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Teaser

Act One

Act Two

Act Three

Act Four

Act Five

author's note

Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama

Rated: PG-13 … harsh language, action, and adult situations.

Summary: The search for the traitor in Starfleet Command leads Admiral Archer to a chilling discovery...

Disclaimer: I own nada.

I'd be remiss if I failed to thank JediKatie for giving me major assistance and feedback as I struggled with this beast.

The revised look of the Endeavour was originally developed by Mark Ward for the NX Class Mod Pack for Bridge Commander, although it was credited as the NCC-05 Atlantis. Mr. Ward has graciously given me permission to use this "skin" for the look of Endeavour – if I had discovered this thing before writing Vigrid, the -06 would have looked like this all along.

This is the sequel to Endeavour: Grendel. It'll be a little difficult to follow without reading that first. Like my previous fics, I'm writing this as prose and using the basic screenplay format (Teaser + 5 acts)

Act tHREE

His ears would not stop ringing. 

Wincing slightly, Trip Tucker looked up from the situation table and speared T’Pol with a questioning look that she casually ignored.  Phlox had released her from sickbay earlier despite the tinnitus that had temporarily deafened her with the obviously misplaced expectation she would retire to her quarters while recovering.  If he didn’t need her expertise so badly, Trip would have ordered her there anyway, abusing both his authority as captain and his rights as her mate if necessary, but instead found himself not only allowing her to continue working but actually encouraging it.  That she had worked out a way to use the bond in order to utilize his hearing as her own was nothing short of amazing. 

But then, she’d always amazed him, even when she was driving him up the wall. 

A chirp from the situation table drew his attention back to it and Trip frowned.  Status reports continued to crawl across the display as the security teams checked in at regular intervals to relay their findings.  Twenty minutes had passed since the explosion in the computer core, and he couldn’t help but to experience a frightening sense of déjà vu at the entire situation.  Internal sensors, damaged by the carefully placed explosive, were currently offline, forcing Lieutenant Commander Eisler’s teams to sweep the ship manually for additional hints of sabotage, much like the tactical officer had wanted to do at Thor’s Cradle all those months ago. 

Almost the moment that the explosion occurred, Tucker had issued orders to the rest of strike group to place all of the Vulcans capable of being moved out of sickbay into confinement.  So far, five of them remained unaccounted for, with three of those potential threats aboard Endeavour herself.  Movement through the NC-06 was strictly limited, and Commander Eisler had already instructed division chiefs to arm their personnel just in case their saboteur made a suicidal end-run.  Engineering was sealed off entirely, and other mission critical locations – the bridge (both of them), sickbay, the Armoury – were locked down so tight that it was becoming difficult to coordinate with other parts of the ship. 

Which was probably Eisler’s intention in the first place. 

“I hate this,” Trip muttered as he stared at the display before him.  He was a hands-on leader, someone who liked to inspire by actions and deeds, and this sitting around while others went into harm’s way bothered him no matter how much he knew it was in everyone’s best interests.  T’Pol cocked an eyebrow as she looked up and met his eyes. 

“Commander Eisler is a more than competent officer,” she said.  Without the benefit of being able to hear herself, her voice was strangely off-key and high-pitched, as if she had inhaled a breath of helium and it was wearing off.  An expression of annoyance washed across her features for less than a heartbeat as she took in what she sounded like through his ears, and she clenched her teeth together so tightly that the muscles in her jaw were visible. 

“You sound fine,” he told her.  If anything, she grimaced even harder. 

“Say again, Telemachus,” Lieutenant Devereux ordered, her own voice drifting across the relatively quiet bridge.  “Acknowledged.  I will relay to Endeavour Actual.”  Trip frowned deeply and glanced in his communication officer’s direction as he suddenly recognized the similarities between how she and T’Pol sounded.  Ever since she returned to active duty following her injury at the battle of Acheron, Marie’s voice had seemed different somehow, though he hadn’t really given it as much thought as he should have.  Now, in retrospect, Tucker realized why she sounded different. 

There was something wrong with her hearing. 

He exchanged a glance with T’Pol, noting instantly the way her own eyes seemed to have turned inward as she reflected upon her own admittedly brief interactions with Lieutenant Devereux over the last few weeks.  Self-recrimination flickered across her face but was gone almost before he saw it; as the first officer, the safety and well-being of the crew was her first priority, yet Trip knew she blamed herself for not recognizing the lieutenant’s symptoms sooner. 

“Captain,” Devereux called out, “Telemachus is reporting they have the remaining two Vulcans accounted for and are moving them to the brig.” 

“Good,” Trip replied.  He glanced at T’Pol and she nodded in agreement with his unspoken plan.  “A word in my office, Lieutenant Devereux,” he said as turned toward the door leading to the converted systems analysis room.  T’Pol was a silent shadow, less than a half step behind him.  “Miss Ricker,” he said, pausing to glance at the senior lieutenant manning the science station, “you have the bridge.” 

Once inside the office, Trip drew in a steadying breath and dropped into the chair behind his desk.  He leaned forward slightly, interlocking his fingers together as if he were praying though his dark frown was clear indication he wasn’t.   T’Pol drew abreast of him without comment, her hands clasped together at the small of her back, and adopted her most forbidding expression, the one that reminded anyone looking at her that she was not human.  This would be the first thing Devereux saw when she entered and it would send an immediate signal that this was no joking matter.  

Marie’s eyes widened fractionally at their calculated stances but recovered quickly and assumed a position of attention directly in front of the desk. 

“Reporting as ordered, sir,” she said and Trip’s expression darkened slightly.  Now that he knew what to listen for, it was impossible not to tell that something was wrong. 

“What’s wrong with your hearing, Marie?” Tucker asked without preamble.  The lieutenant froze and her eyes darted away, as if she were considering deceit, before visibly deflating. 

“I don’t know, sir,” Devereux replied.  “It’s been bothering me off and on since Acheron.” 

“And Starfleet Medical released you?” Trip demanded, anger bubbling up from his belly. 

“Not exactly, sir,” the lieutenant said sheepishly.  “I sort of checked myself out so I could return to Endeavour. 

“That was not logical,” T’Pol pointed out.  “You may have worsened your condition by not completing the medical treatments.” 

“My family is here, ma’am,” Marie said.  “I don’t have anyone left and I wanted to be here where I could help.”  Trip winced in understanding.  He wished he could say he was surprised, but Command had passed on dozens of similar such incidents throughout the fleet as wounded veterans did whatever they could to return to their duty stations and stand alongside their brothers and sisters in arms; the bond forged in battle was a powerful one, and he had to silently admit that he had done the same thing when he was younger, especially during the Xindi mission.  How many times had he skipped out of an appointment with Phlox so he could focus on keeping Enterprise from imploding and not let down his fellow officers and crewmen?  Hell, hadn’t he been back down in engineering barely a week after having brain surgery?  Despite his silent admiration of her dedication to duty, though, Trip Tucker wasn’t the one in charge. 

Captain Tucker was. 

“While I admire your loyalty to Endeavour,” he said slowly, “Commander T’Pol is correct.  We need you at one hundred percent and if you can’t do that…” 

“Doctor Phlox is aware of your condition?” T’Pol asked abruptly.  When Devereux hesitantly nodded, Trip felt a flare of fury that he quickly suppressed.  Memory of how infuriated he had been when he discovered the Denobulan concealed T’Pol’s addiction pushed at his self-control, and Tucker lowered his hands to the table. 

“He hasn’t kept it from you, sir,” Marie rushed to explain, evidently seeing the anger in Trip’s eyes.  “I just saw him about it this morning.  He hadn’t finished with my diagnosis when we went to battle stations.”  Tucker relaxed slightly before glancing at T’Pol. 

“Who’s on bridge duty?” he asked, grateful that he didn’t have to explain that he was talking about the security teams. 

“Senior Chief Petty Officer Mitchell,” she replied instantly.  Trip nodded and glanced down at the integrated comm. panel embedded within the desk.  With his right finger, he tapped the small screen, bringing up the crew roster.  Another tap narrowed the list of names, and he scrolled through them to find STAB team leader.  Double clicking on the man’s name opened a direct communications line to the security noncomm’s helmet set. 

STAB Six,” came Mitchell’s almost immediate response. 

“This is Tucker,” Trip said.  “In about five minutes, Lieutenant Devereux is going to be heading to sickbay.  I want you to make sure she gets there without any problems.” 

Wilco, sir,” the senior chief petty officer replied.  “I’ll see to it personally.” 

“Thank you.  Tucker out.”  Trip pressed the END button and glanced back up at Marie.  “I want a full report from Phlox as soon as he’s done,” he ordered.  “If anybody can whip up a miracle cure for you, it’s him.” 

“And if there isn’t one?” Devereux asked in a heart-breaking tone of voice. 

“Don’t borrow trouble,” Trip answered.  He gave her a smile.  “Phlox can do some amazin’ things, Lieutenant.” 

“He should know,” T’Pol interjected.  “The captain was more often than not Doctor Phlox’s primary patient while aboard Enterprise. 

“With you holding onto the number two spot,” he retorted quickly.  “So if he can keep the two of us alive,” Trip said, directing his comments to Marie, “fixing your ears will be a piece of cake.” 

“Yes, sir.”  Devereux squared her shoulders.  “Will that be all, sir?” she asked.  Trip nodded. 

“It will,” he replied.  “Dismissed.”  The moment she vanished through the door, Tucker was activating the comm.-line again.  The answer was instantaneous. 

“This is Phlox.” 

“I’m sending Lieutenant Devereux down to see you, Doc,” Trip said as T’Pol walked to the front of his desk and lowered herself into the seat there. 

“Ah,” the Denobulan replied.  “She did speak to you then?  I warned her that I would have to tell you the moment I found out, but she insisted on waiting until we had something more definite.” 

“What do you have, Phlox?” Tucker asked. 

“Nothing good, I’m afraid,” the doctor said.  “From my preliminary examination,” he reported, “it appears that the vestibulocochlear nerve has been damaged and she is suffering from sensorineural hearing loss.” 

“Can you fix it?” 

“Possibly, but I won’t know until I’ve been able to complete my examination.”  Trip was surprised at the sudden anger in the Denobulan’s voice.  “Starfleet Medical should have detected this injury,” he growled, “and I intend to have words with the fools who let her leave.” 

“You and me both, Doc.”  Trip exchanged a grim look with his mate.  “Keep me informed, Phlox.  Tucker out.” 

“What will you do if the doctor cannot repair this damage?” T’Pol asked softly.  Tucker closed his eyes. 

“What I have to,” he replied. 

=/\=  =/\=  =/\=

 She really wished she didn’t have to do this. 

With a groan, Hoshi Sato-Reed leaned back in the acceleration seat and rubbed her eyes in a vain attempt to wake up.  Admiral Archer’s emergency communiqué had roused her from a deep sleep, and only the desperate, almost frantic urgency in his voice had kept her from pointing out the time difference between San Francisco and London, or the fact that tomorrow was her son’s first Christmas Eve.  Finding transport to Starfleet Command at zero three in the morning hadn’t been as difficult as she’d feared – there was always someone awake at the space port – but the half hour in a shuttlepod was approximately thirty-five minutes too long. 

Yawning widely, she watched silently as the pilot began their rapid descent.  He had followed an unusual flight path almost from takeoff, one that she now suspected was intended to get her to San Francisco as quickly as possible and with very few people aware of her presence.  Even more ominous was that his comm. system was shut down; they were still squawking the proper IFF codes, but were otherwise going out of their way to avoid detection. 

Frustrated at her inability to wake up, Hoshi fumbled through her travel bag until she found the package of caffeine pills normally reserved for the ridiculously long briefings Command liked her to attend.  Tossing two in her mouth, she chased them with a swig of water while discreetly retrieving the small caliber handgun she’d begun carrying in the duffel.  A gift from her father-in-law, the pistol was new and constructed of materials intended to defeat most scanners from detecting it, especially since most modern weapons were energy-based.  Quickly verifying that the safety was on, Hoshi slid the weapon into her coat pocket, covering the sleight of hand with another drink from her water bottle. 

“We’re on final approach now, ma’am,” the pilot announced.  He was an ordinary-looking man, with average-sized arms and legs, and absolutely no distinguishing features to speak of.  If she was pressed, Hoshi realized that she probably couldn’t identify a single thing about him that was particularly memorable or appealing.   

In short, he was a perfect spy. 

Her sense of self-preservation chose that moment to rouse from its quiescent slumber, and Hoshi felt the last of her fatigue melt away as adrenaline began coursing through her veins, mixing with the caf-tabs she’d already swallowed and re-igniting the sense of worried anticipation she’d learned to loath while serving aboard Enterprise.  For the first time since she’d stumbled from Maddie’s apartment where she’d left little Mal, she realized the potential danger she could be in.  Jonathan Archer’s voice could easily be faked – she’d done it at least twice while on Enterprise during her prank wars with Travis – and she had no way of knowing if they were actually heading toward Starfleet Command.  For all she knew, they could be about to land in the Urals or in the middle of Australia. 

“This is Sierra Foxtrot Niner Niner Two,” the pilot said into the comm.-line, “to Starfleet Command.  Requesting landing authorization.” 

“Authorization granted, Niner Niner Two,” came the almost instant response.  “We’re lighting up platform five for you now.” 

A moment later, Hoshi could make out the pulsing flashes she recognized from her previous visits to Command headquarters.  Distinctive beacon lights flickered and pulsed in a steady, hypnotic pattern, and the pilot banked the ‘pod softly toward them.  He activated the landing cycle almost before they were fully down, and half-turned in his seat to address her. 

“A word of advice, Commander?” he asked with a dangerous glint in his eyes.  “In the future, take the stim-pills before you leave your apartment.”  He pressed the button on his console that opened the main hatch.  “And get a larger caliber weapon,” he added.  “That pea shooter you’re carrying wouldn’t stop someone who was really intent on hurting you.” 

“Understood,” Hoshi replied as she stood.  She gave him a tight smile.  “What if I had AP rounds in it?” she asked as she started toward the hatch, her hand never releasing the pistol. 

“Better,” the spy-pilot said, “but you still need something with more stopping power.”  He turned his attention back to the flight station as Hoshi ducked out of the ‘pod, shaking her head at the eccentricities of intelligence agents.  

The warm San Franciscan night air greeted her, and she breathed in deeply.  If there was one thing she disliked about living in England, it was the weather, especially after she’d grown accustomed to more tropical climes during her years as a teacher in South America.  London – especially in December – was just too damned cold. 

No one was there to meet her and once more, the hairs on the back of her neck stood at attention.  Hefting the duffel and slinging it over her left shoulder, Hoshi descended down the ramp connecting the landing platform to the building proper, her eyes narrowed and her hand gripping the handgun tightly.  Behind her, the whine of the shuttlepod’s engines grew louder and, a moment later, the craft climbed back into the sky, vanishing into the night sky within seconds.   

Once inside Starfleet Command, her concern only grew.  Normally a bustling scene of organized chaos, it seemed frighteningly desolate for the headquarters of the organization currently waging an interstellar war.  Hoshi glanced at a wall clock – twenty-two fifteen – and frowned.  Even this late in the evening, there should be someone here! 

A whisper of movement caused her head to snap around and she froze at the sight of two heavily armed figures stepping through an open doorway.  One of them she recognized instantly – Sergeant (now Petty Officer Second Class) Sascha Money had been one of Hoshi’s favorite MACOs to play cards with during the Xindi mission – but the other person seemed only vaguely familiar. 

“Commander Sato,” Money said, gesturing toward the door.  “Admiral Archer is waiting for you.”  Nodding, Hoshi gestured for the two security troopers to precede her; Money gave her a grim smirk, obviously recognizing her discomfort, before backtracking a half step ahead of the other trooper.  Still unsettled, Hoshi followed them. 

She stepped through the doorway and into a large conference room.  Dominating the chamber was an immense, rectangular table nearly two meters in length.  It had a glassed-over surface, and Hoshi could make out what appeared to be digital images underneath.  Clustered around the holo-table were faces she knew well – Admiral Archer, Lieutenant Reynolds, Gannet Brooks, Amanda Cole, Derek Kelly (now sporting petty officer first class rank) – and all of them were wearing combat gear.  Even the normally telegenic Brooks appeared battle-hardened and grim as she watched them make their plans. 

Hoshi suddenly had a very bad feeling about this. 

“No,” Reynolds was saying as she entered, “that won’t work, sir.”  He began pointing to various spots on the table.  “If we come in through there, we’ll be sitting ducks for any snipers on the upper levels.” 

“Not to mention,” Cole added, “the lack of cover from the two ground floor kill pockets.”  She was re-packing what looked to be a trauma care bag. 

“Then what do you suggest?” Archer asked.  His back was to Hoshi as he leaned over the holo-table. 

“Full breaching assault,” Reynolds said instantly.  Every single one of the ex-MACOs – all Enterprise veterans, Hoshi realized – nodded in agreement.  “We go in hard and fast.  If it moves, we shoot it.  If it doesn’t move, we shoot it anyway.” 

“And if it’s down,” Kelly added with a grin, “we shoot it again, just to be sure.” 

“On stun, of course,” Cole said.  “Your comtech is here, Admiral.”  Archer jerked his head around to look at her, and Hoshi drew in a sharp breath at the new lines on his face.  He tried to smile in greeting, but it looked more like a grimace. 

“Glad you could make it, Hoshi,” he said, as if she’d ever had a choice otherwise.  He gestured toward the table.  “We need your expertise here,” he added.  She stepped closer, nodding politely to Kelly as the petty officer shifted out of the way for her.  Hoshi frowned. 

“We need a way to jam both incoming and outgoing comm. signals at the compound,” Lieutenant Reynolds said.  “If they know we’re coming, this could get real ugly, real fast.” 

“Why exactly are we doing this?” Hoshi asked.  “This is where Admiral Gardner lives,” she pointed out.  Instantly, the tension in the briefing room skyrocketed. 

“He’s been suborned,” Archer said softly.  He nodded to Cole who promptly passed him a stack of photos.  “By Rajiin,” the admiral continued as he offered the images. 

Hoshi’s blood ran cold. 

She stared at the photos for a long moment, barely able to fathom what she was seeing.  Suddenly, Archer’s visible discomfort made sense, as did the fact they were recruiting MACOs who had served under him in the Expanse.  They had a bond, all of them, and a couple of the soldiers had even been injured when Rajiin was taken – or was that a staged escape? – from the ship.  She looked up, met the admiral’s eyes, and nodded in understanding. 

“The compound is using Mark Twelve comm. arrays,” Kelly said as he watched her.  “We’re trying to figure out a way to jam them remotely without tipping our hand.” 

“You can’t,” Hoshi said.  She shouldered him out of the way – ever since he’d pulled her off that Xindi weapon (and she woke up while he was carrying her to sickbay), they’d developed a friendly camaraderie that she’d never quite been able to explain.  At least Malcolm and Kelly’s wife had seemed to accept it without perceiving jealousy where none was warranted.  “Mark Twelves use an oscillating bandwidth,” she explained, “so you need the frequencies being used and invert them.”  She pointed to a spot on the floor plans.  “Put me there,” she said, “and I can knock them out for you.” 

“Are you sure?” Archer asked.  “Can’t you show someone how to do it?  I’m pretty handy with electronics.” 

“Can you show someone how to fly like you do, sir?”  Hoshi shrugged.  “It’s more art than science really.  I need to be there, on the ground, with the rest of you if we have a chance at this.”  She forced a smile on her face.  “Besides,” she said, “Derek needs somebody to make sure he gets home in time for his little girl’s dance recital.” 

“The wife would shoot me in the head if I missed it, sir,” Kelly added with a grin of his own. 

“He’s not kidding,” Money interjected.  “That woman scares the crap out of me.”  The laughter sounded real enough, but Hoshi had been around enough MACOs to recognize when they were hiding their fear behind bluster. 

“Then we do this,” Reynolds said.  “Kelly, get her some gear.” 

Hoshi winced.  She wondered if this day could get any worse. 

=/\=  =/\=  =/\= 

His day had gone from bad to worse. 

Lip curled with frustration, Rick Eisler knelt before the corpse stretched out on the deck in front of him.  At first glance, there didn’t appear to be any of the telltale signs of a struggle – there were no burns from a phase pistol or disruptor beam, the exposed skin was free of any ligature marks thus ruling out strangulation, and even the body’s posture seemed far too natural for it to have been staged.   

And yet, despite all the evidence in front of him, Rick knew something was wrong. 

He rocked back on his heels, frowning deeply as he studied the corpse they had discovered only moments earlier.  Slumped down inside one of the mostly automated engineering monitoring stations on E Deck, the corpse was still relatively warm despite the obvious lack of life signs, and one could almost be fooled into thinking the Vulcan was asleep or in one of those healing trances Rick had read so much about but only seen once (and then, it was his human captain who had been in it!)  Careful examination and a quick sensor scan revealed otherwise, however. 

Arrayed behind and around him, the three-man security team he’d handpicked to accompany him remained silent, their weapons at the ready as they guarded his back and awaited instructions.  All three were young – the oldest was barely twenty-five – but showed none of the rank immaturity Rick had come to expect from Starfleet crewmen their age. 

“Hensen,” he called out.  The computer and sensor operator responded to the implied question instantly, lowering his hand-held scanner as he spoke. 

“No signs of explosives or other foreign objects detected, sir, so I don’t think it’s booby trapped.”  Eisler nodded before carefully rolling the corpse over, relaxing fractionally when no concealed canister of nerve gas or flesh-eating bacteria popped into view.  As with the front, there were no signs of trauma.  He frowned before triggering his helmet comlink. 

ENG-Six, TAC-Six,” he spoke.  Anna’s voice responded a moment later. 

“This is Hess,” she said, a smile in her voice.  “What d’ya got for me, Rick?” 

“Are you receiving my signal?” he asked, ignoring her complete breach of communication protocol.  From past experience, he knew she would only get more informal if he called attention to it. 

“Yup.”  Rick could hear the steady click of her fingers upon a keyboard and knew she was accessing the miniature camera installed on his helmet.  “Pan around,” Hess ordered.  “Let me get a visual of your location.”  He obeyed without comment, grimacing at the need for such low-tech methods.  “E Deck,” she murmured.  “You’re just outside Hydroponics Two.  The only thing worth sabotaging in that area is the-” 

“Secondary impulse thruster on the starboard side,” Rick finished for her.  “We checked it out the moment we found the body.”  He straightened from his crouch and gave the corridor another once-over, hoping against hope that something would stand out and draw his attention.  “There are no signs of tampering with the plasma coolant tank in this section either.” 

“Well … damn.”  Hess was silent for a moment.  “I can’t think of any other high value targets in that area, Rick,” she said.  “Maybe he just wanted to look at the pretty plants in Hydroponics and keeled over in shock when he saw them?”  Eisler didn’t bother replying to nonsensical question. 

“How long until internals are back online?” he asked. 

“A minimum of an hour,” she replied, “plus or minus your usual level of efficiency times two.”  Rick was suddenly glad for the concealing nature of his helmet as it hid his smirk at the coded message she’d buried within her reply.  For all of his complaints about her apparent lack of professionalism, Anna knew when to play the jokester and when to set it aside.  Twenty minutes, he translated as he glanced in the direction of the nearby cargo bays.  He mentally ran through anything the manifest before admitting there was nothing there explosive or even potentially lethal. 

“Sooner would be better than later,” he said.  Anna’s answering bark of laughter rang in his ears. 

Jawohl, mein Korvettenkapitän!” she retorted, using an obsolete German naval rank roughly equivalent to the one he currently held.  Her pronunciation was surprisingly good, but Rick wasn’t surprised, not with her last name being Hess.  “I’ll let the DC crews know that the Rabid Doberman is on the warpath!” Anna said with an accompanying snicker at her use of her new favorite nickname for him.  With a loud click, she killed the comm. connection. 

“Wakulich, Victrim,” Rick called out.  The two petty officers shuffled closer to where he stood, but kept their eyes on their respective corridors like their training taught them.  “Get this body to Phlox,” Eisler instructed calmly.  “I need a cause of death ASAP.”  As the two bent to obey, he frowned.  “And for God’s sake,” he said, “stay alert.” 

“Aye, sir,” Victrim responded as he hefted the body over his shoulder.  The pair darted away, Wakulich on point to cover his partner. 

TAC-Six, COB.”  The sudden hail caused Rick to frown. 

“Six, go.” 

“E-Deck, Port Side,” Master Chief Mackenzie said without further preamble.  Rick started forward at a quick half-jog, half-walk, PO2 Hensen directly behind him.  “Unusual sounds detected in upper access corridors,” the COB continued, referencing the section of space between D and E decks containing the work tubes and plasma conduits that powered the ship like arteries and veins.  ORDO investigating,” Mackenzie finished, using Ensign Stiles’ position as ordinance officer instead of his rank.  The comm.-line easily carried across the COB’s annoyance and frustration at the young officer’s eagerness to prove himself, and Eisler tried not to sigh in agreement. 

“Copy,” Rick replied.  He quickened his pace, hoping the foolish idiot wouldn’t do something to stupid.  God save us all from single-pippers seeking medals, he reflected morbidly. 

He had barely taken three steps when the comm.-line exploded with the sounds of a firefight. 

Startled screams jolted him into a headlong dash, Petty Officer Hensen directly behind him.  The distinct whine of pulse rifles echoed across the communications line, followed instantly by the lower, more guttural sound of a Vulcan disruptor being fired.  Rick’s lungs began to burn as he forced himself to move faster, to cover the eighty plus meters as quickly as humanly possible.  Behind him, Hensen fell back, unable to maintain the grueling pace Eisler set as he sprinted forward, and in the back of his mind, Rick made a mental note to start demanding even higher standards of physical fitness for his security people. 

He cut through Launch Bay One, slowing only long enough for the doors to begin curling open before hurling himself forward once more.  As he covered the last ten or fifteen meters, Rick could hear the wail of weapons fire echoing through the corridors and winced at their proximity.  He skidded to a halt before he reached a T-junction.  Phased plasma packets exploded along the wall directly before him and he dropped into a crouch before rounding the corner, his rifle at the ready. 

Chaos reigned.  Two armored figures were down – Ensign Stiles and Petty Officer Hoffman by the IFF codes that popped up upon the visor of Rick’s helmet; their life signs were weak but still present – with the remaining two hugging poor cover as they sent steady streams of fire down the accessway leading to the primary port impulse drives.  Eisler bit back a curse as he waited for the target they were shooting at to appear. 

“Sitrep!” he demanded as Hensen rejoined him, breath coming in ragged gasps.  One of the armored figures – MCPO Mackenzie – gave him a quick glance before reorienting his full attention down the causeway. 

“Two hostiles,” the COB reported.  “They caught the ensign and Hoffman by surprise before retreating toward the nacelle access compartment!” 

“And you’re shooting at them?” Rick asked incredulously.  During his initial shipboard training, he’d learned what could happen if the warp coolant were ignited and the thought horrified him.  Mackenzie gave him a sidelong look, though Eisler couldn’t make out his expression. 

“I already killed all power to the access doors,” Anna’s voice announced over the comm.-line.  “Unless they’ve got torches in there, they’re not going to get to the nacelle.” 

“They can still do lot of bloody damage in there,” Mackenzie growled, “especially if they can get to the fusion reactors for the impulse drives.”  Rick nodded. 

“Anna,” he said, slipping into his native language and hoping she remembered enough of it to understand what he was saying, “licht aus.  Eine minute. 

Fertig,” Hess replied.  When Mackenzie glanced back in his direction, Rick gave him a discreet hand signal comprising of a single finger tapping against the stock of his rifle.  The COB nodded in understanding before reaching for one of the stun grenades secured to his gear.  Eisler nearly told him not to bother – flashbangs were only of moderate use against Vulcans thanks to the inner eyelid that protected them from their planet’s searing light – before deciding to follow suit.  One hundred and seventy decibels of sound was bad enough for humans, but it could be positively crippling for a Vulcan with their greatly enhanced sense of hearing. 

Exactly one minute after he issued his orders, the lights around them flickered and died.  Rick instantly armed and hurled his stun grenade toward the target zone, and could hear Hensen, Mackenzie and PO1 Riley do the same.  With a loud crack and flashes of brilliant light, the flashbangs exploded, and Eisler leaped forward, the light enhancement technology in his helmet activating automatically.  His rifle leading the way, he raced down the accessway. 

With a bestial roar, a Vulcan male surged out of the darkness and charged toward them, madness and fury stamped on his face.  Emerald blood was pouring out of his ears and his eyes were as wide as physically possible in a vain attempt to make out their forms.  Rick shifted his aim slightly, knelt and squeezed the trigger.  Pulses of phased particles struck the male with bruising force, spinning him around and causing him to slam into the bulkhead.  The Vulcan screamed – a terrible, raspy sound that sounded like glass being crushed – and leaped forward once more, absorbing another salvo of fire from all four of the shooters.  He plowed into Riley like a linebacker – though it looked more accidental than intentional – and sent the petty officer tumbling to the deck.  Rick cursed as he fired again, this time aiming his shots at the Vulcan’s exposed head.  Staggered, the male stumbled, took another step and toppled to his knees. 

Pulling another flashbang from his belt, Eisler sent it sliding down the access corridor and into the monitoring room.  It erupted instantly and he sprang forward, Mackenzie at his side.  The COB’s breath caught at the sight waiting for them: the warp plasma conduit that dominated the center of the room had been cracked open. 

Evidently, the saboteurs had torches after all. 

Movement to his left caused Rick to snap his rifle around just in time to see a female Vulcan lurking just beyond the open hatch leading to the plasma accelerator.  Before he could react, she manipulated something on her wrist and vanished in a flare of dazzling light and sparkles. 

Scheisse!” he snarled.  “We have a hostile loose!  I need those internals back online now!  Anna’s voice broke across the comm.-line a heartbeat later. 

“Transporter activated!” Hess exclaimed.  “Security teams to D Deck!” 

“All available sweeper teams,” Rick ordered, “converge on transporter!”  He noticed Mackenzie kneeling before the exposed plasma conduit.  “Riley, stay here with the COB.  Hensen, with me.”  Without another word, Eisler sprinted from the monitoring room, pausing only long enough to shoot the unconscious Vulcan one more time.  Just in case. 

It always paid to be cautious. 

=/\=  =/\=  =/\= 

They were about to throw caution to the wind. 

With Petty Officers Third Class Brown and Hamboyan on point, the assault team spread quickly through the sealed off section of Starfleet Command and into the main headquarters building, their weapons lowered but already charged and ready for use.  Including the admiral, Lieutenant Commander Sato, and the Brooks spook, they numbered an unlucky – or perhaps really lucky depending upon one’s point of view – thirteen.  With their combat loadout and the grim set of their features, it was impossible to conceal that they were a strike team on their way to a mission. 

So they didn’t bother trying. 

Instead, nearly every member of the assault group had donned concealing helmets on Scott’s orders that, along with the darkened combat armor they were already wearing, lent them a sinister, intimidating presence that prevented even the bravest or most curious of souls from getting in their way.  Only the admiral wasn’t wearing the protective head gear – a fact that continued to cause Reynolds’ stomach to twist and snarl in worry.  Archer’s logic behind his exposure was perfect: no one would dare stop the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, especially if he were surrounded by heavily armed guards.  If, however, all they saw was a team of faceless, helmeted soldiers racing through the corridors of Command, panic might set in. 

Under normal circumstances, such blatant activity would still have caused some sort of reaction in the Starfleet officers and noncomms scattered throughout the Command building.  Thanks to Brooks, however, the sight of Archer being hurriedly escorted to safety was something no one questioned.  Calling in markers with her associates in Intelligence, Brooks had arranged for rumors about credible threats against the admiral’s life to be leaked.  The grapevine – ever the lifeblood of the military – took over from there, and, based on the reaction of the people Scott could see, the news had already spread. 

As they neared the junction that would carry them to the landing pads, Scott triggered his communication headset and spoke softly into the throat mike. 

“Archangel seeks vertigo,” he said into the coded frequency previously arranged by the spooks that Brooks worked for.  “Talon breathes silence.”  The response was almost instantaneous. 

“Vertigo arises.”  Concealed by his helmet, Reynolds allowed himself a brief smile of satisfaction; his plan hinged on reliable, discreet pilots who could be trusted implicitly and luck had been with him when he caught sight of this particular man’s identity on the duty roster.  Still, Scott hadn’t expected for things to fall into place as quickly as they did. 

He just hoped the rest of his plan came together as easily. 

A pair of security personnel on nightly rounds sprang out of the way as the team rounded the corner and continued past the duo without pausing.  The door leading to the landing pad slid open, revealing a pair of Mark Three shuttlepods already settling down on the tarmac.  Slightly larger than the ‘pods Scott had become accustomed to while serving aboard Enterprise, the Threes could hold eight people apiece instead of the usual six that a Mark Two carried.  Words weren’t necessary as the team quickly split into two groups, and Reynolds preceded the admiral into their ‘pod. 

Seated at its controls, Paul Mayweather glanced back for a moment before quickly returning his attention to the displays blinking at him.  Admiral Archer’s step faltered briefly as he recognized the commanding officer of the UES Horizon, and he shot a surprised look at Reynolds.  Scott shrugged. 

“Secure,” PO2 Richards announced from the hatch, and Mayweather responded instantly.  With a muted growl, the engines of the ‘pod flared and the small craft lifted off the tarmac. 

“Make for the Halifax orbital platform,” Scott said as he leaned closer to where the commander sat.  “Silent running.” 

“Silent running, aye,” Mayweather retorted wryly.  “ETA six minutes.” 

“Do I even want to know how you got involved in this, Paul?” Admiral Archer asked.  Mayweather gave him a quick smile. 

“Lieutenant Reynolds said you needed two ‘pods no question asked,” he said before shrugging.  “So, here I am … no questions asked.  Figured it was the least I could do for you after how you’ve come through for us Boomers.” 

“I didn’t do it for you,” Archer replied softly.  “I did it for Travis.” 

“Why do you think I’m doing this?” Mayweather asked with a pained smiled.  He refocused his attention on his flight controls, and the admiral pulled back, obviously recognizing that the conversation was over.  He gave Scott another look. 

“Halifax?” he asked. 

“Not here, sir,” Reynolds replied sharply.  Archer frowned and then quickly nodded. 

“We’re being hailed,” Commander Mayweather said minutes later.  He toggled a button on his controls, and a crisp, no-nonsense feminine voice emerged from the speakers. 

“Repeat, unidentified shuttles on approach vector, you are entering restricted airspace.  Transmit your clearance codes or we will fire upon you.” 

“They’re locking weapons on us,” Mayweather announced before the warning could be finished.  Scott leaned forward and depressed the transmit button. 

“Halifax platform,” he said, “we are at case orange.  Authentication: black omega.  Code: November, X-Ray, Zero, One, Alpha.  Please confirm.”  The comm.-line was silent for a long, tense moment. 

“Black omega confirmed,” the woman declared a moment later.  Surprise and worry made her speak more quickly than entirely appropriate.  “You are cleared for docking.”  Reynolds blew out a soft breath of relief.  He could feel the admiral’s curious eyes on him, but didn’t bother explaining.  Jonathan Archer wasn’t a MACO, so he didn’t need to know MACO secrets. 

The ‘pod slid into the cramped landing bay with barely a bump, and Mayweather began cycling down the engines almost at once.  Moments later, the second shuttlepod slid into position alongside them. 

“We have a green light,” Richards announced from where he stood by the hatch, and Scott gave his team a thumbs up to begin exiting the ‘pod.  Before he could join them, Mayweather grabbed his arm. 

“I don’t know what’s going on,” the commander said, “but if you need someone to pull you and your team out of a hotspot, I’ll be here.”  Reynolds shook his head. 

“Thanks, sir,” he replied, “but this is an all or nothing op.”  He hesitated before pressing on.  “And the less you know about this, the safer you are, Commander.” 

Archer was waiting outside the ‘pod, conversing softly with Lieutenant Commander Sato-Reed and Miss Brooks, when Scott stepped down from shuttlecraft.  Most of the team were nowhere in sight, though Reynolds knew that was because they were already gathering the equipment they’d come here to acquire.  The admiral gave him a quick look and Reynolds grimaced underneath his helmet.  Might as well get this over with now, he told himself. 

“Admiral,” he called out, “we need to talk.”  Archer’s eyes narrowed, but Scott pressed on.  “About your place on this op.” 

“I’m going with you,” the admiral stated firmly, his tone implacable and his stance resolute. 

“Then you’re gonna have to do exactly what I tell you, sir,” Reynolds countered.  “This is a mission that requires careful teamwork, and I can’t have you running off to be a big damned hero.”  Commander Sato smirked before quickly hiding the expression behind one hand.  The admiral was less amused. 

“I will do,” he said, “what I have to do.” 

“No, sir,” Scott replied flatly.  “You’ll do what I tell you or I’ll have you stunned and locked in a closet until we’re done.” 

Archer blinked in surprise.  His eyes narrowed. 

“You’re bluffing,” he said. 

“Sergeant Cole,” Reynolds said in response.  “Shoot the admiral, please.”  Amanda drew her sidearm, rotated the selector switch to stun, and drew a bead on Archer. 

“Wait!” Archer snapped.  His head darted between Amanda and Scott.  “I need to see this through!” he pointed out.  Reynolds crossed his arm. 

“And I need you to survive, sir, not go running off like you usually do.”  At the admiral’s glower, Scott stepped closer.  “This is an infantry mission, sir, and you are a forty-five year old man still recovering from open heart surgery who leads a relatively sedentary life style.”  Archer recoiled at the matter-of-fact recitation, but Reynolds pushed on.  “If you can’t follow orders on an operation like this,” he said, “then you have no place on the ground with us.”  He directed his next comments to Brooks and Sato.  “That goes for the two of you as well.”  The admiral frowned, and then nodded. 

“You have my word,” he said, and Scott relaxed slightly.   

“Why Halifax?” Brooks asked a moment later.  “This platform is obsolete.” 

“It was a MACO training facility,” Reynolds replied.  As he spoke, PO1 Kelly’s team reappeared, badly encumbered by the gear they had disappeared to get.  “It has everything we’re going to need: rebreathers, a transporter…” 

“Transporter?” Sato repeated with a frown.  “The compound has pattern scramblers.  We can’t beam in from here.”  Scott grinned. 

“I know.” 

“Then I take it you have a plan,” Admiral Archer guessed.  His attention was focused on the equipment Kelly was laying out and Reynolds could see a flare of recognition in the older man’s eyes. 

“Ever heard of a Darwin Drop?” Scott asked.  Archer’s head snapped around, his eyes widening with comprehension.  “I take that as a yes.” 

“Cool,” PO3 Brown murmured.  He had joined them unobtrusively and was carrying rebreather attachments for their armor.  “I’ve always wanted to try one of those.” 

“I know I’m going to regret this,” Sato said with a sigh, “but what exactly is a Darwin Drop?” 

“You’ll love it, Hoshi,” Kelly answered, grinning like a madman.  “We beam in over the target and then HALO drop the rest of the way.” 

“Helluva rush,” Money said.  “Almost as much fun as an orbital insertion.” 

“You’ve pulled a Casey Maneuver?” Hamboyan asked.  He was helping Woods strap on his harness.  “That must have been a wild ride.” 

“Just don’t break anything if you can help it,” Amanda interjected.  “I wasn’t able to get any of the good painkillers for my medkit.” 

HALO?” Sato repeated.  She looked like she was about to be sick.  “As in parachuting?” 

“Yup.”  Kelly hefted a chute for her to see.  “Don’t worry,” he said at her aghast expression.  “You and I will be tandem jumping.  I’ve done this before, so you’ll be okay.”  The lieutenant commander swallowed before shaking her head in stunned disbelief. 

“You’re all crazy,” she muttered.  Kelly laughed. 

“We’re not crazy,” he retorted.  “We’re MACOs!” 

“Hoo-rah!” the rest of the team – including Scott, to his mild chagrin – automatically shouted. 

“More like marines,” Hoshi said sullenly.  Hamboyan’s eyes lit up. 

“Starfleet Marines!” he declared with a loud laugh.  “Semper fi, bitches!”  Reynolds shook his head at their antics, wishing he could shed the officer persona he’d had to cultivate since his battlefield commission if just for a moment so he could join them in their pre-battle, tension relieving jokes.  Focus on the mission, he reminded himself.  Bring them all back alive and then you can fool around as much as you like. 

Unconsciously, his eyes drifted to Amanda at that thought. 

“Admiral,” he began, but Archer waved it off. 

“I know how to use a chute, Lieutenant,” he said.  “Test pilot, remember?”  Archer flashed a sudden grin that robbed him of decades.  “The last time I had to use one though,” he revealed, “was right after ditching a particularly expensive prototype.  Admiral Forrest was very grumpy.” 

“I bet he was,” Scott replied.  He gave Brooks a quick glance, noting at once how expertly she was handling her gear.  She must have sensed his observation as she looked up and smiled before continuing to secure the harness to her battle rig.  Reynolds shook his head – the reporter was turning out to be a regular Jane Bond – and turned away from her. 

Just in time to find Amanda staring at him with muted anger, despair and jealousy in her eyes.  Despite his better instincts, Scott shot her a smirk and a wink.  She glanced away, but he could see the relieved smile starting to form. 

“All right, people,” he said loudly, “you know the drill: shoot straight, don’t miss, stick with your buddy, and don’t get dead.”  He pinned the admiral with a look.  “Sergeant Cole,” he called out, keeping his eyes on Archer as he spoke, “you’re in charge of Charlie team.  That means the admiral is yours to baby sit.” 

“And I will shoot you if you try to be a hero, sir,” Amanda declared to a ripple of laughter.  Archer chuckled. 

“So noted,” he replied.  Inhaling deeply, he straightened slightly and Scott was amazed to notice how the entire team instinctively reacted by giving him their undivided attention.  “None of us want to do what we’re about to do,” Archer said grimly, “but the Expanse taught all of us that sometimes, we have to make hard decisions for the greater good.”  He looked in each soldier’s eyes as he continued.  “We don’t know what Rajiin has done to Admiral Gardner,” he reminded them, “or what she’s done to the admiral’s guards, so be prepared for anything, but remember: they aren’t the enemy.  She’s the enemy.  And we need to stop her, whatever the cost.”  Archer dropped his hand upon his holstered sidearm in what appeared to be an unconscious gesture.  “Humanity is depending upon us to do this right.” 

“Semper fi,” Hamboyan murmured, and a moment later, the rest of the team repeated it, as if it were a mantra or a holy invocation.  Scott stepped forward to flank the admiral and gave the team leaders – Sergeant Cole, Petty Officer First Class Kelly, and Petty Officer Second Class Money – careful nods.  When he spoke, he infused his words with all of the calm authority he could muster. 

“Let’s roll.”

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