Frustrated didn’t begin
to describe her mood.
stood before the main viewscreen of the command center, her
expression tight as she fought to control her temper over Jon’s
latest declaration. Less than a week had passed since the incident
with the alien, Tarquin, and she still hadn't quite shaken her sense
of unease over how the telepath had been handled. Yes, Tarquin’s
demand that they leave Hoshi behind permanently had been beyond the
pale, but Lieutenant Commander Reed’s action – to shoot the alien
before he even realized he was in danger – had been unnecessarily
violent in Erika’s opinion. Reed hadn’t hesitated in the slightest
when he drew and fired, and it was only after the fact, when Tarquin
crumpled to the ground in an unmoving heap, that the tactical officer
even checked his phase pistol to verify that it was set to stun.
Erika hadn't reported the incident to Jonathan – the only
aware of Reed’s action had been herself and Sato, and Hoshi was
certainly looking at Reed differently as a result – but that was
mostly because she wasn’t entirely sure whether the tactical officer
had been wrong to do what he did. Tarquin had essentially tried to
blackmail them into leaving Hoshi behind and God only knew what sort
of horrors the alien had in mind for her if they had. What would it
have said about them that they were willing to sell one of their own
into what amounted to slavery for a sliver of possible intelligence
that might or might not even pan out?
He who fights with monsters,
the old saying
went, might take care lest he
thereby become a monster. Could they have even considered such a
course of action without it seriously impairing the moral certitude
of their current path? Erika didn’t know … and in the silence of her
cabin late at night, she had to admit that Reed had only done what
she herself had wanted to do when Tarquin made his demand.
she made a silent note to keep a closer eye on Reed in the future.
with the information they’d obtained from ransacking Tarquin’s home
while he was unconscious,
Enterprise had departed the system and was now only hours away
from the coordinates of a Xindi colony that was already turning out
to be nothing like they had expected. While there were curious energy
readings emanating from the planet in question, there weren’t any
indications of defenses otherwise.
worse, though, was Jonathan’s declared intention on being part of the
team they were planning on sending to investigate.
“Commander, Major,” she said softly, her eyes locked on Jon, “clear
the room, please.” The captain frowned briefly at her words, but Reed
and Hayes sprang to obey immediately. Soval gave her a single bland
look, complete with raised eyebrow, before turning and striding away
as if the decision to leave had been his idea alone. Within seconds,
Erika was alone with her former lover. “Are you insane?” she asked
sharply. “This is a recon mission, not something the
captain needs to oversee
decision is final,” Jon said darkly. He continued to stare at the
viewscreen and Erika couldn’t help but to notice just how exhausted
he appeared. For a long moment, she hesitated – over the last month
or so, she had notice how he was distancing himself once more,
although this time it was different somehow; there was less guilt and
more fear. These days, he was jumping at shadows and looking at
people as if he wasn’t sure if they were really themselves. Erratic
was the word Erika herself would use when describing him.
mission is too damned important to be screwed up by you trying to
prove something,” she finally declared. Exactly as she expected,
Jon’s head snapped around and his eyes narrowed, but she continued.
“I don’t know what’s got into you lately,” she said, “but we don’t
have the time to rush off on a mission to prove to everyone how brave
fine,” Archer said through clenched teeth.
not fine,” Erika retorted
instantly. “You’re not sleeping or eating. You’re on duty
twenty-four, seven and if I need to find you, ninety percent of the
time, regardless of what
time it is, you’re in here.” At his frown, she drew in a deep breath
and locked eyes with him. “If you keep this up,” she said softly,
“the first officer is going to have to officially note your
behavior.” Jon recoiled at the implicit threat – identifying his
out-of-character actions in the ship’s log would be the first step in
removing him from command, no matter how repugnant the thought was to
her. He was silent for a long time, but when he finally responded, it
entire body language transformed, as if he was finally allowing
himself to take note of the exhaustion riding his shoulders, and he
lifted one of his hands to cover his face. With his other hand, he
braced himself on the computer console and slumped forward slightly.
might be for the best,” he murmured. “I’m not sleeping because I
can’t sleep.” He shook his
head and sighed again. “I’ve been seeing and hearing … things,” he
sort of things?” Erika asked.
that can’t exist,” Jon replied. “Dead people mostly. Trip, T’Pol,
Cutler … a few others.” Hernandez blinked.
spoken to Phlox?” she asked, even as she made a mental note to check
with the doctor herself. The last thing they needed was a commanding
officer on the verge of a mental breakdown. Even as the thought
occurred to her, another came on its heels: this was the Delphic
Expanse and they had seen all sorts of weird things in the last two
months. This could be one of those anomalies like the one that made
all of the clocks count backwards last week or the scare Crewman
Burris had with the transporter the week before that…
Archer said. “I’ve been ignoring them mostly.” His lips tightened.
“But seeing them, hearing them … well, they’ve made me … re-examine
some of my previous decisions over the years.”
why I’m here, Jon,” Erika said calmly. Inside, her heart was racing –
how the hell did you ask someone if they were crazy? For that matter,
what were you supposed to do? – although she did her best to keep it
from showing on her face. “Talk to me, not to ghosts.” A wry smile
flickered across his face.
easier with T’Pol,” he admitted. “She and I weren’t … we hadn’t …”
Erika smiled and dropped a hand on his shoulder.
she said. “But I’m here, whenever you need me.” He nodded and they
stared at one another for seconds too long. Suddenly desperate to get
the conversation back on track, Erika reached for humor. “This would
have been a lot easier if you brought Porthos along,” she said with a
grin. “At least then, you’d
always have someone who could listen.” To her surprise, Jon
didn’t smile or laugh or chuckle. Instead, he went completely still –
she could feel his muscles tighten underneath her hand – and his
expression turned blank. He gave her a look she couldn’t begin to
decipher before grunting softly.
isn’t that interesting,”
he murmured under his breath, his words clearly not intended for her
ears. The steel in his voice made her drop her hand and look at him
with wide eyes. In the span of a single second, the hesitant,
self-doubting man was gone, only to be replaced by a grim,
battle-hardened man she barely knew.
angry man, she realized,
though she didn’t know why.
you recommending we send on this mission since I’m sidelined?” he
asked flatly, his eyes once more riveted on the viewscreen. It took
Erika a long heartbeat to catch up.
to fly the shuttlepod,” she answered slowly, “Reed to command the
ground team, and however many MACOs he thinks he needs.”
said with a shake of his head. “That’s too much force and they might
decide to conduct a ground assault because an opportunity presents
itself.” He frowned. “And I’m not sure how wise it is to put Travis
and Malcolm in the same room these days.” He gave her a sidelong,
Erika said in response to his unspoken question, “I don’t know what’s
going on between them.” She had a few theories, some that made more
sense than others like the idea of a love triangle between the two
bickering officers and the attractive MACO sleeping with one of them,
but sadly, she had nothing concrete yet. Jon grunted but his eyes
Suliban pod instead,” he decided. “Travis to pilot, plus two others
to watch his back.” He stared at the screen for a moment. “Hayes,” he
said. “Send Hayes plus one other.” Erika nodded.
about Soval?” she asked.
call,” Jon said with a nod. “Check with him and let all of them know
that this is a recon
mission, not a ground
you?” she asked as Archer turned away. “What are you going to be
doing?” The smile he flashed was wolfish and dark.
into some things,” he said calmly, even as his eyes glittered with
hidden anger and confusion. “Tell Malcolm that I’d like to speak with
him.” Erika hesitated for a moment but finally gave Jon a nod.
sir,” she said. Erika slowly walked toward the door, pausing only
briefly to give Jon another look. He was intent on the main viewer,
although this time, he had brought up a deckplan of
Enterprise and, if she
wasn’t mistaken, it looked like he was studying bio-signs. The
expression on Archer’s face was unyielding, resolute …
frightening. She didn’t
know this man, didn’t recognize the simmering fury that bubbled just
below the surface, and she was suddenly very afraid that one day
soon, she would look into his eyes and see a stranger.
But first, she had a job to do.