Captain Archer was dying.
His heart had stopped twice in the two minutes since Phlox had managed to wedge him into the cramped lifeboat, once more while the doctor was working to fix the damage, and had entered a state of ventricular tachycardia for the last thirty seconds. The reason was obvious: feedback from the exploding Science board had given the captain a massive electrical shock, short-circuiting his heart’s electrical conduction systems and causing an immediate and life-threatening series of cardiac arrhythmias. To further complicate matters, numerous pieces of shrapnel had lodged themselves dangerously close to the aorta, forcing Phlox to open the captain’s chest and remove them before he could turn to normalizing Archer’s cardiac rhythm. The cardiac arrhythmias were the most urgent problem, but the difficulty of Phlox’s task was compounded by Archer’s skeletal injuries: multiple crushed ribs, a broken clavicle and a skull fracture. Armed with little more than a laser scalpel, a hand-held surgical kit and rapidly dwindling positive thoughts, the doctor grimly bent his efforts to saving Archer's life.
He just wished Enterprise would stop shaking.
At his side, Sergeant Amanda Cole was feverishly trying to reinflate Lieutenant Sato's left lung with the minimal supplies they had, grumbling under her breath the entire time about being a soldier and not a medic. Cool and efficient, she had become Phlox's favorite assistant (MACO or otherwise) and had displayed a singular talent with her fingers that the Denobulan could not help but to admire; on numerous occasions, he had admitted to himself that he even preferred her company over that of Lieutenant Reyes, who was a trained physician. In his opinion, Amanda was completely wasted as a MACO; she had the hands of a surgeon and the temperament of a healer even if she tried to hide it behind a gruff soldier's exterior. Phlox had already tempted fate by forwarding a polite but strong recommendation to MACO Headquarters regarding Sergeant Cole's future without addressing it with her; as a favor, Archer had personally delivered the official letter to General Raleigh, the MACO Chief of Staff, at their last stop on Earth.
"All hands, proceed to lifeboats immediately." Lieutenant Commander Reed's voice echoed throughout the ship, strong and confident, and Phlox was momentarily amazed at the human ability to compartmentalize; he knew of the relationship between Reed and Lieutenant Sato, knew the sort of mental anguish Reed had to be going through at this very moment, not knowing if the mother of his unborn child was living or dead. And yet, just from listening, he could not tell if Reed was even concerned or worried; sometimes the dour tactical officer was better than T'Pol at concealing his emotions. "Four minutes to core ejection." Enterprise shuddered again, the hollow clang of weapons fire against the hull echoing throughout the vessel. His balance abruptly lost, Phlox's hand slipped ever so slightly.
The laser sliced cleanly through one of the coronary arteries.
Cole heard his gasp of dismay, glanced over at him even as bright red arterial blood shot from the incision, splattering his face and chest. He reacted quickly, setting aside the scalpel and grabbing the resealer from the surgical kit; reprogramming it with one thumb, he set about repairing the damage wrought by the errant cut. He wondered what Doctor Lucas would say when he told him about this: emergency heart surgery on the captain in a lifepod beside a reluctant MACO medic who was clearly gifted with a healer's hands. It sounded suspiciously like the plot of one of the films that Commander Tucker would play on Movie Night; of course, if this were one of those ancient films, the dramatic music would swell at any moment and the scene would fade to black.
That almost brought a smile to his face.
"Use the tri-laser connector," he said abruptly, noting that Cole was pulling a sonic separator from the surgical kit; she glanced briefly at him but obeyed his suggestion. His eyes returned to his own patient, realizing the repairs were going to be more difficult than he expected - the shrapnel had proved to be elusive to locate and even the use of the magnetic extractor had not prevented additional damage from occurring. He frowned; it was an expression that appeared out of place on his normally jovial face. It appeared that he would need the TL connector as well.
"Need this?" Amanda asked, handing him the connector before he could ask for it. He gave her a grin as he reconnected the severed artery but the smile barely touched his eyes; there had been too much death today, too many young men and women who were gone because he couldn't save them. Like Chief Rostov or Lieutenant Mackenzie or Petty Officer Novakovich.
Phlox realized that he was tired. Tired of serving on a starship. Tired of seeing so many youngsters lost because he was slowing down. He missed research for the sheer love of it, missed the sheer wonder of discovery.
He felt old.
Amanda's grumbles were starting to die off and Phlox risked a glance at her work, noting with significant pride that she had restored Sato's breathing and was even now sealing up the incision. He could not have done a better job.
"Doctor?" Cole's voice was soft, hesitant; from her tone, he knew what she was going to say. "I couldn't help but to notice that Lieutenant Sato is..."
"Pregnant," Phlox finished as he used the cardiostimulator to restart Archer's heart a fourth time. "I'm impressed, Amanda. She's barely six weeks along and most medics would not have noticed that." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her blush. He always found it amusing that she was so embarrassed by his praise; it made him wonder what sort of household she had grown up in and if that had influenced her decision to join the MACOs.
"Three minutes to core ejection." Archer's heart began working again and and Phlox quickly used a hypo of cordrazine on the man; it would stabilize his blood pressure and hopefully keep him from going into arrest again until there was time to do more than just 'patch' work. At the same time, he made a mental note to speak with the captain about his diet later - he had detected hints of atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries during his earliest scan of the captain, clearly from consumption of too much animal fat and far too few vegetables. It was a conversation he was looking forward to having, the doctor realized; the expression on the captain's face when he was ordered to eat salad would be priceless. That thought cheered him more than he would have thought possible.
"It was on the scanner, sir." The Denobulan almost smiled; yes, her pregnancy had been on the diagnostic scanner but the fetus was hardly of any size to warrant notice. Except to healers. Or MACOs who should be healers.
"Indeed it was," he replied as he began closing up his incision; as long as he didn't suffer any more massive electrical shocks, Archer should be fine. For now. Enterprise shook again, the force of the shudder knocking the emergency kit to the floor of the lifeboat with a loud crash; neither of them even reacted. "Did the fetus sustain any damage?" He prayed that it hadn't; no parent should ever lose a child. That line of thinking immediately brought Commanders T'Pol and Tucker to mind and he found himself hoping they were safe; with Tucker's record, however...
"Not that I could see, sir." She began shifting the unconscious Sato, strapping her into the acceleration couch of the lifepod. "Does she know?"
"Lieutenant Sato is aware of her condition." The incision was sealed. He already knew where Amanda's thoughts were going; Enterprise had been in deep space for the last two months, after all.
"Is Commander Reed?" That was brazen of her, guessing the identity of the father, but Phlox could not help but to smile. They were remarkably alike, he mused. Perhaps that was why his alternate on Lorian's Enterprise had married her.
"Help me get Captain Archer strapped in," was his only reply.
"Two minutes to core ejection," Commander Reed announced and Phlox drew a deep breath, his eyes locked on Archer and his mind on his handiwork.
He hoped it was enough.
It would have to be enough.
Muttering soft curses under his breath, Charles Tucker rose to his feet, the now-spent welding torch held lightly in his hands. He studied his handiwork with a practiced eye, noting the various weaknesses and intuitively recognizing what would need the most reinforcement. It would hold.
At his side, Sergeant Reynolds waited patiently. The MACO had turned out to be pretty much useless when it came to this kind of work and both had come to the grudging realization that he was only helpful as an extra arm or some muscle. They'd exchanged only a few words, working mostly in silence. At least it was a comfortable silence, unlike any of the times Trip had to work alongside Amanda Cole these days. He almost sighed.
"So you and Commander T'Pol are pretty close, huh sir?" Reynolds asked out of the blue. Trip did sigh then; he'd been expecting this line of questioning from the MACO for quite a while now and had actually hoped that Reynolds would be different. He'd heard a variation of it every single time he and any MACO or Starfleet crewmen were alone. Except Sergeant Cole. She just gave him the hairy eyeball, like he'd done something wrong or pissed her off somehow though he had no idea what or how. Women, he grumbled to himself.
"Yeah," Trip replied as he studied the welding job with the hand-held scanner; it seemed pretty solid. "She's one of my best friends." He rattled off the answer by rote, wishing all along that he didn't need to lie. To be perfectly honest, he didn't want to hide their relationship, didn't want to conceal that they were pretty much married. Who cared if they were a couple any damned way?
The scorched features of Ensign Masaro leaped into his memory, answering that question like it always did. Terra Prime. Those xenophobic terrorists were a chapter of his life he wished he could close permanently. Just thinking of them reminded him of little Lizzie...
"Hmph," Reynolds said as Trip began gathering the tools into the tool bag. Tucker glanced up at him, hiding his concern behind a practiced expression of disinterest - his own personal Vulcan mask: that had sounded entirely too knowing.
"What?" he asked with no hint of the annoyance he was feeling. The MACO had the decency to look embarrassed when he responded.
"Just that ashayam is quite a bit different from t'hai'la." Reynolds hesitated, took in Tucker's blank yet shocked expression. "Sir."
"You speak Vulcan." It wasn't a question; the accent had been perfect, better than Trip's.
"Not according to my MACO records, sir." Reynolds gave him a tight smile; at least Trip understood the Professor nickname now. "Your secret's safe, Commander. We Florida boys have to stick together."
"I thought you went to OU," Tucker muttered; his brain was straining to find a believable excuse for why T'Pol would call him 'beloved' in her native tongue. Pretty much everything that was springing to mind was ... well ... stupid.
"Born in Ocala, sir. Grew up in Gainesville; we moved to Oklahoma when I was twelve." Trip still had nothing. Stall! his brain told him. You can make something up! Maybe he did have a concussion; that would explain why he felt like he was thinking through mud.
"Really? I'm from Quincy. Loved goin' down to the Swamp to watch the Gators-"
He broke off in mid-sentence as a wave of agony washed through him. It felt like someone had hammered a spike of molten fire into his abdomen and then, just for spite, wiggled it around a bit. His every breath was torture, as if he were inhaling fire itself. Searing lava churned in his stomach, burning its way to his groin and back again. Acid seared through his veins, through his kidneys, through his intestines.
And just like that, the pain was gone.
Gasping with remembered shock, Trip found himself face down in the dirt, with Reynolds gripping his shoulder and calling his name. He drew in a ragged breath that sounded more like a gasp. What the hell was that?
"I'm okay," he muttered as he - unsteadily - climbed back to his feet with Reynolds' help. Understanding dawned almost instantly, framed by a lightning quick anger. "I'm okay," Trip repeated, his face reflecting a myriad of emotions all at the same time: anger, concern, fear, shock. He shoved the tool bag into Reynold's hands and fixed the MACO with an unblinking look. "Stay here," he commanded, the tone of his voice brooking no dissent. Reynolds reacted instinctively and very nearly snapped to attention, years of MACO discipline recognizing the absolute authority in the voice.
Breathing deeply and slowly, Trip lessened his presence in the bond, a skill that T'Pol had taken great pains to teach him out of concern that his more volatile emotions would upset her often delicate balance; he had taken to it like a fish to water, once again amazing his Vulcan mate. It had served him well in the past when he tried to spring surprises on her, like the shore leave he finagled out of the captain on Risa for the two of them a couple of months ago or the pajamas he picked up for her most recent birthday - although that really had been more for him than for her and he'd been right: she did look good in Triaxian silk; this time, it allowed him to step inside the shuttle before she could sense him.
At a glance - and that was all she gave him - Trip could tell something was wrong. Still seated in the pilot's chair, T'Pol was hunched over, her normally stiff posture abandoned as she leaned forward over the console. The moment his boots touched the pod's deck, she straightened, once more an image of perfect poise.
He didn't buy it for a minute.
Kneeling down by the medkit, Tucker extracted a specific hypospray and slid it up his sleeve before standing and walking in her direction. It was an effort but he kept himself under control, maintained the distance between him and the emotions swirling in his gut. He'd learned a lot of things from her.
"Are the repairs complete?" she asked without glancing back as Trip strode up to stand behind her.
"Mostly," Trip replied, eying her handiwork on the comm system. Frankly, he wasn't impressed; as far as he could tell, she hadn't accomplished a damned thing. Probably meditatin' to control the pain, he thought angrily to himself.
"I have been unable to restore communications," she informed him, icily precise. Her formality only served to worry him more; with her sense of smell and hearing, T'Pol had to know they were the only ones on the pod. The only conscious ones anyway.
"Don't worry about it," Trip said flatly. He saw her register his tone and tense ever so slightly. "You lied to me, darlin'," he said softly as he leaned over her shoulder, his mouth mere centimeters from her ear. She turned to face him, their noses nearly touching, and raised her perfect eyebrow.
"How have I deceived you?" She sounded entirely too innocent and he frowned, his eyes narrowing.
"You said you were fine. Aside from the broken ribs and your leg." Anger was starting to leak into his voice.
"I am fine." Now, T'Pol was frowning.
"Then why the hell does my stomach hurt?" Trip almost snapped, his unblinking gaze boring into her. She blinked, her eyes darting away almost furtively; he'd seen that only once before, the morning after they had sex for the first time when she had lied about what it meant to her. Now, many years later, he knew her well enough to read what she was trying to keep concealed from him: T'Pol was uncomfortable - she had been caught in a lie and knew it. "It's not my pain I'm feelin', is it?" he asked, and she swallowed, a visible indication of her state of mind.
"A minor injury. It's nothing for you to be concerned about." Once more, the anger swelled; how could a woman this brilliant be so ... so mind-numbingly stupid at times?
"Bullshit." She blinked at his language; Trip was rarely that vulgar around her, knowing that she didn't appreciate it. Especially after that conversation she had with his mom. "If I can feel it, then it sure as hell isn't minor!" With a guilty look in her eyes, she glanced away and, the moment her eyes broke contact, he acted, letting the hypo slide into his palm so he could press it against her exposed neck. Almost instantly, her head snapped around, eyes narrowed in something reasonably close to fury. "It's a painkiller, T'Pol."
"It was unnecessary, Commander," she nearly spat. Trip didn't blink, didn't look away as he replied.
"Then why do I feel better?" he asked, sounding vindicated. "Why do you feel better?" She looked away again, a light green flush spreading across her neck. He frowned again; she never blushed. It must be worse than he thought. "T'Pol, you're injured. You need to rest so I'm relievin' you of command." As he spoke, he dropped his hand on her shoulder like she had done to him so many times before.
"You do not have that authority, Mister Tucker," she returned as she stood. This close to her, he could see the effort it took her and that decided it for him; she was going to fight him the entire way, refuse to accept real medical attention and struggle on despite her obvious pain. Like a good trooper. Like a good Vulcan.
"You are my mate," Trip said firmly, emphasizing the Vulcan term; he was surprised to realize that they had slipped into her native tongue and he hadn't even realized it. "And I love you more than anything." She gave him a surprised look, not at the depth of his regard for her – she already knew that – but that he would say so out loud in the presence of other Starfleet or MACO personnel. Even unconscious ones. Her eyes darted away, looking to find Sergeant Reynolds and Trip smiled as he inched his hand closer to his target. "But I won't let you die, darlin'." He squeezed the bundle of nerves.
Too late, T'Pol understood what he had done; her gaze snapped to his and he felt her surprised outrage through the suddenly active bond in that moment of realization. Her expression had a clear meaning: I can’t believe you just did that! Without a sound, though, her eyes rolled back and she slumped forward into his arms, completely oblivious to the world. Trip blinked as he held onto her.
"Well, I'll be damned," he muttered. "It worked!"
It just wasn't working.
Travis had spent the last five minutes trying desperately to focus exclusively on his board, to block out any fears about impending death, to pretend that he was indifferent about his fate but it wasn't working. In that short span of time, he had learned many things about himself, things that he hadn't really thought about before. He didn't want to die and more than anything else, he wanted to see Gannet again.
And yet, he found himself completely calm, despite knowing what was to come. It was really weird.
Under his direction, Enterprise crept from the asteroid belt at just over one-eighth impulse, trailing debris and warp plasma; he couldn't risk anything faster, what with the continual alerts he was receiving from the impulse drive. Not to mention, it was exceedingly stupid to fly really fast in an asteroid belt.
Actually, he reflected, it was pretty stupid to fly in an asteroid belt at all.
The bridge had been quiet since Phlox and Cole carried the captain and Hoshi to the lifeboat and Travis couldn't help but think how odd it was to be one of only two people on the command deck. Two living people anyway.
"Get to the lifeboat, Travis," Reed instructed calmly but Mayweather said nothing, kept his eyes on his board. He could almost feel Commander Reed's surprise at his unspoken refusal to obey. "That is an order, Lieutenant."
"You need a pilot, sir. The longer I'm here, the more people we can get to safety." He did look at Reed this time, speared the acting-captain with an unblinking expression. Mayweather's features were hard, resolute, unyielding. "I'm staying, Commander." Malcolm gave him a tight nod, his expression approving yet impossibly sad at the same time. "Once more unto the breach and all that, sir," Travis offered with a smile, exhausting his supply of the Bard and then only because Tucker had gotten on a Shakespeare kick for Movie Night a couple of weeks earlier. Reed returned the smile with one of his own.
"We band of brothers..." Malcolm quoted softly, his mask of professionalism cracking ever so slightly for the briefest of moments; he gave Travis a nod and keyed the intraship comm. "All hands, brace for impact. Core ejection in forty seconds. Do not launch lifeboats until core detonation." He paused for a moment. "Good luck." Enterprise rocked suddenly as the Romulan began accelerating from the asteroid belt, disruptor bursts reaching out to slash through what little hull plating remained. Alarms begin flashing on Mayweather's board.
"He's going for the impulse manifold," Travis realized.
"I know." Reed was a rock as he studied the sensor feed at his station, speaking with a Vulcan's indifference. "Come about to heading ... two-five mark zero, best speed."
Like a crippled bird, Enterprise sluggishly responded to Mayweather's touch, maneuvering thrusters firing to alter their trajectory. The Romulan ship took the bait, sliding into a trailing position that was almost directly aft of Enterprise's impulse drive. A soft beeping began sounding from the tactical board; the Romulan was acquiring a torpedo lock.
"Ave imperator, morituri te salutant," Reed muttered. It sounded like he was quoting something but Travis didn't have a clue what it was or what it meant. Given what he knew of the tactical officer, it was probably some ancient battle cry, a 'come get some' sort of thing. If the situation was any less grim, Mayweather would have smiled and teased him about it; Malcolm Reed did not quote dead languages. Clearly Hoshi's love of language had rubbed off on the dour Brit whether he knew it or not. "Bridge to Engineering."
"Kel ... by..." It hurt just listening to the engineer and Travis couldn't imagine the pain he was in; stabs of guilt surged through him once more and he felt like crap for ever doubting Kelby.
"Eject the core," Malcolm ordered without any hint of regret at the engineer's loss. His mask was back in place.
Kelby gave no acknowledgment that he actually heard the command but Enterprise shuddered, lurching forward as she spat the warp core free. Even as he coaxed more speed out of the battered Starfleet vessel, Travis reflected on his lack of knowledge; he hadn't even known you could eject a breached warp core, had always assumed that a ship was lost if the containment field was compromised.
The core tumbled end over end in the hard vacuum, deceptively fragile-looking for such a powerful object. No longer surrounded by the containment field, its collapse accelerated at an exponentially increasing rate. Too late, the Romulan craft recognized its danger. Too late, it twisted into a dive, engines screaming in a frenzied attempt to get clear. Too late, it began targeting its weapons.
With a blinding flash that could be seen at the very outskirts of the system, the breached core detonated. Shockwaves of raw concussive force radiated outward from the explosion, slamming into the Romulan ship with hull-crushing power. Its nacelles smashed or torn free, the small warship was sent reeling.
Back into the asteroid field.
It bounced off of several shuttlepod-sized rocks, each impact only serving to accelerate its mad spin into the field. Huge chunks of metal were torn free as the ship began to break apart and still it spun uncontrollably. Moving at slightly less than one-quarter impulse, it struck a Texas-sized asteroid and vanished in a flash of fire.
Exactly two point three seconds later, the shockwave reached Enterprise.
"Enterprise, do you copy? This is Shuttlepod One."
Silence answered his hails, a hush so complete that Trip couldn't help but to fear the worst. Even if she had been on the periphery of the system, Enterprise should have been able to respond, should have been able to detect the shuttle's departure from New Elysium.
If she was able.
Trip reached down, popped open the comm access panel and began studying the circuits within. He was confident that his earlier repairs had been sufficient, was positive that everything was functional, but it never hurt to double-check. Or, in this case, quadruple-check. Standing at his back, Sergeant Reynolds shifted awkwardly. Little had been said since Trip had "relieved" T'Pol, little needed to be said. Reynolds had seen Tucker's face when the engineer finished the med-scan on the Vulcan, had witnessed the soul-wrenching terror in Trip's expression, had understood their sudden urgency.
A crackle of static emerged from the comm speakers and Trip looked up, glanced at the board once more. Everything was functioning properly. His face remained creased in a frown as he hit the transmit button again.
"Enterprise, this is Commander Tucker. Medical emergency, repeat medical emergency. Please respond."
A distant flash abruptly filled the viewport and Trip felt his stomach lurch as he recognized it at once. He immediately began mental calculations: yield of the explosion determined from the size of the detonation, distance to the epicenter, estimated time to that point at their maximum speed. Anyone who knew him just as the 'good ole boy' engineer who seemed to run his department by the seat of his pants would have been stunned at the analytical nature of his thoughts, the almost Vulcan-like precision he applied to his thought processes.
T'Pol hadn't been surprised in the slightest.
"What was that?" Reynolds asked.
"Breached warp core gone critical," Trip replied softly. His fingers danced over the sensor board; they weren't much, especially after the crash, but might give him an idea of what had happened.
"Does that mean-?" The MACO did a good job of keeping his sudden fear reined in but Tucker could still hear it. Trip wished that he could share it but his thoughts, his fears were elsewhere, somewhere ... closer.
"No way to tell," he said, his tone composed and even. By Tucker's estimation, the core had been ejected before it exploded - the detonation was simply too visible for it to have occurred on-ship. The sensor board beeped as it detected a profile matching the one he was looking for. Tension drained from him faster than when his Vulcan applied neuropressure and he felt years younger. There was still time.
Enterprise was still there.
"Strap in," Trip ordered as he set a course. There was still time. Hold on, T'Pol. Just a little longer. There was no response, no hint that she had heard the mental plea, no clue that she was even aware of his presence. He could feel only one thing through the bond, a singular sensation that seemed to radiate from her, that threatened to crush his self-control and send him spiraling into despair.
He felt pain.
Pain hammered through him, a liquid fire that burned through his lower extremities, searing away feeling, scorching away hope. A bleak numbness had set in, blanketing his mind with a dull fog that made thinking hard and acting harder.
Malcolm Reed was dying.
He floated in a hazy twilight of near consciousness, that half-awake, half-asleep state where dreams and lucidity warred with one another. A part of him knew how badly he was injured, knew that the twenty centimeter long piece of shrapnel in his lower ribcage was slowly killing him, knew that blood loss and shock were setting in, but he couldn't find the strength to care. The end was near.
Blaring alarms continued to echo around him, oddly muted, as if originating from an impossibly vast distance. He felt something wet on his face and, for a moment, thought it was blood; the hiss of the fire suppression system finally penetrated his mental fog and, had he the strength, he would have chastised himself for jumping to conclusions. Smoke was heavy in the air - burnt plastic and fried circuits - making it difficult to breath. Oxygen reclamators - those that weren't damaged - struggled to filter out the smoke but he could tell it was a losing battle.
"Get on your feet, boy."
It was a voice that should not, could not be here, a voice that rang with authority and tolerated no insolence. Logically, Malcolm knew Stuart Reed wasn't here, knew that he couldn't be here, but that didn't stop him from feeling the Old Man's presence. It must be the shock, he told himself, darkly amused that now, at the moment of his death, he heard his father.
"Pain is just weakness leaving the body, boy. Life is pain. You're a Reed and Reeds die on their feet, not on their backs like some bloody frog so get up!" Malcolm stirred, flailed about for a grip before sinking back down into his misery, his agony. The shade, the memory, the hallucination wasn't impressed: "GET UP!"
Malcolm got up.
He swayed on his feet, gripping the edge of the tactical board with a death grip to keep from falling back on his arse. Long minutes passed as he fought the blackness that sought to overwhelm him, fought the desire to vomit up every meal he had ever eaten, fought the urge to give up and die. His heart thudded in his ears, loud and fast, and he dimly realized that he had no feeling in his feet. Blood ran down his leg but he ignored the pain, pushed it away. He could not falter; he was the captain now.
So he struggled on.
If the bridge had been bad off before, it was a bloody catastrophe now; the damage wrought by the shockwave was incalculable. Alarms shrieked incessantly. Fires raged unchecked. The viewscreen was a shattered mess. Mayweather was down.
Malcolm half-staggered, half-fell to the Helm station, his heart rate accelerating even faster, already knowing it was too late. He was a private man, one who had erected walls of aloofness around himself to avoid getting too close to anyone for fear of losing them. There were a select few who had breached that wall, who he could truly call 'friend': Trip Tucker and Hoshi Sato were two such people.
Travis Mayweather was another.
Malcolm fell into a kneeling position beside the Boomer's still body and felt hot tears well up in his eyes. Glass and metal from the destroyed viewscreen had torn into the young lieutenant, had ripped through skin and flesh and bone, but Travis had an expression of peace on his face, a look of contented serenity that shattered Malcolm's resolve. He wanted to rage against the heavens, to cry out and scream, to grieve in a way that Travis deserved, but he couldn't find the strength, couldn't find the will, couldn't find the tears.
"... terprise ... nder Tucker. Medical emer ... eat med ... gency. Please respo ..." The comm crackled to life and the sound of Trip's voice thundered through him, igniting hope once more. Trip was alive.
So he struggled on.
Malcolm pulled himself into the Helm seat, barely noticing the crimson trail he left. A soft touch on the helm board revealed it to be mostly functional: internal sensors indicated that most of the lifeboats had launched; low impulse was available - one-eighth at best; maneuvering jets were ... erratic. The sensor feed was shaky, flickering in and out of focus, but he was able to detect the shuttlepod on approach vector. And then, something else.
A Romulan ship.
Confusion muddled his brain for long moments as he struggled to make sense of it. He had destroyed them all. Hadn't he? He frowned then, recalling the third ship, the damaged ship that had limped away. It was the same one, still limping at less than a sixteenth impulse.
And heading for the shuttlepod.
Malcolm didn't hesitate, keyed in an intercept course and demanded speed; he could hear the impulse drive whine in protest but ignored it. There were no phase cannons functional, no grapplers available, no torpedoes loaded, but he still had a weapon. A very large weapon.
The Romulan detected Enterprise's sudden acceleration and began maneuvering to bring its weapons to bear. Disruptor beams lanced out, caressing the already scarred hull of the Starfleet ship with its scorching touch but it was too little, too late. Enterprise smashed into the Romulan ship at nearly ten thousand kilometers per second.
Fire consumed them both.