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Ten

Malcolm sat back as he tried to understand what Daniels was telling him. The teacup stood empty for the third or fourth time. He moved to refill it, but Daniels took the pot and expertly poured another cup. He nodded his thanks, sipped at it in silence, as his mind raced over the information.

"You said you didn't bring us back. Then who did?"

Daniels sighed again. "Ever since the Temporal Cold War began, we've identified several disruptions in the continuum. One of them occurred when your captain was presumed dead after the Xindi Sphere exploded, but you corrected that. This is another one."

"And you didn't warn us?" Malcolm felt his temper rise. Hoshi, T'Pol. Captain Archer and Trip were still there!.

"The time distortion grew without warning and pulled you and your crew inside before we could warn you." Daniels sipped from his own cup. "Dom'ni the Weaponsmaster was supposed to die long before you did. By surviving long enough to warn Hu'fase and the others, you helped change Aronian history."

Malcolm shook his head. "Then why are the others still trapped there?"

"Because the story isn't over yet. At this moment, both sides are aiming their missile platforms at each other, and at nightfall, they will launch their weapons and destroy each other. Thus, history still has the potential to repeat itself."

"There's got to be something we can do—"

A calm voice interrupted him. "There is, Commander, but we must act in concert with Hoshi, Commander Tucker and the Captain. There is no time to lose...if you gentlemen will excuse the expression."

Malcolm almost dropped his tea cup, but Daniels dove and saved it from becoming tiny pieces on the floor. "T'Pol!" he shouted as he got to his feet. His heart tightened with fear at the sight of her. "If you're here, then...Hoshi's unprotected!"

"Her life was in danger, Malcolm. I gave her the strength to survive." The Vulcan raised her eyebrows at Daniels. "My part in the story is also ended."

"What do we do now?"

Daniels exchanged nods with T'Pol. Then he said, "The three of us must return to the Aronia of your timeline and seal the vortex of the disturbance. That way, the Shadows can't tamper with the continuum from that particular point ever again. And if we do that...we'll put a foot up Future Guy's bloody arse, to borrow your vernacular, Commander."

"Future Guy?"

A smile played on T'Pol's lips as she replied, "Mister Daniels' colorful name for the head of the Shadows. He is the one who recruited the Suliban."

Malcolm groaned. "You're as bad as Trip."

Daniels chuckled and said, "So the commander tells me. Well, are you both ready? We have an appointment, and we can't be late for this one."

*****

An eyeblink later, Malcolm and T'Pol found themselves on the surface of Aronia, in front of the archaeologists' tent. The wind whipped it to and fro, the ropes creaking as they fought to keep it upright. T'Pol ducked into the tent, but came out just as quickly.

"No one is there. Doctor Yumisa must have evacuated everyone to the ship." She grabbed her communicator on her belt. "T'Pol to Enterprise. Come in, Enterprise."

Malcolm thought he heard Travis Mayweather's voice over the static, but it was quickly overwhelmed. He shook his head. "Too much interference."

Daniels stood several meters away from them, scanning the area with his equipment. Malcolm noticed his hair remained in place, in spite of the wind. "I found it!" Daniels shouted. "It's this way!"

They took off at a run, fighting against the wind and debris as it whipped past them. Malcolm realized that they were headed for Hu'fase's tomb. The prospect of being in the water again made him nauseous, but to his shock, the steps leading underground were bone dry and the walls were intact. There was no sign of the destruction caused by the flooding river.

At the burial chamber, Malcolm stopped suddenly at the sight of the walls. He clearly recalled the piles of weaponry that surrounded the general's body, the murals the depicted Hu'fase's great victory over the Shadows. Instead of weaponry were marble chests edged with gold, pots sealed with wax, stone tablets and sculpted figurines. There wasn't a spear or poisoned needle in sight.

He found his hand automatically rubbing his side, at the point where Dom'ni had been hit. He pressed his lips together and forced himself to drop his hand.

"The distortion's getting stronger," Daniels said. "I can't get a clear fix on it, though. The frequency keeps changing. I'll have to recalibrate my sensor."

"Daniels! Commander! Over here!" T'Pol called. Malcolm went over to where she was standing, a scanner in hand. "This open doorway leads to a maze of tunnels and rooms. It seems to extend for hundreds of kilometers."

"We don't have the time to hunt through hundreds of kilometers of tunnels, Commander."

Daniels appeared at his side and ran his sensor up and down the opening. "We won't have to, Malcolm. I'm getting the signal loud and clear. This way."

They entered the tunnel in single file: Daniels with his sensor, then T'Pol, and Malcolm took up the rear. He knew that circumstances were changing around him as fast as he could think. When he and Trip were first at Hu'fase's tomb, the entrance to this maze hadn't existed. Or more precisely, it hadn't been accessible. The air within the tunnel crackled with electricity and the walls shimmered and glowed as he watched. It seemed the elegant Aronian characters were shifting, fading, from one minute to the next. The murals, bright and fresh as the day they were painted, reshaped and reformed themselves.

He forced himself to gaze at the back of T'Pol's head, for the movement was making him dizzy. Now's not the time to get motion sickness! Hoshi's depending on you!

They passed an open room, and Malcolm paused at its entrance. He traced the stylized characters on the lintel of the doorway with his finger. His knowledge of the Aronian ancient language was fading, but he remembered enough to read the two names entwined there.

Dom'ni. Leen'da. Forever joined, never separated. A heavy weight rolled off his heart. They were buried together. She wasn't with Hu'fase. Immediately underneath the two names was a third, Dom'se'nar. Warrior of Peace, Soul-Brother of Surak.

"What?" he stammered aloud. "It's not possible...our—their—son, a friend of Surak of Vulcan?"

"Commander?" T'Pol's voice startled him and he whirled around. "What did you say?"

He only pointed at the inscription. Her look of complete astonishment shattered any fiction of Vulcans not possessing any emotions. She stared dumbly at him, then back at the writing. Suddenly, she gasped and said, "The inscription is vanishing!"

Like the other characters on the walls, it seemed to shudder and curl upon itself, then fading before strengthening again. "Come on,Commander. We have to hurry or this won't happen."

They both hurried to catch up with Daniels.

*****
Eleven

Kan'nar nodded to his assistant as they positioned the last launcher far beyond the stronghold walls. He sighed and gauged the sun on the horizon. Sundown in an hour, first moonrise three after that, then second moonrise another three. Seven hours until launch. Seven hours for Hu'fase's march to the Shadows' main encampment. Seven hours until victory.

He sighed and wiped sweat off his forehead. Was it just him, or had the humidity increased since Hu'fase's departure? Were the Gods sending a storm on the eve of this important battle? It would be quite the irony, for neither side could use their platforms if it rained. Water rendered the long fuses and volatile explosives unusable.

Dom'ni, I'm sure you're doing all you can to convince the Gods not to let it rain. They wouldn't be so cruel as to make your sacrifice worthless. You'd be the perfect messenger, considering you hate—hated---the water. Kan'nar wiped a drop of sweat from his eye...or was that a tear? You prickly, stubborn, taciturn, somma bitch...God, I miss you already.

That last thought brought him up short. He realized he'd muttered it aloud...and it wasn't his voice. Well, it was, but...what kind of accent was that? Another disturbing thought: his inner monologues were colored by that accent...and other stray pictures intruded on his consciousness. Visions of weaponry similar to the Shadows' platforms, of a tall cylinder glowing with contained power, one that fueled a ship that didn't run on water...

He reached out automatically for Joh'leen's presence in his mind. She was worried, but that worry was tempered by an unnatural calm. Then he felt an alien power, energy moving from her to someone else. His heart froze in panic as he felt their bond weaken steadily. Something, someone was draining her soul...and it wasn't a swift process. She lingered for a moment, and he felt a light brush on his lips, like a kiss of farewell.

"No!" he screamed, as the warmth faded and left a cold pit in his heart. Somehow he ended up on the ground, his men all around him in confusion, then blackness claimed him.

*****

When he opened his eyes, he realized he was in the command tent. His mind registered that much, but he didn't care. She was gone. The only one that made life worth living was gone.

"The fever has abated," whispered a Healer, "but the shock has unsettled his mind. I am afraid he is in no condition to command the launch."

A second voice replied, "Gods...first, Dom'ni, now Kan'nar. We must finish the mission the general has given us. What time is it?"

"The first moon is in the sky. The general told us to wait until full moonrise before striking."

"But I don't like the look of those approaching clouds. If we wait that long, it might rain before we have the opportunity."

"But we need to give General Hu'fase and his troops time to settle into position. If we attack too early, they might be within the range of the explosions. We'd destroy our own army."

"The rain would make the platforms useless. That would mean our troops would be outnumbered on the field. We can't allow that."

"Would you disobey the general's direct orders?"

"Would you ensure the general's destruction, along with our entire army?"

Kan'nar tried to move, but he couldn't lift a finger. The two arguing soldiers moved out of the tent. He gritted his teeth and managed to raise his head slightly, but the effort was too much and he had to fall back on the pillow. I have to warn Hu'fase. Our own people might blast him out of existence. The only thing that matters is wiping out the Shadows, no matter what the cost. But what will we do if Hu'fase's dead? We'd turn on each other. The Shadows will triumph in the end anyway.

His hate for the enemy was strong, but his loyalty to his friend was stronger.

What the hell. I might not be around to see the outcome anyway, but at least I can try. He braced his forearms on the bed and pushed himself up on his elbows with a grunt. Slowly, he forced himself to a sitting position. The strain nearly caused him to collapse again, but he squeezed his eyes shut until the world stopped spinning around him. If just trying to get up did this to him, how was he going to reach Hu'fase? The general was leagues away.

Then he heard the scream of an animal. A pack animal? The sound of galloping hooves approached the tent, then stopped at the entrance. The guards' voices rose in protest, but the front flap parted to reveal an unexpected visitor.

"Leen'da?" Kan'nar rasped. "What are you doing here? What happened to Joh'leen? I felt her in my mind—"

Leen'da gazed at him with unshed tears in her eyes. "She sacrificed her life to save mine, Kan'nar," she answered. "Now we're all in danger. We must warn Hu'fase. We must save him."

"How?" He tried to stand, but found he could not. "He must be almost at the Shadows' compound by now."

"We'll have to hurry. I borrowed one of the advisors' fastest steeds. Come on, we don't have much time."

"But...your child—" His objection went unheard as she ordered two of his men to help him out of the tent. The tone of her voice and the fury on her face overrode their protests. They gently coaxed him to his feet, supported his weight as they helped him out of the tent, and lifted him onto the steed. He managed to stay on as they tied on the straps that would hold him in place. Lee'nda climbed in front of him and took the reins. She winced and put a hand on her abdomen; her movement made him forget his own nausea.

"Leen'da, let me go. You're in even worse condition than I am..."

She shook her head. "No, you and Hu'fase need me." Leen'da gave him a weak smile. "You'll understand later."

He closed his mouth. Once she had made up her mind, there was no swaying her otherwise. That tenacity and strength had attracted Dom'ni to her in the first place, though it had also been a source of his frustration. Kan'nar was determined to protect his friend's wife at all costs.

Leen'da urged the steed on, and they rushed headlong into the darkness.
*****

The ground flew under them at a dizzying pace. Hoshi Sato concentrated on the goal ahead, ignoring the stabbing pain within her body. T'Pol had bought her time, but she could already feel that strength fading from her. Kan'nar—Trip—hung on to the saddle for dear life. For some reason, it reminded her of the time when the Enterprise crew was on that Old Western planet.

T'Pol's memory was sharp, as if it was her own. I've seen all the John Ford Westerns...how hard could it be? She repressed a grin and thought, A hundred Westerns seen does not a cowboy make, Trip.

Although she had never been this way, instinct guided her. She concentrated on Hu'fase's—Jon Archer's—soul. It was strong and steady, a beacon through the night. He was her mentor, her rock of strength, her guide. It was a different love than the one she had for Malcolm, or for Trip or even for Travis. Hoshi closed her eyes; these men, and T'Pol, were her family. For better or for worse. From life to life and beyond. She had never believed in reincarnation; she was a woman of the 22nd century. But there were things in the universe that weren't explained. This was one of them. Cold wind blew over her skin and made her shiver. She felt Kan'nar automatically draw her closer to him, his larger frame breaking some of the wind. Her consciousness flitted between worlds and it took her an effort to stay in this one for now.

"I can see the second moon," he shouted directly into her ear. "It's just over the treetops."

"How long until it's at full moonrise?" she yelled back.

"An hour, perhaps an hour and a half, but no longer than that. We're not going to reach Hu'fase in time!"

She responded by urging the steed faster, but it was quickly tiring after galloping at full speed for over two hours. Aronian steeds were bred for endurance, but this was at the outside edge of it. They burst out of a stand of bushes and found a wide track, cut into the underbrush. They could hear the sounds of battle up ahead, of men fighting and dying.

"We're too late!" Kan'nar cried.

"Not yet!" Just as they neared the battlefield, the heavens opened up and wept. Huge torrents of water washed over them and soaked them to the bone. Hoshi blinked drops out of her eyes, but her vision remained blurry. The pain came and went in waves, but she hung on.

They arrived in the middle of chaos. Many Shadow and Aronian warriors already lay motionless on the ground where they fell. A low stone wall marked the Shadows' compound. Fire ravaged their main temple and smoke hissed as the rain struck it. A wave of smoke rolled over the field and obscured Hoshi's and Kan'nar's vision.

Hoshi coughed and waved smoke from her face. Kan'nar raised his arm to shield his eyes. Their eyes watered and their lungs burned, but they plunged onward, the steed heading unwavering towards its target, General Hu'fase. There was a bright flash overhead and she looked up to see—a shooting star?—make its way through the heavens. It moved too fast for a shooting star, it was too bright...

"They launched their weapons early!" Kan'nar screamed. "It'll hit us—I thought the rain would make them useless..."

"Obviously, someone wants to make sure they're functional enough," she muttered grimly.

The sky rumbled and grew brighter as another flash erupted to the east. The Shadows had tried to launch their own counterattack, but Dom'ni's bomb went off in a spectacular display. A column of fire pierced the sky. A second tremor struck them as another Shadow platform went up in flames. Then, the third.

Hoshi saw Hu'fase, swinging his sword at the enemy. The general was fighting with an arrow buried deep within his left shoulder; he was weakening, and the ring of Shadows around him was moving for the kill.

She dropped the reins, reached for the knife pouch at her belt, and grabbed a knife in each hand. She screamed a war cry, and as the Shadows whirled to face this new intruder, let them fly. Kan'nar unhooked the straps that held him to the saddle and launched himself at Hu'fase, placing his body between the general and the Shadow's sword. Hu'fase cried out in pain as Kan'nar's weight hit him, knocking him into the mud.

Hoshi's deadly accuracy mowed down some of the Shadow defenders, but there were more pouring into the gap as they fell. Finally, the steed took a blade in its flank; it buckled and threw her. She felt her ribs crack as she hit the ground a few meters from Hu'fase and the pain made her see stars.

The ground shuddered and the light in the sky became brighter as the missile came closer to the compound. Panic finally broke the Shadow lines and they fled into the forest, trying to get themselves out of the blast zone. Hoshi dragged herself the remaining distance between her and Hu'fase. He looked up at her, pain and resignation on his face. Kan'nar lay between them, his eyes glazing, his body shaking with every breath he took. A trickle of blood flowed from the corner of his mouth.

"He's still alive, but he's fading fast," Hu'fase whispered. "I'm sorry, we've failed..."

She shook her head and whispered back, "He gave his life for yours, like he's done so many times before. Do you remember?"

Hu'fase was silent for a second, then comprehension finally dawned in his eyes. "Yes, I remember." He glanced down at the dying man in his lap. "Trip..."

He managed a smile and gripped Archer's hand. "Anytime, Cap'n," he whispered, "but next time, don't call me. I'll call you."

Hoshi placed one hand on Jon's shoulder, the other on Trip's. Come on, Daniels. We're together now. Me. Jon. Trip. Now get us out of here—

The sun seemed to explode all around them, and at the last minute, Hoshi thought she felt a pair of hands jerk her backwards. Her surroundings dissolved, as if she'd been caught by a transporter beam. She couldn't feel her body anymore, and she couldn't sense Jon or Trip...

Malcolm, I love you, was her last thought.

Twelve

"There!" Daniels yelled. "In there!" He pointed at a chamber at the end of the a long hallway. "The signal just spiked over two hundred percent!"

They plunged into the chamber. Malcolm realized the floor was covered with something that looked like translucent ice and was just as slippery. Daniels went down with a crash, his sensor flying out of his hand. T'Pol stumbled, and even Vulcan grace couldn't stop her from landing in an undignified sprawl. Her arm shot out and grabbed Malcolm to steady herself, but it only knocked him further off balance. He landed hard and skidded further on the floor on his stomach. There was nothing to grab hold to stop his forward progress. He cursed like an English sailor as he slid on momentum alone.

The hard floor under him became less yielding, softer. Malcolm had a horrible thought of plunging under the floor into water. Finally, he slowed down and stopped. He could feel energy on his skin, like static electricity, and smell ozone in the air. Cold wind passed over him, making his teeth chatter.

He cautiously lifted his head. Ahead of him, the floor seemed to glow and ripple like a silver lake. Green lettering writhed within the ice like a living thing. More Aronian characters, like the ones on the walls, Malcolm thought. History literally changing in an eyeblink.

"Be careful, Commander," T'Pol called. "We are close to your position."

"Can you see anything from where you are?" added Daniels.

Malcolm craned his head, trying not to make any abrupt movements. "The surface is glowing...I can see images in the light, but they're too fuzzy to make out."

"It's the center of the vortex," Daniels said. "All the possible pasts, the possible presents, the possible futures. We have to wait for the precise moment to pull the captain and the others out."

"How do we do that? I can barely keep from sliding forward as it is."

"Put your hand in mine, Commander," T'Pol answered as she came up behind him. Malcolm took it, and Daniels took her other hand. Together they inched towards the vortex, slowly, so slowly. When they reached the edge, Daniels let go and managed to push himself up to a sitting position.

"It's more stable here, but it's still slippery. Watch yourselves. You don't want to fall in."

Malcolm muttered under his breath as he sat up. The edges of the silver pool seemed to withdraw into itself, like a tidal wave returning to sea. The vortex was shrinking, but the maelstrom within in churned harder. He could feel the power gathering, ready to explode outward and destroy anything in its path, including this timeline.

"Malcolm, T'Pol, we're coming up on the right moment," Daniels shouted. "We need to grab the Captain, Commander Tucker and Hoshi and pull them towards us. We only have one shot at this."

Malcolm nodded. He could see smoke, explosions, watery images, columns of fire. T'Pol carefully crept next to him, her eyes fixed on the view below them. Hoshi, where are you? C'mon. luv, where are you? Trip, thy'la, hear me. I am with thee, follow the sound of my voice...

Daniels was a lot more direct. "Archer, show your stubborn ass before I kick it halfway across the universe!"

An image flickered in front of them. Shadow soldiers fleeing the destruction, and among them, three figures huddled in a group, two men and a woman. They clung to each other as the sky grew brighter around them, and the ground began to tremble...

Malcolm, T'Pol and Daniels moved as one. They thrust their hands into the swirling vortex. Malcolm felt Hoshi's shoulders under his palms and with one swift jerk, pulled her backwards. T'Pol did the same with Trip, and Daniels with Jon.

At that moment, time and space exploded outward. A roar of anger and frustration echoed over the universe as it realigned itself...a cunning plan foiled, a scheme broken. Above it all was one malevolent thought:

Next time. I will be back, even stronger than ever, and you will not stop me.

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trekwriter151

May 2012

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