His pronouncement was greeted by silence.
Fury at the Council's continuing self-inflicted blindness thundered through him, and Thy'lek Hravishran th'Zoarhi glowered darkly. He had come here at the Council’s invitation to argue his case for lending aid to the pinkskins against the Romulans. Instead, he had found himself speaking to politicians who had already made up their minds.
There was nothing Shran hated more than other people wasting his time.
"Do you need me to repeat myself?" he asked angrily, hands balled up in tight fists. He had hoped the Council of Eight would listen when the civilian-appointed leadership of the Imperial Guard had not. Publicly elected every four years, the Council was made up of two politicians of each gender: shen, thaan, chan and zhen. It was an ancient part of the government, having its roots in similar traditions from centuries before Andoria had even been united.
"You do not," one of the zhen councilors stated regally. She was heavyset and wore a long-suffering expression of boredom as she gestured expansively. "Your arguments have been heard."
"Have they?" Shran demanded, crossing his arms as he spoke. He glared at the members of the Council, bitterly amused to see that most of them wouldn't meet his eyes. There was no way to tell if they were embarrassed by their actions, or if they were intimidated by him or his reputation, and Shran didn’t care either way. "While we waste Guardsmen and materiel on this absurd border war with the Oh'reons," he continued loudly, "The pinkskins – our allies! – continue to lose territory to these Romulans!"
"Enough!" One of the male chans banged his hand on the table. He had once served in the Guard, rising to the rank of general, and Shran felt his antennae curling in contempt for the male's abandonment of the moral code that bound Guardsmen together. This buffoon had once ordered the Shran to betray the crew of Enterprise in the Delphic Expanse, and Shran had never forgiven him. "The Council has heard your arguments, Fleet Captain, and we will weigh them against Andoria's interests." Another flare of anger caused Shran to grind his teeth.
"Andoria's interests or yours?" he snapped furiously before turning away. He didn't even bother waiting to be dismissed, and knew he had made even more enemies with the blatant insult. The Guardsmen at the entrance to the council chamber stood aside without a word, but showed their approval in their body language. It was to be expected, after all: they were the ones who would die when the shooting began.
As he stormed out of the meeting hall and exited the council building, Shran could feel eyes upon him and he knew, without looking, that his angry exit had drawn notice. He was beyond caring, though. Too many lives had been thrown away in this useless expedition against an enemy that wasn't even a threat to Andorian security. When word of raids along the Empire's borders reached the ears of the government, the Imperial Chancellor had quickly ordered the Guard to retaliate against the perceived origin of the raids: the Oh'Reon Syndicate.
For nearly an entire sidereal year, Shran had commanded a squadron of warships to hunt down an enemy that didn't have an organized government or even an identifiable chain of command. The targets he had been assigned to destroy were generally symbolic, but, on several occasions, their destruction had resulted in massive civilian casualties. Morale among his officers plummeted as they experienced the bitter taste of becoming murderers and war criminals. Unable to stomach the growing feeling that he had turned into the enemy, Shran had begun to speak out, arguing with his superiors about every element of the ongoing war. He quickly became the most outspoken opponent of the hostilities with the Oh'Reons, which, to his surprise, made him one of the most popular officers in the Guard. He would say things publicly that the generals only thought and that made him dangerous.
It was almost enough to make him laugh.
The fact that he had been promoted after the drone incident and the loss of the Kumari continued to amaze him. It was common knowledge that the Imperial Guard seldom gave another command to officers who had lost a ship. Due to the pinkskin Archer's glowing report of Shran's heroism in the face of impossible odds against the Romulan craft, the Guard was pressured by the chancellor to reward the Andorian captain. That second chance had been the driving factor behind Shran's hesitance to begin his campaign against the senseless waste of lives; he had been so intent on proving to the Guard that his promotion wasn’t a mistake, that he did his best to ignore the fact that the orders he received went against everything the Imperial Guard stood for.
Climbing into the groundcar that waited for him, Shran wiggled his antennae in frustration. Every scrap of intelligence he had acquired during the year-long war with the Oh'Reons pointed toward the Romulans being behind the raids. Admittedly, this information was circumstantial at best, but there was no profit in a war with Andoria for the Oh'Reons! They were scum, of course, and at any other time, he'd be behind an effort to wipe their organization out entirely, but with the humans losing their war with the Romulans, the Vulcans paralyzed by their foolish religious revelations, and the Tellarites too busy arguing with everyone, the quadrant needed a strong Andoria.
"Home," Shran ordered the groundcar as he leaned back in the seat. With a hum, the vehicle accelerated away from the council building. The carcomp chirped as it accepted new data from the Andorian automated traffic control network, but Shran barely noticed as he stared through the opaque window at the passing terrain. Dormant was beginning, as Andoria's orbit carried her farther away from both the gas giant she orbited and the even more distant sun, and signs of the impending cold season were beginning to appear. Already, the days seemed shorter, and the precipitous drop in temperature was bracing even to natives. Soon, the attendants would begin patrolling the streets, wearing their distinctive heat-gowns as they made sure there weren't any obstructions on the streets. Only the bravest of Andorians – which was, most of the time, synonymous with stupid – voluntarily ventured out during Dormant.
With a grunt, Shran turned his attention to the carcomp and spent a few moments studying the reports that flickered across the screen. He frowned at the intelligence on the humans’ war; their defeat at the place they inexplicably called Acheron was all over the news-nets, and Shran heaved a silent sigh of relief when he saw that Archer had survived. There were few pinkskins who seemed to understand Andoria as well as Archer did, and his death would have been a terrible loss.
The groundcar slowed and turned into the cul-de-sac that led to Shran's domicile. Even before the vehicle began slowing, he felt his tension and anger begin to melt away as Jhamel's presence in his mind grew. She was quite happy to feel his arrival, and Shran found himself smiling at her contagious good cheer. He didn't know how she managed to be persistently positive, not after having been told – diplomatically, of course – that she was no longer welcome among the Aenar, but he gave thanks to Uzaveh the Infinite for bringing her into his life, no matter the tragedy that had preceded her arrival. That his relationship with her was cause for scorn among many Andorians was irrelevant, even if it meant they would never find an Andorian or Aenar shen or chan to join them in a shelthreth bondgroup.
Shran silently grieved for the children that would never be.
Stop it, Jhamel's voice echoed in his head as the groundcar came to a stop. Smirking at the subtle chastising feel of her thoughts, he climbed out of the vehicle, pausing for a moment to inhale the sharp taste of home. Shran loosened his uniform jacket slightly, recalling with some amusement the first time he had seen a Vulcan ambassador step onto Andorian soil; the memory of the woman's nearly horrified expression as wind sliced through her clothes was something he still chuckled at. From that point on, she had only ventured out of the consular quarters with heavily insulated gear. Shran had even heard rumors that the assignment to Andoria was considered a hardship tour for Vulcans.
"You were angry today," Jhamel accused him as entered the domicile. She was seated on the round backless chair she preferred, and he shrugged his antennae in response.
"They didn't listen," he said, anger once more creeping into his thoughts. The fools wouldn't see that they were being manipulated by a force clearly intent on conquering the entire quadrant, he reflected bitterly. Instead of focusing on the future, they kept their myopic focus on Vulcan and the perceived threat there.
"What are you going to do?" she asked him, her sparkling presence in his mind washing away the anger and frustration like the warmth of First Thaw. Shran sighed.
"I don't know," he admitted, although that wasn't entirely truthful. He knew what he needed to do, but his stomach turned at the direction those thoughts would take him. When he had sworn service to the Guard, he had done so out of loyalty to his people and government. The very idea of taking arms against that same government, even if it had ceased serving the people, left a bitter taste in his mouth. It wouldn't be a peaceful transition of power, not unless he could appeal to the chancellor directly and point out where the Council had gone astray. He was so lost in thought that he didn't realize Jhamel had stood until she placed her hand on his face.
"I have faith in you," she smiled, her thoughts radiating her absolute trust in him. Whatever he decided to do, she would support and aid him, no matter the situation. He hardly felt like he deserved such devotion.
"You give me too much credit," Shran muttered, wincing at the mental chortle she answered him with.
"You give yourself too little credit," Jhamel retorted as she reclaimed her seat on the backless chair. "Trust your instincts, Shran. They haven't failed you yet, have they?" Shran gave her a sour look; he hated it when she was right, which was, he'd realized, most of the time. Smiling, Jhamel picked up the odd-looking wind instrument that had once belonged to her brother; she had tried to teach Shran how to play, but had given up when he displayed a staggering amount of incompetence with it.
As Jhamel's music filled the air, Shran drew in a steadying breath and walked to the wall monitor. He didn't want to do this, but could see no other option. Drawing a deep breath, he reached out and activated the comm system.
Seconds later, the wall monitor snapped to life.
The wall monitor was already active when she entered the command center.
Still trying to get the last of the decontamination gel out of her ear, Hoshi Sato-Reed entered the converted laboratory a step behind Lieutenant Commanders Eisler and Hess. Following their return to Endeavour, Phlox had immediately ordered them into Decon for an abbreviated, but no less intense, anti-radiation treatment. The doctor had chatted with Hoshi through the comm panel for the entire hour, much to Eisler's evident discomfort. As much as she wanted to enjoy her conversation with Phlox, Sato had been constantly distracted by thoughts about what they had discovered on the Romulan weapon, and she knew her inattention showed. Thankfully, the doctor picked up the slack in the conversation, evidently realizing that she desperately needed to think about something other than the fact that the Romulans had access to top secret, classified Starfleet security codes.
Anna Hess had interrupted twice during that hour, both times ostensibly to get additional technical data regarding the warhead from Commander Eisler, but Hoshi suspected that excuse was just a ruse. The tactical officer's body language had undergone a surprising change while he talked to Anna, one that Hoshi couldn't quite explain. He was both angry and happy, yet fearful and confident, all at the same time. Never before had she been as confused about someone; even T'Pol had been easier to read when she first came aboard Enterprise.
Once given the all clear from Phlox, Hoshi had followed the two lieutenant commanders as they led her toward the command center. Anna was in a foul mood the entire short trip, rubbing her right hand through the glove that she wore on it. Hoshi winced at the foul stench emitting from the hand, recognizing it as one of Phlox's remedies; she idly wondered how the engineer had injured the hand. At Eisler's sidelong glance, though, Hess had stopped fidgeting with the glove and an embarrassed look had flashed across her face before it was quickly replaced by a scowl. Even then, Anna's body language seemed to be giving off a strange protective vibe directed toward the very capable tactical officer.
Hoshi was absolutely baffled by their interaction.
In many ways, it reminded her of how Malcolm and Trip had interacted during the Xindi mission. Hess was acting as if Eisler was hurting or injured (even though he clearly wasn't) and she wasn't sure how to offer comfort or solace, which naturally led to awkwardness. At the same time, the tactical officer was vacillating between simple appreciation of her presence and bristling at her, almost as if she was overstepping her bounds with him.
As they entered the turbolift that would carry them to B Deck, Hoshi found herself worrying about the situation on Earth. If the Romulans deployed weapons against Earth like the one that was now being taken apart by Lieutenant Commander Eisler's security teams, no one was safe. She desperately wanted to send a comm-pulse to Maddie and tell her to get little Malcolm to safety, but where would they be safe? Entire colonies had been completely obliterated by the Romulans since the war started; New Elysium, Salem Station, Terra Nova, Acheron ... the list went on. Hoshi shivered slightly, wondering briefly if the Reeds and her mother would consider an extended trip to Vulcan.
The thought of trying to convince Stuart Reed to abandon his new home in Sussex nearly caused her to smile. He was nowhere near the troll that Malcolm had always painted him to be. Gruff, yes, and uncompromising in his ideals, but hardly a monster. Seeing him dote on little Malcolm was always a sight to behold, and Hoshi just knew that Stuart would spoil the boy mercilessly in the coming years. Anyone with eyes could see that the grandfather lived for the grandson.
No, she decided. She wouldn't let these damned Romulans chase her or her family off the planet of their birth.
"-absolutely sure they're Starfleet codes?" Admiral Archer's image on the wall monitor was asking as they entered the command center. The lines on his face had deepened since their earlier contact with him, but it was entirely understandable in light of their recent discovery.
"Yes, sir," Trip replied. He too was grim as he glanced toward the trio of arriving officers before returning his full attention to Archer.
"I've got the technicians working on updating the defense systems," the admiral announced, his features implacable. It immediately reminded Hoshi of how emotionally closed off he had become during the Expanse mission, and she found herself grieving anew for the loss of Erika Hernandez. Sato had not known the captain well, but had seen the way Jon Archer's face lit up when Hernandez entered the room.
She tried not to think about how much in common she had with her old captain now.
Despite that, however, her thoughts instantly turned toward Malcolm. It angered her that she could go days without thinking about him, only to be reminded of him when she arrived home to greet the little boy who had his father's eyes and tendency toward trouble. Even more distressing was how Malcolm's family – now her family – seemed to understand. It was almost as if they expected her to move on with her life, no matter how much she didn't want to.
"But if the Romulans have the IFF codes," Archer continued bleakly, his harsh voice breaking into her train of thought, "our orbital platforms won't even fire at them!"
"Can't the weapons platforms be fired manually?" Eisler asked, and the admiral shook his head in disgust.
"No." The contempt in Archer's voice was easily detectable. "The geniuses that designed them never planned for this contingency." He frowned. "I'm reading your initial report, Commander," he said to Eisler, "and you used some acronyms that I don't know. Emm Eye Are Vee, for example..."
"It's pronounced MIRV, sir," the tactical officer stated, combining the letters to form a word. "It stands for multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicle." Eisler began to warm to the subject, inexplicably reminding Hoshi of Malcolm whenever he was describing a weapons system of any kind. "There are multiple warheads on a single weapons system, each capable of targeting a different location. They were primarily used on nuclear missiles in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries."
"And this thing has twelve of them?" Archer was aghast and Hoshi found herself in complete agreement.
"Yes sir. Each with a sixty to eighty megaton yield." The tactical officer's words were chilling.
"My God," the admiral whispered in horror. "The weapon that destroyed Washington, D.C. in World War Three was only twenty megatons."
"There is an additional complication, Admiral," T'Pol announced from the station she was working at. "According to our scans, the exterior hull of the weapon is comprised of sensor-absorbing polymers that will make detection difficult."
"It's got sensor baffles too," Trip added. He was frowning, prompting Hoshi to wonder how often he smiled these days. His expression seemed to be perpetually dour. "I doubt any other sensor operator in the fleet could have even detected this thing." At his words, T'Pol straightened fractionally, clearly deriving pride from her mate's compliment. To Hoshi's slight amusement, however, Tucker didn't even seem aware that he had complimented the Vulcan. He was, after all, simply stating a fact.
"Send me everything you've got," Admiral Archer ordered. "I'll have these readings uploaded to every ship in the system in case there are any more of these things." He suddenly frowned. "T'Pol, how many of these weapons could a bird of prey carry?"
"I have no way of knowing that, Admiral," T'Pol responded without hesitation. "Based on the size and the dimensions of the birds of prey we have encountered previously, however, I would estimate no more than twenty."
"Twenty?" The admiral shook his head in horrified disbelief. "I hope you're wrong," he admitted.
"As do I, Admiral."
"Keep me posted," he ordered. "Archer out." His image winked out.
"Are we anywhere closer to finding this bird of prey?" Trip asked immediately. T'Pol's expression was not encouraging.
"Lieutenant Rostova is recalibrating the sensor array to my specifications," she said by way of explanation. "I am hoping to increase the sensitivity of Endeavour's sensors by approximately two point zero zero three percent."
"That much, huh?" Tucker asked sarcastically, earning himself the Eyebrow of Doom.
"As we have noted in the past," the Vulcan stated, her tone a touch acerbic, "Romulan ships are inherently difficult to track. A ship with a dedicated crew and sufficient training could conceivably avoid our sensors indefinitely."
"That's not good enough," Trip declared. "We have to find this ship before it launches more of these things." He gave his Vulcan first officer a look Hoshi couldn't begin to comprehend. "Draft whoever you need, T'Pol. Do whatever needs to be done." With a frown, he then pinned Hess with a look even as he continued addressing the Vulcan. "You have the authority to do whatever is necessary to find this thing," he said. Hess' expression soured, but she did not contest the instruction.
"Understood." T'Pol quirked an eyebrow in Hoshi's direction. "I suggest that Lieutenant Commander Sato continue to examine the guidance computer of the Romulan weapon, while I focus on extending our sensor net."
"I might be able to pull some useful data off of it," Hoshi said, hoping she wouldn't be proven wrong.
"Good." Trip glanced at Hess. "And you can help me tear that thing's impulse drive apart. Let's see if we can find anything in there that might help us track them." Anna nodded. "Let's get to work."
His hard work had paid off.
Leaning back from the half-crouching, half-kneeling position he'd been stuck in for the last hour and a half, Lieutenant Junior Grade Nathaniel Hayes winced as his lower back muscles protested. Smoothing away any visible signs of discomfort, he gave his commanding officer a discreet glance, hoping Lieutenant Commander Eisler hadn't noticed.
Naturally, he had.
Following the discovery of the fission bomb more than a day earlier, the tactical officer had assumed command of the STAB teams so they could focus on dismantling the weapon for study. Once he had been satisfied that it would not simply detonate, Eisler had ordered the weapon brought aboard Endeavour so he could focus on completely taking it apart. At first, the captain had balked at that idea, but the tactical officer had compromised by suggesting that the weapon be kept in the aft launch bay in the secondary hull; in case of emergency, pressing a single button would open the entire bay to vacuum.
Nate had found himself eager to work alongside Eisler for this task. While the senior tactical officer was mostly incompetent when it came to piloting or engineering, his uncanny talent with explosives of any kind was always fascinating to observe. The fact that he knew how to dismantle a fission bomb of this size was nothing short of extraordinary, especially given the fact that Earth hadn't used them in nearly two hundred years, and Hayes had leaped at the chance to learn at the older man's feet. In Nate's line of work, it was always good to know such things.
Unfortunately, Hayes had quickly discovered that most of the work involved back-breaking manual labor as they slowly – oh, so slowly – disassembled the outer casing of the weapon. Fusion torches were deemed too great a safety risk, so power saws with actual blades instead of lasers were the tools of the day. Once removed, the hull and guidance computers were immediately turned over to Commander T'Pol's science team for study.
The twelve warheads were then carefully removed so that they too could be disassembled. Each was slightly larger than a photonic torpedo, and was equipped with maneuvering rockets as well as an integrated electronic countermeasure suite. The guidance package on each warhead was also surprisingly advanced, apparently capable of identifying bio-signs from orbit. What had initially appeared to be a primitive weapons system was quickly revealing itself to be anything but.
"Lieutenant." Eisler's voice was sharp and abrupt, exactly like the man himself, and Nate glanced up from where he was cutting into the casing of the twelfth warhead. "I need you to take over," the tactical officer stated grimly; he was attempting to extract the neo-polonium neutron trigger from the eleventh warhead. This trigger would initiate the chain reaction that led to fission, and was highly radioactive. "My hand is cramping," Eisler finished as he backed away from the exposed weapon. He was rubbing his gloved right hand and flexing the fingers of that hand at the same time.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Hayes stepped forward and took the lieutenant commander's place before the warhead. Nate stared at the dodecahedron-shaped neutron trigger for a moment, noting instantly that there were a number of slender rods encircling the neo-polonium. If the trigger touched any of these rods, detonation would probably occur. Wishing they had a robotic arm capable of doing this job, Hayes carefully reached for the trigger.
Long moments passed as he slowly extracted the neo-polonium from the casing. He could hear his heart hammering as he willed his hands not to tremble. The slightest error could be fatal, and he still dreamed of dying at an extremely advanced age. His sigh of relief when the neutron trigger was free echoed through the launch bay.
"That was well done," Eisler complimented softly. There was an air about the tactical officer that nearly caused Nate to frown. He could feel the lieutenant commander's eyes on him, as if the older man was studying an animal or a hostile threat that needed to be subdued. Incredibly, Hayes realized that, despite his clear physical and mental superiority to the other man, Eisler frightened him.
And that infuriated him.
"You have some experience dismantling explosives," the tactical officer continued, his tone knowing. The expression on Eisler's face was calm, almost uncaring, but Hayes wasn't fooled. When he glanced at the lieutenant commander, he was abruptly reminded of a cobra, and braced himself for the strike.
"Part of the job description, sir," Nate replied to the unspoken question, a forced smile on his face. He carefully placed the neo-polonium neutron trigger into the containment case and sealed it. With it tucked away, they could turn to removing the conventional explosives and the uranium isotopes still encased within the weapon, thus rendering it completely inert.
"Which job would that be, Lieutenant?" Eisler asked. There was no doubt in the tactical officer's voice as he spoke, and he stood in a deceptively casual stance. Every one of Nate's instincts was screaming that he was in danger, and he licked his lips unconsciously. He knows, Hayes realized.
"I don't understand, sir," he said in an attempt to gain time. His eyes flickered toward the distant door, and he suddenly understood why the tactical officer had requested his assistance on this shift.
"You don't lie well," Eisler retorted, eyes narrowed. "And you're not as careful as you think." Nate frowned slightly at that, wondering what could have given him away. "That's to be expected, though," the lieutenant commander continued, eyes never leaving Hayes' face, "Your kind has a tendency towards arrogance."
"My kind?" Nate knew he was frowning, and tried to hide it. "You mean Canadian?" he asked in as joking a manner as he could, even as he calculated the odds of getting out of this situation without having to resort to violence. They were depressingly slim. He'd sparred with the tactical officer a few times in the past and, even with his reflexes and strength, had found himself unable to defeat the man.
"I mean Augments," the lieutenant commander said coldly. Hayes took a step back instinctively, glowering as Eisler shifted his own position to block the path to the doorway. It was a subtle move, but one that displayed the ex-MACO's absolute confidence in his own abilities. He knew Nate was stronger and faster, yet was unafraid.
"If that's the case," Hayes replied softly, "then I'd have to kill you to keep my secret."
It was a sharp bark of total amusement that sent a jolt of fury surging through Nate's veins. He trembled as he clenched his hands into fists, and grit his teeth against the red tide that thundered through his vision. How dare this pathetic genejoke mock him!
"Better men than you have tried," the tactical officer stated with a cold smile. "And even better Augments as well."
Shock washed through Hayes at those words, and his fury vanished. He stared at the lieutenant commander with wide eyes. As if he knew what Nate was experiencing, Eisler smiled once more.
"Is that what they told you?" he asked. "That you were the only one?" The tactical officer shook his head in slight disgust. "Let me guess," Eisler continued. "Project Achilles? Or was it the Morituri Process? You're not Asian, so it can't be the Chi You Program, and the Shiva Protocols were shut down nearly thirty years ago."
"How do you know all of this?" Nate asked, even as he felt the sharp stab of betrayal. Harris had assured him that the Achilles Project had been a fluke, an illegal government program that hadn't been replicated since or before. Hayes knew about Soong and his Augments, of course, but that had been an isolated incident involving a single individual.
"You don't know much about humanity, do you?" Eisler queried. There was no mockery in his voice, and he appeared to have relaxed slightly. "The moment humans discovered that they could tamper with genetics, they started doing exactly that." Contempt was in his voice as he continued. "And kept doing it. Evolution isn't quick enough for some people." The tactical officer paused, once more studying Nate through narrowed eyes. "Including your Mister Harris," Eisler said calmly.
"How do you know that name?" Hayes asked, shock robbing him of coherent thought. Once more, the lieutenant commander smiled; it was eerie seeing him do so, and it sent a shiver up Nate's spine.
"I've encountered your type before," the TAC replied. "Smart, fast, and impossibly strong men or women brainwashed into obeying the Section, or the Bureau, or the Ministry, or whatever acronym they're using to identify themselves now." Eisler frowned. "Eventually, your kind always starts to question why they're obeying instead of commanding, and the kill order is issued."
"Red Sabre," Nate said abruptly, prompting Eisler to narrow his eyes fractionally. "You were a member of the Red Sabre team." Hayes could remember his parents talking about rumors that were circulating about a black ops MACO kill team that no one could actually verify the existence of. Command always denied the team’s existence.
"The official designation," Eisler responded softly, "was Special Projects. Red Sabre never existed." There was steel in the tactical officer's voice as he continued. "In my life, I've killed seven Augments working for your ... organization, Lieutenant. Men and women who thought they were better than everyone else, and lost sight of their roles in society." His eyes might as well have been cybernetic implants for all the emotion they revealed. "Harris and his people serve a necessary purpose," the TAC declared. "But they – and you – are not entirely above the law. Step out of line and I will deal with you." Eisler smiled; it was a feral expression, utterly and completely devoid of human emotion. "And trust me, Lieutenant: you will never see it coming."
"Why are you telling me this?" Nate asked as the tactical officer started to turn away.
"The captain and the XO clearly know about you," the lieutenant commander replied, "so you're serving a purpose. Providing information, I presume." He shrugged. "Whatever your arrangement is, I don't care." His voice darkened. "But step out of line once, and I won't hesitate to neutralize you," he said, before leaning closer. "Every surviving member of Special Projects knows about you now, Augment. Don't fuck up." Eisler gestured to the remaining warhead. "I still need that hull removed, Lieutenant." Blinking in slight surprise, Nate nodded slowly.
"Aye, sir," he said in response as he turned away. The whine of the power saw was surprisingly comforting as it drowned out every other sound in the launch bay. It gave him time to think.
And he had a lot to think about
She had had far too much time to think about this.
Shifting her posture slightly, Commander T'Pol studied the data now appearing on the master display, a subtle frown on her face. For the last seventy-five hours, she had been here in the command center, monitoring Endeavour's sensor scans as well as coordinating the fleet-wide search for the Romulan ship. In that time, two additional fission bombs had been located and destroyed, five smugglers had been detected and apprehended, two asteroids had been discovered that contained rare minerals that would be beneficial to Starfleet needs, and one previously uncharted comet had been officially classified as P/2157 D3 T'Pol (due primarily to Trip's influence.)
But there had been no sign of the Romulan bird of prey.
Frustration threatened to spoil T'Pol's poise, but utilizing her many years of experience, she suppressed the emotion under a layer of rigid self-control. Indulging in a moment of annoyance, no matter how desirous it may be, would not get her closer to locating the bird of prey. There was no doubt that the warship was still there, and T'Pol was intent on finding it. She simply wished that it did not feel like she was overlooking something.
Her sensor board chirped, informing her that the latest adjustments to the sweep pattern were now going active. At her direction, all of the ships in the Sol System had linked their sensors together to form a system-wide sensor net. Boomer transports, Iceland-classes, Daedalus-classes, even the Tellarite and Vulcan ambassadorial ships currently in Earth orbit were joining together to scan the system.
And they were still not detecting the Romulan ship.
"Ignoring me won't make me go away," Phlox informed her from where he stood at the doorway. For the past thirty hours, the doctor had been pestering her to rest. Ignoring the urge to sigh, she gave him a sidelong look.
"I am not ignoring you, Doctor," she responded as she turned her attention back to the master display screen. The digital image representing the UES Saratoga was now flashing, indicating that the Iceland-class ship had detected an anomaly and was moving closer to investigate. "My duties, however, require my full attention," T'Pol continued.
"You need rest," the Denobulan declared, stepping closer and violating her personal space. T'Pol instinctively stiffened before frowning slightly; Phlox knew she was uncomfortable with such blatant physical closeness, and was likely trying to either put her on the defensive or to intimidate her. Neither would work, of course, but it was a fascinating display of his keen insight into psychology. It was at times like this that she was reminded of the doctor's own amazing intellect and experience: he was, after all, older than she was.
"I do not have the time to rest, Doctor," T'Pol retorted sharply. The incoming data stream from Saratoga altered, and she fought the urge to glower at the false alarm. Beside her, the Denobulan crossed his arms in frustration. Fortunately, he took a step back, evidently recognizing that his latest tactic was not working. "Your concern for my health is appreciated, but unnecessary. As you know, Vulcans can go several days without sleep."
"T'Pol, you've been awake for over ninety hours," Phlox argued. "You haven't slept. You haven't eaten. You haven't meditated." A beep from the master display caused him to hesitate, but he continued once he saw that it was a routine status report from the Beijing. "I have the authority to relieve you," he said ominously.
"You do." T'Pol turned to look him in the eye. "In the past seventy-five point three hours," she stated calmly, "My presence here has led to the discovery of two additional fission bombs." He blinked in surprise at that, which was to be expected. His duties in sickbay had prevented him from attending the most recent command briefing; two of the STAB personnel who had disabled the first fission bomb were experiencing the first stages of radiation sickness; a fractured seal on one of the warheads had been discovered too late. She made no mention of the fact that this fracture was likely the only reason she had been able to detect the weapon in the first place. "I am well aware of my limits, Phlox," T'Pol said, purposely using his name instead of his honorific. She hoped he recognized the honor she paid him in doing so.
The wall comm interrupted whatever he was about to say.
"Sato to T'Pol." The Vulcan's hand was reaching for the comm panel before she was entirely aware of it.
"This is T'Pol."
"I've finished my partial reconstruction of the targeting profile," the linguistics officer announced, a hint of triumph in her voice. "Uploading it to your station now."
"Acknowledged," T'Pol replied as the incoming file appeared on her screen. She silently urged it to load faster. Behind her, Phlox stood quietly. "I have the data now," the Vulcan stated as she began to study the translation in front of her. Sato had spent the previous three days laboriously reconstructing and translating the fission bomb's guidance software, hoping that it would provide some insight into the bird of prey's location or sensor profile.
"Those are Denobulan bio-signs," Phlox said abruptly. He stepped forward, pausing the data's advance. "And human, and Vulcan, and Tellarite." His expression tightened as he advanced forward slightly. "There are a dozen different species here ..."
"It appears that the guidance software is able to differentiate between life signs from orbit," T'Pol remarked. She pressed a button on the console, advancing the data slightly. "And then select targets for the maximum number of casualties," she continued. It was both monstrous yet efficiently logical. By targeting civilian populations with a weapon such as this, the Romulans could effectively neutralize their enemies’ supplies of fresh troops.
"Commander Sato, inform the captain," T'Pol said into the comm line. It was mostly a formality, as she could feel Trip's horrified disgust at their discovery through the bond, but it was a necessary one for the official record. "I am examining the sensor data now, and will have an update for him in five minutes."
"Aye, ma'am. Sato out." The comm line went dead, and T'Pol spent a long moment staring at the data on the screen. Phlox had not budged from where he stood, and was examining the display with equal intensity.
"How has the Romulan ship avoided detection?" he asked, and T'Pol raised an eyebrow at that. She had no concrete proof, of course, but her research pointed toward a strong possibility.
"By taking his warp core offline," she replied. Almost instantly, she was aware of the less than precise nature of her response, and the urge to blame Trip for her use of a pronoun to describe the Romulan ship was nearly overwhelming. She caught herself pressing her tongue against the side of her cheek, and sighed almost imperceptibly. Clearly, she was more tired than she thought. Trip's unconscious habits only bled through when she had not meditated sufficiently.
"That would trap the ship in the system," Phlox realized. He reached forward and advanced the data.
"Yes, but it would also significantly reduce the ship's sensor profile." She backed the data up as she spoke, earning herself a sheepish look of apology from the doctor. "Given the Romulan predilection for self-destruction rather than capture," T'Pol remarked, "It is logical to assume that the crew of this ship is aware that it has a small chance of survival." With her left hand, she began inputing new sensor frequencies based on some of the data she was studying. Phlox watched her for a moment, but said nothing; his silent yet steady appraisal was mildly disconcerting, and caused her to make a minor error in her calculations. She quickly corrected it, however, and was confident that he did not see the mistake in the first place.
As she was about to upload the revised sensor sweep patterns to the fleet, familiar readings in the guidance software caught her attention, causing her to hesitate. Frowning, she spent another long moment studying the data. Anger flooded through her then as she realized the extent of her error, and her fingers began flying across the console. Phlox's surprise was evident, and T'Pol fought to suppress the emotion on her face. She was only partially successful.
"Commander?" the doctor asked in the moment before the computer accepted her new commands. The comparison between the fission weapon data and the sensor net was almost instantaneous. T'Pol felt her stomach clench at the horrifying truth.
The Romulan ship was posing as the UES Saratoga.
She struck the Transmit button on the comm panel with slightly more force than was necessary, and Phlox jumped visibly at the sound.
"T'Pol to Tucker," she said sharply. "I've found the Romulan ship."
"Battle stations!" her mate's voice echoed from the comm panel, as T'Pol darted toward the exit.
A moment later, the klaxon began to sound.