Jon was frustrated.
As Soval declared yet another recess - the third in as many hours - Archer stood up from his uncomfortable chair and struggled against the urge to punch something, anything. For the first time in his life, he found himself wishing Crewman Daniels would make one of his surprise visits and whisk him away to some distant century, or that a Suliban would show up and make death threats, or that Trip would get a message from Starfleet that would call them both away from this damned table ... anything that would give him a break from Paul Mayweather.
The Boomer didn't even acknowledge Jon's nod as he strode away from the table, and Archer let himself wonder what punching the younger man would feel like. That's counterproductive, Jon, he told himself as he clenched his fists and moved away from the table himself, glad for Trip's quiet but steadying presence at his side. This entire “negotiation” was getting to be more and more frustrating as time passed: they'd just wasted another four hours arguing over what he thought to be trivial nonsense, and Archer wondered just how many times he'd heard the same refrain about Starfleet not providing appropriate protection for ECA ships.
At least some progress had finally been made, though. Mayweather had grudgingly acceded the point that the integration proposal was a good one, but then had promptly balked on the little details about how and when the integration would actually take place. They'd gone around in circles for the last forty-five minutes, bickering about the pay scale for ECA crews or how much autonomy ship captains would have or how rank would be determined until finally even Soval appeared to have had enough and ordered the latest break.
"You're not helping, Soval," he grumbled as the Vulcan moved by him. His chest ached as he spoke and Archer barely managed to keep himself from rubbing the scar tissue in a futile attempt to ease the pain. Phlox had advised him against overdoing it but Jon had ignored the Denobulan, confident of his ability to ignore the pain until negotiations were over.
Now he wasn't so sure.
Soval gave him an almost amused expression in response; it was a subtle lightening of his features, a softening of his eyes and fractional curve of the lips, but it was unmistakably amusement.
"Can't you get them to stop being so ..." Jon trailed off, trying to find the appropriate word.
"Intransigent?" Trip offered, not bothering to hide his smile.
"I am an arbiter, Commodore," the Vulcan replied, his voice absent of the condescension that had been there when Enterprise first launched. "Not an advocate." He pinned Archer with a steely gaze and Jon got his meaning at once: Soval would not pick sides, even if he favored one over the other.
"Commodore. Captain." He gave them both slight nods before turning away and walking across the room to join the station administrator. Archer sighed in frustration, shooting a glance at Mayweather and the other ECA representatives. They stood clustered in a semi-circle, deep in discussion. As if sensing Archer's eyes on him, Mayweather looked back and their eyes met; Jon shivered at the hate he saw there.
Archer looked away first.
"You're not helping much either, Trip," he pointed out, and Tucker gave him a funny look. "Soval gets along with you. Can't you ...?" He trailed off, knowing his old friend would get the point.
"Can't I what?" Trip gave him an unreadable look; these kinds of expressions were all too common now. T'Pol had influenced her human lover more than either of them knew. "You heard him, sir; he takes this whole arbiter thing pretty seriously." Trip sounded almost approving.
"You like him," Jon accused, and Tucker shrugged.
"Afraid so." He smirked at Archer. "He's a grumpy old man ... just like you." As he gave Trip a glare - a glare that just seemed to broaden the younger man's smile - Jon couldn't help but notice the Vulcan's head swivel in their direction and the flat, unamused look the ambassador gave Tucker. Damn Vulcan hearing, Archer mused to himself as he shook his head, half in amazement, half in disgust. Not long ago, Trip would have cut his arm off before admitting that he liked any Vulcan.
"How's the investigation going?" he asked in an attempt to get his mind off Vulcan diplomats and - what had Trip called them? - intransigent Boomers. Tucker sobered almost instantly, transforming into a Starfleet Captain within the span of a single heartbeat.
"Okay." He frowned, poorly concealed concern for T'Pol lurking in his eyes. "T'Pol's following up some promising leads now." Trip looked away and, for just a moment, took on an almost alien expression as his eyes focused inward. Jon was silent, disquiet swirling in his stomach as he observed the man he loved like a brother. He trusted T'Pol with his life, had grown to think of her as one of his closest friends, but found that he was still not entirely at ease with the idea of a telepathic bond. It just seemed ... inhuman.
And that, perhaps, was the crux of his problem.
Jon had only just learned of the bond's existence in the aftermath of Elysium and still hadn't quite come to terms with it yet. Logically, he knew that he should just move on and accept it as a result of T'Pol's Vulcan biology, but doing so was turning out to be a little bit more difficult than he'd anticipated. The stress of his recovery and his crushing workload at Starfleet Command barely allowed him time to reflect on what it could mean for Trip down the line and Archer would be the first to admit that his deep-rooted issues with Vulcans played a role in his discomfort."
"So how are you and T'Pol really doing, Trip?" he asked softly. His old friend gave him something of a surprised look and Jon smiled. "No bullshit."
"No bullshit?" Trip grinned; it had been something A.G. had said all the time back in the days of the NX-Alpha. "We're doing fine, sir." Tucker's amusement dissolved and he narrowed his eyes. "You asking as Jon or as Commodore Archer?"
"As Jon," he replied. He gave Trip another smile. "I'm just concerned, that's all." For a moment, Archer hesitated, wondering if he should ask about the bond or mention his own fears about what it meant for his friend. In the end, he retreated into official business; Trip was an adult and could make his own decisions. "Off the record, Starfleet Command is still a little ... concerned about chain of command issues." Tucker nodded.
"So are we," he said with a sigh as he ran his fingers through his hair. "We're tryin' to be discreet, but pretty much the entire crew knows where she's sleepin'." He shot Jon a disgruntled look. "Wouldn't be a problem if you hadn't promoted Stiles."
"T'Pol wanted me to make him First Officer." Trip shifted in place. "Had me convinced too. It wouldn't have solved all of the problems ..."
"Just most of them," Archer finished. They stood in silence for a moment, both keeping an eye on the ECA representatives. "Command will probably look the other way while the war's going on, Trip." He gave Tucker a cautious look. "After that, I can't promise anything." Trip frowned. "They may decide to give you different duty stations."
"We've discussed that possibility." Tucker's words were flat and utterly without emotion, so Vulcan-like that he hardly sounded like himself. Archer gave his old friend a look, recognizing the unspoken meaning at once: T'Pol and Trip would leave Starfleet if faced with being separated. He gave Trip a tight smile, letting his eyes communicate his understanding and his acceptance of that fact. For a long moment, they stood quietly, an easy companionable silence that Jon realized he had missed more than he had realized. Of their own volition, his eyes drifted back to the ECA group and he made a decision.
It was time to clear the air.
With a confident air, he approached the group, Trip a step behind and to the right of him. As he neared them, the Boomers ended their muted discussion and turned to face him, faces going blank. Mayweather took a half step forward, effectively putting himself at their front and forcing Jon to interact directly with him, which was fine with Archer.
That was what he wanted to do anyway.
"Captain Mayweather," Jon said with a nod. This was the first time he'd had a chance to interact with Travis' brother outside of the negotiating table and, from the bleak look on the Boomer's face, it would probably be the last.
"Commodore," Paul Mayweather replied darkly, his lips narrowed with anger. He gave Trip a brief nod. "Captain Tucker."
"Captain, I'd like to express my condolences for your loss," Jon said sincerely. It wasn't the first time he had tried; he'd sent no less than six subspace messages from his sickbed at Starfleet Medical, but each time the attempt had been rebuffed.
"Your condolences are noted." Noted but not accepted; Jon tried not to sigh as Mayweather pinned him with an angry glare. Behind the Boomer, two of the three ECA reps - the two women - frowned at the words.
"Travis was a hell of a pilot," Trip spoke up suddenly. "He saved a lot of lives at Elysium. Includin' mine."
"He's still dead," Mayweather snapped, his eyes never leaving Archer. All three of the ECA reps were shifting awkwardly now, their desire to be elsewhere obvious. "You promised our dad that you'd look after him," Mayweather continued. Archer tried not to flinch at that memory, tried not to show how much that had hurt. "Where the hell were you when my brother died?"
"I was unconscious on a lifeboat," Jon replied calmly. "Doctor Phlox was trying to restart my heart." Mayweather's expression flickered, softening for the briefest of moments before he turned cold once more.
"Too bad he succeeded," the Boomer declared bitterly before pushing by them as he returned to the table. As the other three ECA reps followed him, their eyes averted, Jon sighed. Into that moment of silence, Trip spoke.
"That could have gone better."
Things couldn't be going better.
Rick Eisler stood quietly in the civilian apartment, a little amazed that they had covered so much ground in so little time. It was difficult to impress him - his standards were impossibly high - and yet, in the four hours that he'd spent in the company of Commander T'Pol, the Vulcan had done exactly that. From her analysis of station recordings involving the conference room which had identified their primary suspect, to tracking him down - in the morgue, unfortunately - to arranging for an autopsy of the body, the commander had demonstrated a frightening efficiency at investigation.
There was no way she was just a science officer.
By the time Eisler had returned from Endeavour, dressed now in dark civilian clothes that were loose enough for him to conceal his non-standard tac-vest, Commander T'Pol - in a silver jumpsuit that left nothing to the imagination - was already racing through station records, analyzing everything on the screen at an amazing speed. Two and a half hours passed before she had isolated a suspect and, by that point, Eisler was hardly surprised at how quickly she was able to get the man's entire station history. The administrator of Thor's Cradle - a large Boomer by the name of Maddox - had balked at giving her complete access in the early minutes of her investigation and she had broken his will with a single imperious stare, a look that promised black and terrible retribution against any who opposed her, without even a single gram of emotion displayed.
Administrator Maddox hadn't been seen since.
When her efforts revealed that Reginald Perkins - her chief suspect for planting the explosive - had turned up in the morgue, Commander T'Pol hadn't even seemed surprised or particularly bothered. They made the quick trip to the morgue, and it took her less than five minutes to arrange for the body to be transferred to Endeavour for Phlox to conduct an autopsy; she then spent nearly an hour examining Perkins' personal effects before deciding to visit his rented quarters on the station.
In a particularly rundown part of Thor's Cradle, the apartment itself was quite small, an economy with only a single room that served as sleeping quarters, living room and kitchen all at the same time. A small refresher - barely the size of a walk-in closet - was in the far corner, its door half-ajar. It was patently obvious that Perkins had been a slob as the entire apartment reeked of weeks-old laundry (most of which appeared strewn haphazardly on the floor) and was littered with half-empty food containers, many of which had begun to grow mold. An offensively bright purple couch dominated the room and, from the pillows and blanket that were draped over it, had served as the occupant's bed; oddly, two duffel bags were propped up on the sofa as well and both appeared to have been packed in a hurry. Two wall hangings immediately drew the attention upon entrance and Eisler felt his lip curl in disgust. One of the hangings was of two extremely (some might say impossibly) well-endowed Andorian females involved in an explicitly intimate embrace. The other was a framed velvet print of dogs.
Commander T'Pol barely looked at the pornography beyond giving it a cursory glance, but she studied the second picture for an inordinately long time, tilting her head several times as she took in the improbable situation. Twice she shifted her stance, as if attempting to see the picture from a different angle in order to discern its secrets.
"Fascinating," she murmured and, had he not been utterly embarrassed for the human race at that moment, Rick would have found the sight of the slim Vulcan examining the picture with such intensity to be hilarious. The way she stood, one would think that she'd just found the Holy Grail, or at least her culture's equivalent.
He just wished he had a camera.
Turning away from the dogs, T’Pol let her eyes roam over the room, taking in the mess without even a hint of condemnation on her face. She gave no sign as to what she was thinking, no hint about what clues - if any - she was deciphering from the chaos, but Rick had grown accustomed to her silence and waited patiently for her next move. He'd be loath to admit it, but he found himself ... eager to see what she did next. It was almost exciting.
Despite himself, he began to see why Tucker was so infatuated with her.
Among the dirty clothes in the two duffel bags, T’Pol found a civilian PADD and quickly downloaded its contents to her scanner - a specialized scanner/PADD combination, Rick realized. She then spent nearly twenty minutes in complete silence as she studied its contents.
"It appears," she informed Eisler as she lowered the scanner, "that Reginald Perkins recently booked first class transport to Andoria." The last was said with a brief scornful glance toward the pornography that decorated the Rimward wall.
"First class?" Rick frowned, glancing around the apartment once more. "He can't afford that." Not without a decent-sized payoff anyway ...
"Indeed." Her communicator suddenly beeped and she pulled it out, flipping it open with a practiced gesture. "T'Pol."
"Ah, Commander." Phlox's voice sounded odd coming from the communicator, hollow and flat yet still exuding cheerfulness. "I have completed my autopsy. Do you wish me to forward the results or should I summarize?"
"Both. Forward the complete results to my scanner."
"Very well." There was a brief pause before the commander's scanner beeped, an indication that data had been received. "Your Mister Perkins was killed by a single disruptor shot to the face, fired from a distance of no more than ten centimeters." That much had been obvious from the state of the body; Eisler had seen a lot of nasty things in his life, but the ruin that had been Perkins' face ranked near the top.
"Time of death?" The Vulcan had yet to study her scanner as she looked over the room once again. Rick imagined that he could almost hear the wheels spinning.
"Between twenty and twenty-two standard hours ago. I cannot narrow it down any further."
"Was he conscious at time of death?" Eisler gave her a look from where he stood; clearly she had seen something that he hadn't.
"Unlikely." Phlox paused briefly. "There was bruising on the left shoulder suggestive of a nerve pinch." Rick tensed up; as far as he knew, only Vulcans were able to do the pinch. "There is also a trace amount of theta-3 radiation in his system. I don't know if that is helpful ..."
"It is. Thank you, Doctor." T'Pol closed the communicator and replaced it on her belt before turning her eyes to the scanner. Eisler watched her absorb the information for a moment, wondering how to ask what he wanted to ask. She must have felt his gaze on her. "You have a comment, Commander?"
"You knew about the pinch?" He tried to keep accusation out of his voice, tried to sound as if he were discussing something bland and boring ... like golf or bowling or water polo.
"I suspected." She inclined an eyebrow slightly at the data that flashed across the tiny screen.
"So a Vulcan killed him."
"That appears to be the most likely explanation." For a moment, she was quiet. "The time of death presents an alibi for the crew of the Ti'Mur but not for any unregistered Vulcans on Vigrid station."
"Unregistered?" His distrust of her began to dwindle, followed quickly by self-recrimination.
"Vigrid Station has extremely lax security; infiltrating it on a mission of deception would hardly be difficult." She sounded as though she knew what she was talking about, and Eisler wondered briefly how many such stations she had infiltrated on 'missions of deception.' Frowning slightly, she continued to study the small viewscreen. Silent minutes crept by.
"You told Doctor Phlox that the theta radiation is helpful ..." He prompted. Deactivating the scanner, she returned it to the belt holster she wore as her eyes drifted back to the dogs playing poker.
"Theta-3 radiation in these levels on a space station is indicative of malfunctioning class II grav plating," T'Pol replied. One of her eyebrows crept up as she once more tilted her head, studying the print with open curiosity. "The docking ring is the only zone on this station that still utilizes class II plating." As she finished speaking, she gave him a sideways glance. "Commander, please explain the purpose of ... this," she said, gesturing to the velvet print.
Oh ... God.
"It's an American thing, ma'am," he replied hesitantly, hoping that it would be enough. "You should really ask Captain Tucker." She gave him a brief appraising glance before nodding slightly.
"I look forward to his explanation," she said wryly. "I am sure it will be ... elucidating." Giving the print yet another long look – this one complete with a slightly inclined eyebrow – she turned and walked from the apartment. Without a word, he fell into step behind her.
Around them, lights began to dim ever so slightly as Vigrid Station began to enter its artificial night shift.
Night shift on Vigrid Station had already begun when the spy who was not Sovek entered the bar. Nothing about him was memorable, not his face nor his voice nor even his clothes, and that was, in and of itself, a memorable thing. He passed a cred-stick into the meaty green hands of the hulking Orion innkeeper and received a single gesture in return. The two locked eyes for the briefest of moments, one making a silent threat of dark revenge should his business be thwarted this night, and the other assuring him that the night’s business would be good. They parted, each to his own devices, each to his own intrigues.
Not a word had passed between them.
Packed to the durasteel rafters with weary Boomers, visiting Tellarite cargo haulers, and other ne’er-do-wells, the bar was a raucous place, especially for so early in the artificial evening. Tucked unobtrusively in the Green Sector of Thor's Cradle, it had no name, no official owner, and would not turn up on even the most detailed search of station schematics. Unless one knew where it was, it could not be found.
And that was exactly as it was meant to be.
Known by most as the Orion Quarter, Green Sector was the center of all things illegal on Vigrid Station and was the most popular sector of the station for visitors and station-dwellers alike. Whether it was prostitution or drugs, information or prohibited arms, anything and everything was for sale in the Quarter; rumor even whispered of a slave market concealed somewhere within, but few had the courage to investigate. The Administrator of Thor's Cradle refused to admit that three-quarters of the Boomer problems with the Orion Syndicate could be traced here, refused to acknowledge the goings-on in the Quarter or even its existence, and for good reason.
The kickbacks were too good.
Since the beginning of the Earth-Romulan War, though, an unofficial truce had existed between the ECA and the Syndicate, an undeclared cease-fire that would end the moment the war did. Both sides in this truce understood this; but, until that time, business was good between the two, and Boomers unconcerned with ECA and Terran regulations expended hard-earned capital to equip their cargo ships with weapons and defensive suites that only the Orions could provide.
The war had been hard on those that dared to venture into this bar, and with rumors of an alliance with Starfleet looming on the horizon, those that could afford it came here to piss away their fortunes.
Or earn them, as the circumstances warranted. A tall human, broad in chest and face, wearing what appeared to have once been a Starfleet field jacket, loudly boasted of his unlikely exploits along the Romulan border, completely oblivious to the fact that the Orion whore he entertained was robbing him blind with her talented hands. Another human, this one wearing what could only be a Klingon longcoat, frowned hard at the louder man, never noticing the cutpurse at his side. For many, tonight would be a good night.
Crossing the floor without attracting notice, the spy who was not Sovek found his table and mentally smiled. It was exactly as he had requested it, situated with a wall to his back and a view of the bar floor. Dark shadows draped the table, allowing him to remain mostly unobserved as he did the observing. An exit to the corridor beyond was nearby, available for a rapid escape if it became necessary. Yes. It was perfect. He slid into the darkness and set his back to the wall, gesturing briefly for an alcoholic beverage as he readied himself for a long wait. The bartender brought the drink - an Orion beer - and, as he set it down, let his eyes drift to the left. With the slightest of nods, the spy indicated his understanding and accepted the beer, waiting until the bartender was long gone before allowing his own eyes, seemingly of their own accord, to slide to where the bartender had indicated.
A nondescript human wearing equally unremarkable clothes sat quietly in another dark booth. Like the spy himself, nothing about this human drew attention, and it was this very fact that attracted notice for those properly trained. Once identified, other small things stood out. A full mug of Andorian ale was at hand and, no matter how many times the human lifted it, it never emptied. His eyes were never still. He ignored the green-skinned whores around him with the casual indifference of a eunuch. Their eyes met across the bar and the spy who was not Sovek knew he faced his contact.
An hour passed before the contact rose from his table. With exceptional ease, he faked a slightly drunken man and staggered toward the spy on unsteady feet, seemingly intent on the nearby restroom. Twice he nearly fell, drawing the amusement and scorn of those in the bar. Four steps away from the spy, the human did fall, spilling dozens of coins onto the floor in his "drunken" stupor and immediately causing a small riot as bar denizens – always strapped for money – scrambled to seize the loose credits.
Not all of the coins were the same, however. One bounced and rolled directly to the spy's boot, drawn by the magnetic attractors in the boot sole. In the mad dash to get the free money that clattered across the floor, no one noticed.
And that was as it should be.
His business concluded, the spy who was not Sovek rose and departed the bar, allowing the chaos of the near riot to conceal his quiet departure through the side exit. He gave no additional thought to his contact, could not find it within himself to care what the man's fate was. Pausing long enough to pull the coin free from his boot and pocket it, he quickly strode toward the nearest tram.
He spent another hour on a seemingly haphazard trip through the station itself in an attempt to shake or identify any potential pursuers. A brief stop in a public refresher gave him the privacy he required to extract the information from the modified coin, information that turned out to be remarkably cryptic instructions from his mysterious benefactors. Sow chaos, they had instructed him previously, and he had spent over five Standard months doing exactly that. Armed with trade routes and flight paths that he had stolen for them, Romulan assault groups had wrought havoc on the Earth Cargo Authority, showing up at the worst possible moment to inflict maximum carnage and destruction. Thousands had died by his actions.
Such thoughts ... aroused him.
When he had learned of the planned conference between the ECA and Starfleet, the spy had passed on the information as quickly as possible before relocating to Vigrid Station and implementing his own intrigues. The explosive in the executive conference room would have been a coup, would have caused so much chaos that the humans would not have been able to recover. It was disappointing that Archer had escaped death but, in retrospect, the spy wasn't particularly surprised that Perkins had failed: the human had demonstrated a complete lack of efficiency of late. He should have eliminated Perkins weeks ago.
Inserting the modified coin into an equally modified reader that fit into his palm, the spy quickly input his access code. A field of letters crawled across the small screen and he quirked an eyebrow in momentary surprise as he studied them: Prepare the way, they ordered, and he took it to mean that the Romulans were coming. Ejecting the coin, he stared at it with a grim smile that barely touched his eyes. The plan would have to be accelerated.
From the refresher, he made his way quickly to Corridor GS-A, stopping only once to dispose of the coin in a public waste receptacle that instantly reduced it to its component parts for future Station use. He should not have found that amusing, but he did.
A rarely used section of the docking ring, GS-A was now little more than a number of short-term storage warehouses, each equipped with an outer docking port that would allow a transport craft to offload its cargo and move on with a minimum of delay. Perkins had recommended the warehouse as a base of operations, noting that Boomer smugglers used them quite often. At the time, it had seemed a logical decision.
Now, the spy wasn't so sure.
The two aliens said nothing to him as he entered Warehouse GS-A-19C, barely reacted beyond giving him a single glance, and continued their tasks in silence. He gave them an equal amount of thought as he studied their progress: another five of the explosive vests had been fashioned in his absence and the two aliens - Red and Green as he thought of them due to their differing eye pigmentation - appeared to be nearing completion on two more. They had come with strong recommendations from Perkins, and the spy had experienced no difficulty with them aside from their disgustingly barbaric eating habits. A frown touched his face then; they were another potential link between him and the unlamented human, a link he would have to sever in the very near future. Leaving them to their tasks, he crossed to another section of the warehouse, fighting the smile that threatened to blossom upon his face.
Two humans were strapped in a pair of large chairs, awaiting his Touch. Neither of them would be missed by the community at large, as they were either derelicts pulled from the lower decks or temporary workers fully expected to disappear without warning. Both were already heavily sedated, and they stared at his approach without comprehension or fear in their eyes; the drugs had become necessary to keep them from struggling, and the spy who was not Sovek had discovered it was easier to reprogram them this way. Seven others were already in place throughout the station, each awaiting the appropriate command word or sequence of events that would trigger the sleeper personality.
A grunt from one of the aliens – Green, he thought – demanded his attention, and he frowned at the alarm that flashed. He recognized the nature of the alert at once.
The warehouse was being scanned.
The scan was being blocked.
With a frown that briefly marred her expression, T'Pol readjusted the settings on the specialized scanner and directed a second scan at the target warehouse. The investigation had brought them here, to this location, and all of her instincts and training were directing her toward the nondescript building at the far end of Corridor GS-A.
"Ma'am," Eisler said softly, nodding toward GS-A-19C. "It's that one." She gave the structure in question another brief glance before directing a third scan at it. The readings remained indeterminate and T'Pol nearly frowned once more: although she agreed with his assessment, she disliked acting without incontrovertible proof, disliked 'acting on her gut' as Trip would put it.
"Elaborate," she ordered and the tactical officer gave her a sidelong look, as if to determine whether she was merely humoring him. At her blank expression, he spoke again.
"Everything about it screams 'go away,’" he replied. "It's the most rundown of the five, yet has the best view of this ..." he trailed off, studied the corridor for a moment before deciding upon the most accurate word, "street. Aside from the outer airlock it has only one entrance, which can be easily defended if necessary. The viewports are sealed up indicating a lack of use, despite the state-of-the-art comm dish on its roof." T'Pol blinked - she had not noticed the dish - but his reasoning was nearly identical to her own. Once more, she found herself revising her opinion of Lieutenant Commander Eisler.
"It is likely any occupants are aware of our presence," she mused aloud, reaching for her communicator. Eisler nodded in agreement as he drew his phase pistol and checked its charge. "T'Pol to Endeavour." Static was the only reply, and she fought the urge to frown yet again. "T'Pol to Endeavour." At her glance, the lieutenant commander drew his own communicator.
"Eisler to Endeavour." He flipped it shut without making a second attempt and replaced it; from his expression, T’Pol surmised he was waiting for orders. She did frown then; it was not an ideal situation.
Flicking another glance at the unassuming-looking structure, she raced through the options she had at hand even as she reflected on what she had gleaned from studying the station layout. Squat and wide, the warehouse was a standard storage facility built directly into the docking ring itself. If it had not been modified – of which there was no guarantee - it would consist of two separate chambers: the warehouse proper and the docking airlock beyond.
The probability that the mystery Vulcan was inside remained quite high, and each moment that they did not act was another moment for the rogue to slip away. Contacting Endeavour for reinforcements would require one or both of them to withdraw out of the range of whatever was jamming the communications, an option which T’Pol found entirely unacceptable. It would further take (she did some rapid calculations in her head) a minimum of twelve point seven minutes for a security team to arrive. In the end, there really wasn't any other choice.
"Set your weapon to stun," she told Commander Eisler as she drew her own phase pistol from its disguised holster on her belt. Without a word, he began moving toward the warehouse and she fell into step a little over two meters behind him.
They reached the warehouse entrance without incident, though no one could mistake their approach as anything but aggressive. T'Pol studied the access pad as Eisler drew something from his jacket. It was unmistakably a grenade but of a make that she did not recognize: spherical and perhaps 6 centimeters in width, it had two narrow strips of metal along its surface that she recognized as magnetic attractors. The ex-MACO armed the explosive and hurled it upwards at the comm-dish; unerringly drawn to its target, the grenade attached itself to the base of the dish and detonated with a hollow boom, shredding the comm equipment in a flash of fire. Another grenade appeared in his hand - this one a stun grenade instead of an actual anti-personnel device - as she input a code hardwired into all Vulcan stations, a code that few outside the Ministry of Security knew.
With barely a sound, the warehouse door slid open.
Eisler sent the stun grenade sliding through the entranceway before the door was fully open and, mere seconds later, it exploded with a strobe of blinding light that would ostensibly incapacitate all within ten meters. Through the door he went, his pistol out and braced; T'Pol followed a mere heartbeat later, peeling off to face the opposite direction as he.
The warehouse itself was surprisingly small - perhaps ten meters square at its largest - and was packed with dozens of large crates, many of which were covered by airtight plastic. Very little light illuminated the room and what little did exist was faint and erratic, flickering at odd moments to cast long and sinister shadows across the floor and walls. A high-pitched buzz could be heard from somewhere deeper in the room, drowning out most ambient noise. She nearly flinched at the overpowering stench that assaulted her olfactory senses as recognition came at once.
A whisper of movement was her only warning; but it was just enough, and she let herself flow into a defensive roll as a figure lunged out of the darkness at her. Strong hands wrapped around her wrist but her sudden collapse and her own not-inconsiderable strength caught her foe by surprise, dragging him off-balance long enough for her to send him flying into one of the crates with a defensive throw. As she quickly rolled to her feet, the sound of a struggle let her know that Eisler was engaged as well.
Light illuminated her opponent for the briefest of moments and she felt surprise wash over her: she had been expecting a Vulcan. Topping two meters in height, the alien bore a striking resemblance to a reptilian Xindi, prompting her to immediately suspect an offshoot species of some kind. A curiously familiar scent covered the reptilian but she did not pause to identify the smell as the creature sprang up from where it had fallen. With a hissing growl, it lunged at her, talon-tipped fingers curved in anticipation of rending flesh.
So she shot it.
The stun beam caught the reptilian square in the face, staggering but not dropping it. She squeezed the trigger again, not bothering to shift her aim, and sent another stream of phased energy into it. With a half hiss, half whimper, it collapsed at her feet, still twitching. She shot it again, just to be sure.
Eisler limped toward her, blood running down the side of his face from a ragged gash. Glancing behind him, she was unsurprised to find his opponent down. What was surprising, however, was the sight of the knife hilt standing out of the reptilian's chest. She frowned; they needed prisoners, not corpses. He opened his mouth to reply to her unspoken criticism, no doubt to defend his use of lethal force.
He gave no warning.
Moving faster than a human had any right to, Commander Eisler suddenly gave her a powerful shove, knocking her to one side even as a stream of light flashed out of the darkness. It struck the tactical officer low in the stomach, hurling him backwards and into a large stack of crates. Without a sound, he collapsed under an avalanche of boxes that buried his unmoving form. Her phase pistol at the ready, T'Pol was already spinning in place.
She wasn't fast enough.
Searing light burned through her upper chest, slicing into the trapezius muscle just below her clavicle, and she cried out in pain. Involuntarily, her arm spasmed and the phase pistol clattered to the floor. Another pulse of fire slashed out and cut into her left leg, slicing into her hamstring with a caress of flame. Suddenly unable to support her weight, the leg folded, dropping her to her back with a jarring thud that sent spikes of pain up her spine. Her head struck something hard as she fell and, for a moment that seemed to last an eternity, her vision wavered. With the last gram of her inner resolve, T'Pol struggled against the pain, fought to maintain her tenuous grip on consciousness. Distantly, she was aware of Trip's sudden panic as her mate felt her distress.
She reached for the phase pistol.
A boot came down on her hand and a scream was torn from her lips as she felt bones fracture under the impact. Agony raced up her arm, burning away coherent thought. Struggling to maintain focus, she looked up at the face of the boot's owner. Terror overwhelmed her then as a familiar scent flooded her nose and a voice drifted out of her nightmares.
"How interesting." A smile touched his lips but not his eyes.