Diversions & Digressions | fanfiction by mara

Herculean Labors

Herculean Labors

by Mara

Summary: “Humans and Elkarans and other races from Aoan to Zyzzyx, all united against the forces of nature.”

NOTES: Thanks for the beta go to the mighty Captain Average, the superhero who
edits…but Cap, I’m taking advice from *Crais*? That worries me. This is the
newly revised version, as I submitted it to the Strange New Worlds contest in
2002. (Obviously, it didn’t win ::grin::.)

//thoughts//

* * *

Zero hour:

The bridge was quiet near the end of alpha shift, and Hoshi was bored. There was
always plenty of work to do on the Not-So-Universal Translator, but she wasn’t
in the mood, so she fidgeted in her seat, making it creak almost inaudibly. A
little edgy, a touch restless, she looked around for a distraction.

T’Pol’s head was bent over her scanner, conducting research on a binary star
they’d recently passed. She’s not much for small talk in any case, Hoshi
thought.

The helmsman’s chair was empty, and Hoshi could hear Travis banging around under
his console conducting routine diagnostics. Malcolm had given up his seat on
the bridge and disappeared into the bowels of engineering to test a technique
that might extend the life of various components of the torpedo tubes. //Well,
I’m glad someone is having a good time. I’m just the ship’s “miracle ear” and
there’s nobody to listen to.//

She had just resigned herself to convincing the translator to stop mixing up
Vulcan food words with Nausicaan swear words, when an incoming message grabbed
her attention. She looked up as Captain Archer walked in from his ready room.

“Sir,” Hoshi called. “I’ve got a message.” She listened while cleaning up the
white noise.

Archer looked up with interest from the padd he’d been perusing, and Travis
emerged from under his console. “Put it on,” Archer said.

The translator fizzled for a few seconds before admitting it recognized the
language. “…planetary emergency. We ask the assistance of anyone able to help.
Please, we need supplies, equipment, people…”

Hoshi worked with the translator as the plea continued. “The message comes from
a planet called Elkara,” she said.

“Can we reply?” Archer asked.

Hoshi shook her head slowly. “It’s a recording, not live, and it’s been relayed
a number of times. We could contact them if we really needed to, but who knows
what kind of equipment they’re working with in an emergency.”

“Travis, let’s go see what we can do to help. Warp 4.”

* * *

Plus one hour:

Senior staff from all over the ship gathered around a table to discuss the
situation. Hoshi sat next to Trip and watched his eyes widen as he scanned the
description of the chaos on Elkara. He whistled softly, the sound sliding up and
down the scale and making her shiver.

“The cause is currently unknown,” T’Pol said, “but the planet is experiencing
severe rainstorms, which have caused flooding and mudslides on nearly every
continent.” She displayed a rotating view of the planet, pointing out the
population centers.

Archer frowned as he read over the report. “Suggestions? What can we do to help?
We certainly don’t carry enough supplies to make a dent in their needs.”

“We can move rescuers in shuttlepods,” Malcolm said immediately. “They’re too
small to transport many refugees, but we can get people and supplies where
they’re needed.”

Trip’s voice was uncommonly somber. “The transporters can move supplies and
equipment anywhere. At least some of the folks who are stranded won’t starve
before somebody gets to them. We can also repair equipment that’s been damaged.”

“We have a number of crewmembers whose basic first aid training might be
helpful,” Phlox said. “Most of the immediate injuries will be simple fractures
and wounds.”

Archer nodded. “Good start. Let me know if you come up with any other ideas.
We’ll be there in approximately eight hours. Dismissed.”

* * *

Plus nine hours:

The Enterprise nudged its way into orbit around the planet, joining a
bewildering variety of small ships, shaped in ways most of the crew had never
imagined could be used for a starship. Travis was pretending to be blasé, but
even he goggled at a few of them.

“They appear to be mainly commercial vessels,” T’Pol said, head bent over her
scanner. “Traveling merchants.”

“Hail the planet,” Archer said, “Let’s see if we can find someone in charge.”
Behind Hoshi was the small silence of a bridge full of people holding their
breath in anticipation of first contact. “There are scattered signals all over,”
she said, eyes closed to concentrate on the sounds, “it sounds like it’s pretty
chaotic.”

She could feel everyone’s eyes on her and she tried not to squirm. //Ah, there,
that sounds official.// Moments later, she’d tracked the signal back to its
source. “I think I have a government facility, sir. I might even have visual.”

“Put ’em on.”

The screen switched from a view of the planet to a cramped room filled with
rapidly moving Elkarans, vaguely humanoid, maroon skin, and a bit broader body
than human-normal. According to the information in the Vulcan database, the face
looking out at the bridge crew was male (the frills on the cheek were the clue).

The Captain stood behind Travis and said, “My name is Jonathan Archer, Captain
of the Enterprise, from the planet Earth. What can we do to help?”

Hoshi listened with half an ear as the Captain described their capabilities, and
with the other half of her attention she listened to the untranslated sounds of
the dominant Elkaran language, a melodious sound to human ears, almost a trill
with the occasional click and pop.

“We would also appreciate the use of your comm system,” the government official
said. “Our satellites are still in orbit, but many of the land-based receivers
are flooded or filled with mud, and the other ships that have arrived are very
antiquated.”

Archer looked at Hoshi. She nodded, with more confidence than she felt, and
Archer turned back to the screen. “I think we can help. I’ll let you talk
directly to my comm officer and make arrangements.”

The official immediately said, “I’ll pass you on to the head of the recovery
efforts. And Enterprise, we thank you.”

“Glad to help,” Archer said, walking toward his ready room.

Hoshi switched the transmission from the main screen to her console, and another
weary-looking Elkaran, female this time, replaced the official.

“Tell me what you can do,” she said.

Twenty minutes later, they had hashed out a rough plan and the Elkaran rubbed
her face. “Well, that will help enormously. There’s one other thing we need,
though. We need you to search for signals from survivors whose comm systems are
too far from a working receiver. Can you do that?”

“I think so.” Hoshi wrinkled her nose for a second. “I can do a series of
overlapping scans for…well, you don’t care how I do it. Yes, I think I can
help.”

“Good.” The Elkaran sagged in relief. “We’re overloaded helping folks whose
locations we know.”

Hoshi was already working out a plan when she signed off, and she made her way
immediately to the Captain’s ready room, where he was organizing crew to go down
to the planet.

He looked up when she came in. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, Captain, but I think I’m going to need some help. They not only need
messages relayed, but also someone to organize rescuers, and search for
survivors’ distress calls. I can’t do it all myself.”

“What about me?” Archer asked, “I was beginning to feel like I was superfluous
once we got this ball rolling.” He grinned briefly. “And my security officer has
forbidden me to set foot on the planet.”

She grinned back. “Let’s get tracking.”

The task was complicated and never-ending. Archer took over T’Pol’s station, and
Hoshi could hear him muttering quietly to himself as he tried to make sense of
the chaos. She began the monumental task of patching communications through
Enterprise’s systems, and setting up a search pattern for survivors.

* * *

Plus 21 hours:

Hoshi’s enthusiasm wore off just about the time the last of her adrenaline
disappeared: twelve hours after reaching Elkara. Twelve hours of trying to track
transports, food, medicine, heavy equipment, and thousands of rescuers. Twelve
hours of watching from a distance, as rain continued to fall and turned into
hurricanes, further swamping overloaded land and endangering even those who’d
made it to high ground.

Hoshi’s heart bled for the Elkarans. While tracking a load of emergency rations
gone astray, she spoke to one of the local doctors, who stood in front of what
looked like rows of garbage bags. Moments later, she realized they were bodies–
she’d interrupted the doctor in a makeshift morgue.

Hordes of dispirited refugees marched across her screen, tiny figures arrayed
behind nameless Elkarans working on the relief efforts. Refugees desperately
seeking someplace to perch and wait out the horrendous disaster that had
overtaken their planet.

Every time the data passing through Hoshi’s systems threatened to become sterile
numbers, she received a call from someone on the planet, huddled under a
blanket, drinking the local equivalent of coffee. Behind them, crying children,
divided families: Elkarans who had lost everything and had nowhere to go.

And each call brought its own soundtrack to Hoshi’s sensitive ears: the steady
(almost painful) thrum of rain; the squelch of feet moving through mud; the
piercing whistle of wind sweeping across tent fabric; the panicked overtones of
speech in the midst of chaos.

* * *

Plus 33 hours:

The artificial divisions of shiftwork disappeared in the face of the
overwhelming needs of the planet below them, and the crew worked until they
dropped, ate when someone put food in front of them, and bathed occasionally.

Archer had stripped the ship’s crew down to a bare minimum, leaving only enough
people on board to run the transporters, keep essential systems on-line, and
make sure the crew had something to eat. Hoshi felt as if she hadn’t slept in
months, although she had a vague memory of someone putting a sandwich in front
of her hours ago. It was gone now, so she assumed she’d eaten it.

An urgent call: “We’ve got parents looking for their children,” an Elkaran woman
said. “They were evacuated several hours ago, from a school in the north of the
Rama sector. They’re frantic.”

That was no understatement. Wailing in the background that made her teeth hurt
could only be the universal sound of a parent who has lost their child. Hoshi
hurriedly scanned the files looking for children, and sent several records.

“Is it one of these groups?” she asked, crossing her fingers for good luck for
the first time since she was eight.

The worker scanned the list, then stopped. “Yes! There they are!” She turned to
face a group that stood outside the range of her transmitter. “They were taken
to the college at Shko. They’re all safe!”

Momentarily forgotten, Hoshi put her hand to her mouth, overcome by a sudden
surge of joy, a feeling of fellowship for a group of aliens she’d never met.
The worker finally turned back to the screen, an expression that had to be joy
spread across her face. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Hoshi said. She sat for a few moments, just breathing and
being. A light blinked, and she answered the call of her console, still
distracted. It was Trip calling from Engineering, but she had to ask him to
repeat himself.

“Hoshi?” Trip asked. “When did you sleep last?” He sounded amused, almost
chuckling at her confusion.

“I don’t remember exactly,” she said, “how about you?”

“Well, Rostov kicked me out of the transporter room for a while, so I’ve had a
few hours. But you sound beat. Why don’t I send someone up to relieve you?”

“No, not yet, I’ve finally got the survivor search pattern running, but it needs
refinement. I’m getting some very strange echoes and interference, and I can’t
figure out the cause.”

The Captain spoke up. “Trip’s right. Go get some sleep. There’s more work to do
and you won’t be any use to anyone if you don’t get some rest. Whoever takes
over can continue the search. Sleep. That’s an order, Ensign.”

“Yes, sir. As long as you promise to do the same soon.”

He nodded and stretched. “Promise. Now get going.”

She started to get out of her seat, then looked back at her console in
confusion. “Trip? You didn’t contact the bridge to tell me to go sleep, did
you?”

There was a long pause, and she could imagine him staring at the comm system,
then he laughed, “No, I didn’t. Maybe I’m not as awake as I thought.”

* * *

She stumbled into her quarters and slumped down on the bed without bothering to
take off more than her boots. Getting undressed takes too much energy, she
thought.

Sleep came quickly–almost as soon as she’d pulled up her covers. With sleep
came dreams; a mish-mash of things she’d seen and heard, with that soupçon of
unreality that is the hallmark of exhausted dreaming.

The bridge: almost entirely normal…except for the yellow-green slug that
perched in Travis’ chair. The slug informed her that it had set a course for
Vulcan, because they needed Enterprise’s help.

Hoshi rolled over, murmuring, “They’re asking for help from us?”

The scene changed to the shuttlebay, where she was waving at a shuttle filled
with her crewmates, going down to a planet entirely made of water. Trip smiled
at her, saying “Don’t worry, we’ll be back soon.”

T’Pol nodded solemnly and said in Vulcan, “I have never visited a world with so
much water.”

The shuttle left and she found herself walking the empty corridors of the
Enterprise, up and down, around each deck, looking for something. Whatever it
was, it eluded her.

Her legs moved in her sleep, shifting the covers into a tangled mess.

The emptiness of the ship scared her and she broke into a run, tears falling.
She was on the bridge, at her station. The console was beeping, but she couldn’t
figure out how to turn it off, she couldn’t remember how to work any of the
controls. The beeping got louder and louder until she had to cover her ears with
her hands to block it out. What was the sound? It sounded like…like…

Her alarm. Hoshi rolled over and turned off the alarm, stretching slowly. Her
mind was still half-caught in her dream world, and she lay in the bed for a few
more moments, trying to center herself back in reality.

//Whew, my subconscious is really working overtime,// she thought.

* * *

Plus 39 hours:

The sleep helped, although not as much as Hoshi had hoped, but after grabbing
some coffee and fruit from the mess hall, she made it back to the bridge in
reasonably good order. Happily, the Captain seemed to have kept his promise, as
Lynn O’Malley from engineering manned the science station. Apparently she was
also handling communications, because she practically jumped for joy when Hoshi
appeared.

She was soon back in the swing of things, manipulating data and keeping the comm
system running smoothly, even working on the survivor search in stolen moments
of time.

When that search finally succeeded, it took Hoshi a few moments to realize she’d
found a constructed signal. It wasn’t even a voice, just a repeating series,
maybe an SOS in an alien Morse code. She bent all of her renewed energies on
finding the origin of that signal.

“Got it!” she yelled. From behind her, she heard a clatter as Lynn knocked padds
off the console. Hoshi turned around, blushing. “Oops, sorry.”

“That’s okay, I’m glad something good has happened,” Lynn said, retrieving the
padds from the floor. “What’s up?”

“I think I’ve tracked a new distress call back to its location.” She quickly
transferred the narrowed-down coordinates to the science station. “Can we get
them some help?”

Lynn frowned in concentration. “Find out if Team 10 is back at their base yet.
They’re closest.”

Hoshi bent to her task, spirits raised.

* * *

* * *

Plus 43 hours:

Malcolm’s face was a welcome sight on her screen, even if he looked like he’d
gone over Niagara Falls in a barrel: wet, exhausted, with a large purpling
bruise on his forehead.

“What happened?” she asked.

He looked surprised for a moment, then gingerly touched the bruise. “Watch out
for falling rocks,” he said with a tired grin. “It looks a great deal worse than
it is.”

“I hope so. What’s up?”

“We’ve had to pull everyone out of the Kisho sector,” he said. “Even our
shuttles can’t work in the hurricane that’s brewing there. I’m uploading a list
of places we didn’t reach that still need supplies.”

“Okay.” She pulled up the Captain’s list. “I’ll pass that on to the transporter
room, and send down your next assignment. How many vessels have you got?”

“Shuttlepod two, five of the Elkaran rescue ships, and three of those little
pods from the Aoan ship.” Malcolm reeled off the list. “When this is over, tell
Trip he needs to talk to their engineer, those pods are quite powerful for their
size.”

Hoshi smiled. “I’ll tell him, it’ll give him something to look forward to.”

“I thought so.”

She’d never seen Malcolm so wiped out, he looked like he was going to keel over
any moment. “Are you okay? You look like you could use some sleep.”

“I will rest. In a minute. It’s just…” He looked directly into the pickup, and
seemed to be forcing the words out of his mouth. “There was a family. Three
children, parents, I could see them when we managed to drop some supplies from
the air.”

Hoshi held her breath.

His voice was flat–almost atonal–and his expression unchanging. “I saw the
wave wash right over them. It came out of nowhere while they were dragging the
supplies in. There wasn’t anything we could do. If we’d taken the pod in, we’d
have been swamped. We had to fly away.”

She closed her eyes. “I’m sorry.” She opened them again, to look at his wan
face. “You’ve helped a lot of other Elkarans. I know that doesn’t help now, but
maybe it will later.”

“I hope so.” He shook his head sharply, as if to shake off this revelatory mood.
“I’m tying up the channel, I’d better go.”

“Sleep, Malcolm, then head to the new coordinates.”

“Right. Reed out.”

She dropped her head to the console for a moment, tears pricking the back of her
eyes. Then, she resolutely went back to downloading new assignments to rescuers
all over the planet.

* * *

Plus 63 hours:

The Captain had been dragged off to deal with some other crisis about an hour
before, leaving her alone on the bridge. She was hunched over her console,
organizing data on the payloads of incoming ships, //treatments for akan go over
here, sonno roots are needed there…,// when a cup of steaming tea appeared at
her elbow. She didn’t even look up, just said “Thank you,” and continued to move
numbers.

“The tea won’t drink itself, ya know,” Trip’s voice said, making her jump and
nearly knock over the cup. “And it won’t do much good decorating the deck
either.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, picking up the tea, holding it up to her nose, and
closing her eyes to inhale its fragrance. For a moment, she imagined the humid
smell was rain and she could feel it beating down on her.

“Hoshi?”

“Hmm?” She opened her eyes again to see Trip’s worried expression.

“Where’d you go just now?” He leaned against the railing and watched her, as if
concerned she would disappear.

She looked into the tea and drank some to give her time to consider the answer.

“Down to the planet,” she said finally.

“It’s pretty overwhelming, isn’t it?”

“Mm-hmm.” She sipped more tea and murmured, “Like rolling that rock uphill.”

“Sisyphus?” Trip asked, smiling when she looked up in surprise. “Why does
everyone assume I’m an idiot who never read anything more complex than a comic
book? Even engineers read mythology now and then.”

She shook her head. “No, that’s not what I think.”

“Doesn’t matter. In any case, if I remember correctly, ol’ Sisyphus was doomed
to roll the rock up and have it roll right back over him. Pointless and
hopeless. What we’re doing isn’t hopeless, it just feels that way. How ’bout if
we just consider our labors Herculean instead?”

“I think I can manage that.” She sipped the last of the tea, warmed inside and
out.

He took the empty cup from her hands. “Now, you get back to your work and I’ll
take over for the Captain ’til he gets back.”

They worked in companionable silence, punctuated only by occasional contact with
the surface.

“Oh!” Hoshi said, looking at the origin of an incoming message. “It’s Dr. Phlox
calling. Voice only.”

“Hope everything’s okay,” Trip said.

“Hello, Ensign,” Phlox said when she opened the channel. “Is the Captain
available?”

“He’s not on the bridge, but if you need him, I can track him down. Is everybody
all right?”

“Well, I can say with authority that everyone will be fine soon. I wanted to
alert the Captain to our most serious injury, however. I am afraid Lieutenant
Reed has broken an arm and cracked some ribs.”

Hoshi swore under her breath in Japanese, and from his seat, Trip called out a
question for the doctor. “What was he doin’?”

“I am not clear on the details, but I believe he was thrown from a moving
vehicle while attempting some kind of rescue. He will recover quickly.”

“We’ll let the Captain know,” Hoshi said.

“Thank you. Phlox out.”

Hoshi viciously stabbed the button to close the channel. //That idiot. Trying to
be extra heroic to make up for his perceived previous lack.//

“Hoshi? He’ll be fine,” Trip said. “Even under conditions like these, the Doc
can treat a couple of breaks.”

She shook her head and turned to look at him. “I know. I just have some
suspicions he put himself in more danger than absolutely necessary.”

Trip’s eyes widened. “You mean-”

“No, no! Hang on.” Hoshi put up a hand to stop him. “I just think he’s been
pushing himself too hard, thinking he should be able to fix everything, save
everyone.”

Trip visibly relaxed. “You mean, acting like Malcolm?”

The turbolift door whooshed open, spitting out the Captain and Lynn O’Malley.
“Okay, you two,” the Captain said, “time for both of you to get some sleep. Off
the bridge.” He glared at Trip. “And no sneaking back to engineering, either.”

“Yes, sir,” they chorused, Trip even throwing in a salute for good measure.

They gave him Phlox’s news and headed off the bridge.

As she exited the turbolift, Hoshi looked at Trip. “Thanks for the tea. And the
encouragement.”

“Anytime, Hoshi, anytime. Sleep well.”

* * *

Plus 87 hours:

While her system logged and transferred messages, Hoshi went back to her
survivor search. Since her initial discovery, she’d tracked down five other
stranded groups, which left her with a series of very strange signals. They
didn’t feel like distress calls (not repetitive enough) and they weren’t regular
traffic (which she would have recognized by now and most of which was passing
through her system anyway).

The signals came and went and seemed to move around. Could they be rescue ships
that aren’t patched in? Some sort of odd weather effect? //I wish T’Pol was here
to run this by.// She paused and ran a different analysis, frowning at the
result. //Looks like they’re not natural, but…coded? Could they really be
coded? Who would be sending coded messages now?//

She set her system to save all the signals into one file and flag for her
attention when more were detected. Then, she was dragged away to coordinate with
a recently arrived transport ship full of food.

She’d just sorted that out, when she heard T’Pol’s voice. It took a moment to
realize the Vulcan was still on the planet, but had contacted the Captain.

“I am well,” T’Pol was saying, “however, I find myself in need of data from
Enterprise. I can download it from my console if you will initiate the link.”

“Done,” Archer said. “Have you slept recently?”

“Vulcans are capable of going for much longer periods without sleep than
humans.”

“How’s the work going?”

“We have mapped the most likely locations for waterborne illnesses and created a
plan to treat them once medicine arrives. Currently, we are investigating the
agricultural situation, but we cannot complete that without more weather data.
That is what I am downloading.”

“How does it look so far?”

“The analysis is not complete at this time, but I believe the food shortage will
be dire in the coming year,” T’Pol said.

Archer’s voice sounded old and defeated, raspy from lack of sleep. “Are we
saving these people just so they can starve?”

“We are doing everything we can. The Enterprise is only one small exploration
ship and can hardly solve every problem. Other assistance will arrive.”

There was a strange silence behind Hoshi, and she wanted desperately to turn
around and look at the Captain. //I never expected to hear a Vulcan trying to
cheer up Jonathan Archer. Does this mean pigs are flying somewhere?//

Finally, T’Pol said, “I have the data I require.”

“Okay, take care of yourself, T’Pol. I need my first officer back in one piece.”

“I assure you I will return in one piece,” she said. “T’Pol out.”

* * *

Plus 101 hours:

Archer had ordered Hoshi to sleep again, and when she marched back onto the
bridge, she actually felt a little more human. Tea and toast in hand, she nodded
to the Captain, and got back to work.

//I think our job here is almost done,// she thought with satisfaction. //More
ships are arriving every hour.//

With a few precious moments of spare time, Hoshi decided to look at her growing
collection of possibly coded, messages. //Maybe the computer and I can make
something of them now.//

She brought up the file and started a more sophisticated (and complicated)
procedure. //Maybe they’re military.// She paused, feeling indecisive. //I could
show them to the Captain, let him decide. No, he’s busy, this is my job, my
call. If they turn out to be legitimate military communiqués, I’ll just delete
them.//

Decision made, Hoshi continued to work on the mystery signals on and off for
several hours. Then, as so often happens in puzzle solving and cryptography, she
had an aha! insight.

Half an hour later, her console was scrolling through the decoded and translated
messages, and she was aghast.

“Captain, I think you need to see this.” She couldn’t take her eyes off her
screen, but she heard his small impatient sigh. //They always forget how good my
hearing really is.// “Sir, I really think you’ll want to see this.”

He came to stand beside her and she pointed. “My system isn’t quite done with
the translation, but I think you’ll get the gist.”

“The gist of-” Archer began, but then his brain caught up with what his eyes
were seeing. “What the hell is going on?”

“Theft on an astounding level,” she said, practically spitting out the words.
“Everything they can get their hands on, apparently. It’s those two Rasul
vessels that arrived before us, using the cover of rescue operations to steal
mined ore, equipment, even some of the relief supplies. As far as I can tell,
the only thing they haven’t stolen is children.”

She snapped her mouth shut, astounded by her own vehemence.

Looking up at the Captain, she saw his face was thunderous. “Damn it, of all the
times for Malcolm to be injured,” Archer said, leaning against her console. “Can
we tell how many individuals are involved?”

“I don’t think it’s very many. The ships aren’t that big, I doubt they carry
more than 20 crew each, and they’re pretty well scattered across the planet. I’d
guess they’re working in teams of two or three, based on what I’ve read.”

“Can you track those signals?”

“Working on it.”

“Let me know the minute you can tell me where these bastards are. I’m going to
go make some plans. Get me Malcolm.” Archer turned back to the science station,
then paused and turned back. “Hoshi?”

“Yes?”

“Good work.”

* * *

As she feverishly worked to track the messages, Hoshi could hear the Captain and
Malcolm rounding up security officers from around the planet and gathering them
at Malcolm’s location.

“Hoshi, can we get a secure message to someone with some authority on the
planet?” Archer asked.

She turned around, considering the question. “Perhaps, but I wouldn’t want to
guarantee it under these conditions.”

“Sir,” Malcolm’s voice had overtones of weariness mixed with anger. “I wouldn’t
recommend that. We don’t know if anyone in the government is involved. My team
can handle this, so long as we have the element of surprise.”

Archer and Hoshi looked at each other, and Archer said. “That’s the part I’m
worried about.”

She went back to tracking.

A little less than an hour later, Hoshi leaned back in her chair and sighed in
relief. “Got it. I can get a location within five minutes of any signal.”

“Good,” Archer said. “Send them over as soon as you know. I’ll let Malcolm know
we’re ready.”

The next two hours were anxiety interspersed with occasional terror, as they
dispatched and waited to hear from the security teams.

“We’ve rounded up 15 of them so far,” Malcolm said, his face larger than life on
the main screen. “Of course, it gets more dangerous the more we catch.”

“Why?” Hoshi asked.

“It becomes more likely that one of the remaining miscreants will realize
something is wrong when they don’t hear from their partners,” Malcolm said, his
tone one shade short of condescending.

Hoshi was confused and she looked from Malcolm to the Captain. “Then why don’t
we transmit fake messages to make it seem they’re still out there? They haven’t
been speaking to each other live and we’ve got days worth of logged messages to
copy from.”

There was a long moment of silence, as Malcolm and the Captain stared at each
other, then as if controlled by one hand, they turned to stare at her.

“What?” she asked. “Is that a bad idea?”

Malcolm recovered first. “No, it’s a very good idea. I can’t believe I didn’t
suggest it.” He ran the hand that wasn’t in a sling through his hair.

The Captain was shaking his head back and forth slowly, disbelief slowly dawning
across his face. “Malcolm,” he said finally, “we’ll never live this down.”

“Quite right, sir.”

Archer shook his head one more time, then said, “Okay, let’s start creating
those messages.”

“I’ll get Trip to drop transmitters in some of the locations you’ve picked up
the crooks from,” Hoshi said.

“Right,” Archer said weakly.

* * *

Plus 127 hours:

The mess hall was half full of returned crewmembers, catching up on missed meals
and on the events that had occurred on other parts of the planet. Hoshi had just
taken a seat at an empty table when Travis dropped into a seat across from her
and set down his tray. “Hey, Hoshi.”

“Mmm,” she said, unable to come up with anything more coherent as she stared at
a plate of rice and steamed vegetables.

Fortunately, Travis wasn’t easily offended and dug into his potatoes with more
energy than a man who’d just returned from grueling work in the middle of a
disaster should have.

Hoshi stared at him through bleary eyes. “Aren’t you tired?” she asked
plaintively.

He nodded, swallowing his mouthful. “Yep, but I’m also revved by what we’ve
accomplished here. Too excited to sleep. What are you doing up?”

“Too tired to sleep.” She smiled, buoyed by his cheerfulness.

“Yeah, I can see that.” Travis looked up from his meal. “Hey, I forgot to say
congratulations, I hear you pulled off a real coup up here.”

“That’s right,” Trip’s voice said from behind her. “Our Hoshi has become quite
the interplanetary cop, I think Malcolm’s worried she’s gonna take his job.”

She blushed as the two men looked at her approvingly, and took refuge in a bite
of food.

Trip put his cup down and slid into a chair next to her. He slumped over the
coffee and grinned up at them from under pale brows. “You couldn’t sleep
either?”

They shook their heads. Travis stirred his fork through a pile of green beans
and said, “Every time I fall asleep, I wake up thinking I’m supposed to be
piloting a shuttle somewhere.”

“I know whatcha mean.” Trip blew gently across his coffee, watching the ripples.
“When I close my eyes, I see transporter coordinates flickering.”

Hoshi saw movement and looked up in time to see the Captain come through the
mess hall door, head turned to speak to the person behind him, Malcolm. The
latter, his arm still in a sling, was shaking his head vigorously.

//If I had to guess, I’d say Jon’s trying to convince Malcolm to take a
day or two off and rest his injuries. Good luck.//

The two men argued their way to the food dispenser, acquired hot liquids, and
the Captain picked up a plate of salad when Malcolm tried to carry it. They were
turning toward the Captain’s dining room when they saw Hoshi, Trip, and Travis,
and walked toward them instead.

“Where’s T’Pol?” Hoshi asked as the two men joined them. Archer pulled up chairs
as Malcolm put down his mug of tea.

“She went to her quarters,” Archer said, putting his cup down with a little more
force than necessary and sloshing his coffee. “Turns out she went without sleep
the entire time, so now she has to do some kind of meditation to recover.”

“No sleep at all?” Travis asked, clearly impressed.

Archer just looked grumpy. “I told her to rest, but she didn’t listen.”

“Well, you gotta admit it’s a useful ability,” Trip said with a sly look at his
friend. “In any case, we were just wondering if Hoshi here was gonna take over
as chief of security.”

Malcolm said, “I’ll admit to a bit of concern about your apparent propensity for
doing my job.” He took a forkful of salad and eyed her with amusement.

“Well, Malcolm, if you wouldn’t get yourself injured, she wouldn’t have to,”
Archer added.

Hoshi blushed again and refused to look up as the others laughed. She poked at a
piece of broccoli and suddenly wished they’d all leave her alone. The table fell
silent.

“Hoshi?” Trip said tentatively. “We’re just teasing you because we think you did
a good job, a great job.”

“I know,” she said, sighing and looking up into their worried faces. “I guess
I’m just overtired, but I can’t fall asleep either.”

“Exhausted by your Herculean labors?” Trip asked with a smile.

A reluctant grin spread across her face. “Mm-hmm. You were right, it was
much more like Hercules than Sisyphus.”

“Fellas, I think we missed something,” Archer said, looking at the other two.

“I was just trying to convince her that the situation wasn’t hopeless. And I was
right, wasn’t I?”

“You were right,” she said. Her brow wrinkled as she tried to remember the rest
of the legend. “Hercules had a pretty miserable life, though, didn’t he? Tricked
into killing his family? Basically enslaved into the labors?”

Malcolm nodded. “Herakles, or Hercules if you insist, embodied the concept of
pathos, virtuous struggle and suffering bringing about nobility.” He looked at
Trip. “This was your analogy? And here I thought you only read comic books.”

Trip thumped the table and looked at Hoshi. “See?”

“You’re right, nobody takes you seriously.” She couldn’t help laughing at his
mock indignation.

Travis frowned. “I’m not sure I agree that suffering makes you noble. I think
suffering just makes you miserable.”

“Whoa, there!” Trip said, holding up his hands. “I didn’t say anything about
that, I was just tryin’ to make Hoshi feel better.”

Malcolm ignored him and addressed Travis. “In Greek art and literature, the idea
was to tug at both the mind and the heartstrings of the reader or viewer, to
persuade them to your point of view by showing great suffering.”

“But that doesn’t mean that having bad things happening to you automatically
makes you a better person,” Travis said. “I doubt that’d make the folks down on
Elkara feel any better. It’s not like there was any point to their suffering.”

Hoshi shook her head vigorously. “I don’t think pathos is the connection here.
Hercules also represented the victory against impossible odds. That’s not a bad
analogy for what we do, is it?”

“Hmm,” Archer said, sipping the coffee and leaning back in his chair. “Hercules
was courageous, honorable, and hard-working. Not a bad way to be remembered.”

“If you ignore the fact he died rather horribly, accidentally poisoned by his
new bride,” Malcolm said.

“Hmm, I forgot about that,” Hoshi said.

Trip groaned. “Geez, guys, I was trying to cheer her up and now look at what
you’ve done.”

“No, it’s okay, Trip. Forget about Hercules for a moment. Think about what
happened here. We made a difference in the lives of the people on this planet.”
Hoshi warmed to her theme. “All of us–okay, almost all–dedicated to helping
the Elkarans. Humans and Elkarans and other races from Aoan to Zyzzyx, all
united against the forces of nature.” She sat up straight. “We didn’t just show
up and declare our peaceful intentions, we proved them conclusively. It doesn’t
get any better than that.”

“Does that make up for all the tedious times in between?” Archer asked.

Hoshi looked around at her crewmates, then broke into a wide grin. “Yeah, I
think it does.”

Archer nodded in satisfaction. “Then, go get some sleep.”

* * *

Hoshi slipped into bed and drew the covers up under her chin. Sleep overtook her
almost instantly, and the flashes behind her eyes gradually coalesced into
dreaming.

She was almost underwater, trying to swim, but the powerful current was drawing
her down. Debris bumped her, covered her. She tried to yell for help, but her
mouth filled with water. A hand suddenly plucked her out of the water, and
dropped her on dry land. She saw Trip’s face peering down at her with a frown.
“What were you doing in the Augean stables while I was trying to clean them?” he
asked.

Sitting upright in bed, Hoshi was surprised to find herself alone and dry. She
blinked a few times, then started to laugh. “Trip’s gonna have a field day with
that!” Still giggling, she lay back down and sank into a restful–and thankfully
dreamless–sleep.

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