Author's Note: Italics are Malcolm’s thoughts.
Malcolm Reed was in a very good mood. He and Ensign Baxter were testing Shuttlepod Two’s new phasers, and weapons tests always put Malcolm in a good mood.
They’d found a suitable barren planet, the fifth in a sytem. T’Pol and Hoshi found no evidence of technology on the inhabited fourth planet capable of detecting them, but they were testing on the far side to be safe.
“We’re in geosynchronous orbit, sir.”
“Excellent.” He checked his panels, which all read as they should. “Firing in three, two, one.” Then he pressed the control and the phaser shot out.
The next thing Malcolm knew he was thrown out of his chair. Baxter was as well. “Are you alright, Ensign?” he asked as they leapt back to their stations.
“Fine, sir. Why is the shuttlepod shaking? We’ve been propelled out of orbit.”
“Something on the surface reflected our phaser back at us with three times the intensity.”
“Oh no. Sir, the engines just died. And we’re caught in the orbit of the fourth planet.”
“Can you fix them?”
“I’ll try.” Baxter ran towards the back while Malcolm took over his station. Not that there was much he could do without engines. At least he could aim for land. The last thing Malcolm wanted was a water landing.
“The intake valve is sealed shut!” yelled Baxter. “There’s nothing I can do!”
They were rapidly approaching the planet and it was starting to get uncomfortably warm inside the shuttlepod. Sweat rolled down Malcolm’s neck as he thought frantically. Matters were not helped by the quaking, either.
“Baxter! Come out here!”
One hand still desperately trying to control their descent, Malcolm reached with the other into a storage compartment between the two stations. “If we stay in here we’ll never make it.” He tossed a package to Baxter and took another for himself.
“A parachute.” And the captain thought I was paranoid.
“How do you use it?”
“Pull this.” He pointed to the primary release. “And here’s the reserve.” Abandoning his attempts to pilot the shuttlepod, he slid into his own parachute. “Contact Enterprise as soon as possible.”
It was so hot that breathing took enormous effort. Malcolm opened the hatch, struggling to keep his balance in the vibrating shuttlepod. “You first.”
Baxter nodded and jumped. Then Malcolm followed him.
It was a relief to escape the heat of the shuttlepod, even though the atmosphere was a bit thin. He couldn’t see Baxter. No time to look more thoroughly, though. He pulled the cord.
To his alarm, his descent didn’t slow as much as it should. Bloody hell, now what? He looked up and discovered that his parachute had, somehow, caught a large bird. Hopefully Baxter’s hadn’t.
Then the ground approached, all too rapidly. In his first break, he wasn’t going to land in water. Not that it matter much at the speed he was going.
The last thing he noticed was the indignant squawking of the trapped bird.
Malcolm opened his eyes to find a purple-skinned alien hovering over him. So much for avoiding cultural contamination. He was strapped to a table on his back with what felt like five different and very strong ropes. He turned his head and didn’t see Baxter, which was a small consolation.
“Likely demon,” sputtered the UT, which sounded damaged. That was followed by a string of unintelligible grunts until he heard, “lake trial” grunt, grunt “sink” grunt “not, warlock.” His tired and aching head took a minute to string the words together. Then it hit him: he was going to be tried for witchcraft. If he sank, he was innocent. If not, he was guilty and would, presumably, be killed.
Bloody hell. If I wanted to die by drowning, I would’ve joined the bloody Navy!
Another voice joined the conversation. Grunt “sink” grunt grunt grunt “white demon.” The UT drew out the last syllable far too long, and then Malcolm heard nothing but grunts. Lovely. I’m about to be tried for witchcraft in water and the damned communicator isn’t even working.
Someone held a sweet-smelling cloth over his face and immediately he began to slip into unconsciousness. Perhaps this is fatal to humans. That was much preferable to drowning. If he had to die – which seemed likely – Malcolm would much prefer that way. It was possible that he might still be rescued, but Gardner was getting fanatical about avoiding cultural contamination. That made a rescue unlikely even if Baxter managed to contact Enterprise in time, and dropping off to sleep forever was really much more appealing than drowning.
He woke up to a nauseating smell only to be dragged to his feet. His captors were none to gentle about tying his hands behind his back, either. The shorter of the two said something and brandished a sharp sword which made his point fairly clear. There would be no escaping his fate. A sword would’ve been preferable to drowning, but Malcolm reminded himself that he was trying to keep cultural contamination to a minimum. What if this species had different colored blood or some other difference?
Unfortunately, that also ruled out swimming. Then again, he was fairly sure that swimming would only earn him recapture and the sword. Damn it, where’s one of Archer and Trip’s miracles when I need one?
The taller alien began making a speech as the shorter one prodded him up a series of steps to a platform. It was made from two pieces of wood which appeared to be controlled by a pulley. Malcolm supposed that they would swing down and drop him into the water. It was a small lake, but he had no way of telling how deep it was. Not that it mattered much. He hoped that Baxter was safe, at least.
Malcolm supposed the locals were afraid he’d bewitch them, as they wouldn’t look at him. That was just as well, although it probably didn’t make that much difference in terms of cultural contamination. That ship, as his Aunt Margaret liked to say, had sailed. He was trying not to look at the water, though; trying desperately not to think about it and failing miserably. Water all around, lungs burning, losing control and breathing in… think about something else, anything else, like Shakespeare. “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Right. At least Hamlet had the choice. Some of us aren’t so lucky.
At the edge of the crowd one brave person in a bright blue dress looked directly at him for a moment before averting his or her gaze down.
The speech was over. Malcolm looked towards the brave local again. It would be nice to have eye contact before he died. The person looked at him and then down again to his or her hands. Malcolm smiled. Then he heard a creaking noise, and took a deep breath before the platform split beneath him.
As he sank feet-first toward the bottom it took conscious effort to keep from flailing about. No need for that, and better to be upright. Only a few more seconds remained in the surprisingly warm water. Any time now would be lovely. Bloody hell, come on. How deep is this damned lake anyway?
Just when panic was looming large, he felt a welcome tickle. The solid transporter pad was a welcome relief, and he managed to materialize standing up, if sopping wet. Breathe. In. Out. Professionalism. Just another brush with death on the job.
“Welcome back,” said Captain Archer, while Trip tried not to laugh. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. Baxter?”
“Bruised and sore, but otherwise fine.”
While Archer was failing in his attempt to act cavalier, as though it was just another near-death experience for his tactical officer, Trip seemed perplexed. “You don’t look surprised.”
“I saw T’Pol.”
“How’d you recognize her under all that makeup?”
“She was the only one who looked at me.” After a pause for effect, he continued, “and the only one whose hand was making that Vulcan salute.”
Both Captain Archer and Trip grinned. “Good to have you back, Malcolm,” chuckled the captain.
“It’s good to be back, sir.” Now if I can just avoid his little counseling session…
“Why don’t you join me for breakfast tomorrow? Seven hundred hours?”
Aqua pura is Latin for "pure water."
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