Summary: When a strange transmission draws the Enterprise into a previously uncharted star system, Archer, Reed and Trip unwittingly release a powerful alien entity. When the entity turns its attentions on Reed, Archer must decide whether its intentions are harmful even as the crew try to find out more about the mysterious, ancient species.
"Captain, I'm picking up a transmission..." Ensign Hoshi Sato spoke up suddenly, causing all heads on the bridge to turn slightly in her direction, "it's very strange; I'm having difficulty isolating the frequency."
"Put it on speaker," Captain Jonathan Archer's curiosity was immediately aroused, "any ships in the vicinity, T'Pol?"
"I am not detecting any vessels on long range sensors, Captain," the Vulcan officer replied, smoothly, "however; there is a system of sixteen planetary bodies in orbit around a single star at the extreme edge of sensor range. The transmission may originate there."
Archer nodded in acknowledgement as Hoshi patched the signal through to the bridge speakers; it was awash with static, but faint words could be made out in a strange, clicking, alien tongue.
"Translation?" Archer prompted.
"I'm sorry sir, there isn't enough there to translate," Hoshi shook her head, "it's the same few words, spoken over and over again. It could be an automated distress beacon... there's nothing like it in my database. I'll keep trying though, sir."
Hoshi cut off the transmission as Archer turned to look at T'Pol, asking; "can we get a fix on the signal?"
"I am locating it now, captain," she responded, her slender fingers moving with practiced efficiency across her console, "the signal appears to be emanating from the equatorial region of the fourth planet of the system. I am sending the co-ordinates to Ensign Mayweather."
"Lay in a course, Travis," Archer ordered, with a quick smile, "we're in uncharted space, let's check out the neighbourhood. Increase speed to Warp 3 – if that is a distress signal we'd better see if we can offer some help."
"Aye aye, sir," Mayweather nodded, and a minute tremor ran through the ship as the Enterprise accelerated obediently under her pilot's steady hand, "we should be there in approximately 30 minutes."
Archer drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. It was at times like this that he felt more than a little superfluous; to his left, Hoshi Sato was engrossed in transcribing and translating the strange alien signal, listening to the repeated message over and over again in the hopes of gleaning some spark of understanding from the unfamiliar tongue. T'Pol was scanning and mapping the new star system, no doubt testing the full range of the ship's sensors and data-gathering capacities, adding the newly-discovered system to their ever-expanding star charts. Travis Mayweather was giving the navigational controls the full force of his concentration, guiding the elegant starship ever closer to their latest discovery. To Archer's right, Lt. Malcolm Reed, tactical officer, was similarly focussed, carrying out extensive scans of his own, searching for ships, life signs and potential threats to the safety of the Enterprise and her crew. Archer's mind wandered as he considered what they might find on this new planet – he hoped for a race of friendly, sociable people, who would welcome the Enterprise with open arms and share in new cultural experiences. Hopefully, the strange transmission that was drawing them ever closer was a simple invitation to a good lunch. Archer hid a small smile at his own optimism.
Eventually, Travis gave a small nod of satisfaction, and spoke up; "we're entering orbit of the fourth planet now, captain."
"On screen," Archer said, as everyone turned to see the viewer.
When the screen activated, Archer could not suppress the small thrill of excitement he always felt when seeing a new planet for the first time. However, the excitement was tempered by a shiver of ominous doubt. The planetoid was a large, dark grey sphere. Even from orbit, Archer could see the constantly roiling clouds and flashes of lighting that indicated some fairly serious storms were raging around the equatorial regions of the planet.
"Can we get a fix on the signal from here, Hoshi?" Archer asked, glancing across at the communications officer.
"I can't get an exact fix, captain," Hoshi sounded equally apologetic and frustrated at the same time; "there's too much interference."
"Captain," T'Pol's calm tone cut in, "there are significant electrical storms on the planet's surface that are interfering with our sensors. I have isolated the location of the signal to an area of approximately thirty square kilometres but it will be impossible to get an exact location without entering the atmosphere. I am also unable to scan for life signs or indications of civilisation."
"A shuttlepod?" Archer suggested.
"Affirmative," T'Pol inclined her head slightly, "the sensors on a shuttlepod should be adequate to locate the source of the signal and enable further investigation. However, the storms on the surface will make piloting extremely difficult."
"There's a lot of atmospheric disturbance, Captain," Mayweather agreed, "I'm getting some strange gravitational fluctuations as well. I'm having difficulty maintaining a standard orbit."
"Increase our distance from the planet and hold position," Archer ordered, "Travis, I want you to stay here and helm the Enterprise in case of further difficulties. Use your discretion. Malcolm, you're probably our next best pilot; think you can handle those storms?"
"The electrical discharges are strong, Captain, but the hull plating of the shuttlepod should be able to withstand it," Reed nodded, confidently, "as long as we aren't flying in the atmosphere for too long we should be safe."
"Great," Archer nodded, "have Trip meet us in the shuttle bay, just in case we do run into technical problems. Hoshi, concentrate on translating that message. If we run into any locals we'll transmit more speech to you if we can; we'll need to be able to talk to them. T'Pol, you have the con."
Satisfied that his orders were clear, Archer swiftly got to his feet and entered the turbolift, closely followed by Reed. His initial doubts forgotten, Archer was already looking forward to setting foot on another planet.
The shuttlepod journey, however, turned out to be anything but pleasant. Reed sat at the controls, with Archer behind him to his right and Charles "Trip" Tucker, Chief Engineer, behind him to his left.
"Strap yourselves in, gentlemen," Reed advised, as he began the approach to the atmosphere, "this is going to be rough."
This proved to be an understatement; from the moment the small craft entered the atmosphere the buffeting began and it only got worse the further they descended. The visibility was virtually nil, as they navigated the thick, roiling storm clouds. Howling winds battered the craft from side to side, while flashes of lightning crashed around them, occasionally lighting up the shuttle interior with stark contrasts. Both Trip and Archer hung onto their restraints, occasionally giving each other worried glances. Reed focussed on the controls, gritting his teeth as he fought to keep the shuttlepod steady and on course, all the while scanning for the source of the mysterious signal that may or may not have been a cry for help.
"Have you got a fix on the signal yet?" Archer asked, having to raise his voice to be heard slightly over the noise of the storm outside.
"Negative, captain," Reed shook his head, not taking his eyes off the console, "the electromagnetic interference in the atmosphere is much stronger than previously indicated by the scanners on the Enterprise – I am closing in on the co-ordinates Sub-Commander T'Pol provided but the frequency of the signal is still weak."
"It looks like the storm's getting worse the closer we get to the surface!" Archer commented, "Can the shuttlepod take it?"
"Let's hope so!" Trip called back, grimly, "the hull casing is pretty tough on these things – I'm not worried about impact damage, but if we get too many electromagnetic surges, we could blow out all of our systems!"
As if to emphasise his point, the lighting in the shuttle flickered briefly and then settled, albeit dimmer than it had been. Archer shot Trip a questioning glance.
"Probably a bit of power loss," the engineer replied, with a shrug, "the engines are working overtime just to keep us airborne..."
"Captain," Reed's voice cut into the conversation, "I think I've got a fix on the signal – we're getting closer, at any rate. I'm still not picking up any life signs though – it could just be an automated beacon. I don't think there's anyone down there."
"Drop below the clouds and see if you can find somewhere to set us down. We're here now, we might as well check it out," Archer decided, "if there really is nobody here then we might as well at least shut off the beacon to stop anyone else coming down."
"Yes sir," Reed nodded resolutely, and Archer felt the shuttlepod begin the drop.
The whole craft was bucking and shuddering but to Reed's credit it held steady, and as they broke through the clouds, Archer got his first glimpse of this strange new planet. The thick grey clouds had concealed a landscape that was even greyer than the skies. It looked like a primordial swamp; areas of wetland punctuated by rocks and a few scrubby trees. Below the clouds the winds had let up slightly, but still buffeted the tiny craft. Archer noticed strange patches of grey mist occasionally drifting across the murky surface, stirred around and dissipated by the wind as quickly as they appeared.
"I've located a suitable landing site," Reed said, his hands dancing across the controls, "I'd hold on tight though – this won't be very smooth, I'm afraid."
"Any landing you walk away from..." Trip muttered.
Archer flashed a grim smile, tightening his grip on his restraints. Reed brought the shuttlepod into landing position, hovering over the patch of ground he had selected. Archer could feel the vibrations running through the craft from the atmospheric turmoil, and he could hear the high-pitched whine of the engines as they were pushed to maximum to compensate. Glancing at Reed, he could see the tight set of the lieutenant's jaw and the frown of concentration as he worked to slowly lower the craft to the ground. A flash of lighting blinded them all for one moment, there was a sudden, jarring thud, and then the engine noise cut out.
"We're down, sir," Reed's voice was soft, with a subtle hint of relief.
"Well done, Malcolm," Archer clapped him on the shoulder as he released his restraints and stood up, "come on, let's take a look around..."
"Cap'n," Trip stood up and stretched, "I'd love the exercise, but I think I'd best stay here and give the shuttle a once-over. I've no complaints about the landing but I'd best check there's no system damage from flying through that storm."
"Good thinking, Trip," Archer nodded, "stay with the shuttle and check it over – signal Enterprise, tell them we've made it and ask for them to standby. Malcolm, you're with me, we'll see if we can find the source of that signal. We'll check in with you later, Trip."
With nods and affirmative noises, the three men quickly set about their tasks. Trip was already grabbing his tools as Archer and Reed slipped on their thicker jackets, armed themselves with phasers and tricorders, and stepped out into the storm.