The first person Dani saw when she entered the mess hall-turned-movie theater was Kyle, who was seated near the middle. They made eye contact briefly, but neither of them moved to close the distance between them. Kyle kept his seat, and Dani kept on walking. Prior to Risa, Dani had a permanent seat next to Kyle, not just on movie night but every time they were together. But that wasn’t an option now. It had been a little over a week since Enterprise had left Risa, and Dani still couldn’t bring herself to talk to Kyle about his mission to Cardassia Prime.
About the fact that he murdered Marac.
Dani pushed the encroaching memories of that night out of her mind and continued to walk through the room. She took one of the empty seats near the back of the room.
The mess hall doors opened, and Archer stepped in, his eyes scanning the room. They stopped on Dani.
Dani turned her attention to Archer and smiled as she watched him approach.
“Hi,” he said once he’d reached her. He lowered himself into the chair beside her. “I would’ve been here earlier, but something came up at the last moment that needed to be taken care of.”
“That’s okay,” Dani said. “You haven’t missed anything.”
“Do you want anything?” Archer asked. “Popcorn? Something to drink?”
Archer looked around at the rest of the audience. The movie would be starting soon, and the room was starting to fill up fast. His eyes found Kyle Hicks, who was looking their way.
“How are things between you and Kyle?” Archer asked.
“Frosty would be an optimistic way to describe it,” Dani said. “Nothing’s changed since Risa. We try to avoid each other. I try to avoid him, at least.” She looked at Archer and smiled. “Thankfully, I have somewhere else to sleep at night,” she said, lowering her voice.
Archer returned her smile. He wanted to lean in and kiss her but thought better of it, given their surroundings. “Well, that’s one good thing,” he said.
“What did you think about tonight?” Archer asked. After the movie, he and Dani had enjoyed a quiet meal in the Captain’s Mess and then returned to Archer’s quarters. “It was our first time out here.”
“I thought it went well,” Dani said. “I noticed a few people staring, but it wasn’t too bad. I think they’re still curious about me and Kyle. I had a good time.”
Archer wrapped his arms around Dani’s waist. “I’m glad to hear that,” he said. “I know it probably doesn’t compare to whatever they do for fun in the 24th Century.”
“You’d be surprised,” Dani said as she fought the urge to tense up. “Do we have to talk about the future right now? One of the good things about this place is that it’s so different that there’s not a lot that reminds me…”
“I’m sorry,” Archer said. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s okay,” Dani said. “The longer I’m here, the less likely we are to find a way back. I’d like to start thinking of here as my home, but it’s hard to do when I’m always thinking about my old life.”
Archer nodded. “Of course. I won’t bring it up again. Promise.” He kissed her. “In fact, I’ve got something that I think will do a wonderful job of keeping your mind occupied.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“Mm-hm,” Archer said. “It seems to have done the trick before.” He kissed her again.
The comm couldn’t have chimed at the most inconvenient time. Archer and Dani were tangled up in each other in his bed, practically devouring each other.
“Engineering to Captain Archer.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Archer said, annoyed.
“Such is the life of a starship captain,” Dani said.
“I’m sorry about this,” Archer said.
“It’s okay,” Dani said. “Trust me when I say I understand.”
The comm chimed again, and Archer reached up to the control panel directly above the bed. “Archer here, go ahead,” he said.
“Captain – It’s Trip,” he said. “Sorry for interruptin’, but I wanted to let you know that we’ve had a breakthrough down here. We’ve cracked the code.”
Archer and Dani exchanged shocked silent glances. He carefully disentangled himself from her. ”Trip,” Archer began, scooting into a sitting position. ”I think I know what you’re saying, but I want to make absolutely sure I understand correctly. You’ll have to spell this out for me.”
“Captain – the temporal transporter is operational,” Trip said.
Archer looked at Dani again. They both knew what this meant, and they didn’t need to say it out loud. It meant that Dani would have to go back to the 24th Century.
Dani and Archer walked into Engineering, where Kyle and Trip proudly displayed the functioning temporal transporter. It was illuminated and looked like it was ready to go.
“And you’re sure it will work?” Dani asked.
“We haven’t tested it,” Kyle said. It was the first time that words had passed between him and Dani since Risa. “It appears to be functioning correctly, from everything I can tell. But there’s only one way to find out if it works again.”
Dani and Archer looked at each other. This was supposed to be good news, but both of them were finding it difficult to see it that way.
“Is it stable?” Archer asked. “The power source, I mean.”
“Yes, sir,” Trip said. Why would the captain be asking about the power? He already knew that the issue had been Daniels’s missing code and nothing else.
“I don’t see any issues with power,” Trip continued. “We’ve repaired the issue that was preventing it from working. It wasn’t a power issue.” As soon as he said it, he realized what the captain was really asking. “We have the ability to activate and deactivate at will without any apparent loss or other degradation of function, if that’s what you’re asking, Captain. There’s no urgency; we can send Hicks and Janeway back anytime we choose. Right now, tomorrow…”
“Is there a way to test it?” Archer asked.
“We’d have to send someone through it, and they’d have to come back to confirm that it worked,” Trip said.
“Not necessarily,” Kyle said. “We could set the destination for only a few minutes into the future and transport a test object. If the time passes, and the test object reappears, theoretically, that would serve as confirmation that the test was successful.”
Archer nodded. “Schedule a test for tomorrow afternoon following our meeting with the Paragon colonists.”
“Aye, captain,” Trip said. He turned and walked away with the transporter.
Kyle beamed. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “We’re actually going home!” He turned and followed Trip.
Dani looked to Archer, shaking her head. She didn’t know what to say. Wasn’t this what she’d wanted since the moment she and Kyle had landed there? Then why was this hitting her the same way that bad news would? Archer nodded knowingly and ushered her out of Engineering.