The next morning when Dani woke up, Archer was dressing. “Good morning,” she said.
Archer, whose back had been turned to her while he’d been pulling a shirt over his head, turned to the bed. “I hope I didn’t wake you,” he said, walking over to the bed.
“You did,” Dani said. “But I don’t mind. I wish you’d woken me earlier, when you got up.”
“I wanted to let you sleep.” He sat down in front of Dani on the bed. “You were up late last night because of me, and honestly, I was hoping to surprise you with breakfast in bed.”
“I don’t want to spend any more time sleeping than I have to,” Dani said. “I don’t want to miss out on our last hours.”
Archer nodded. “I wish I didn’t have to go down to Paragan,” Archer said. “It doesn’t seem right to spend time on that when you’ll be gone in a few hours.”
“You have your duties,” Dani said matter-of-factly, “and I have mine. Yours, in this case, require you to visit the Paragan colony – mine is to get back to the 24th Century so that I can be debriefed. I guess it is what it is.”
Archer, surprised by her words and her attitude, blinked. “You seem to be taking it pretty well,” he said. “How can you be so accepting of the situation?”
“It’s not that – it’s just that I’m resigned to our fate,” Dani corrected. “There’s no point in fighting what we can’t change.”
“But we can change it,” Archer said. He held Dani’s gaze. He knew that she knew what he was suggesting.
“We could, but we probably wouldn’t like the consequences,” Dani said. “If Command found out that the transporter works and that I didn’t go through, think of the consequences it could have for you. They might strip you of your command or even court martial you. And that cannot happen. Your mission is way too important…Even if it didn’t happen that way, do you honestly think that the Temporal Police would let me stay here?” Dani shook her head, resigned to their apparent fate. “We might as well enjoy the time left and accept it for what it is.” She peeled back the covers and rose from the bed.
Dani was in the mess hall for her morning coffee break when she saw the initial bursts of orange appear in Paragan’s upper atmosphere. One burst turned into two, then three. Within a minute, it seemed like the entire atmosphere glowed orange. Her coffee and bagel unfinished, Dani abandoned her table and the mess hall and headed directly for the shuttlebay. She didn’t say anything to anyone along the way, but she didn’t need confirmation from anyone to recognize that something had gone horribly wrong on Paragan II.
Kyle was already standing outside the entrance to the shuttle bay when Dani arrived.
“Did you see what happened on the surface?” asked Dani as she approached.
Before Dani could reply, the doors slid back, and Archer, T’Pol, Trip, and Malcolm stepped out of the shuttle bay and into the corridor.
“Lt. Hicks, Commander Janeway,” Archer greeted.
“Captain, I saw the planet,” Kyle said. “What happened down there?”
“We’re not exactly sure, yet,” Archer said. “Right now, we’ve got to get Commander Tucker to sickbay for treatment. I’ll have to brief you later.”
Kyle nodded. For the first time, Kyle and Dani noticed that Trip had been injured somehow during the mission. He and Dani watched as Archer and the rest of his team continued down the corridor.
Dani was waiting when Archer emerged from Sickbay. She reached out to him as he passed.
“Jon, what is going on?” she asked him. The look on his face told her that the answer was bad, but she wanted details.
“There was an accident,” Archer began. “Somehow, the planet’s atmosphere was ignited.”
“What about the colonists?”
Archer closed his eyes and shook his head. “They’re gone.”
“All of them?”
“We’re trying to figure out what went wrong. Lt. Reed insists that everything was within the required parameters with regard to our shuttle. But somehow the tetrazine particles in the atmosphere were ignited.”
Dani knitted her brows. Something wasn’t right here. Why didn’t she remember reading about this? Surely, an event this catastrophic would have surfaced during her research on NX-01 and Archer.
“I don’t remember reading about this event,” Dani said. “And it seems like too significant of an occurrence to just go unnoticed by history.”
“I’ll have to brief you later,” Archer said. “Before you and Kyle go back.”
He moved away to go to the bridge. Dani was left wondering whether any of this could have occurred due to her and Kyle’s presence here. If that was the case, maybe she and Kyle weren’t going back to the 24th Century so soon, after all. They had to figure out what went wrong and why history never recorded this event.
Dani met Kyle in their quarters. He had been waiting there for her to return with news of what had happened to Paragan II. She still wasn’t over his involvement with the Cardassia Prime incident, but there were more immediate matters that needed to be attended to right now.
Dani already knew what Kyle was waiting to hear, and she wasted no time obliging. “Something really bad happened down there,” she said.
“What happened?” Kyle asked.
“All the colonists have been wiped out,” Dani said.
“Somehow, the tetrazine in their atmosphere was ignited, which caused a shockwave. Everything down there is gone.”
“But…I don’t understand,” Kyle said. “I’ve never heard of that happening to Paragan II. It’s a thriving colony in the 24th Century.”
“I know. Shouldn’t we try to find out what went wrong?” Dani asked.
“I have a feeling that Captain Archer has every intention of doing just that,” Kyle said.
Dani pressed the chime on the door to Archer’s quarters. “Come in,” she heard him call from inside. The door slid open and she stepped into the room. Archer was at his desk with Porthos in his arms, scrolling through a long list of images on his computer terminal. Dani assumed they were the images of the lost colonists. Archer seemed entranced. He didn’t even acknowledge her entrance into the room.
“Jon?” Dani said.
Without turning to her, he said, “If it isn’t anything urgent, I’d really rather be alone right now.”
“I know you don’t have a counselor on this ship, but talking can be a big help in situations like this,” Dani said.
“Talking isn’t going to bring those colonists back,” Archer said.
“No, but it might help,” Dani said. She took a few steps closer to him. “You don’t feel guilty about any of this, do you?”
Archer finally turned to her. “My guilt is warranted.”
“You did everything you could,” Dani said. “You followed all the protocols. There’s no way it could be your fault.”
“Well, somehow, I must have missed something somewhere,” Archer insisted. “I have been…distracted lately.”
“By what?” Dani asked, taken aback by the words. She couldn’t miss the underlying insinuation. She shifted her weight, fighting the urge to become defensive. “By me?”
“The truth is I haven’t been paying as much attention to my duties ever since we got back from Risa. Maybe my preoccupation with you has caused me to miss something, something crucial, apparently.”
Dani stood silently, unable to generate a response to Archer’s statement. She couldn’t believe she was hearing these words come out of his mouth. Obviously, she didn’t know him as well as she’d hoped she did if he could turn on her and blame her for this. Instead of responding, she merely turned around and walked out of his quarters.