead of time, in an attempt to create a round robin that would work as a proper story. It was begun on September 5, 2002, and posted on March 17, 2003.

CHAPTER 1 (Leah)

God knows you're lonely souls.

—UNKLE, "Lonely Soul"

There isn't any season here; winter and summer are gone. So is spring, and autumn. It isn't any particular night or morning; it's space and space. The only thing right now is you and me and this rocket ship. And the only thing I'm positive of is *me*. That's all of it.

—Ray Bradbury, "No Particular Night or Morning"


By rights, there shouldn't have been anyone there—it was awfully late at night. Well into morning, really. He should have been alone.

But when Malcolm Reed walked into the lounge, Captain Jonathan Archer was already there. He was still in uniform despite the hour, standing with his back to the door. His arms were obviously crossed as he stared out at the anonymous stars. The stars seemed particularly bright in this region of space, somehow, more numerous, perhaps. Malcolm kept finding himself looking for familiar constellations: Ursa Major, Orion's Belt, Hercules, Pegasus, Virgo…None of those names meant anything out here; all these stars were alien. Some nights, though—the long nights like this one—some nights he came down here anyway, to try and find shapes in the stars. Some nights the legacy of the familiar was all you had to carry you through.

Reed stopped dead, wincing unconsciously at the noise of the doors sliding shut behind him. Against the silence, the white-noise hum of the engines, they sounded impossibly loud, almost startling. He hadn't wanted to have to speak to anybody, but especially not this man. Not tonight. He quickly turned to leave, before Archer noticed him.

Too late.

"Mr. Reed?" Reed had just turned, the doors about to swish open again. He swallowed, closed his eyes for just a second. But his expression was neutral when he turned around again. Archer was looking at him over his shoulder. The captain's face was haggard; he looked surprisingly old, wrongly so, like he was a different man entirely. Reed's heart almost ached for him—almost. He couldn't afford to. He couldn't let himself.

"Yes, sir?"

Archer smiled, heart-breakingly sad. "You don't have to leave."

Reed had automatically gone into an at-ease position when he'd turned, and now he quietly clenched his fists behind his back.

"I—" He paused, feeling like a fool, forcing himself to keep his gaze steady, not look away from the other man's eyes. "I didn't mean to disturb you."

"You're not," Archer said simply, though his smile didn't change. He looked back at the stars, dropping his hands to clasp them behind his back. "To tell you the truth, I could use the company."

"Of course," Reed said. He managed to bite back the "sir," quietly amazed he could even be that intimate, not use the rank like a barrier between them. He walked to the large, reinforced window until he was standing beside the captain. Not too close, never too close—proximity would be his undoing. He reached out with his left hand and touched his spread fingers to the clear surface. It felt cool, as if conducting the freezing cold of the vacuum just beyond. He could imagine space to be a malevolent predator, or perhaps a virus, trying desperately to fight its way in.

The two men stood silently like that, for what felt to Reed to be a long time, just watching the unfamiliar stars. Reed turned his head slightly, so he could see Archer's reflection in the material of the wall. It was impossible to make out the captain's features. Reed wondered if he was meant to say something.

"Do you think they were at all like us, Malcolm?" Archer asked finally. His eyes were still fixed somewhere on the distant glowing points surrounding them. Reed blinked. He couldn't remember the last time the captain had used his first name. It seemed impossibly intimate, like Archer had just caressed him. Reed quickly turned his face away before his expression could betray anything of what he was feeling.

"I don't know, sir," he said at length. He bit his tongue, too late to stop the "sir"; it was automatic, like self-protection. If Archer had even noticed it, however, he didn't let on. "Hoshi could tell you better than I, once she's had a chance to go over their records." What's left of them, he added silently, but that was too obvious to be worth mentioning. "They seemed to…they seemed to share our basic physiology," he added, because it felt like Archer was expecting something more.

Archer nodded slowly, though his gaze was still on the stars. "I wonder," he said, and it sounded like he was really speaking to himself. "I wonder if they had any idea what they were doing?"

Reed wasn't sure if that was a question he was meant to answer, but the silence had a kind of expectation in it that was beginning to pluck at his nerves. "I think they did, at the end," he said. "I think they must have."

"Too late to do anything."

Except be obliterated. "Yes."

Archer sighed, shook his head as if he didn't like where his own thoughts were leading. He tapped on the clear wall with one finger. Like the doors, the flat, tinny noise sounded uncomfortably loud. "You won't believe this," he said quietly, "but sometimes I have nightmares. About Earth." He traced the outline of one of the stars. "I dream that something happened to it, like on that planet. Like World War III all over again, only this time there's nobody left to rebuild. This time it's all gone. So there's only us: the *Enterprise*, out here all alone. No Earth, no more humans, nothing. We're all that's left."

"It's still there," Reed said. He tried to smile. "We would have heard."

Archer just shrugged, a slight, hopeless movement of his shoulders. "Maybe."

"Captain," Reed said. He had almost used "Jonathan," caught himself. He turned toward the other man because he didn't dare touch him, worried his feelings, his desire, might jump to Archer like sparks. "However much those beings might have been like us, they weren't human. That isn't Earth. Earth is safe. She's waiting for us, right where we left her."

"I know she is," Archer said. "It's just…" He sighed, then shook his head, chuckling. He turned away from the window. "Ah," he said, waving his hand dismissively, as if scattering the thoughts, "I'm getting gloomy for no good reason. Obviously it's past my bedtime." He grinned warmly, patted Reed's shoulder. He didn't seem to notice the lieutenant's muscles jumping under his touch. "That'll teach me not to take detours to go look at graveyards—never could stand them. Goodnight, Mr. Reed," he said as he walked to the door.

Reed stood silently until the doors had slid closed behind Archer, then he turned back to the wall. The truth was, he had always liked cemeteries—the names, each with a whole history, a whole life behind it, fascinated him. But the fourth planet from this nameless sun wasn't a graveyard. It was death and ashes and ruins. Whatever lives there had been were now irrelevant; only ghosts walked there now.

He touched his fingertips, then his forehead to the window, closing his eyes as he felt the cold of it against his skin. He wished he had thought of something else to say to Archer. Something better, more hopeful, pleasant. The man seemed so terribly alone.

"Well, aren't we all," he said to the window: to the cold and dark outside, the dark behind his eyes. Well, no. Not all. Not all of them.

It was the extra layer of dark he noticed first, darker even than his closed eyes. The second thing he realized right after was that the engines had stopped. There was no more noise, not anywhere. *Enterprise* had become as silent as the space around them.

He started back, his fingertips still against the window. The room around him was completely midnight-dark, the only illumination coming from the starlight outside, too weak to make any difference. It was like being deaf and blind, and Reed had to fight down a curl of panic. He shoved it behind his training and quickly felt his way across the room, shuffling like the newly blind, hitting the couch with his foot before he could trip on it. He made his way to the wall and groped for the com panel, finally pressing it with a sliver of satisfaction.

"Reed to the Bridge," he said, "Reed to the Bridge. Can anyone hear me?"

There was no answer. So the com system was out as well.

They were truly dead in the water, then. Dead in space. Something had hit them—silently, gently, but nonetheless, all the power had cut at once. If the backup generators didn't come online, soon they would be truly dead, frozen when the heat dissipated, or suffocated when the air ran out.

Reed groped his way along the wall toward the door panel, wondering if he'd be strong enough to pry it open. He had to get to the Bridge.

He turned, startled. There was something—a light, a flicker of movement.

He was sure he'd seen her, then a second later was equally sure it had just been his imagination, his eyes, starved for light, making up visions of their own. But she had been as colorless as twilight, face anguished, eyes huge—and very, very alien. Reed blinked, adding dark to dark, stumbling away from her even after she was gone.

But he hadn't seen anything, he was sure of it. There was nothing but the muffled darkness, nothing he could have seen but the distant, uninterested stars. He moved back to the door, trying to twist his fingers into the space where the panels met, trying to push them open.

CHAPTER 2 (The Grrrl)

The door wasn't moving. Try as he may, Reed could not even wedge his fingers in the space between the door and the wall. He stopped, groaning. With his forehead pressed against the door, he tried to think, to analyze the situation. He was acutely aware that the ship and her crew were in danger, and he was no help at all, trapped in a damned lounge, for heaven's sake.

The captain had been heading back to his quarters. Reed wondered how long he had lingered in the room after the man had left. Was the captain trapped in a stalled lift, surrounded by blackness? Was he safe? At least in the lift there was the emergency release for the upper panel—

Reed let out a small cry and thumped his forehead against the wall. Idiot. He reached blindly to the left side of the door, his fingers touching a small control panel. In an instant, he had removed the plate and was feeling inside for the lever. Yes. He pulled it and heard a small hiss, felt the soft gust of air as the door released.

Fingers dancing along the wall, he came to the gap and easily pulled the door open, fighting back the urge to laugh. So calm and cool in a crisis. He made a mental note inform the captain the crew needed more emergency drills, to familiarize themselves with devices such as emergency door releases.

The hallway was dimly lit: the greenish, battery-powered lights along the ceiling were functional, flooding the hall with a strange glow. Reed stepped out cautiously, his senses alert. The ship was too quiet. It was unsettling, and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickling. A movement caught Reed's eye: a tall figure moving in the corridor. Reed tensed. Then recognized the form. He'd know it anywhere.

"Lieutenant Reed," Archer called out. Apparently he hadn't gotten far after he'd left Reed in the lounge.

"Captain? You're all right?" Reed didn't bother to hide the relief in his voice.

"Fine. C'mon, let's get to the Bridge, find out what the hell is going on."

The taller man swept past him, placing a hand on Reed's upper back to move him along. Startled by the touch, Reed went with him, nearly jogging to keep up with the tall man's strides. "Were you on the lift when it happened?" he asked, very much aware of the man's hand lingering on his back.

"No. I—" Archer hesitated. "I was about to get on, when I thought I heard something." His voice was distant, thoughtful.

"Heard what?" Reed turned to look at Archer, but he could scarcely make out the man's face in the feeble glow.

They reached the access conduit and stopped. "Nothing. I'm sure it was nothing." Archer gave a little laugh. "So much for getting some sleep, huh? I'm just glad I wasn't on the lift when it happened."

They both began unfastening the latches to the conduit. Their hands touched as they went for the same latch. Reed jerked his hand away and knelt quickly, fumbling for the lower latch. In his haste, he became unbalanced, and found he was leaning against a long, hard leg. In a flash he righted himself, had the latch released and was standing next to Archer again, wiping his sweaty palms on his thighs. They removed the panel and Reed none too politely shoved Archer aside to peer into the long, narrow tube.

"Lieutenant, I'm sure the accessway is perfectly safe." Archer sounded impatient.

"Allow me to be the judge of that, sir." Reed found the stash of flashlights and shone one first up, then down, the accessway. He could only see the rungs of the ladder, creating odd shadows along the gray walls. The space was silent. Reed wasn't surprised. They were on the aft side of the ship, above the cargo bay. The night shift normally would not be working in this area.

"It's clear, sir. Sir?" Archer was no longer next to him, but had moved a few steps back down the hallway. "What is it?" Reed called out softly, his uneasiness returning.

Without turning, Archer held a hand up to still him. Then he took off down the corridor at a dead run.

Reed ran after the man, cursing. The light from his torch bobbed crazily along the walls as he covered the distance. He rounded the first turn and found Archer had come to a stop.

"Damn it, Lieutenant." He turned to face Reed. "There is something on board my ship. I saw her. I know I did. She was right here." He sounded more like he was trying to convince himself, rather than Reed.

"I saw someone too, sir," Reed admitted. "Or something. In the lounge, though. Not out here."

"And when were you going to report this?" Reed could hear the edge in Archer's voice.

"It was directly after the lights went out, sir, and I wasn't certain I had actually seen anything," he said stiffly. "And in a blink of an eye she, or it, was gone. So I concluded it was nothing."

Archer was silent. Then he said, "Turn off your flashlight."

Reed hesitated.

"Malcolm?" He touched Reed's arm.

Reed switched off the light. They stood there, bathed in the strange green light, staring off into the distance. This corridor ran the length of the ship, and Reed could see the green lights receding into the distance. There was nothing. No movement. The only sound was their steady breathing. No hum of the engines. Reed felt as though they were no longer on the *Enterprise* but had entered some strange world that consisted only of the two of them.

Reed realized he was close enough now to see the man's face in the gloomy light. Archer was staring into the distance, but instead of the pensive expression Reed saw earlier, Archer's face was eager and full of life.

Archer turned his gaze on Reed. "I know something's here," he whispered.

Reed looked again. He still saw nothing. "Sir, why don't we get to the Bridge. I'll have a security detail go over every micron of this level right away." He wanted to get the captain safely on the Bridge, surrounded by the crew.

Archer sighed, then nodded. "Let's go, Malcolm."

"Good idea, sir."

CHAPTER 3 (Squeaky)

Under normal operating conditions, the conduits created an easy hands-and-knees path to access hidden bits of electronics and machinery throughout the ship. Under normal operating conditions, the conduits gave the crew the ability to crawl up or down to all the vital sections of *Enterprise* without once having to enter a corridor or turbolift. Under normal operating conditions, the conduits were lit by a long tube of light cleverly tucked into a groove running along the ceiling of the tubes. This light was created to exactly duplicate the visible and invisible spectrum produced by Earth's sun and gave the conduits a cheerful glow, making them a pleasant place to work, if not to crawl through. This was not a normal operating condition, however, and the conduits were not pleasant.

Reed and Archer had been crawling for what felt like hours down passageway after passageway of dark, narrow tunnel. The beams from their flashlights bounced off the smooth surfaces of the tubes, illuminating the top of a panel here, the rung of a ladder there, leaving the entire picture enticingly just beyond the edge of light. The only sound was the slide of hands, cloth, and boots against the floor of the tubes, the steady inhalation and exhalation of their breath as they crawled. Archer was struck by the thought that all the conduits looked exactly the same. He now regretted entering the conduit ahead of the lieutenant, sure that Reed would know exactly which turn to take, and afraid that he—the captain—wouldn't. For a second, he had an image of himself leading Reed down corridor after corridor, aimlessly circling inside the ship, never finding the Bridge, until they froze or suffocated. He chuckled softly to himself at the morbidity of his thoughts.

"Did you hear that?" Reed asked, his voice pitched low and barely more than a whisper.

"Oh," Archer responded, surprised Reed had heard him laugh, "I was just—"

"Shhh!" Reed whispered, and Archer felt a strong grip around his ankle to quiet him. Archer stilled, senses suddenly painfully alert, ears straining to hear beyond the rasp of his own breathing and the beating of his heart, world reduced to the darkness and the feel of Reed's hand on his ankle. Then he heard it. A faint clinking, rustling sound, like coins jangling in a pocket. Archer was aware of Reed releasing his foot and tapping his hip, and he turned slightly to shine his flashlight behind him. He looked over his shoulder at the other man. Reed was in full armory officer mode. In the glow of the flashlight, Archer could see Reed's eyes narrowed, and his lips pressed together in concentration. Reed squinted and averted his head, and Archer hastily lowered the light to avoid blinding the man. Reed tapped Archer's hip again and make a quick gesture with his head, indicating behind and to the left, toward a ladder that descended to the lower decks that they had just passed. Archer nodded. Reed gestured with his chin toward Archer's flashlight, and in unison, they both switched them off. This was true dark.

Immediately, Archer began to see colored spots dance in front of his eyes as they tried to make up for the total loss of light. He heard his breathing become more ragged, felt his heart pound harder in his chest. A warm hand gripped his ankle again, and it took all of Archer's self-control to not cry out. Reed tugged his ankle gently, and they began to back up toward the ladder. The strange sound was growing louder and becoming more distinct as whatever was making the noise climbed higher toward them. Reed pressed hard on Archer's ankle, and Archer stopped moving. He heard Reed shuffling around, felt the lieutenant's body brush up against his as Reed changed position. In the dark, senses screaming to identify of the strange noise, heart thudding painfully in his chest, Archer felt like his side was on fire from the brief touch of Reed's body. He could outline perfectly where Reed had touched him. The brisk slide of shoulder against hip shot through Archer, filling him with sensual awareness of the other man. He felt Reed's hand on his shoulder, once again tapping out a command, and once again, his senses were saturated with awareness of the man. Archer reached up a hand and, fumbling slightly, found Reed's hand in the dark, giving it a light squeeze. Archer prayed that touch only conveyed his understanding of Reed's message and not the crazy, inappropriate desire that had snaked through him. He was afraid he gripped Reed's hand a little too hard, a little too long.

Reed tapped his shoulder again in a one, two, three pattern. Then both men turned their flashlights back on, aiming them down the ladder.

"Jesus Christ!"

Archer and Reed looked at each other sharply at the sound of the voice, and Reed quickly moved his flashlight to one side, reaching his hand down the ladder.

"Commander Tucker!" Reed cried, helping a very startled chief engineer on to their deck. "Fancy meeting you here!" Reed's teeth flashed white in the near darkness as he smiled at the commander.

Tucker looked back and forth between the two men, his eyes still round with the last vestiges of fright. The blue irises looked strangely bright in the low illumination. "Jesus," he said again. "Y'all scared me out of a year's growth."

"Sorry, Trip," Archer said, he gave Tucker a single pat on his shoulder. "We heard the noise of you climbing the ladder, and we thought you were an intruder."

"Sorry 'bout that, Cap'n," Tucker said. "I was readin' in my room when the ship went dark. When I couldn't reach anybody with the com, I decided to head to Engineerin' to check things out."

"You were up awfully late," Reed said. Archer heard a strange tone in Reed's voice.

"Couldn't sleep," Tucker replied. "Same as y'all, I guess." Tucker shifted a little so he could better face Archer. "You have any idea what's causin' this?"

"No, I don't," Archer said. "We were on our way to the Bridge to see what beta shift might know." He gestured toward Reed with his flashlight, causing the beam to briefly land on Reed's shoulder, "Reed wants to collect a security detail together—"

Reed cut him off. "See anything unusual tonight, Commander?" he asked.

Archer fell silent, surprised. Reed had interrupted him. The British-trained soldier never forgot the privileges of rank, and he never interrupted a superior officer. Archer moved his flashlight a little higher, allowing the small beam to partially illuminate the faces of his two officers. He noted that Reed's eyes had narrowed slightly, all humor gone from his face. Tucker's face looked shuttered, totally different from his usual open expression.

"What kind of unusual?" Tucker asked. "Have y'all seen something'?"

"Yes," Reed replied. "An alien woman."

"An alien woman?" Tucker said, skeptical. "I'm sure y'all were imaginin' it."

"I'm sure we *all* were not," Reed said. In the pale light of the flashlight, Archer noted Reed had shifted so that he was now crouched down, balanced on both toes, arms raised slightly in front of him. Reed had moved so quietly that Archer had not noticed until now.

"Commander," Reed said, "where's your flashlight?"

"My what?" Tucker said.

"You know," Reed replied, his tone deceptively calm, "the device one uses to illuminate dark passageways when the ship's power has gone out."

"I couldn't find one."

"What?" Archer said, confused. "Trip, you were the one who put the flashlights at the entrance of every conduit!"

"Well, someone must have moved 'em, I guess," Trip said, a note of irritation in his voice. "Who cares? We got to get to Engineerin' to see what the problem is!"

"The engines are on the lower decks, not the upper ones," Reed said, and without warning, he launched himself into the commander. Archer barely had time to scramble out of the way as Tucker landed heavily on his back, legs still dangling down the hole where he had ascended. Reed straddled Tucker's upper body, delivering two efficient, jaw-cracking blows to Tucker's face in quick succession.

"What the hell?" Archer cried. "Lieutenant, what the hell are you doing?" He scrambled to his knees and grabbed Reed's shoulders, trying to pull him off the other man. "Stop it!" He cried as Reed tried to shake him off, hitting Tucker across the face again.

Tucker appeared stunned, blood trickling from a corner of his mouth, creating a black streak against his pale skin in the semidarkness. "Who are you, and what do you want with *Enterprise*?" Reed shouted, clutching Tucker's collar and lifting the other man's head off the deck.

"Lieutenant Reed!" Archer bellowed, dropping his flashlight and grabbing a fistful of Reed's uniform and yanking him sideways, "Stop this now. That's an order!" Reed lost his grip on Tucker, and the commander's head banged back against the floor. Reed's flashlight rolled sideways and flicked off, plunging the area into almost total darkness.

"Captain!" Reed cried, half turning toward Archer as he tried to pry Archer's hands off his shoulders. "You don't understand, this isn't—"

Suddenly, Reed was wrenched out of Archer's hands by a terrific force, and Archer felt himself hit the side of the conduit, his head bouncing painfully off the low ceiling. Archer's flashlight skittered further away down the corridor, its light coming to rest in the opposite direction. Save for that useless light, the tunnel was now completely dark. Archer could hear strange, muffled, animalistic sounds coming from further down the tunnel—a sound reminiscent of flesh being hit, followed by a short cry that was all too human.

Frantically, Archer dropped to hands and knees, scrabbling for Reed's flashlight. After an eternity of listening helplessly to terrifying sounds, his frenzied hands found it. He switched it on and shone it down the corridor, toward the noise, blinking rapidly as his eyes adjusted to the light.

Reed was lying limp, half off the floor, his weight partially supported by one of the hands of the thing that had attacked him. The creature's other hand was raised up, as if to strike. Her fingers were terribly long, ending in wicked-looking points streaking with black liquid. She turned her face toward Archer, letting out a hiss like a cat, exposing a row of pointed white teeth. She dropped Reed, turning her body fully toward Archer and raising both hands toward him in what was clearly a threatening gesture. She hissed again, then turned into the darkness and vanished. Her eyes had been impossibly large and very, very alien.

"My god," Archer said, voice no more than a whisper.

Reed lay on the deck. He was terribly, terribly still. Swallowing hard, Archer began crawling toward him.

"Cap'n?" he heard from behind him. Archer whirled quickly, his flashlight beam landing on Tucker's face. A purplish bruise on the commander's jaw was visible under the direct beam of the flashlight. Tucker raised himself up on one arm, rubbing the back of his neck. "Cap'n," Tucker said again, squinting in the direct light, "what the hell happened?"

"Malcolm's been hurt," Archer said. "I need your help."

"How bad?" Tucker asked, immediately getting up on hands and knees and moving in behind Archer.

Archer swallowed and began crawling back toward Reed's still form. "I don't know," he replied. "I don't know."


The kiss was fantastic. Wonderful. Heart-stopping. Ensign Elizabeth Cutler, eyes closed, explored the other woman's mouth with her tongue. She tasted so good! Like raspberries and honey, like strawberry jam. Cutler sighed contentedly, allowing her hands to roam over Sato's back, drifting down to rest on the curve of her small waist and slender hips. A sweet knot of desire was beginning to form deep at her center, and she deepened the kiss, losing herself in the sensation.

Suddenly, Ensign Hoshi Sato pulled away. "Did you hear that?" she asked. "I don't hear the engines."

Cutler opened her eyes slowly, reluctant to let the intensely pleasurable feelings go. She blinked in the strange greenish glow of the room. "Is the emergency lighting on?" she asked. "I didn't hear the captain call an alert."

Sato stood, moving off the couch and going to the window of the observation lounge. She pressed her fingers to the glass and looked out at the stars for a moment, then turned back toward Cutler. An expression of concern on her face. "The stars aren't moving anymore."

"What?" Cutler said. She got up and moved beside Sato, looking out into the semidarkness. "You're right." She bit her lip and turned toward Sato. "What's happened?"

"I don't know," Sato replied. The two women looked at each other, uncertainty dancing across their features.

"Why hasn't the captain called an alert?" Cutler asked again. She moved to the intercom panel by the door and pressed the button. "Ensign Cutler to the Bridge," she said, and waited. There was no response—not even the crackle of static. She tried again. "Ensign Cutler to the Bridge. Anyone?" She let go of the button and reached behind her to grab Sato's hand. She didn't have to be a com officer, like Sato, to know that it wasn't working. The other woman took her hand and gripped it tightly.

"Do you think the whole ship is affected?" Sato asked.

"We should go to the Bridge and find out," Cutler said. She found the access panel to the left of the door, opened it, and pulled the emergency release lever. The doors slid open just enough for her to insert her hands between them and push it the rest of the way open. Still holding hands, they stepped cautiously into the corridor. The hallway was illuminated with greenish emergency lighting. No one else was around.

Sato found another com unit in the corridor and tried it, with the same results: nothing. Without the constant hum of the engines, the ship was eerily quiet. Sato turned toward Cutler. "It looks like power is out all over the ship."

Cutler nodded her agreement, a small, worried frown on her face. "It's four decks between us and the Bridge," Cutler said. She looked at Sato's face, knowing how claustrophobic the other woman was, knowing how difficult moving through the narrow access conduits would be for her—especially in the dark. "That's a lot of climbing."

Sato shuddered. "Ugh. I'd rather not do that." She paused, thinking. Cutler noted how the green-yellow emergency light highlighted her cheekbones, making her look strangely fragile. She reached out her hand and gently moved a loose strand of hair behind Sato's ear. Sato smiled at her and stroked Cutler's face with her hand. Cutler turned her head so she could kiss Sato's palm. Sato lowered her hand again, letting it rest in Cutler's. "Let's go to Engineering instead, since we're on the same deck," Sato decided. "Knowing Commander Tucker, he'll have made his way there already. He can tell us what's going on."

Cutler nodded her agreement, secretly unsure that the chief engineer would have a better idea than they did about what had happened to the ship. But at least it was a plan.

They started walking. Sato shivered, wrapping her arms around herself. She and Cutler were both off shift and had changed into off-duty clothes for their nighttime rendezvous. Sato wore a short-sleeved top and light trousers that did little to protect her from the chill that had begun to permeate the ship now that life support was apparently offline. Cutler, wearing light clothing herself, had nothing to offer her. She put her arm around Sato and pulled her closer, hoping to warm her a little with her body. They walked all the way to Engineering, huddling together for warmth.

When they arrived at Engineering, they found the doors had already been opened, and they could hear the noise of people talking and tools being used. Entering, they found the area to be a hive of activity, the beta shift working tirelessly to find the cause of the power outage under the direction of Subcommander T'Pol. The room was illuminated with portable lights.

"Ensign Sato, Ensign Cutler," T'Pol said in her even tones. "How good of you to join us." She arched one perfect eyebrow at the two women. "I notice you're not in uniform."

"Yeah, well," Cutler said, hoping her blush wouldn't show under the green lighting, "we didn't really come from our quarters."

Sato shifted her weight nervously beside her. "We were hoping to find out what happened," she put in quickly. "Have you found anything yet?"

"No," T'Pol said. "With our power out, we are unable to use the sensor array to determine what may have caused this. The computer is down, so we cannot run an internal diagnostic. Logic would dictate, therefore, that since we cannot use the ship to discover the problem, we must use devices with their own power sources." T'Pol turned her head slightly to indicate the other crew members who were busy at work tables, various tools and equipment in small piles in front of them. "I have asked an engineering team to try to develop a way to scan the ship internally with the equipment," she said. "I have also sent Ensign Mayweather and Lieutenant Hess out in Shuttlepod Two to do scans of the outside of the ship to see if they can locate the source of the problem. "

"Seems like you have everything under control," Sato said. Cutler noted that she looked slightly crestfallen, as if she were disappointed that T'Pol had handled things so well.

"Since you are here, Ensign," T'Pol said, eyeing Sato closely, "perhaps you and Ensign Cutler could try to develop a way for us to communicate with the shuttlepod. Currently, although the shuttlepod can broadcast out to the ship, we lack the power to receive the transmission."

Sato brightened visibly. "We can do that!" She flashed Cutler a smile that Cutler found herself returning.

"You may work there." T'Pol gestured toward a half-occupied table. Sato recognized communications equipment. As they sat down, Sato looked back at T'Pol.

"Where'd you send Commander Tucker?" she asked casually, beginning to sort through the communicator parts in front of her.

T'Pol looked at Sato, and Cutler would have sworn she saw a look of concern cross the Vulcan's impassive face. "Commander Tucker has not arrived," T'Pol said.

"But you've seen Captain Archer, right?" Sato said with a tremulous smile that soon faded with T'Pol's simple "no." "Lieutenant Reed?" she asked faintly.

"None of the senior Bridge officers have been to Engineering," T'Pol said with terrible finality. "No one seems to know where they are."

CHAPTER 4 (Kipli)

"Doc?" Tucker called out as he walked into a green-lit Sickbay with Archer, carrying an unconscious Reed between them. After helping set Reed onto one of the beds, Tucker quickly started a worried search of the room for Phlox. "Doc?"

Archer stayed beside Reed, glancing down at the other man. Archer frowned deeply. It was all his damn fault. He had pulled Reed off Tucker, allowing the woman—or whatever she was—to get the upper hand. Reed's etched face was now bruised and scratched. Archer swallowed, then looked away as he heard Phlox's voice.

"Commander?" Phlox appeared from his office and was quickly led by Tucker to Archer. "What's happened?"

Archer let out a quiet sigh of relief. "I'm glad you're here, Doctor. Malcolm's been attacked."

"With the power out, it's always best to stay at the one place those injured can find me," Phlox explained before swiftly turning to Reed and starting his scans. A moment later, he stated, "He has suffered some trauma to his head and multiple surface wounds, but I should be able to wake him."

Archer nodded, and Phlox injected Reed with a pain suppressant before rousing him.

Reed's eye flickered opened. He glanced around himself, then jerked back as he spotted Tucker.

"Easy Malcolm, Trip's himself again," Archer reassured. He put a hand on Reed's shoulder and squeezed gently. Reed relaxed back against the bed. Archer found it hard to remove his hand from Reed's shoulder and allowed it to linger there a moment more before pulling back.

"What happened?" Reed asked, blinking his eyes to clear his head. "Our phantom woman. She attacked you, then disappeared." Archer wondered aloud, "Do you think she was controlling Trip somehow?"

"I don't know," Reed answered. "He wasn't himself. It was too dark to see anything. When you pulled me back, I suppose she was the one who grabbed for me." Reed looked to Tucker. "What do you remember of tonight?" Tucker looked thoughtful in the green glow of the room. "I was half asleep, reading in my room, when the power went out and the engines stopped. I…" Tucker paused, thinking. "I got dressed and headed out for Engineering. But then…" He shook his head. "All I can remember after that is finding myself in the conduit with you two, my jaw nearly broken."

Phlox switched on a lantern beside the bed and turned to Tucker, who blinked at the new light source. Phlox took a few readings. "There are some unusual synaptic patterns. I've never seen anything quite like it." He looked through the scans again. "Most intriguing."

"Are they well enough to leave Sickbay?" Archer asked. Although he desperately wanted to get to the Bridge, he'd rather not finish the trip alone. Someone was roaming his ship, taking control of his own people. He had to stop them as soon as possible. And the air and heat on *Enterprise* was currently in short supply. They needed the power back online.

"I'll require a moment with Lieutenant Reed to patch him up, but then they should be well enough to help in this crisis. I am still unsure about the Commander's synaptic readings—"

"Unless you strongly object, that will have to wait," Archer interrupted. "We have an intruder on board."

Phlox nodded and turned his attention back to Reed.


"There's got to be something," Mayweather spoke quietly to himself. "Some clue." He sat at the helm of Shuttlepod One as the pod drifted in a slow circle around the powerless *Enterprise*. He watched the readouts to his right as Lieutenant Hess sat at the station behind and to his left. Both of them were dressed in EV suits. Their helmets were off; they had set them on a bench in the back. The suits had been necessary to climb into the shuttlepod after manually cranking open the launch bay doors, thus exposing the launch bay to vacuum. "What could we be missing?"

"I'm not sure," Hess replied, responding to his quiet questions as though he were addressing her. She scrolled through the active scans they were taking. "Everything looks fine." She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose.

Mayweather glanced back at her. "Have we scanned for every possible problem?"

Hess nodded. "The scanners say there's nothing foreign onboard, no intruders, no faulty equipment. The engines *should* be working."

Mayweather let out a long breath, looking back at helm. There had to be something they were missing. If it wasn't *Enterprise* herself that was the cause, then maybe…"Have we scanned the space around us?"

There was a pause as Hess glanced through their readings. "No, not yet," she said, enthusiasm returning to her voice. She reset the sensors before making a sweep of the area. "There's a ship—one kilometer away."

Mayweather quickly looked to his own readout. "It looks deserted. There's no power signature at all. Can we get a visual?"

Calling up the optical sensors, Hess switched them to a visual feed of the drifting ship. It was cylindrical in shape and appeared to be about as advanced as *Enterprise*. "From what I can see," Hess stated, "it's been drifting there for a while. The whole ship is as freezing cold as the vacuum of space around it. It hasn't been warm and running for at least a couple days."

"But then why didn't we notice it before the power went down? We should have spotted it if it were there before."

Hess shook her head. "I don't know. Someone could have towed it there. But why do that?"

"Is the ship affecting *Enterprise*'s systems?" Mayweather asked.

"I don't see how," Hess replied. "It's not doing anything but sitting there. It's just a hunk of metal."

Mayweather sighed in defeat. "And there's nothing else out here with us?"

"No, everything else is empty space," she said. "We've scanned everything." She looked up from the readings before turning the sensors off. "I think we should report back to T'Pol."

Mayweather nodded as he turned the shuttlepod out of its slow circling and back around to the launch bay. As they came up along the underside of *Enterprise*, Mayweather frowned as he slowed them to a stop. "Wait a second…the bay doors are closed."

"Closed?" Hess asked, calling up sensors again. "But it took us forever to manually crank them open."

Mayweather nodded, recalling the difficulty of the work while wearing EV suits. There hadn't been time for someone to close them. "Well, they're closed now."

"But who—" Hess stopped herself as she frowned at the readings at her station. "The doors haven't just been closed. Someone's destroyed the manual bay door system too."


"Someone ripped it apart." She pointed to the scans.

"Why would anyone do that?" Mayweather wondered aloud, shock and anger mingling into one uncertain tone.

Hess shook her head. "Maybe we have a saboteur onboard? A mutiny underway? Sensors don't report any intruders on the ship to explain any of this."

"But a mutiny?" Mayweather refused to believe it. No one hated Captain Archer. And even if they did, why would they keep the shuttlepod from returning? What good did it do?

"I know it doesn't make any sense. But none of this makes any sense." Hess glanced around the shuttlepod before stating, "I guess now we can only wait until T'Pol gets the communications system up and running."

Mayweather slumped back in his seat. He hoped it wouldn't be a long wait.


Reed climbed the last few rungs of the ladder. Because both his hands were currently occupied with climbing, he had pocketed his flashlight before starting up. He could hear Archer behind him. It was pitch dark, but the ladder steps were evenly spaced and easy to find. Reed knew it was about five more meters, about fifteen steps, until they reached the crawl-space access to the Bridge. Then—finally—they would be able to turn their flashlights back on.

Although Archer had at first disagreed, Tucker had left them to find his way to Engineering. Archer clearly didn't like Tucker going off alone again, but the engines needed to be fixed. Tucker couldn't do that from the Bridge. Reed had informed the commander of the fastest route to Engineering from Sickbay, and then Reed took the lead when he and Archer once again climbed into the conduits. He wanted to get to the Bridge as swiftly as possible, and Archer didn't seem to mind letting him lead the way. Reed didn't want to give the mysterious woman time to find them in the dark again. Plus, he could feel a headache coming on. He didn't want to be clamoring around in the dark when it hit.

At the top rung, Reed reached to pull out his flashlight. The bright beam flashed on and illuminated the short crawl space to the closed hatch. He pulled himself over the ledge before reaching to give Archer a hand up, then crawled the meter or so to the hatch and shoved it open.

"Home sweet home," Archer said as they climbed out.

"A little emptier than usual," Reed replied, glancing about and seeing no one on the Bridge.

Archer was stunned. "Where is the beta shift? The rest of the senior staff?" He marched his way quickly to T'Pol's science station, punching at the console and getting no response. He scanned his flashlight over the entire Bridge as he moved quickly over to helm.

Reed watched Archer—the purpose and determination in the way the other man walked. Close quarters with Archer while climbing through conduits had left Reed with enough daydream fantasies to last a lifetime. He could still smell the other man on him. Reed, catching himself appreciating Archer's backside as he leaned over helm, swallowed down emotions far too close to the surface and marched his way to tactical.

"Emergency power has drained too low. We can't use any of it to power up these stations," Reed reported.

Archer sighed as he stepped back from helm. "Then the Bridge doesn't do us any good." He shook his head. "All that climbing for nothing."

"I suppose we should have gone with Commander Tucker to Engineering, but we had no way of knowing no one would be here."

"It doesn't make any sense, though," Archer said. "Someone should be here. The beta shift crew at least." He sat down in the captain's chair.

"Perhaps they had to evacuate." Reed tried his best to come with an explanation. Archer was correct: it didn't make any sense, but there had to be a reason behind it.

"But why evacuate the Bridge?"

Reed let out a breath as he tried to answer, then shook his head. "I don't know, sir."

"Never mind." Archer dismissed his thoughts with a wave of his hand and stood. "We can't do anything from here. We'll have to climb all the way down to Engineering and see if Trip's managed to find everyone else."

Reed frowned at the idea of climbing back into tight quarters with Archer. He was already working double time to keep from saying or doing something inappropriate. Archer was spending too much time pressed close to him. Reed needed to get away and calm down his nerves, not return to hearing the man's low steady breathing in the dark. "We're running out of time. Perhaps we should stay here—"

"I'm not too interested in crawling through more conduits either, Lieutenant, but there is no point to just sitting around here." Archer gestured toward the open hatch with his flashlight.

Stifling a sigh, Reed stood and took a few steps toward Archer, when he felt a wave of dizziness wash over him. He didn't realize Archer had caught him until he felt those strong arms wrap around his back. Reed sucked in a breath, blinking his eyes in the green lighting. His head was spinning. The pain medication Phlox had given him was wearing off. He closed his eyes and tried to make the room stand still.

"Malcolm?" came Archer's worried voice in his ear. Reed shivered as he clung to the other man. Just what he needed to banish his inappropriate thoughts: a concerned Archer whispering to him.

"I…" Reed swallowed down the bundle of nerves in his stomach. "The room started spinning. I'm sorry—"

"No need to apologize. I'm just glad I managed to catch you," Archer interrupted.

Reed savored the feeling of Archer holding his body against him, the low rumble from his chest against his as they talked while pressed together. He chanced to open his eyes, and he thankfully found the room had stilled. Reed, blinking his eyes to be sure, realized he was clinging to Archer by the back of his neck and shoulder. He flushed at the intimate way they were pressed together, although the green lights hid his heightened color from Archer's view.

"You okay now, Malcolm?"

Reed met Archer's gaze and desperately struggled to keep in place the mere centimeters separating their faces. "Just…fine," Reed managed to get out evenly as he quickly glanced to Archer's lips then back to the other man's eyes. His heart rate was soaring as they stayed locked in the position. Reed couldn't work up enough willpower to pull away. Couldn't he just freeze time right here?

The moment dragged on another few seconds before Archer slowly removed his arms from around Reed. Reed could have sworn Archer caressed his back as he did so, those palms running along the fabric of his uniform. Reed took a deep breath, forced himself to move his hands and pull away. He was quietly stunned, however, when his hands mimicked Archer's caress. His palms ran smoothly over Archer's shoulders, one thumb daring to trace down along Archer's collar and against the soft skin of his neck. Reed froze, petrified at what he'd done, hands still against Archer's upper chest.

Archer's eyes searched Reed's face, obviously taking note of the embarrassment running through Reed. "Malcolm…" Archer started, then stopped. He swallowed before wetting his lower lip.

Reed was unable to stop a shiver, eyes locked on Archer's lips. Was Archer interested in return? Was that why he hadn't yet fully pulled away? Hope filled Reed, and, headache forgotten, he silently worked up the courage for his next move.

And then the moment came to an abrupt end. Archer's eyes snapped away from his as Archer stepped back. Reed watched with longing as Archer once again became a composed professional.

"Feeling well enough now, Lieutenant? We have a long climb down ahead of us." Archer turned away, picking up his flashlight where he had apparently dropped it when catching Reed, and walked briskly to the open hatch.

Reed closed his eyes for moment. Tortured. He was being tortured by fate again. Shaking his head as he opened his eyes, headache beginning again, he followed Archer into the crawl space.

CHAPTER 5 (Tim Ruben)

Reed's head began spinning in earnest as he followed Captain Archer through the narrow and dimly lit crawl space. The pain medication Dr. Phlox had administered several hours earlier was definitely wearing off. "How're you feeling, Malcolm?" Archer asked as he led the way toward Engineering.

Reed sighed, trying to ignore the pounding in his head and the ringing in his ears. "Honestly, Captain, I've felt better," he admitted.

Archer looked back at his security officer. He still could still feel Reed's hands running down his shoulders, along his collar, and briefly resting on his chest. He sighed to himself, feeling the blood rushing down toward his crotch. This wasn't the time or place to think about such things. Archer was glad that it was too dark for Reed to notice his rather heated state. "We're almost there, Malcolm. Can you hold up for another few minutes?"

"Yes, sir. I'll be fine."

Archer nodded, then began to move forward again.

Reed rubbed his temples briefly. His breathing was becoming heavy and sweat was flowing down his face. "Is it just me, or is it getting really hot in here?"

"It's not you. With environmental controls offline, the residual heat from the plasma tanks can't be vented into space." Archer sighed. "It's bound to get even hotter in here."

"You know, if I wanted heat, I would have taken shore leave on some lovely Caribbean Island."

Archer laughed. "Try thinking cool thoughts, like a visit to the Arctic."

"A little too cold. How about…"

Before Reed could finish, there was a loud thud. It emanated from the crawl space above them. Archer held out his arm, stopping Reed in his tracks, as he took out his tricorder.

"What was that?" Archer wondered as he studied his readings. Then shock filled his face. Before Reed could ask what was wrong, Archer jumped on top of him, knocking them both to the ground. A moment later, the ceiling of the tube erupted into a shower of sparks, and debris rained down. Within seconds, the explosion stopped, and quiet filled the tube. Reed looked up at his commanding officer, who had shielded him with his body and who was now breathing heavily.

"Are you all right, sir?" Reed managed after a moment.

Archer nodded. "You?"

Reed nodded back. Debris was all around them, and debris littered Archer's back, but they were both fine—more surprised than hurt. "What happened?"

"The plasma conduit above us overloaded."

Reed was puzzled. "I thought all power was offline. How could a conduit overload if no power was flowing to it?" Reed stopped. "Unless someone rigged it to explode." Archer raised his left eyebrow. Reed tried not to laugh. T'Pol must be rubbing off on Archer. "You mean a bomb?"

"Maybe that alien is trying to kill us before we can reach Engineering. Maybe would should split up. That way it would be harder for her to track us."

Archer shook his head. "No, we're not splitting up. It's too dangerous. Besides, you're wounded."

It was only then that Archer noticed he was still lying on top of his security chief. Their eyes locked together as their breathing became more rapid. Archer also noticed that Reed's left hand was gently resting on his butt. Their faces were close; each could feel the others' hot breath against his face. Lightly, Archer brushed a lock of Reed's hair aside. Reed sighed as Archer's fingers ghosted across his temple. He pressed his hand more firmly on Archer's backside and slowly moved his hand up the captain's muscular back. He was incredibly aware of the man on top of him. Archer's eyes didn't leave his. His head tilted, then moved closer and closer, slowly. But before his lips could touch Reed's, they heard a voice.


Archer literally jumped off Reed. "Trip?" Archer called, his voice full of surprise. "I thought you were heading toward Engineering." He began brushing himself off as Reed scrambled up and began doing the same.

Tucker joined them. "I was until my tricorder picked up an explosion. I thought I'd take a look at the damage." He paused. "I thought you two were heading to the Bridge."

Archer sighed. "There was no one there, and we couldn't get any power to the computer stations."

"Whatever is causing this," Tucker began as he pointed his flashlight back at Reed, "it's knocked out all the vital systems." Tucker stared at Reed, then Archer. "You two all right?"

"Oh, yes, I'm fine, just a little warm," Reed said, and Archer echoed with a "Yes, I'm fine" that he segued into a captainly "Let's get moving!"

Reed sighed as he fell in behind his superior officers. What the hell had just happened? Was it just his overactive imagination, or had the captain nearly kissed him? He tried to convince himself that it was probably nothing more than just an awkward moment, but then he remembered the captain's eyes locked with his, the way his head tilted to the side, the way he had slowly moved in. Both had been breathing hard, but it may have been the stress of the explosion. Reed remembered the feel of Archer pressed against him as Archer lay on top of him, the feel of Archer's ass under his hand. His body pressed against Archer's—it had been nice. Very nice. His brief encounter with Archer's ass and back convinced him that the captain's body was definitely worth more exploration. Reed shook his head, trying to get those thoughts out of his head. They were in the middle of a crisis situation; everyone's lives could depend on his quick thinking.

The three men spent the next several minutes climbing through what seemed liked endless miles of access tubes. The heat was nearly unbearable, and all three of them were having troubling focusing. Luckily, they didn't encounter any more aliens or booby traps. At long last, Archer reached the hatch to Engineering, and, wasting no time, he forced it open.


"Try again, Ensign," T'Pol ordered calmly as she peered over Sato's shoulder.

Sato cursed under her breath, one hand working the computer console while the other wiped away the sweat flowing down her brow. "It won't work, ma'am. The power transfer relays are fried, there's no way I can get the comm online."


Both turned as a loud crashing sound filled the crowded engine room. T'Pol pulled out her phase pistol and aimed it at the hatch to the access tube as she strode across the room toward the noise.

"Don't shoot!" a familiar voice called. A second later, the hatch opened and Archer exited.

"Captain, it is good to see you again." T'Pol extended one hand while holstering her phase pistol with the other, helping her commanding officer exit. "Members of the crew were becoming concerned about your well-being."

"Well, aside from a little heatstroke, I think I'm okay." Archer turned back to the tube and helped Tucker out. After the commander was out, Archer abruptly moved away, heading for Sato, leaving T'Pol to assist Reed.

"Are you all right, Mr. Reed?" T'Pol asked, taking in his disheveled appearance. "You appear to be injured."

He tried to smile as he got back to his feet. "Oh, I'm fine. Just a little warm." He turned and busied himself with closing and sealing the hatch.

"The temperature has become less tolerable within the last several hours."

Reed found the first aid kit and dug through it as Archer attempted to make sense of what the only working computer screen in Engineering was trying to tell him. He swallowed an analgesic and a stimulant as Archer said, "Hoshi, would you mind decoding this for me?"

"I wish I could, sir, but we're still having problems," Sato said.

T'Pol wasted no time before giving her report. "Something has disabled all critical systems."

"And I bet you that intruder is responsible," Tucker said. He stood behind Archer and peered over Archer's shoulder at the console's information.

T'Pol raised an eyebrow. "Intruder?"

"We came across a woman in the access tubes. She attacked Mr. Reed, then disappeared. Is there any way we could try and track her?"

"Doubtful. Internal sensors are offline, and the tricorder can only scan a distance of six meters."

"Maybe we could interlink several tricorders," Sato said thoughtfully. "We could place tricorders throughout the tubes, then link them together."

Tucker nodded. "Like creatin' a portable internal sensor unit. Hoshi, that's brilliant."

"There is only one problem with the ensign's plan," T'Pol said.

"And what's that, Subcommander?" Sato asked. Her voice was too polite to be hostile, but somehow, the hostility came through.

"It would require several hours, if not a day, to distribute tricorders throughout the ship."

Tucker interjected. "Well, that depends," he said. "If we prioritized this project and put everyone on it, we could have the tricorders set up and linked within three hours."

Archer thought through the options. "Do we have internal communications?"

Sato frowned. "No. But we could use the portable hand-held communicators. They only have a range of fifteen or sixteen meters on board ship, because of the interference generated by the ship's infrastructure, but they should work."

Archer nodded, then turned to T'Pol. "What about phase pistols?"

"They appear to be fully functional," T'Pol reported. "All right, we'll prioritize this project. Everyone's on it. It's crucial that we learn what's going on aboard *Enterprise*, and this is our best bet so far. We can spare three hours. We'll break into groups of three. Each group must stay within fifteen meters of another group. We'll use the relay system to get messages back and forth, so one group will have to stay fifteen meters out from Engineering at all times. T'Pol, you stay here with Ensign Sato and coordinate the groups' efforts. You two are Command Central."

"With all due respect, Captain, we cannot risk losing you. I will go in your place. Lieutenant Reed is injured. It is logical that he stay here. The two of you should be Command Central."

Archer sighed. There was no point in fighting with T'Pol. And she was right. He preferred action, but coordination was more important right now. "You're right, Subcommander," he said. "Lieutenant Reed and I will stay here. Commander Tucker will assign the groups and break out the tricorders, and Lieutenant Reed will hand out the phase pistols we have. Get moving, people."

After her group was assigned—Tucker assigned T'Pol and Sato to his group of three, with T'Pol as group leader—T'Pol approached Archer. "I suggest one group of three be put in the shuttle bay," she told Archer. "Lieutenant Hess and Ensign Mayweather took a shuttlepod out to scan the ship from the outside, but we cannot communicate with them. They may have valuable information."

"So you want a welcome party there when they get back?" Archer asked.

"The power is down," T'Pol reminded him. "They must dock without the computer's assistance."

"Ensign Mayweather is the best pilot I know," Archer said. "He can dock all right. But I agree." He turned toward Tucker and raised his voice. "Trip!" he called, and when he had Tucker's attention, he gave his orders. Tucker assigned a group to the shuttle bay, but there weren't enough phase pistols for all the groups, so the shuttle bay group had to go without. Ensign Elizabeth Cutler led the shuttle bay group, and she ordered her group into EV suits.

Within twenty minutes, everything was in order and the groups began heading out. Archer and Reed together manhandled the door shut, and then, with an exhalation of relief, Reed sat down hard in a chair as Archer fiddled with the battery-powered console into which Tucker had loaded all the information about the groups.

"I guess all we do now is wait," Archer said.


Ensign Cutler and her crew took a look at the shuttle bay. This was nothing she could have anticipated. "The bay doors—look at this!" she gulped.

Novakovich stepped forward and began a close examination of the doors. "They're not fused, but the normal manual opening's been disabled somehow. Is there a crowbar or anything like it around here? We'll have to try to pry at these."

"Not without harnesses," Cutler told him. "I don't want anyone working that close to open space taking a risk like that. We're lucky we've got the artificial gravity we've got, and I…" She trailed off. The power was down, nothing was functional—why did the ship still have its gravity intact? That wasn't right; it couldn't be, but it was happening anyway.

"Problem?" Novakovich asked as he looked around the bay.

"Yeah. Why *do* we have gravity? How is that functioning without any power? Especially near a hatch like this—we should be floating around this place." She turned to the team. "If we're going to get these doors open for Shuttlepod Two, we're going to need two things. Some damned big crowbars or spanners and one hell of a lot of rope. So start looking." She wasn't about to risk drifting off anywhere. She and Hoshi Sato had some serious business to pick up on, and she had no intention of dying before they got back to it.


Archer and Reed pulled two workstools over to the functional computer in Engineering and began to settle in. Reed's communicator was out and open, awaiting messages from the various groups spreading out across the ship. Relaying messages from group to group until they came to Command Central, and sending messages back the same way, was hardly efficient. But it was far better than nothing, which had been what they'd had previously.

"Are you all right, Malcolm?"

Reed looked back at Archer. "I'd tell you I'm fine but you might see through that at the moment. Let's say I'm semifunctional. It will have to do."

Archer nodded, his eyes never leaving Reed. Reed realized that he was being watched, and he suspected that the look wasn't altogether solicitous. His head was fogged, but he still couldn't have been that mistaken; the captain *had* been about to kiss him earlier. And the captain surely couldn't have missed Reed's own responses to him.

Bloody ridiculous all of these feelings on both sides should be surfacing right now, when they had everything else in the world to do, and a blasted race against time and whatever that—thing—roaming the ship was, trying to rescue their crew. Timing had never been Malcolm Reed's strong suit, however.

Archer sat down on the stool beside Reed's. "There's something peculiar here," he observed.

"Just one thing?"

The attempt at levity worked; Archer chuckled for a second. It was good to hear that sound—good to hear anyone not sounding panicked right now, actually, but especially good to hear Jonathan Archer laugh for any reason. "All right, a lot of things. Some of which we've been too busy to notice. Our main power's dead. Whatever killed that, and our emergency generators, we still have independent power running. Flashlights, tricorders, communicators, battery-powered items. So what's keeping our artificial gravity powered?"

The dull roar in Reed's head sharpened again. "That's right—we shouldn't have gravity. Unless—"


"This woman, or whatever she is, that's on the ship. Did she damage systems, or is she somehow able to control what's operational and what isn't? None of the Engineering crew has located any actual damage—that would suggest that she's somehow controlling what's occurring. And perhaps she needs to have the gravity operational for herself."

"There's another problem," Archer said quietly. "I think there's more than one of—whatever it is—on board. The noise I heard when I was heading for the lift seemed to be at about the same time you saw something in the lounge. We only met the one, though—the one that seemed to be in control of Trip when we ran into him on the way to the Bridge."

"No. Wait." Reed held a hand up in protest. "We know one was controlling Trip. We know that one attacked me. What we don't know is if there is more than one creature. Nor do we know if it was inhabiting Trip or controlling him from a distance. If there's more than one of these things, or if it can control us from a distance, it—they—could be hiding anywhere on the ship. We also don't know if it would appear on a scanner in either case."

Archer stood and began pacing the space around the computer. He finally came to rest behind Reed, propping himself with a hand on Reed's shoulder. "All we can do is try what we're doing and hope it works." He wiped his forehead with a sleeve; the heat in Engineering was increasing slowly but steadily. His other hand was still on Reed. "Look, Malcolm, when all this is over…"

"Captain?" Reed braced himself; there was no way that Jonathan Archer could be broaching this subject, was there?

"When this is over, Malcolm, don't you ever call me 'Captain' when we're alone together again. My name's Jon. You know that." And now he had both hands on Reed's shoulders, sliding down and around Reed's chest, and his lips were in Reed's hair. The slow, deliberate contact was electric, and Reed could feel it running through his entire body and settling in his groin. Archer stood back up. "And I know this is the worst time to tell you that, but…if for some reason we don't get through this…I didn't want you never to know."

Reed stood, turning slowly to face Archer. "I suppose that makes two of us." Archer stepped forward, closing the slight distance between them, and draped his arms around Reed's shoulders and back as Reed's encircled Archer's waist. Reed glanced up to see Archer's head lowering slightly toward his, and he angled up to meet Archer's lips.

And it was worth all the exasperation, the frustration, the interrupted moments of the earlier hours to feel Archer's mouth plundering his, to feel Archer's arms around him, completely enfolding him. It was possible to believe, just for a moment, that everything would in fact work out, that there would be a "when all this is over." He broke the kiss reluctantly and looked back up at Archer. "And on that note, I think we'd best get ourselves cracking on the problem at hand…Jon."

The look on Archer's face at Reed's saying his name was worth everything that was happening.

"Right." Archer slowly dropped his arms from Reed. "Let's check with Hoshi and T'Pol and see how they're doing." He pulled his own communicator from his pocket to hail the communications officer.

Reed's own communicator went off. "Reed here…yes…what?…Has Cutler got a handle on it, or…right." He shut the communicator and looked over at a concerned Archer. "It seems our visitors have also tried damaging the shuttle bay doors so they can't be opened. Cutler and Novakovich are trying to get the doors forced open so Hess and Mayweather can dock."

"This is ridiculous. What in god's name is this thing trying to do?"

The battery lights in Engineering flickered and lowered a level. Reed prayed that the battery power would continue to hold. A noise came from the other end of Engineering, and Reed reached for one of the phase pistols that T'Pol had left there.

Archer, a phase pistol in one hand, flashlight in the other, announced, "I'm going back there, Malcolm." Before Reed could argue, Archer added, "You're injured—it's safer for me to look." He headed behind several large pieces of engine machinery, his movement blocked from Reed's sight.

There was a clang, as of metal hitting metal, what sounded like a tackle, and a strangled cry. That did it; Reed headed back into Engineering himself, following the noise, his body pressed as far as possible into the equipment surrounding him, hoping not to be seen.

He moved around a corner and peered ahead. It was all he could do not to cry out at the sight.

Archer was on the deck, apparently unconscious, the flashlight and phase pistol both on the deck and away from his body. She—it—the vaguely female thing he had seen in the lounge—was crouched on Archer's chest, facing away from Reed, one taloned hand at Archer's throat. With her other hand, she reached for the flashlight. She held it to her face, apparently examining it.

Reed watched as she opened the unit one-handed and shook out the rechargeable battery unit. His watching turned to shock as she threw the flashlight housing to the deck, picked up the charger, and bit into it. The crunching sound suggested huge teeth and powerful jaws.

Apparently unsatisfied with her effort, she tossed the charging unit to the deck with the rest of the flashlight and lowered her face to Archer's neck.

CHAPTER 7 (Alltara)

"No!" screamed Reed as the alien female was about to take a piece out of Archer's neck. As he rose, he raised his phase pistol and fired. The blast seemed to feed the thing rather than repel it, but she turned and faced Reed, dropping Archer. "Okay, that had the wrong effect," Reed muttered, backing up hastily.

He was hardly aware when Doctor Phlox, who must have been lurking outside, entered. "What is going on?" Phlox demanded.

Reed pointed. "Help me get this alien off the captain before it either takes over or eats him for lunch."

The thing lifted her head, exposing rows of razor-pointed teeth. The eyes were a soulless void set into the thing's face. She snarled at them.

"Oh my," Phlox said weakly.

Reed and Phlox tackled the creature at the same time. They got her off Archer and had her pinned to the ground when suddenly she split into two, dashed around Reed and Phlox, rejoined herself on the other side, and then took off running. She ran out the door that Phlox had left open behind him and was gone.

Reed put his hands on his legs and panted for a second. He heard a faint groan. "He's waking up," Reed told Phlox. "Is he all right?"

Phlox knelt by Archer. He didn't have a medical scanner with him, so he used his hands to poke and prod. Archer pushed Phlox's hands aside and sat up, holding his jaw. "Did either of you see the truck that hit me?" he asked, then told Phlox, "I'm fine. Really. I'm fine." Archer climbed to his feet with Reed's help. Reed let his hand slid to the small of Archer's back and rest there. It felt good to be able to touch him again, if only for a moment.

"Apparently all the excitement is here in Engineering," Phlox commented. "So we know that these things can split and reform themselves."

"And she can control others, but we don't know how," Archer added, rubbing his neck.

"What is she after?" Reed wondered.

"I ran into Commander Tucker in the corridor," Phlox said. "He told me what was going on. Do we have any reports back from the teams yet?"

"Well, we know the doors to the docking bay were sabotaged," Reed told him. "And we're still looking for anyone from beta shift."

"Ensign Mayweather and Lieutenant Hess must be ready to come in by now," Archer commented. "On the other hand, maybe it's good that they're safe from everything that's going on in here. But I'd like to hear a report from them, find out what they know." He plopped down into a chair and checked out the console, then called the relay team and told the team leader what happened, warning the crews to be on the lookout.

As Reed and Archer settled back down to study the systems, Phlox hovering in the back ground, one of the teams reported back in relay. "Captain, Team 3 found beta shift," the crewman reported. "They're in a corridor off B deck. Team 3 says to send Doctor Phlox down there. They look bad."

"Are they injured?"

"Hold on." A minute later, the crewman called back. "Captain, they're not dead, but they look bad—really pale, and they won't wake up. Team 3 leader reports no wounds or blood."

"Doctor Phlox is right here. Tell Team 3 he's on his way. Have them stay there with beta shift."

"Will do."

"And assign an escort to Doctor Phlox. An armed escort."

Phlox left, and Reed and Archer settled down to tabulate responses. They heard reports from most of the teams, some just checking in every fifteen minutes as per protocol, others reporting their findings—which was mostly nothing. The work was going well, and the communication relay system worked once everyone got the hang of it.

Phlox reported in when he had a chance to examine beta shift. He'd stopped at his office first to pick up equipment. The relay reported, "There were bite marks on their necks, like puncture wounds. Doctor Phlox says they're coming around—they're semiconscious now. None of them remembers what happened. He says it's like they were drained of energy. He thinks they'll be okay—they just need sleep. He wants two teams to help him move beta shift to Sickbay."

Reed nodded and made some reassignments. Several crews had finished deploying their tricorders and were available.

There was a lull, and Archer put his head in his hands. He looked awful. His skin was gray, and he had dark smudges under his eyes. Reed remembered what Phlox had said: beta shift looked like they had been drained of energy. It looked to him like the creature had started doing the same to Archer but had been interrupted.

"Jon, you need to sleep," he said gently. "You look awful."

Archer shook his head. "I wish I could," he said.

"Well, if you won't sleep, how about this?" Reed got the medkit and pulled out a hypospray. "Stimulant?"

"Oh, good idea." Archer inclined his head to one side, exposing his neck, and Reed injected him, then put the equipment away. "How much longer, do you think?"

"No more than an hour," Reed said. "The tricorder network is almost set up." He paused behind Archer, then set his hands on Archer's shoulders. He stroked up and down, then used his thumbs to massage Archer's neck and upper back.

"Oh," Archer said in pleasure, relaxing. "What other hidden talents do you have?"

"If I told you, they'd hardly be hidden, would they?" Reed said lightly. "Is the stimulant working?"


"It's no substitute for sleep." "You sound like Doctor Phlox."

Reed laughed. "Sometimes Doctor Phlox is right, you know."

"That's why I hired him," Archer said. "Oh, there. Yes."

There was silence as Reed massaged. When his hands grew tired, he patted Archer on the shoulder to signal he was done, then went around to Archer's side. Archer anticipated him and pulled Reed onto his lap.

"Jon, this isn't very professional," Reed said. Archer did look better, but there were still dark circles under his eyes.

"I'm not feeling very professional." Archer pulled Reed close and leaned up to kiss him. "We can be professional in a minute."

Reed settled against Archer's chest. Archer's mouth was warm and responsive. Reed made a noise of protest when Archer pulled away: the comm had beeped. He slid off Archer's lap and answered the call.

"Okay, two messages," the relay said. "First, Commander Tucker says the tricorder grid is in place and he's going to activate it in a minute, so he says to check out the console in Engineering because that's where the output will be."

"Got it," Reed said. "Next message?"

"Ensign Cutler says they got the shuttle bay doors open. She shot off a flare to catch Lieutenant Hess's attention. She's hoping they'll dock within the half hour."

"Oh, good," Reed said in relief. Mayweather was a friend of his and he was concerned for his safety. "Anything else?"

"No, sir."

"Recall the crews. Have them report to Command Central for reassignment. Reed out." He turned to Archer. "They'll start getting here soon."

Archer took Reed's hand and smiled. "I knew it was too good to last. But you and me—we have unfinished business."

"Good," Reed said, and their eyes held for a long moment before Archer gave Reed's hand a squeeze and dropped it.

CHAPTER 8 (Cinmbria)

Lieutenant Hess was grateful to be back inside the ship proper, and she was extremely happy to see Ensign Cutler and her team, wearing EV suits, inside the shuttle bay. The sight of that ship dead in space didn't sit right with her, especially since it had only shown up on the sensors once they were outside *Enterprise*. Cutler had just given them the news that the relay system was up and running and that they needed to report back to Command Central. Hess and Mayweather were still wearing their EV suits because there was still no air in the shuttle bay. One of Cutler's group had put up a portable airlock and attached it to the cargo bay door so they could get into the ship. Cutler's crew had to stay and shut the shuttle bay door manually. They weren't planning to fill the chamber up with breathable air again, however, until the oxygen generators went back online. Hess felt almost guilty as she cycled through the airlock.

In the hallway outside the shuttle bay, she and Mayweather helped each other out of the EV suits. They had put them on over their uniforms, rather than donning the skin-tight underclothing that went with them, because they hadn't had far to go. "Travis," she said, placing a hand on his arm when she had struggled out of her suit. "Have you ever seen anything like this before? I know you're a Boomer. This can't be the first time something like this has happened."

"You'd be surprised at what can happen out here." The lights flickered like a dying fluorescent tube, then flicked out. A moment later, the backups came on. The cast of the light was a little different, a little darker. "It looks like the engineering team is having no luck at getting the main power restored." He looked down the dark corridor and turned to Hess. "There are all sorts of stories about ships being taken over and the crew found missing or dead. Do you really want to hear one now?"

Hess shivered. "No, I guess not."

Mayweather's communicator squawked. "All crews report to Command Central." Reed's voice cut in and out, heavy static making it difficult to understand.

Mayweather looked to Hess. "I wonder if they found something out?" They both looked up as the lights flickered again. "Oh, no." The lights went out. The backup was down. Mayweather leaned down, pulled the flashlight off his discarded EV suit, and thumbed it on.

After a moment, Hess did the same. She looked around and rubbed her arms. "I hope that was Engineering, not whatever is running around the ship."

"Me too. Let's go."


Archer sat down, stress and fatigue weighing him down. "Has everyone reported in, Malcolm?" The room was oppressively dark with the lights out, even though they'd dragged some extra portable lights in to illuminate the area.

Reed turned from the battery-powered console, "Almost. We're waiting for Hess and Mayweather. I've reassigned some crews, but some will be reporting here." He couldn't help but enjoy the play of the half-light in Archer's hair, the sweat that trickled down the side of Archer's neck. He watched a tiny bead of sweat roll down Archer's neck and into his collar, needed to follow the trail with his mouth, his hands…

"Malcolm?" Jon smiled.

"Sir?" Startled, Malcolm quickly brought his eyes to Archer's. He quickly amended, "Jon."

Archer chuckled. "Take a picture." He used the back of his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his brow. The heat had increased in the last half hour. It would be bleeding out of other parts of the ship, making it freezing cold, but here, they were unable to vent the excess heat of the engines. "Trip better get the environmental controls up quickly before we end up cooked."

"Take a…" Reed paused, then realized that he had been caught staring. "Maybe I will." He smiled and wished he had known months ago that Archer returned his feelings and desires. A pity that they had had to wait.

"Why are the life support systems still functioning?" Archer wondered. "Why nothing else?" He stood, swaying as he came to his feet. The stimulant wasn't doing much to combat his fatigue and he debated taking another injection. But he knew he would only crash harder once it wore off.

Reed stepped back to the console and began keying in the command to access life support. "Damn! I can't get into the blasted system." The computer chirped at him as he tried a different set of commands. "Nothing." He paused and turned to face Archer. "Is it possible she accessed the main power system from somewhere else on the ship?"

"Anything is possible, Malcolm." He moved over to the console and keyed in a new command. As expected, the computer chirped its rejection, and Archer shook his head. "I can't get in either. Maybe Trip and his crew are having better luck."

"I sincerely hope so." Reed replied. He tugged the zipper of his uniform down a little bit. It was no help.

Archer followed suit. "Maybe our visitor is making the environment closer to what she prefers." He slipped his arms out of his sleeves and tied them around his waist. "That's better," he sighed.

Reed wrenched his eyes away from the view. Fire raced through his body, centering in his groin, at the whisper of sound. An image of himself on his knees, Archer's fingers tangled in his hair, sighing in pleasure, as he tasted the head of Archer's cock, sprang into his mind.

A sound in the outside corridor brought his mind back into sharp focus. Battle senses honed to a keen edge had him reacting before thinking. Within a split second his phase pistol was aimed at the door, his body shielding Archer's from attack. Fingers curled around the doorway, and Reed heard a grunt before the door slid open. The dim light made it hard to see. Reed waited, finger wrapped around the trigger for whoever it was to step into the room. He didn't have long to wait.

Archer breathed out in relief as Mayweather stepped into the room, followed closely by Hess. "Ensign, Lieutenant," he acknowledged.

Reed stood down, sliding his weapon into its holster. He nodded at the newcomers and stepped to the side just as Tucker's excited voice came across Reed's open communicator.

"Cap'n, I think we've figured out how our visitor accessed the main power grid."

Archer scooped up the communicator. "Go ahead."

"Looks like she hacked into the grid from the Jeffries tube outside Sickbay. The wiring is torn all to hell. How she knew which wires to pull is beyond me."

"How long will it take you to repair it?"

"Well, I've got the components I need in Engineering. I just need someone to bring them to me."

Archer looked over to Mayweather and Hess. "Consider it done." He set the communicator down and greeted both Mayweather and Hess.

"Glad you made it back safely. Did you find anything?"

"There's a ship next to us. Dead in the water, no life signs, no heat," Mayweather replied.

Hess spoke up. "The sensors reported the temperature was the same as the surrounding space. As far as we could tell by visual inspection, that appears to be correct. It's empty and cold."

"Appears?" Archer asked, an eyebrow lifted in question. "Are the sensors on Shuttlepod Two malfunctioning?"

"I don't think so, but it's possible," Hess said doubtfully. "We got sensor readings of *Enterprise* that seemed normal."

"But can we rely on them?" Reed asked pointedly.

Archer sighed, "I don't think so. How do you feel about going back to find out if the ship is actually dead?"

"I'm game, sir," Mayweather replied.

Hess nodded her assent. "Now?"

"I'd like a security team to accompany you to the ship. After all, we don't know how the creature came to be on *Enterprise.* It's possible she came from the dead ship, and if that's true, it's likely she has friends aboard." Reed automatically moved to stand at attention, hoping for once Archer would act on his advice.

"I agree. We don't know what's over there." Archer rubbed his neck and stretched, trying to release a fraction of tension caused by Hess and Mayweather's report, a futile effort at best. "The teams are reporting in, now that the sensor grid is up. We need one team to bring Trip the parts he needs and one to accompany Mayweather and Hess over to the ship."

"Someone should tell Ensign Cutler we're heading back out," Hess suggested. "They were trying to close the bay doors manually when we left."

"Will do," Archer said. As he reached for his communicator, someone stuck her head in the door: a crew was reporting in to Command Central for further instructions.

Two hours later, Reed and Archer were alone once again. They had redeployed the crews: some now reported to Tucker in Engineering, and Tucker had set up his own Command Central in a cargo bay; some were relieved of duty and sent to bed; and a skeleton crew, led by T'Pol, was assigned to staff the Bridge. A crew was assigned to Sato to keep communications running, and another crew was assigned to maintain the tricorder network, which permitted communication between the three command stations. Cutler's crew remained in the shuttle bay, and Hess and Mayweather, along with their security team, took two shuttlepods out to the dead ship. Everything was going well, and there had been no more attacks.

At the next lull, Reed sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He felt cut off from the rest of the ship, helpless to defend her from his position. It wasn't a feeling he was used to, or one he cared to repeat. But it was no use being in the armory—the weapons were offline.

"Malcolm, stop it." Archer said. The way Malcolm was holding himself fairly screamed his emotions for all to see. Archer smiled: his armory officer may have a poker face when threatened, but right now, when his guard was down, his body was easy to read.

Reed turned. "Stop what?"

"Stop worrying. With any luck, Trip will have the power restored soon, and we'll have control back." Archer stood behind Reed and laid his hands on Reed's shoulders. "It bothers you, doesn't it?" He began kneading the tightly knotted muscles. "Not having control."

Reed leaned into the caress, sighing as Archer's fingers shared their warmth with his skin. It felt good, damn good, to let Archer carry some of his weight. He had been solitary far too long. "It seems you've deduced the answer already, Jon."

Archer tilted his head forward, until his lips brushed the very edge of Reed's ear. "I think so." He touched his fingers to Reed's jaw, and with a gentle push he tugged aside Reed's uniform and T-shirt, exposing Reed's neck. His lips traced a path down Reed's neck, nipping lightly.

"Jon?" Reed questioned. "I thought we…" A small moan escaped his lips as Archer found the sensitive spot behind his ear. He moved his head to the side as desire settled deep in his belly, spreading with fervor through his body. Archer's fingers teased back the neck of Reed's uniform, and goosebumps broke out on Reed's skin, even in the heat of the room. He tried once more. "The tricorders need to be monitored." The last word came out on a rush of air as Archer tugged at the zipper of his uniform.

Archer kissed the nape of Reed's neck. "Won't the computer sound an alarm?" he asked as he slid his hand down inside the opening of Reed's uniform, then up and under Reed's T-shirt, sliding across his chest. Archer's body was pressed against Reed's back. "Just five minutes, Malcolm." His hand dipped down and brushed over Reed's waist. "Just five." "Five," Reed murmured in surrender, and he tried to turn in Archer's arms, the need to kiss, to connect with Archer burning like flame.

With gentle pressure, Archer held Reed against him. "Don't move." He smiled against Reed's neck. "I like you like this."

"Like what?" Reed purred as Archer's hand dipped below his waist and swept slowly across his groin and to his hip.

"Turned on, hot for me. I like making you feel, like making you need me." He grazed the tight bulge of Reed's cock with his fingertips and pressed down, moving his hand to cover Reed.

Reed thrust up into Archer's hand, moaning as Archer's hand snuck under the waistband of his blues and wrapped around his cock. He gave in completely. He leaned back against Archer, who supported his weight, an arm wrapped around his waist. "I need you," Reed whispered as Archer began to stroke him, slowly, then faster, picking up the rhythm in response to the wild beat of Reed's heart. Then: "Too soon," Reed gasped as he came over Archer's fingers.

"Not soon enough," Archer teased. "We should have been doing this months ago." He nipped Reed's ear and looked around for something to clean up with. With nothing in sight, he shimmied out of his T-shirt and undershirt and used the undershirt. Satisfied with his job, he tugged Reed's uniform back into place, then pulled him into a tight embrace. "Thank you," he said simply

Reed stepped back and smiled up at Archer. He stroked Archer's bare chest before Archer pulled his T-shirt back on. "Really, it was my pleasure." He would dwell later about the impropriety of this, what rules he had broken. For now, it didn't matter. Archer did. *Enterprise* did.

"Cap'n." Tucker's voice came through the communicator. "I've almost got it repaired. Should only be a few more minutes. It was pretty easy to fix—a case of looks worse than it is. Then the lights'll come back up."

Archer smiled at Reed as he scooped the communicator up, but it had nothing to do with Tucker's news. "That's great, Trip! How much longer?"

"You should start seeing something now. I just replaced the last connector."

CHAPTER 9 (Ragnall)

Archer blinked as the lights came back up, his eyes taking a moment to adjust. Lighting levels on the *Enterprise* could at best be described as gloomy, but after so long in the false twilight of emergency lighting, it was almost as if dawn had broken out. Engineering now looked so normal and everyday that the weirdness of the last hours seemed as insubstantial as a dream.

"Hardly seems real, does it?" Reed noted, nearly echoing his thought. Archer focused on his lieutenant, who was studying the console with a slight frown. In the clear light, Archer could see that his clean-up job had been far from perfect—Reed looked decidedly ruffled.

"Real enough," Archer replied softly. A smile curved Reed's mouth, though he didn't look up. "Good work, Trip." Archer spoke into the communicator from habit, though Tucker's answer came over the com system.

"Thanks, Cap'n. Looks as good as new." Archer thought Tucker sounded a little uncertain. "You okay down there?"

With what sounded suspiciously like a snort, Reed shot Archer a swift, mischievous glance from under his eyelashes. Archer felt a sudden, giddy, and totally inappropriate desire to start giggling.

"We're good."

"Well, I'm finished up here, so I'll join you."

"Okay, Trip—but don't use the lifts. Hoshi?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Can you start coordinating reports? I want every team to check in." Archer moved to stand by Reed, who was still bent over the console. He studied the other man's face fondly, noting that the frown was back. "Much damage to my ship?" he asked with trepidation.

"None," Reed replied succinctly.

"Nothing serious then?" Archer asked, puzzled.

"No." Reed sighed and waved at the readouts. "I mean, if the sensors are working, the *Enterprise* is in perfect condition."

"What about that explosion? The shuttle bay doors?" Reed shrugged, glaring at the console. "Hoshi—have you heard from the shuttle bay? From Travis?"

"Ensign Cutler's in the shuttle bay." There was a momentary pause before Sato continued, "Liz can't explain it…but the doors appear to working fine. They're keeping their EV suits on, just in case. I haven't heard from Travis…"

"Mayweather here, sir." Mayweather's voice broke in almost over Sato's.

"Travis! Are you on the ship?"

There was a pause and a slight sigh from the com unit. "We're still in the shuttle, sir. There is no ship."

"No ship." It was a statement rather than a question.

"One minute it was right in front of us…then it was just gone." Mayweather's voice held a frustrated exasperation that Archer suspected he was going to get used to hearing.

"Intruders?" he asked Reed. Reed was tapping at the console with vicious precision and an intent stare as if he could frighten the machinery into giving up the invaders' secrets.

"No sign of any intruders or unexpected life signs. The sensors must still not be working." Reed turned to Archer. "I'd like to get security teams to start sweeping the ship."

Archer nodded thoughtfully. Tucker and his team would reach them shortly—they could start to check the sensor logs.

"We need to start now, sir," Reed insisted.

Archer felt an involuntary pang as the honorific slipped out. His slight wince must have showed, as Reed's expression softened. He reached out as if to touch Archer, but then let his arm fall to his side. He stood straight, looking up at Archer calmly and expectantly. The message was clear—ranks were back in place.

"Malcolm…" Archer stopped, not sure what to say. He wasn't quite as good as switching personas as Reed—although he was not sure he envied the other man his ability to compartmentalize his emotions. "Get your teams together." Archer strode over to the com unit on the wall. "This is the captain speaking. All hands report to duty stations. All senior officers to the Bridge in one hour." Reed made a slight, protesting sound. "Malcolm, you can trust your people to do the sweep. We need to find some answers. We need to plan a course of action. We need to clean up." Archer gave a depreciating grin, pleased to see an answering half-smile from Reed.

"Well, I wasn't going to mention it, but…"

"I know, I know. See you in an hour, Malcolm."

*** "So, what's just happened? Do we have anything yet?" Archer threw out to his senior team, assembled in the Situation Room.

Tucker repeated what every single report had so far indicated: "There is no damage to the ship. No ripped-up wiring, no damaged doors. Everything is working perfectly."

"According to the sensors," Sato added.

"According to sensors and initial visual inspections," Tucker clarified. Archer thought he looked tired. At least the other senior officers had had a brief chance to wash and change—Tucker had continued in Engineering, insisting on ensuring that life support was up and running.

"And no sign of any intruders?"

"None. And nothing so far from the security sweeps." Reed spoke softly, as if mentally he was searching with them, looking for something physical to contend with.

"Phlox—before, in Sickbay, you mentioned something about synaptic patterns…"

"Indeed." Phlox looked somehow out of place in the Situation Room, although as ever, he appeared cheerful. "All those attacked by the entity displayed unusual patterns—including yourself," Phlox sounded slightly reproachful. "Beta shift were simply exhausted, not particularly damaged."

"So…it looks as if the attack, and what we experienced, wasn't necessarily physical—it was mental. Caused by some sort of biological interference…?" Archer looked at Phlox hopefully.

"To be honest, Captain, I can't see how relatively minor brain activity could cause hallucinations on this sort of scale."

"In any case, what was the purpose of the attack?" Reed—ever the tactician—broke in. "What did they achieve? And, more to the point, sir, why did they stop?"

"Are we sure that they have?" T'Pol sounded almost reflective. "If the entity has the ability to control our perceptions of our surroundings, how do we know it isn't controlling them now?"

If you couldn't trust the reality of what you saw, what you felt, what your computers were telling you…Archer felt as sense of vertigo as if a black pit were opening up in front of him. It was almost too terrible a thought to contemplate.

"You mean we could still be drifting," Tucker sounded disgusted. "No power…freezing to death"—Archer almost felt Reed's reflexive shudder at this thought—"and we wouldn't even know it?" T'Pol merely lifted an eyebrow, as if the answer was so obvious, she didn't need to voice it.

Archer pinched the bridge of his noise, took a deep breath, and attempted to collect his thoughts. He was still feeling a little out of it: evidence of the reality of the entity's attack. If he had been attacked—if he wasn't imagining it all…he shook his head. No, the only choice they had was to accept the reality they were presented with. "Okay. The only physical evidence we have so far is the synaptic disturbance. Phlox—start examining the crew at random—see if everyone displays the same patterns. Try to figure out how that would affect us. T'Pol and Hoshi—I need you to start searching the databases. See if anything matches what we saw—or any similar kind of circumstances. We have to continue to inspect all aspects of the ship and its systems—Trip and Malcolm, that's your department. Travis—I don't want to move the *Enterprise*, just in case we have experienced damage we're not aware of. However, I'd like you to do some long-range scans—maybe you can find some trace of that mystery ship." Archer looked round at his crew, meeting the eyes of each one to try and convey his assurance in their ability. "Report in regularly, even if you haven't found anything. That's all we can do, for the moment. Except—make sure you and your teams get plenty of food and rest. We'll go back to regular shifts."

Archer smiled to indicate that the meeting was over. The senior crew moved out to begin their tasks, but there was none of the usual banter. T'Pol stopped to clarify the initial database searches with Archer, and by the time he was finished with her, Archer noticed that Reed had already left. ***

Malcolm Reed had a strong sensation of déjà vu when he walked into the lounge. Just as before, Captain Archer stood with his back to the door, staring intently out into the stars. Alone.

It had been a frustrating few hours for them all. For Tucker, Reed, and their crews, it had been a day of recalibrating systems, checking and rechecking sensors, and physically inspecting every centimeter of the ship. Phlox reported that all crew so far checked displayed some unusual synaptic activity, but most was minimal and he still wasn't sure of the effects. Sato and T'Pol had collected a bewildering array of vampire and succubi legends—all so vague as to be no real help. And the phantom ship was still…well, phantom.

Archer, as ever, had been the center of each activity—questioning, reassuring, challenging, encouraging, all with an unfailing confidence and optimism that couldn't help but seep through to the rest of his crew. Reed had spoken to him many times, though never alone. He was surprised at how easy it had been to fall into the old routines—it made him feel that maybe the idea of a relationship wasn't completely suicidal. And he'd only wanted to jump the captain twice. A minute. Which was manageable.

"I know it's stupid, but I can't help feeling that somehow I've brought this all on." Although he didn't turn around, Archer must have seen Reed enter.

"Jon…" Reed moved to stand beside his captain, not sure what response to make.

"Here I've been imagining that the Earth has ceased to exist and all along it's been us…floating out here…alone. What if we're the ones who've…and I'm the one who's imagined us all…" Reed heard just the edge of hysteria in Archer's voice. Great, he thought. Just when I'm feeling optimistic, he's depressed.

"It's entirely possible." Archer looked a little startled at Reed's laid-back tone. "As captain, you are our own little god…the center of our universe." Archer gave a snort of amusement at this thought. "The center of mine, anyway." Reed couldn't quite believe that slipped out. Declarations weren't his style, especially when he still wasn't quite sure that this relationship was right; but the smile that lit Archer's face warmed everything. Surely it was enough to stand against the coldness of space and regulations.

Archer opened his arms and pulled Reed into a bear hug, wrapping his arms tightly around the smaller man and rocking him slightly. Reed wasn't sure if the hug was meant the reassure him or the captain, but the gesture was so unexpected that Reed felt a sudden, shameful urge to cry. Instead, he clung to Archer as if he could pour all his strength into the other man.

After a few minutes Archer pulled back a little, still with one arm draped around Reed's waist he moved his right hand to trace the lines of his face, an intent, tender expression in his bright eyes.

"I think we're going to have to leave here." Archer voiced his thoughts. "I'm not happy about risking contamination of another vessel, but I don't see we have a choice if we can't trust our eyes or sensors. We need help."

"Maybe the Vulcans—or someone—could run long-range scans." Reed almost started purring as Archer continued his soft caresses. Archer nodded thoughtfully.

"I don't think we have an option. We're getting nowhere on our own. I do love you." The last was said in the same matter-of-fact tone. Reed opened his mouth to echo the sentiments and be damned to the consequences, but he didn't get a chance as Archer's mouth closed on his. The kiss was long, slow, and sweet.

Finally, Reed pulled away, gasping for breath. "I love you," he managed to get out. There. That wasn't so hard. The universe hadn't imploded. Even if Archer was now looking down at him with a strange, intent, and sad expression, moving his hands to grip the top of Reed's arms.

"We're so lonely. So empty." That wasn't quite the reaction Reed had been hoping for.

"Jon…you…we…we're not alone." Reed wanted to reach up and touch Archer, but the captain's grip on his arms was now quite tight, holding them next to his body. Reed started to feel the familiar crawl of anxiety.

"I don't want to hurt you…but how can I not?"

"You don't have to hurt me, Jon." It was amazing how calm he sounded. He looked up into Archer's eyes with all the love and trust he could manage. Those eyes looked dark and fathomless, impossibly large and full of anguish—the eyes that had faced him before in this same room.

Of course. It made sense now—the alien entity was controlling the captain. He knew now that Archer's love for him couldn't be real. It was just more of this creature's mind games. Part of his soul screamed in agony, while his sense of the ridiculous couldn't help but picture tabloid headlines of the "my lover was a vampire alien" kind.

Reed suddenly relaxed and slumped against the bigger man. As Archer shifted to adjust the weight, Reed pulled down, slipping out of Archer's hold and diving across the floor. Thank his paranoid soul for carrying a phase pistol with him. He was proud of himself: his hand didn't shake as he held a phase pistol to his captain, his love.

"Who are you? What do want? Why are you doing this?" If the last came out as an tormented cry, he could hardly be blamed for that.

"You called to us."

"Called? Who? Me? The captain?"

That was the moment that the lights went out again. Just before the emergency lighting kicked in, Reed heard rather than saw Archer slump to the ground. Some instinct caused Reed to roll as he narrowly missed a claw raking down from behind him.

"Oh, bloody fucking hell." Reed now crouched in the corner of the room, covering it with his phase pistol. By the emergency lighting, he could see Archer on the floor, apparently unconscious. Still standing by the window, as Archer had been, was a female figure as pale as the moon. He could just about make out angular features, long hair—or tentacles or feathers, he couldn't tell. And those huge eyes. By the door was another being—seemingly of the same species, though not so obviously female. This creature was crouched in a fighting stance—its long fingers tipped with wicked claws and its pointed teeth bared in a snarl.

"What do you want?" Reed cried again. Should he shoot? Which one? Last time the creatures seemed to absorb the energy from the phase pistol—which was possibly not a good thing. Both beings ignored him, seemingly intent on each other, a strange communication passing between them.

Reed started to edge across the floor toward Archer, when both alien creatures turned toward him with an eerie synchronicity. The being by the window raised her arms out to him, almost in supplication. Then, with sudden, frightening speed, the other dived toward Archer.

Reed fired. He kept firing, pouring all the phase pistol's energy into the moon-pale being by the window. He had no idea why—other than it seemed to be what she wanted and there was a faint chance that she had a better chance of stopping the attack on Archer than he did. Just as before, the alien seemed to absorb the energy, glowing brighter and becoming more solid. As the feral creature passed her to reach Archer, she caught it in her embrace. The two figures seemed to shift and meld, sliding into each other until no clear form could be discerned, before flicking out of existence as suddenly as the lights in lounge turned back on.

"Cap'n! Malcolm…are you in there?" Tucker's voice came from the other side of the door.

"Commander!" Reed called out as he rushed over to Archer's side. His face was pale gray, although he was breathing normally.

"What the hell has happened here?" Tucker's voice expressed astonishment as he entered the lounge, crossing quickly to the com unit to call Phlox.

"The creatures…attacked again. Didn't you notice the lights?"

"No! Nothing strange happened. Everything's been just as normal." Tucker moved to join Reed by Archer, his expression relaxing as he saw Archer wasn't wounded. "He seems okay. Just drained is all—like the others." Noticing Reed's distress, Tucker reached out and gripped Reed's shoulder. "They were okay."

Reed nodded, distracted. "So you really didn't notice anything?"

"Nope. Well, we just tried to call the captain, but he wasn't answering. Which is why I came looking. T'Pol's found something in the databases."

"The aliens?" Reed didn't feel he could string a coherent sentence together.

"No…nothing on those. The ship—you remember our phantom ship? She found something that matched the description. Seems it's quite famous in these parts. Something along the lines of the Flying Dutchman—ever heard of that?" Reed felt like laughing hysterically. An old naval myth of a ship doomed to wander the seas, forever searching for redemption. How fitting. Vague images flitted in his mind—Wagner, some old film Maddie liked with James Mason, and as ever, visions of an endless, rolling sea. It took a while for him to notice that Phlox was fussing around him.

CHAPTER 10 (Kylie Lee)

"No, the captain," Reed said, pushing at Phlox's hands. "Jonathan. Is he all right?" Tucker blinked, and Reed realized his mistake. He brazened it out, meeting Tucker's eyes directly before turning to Phlox. "There was some kind of altercation, between two aliens." He sketched the scenario quickly. "The captain was—possessed." He batted at Phlox again. "Will you please stop," he said, with as much patience as he could muster.

Phlox loaded a hypospray and held it up, eyebrows raised. Reed sighed and tilted his head to the side. The hypospray hissed. "There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Phlox asked rhetorically. "The captain just needs rest. He'll be fine."

Reed nodded, satisfied. Phlox had covered Archer with a light blanket, and Archer looked asleep. "The two aliens disappeared, and the lights came up. And the ship disappeared?"

Tucker nodded. "Looks that way. Not quite all at the same second, but pretty much, yes."

"How have you been feeling lately, Commander?"

Tucker blinked.

"Depressed? Sad?"

"Well, now that you mention it, yeah," Tucker confessed. "Focusing on that communications project was the only thing that kept me going there for a while, to tell you the truth." He shrugged. "I just figured it was a mood. You know. And the lights being off and all—depressing."

Depression. Sato had mentioned her feelings of cold and fear to him. And hadn't Hess said something about asking Mayweather about Boomer stories of ships with insane crews wandering around? Clearly, her mind was focusing on morbid thoughts as well. And he himself—he remembered the incredible loss when he'd looked into the captain's eyes and realized that he was possessed, that the captain hadn't felt what Reed so desperately wanted him to feel.

"These brain-wave signatures you found," he said to Phlox. Phlox looked alert. "I'm wondering if the alien is simply altering our perceptions. Perhaps the ship has been fine the entire time."

"Some kind of consensual mass hallucination?" Tucker said doubtfully.

"How interesting you should say that," T'Pol said, and Reed turned and looked over his shoulder. He hadn't heard her come in. She looked as calm as ever. She was holding a padd. Now she extended it to Tucker, but when she spoke, she addressed Reed. "I've found some very interesting reports of trouble in this sector. I've accessed a number of stories and logs." She inclined her head at the padd. "For at least a century, likely longer, there have been reports of a ghost ship roaming this sector of space, searching for something, but leaving behind—"

"'—nothing but despair and terror,'" Tucker said, clearly reading from the padd. He paged through eagerly. "Listen to this: a captain's log from—I guess this Vulcan time stamp means sixty years ago. 'The ship's engines will not engage. We are floating dead in space, and we can't communicate with anyone. The crew members grow more fearful. Some say they have seen ghosts. Some say they saw their crewmates possessed. Have we seen wraiths and ghosts? It seems so. It seems they are the last things we will see.'" He turned to T'Pol. "This could be really useful. We need to sort through these data."

"I have anticipated you," T'Pol said. She took the padd back, found the page she was looking for, and returned it to him. "Not all the firsthand accounts report the presence of a ship. About a third do, I'd estimate. But all report possession and despair, as well as systems damage."

"But look at this," Tucker said, and Reed took the padd.

"Salvage teams found the ships undamaged," Reed said in amazement. "The crew all dead, but no reason why. Nothing but logs and surveillance videos showing increasingly erratic crews." He looked up from the padd. "Some die of lack of air and cold, but some ships, the ones they find early, still contain atmosphere and environmental control."

"Perception," Phlox put in suddenly. "The brain, if convinced of a reality, can lead the body to act as if that reality were true. Their ships could be in perfect working order, with environmental controls behaving normally, and they could still die of asphyxiation and exposure."

"Perception," Reed repeated. "That has to be it. Something is altering our perceptions. Something is making us despair. Something is feeding and escalating that feeling. Something malevolent."

He looked over at Archer. Archer's face was smooth in sleep. Reed's heart constricted. He'd been attracted to the captain almost from the beginning. He'd been patient. He'd watched and waited, hoping for a sign, a signal of attraction, some hint that his feelings were returned. When it had happened, it had happened too fast. He couldn't go back and undo it, try again, but slower. The feeling of loss inside his chest—events had all been engineered to cultivate that feeling. It had pushed a declaration too soon, just to take it away.

And now it was too late.

He looked up and met T'Pol's eyes. "I think I have an idea," he said. "I need Travis to pick me up in Shuttlepod Two. When that ship comes back, I need to pay a visit to whoever's on it."

"But the ship isn't really there," Tucker said patiently. "Mass hallucination? Remember?"

"Maybe she doesn't know that," Reed said.


Reed didn't realize he was tapping his leg rhythmically against the shuttlepod's floor until Mayweather's hand clamped on his knee. "Malcolm," Mayweather said, but his voice was gentle.

"Sorry, Travis." He stood up and stuck the EV suit's helmet under an arm. "May I pace?"

"You could pace on over there to the food cabinet and warm me up some lunch," Hess tossed over a shoulder.

Reed set his helmet on the seat he vacated. "All right then, I'll play Chef," he said, trying to make his voice cheerful. "Chicken vindaloo for you, Travis, if I remember right. Lieutenant?"

"I was just kidding," Hess said.

"It keeps my mind off things," Reed said, sorting through food packages.

"Well, then, filet mignon, medium rare."

"No filet mignon. Poached sole?"

"All right."

"Pity. I rather wanted that one."

"Well, you can have it. I don't mind. Is there fried chicken?"

"Lieutenants," Mayweather said, warning in his voice, and Hess and Reed turned to face the viewscreen.

The ship was back.

"How long?" Reed asked, voice tense.

Hess calculated. "It's been eight and a half hours since it disappeared," she reported. "And it was here for—four hours."

"All right, I'm going in." Lunch forgotten, Reed picked up his helmet. "Malcolm, don't. This is stupid." Mayweather blocked Reed's path. He had that stubborn look on his face that Reed knew all too well.

"I just want to have a little chat with the lady," Reed said mildly.

"This is a really stupid idea," Mayweather said. "How do you even know she's there?"

"Well, if she's not there, then Commander Tucker will talk to her on board *Enterprise*," Reed said logically. That was the plan, after all.


"Travis, god damn it, let me go." Reed's control snapped. He'd been played. They'd all been played. He wasn't going to face the reality, not yet: that he'd been manipulated into a declaration of love with Archer for the sole purpose of that thing, that emotion, being taken away. "I'll be fine. I need to do this."

Mayweather had taken a step back at his vehemence. "There's nothing there," he said quietly, his voice intense.

Reed tossed the helmet of his EV suit from one hand to another. "I'm protected. Plenty of oxygen."

There was a long silence as they stared each other down. Hess looked from one to the other, then to the cold ship floating in space. Prudently, she didn't say a word.

Mayweather moved aside slowly, and Reed fit the helmet over his head. "Come and get me in an hour if you have to," he said through the com. His voice sounded loud in his own ears. He sealed the helmet.

Mayweather looked helpless. "The ship could disappear."

"But I'm real," Reed reminded him. "I'll still be there." He put all the reassurance he could into his voice. He would still be there—if they could see him.

A second later, he was in the airlock. When he shut his eyes, he saw Jonathan Archer's face as it had been the night it all began, just a few days ago: old, etched with weariness.

He opened his eyes and hit the door control.


She didn't look at all surprised to see him.

The ship looked substantial to him, although he knew it was all in his mind, an artifact of alien technology he couldn't begin to fathom. The power to manipulate perception to that degree was obscene. And the alien herself? He wondered if she was alive. Perhaps she was the long-stored remnant of the personality of one of the ship's original crew, nothing but energy. She sat at a console frosted with lights emitting cool pastel colors, her long, alien fingers splayed. She had turned to face him.

"There isn't any season here; winter and summer are gone," she said quietly. Reed had the feeling that she was quoting something or someone, but the words weren't familiar to him. "So is spring, and autumn," she continued. "It isn't any particular night or morning; it's space and space. The only thing right now is you and me and this rocket ship." She gestured with those long fingers. "And the only thing I'm positive of is *me*. That's all of it." She looked at him, cocking her head to the side. Her eyes sucked in the light. "Do I exist?" she asked. "Do you? You flicker in and out. You're insubstantial."

"I don't know whether you exist," Reed said truthfully. He didn't. "I came to see you. I came to tell you something. You need to leave us alone." He remembered the legends, only they were facts, substantiated by logs and eyewitnesses and video: entire crews being driven insane, entire crews dying. He understood now that they were driven insane by their own fears, their own nightmares, their own darkness, their minds manipulated by this being.

"I'm protecting you," she said, doubt in her voice. "In the room with the window—you fed me and I fought the dark one. I saved you. You saw me."

Reed shook his head. It was clear to him now. He remembered the evil creature in Command Central, bent over the captain; he remembered the nightmare dividing into two and then becoming one again. "There's just you," he said gently. Darkness and light, beauty and beast, good and evil—the same.

She tossed her head back in negation. "We fight the dark ones," she said, voice surprised.

"Who are you? Who is 'we'?"

"Ah, you see my difficulty," she said, cocking her head. She didn't blink. The effect was eerie. "There is only me. I am the only one left." She leaned forward and almost whispered the next words. "The evil one attacks the ships, and we manipulate the minds of the crew to ward off the evil. We save them."

"You destroy them," Reed told her. She was doing it now. He could see her, see her ship, so she was, even as they spoke, riding someone in the crew, affecting perception. Was it Mayweather, making it appear to him as if Reed's suit had failed? Was it Archer? T'Pol? Tucker? How many had been brushed by her vampire mind?

"Sometimes we have to hurt them to save them. It is our responsibility to save them," she insisted. "The evil ones destroyed our planet. After we had perfected the technology, we took a stand, and they wiped us out, every man and woman and child. Every single one, except for those of us who controlled the ship. I cannot bear for that to happen again. So much loss. So much loss and pain."

"So much loss and pain," Reed agreed, his heart constricting. Jonathan, he thought. He shouldn't feel such loss. The two of them had never really happened. But he remembered vividly—Archer's touch on his body, Archer's strong hands caressing him. "Too soon," he'd said when Archer's hands brought him to climax. Too soon. He took a deep breath. "Tell me where you took your stand."

"At the epicenter of the Forbidden City," she remembered. "I rode above, in this ship. Our power grid was not destroyed, so the ship is still active. They left us that." Her voice was bitter. "Perhaps they did not notice it. Perhaps they did not care. I could see the red spires from low orbit. The city intact, but—all inhabitants dead."

She was insane with grief and loss, and she relived that grief and loss with each ship that came within her perimeter. How long had she been here, haunting her own world? Had there ever been an enemy, or had they simply fought aspects of themselves?

"But you went back to the surface," Reed prompted.

"We went back but could do nothing. There was no hope."

"Where is the ship now?"

"Now? Why, here, in space, of course. Near yours. So we can protect you."

"This ship isn't here. It's all in your mind. Where is your ship, really? Physically?"

She made her gesture of negation again.

"Where is its fuel?" Reed tried.

"The grid is below the Forbidden City. I told you that." Her voice sounded weary. "I must go now."

"No, wait—"

Too late. There was a shift, a blur, and Reed shut his eyes, feeling nauseated. When he opened them, he was hanging in space. He could see *Enterprise* and Shuttlepod Two. His breathing sounded loud in his ears. He was alone with the stars. It was utterly dark, utterly quiet.

Reed keyed on the com. "Lieutenant Hess? Ensign Mayweather?" he asked. "Can you hear me?"

Hess's voice came through immediately. "Lieutenant! Are you all right? We saw—"

He cut her off. "I'm fine. I have some important information. Can you come get me?"

He remembered the dead city, the dead city on the world that had, even then, even before they knew, sent both he and Archer into despair. They saw the destroyed world and they wondered whether Earth had been destroyed, leaving colonists and the crew of the *Enterprise* and other ships to rebuild the human race. He recognized that mood now as the first signs of the alien's mind-control games. He remembered the artifacts that spoke of a technologically advanced and cultured race, one that resembled them physically, one alive to beauty. And he remembered the distinctive red spires of a large city. He could make the nightmares go away. A single torpedo ought to do it, he thought as Shuttlepod Two hove closer.

Too soon.

CHAPTER 11 (Leah)

Reed had liked graveyards, once.

But then, this wasn't a graveyard. This was Armageddon.

Sato walked beside him, silent and subdued. She had her arms crossed over her stomach, hands cupping her elbows. It was cold, and the wind had the grit of ashes.

They walked down an enormous, open-air corridor. It was almost a trench, except that the uniform gray of the walls on either side rose to a gentle curve far overhead. Reed supposed there were vivid colors in the city once; they were constantly passing things that looked like doorways or windows, perceptible only by the slight indentations along the outlines. All signs that this had been a place people had worked, had lived—but now there was nothing but gray-on-gray under the overcast sky.

It was…depressing. The thought almost made Reed smile.

"I'm still not readin' any power signatures," Tucker said beside him. The engineer's voice was hushed, almost whispering; the place seemed to demand that: a kind of reverence. He glanced upward, looking back and forth between the giant red towers, so tall their spires disappeared into the low-lying clouds. "If these things are actually workin', I've got no clue how."

"They're still working," Reed said with finality.

Tucker hesitated, then turned back to his scanning, frowning down at the small piece of equipment. "Even if they are," he said, "I don't think we'll find much more than ashes."

"I think I've found something, Commander," Phlox said. The doctor's voice was also uncharacteristically quiet.

When Reed, Sato, and Tucker caught up to him, they found Phlox kneeling on the ground. He was running his medical scanner over a mummified corpse. He looked up at Reed, unsmiling. "It looks like the creature in Engineering, doesn't it?" he asked. "The one you said ate the charger for the flashlight."

The one who had almost killed Archer, that first time, but Reed didn't say that aloud. "Energy eater," he said, taking in the large, ash-filled pits where the eyes had been, the strong teeth, the vicious claws. Chargers create electric current when attached to conductors, Reed remembered; the human brain functions through electrical energy.

That obscene, vaguely human shape, standing over Archer. His neck under her claws. "You fed me," the woman on the ghost ship had told him, "you fed me and I fought the dark one. I saved you."

Energy eaters. Both of them? "I thought that this was…was just another aspect of her," Reed said, looking at Phlox. "Light and dark together—part of her madness."

Phlox gave him an almost tentative smile. "Perhaps this is merely a different form of the same species?" He studied the ash-gray face again, the snarling, dead mouth. "I would have to find one that resembled the description you gave, compare scans to know for sure."

Reed nodded, then looked up to where Sato was standing, her back to the rest of them. He had to squint against the wind.

The ensign took a step forward, stopped. "They're all over the place," she said. She turned so she could look back at them. Her eyes were wide with horror. "Thousands. Thousands of bodies." So they were in a graveyard, after all.

"Dark ones," Tucker repeated, looking down at the sharp-boned skull. "Guess it fits."

Reed went to Sato, where she was standing close enough to the massive wall to touch it. Neither of them said anything.

He had never seen so many bodies. All mummified, all with the enormous ocular pits that had once held coal-black, unblinking eyes. They stretched out along the trench, as far as he could see into the distance, looking like stone. He scanned the bodies, looking at their faces, as though he would see a face he recognized—the face of a friend, perhaps. Instead, he saw bodies that were thinner, more human in appearance, with long fingers instead of claws.

"Light ones," he said aloud, pointing. There were fewer of this body type. "They must have fought their last battle here." And died, the woman had said. Every single one.

Phlox came up, kneeled again as he pulled out his medical scanner. He began scanning the body Reed had pointed at. "It shouldn't take me more than a few minutes to compare the two scans, Lieutenant," he said. He sounded more genial now, back in his element of research and observation.

"Thank you," Reed said. He continued forward, stepping over the body's dried-husk legs. Like Sato, he was close to the wall but didn't touch it. Maybe he should have just shot a torpedo from orbit. Maybe it would have been kinder.

"Malcolm," Sato said, "I hear something."

Reed came up beside her, where she had turned her head, leaning in closer to the wall. She hesitated, then put he hands on the stone, leaning in further. "I can't tell if it's behind this wall, or further down," she said to him, "but there's definitely a noise—mechanical. Like a hum."

Reed looked at the wall, cocked his head to listen as well. He could hear nothing, but the tiniest speck of light caught his eye.

"Commander," he called back to Tucker, not taking his eyes from the light for fear he wouldn't be able to find it again. He pulled his uniform sleeve over his hand and brushed the light, dislodging who knew how many decades' worth of dust and ashes. The light brightened, becoming a square of purple, incongruous against the uniform gray of everything else around it. Reed continued rubbing at the wall, swiping off layers of dirt in large streaks. Sato joined him, crouching to clear off the lower part of what was rapidly appearing to be some kind of hatchway. It was far larger than the doorway outlines they had already passed.

Tucker came up and ran his scanner over the light, shook his head. "It's useless, Lieutenant," he said. "I can't tell you a damned thing." He thumbed the instrument off and shoved it into his breast pocket, yanking the zipper closed.

"Well," Reed turned toward him, giving Tucker a half-smile, "I suppose then the only option is to do what you always do."

"What?" Tucker said. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Reed ignored him as he ran his fingers along the seam between the hatchway and the surrounding stone, testing for a space large enough for his hands. Then he stopped, remembering the lounge doors when all this started. Instead, he ran his fingers around the square of light, scooping out handfuls of ash. His fingers hit something solid, and he smiled: a lever.

The hatch was stiff with disuse, moving only in sluggish fits and starts as the three of them pulled. When the hatch had finally been swung a meter away from the wall, they could see remnants of scorching along the edge. "Looks like the lock was shorted out," Tucker said. He looked at Reed. "Whoever wanted to get in probably did."

Reed nodded. "I would imagine so." He pulled a small flashlight from his leg pocket, sliding his phase pistol out of its holster with his free hand. He turned on the flashlight and shone the beam cautiously into the darkness the open hatch had revealed, holding his gun at the ready. He could see more lights, blinking weakly at various points along the walls and ceiling. Here the floor was littered with skeletons: long, slender bones and skulls with huge eye sockets. It smelled dank and old. "Let Phlox know where we're going," Reed said to Sato.

Sato nodded and turned. "Check back," she said, her voice intense.

"Will do, Ensign." Reed gave her a reassuring smile as he slipped through the space they'd created, Tucker following.

A few meters into the corridor, Reed shut off and repocketed the flashlight; there was ample illumination from the small, square lights set in the ceiling. They glowed in soft, almost pastel colors, apparently undimmed by decay or time. Reed was reminded of the ghost ship again, the incongruously pretty console where the woman had been working. He lowered his pistol, though he didn't put it back in his holster.

Tucker gave a low whistle, looking around as he walked, occasionally stumbling over a jutting bone. "You were right about the power—I can't believe it'd still be workin' after all this time."

"Indeed," Reed said quietly, barely listening. He was thinking about the captain, about black and depthless eyes. All that hope, fear, joy. And all for nothing.

The corridor gradually widened as they walked, the lights becoming more numerous and brighter, the pastels shading into harder-edged whiteness, until it was like being outside under full sun. They started to hear the hum Sato, with her supersensitive hearing, had described. It grew slowly louder. When they finally reached the end they were in a chamber easily as large as *Enterprise*, stretching for kilometers in every direction. The hum was quiet but constant; Reed could feel it vibrating in his bones and teeth.

The chamber was lined with upright glass coffins set side by side—thousands of them, maybe tens of thousands. They stretched as far as Reed could see. The floor was carpeted with bones.

"What the hell is this?" Tucker asked.

Reed shook his head, not knowing how to answer him. He walked to the nearest coffin, looked at the corpse inside. It was a Light One, with the same elongated limbs.

She—or he—was quite dead. Decades' worth of rot had silted at the bottom of the cylinder. The pale flesh had darkened with decay. The corpse's teeth were bared in a grimace, and the head was set at an inhuman angle. Reed touched his fingertips to the glasslike material, wondering what it actually was. It felt warm to the touch, even though the chamber was slightly chill. There was a small bank of lights attached to the cylinder, in the same cool pastel colors he had come to associate with these people. Two of them were off; the third glowed with a serene light blue. The last light was flashing, a glaring deep green.

"They're all dead too," Tucker said from another part of the chamber. "D'you think this was some kind of mausoleum?"

"I don't know," Reed said. He was walking down the line of cylinders, glancing into each one. They were all the same, no matter how far up he looked: dead, with the same lights glowing or flashing. "Maybe this was actually some kind of cryogenics chamber—a way to preserve the population?"

"Maybe," Tucker shrugged. "Sure didn't work."

"No…" Reed continued walking. "I wonder if the green was some kind of warning light." He accidentally kicked aside a skull as he walked, resisted the urge to apologize. "Whatever it was, I think the enemy got in here and sabotaged it, made sure—" He stopped dead.

"Malcolm?" Tucker asked, "you okay?"

"She's here," Reed breathed. She wasn't: he was looking right at her. The woman from the ghost ship. All the bodies of the Light Ones looked identical, but it was she, he was sure of it. He remembered the angles of her face, that impossibly pale skin, the hopelessness of her eyes.

After all, he had just been speaking to her a few hours ago.

He touched the clear material over her face, shielding the smooth, living skin and her eyes. She didn't move. All the lights on her cylinder glowed softly, except the green. The green light was off.

"She's still alive." She was, though still as death, surrounded by the dead. There were what looked like metal tubing apparently attached at several points on her body, opaque tubes feeding into the flesh just below her slender neck.

"Sweet Jesus," Tucker murmured, coming up beside him. He looked at Reed, eyes wide. "An' you *spoke* to her? In that ship?" He ghosted his own fingers over the clear substance. "How could she do that if she was here?" He shook his head in confusion. "How in hell could she still be alive?"

"This is her ship," Reed said, looking around. "This was her crew." It was a ship, a crew that never set foot off the planet, their minds free to range light-years out. He looked back at Tucker, hearing the touch of awe in his own voice. "What we saw, in space—they *made* that. With their minds." Or she did, alone, later. "I think," he said quietly, his eyes fixed again on the alien's empty ones, "I think this all is some kind of weapon."

"What?" Tucker asked. "You mean, they're all part of some kind of power grid?"

"Maybe." Reed nodded. "Though I think these would have been volunteers. When I spoke to her, she said she manipulated starship crews' minds, trying to save them. I think that's how her people fought."

"Hooked up all together," Tucker sounded incredulous, "as some giant mind weapon?"

"Maybe," Reed said, "it's impossible to tell. Maybe they all worked individually. Maybe these cylinders things really *are* cryogenic chambers—preserving the bodies, freeing them to fight with their minds."

Tucker gave a small shudder. "That's horrible."

"It's simply different, Commander," Reed shrugged. He still hadn't taken his eyes off the alien's. There was no sign of recognition there, no sign of any kind of awareness. "I'm sure it made as much sense to them as guns do to us." He was very aware of the phase pistol in his hand, wondered suddenly what the alien woman would make of it. She would probably think it was dangerously imprecise, barbarian.

"And she said she was the only one left, out of her entire race?" Tucker asked. Reed nodded. "Jesus," the commander said again quietly. He was also looking at the woman's face now. "And bein' stuck here, all this time; can't move, can't do anything, can't even die. And then, knowin' that everyone you ever cared about—everyone on your entire friggin' *planet*—is dead…" He sucked in a breath. "I would have gone nuts."

"She did," Reed said simply.

Tucker turned to Reed, his blue eyes intense. "We can't let this continue."

"I don't intend to," Reed said. "Please stand back, Commander." He brought up his phase pistol, aimed at the small control panel, fired. The weapon was set to kill.

There was a flash where the lights had been, and the acrid scent of burning. The green light began to blink on and off in warning.


It had been good to get back to normalcy, to routine.

The captain was still in Sickbay when the away team returned; he was slowly overcoming the effects of extreme exhaustion. T'Pol had ordered Mayweather to take them out of orbit immediately; to Reed, it had felt like a weight had lifted from the crew as they moved away, the planet disappearing like a bad dream behind them.

That had been two days ago. All ship's functions and sensors had been checked and rechecked with Tucker's typical diligence; Reed and his teams had combed through every part of the ship, looking for intruders or damage. There had been nothing; the ship's internal records indicated there had been no break in normal function at all. In some ways, it was like nothing had ever happened.

If only he could believe that. If only it were true.

He was standing in one of the ship's lounges again, this one near Engineering. A giggling Sato and Cutler had chased him out of the one on the upper decks, but in truth he'd been just as happy to come here. It was smaller, more private, less likely anyone else would join him. And tonight he only wanted to be alone.

Well, he didn't, not really. But the only person he wanted to be with didn't want to be with him. The Jonathan Archer who had flirted with him, kissed him, who had made such gentle and wickedly improper love to him—that man hadn't been real, had never been real. He had been created by a grief-crazed madwoman and Reed's own pathetic desires. He had been in love with a ghost, dreaming that his love was returned.

In that way, he supposed, it really was as if nothing had ever happened. Just a dream: over too soon, fragile and ultimately empty.

He was glad the captain wouldn't remember what had happened while he'd been possessed. Reed wasn't sure he could have borne that.

The door slid open behind him. He didn't turn, hoping whomever it was would see the room was occupied and leave. He wasn't sure he could manage anything close to civil conversation tonight.

"Lieutenant," the voice was warm, gently humorous. "We've got to stop meeting like this."

"Sir," Malcolm said quietly. He swallowed. It felt like he could barely breathe.

Archer came up beside him, stood with his arms crossed, looking out at the stars. "I ran into Hoshi and Liz in the hallway," he said. "They told me I could find you here." He turned his head so Reed could see his face, the smile in his green, green eyes. "The upper lounge is free now, if you want."

"This is fine, sir," Reed said stiffly. He didn't want to be rude, but he couldn't, wasn't capable of doing this tonight, pretending not to care, to want. He swallowed again, turned his face away. "If you don't mind, captain," he forced himself to speak, "I would really prefer to be alone."

He felt Archer's hand on his shoulder and he nearly gasped, his heart clenching in reaction. It was all he could do not to shrug the captain off, to turn and run.

"Malcolm," Archer said softly, "I am so terribly sorry."

"It's all right," Reed said automatically, "you weren't—" he stopped, looked at his captain wildly. Archer's eyes were all the assurance he needed: the man knew what had happened. He *knew*.

"Oh god," Reed whispered. He stepped back, hands clenched at his sides. He could feel his face heating like fire, cold sweat on his back. "Oh, god." He wanted to vomit. It felt like he'd just been dropped into hell. His training saved him, letting him bury the humiliation under protocol. He stood at attention, feeling his expression go blank. "The apology is mine to make, sir," he said as crisply as he could manage. "I took advantage of you when you were under the influence of a malevolent entity; I will of course accept all and any forms of discipline—"

"Malcolm! Malcolm, stop!"

Reed shut up instantly. He stood completely still, waiting.

"None of this is your fault, Malcolm," Archer said, "I took advantage of *you*." He stopped, shook his head. He turned back to the window, as if unable to look Reed in the eye. "I knew what was happening, Malcolm," he continued, "at least in bits and pieces. But it was enough. I—I was aware of what I was doing to you." He paused, ran his hand over his face. "I should have stopped it," he said quietly, "I should have tried. It was wrong to do that to you." He closed his eyes as if he was in pain. "I just hope you can forgive me."

Reed made himself breathe. Hope was fluttering in his chest like pain. "Why didn't you stop?" His voice was barely louder than a whisper.

Archer still had his eyes closed, but his expression became stricken. He touched his forehead to the window. "Please, Malcolm," he said. "Please don't ask me that."

"I have to know," Reed said. "Please, Jon, you have to tell me."

Archer's green eyes flashed open at the sound of his name. He looked at Reed again. "I didn't stop—" He stopped, took a deep breath. "I didn't stop it because I didn't want to."

The hope leaped like a fire. Reed's mouth curved up in the barest of smiles. "Does that mean…does that mean you *wanted* it?" he asked. He reached out tentatively, realized his hand was shaking. He rested it against Archer's cheek. The rasp of his beard was like electricity against his hand. "Does that mean you want it as much as I do?"

At Reed's touch, Archer's eyes went wide, then his face relaxed into an amazed, glorious smile. "Oh god, Malcolm," he said, voice husky, "you don't know how much." He reached up and took Reed's hand in his own, gently pulling it away from his face. Then he leaned in and kissed him.

The kiss started out chaste, tentative, but the instant Reed responded, Archer crushed his mouth against his, sliding his tongue between Reed's open lips. Reed responded with equal passion, growling with pleasure. One hand was still clutched possessively in Archer's, so he slid the other up the captain's arm so he could twine his fingers into his hair, pulling Archer even closer to him. When the kiss finally broke, they were both panting. Archer took him by the shoulders, pulling him into a fierce embrace. It felt so similar to the last time—when the world had come crashing down around him—that Reed froze.

"It's okay, Malcolm," Archer whispered, breath warm on Reed's ear. "It's okay. It's me."

"Thank you," Reed whispered back. He brought his own arms up, feeling the solid, protective warmth of the other man's back.

"I'm so sorry Malcolm," Archer said again, "I'm so sorry that creature made you doubt me."

"It's all right, Jon," Reed said, "it's all right. That wasn't real. This is. That's all that matters."

He held Archer more tightly, reveling in the other man's strength. Instead of despair, he now felt hope. Where there had been a horizon full of ashes, the blasted remains of a dead dream, there was a vista of possibility.

"Malcolm," Archer said, hand stroking his hair, descending to cup his neck. "Oh, Malcolm."

His mouth lowered again, and Reed could not help but smile with joy. Because he knew—they both knew. This was right. This was real.

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