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.
then, she’d always amazed him, even when she was driving him up the
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
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.
was probably Eisler’s intention in the first place.
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.
sound fine,” he told her.
If anything, she grimaced even harder.
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.
was something wrong with her hearing.
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.”
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.”
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
This would be the first thing Devereux saw when she entered and
it would send an immediate signal that this was no joking matter.
eyes widened fractionally at their calculated stances but recovered
quickly and assumed a position of attention directly in front of the
“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 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.
don’t know, sir,” Devereux replied.
“It’s been bothering me off and on since Acheron.”
Starfleet Medical released you?” Trip demanded, anger bubbling up from
exactly, sir,” the lieutenant said sheepishly.
“I sort of checked myself out so I could return to
was not logical,” T’Pol pointed out.
“You may have worsened your condition by not completing the
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
Despite his silent admiration of her dedication to duty,
though, Trip Tucker wasn’t the one in charge.
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…”
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.
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.
on bridge duty?” he asked, grateful that he didn’t have to explain
that he was talking about the security teams.
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.
Six,” came Mitchell’s almost immediate response.
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.”
sir,” the senior chief petty officer replied.
“I’ll see to it personally.”
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.”
there isn’t one?” Devereux asked in a heart-breaking tone of voice.
borrow trouble,” Trip answered.
He gave her a smile.
“Phlox can do some amazin’ things, Lieutenant.”
should know,” T’Pol interjected.
“The captain was more often than not Doctor Phlox’s primary
patient while aboard Enterprise.”
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
sir.” Devereux squared her
shoulders. “Will that be
all, sir?” she asked. Trip
will,” he replied.
“Dismissed.” The moment
she vanished through the door, Tucker was activating the comm.-line
again. The answer was
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
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
do you have, Phlox?” Tucker
“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.”
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
and me both, Doc.” Trip
exchanged a grim look with his mate.
“Keep me informed, Phlox.
will you do if the doctor cannot repair this damage?” T’Pol asked
softly. Tucker closed his
have to,” he replied.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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.
“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
“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
“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
“Then we do this,” Reynolds said.
“Kelly, get her some gear.”
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
“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.
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
“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
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.
“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
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
“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.
“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
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
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
As they neared the junction that would carry them to the landing pads,
Scott triggered his communication headset and spoke softly into the
“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.
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
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.
“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, 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
“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
black omega. Code:
November, X-Ray, Zero, One, Alpha.
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
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
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
“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.”
“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?”
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
“You’re all crazy,” she muttered.
“We’re not crazy,” he retorted.
“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
Focus on the mission, he
Bring them all back alive and then
you can fool around as much as you like.
Unconsciously, his eyes drifted to Amanda at that
“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
“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
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
“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.