"And at four-thirty, you have a meeting with the Committee of the Daughters of Cochrane's Commons—"
"Is this about the anniversary of Zephram Cochrane's warp flight? That isn't for another four months, Hena."
Lieutenant Hena Zahriyal winced and consulted her PADD. Admiral Jonathan Archer sighed and stifled another wave of sympathy for the most junior of his aides. Her relative youth was usually hidden by her calm aplomb, but it were times like these that it was so obvious.
"Um, no, sir. That meeting's next week, with the Sons of Cochrane Commons, Beta Centauri Order. This is about flowers for Mister Cochrane's mother's grave. Tomorrow's her birthday and they don't want anyone to forget it...sir."
Archer sighed, rolled his eyes and prayed for patience. "All right, put in an order from Stacy's in downtown San Fran...purple lilies and white irises, just like she'd wanted."
"Very good, sir." Zahriyal made a note next to the appropriate date; it joined a long list of similar notes for the upcoming meeting with Starfleet Engineering R&D, the dinner with the Alcadian representative and a chess game with Ambassador Soval. Then she began to outline the rest of the admiral's evening with her normal attention to detail.
Archer listened with the requisite nods, but his mind was far away. He should never have let Gardner and the others talk him into a desk job. He missed the thrill of space exploration and the reassuring presence of his old NX-01 crew. Granted, Enterprise was under the steady command of Captain Charles Tucker the Third, with Commander T'Pol as his XO, Commander Reed as his Tactical Officer, and Lieutenants Sato-Reed and Mayweather as part of his staff. Archer missed them all; even Porthos hadn't hesitated to go with Malcolm, Hoshi and Travis to Norfolk for the fleet carrier commissioning.
He resisted a sigh. Maybe I can hop a transport and see Phlox on Denobula or Shran on Andoria. Ouch. It's bad when I'm wishing Shran would walk through my door just for the theatrical aspect.
Zahriyal put a hand to the earpiece in her ear and frowned intently at the message. "Sir, change of plans. It seems that Ambassador Soval wishes to speak with you as soon as possible."
"Former ambassador Xiao Leung, sir."
Archer flinched, though his sudden dread had nothing to do with the former ambassador. She'd been injured in the same attack that had killed Admiral Maxwell Forrest. The memory of his dying brought up memories he'd thought long buried. Nevertheless, he set his own personal discomfort aside.
"Relay to Ambassador Soval that I'll see him at the Vulcan Consulate—"
"He's not at the Consulate, sir. He's in the Western Courtyard."
"What's he doing there?" Archer sounded as mystified as Zahriyal looked. The Western Courtyard of Starfleet Command was hardly what Archer called "private". It was a popular spot for lunch, assorted gatherings, and the daily morning tai-chi group's practice.
"I don't know, sir, but he was very adamant on meeting you there."
"Thanks, Hena." He grabbed his uniform jacket and nodded at her. "Hold down the fort till I get back."
"Will do, sir."
As soon as he disappeared, Zahriyal smiled and tapped her earpiece. "He's on his way, sir. Yes, I canceled all his evening appointments, save yours. His schedule's clear. And yes, that shipment of special doggie biscuits arrived an hour ago."
The Western Courtyard faced the Bay, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Archer heard the loud thrum of the engines of a landing shuttlepod and involuntarily ducked his head as it came in close overhead for a landing—too close, in his estimation. If he could redesign the landing strips adjacent to Starfleet Command, he'd put them where they'd have enough room without shaking the duraglass windows.
There's a reason why they made the Nevada desert an alternate landing site for the old space shuttle. Archer shook his head and winced. That pilot's a rookie; Travis needs to give him or her some pointers before that 'pod takes out the comm tower.
It took him ten minutes to cross the Command grounds and he had to return all the salutes that were aimed at him on the way. Archer sighed with relief when he turned onto the path that led to the Western Courtyard. Again, he wondered what the hell Soval was up to—wait a minute? What was that noise? A dog barking? Soval had a dog? That couldn't be right. A sehlat, maybe, but a dog—?
Four whirlwinds of brown fur charged through the Western Courtyard's gates. In the lead was Porthos; Archer saw the silver tag on the collar around the beagle's neck. Two beagles paced slightly behind him on either side and the last one took rearguard, like a perfect diamond formation in flight. The other beagles looked eerily familiar...Archer automatically went down on one knee to greet his loyal companion, but he didn't count on the two wingmen (wingdogs?) literally running him over and the rearguard parking itself square in the middle of his chest. Then not one, but four rough tongues licked his face with enthusiastic dog slobber.
"Okay, okay! That's enough, guys!" Archer managed to sit up with Porthos on his lap, the second dog clinging to his uniform by his paws, and the other two squatting down around him with tails wagging faster than wiper blades. "Where'd you guys come from?"
"All over the galaxy, Jon," came a familiar voice. "You'd be surprised to find out where Porthos's brothers have been."
He craned his neck upward and grinned. "Sandra! It's good to see you again! How'd you—"
Sandra de los Reyes matched the wide grin. "Actually, I just helped out at the end. Your old crew found them and got them together." She knelt and rubbed Athos's shiny coat. "This is Athos, Aramis is on your far side, and that's D'Artagnan clinging to your chest like a vine."
"Artie f'short," said a brassy Australian-accented voice, "and he's a cute little devil."
"He sure is," Archer agreed. He inclined his head at the uniformed man who was leaning against the gate in a casual manner. "Royal Australian?"
"Cap'n John Waterston, at your service, sir." He smiled and beckoned to Artie, who jumped off Archer and padded back to him like an obedient soldier. "D'Artagnan's mine. He stole your Armory officer's cheese sandwich and his wife ran into my daughter and...well, that started the whole thing."
Xiao Leung laughed and Aramis's head shot up at the sound. "And my Gou-Aramis- was with me on Vulcan and was a favorite of Maxwell and Soval. He used to follow Max everywhere, just like he was his protector."
Archer's smile became sad. "Except—"
"That one time, he was not present at the Embassy, or it would have been likely Aramis wouldn't have survived." She sighed, her eyes shiny with tears. "I thought it would be wonderful to bring you a piece of the joyful memory, of him who had meant so much to both of us."
Archer got to his feet and walked over to her, with Porthos, Aramis and Athos nipping at his heels. He embraced her and whispered softly, "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Xiao Leung's smile returned and she gestured for Jeremy Lucas to step forward with his niece. "And I would like to introduce Athos's relatives."
Archer blinked at the coincidence; was the Universe playing a trick on him? "Doctor Lucas? You're Athos's owner?"
"My niece is," Jeremy Lucas replied, as he ushered a smiling, dark-haired woman forward. "Patty, this Admiral Jonathan Archer. Sir, my niece, Patricia."
"Pleased to meet you, ma'am," Archer said, automatically extending a hand, then realized it was damp with dog drool. Patty didn't seem to mind; she grasped it and shook it firmly.
"Don't worry, I'm used to it," she said in a cheerful voice, and Archer immediately knew where she'd gotten the sunny, optimistic expression from. "Doctor Phlox and his wife brought their granddaughter along and Zoesia got to meet Athos."
Then a Southern drawl interrupted, "You look like you've been smacked upside the head by a horde of doggy paws, Jon."
"If you keep surprising me like this, I'll have a concussion," Archer retorted. Then he grinned at Captain Trip Tucker and added, "but I'll let it go this time."
Trip laughed again and made beckoning motions with his hand. "C'mon, Jon, there's a reunion goin' on, and you and the Musketeers are the honorees. Get in here and join the party. You realize that dog hair on your uniform is pretty becoming?"
"Don't push it, Captain Tucker," Archer growled playfully, but he did as ordered. To his surprise, a long table had been set up along one side of the courtyard, filled with treats for both humans and canines. The smell of Tex-Mex food, courtesy of Sandra's mother Isabella; Vulcan delicacies from Soval and the Vulcan Consulate, and other goodies made his mouth water. Plus, the distinct aroma of cheddar cheese came from the biscuits in the basket at one side of the table.
"Ghericks," Hoshi said, referring to a pet supply store in downtown San Francisco. "Porthos can eat as many as he wants without getting sick. Patty told me about it."
"Hoshi." Archer said and gave her a warm hug. "Thanks for organizing this surprise. I'm floored...the Musketeers are all reunited and I'm glad for it."
"Your welcome, Jon," Hoshi replied. "Now, let's enjoy the party, shall we?"
It lasted until sunset; the Humans swapped tales while the Musketeers frolicked to and fro among the partygoers, and gorged shamelessly on the doggie biscuits. Archer noticed that Soval spent most of his time talking with Xiao Leung and avoided the beagles whenever possible. The Vulcan ambassador glanced down in distaste as Aramis put his paws on Soval's pristine Vulcan robes.
"Give him a biscuit, silly," Xiao Leung told him.
Soval gave her a long-suffering look, but padded obediently to the basket and gingerly picked up a biscuit with two fingers. He bent and carefully put it in the waiting dog's jaws. Before Soval could escape, the other Musketeers surrounded him and began clamoring for treats as well.
Soval's expression was priceless.
"Gotcha!" Trip said, as he snapped a picture with his camera. "You're on Candid Camera, Ambassador."
Soval gathered up the tattered remains of his dignity and asked, "Was that necessary, Captain Tucker?"
"Hey, we needed a keepsake of the event," Trip replied, with no trace of remorse. "Best a time as any."
Soival sighed and looked over at T'Pol and Xiao Leung with an aggrieved look, but he didn't find any sympathy there. Xiao Leung was doubled over with laughter and while T'Pol didn't smile, mirth shone in her eyes.
Finally, Archer raised a glass of wine and called for silence. "I want to thank everyone for arranging this surprise for me...and Porthos. I'm glad his family's reunited once more, as well as ours." He smiled at Hoshi, firm in Malcolm's embrace, then at Trip, T'Pol, Travis, Phlox, Captain Waterston, Jeremy and Patty Lucas, Xiao Leung, Soval...and finally at the four exhausted beagles at his feet. "For family and friendship."
"For family and friendship," they all echoed. Then Travis, Trip and Malcolm grinned at each other and all three chorused:
"All for one..."
The reply rang over the courtyard. "...and one for all!"