Captain Jonathan Archer quickly nodded in response to greetings from crewmembers as he jogged to catch up with Porthos. It was proving to be a hurry–up–and–wait kind of walk today. The beagle was apparently on a mission to inspect every conduit grille cover on this deck of Enterprise.
“You know, I have qualified people who keep an eye on those,” Archer muttered when Porthos trotted to a halt in front of the ninth grille cover on this particular walk.
The dog ignored him and took care to give every inch of the grille a thorough and appraising sniff. Bemused, the captain pulled a small PADD from the top pocket of his uniform but before he could even turn the device on, Porthos had turned away from number nine with a soft woof. In an instant the beagle and was off at a gallop again, ears flapping with each joyous bound.
“Porthos!” Archer shook his head, jammed the PADD back into his pocket, and quickened his steps to catch up again.
He couldn’t blame the dog, really. Even he was starting to feel a bit stir crazy on this particular mapping route. For the last four days they’d been idle, orbiting a planetoid while both science and engineering teams tried to devise a way to maneuver a telemetry device through its unique atmospheric conditions.
Lost in his thoughts, the captain kept walking right past Porthos, whose rapid click, click, clacking of his claws across the deck plating had come to halt in front of the next grille. As Archer rounded the corner he ran smack into his Chief Engineer and had to grab the other man’s arm to keep them both from falling to the floor.
He tightened his grip in alarm when he looked up and saw what was hovering in the air behind the engineer.
Before either man could say anything, Porthos trotted around the corner and came to an immediate, skittering halt. Every muscle in the beagle’s body tensed, his ears flatted against his head and he proceeded to sound the canine version of red alert as loudly and urgently as possible.
“Sorry, Cap’n! Sorry!” Trip tried to apologize over the din of the agitated canine. With Archer’s firm grip still immobilizing his right arm, the engineer struggled to quickly fiddle with a largish control in his hands, eventually halting the forward movement of the… thing… hovering in the air behind him.
“Sorry, Porthos,” Trip added, offering a lopsided smile at the captain’s dog.
Porthos ignored the engineer and started moving slowly right to left and then back again, eyes on the hovering menace, trading in the barking for a low growl, the fur along his back standing straight up.
“What the hell is that thing?” Archer said. Letting go of Trip’s arm, he waved a hand at the enormous mass slowly drifting to a halt against the ceiling of the corridor. Unfortunately, the small movement caused enough of a breeze to set what looked like tendrils in motion and Porthos started barking again, this time with a few punctuated bark–howls. The captain kneeled down to offer a calming rub of the dog’s ears, and an accusing look at the younger man standing next to them.
At first glance Archer had thought the hovering thing was the symbiotic life form they’d encountered the first year Enterprise was launched – the one that had forced Hoshi to push the translator – and her own skills – to the limits to free himself and several other crewmen, Trip included.
But as eight broad but paper–thin tendrils gracefully pushed together as one to lift it higher, Archer could see it was something else. Translucent, rounded and almost ghostlike, it looked fragile but also large enough so that there was barely enough room in the corridor for the thing. As soon as the eight tendrils gently lifted the mass, it bounced against the ceiling bulkhead. A pattern of pinprick lights encircled it in a staccato pattern and it gently drifted back to the floor.
It was ethereally beautiful, Archer might have admitted, if right at that moment his heart didn’t feel like it was about to pound out of his chest.
Porthos wasn’t entirely mollified by a few ears rubs either, huffing a disgruntled sniff and low growl every now and again. Crewmembers passing by tried desperately to stifle giggles or cover their amusement.
Trip rubbed his bruised arm and gave the captain a crooked smile. “It’s our solution for the telemetry problem.” His grin faded as he met the Captain’s eye again. “I, uh, just wanted to take it out for a test run around the ship. I didn’t mean to scare Porthos.”
Archer rose again and shook his head. “Forget Porthos, you nearly gave me a heart attack.” He stood up straighter and gave the delicate robot an appraising eye. “You think that’ll work?”
“It will.” Both men turned to see T’Pol approaching, a PADD in hand. She stopped to stand next to the engineer. “It is… an elegant design.”
Trip smiled. “Its movement is modeled after the jellyfish of Earth’s oceans. Actually, so is the way it’ll communicate with Enterprise.” He pointed to the top of the robot as it gently fell towards the floor. “There’s a subspace radio antenna embedded in the lens at the end of that gyroscopic mechanism. Sort of like a jellyfish’s eyestalk – it’s always pointing up no matter how the jellyfish’s body is angled, even if it’s swimming upside own. This should be able to keep a unbroken line of communication with the ship no matter what orientation it’s in.”
Archer nodded. “Snell’s window.”
Trip grinned. “You remembered your diving classes.”
Archer smiled. “I had a good instructor.”
T’Pol looked between the two men, so Archer explained. “It’s a phenomenon that underwater photographers…” he glanced at Trip, who laughed. “…are most familiar with. If you look up, everything that’s above the water line looks as if it’s compressed into a porthole window. You can see 180 degrees all the way around as if through a cone.”
T’Pol nodded. “The refraction of light as it moves from air to water. Exactly what we were experiencing with subspace communications in the planetoid’s atmosphere.”
“Right.” Trip said. “And this should help get us around that.” He turned to T’Pol, enthusiasm writ large all over his face. “In fact, we could create a group of these and…”
While the officers talked, Porthos edged forward carefully, his continued disapproval evident by the ridge of fur raised along his backbone. As the robot slowly floated back towards the deck plating, the beagle perked his ears forward and stood perfectly still, tail straight out behind him. Cocking his head first to one side, then the other, he watched with intense concentration.
A crewman passing by stirred the air just enough to cause the soft and shimmering covering of the mechanical tendrils to drift slightly and Porthos bounced a start, but otherwise remained rooted in place. With a soft and sustained whine, he leaned forward to carefully sniff one of the tendrils. When it didn’t move, the emboldened dog danced slightly forward and then back, paws moving on the floor like a tiny prizefighter. An occasional quick step forward and a snap at one of the tendrils were accompanied by a just–as–rapid retreat and low growl.
When there was no response to his challenge, Porthos stood up straight, gave two sharp barks and cocked his head again. Satisfied that the intruder had been successfully subdued the beagle trotted back and forth once with a satisfied huff.
The noise got the three officer’s attention. Trip’s eyes twinkled as he surreptitiously moved a control a fraction of an inch. A robotic tentacle it controlled lifted up and out, ever so slightly toward the curious quadruped…
…and a very alarmed beagle took several steps backward and began barking his loud disapproval again.
“Trip!” Archer glared at his third in command. T’Pol arched an eyebrow in Trip’s direction.
This time Trip couldn’t hide his amusement, shaking his head with a guilty laugh. “Sorry. Sorry!” He could barely be heard over Porthos’ furious barking. “I couldn’t help it.”
Archer shook his head and scooped up the riled beagle. “Never mind! I’ll go walk Porthos on C deck. You keep your pet on this deck.”
“Aye sir,” Trip chuckled as Archer walked away.