He floated in a sea of pain.
A great weight pressed down upon him, crushing him onto the unyielding floor and making the very act of breathing a near impossibility. Fire burned in his oxygen-starved lungs, accompanied by a hollow ache in his abdomen that felt as though someone had hit him in the gut with a sledgehammer a half dozen times. The stench of seared fabric and burnt flesh filled his nostrils, fouling what breaths he did manage to take. With agonizing slowness, consciousness returned and Rick Eisler opened his eyes to find himself staring at the floor.
Memory came more quickly; he recalled fighting with the lizard alien, remembered seeing a shadowy figure drawing a bead on Commander T’Pol and vividly recalled knocking her out of the way. Beyond that, his recollection was hazy and indistinct. He’d been shot, that much was clear, and the reflec-mesh he wore under the modified tac-vest had saved his life once more.
Called a 'twinkle suit' by some more vocal detractors for its distinctive appearance, the mesh was made up of thousands of tiny lenses atop a flexible underlay and immediately brought to mind an obnoxiously sequined shirt. The lenses were meant to absorb and disperse the lethal power of most particle beams, while the underlay was designed to reflect the killing heat of such an attack. Against blunt trauma such as a physical blow or slugthrower, however, the twinkle suit was worse than useless as the shattered lens fragments often became embedded in flesh wounds. MACO black ops had been experimenting with the twinkle suits for several years, but the prohibitively high price tag and the difficulty in maintaining them meant mass production was unlikely.
Forcing himself to concentrate on the here and now, Rick looked up, eyes seeking out the First Officer.
A Vulcan male - presumably the one they were after - knelt atop T’Pol, pinning her to the floor with his knee and left arm. The fingers of his right hand were pressed against her face - for what purpose Rick didn't know - and she struggled unsuccessfully to free herself, fighting against his hold. Soft words were exchanged in a tongue that Eisler did not understand, but the man's expression and T'Pol's obvious fear clearly declared the attacker’s intent.
Fury washed his pain away, fueled Rick's muscles and spurred him into action. For a split second, he was sixteen again and face down in a Frankfurt street, held in place by strong arms as his blood spilled onto the pavement and his baby sister shrieked for help against the gang that abused her. Never again, he snarled mentally, demanding obedience from uncooperative limbs. Up he pushed, up against the boxes that anchored him to the floor, up against the crushing weight of despair and guilt and madness, and his body quivered with strain. Unbalanced by his effort, the boxes that held him down slid to one side, smashing into the floor with a loud crash. He wasn't entirely free - his legs were still pinned - but it was enough for action. His hand darted into his torn jacket, ripping the laser from its holster and sliding the safety free in a smooth, practiced gesture. Hearing the boxes shift, the Vulcan looked up, fingers still pressing against T'Pol's face as Eisler drew the laser.
Though it was an illusion, time seemed to slow to a crawl. In what seemed to be a warped mirror of Rick's actions, the Vulcan drew his own weapon, leveling the disruptor at the tactical officer in an impossibly swift motion. Unhindered by the pain of injury or limited mobility, the Vulcan was much, much quicker and had Eisler dead to rights. The Vulcan's finger tightened on the trigger but he did not shoot.
Instead, he winced.
It was the briefest of hesitations, lasting perhaps half a second, and such a fractional tightening of the eyes that Rick wouldn’t have even noticed had his gaze not been focused entirely on the Vulcan's face. The part of Eisler that wasn't running on pure instinct understood that somehow, in some way, Commander T'Pol was responsible, that in some unfathomable manner she was fighting the Vulcan herself. Giving it no further thought, Rick braced the laser with his left hand and fired.
It was an old weapon, first purchased and used by his grandfather nearly a century earlier, but excellent craftsmanship and careful maintenance had kept it in near-perfect working condition. Rick's father had christened it 'the Nailgun' due to its unusual look, and that unfortunate name had stuck; instead of the standard pistol configuration, the laser fit in the palm and was fired by a thumb stud on its top.
A pencil-thin beam of scarlet light flashed out, slicing through disruptor and bone alike with the ease of a white-hot knife through warm butter. The fingers of his right hand still welded to T'Pol's face, the Vulcan recoiled in pain. He opened his mouth ...
And T'Pol screamed.
In a blur of motion, the Vulcan ripped his hand free of her face and dove to one side, the ruined disruptor clattering to the floor. As Commander T'Pol slumped to the floor, Eisler tracked the Vulcan male with the laser, sliding its selector switch off 'pulse' mode and onto 'continuous.' Designed more for use against solid objects like doors or locks, continuous mode was generally inefficient against a living target for a number of reasons, not the least of which was its voracious power consumption. Eisler had used it only once against another sentient being, an Andorian mercenary who had been intent on taking Rick’s head off with a dull knife.
The wisdom of using a continuous-beam laser inside a space station didn't bother him too much; he'd never managed to burn through more than ten centimeters of durasteel before the charge ran out, and the station's hull was significantly thicker than that. He depressed the firing stud as the Vulcan dove toward the exit; a solid stream of searing light lanced out once more and Eisler scythed it across the room like a burning whip. It sliced through nearly everything that it crossed and briefly caressed the Vulcan's left shoulder before he vanished through the doorway. A cry of pain followed him out of the warehouse.
"Scheisse!" Rick growled as he struggled to free himself. It took long moments, a span that seemed to stretch on for an eternity, but he finally struggled to his feet. His head swam and he squeezed his eyes shut in a brief effort to recover his equilibrium. Staggering to the door, he triggered its release, bracing the laser for a sudden attack by the Vulcan as the hatch slid open.
The corridor was empty.
Eisler cursed again, shooting a glance back at the unmoving form of Commander T’Pol. Quickly he limped to her side, hoping that she was still alive even as he realized he had no idea how to check her vitals. He was no medic. Were her organs even in the same place as a human’s? Her breathing was steady and calm but her features were scrunched up in a grimace. She clearly needed medical attention he couldn’t provide.
His eyes roamed around the darkened warehouse, noting with some surprise two still forms secured to a pair of chairs. Near the chairs and concealed from the main entrance by a stack of crates, a table was covered with what appeared to be blocks of detonex. He could see two vests resting atop the table as well, both covered with strips of the volatile explosive. His eyes widening, he took another look around the warehouse; his stomach lurched as he calculated just how much explosive material was present. Suddenly, using the laser on continuous didn't seem like such a wise decision. In fact, getting clear of this building seemed like an idea whose time had come. Kneeling down, he reached out to pick up Commander T'Pol when his gaze fell upon something lying alongside the halved disruptor.
With a cold smile, Eisler pocketed the three digits. The mystery Vulcan may have escaped for now, but the fingers could be used to identify him. And once that was done, Rick intended to retaliate with the full might and power of Starfleet.
There would be no mercy.
A groan snapped his attention to the lizard that T'Pol had stunned, and Eisler readjusted his grip on the laser. Incredibly, the creature was beginning to stir, prompting Rick to wonder if the stun setting on the damned phase pistols even worked. He glanced at the commander again, weighing his options: she didn't appear to be getting any worse, and they needed answers. Taking three quick steps, he approached the waking lizard and gave it a strong kick to the chest.
"Wake up," he snapped. He was done playing by the rules; it was time to get intel his way. The lizard groaned but did not open its eyes so he kicked it again. "Wake up," he repeated a bit louder as his foot hammered into its torso. This time, the alien opened its eyes, tensing to act but instead freezing in place at the sight of the laser pointing at it. "You have answers," Eisler said in an icy voice. "I have questions, so let's talk."
"You Starfleet!" the lizard hissed, speaking Standard through a mouth that was never meant to utter such words. It bared its teeth in what Rick took to be a smile. "You no hurt!"
"I'm a different kind of Starfleet," Eisler replied coldly. "Answer my questions and there will be no pain." He glared at the alien. "What was the Vulcan's plan? How many suicide vests are active?" The lizard's smile-like expression faded.
"No talk," it responded almost defiantly. “Want deal.” Without hesitation, Eisler shifted aim and thumbed the firing stud on the laser. The scarlet beam - still set on continuous - slashed through scale and bone like a scalpel of fire. Shrieking, the lizard hugged its wounded limb to its chest, staring at him in surprised terror.
"Talk," Rick ordered, his expression perfectly blank. "Or I take off your other hand." There was no rancor in his voice, no malice or anger, just a simple statement of fact.
The lizard whimpered in pain.
The pain was barely tolerable.
His arm hung limply at his side, a slab of dead meat that resisted nearly all efforts to lift it, and Tolaris ground his teeth against the sharp spikes of fire that raced through the limb when he shifted his shoulder. The human's laser had sliced cleanly through the clavicle, instantly cauterizing the fracture but vaporizing the half-centimeter wide slice and leaving his entire arm virtually useless. If the damaged collarbone wasn't bad enough, the human's first shot had taken off his index and middle finger along with much of the thumb; the continuing pain from that felt as if he had stuck his hand in a live warp plasma energy stream and then decided to leave it there.
Moving in a half-hunch, he darted from the turbolift that had carried him from Corridor GS-A. Tolaris was running on pure instinct, acting without a plan beyond carrying himself away from that lethal laser and the cold-eyed human, and he grimly forced himself to concentrate on his situation. Focus, he ordered himself as he entered the nearest tram and slid into an unoccupied seat.
Throbbing in time with his pulse, a hollow ache hammered through his skull and he closed his eyes in a vain attempt to control it. T'Pol had surprised him with her mental fortitude, and he loathed surprises. When his initial telepathic assaults were repulsed, he'd been immeasurably aroused by the promised challenge and found himself looking forward to breaching her barriers, mental and physical. She'd proven more than resilient, however, and when he’d channeled into her all of the pain that he had experienced from the first laser shot, T'Pol had done something completely unexpected.
She had retaliated.
Even now, as his damaged neurons struggled to compensate and recover, he could feel the after-effects of her telepathic assault; it hardly seemed possible that she would have been able to counterattack through the pain he’d caused her, but she had. If he let himself dwell on it, he would liken the sensation to having dozens of tiny nails driven into his cerebral cortex, resulting in massive sensory distortion. The result was not fatal - not yet, anyway - but the mental trauma some called shad'yontau had some immediate and potentially lethal results. Even now, his vision swam in and out of focus, a shrill ringing echoed in his ears, his sense of balance was radically off, and the smells that assaulted him could not be identified. The distortions would only increase if he didn't find an opportunity to meditate and focus himself on countering the unexpected assault.
He doubted that the humans intended to give him that time.
Capture was not an option. Apprehension would lead to interrogation and Tolaris had no delusions that he would last long under the less than gentle treatment that he would receive, especially once the Vulcans got involved.
And they would get involved.
The transition from dissident to traitor had been a smooth one for him. After he'd been diagnosed with advanced Pa'nar syndrome some weeks following his first interactions with the crew of Enterprise he'd been furious at the official indifference to finding a cure for the disease, and had fallen in with a group of like-minded individuals. Though they draped themselves in mostly honorable labels like patriot or freedom fighter or even insurgent, Tolaris had harbored no illusions that they were anything but terrorists. In the span of sixty Standard days from his introduction to them, he participated in no fewer than seven acts of mayhem against the Vulcan government, four of which resulted in deaths. In the wake of their abduction and murder of a high-ranking member of the Ministry of Security, the group found themselves suddenly promoted to 'high threat' status; Tolaris was among the few survivors of the Ministry's aggressive crackdown. On the run, he came into contact with agents of the Romulan Empire who offered him a potential cure for the debilitating disease in exchange for continued service. He'd accepted without hesitation.
Too late, he realized that the Romulans had deceived him about the cure. By the time he learned this, however, he was far too deep in the shadowy world of espionage for it to matter. Discovery of the Kir'shara led to a restructuring of the Vulcan government - and a cure for Pa'nar - but Tolaris had found his calling and embraced the role of spy. He no longer cared that he knew next to nothing about the Romulans, or that their motives remained enigmatic, or that he was just another tool in a game of deception that spanned light years. Ever a slave to sensation, he had discovered a new thrill, an addiction that nothing could replace.
The tram slowed to a halt and Tolaris struggled to his feet, ignoring the looks of curiosity on the faces of the five humans with whom he shared the interstation 'train.’ Twice he stumbled on the short walk from the tram to the slidewalk that would carry him to Green Sector, and both times he was aware of the eyes of the humans on him. One of them took a step toward him, hand extended as if to help, but Tolaris gave the woman a glare so dark that she quickly reconsidered.
Gripping the slidewalk's moving handrail to keep himself upright, he frowned and struggled to formulate a plan through his mental pain. Clearly his links to the late and unlamented Perkins had brought T'Pol to the warehouse at GS-A-19C, so any other locations the human had helped him acquire were now suspect. Briefly, he considered the two aliens in the warehouse; at least one of them was still alive, but the knowledge that Red possessed was negligible at best. The two derelicts were equally irrelevant; Tolaris had not even Touched them yet, so they would know nothing.
A member of Station Security gave him a once-over as the slidewalk ended and Tolaris said nothing as he offered a cred-stick; the dark-skinned human accepted with a nod and let him pass without incident. Vulcan security would never be so lax and, though Tolaris exploited it without remorse, that he was able to do so filled him with disgust. Greed seemed to dominate everything these humans did, and it was yet another reason to see them scourged from the galaxy ...
The hulking Orion bartender gave him a look of surprise as Tolaris entered the bar for the second time this night, but the shock was quickly replaced by concern and caution. Without hesitation the Vulcan approached him, trying desperately to ignore the raucous noise from the bar proper.
“I require medical attention,” Tolaris said softly, dropping another cred-stick on the bar, and the Orion gave it a long look. One could almost sense the wheels turning in the green-skinned humanoid's brain, and Tolaris placed another cred-stick beside the first. The Orion finally glanced up, nodding once to a female of his species; the creds vanished as if suddenly beamed away.
“D'Kesh will take you upstairs,” the bartender said, then turned his attention away from the injured Vulcan, appearing uninterested in Tolaris' fate; but the Vulcan knew better.
It was fortunate that the stairs had been designed for intoxicated visitors to the second-story brothel, or Tolaris would have been unable to navigate them as the shad'yontau wreaked havoc on his internal sense of balance. He ignored the Orion whore's offer of assistance and silently cursed T'Pol's very existence. Vengeance would be sweet, he promised himself as he staggered into an empty bedroom and sank onto the floor.
Minutes crept by as he struggled against mental collapse, and he was vaguely aware of someone manipulating his arm. Voices drifted to him and he forced himself to focus on them, gradually resurfacing from the partial meditative state that he'd allowed himself to slip into. Normally, he loathed the practice of meditation but there were times that he had to admit its uses. The hiss of a hypospray at his neck fully roused him and he found himself staring into the green eyes of an old Orion woman.
The bartender stood at the doorway of the small room - a cell, really - as the crone leaned back from the immobilizing strap that she had attached to Tolaris. It was wrapped around the Vulcan's body and shoulders but allowed use of the hand and lower arm. Tolaris frowned at the gauze that enclosed his left hand and slowly rotated his wrist to test the mobility. Much of his pain was dulled, even the needles in his brain, but his mental faculties remained clear; whatever pain suppressor the woman had used, it was efficient. Satisfied, he gave her a discreet nod. The ostensible medic said nothing as she silently left the room.
“Was it Starfleet?” the bartender asked as he sealed the door behind the medic, and Tolaris gave him a glance.
“I need to arrange transport off the station,” the Vulcan said in response and the bartender glowered, recognizing the unspoken 'yes.' He started to speak but Tolaris continued over him. “It would be wise for you to do so as well.” Locking gazes with the hulking man, he waited.
“Why?” the Orion asked after a moment of contemplation, and Tolaris inclined an eyebrow. For a heartbeat, the bartender looked ready to ask another question, but understanding dawned immediately. Better than anyone else, the Orion knew - or at least strongly suspected - whom Tolaris worked for. “I'll need some time to get a ship for you,” the bartender said instead, and Tolaris gave him another expressionless look.
“It would also be helpful to have access to a comm panel,” the Vulcan said softly, his face betraying nothing. It was time, Tolaris decided, to bring his sleepers into play. If nothing else, they would sow sufficient chaos to hinder Starfleet's investigation and perhaps provide him the opportunity to escape.
“Encrypted or unencrypted?” the Orion asked without pause, and Tolaris nearly smiled.
Smiling was an effort.
Having done what he could to ease Commander T'Pol's pain and make her comfortable while she slept, Doctor Phlox took a long moment to study the biobed's readouts as he tried to force his face to a more neutral expression. He was confident that she would recover quickly and, knowing her, would be on her feet as soon as the sedatives wore off regardless of his recommendation otherwise. Her neural activity was what troubled him, though; it reminded him far too much of her readings immediately following Tolaris' attack on her so many years ago.
"A Vulcan did this?" he asked as he turned to face Lieutenant Commander Eisler. The tactical officer gave him a short, abbreviated nod as he reached into the cargo pocket of his pants. Phlox felt his eyebrows climb in surprise as he realized what the human had pulled out: fingers.
"Dare I ask how you acquired these?" he wondered aloud and Eisler shrugged, wincing slightly at the motion.
"Laser," the human replied. "I thought you could use them to identify that hurensohn." Although he did not know the word, the doctor recognized a slur when he heard it. Taking the offered digits, he gave them a rudimentary examination as he took a step toward the med-scanner.
"With the Ti'Mur's assistance," Phlox said, "I can indeed." Placing the severed fingers in the scanning tray, he activated it and gave the lieutenant commander an appraising look, noting the slight hunch the human had affected.
"How long will it take?" Eisler asked, frowning at the scanner, and Phlox gave him a small smile.
"Not long, Commander." The Denobulan gestured to an empty biobed as he continued. "Remove your shirt so I can assess your injuries." For a moment, the human hesitated, shooting a brief glance at Commander T'Pol's unconscious form before finally relenting. He began to slowly remove his jacket and Phlox returned his attention to the med-scanner. The doctor was pleased to discover that the computer had already mapped out the mystery Vulcan's DNA sequence and, with an ease borne of long practice, Phlox keyed in an information request to the Ti'Mur, asking to cross-reference the genetic markers with the Vulcan database. The request sent, he turned back to his patient.
As he picked up his hand-portable scanner, Phlox could not help but wince at the angry splotches of purple and brown that covered Eisler's abdomen. The flexible body armor the tactical officer had worn clearly worked as intended; but the kinetic impact of the disruptor shot had still done considerable damage, leaving behind bruising so extensive that the human should have been weeping with agony. Instead, he only hissed in pain and flinched at Phlox's touch.
Eisler's torso was a veritable maze of scar tissue and Phlox paused for a moment in muted acknowledgment of the human's difficult life. Several of the scars he recognized: most were pulse weapon injuries or disruptor burns, but at least three came from archaic slugthrowers and several more from blades. He blinked in sudden surprise at a particularly gruesome ridge that climbed up much of Eisler's right arm in a familiar wound pattern: it had come from a Klingon bat'leth. Lieutenant Commander Eisler, it seemed, had led an ... interesting life.
The hiss of the sickbay doors opening was his first hint that Captain Tucker had finally arrived with Ambassador Soval and Commodore Archer; Master Chief Petty Officer Mackenzie had commed the captain the moment the two commanders were transferred to Sickbay and it appeared to have taken longer than expected to recess the ongoing negotiations.
Releasing a breath that he had been holding, the Denobulan finally let himself relax: though very badly bruised, the tactical officer was not suffering from any internal bleeding or fractured bones. Phlox reached for a hypo as Commodore Archer spoke.
"What the hell happened, Commander?" Archer asked, his tone harsh but controlled. Out of the corner of his eye, Phlox noted that Captain Tucker had made a beeline to T'Pol's bed and now stood there like a statue, staring at his mate without a trace of emotion on his face.
"We were ambushed, sir," Eisler replied as Phlox injected a painkiller into his neck. Giving the doctor a grateful nod, he continued, his voice a little stronger now. "Two lizard aliens and a Vulcan." Ambassador Soval tensed at that. "Both lizards are dead," Eisler continued, "and the Vulcan was injured but escaped."
"Injured how?" the commodore asked.
"I shot him with a type II hand-laser, sir," Eisler responded as he began to pull his tactical vest back on. Phlox frowned at him in the most disapproving manner he could but the lieutenant commander ignored him as he continued to speak. "Took off three fingers and clipped his shoulder."
"I have already sent the Vulcan's DNA sequence to the Ti'Mur for identification," Phlox interjected, still eying Eisler.
"According to one of the lizards," the tactical officer continued, "there are between five and eight suicide bombers on the station." Archer frowned as Tucker slowly turned toward the four.
"It just volunteered this information?" Archer asked suspiciously. Eisler gave him a flat look.
"There was some coercion involved, sir," the tactical officer replied.
"And this reptilian," Soval asked abruptly, his eyes narrowed, "how did it die?"
"It miscalculated, sir, and saw an opportunity that was not there," Eisler said coolly. Both Archer and Soval frowned at that and the tactical officer bristled ever so slightly. “I was doing my job, Commodore.”
"Your job," Captain Tucker suddenly growled, his expression dark as he stalked forward, "was to protect T'Pol." Endeavour's commanding officer was flushed with anger, balling his fists so tight that Phlox could see the knuckles go white.
"With all due respect, sir," Eisler responded, his expression blanker than even Soval's, "I am a soldier, not a bodyguard." His words seemed to intensify Tucker's anger and the captain's face darkened with a fury that Phlox had never seen before.
"Commander T'Pol's injuries do not appear to be life-threatening," the doctor said quickly into the moment of silence, hoping to defuse the situation. For a moment, it appeared that his words would have an effect as Captain Tucker gave the still form of his mate another look. Silence reigned for a long heartbeat.
The beep of the med-comp echoed loudly in the quiet sickbay, drawing everyone's attention as it announced the results of his information request from the Ti'Mur. An image appeared on the viewscreen, displaying the face of T'Pol's attacker, and Phlox felt his blood run cold.
"Tolaris," Commodore Archer whispered, his tone anguished as he paled visibly. At his side, Tucker quivered with anger, his eyes narrowed and his face hot with emotion. Soval did not appear to recognize the Vulcan, but their reaction to the image was unmistakable.
“I want Reynolds up here now,” Captain Tucker snapped and Eisler went rigid. Even Phlox recognized the captain's insinuation that his senior tactical officer wasn't good enough.
“With respect, sir,” Eisler said through clenched teeth, for a moment not appearing to be completely in control of himself. His guttural accent, usually so faint, was thick in his voice. “I am the senior tactical officer. You want this piece of scheiss brought in, then let me do my damned job!”
"Why?" the captain asked with a snarl. "You haven't exactly inspired me with confidence so far!" Eisler tensed, taking a half step forward as if he meant to confront his superior officer, even as Commodore Archer looked at his old friend askance, eyes wide with shock that Tucker would lay into the lieutenant commander with such abandon. Ambassador Soval's eyes quickly darted between T'Pol and Tucker before widening slightly as something occurred to him. It took Phlox a heartbeat longer: the mating bond was fueling Tucker's wrath.
“Ambassador,” Phlox said quickly before either man could say or do anything that one or both would regret. “I would appreciate any suggestions you might have in accelerating Commander T'Pol's recovery.” The Denobulan gave Soval a wide-eyed stare, hoping that the Vulcan would recognize his intent.
“Having one's mate present is often the most effective means of treatment for injured Vulcans,” Soval replied smoothly. His voice was like a soothing wave of reason, prompting an immediate response that could not be missed by anyone in the medical facility.
Captain Tucker flinched.
“Commander,” he said softly, the overwhelming rage appearing to evaporate in the blink of an eye. His eyes flicked to T'Pol's biobed. “I apologize for losin' my temper.” Tucker clenched his hands into tight fists once more as he returned his gaze to his tactical officer. “Bring him in.”
"I have full command authority?” Eisler questioned, his face once more cold and unemotional. There was something new in his eyes, however: an eagerness or lack of human compassion that abruptly reminded Phlox of a predator. It was chilling.
“You do.” Tucker frowned. “Take whoever you need. Do whatever you have to.” From where he stood, Commodore Archer tensed, opening his mouth to interrupt but closing it just as quickly. He cast a forlorn look at Commander T'Pol and Phlox could see guilt in his expression.
"I want him alive, Eisler." Tucker speared his tactical officer with a fiery gaze. "Alive."
“Yes sir,” the tactical officer said in response as he grabbed the remainder of his gear and headed toward the sickbay door. Phlox frowned at the lieutenant commander; he was in no shape to be heading out again so soon.
“Captain,” the doctor said quickly, “Commander Eisler is injured.” Both the captain and the tactical officer gave him a look and Phlox pressed on, hoping they would see the light of reason. “He should be resting, not leading an assault force.”
“I'm fine, Doctor,” Eisler insisted as he disappeared through the sickbay doors. Tucker turned his eyes back to T'Pol, barely acknowledging the tactical officer's departure, and Phlox sighed resignedly; no one ever listened to him anyway.
“How is she, Doc?” the captain asked softly as he approached T'Pol's biobed. All traces of the fury were gone as his eyes drank in her still form. For the briefest of moments, he appeared to be on the verge of emotional collapse, but Tucker blinked the moment away.
“She is currently sedated.” Phlox offered the captain a smile that he did not feel. “Commander T'Pol was shot twice by a disruptor; one of the blasts did damage to her biceps femoris muscle ...” At the look of incomprehension on the faces of the humans, the doctor quickly amended his explanation. “... ah, the left hamstring but I have already created a muscle graft and cleaned up the damaged tissue. The second shot was considerably worse." He paused, his smile fading quickly. It was fortunate that the weapon had been set to narrow beam as a normal disruptor shot dispersal would have likely been fatal. "The beam punctured the pectoral muscle and the right lung but fortunately missed the major blood vessels and did not penetrate through the chest. I've already reinflated her lung and begun the muscle regeneration process; she should be up and around in forty-eight hours or so." Mobility would be hampered and there would be considerable pain, but Phlox suspected that T’Pol would not let that slow her down; he could already imagine her displeasure at the additional physical therapy that would be required for full recovery. "Three bones in her left hand were fractured and …” He paused, not looking forward to his next words. “And I have detected neural activity comparable to an aborted mind meld.”
The reactions from the three could not have been any more different: Commodore Archer hung his head in shame, no doubt blaming himself for not dealing with Tolaris more harshly the first time, while Captain Tucker winced with empathic pain, reaching out with his hand to caress his mate's cheek. Ambassador Soval ...
Ambassador Soval got angry.
Phlox had never seen Soval lose control, had never thought it was even possible despite having seen T'Pol in fits of artificially induced rage, but the Vulcan now turned hot eyes to the image of Tolaris on the viewscreen. Visibly, the ambassador fought for control as he glared at the features of the younger Vulcan, his own expression darkening to something ... bleak. Eisler had looked dangerous when he stalked out of the medical bay but Soval ... Soval looked positively primal. For just a moment, he appeared ready to storm from the medical facility himself, to join the commander in the hunt for the rogue Vulcan, to tear the offender limb from limb.
The moment passed.
“Oh, darlin’,” Tucker whispered softly, his anguished words not meant for anyone but his mate, as he stroked her face with two fingers - the index and middle fingers of his right hand - and the gesture seemed to affect Commodore Archer like a physical blow. Phlox could not recall ever seeing him so disconsolate, so broken.
“You said aborted mind meld,” Soval pointed out, his control once more in place. “Are you sure the apostate did not touch her katra?”
“No,” Phlox replied sadly. “I'm not.” Archer seemed to wilt even further and Phlox gave him another appraising look. He really didn't look very good at all.
“Soval.” Tucker's voice was calm and collected, completely at odds with the tortured expression on his face. “Can you ... find out? Find out how we can help her?”
“If that is your wish,” Soval replied softly, his eyes gentle. The captain gave a small nod and moved slightly to one side. Without a word, the Vulcan took his place. “A complete meld is ill advised,” he informed Tucker. “I will merely ... Touch her to ascertain her condition.” He paused for a moment. “She should recognize me and I will convey your concern.” Again, Tucker nodded and Soval reached out, touching the unconscious Vulcan's face with his long fingers. He murmured something in his native tongue, allowed his eyes to slide shut, and, for a long moment, was silent.
“Her katra is unharmed,” Soval announced as he opened his eyes and pulled his fingers away from her. Phlox felt relief wash over him, relief he saw reflected in Commodore Archer’s face. The ambassador continued. “The attacker was injured before he could complete the forced meld upon her.” The ambassador frowned for a moment. “Her mind was stressed by the wound he received. He transferred his pain to her.” Incredibly, Soval reached out, dropping his hand on Tucker's shoulder. "Your mate will fully recover, Captain." Tucker slumped in sudden relief, as if a great weight had been lifted from him. "You should meditate," Soval suggested abruptly as he pulled his hand back. "I will join you." The captain gave him an incredulous look.
"Meditate?" Tucker asked, anger tightening his features. "All I wanna do is rip that bastard's arm off and beat him to death with it." The captain began to stroke T'Pol's arm and Phlox suspected it was an entirely unconscious action. "What do you do when you're that pissed?"
"I meditate," the ambassador replied calmly, and the two locked gazes.
"It's a good idea, Trip," Commodore Archer said softly, his voice tight with barely restrained anger and sadness and pain. "There's nothing for us to do but wait," he continued. “And we could all use a little rest.”
"Indeed," Phlox agreed, smiling slightly. "Commander T'Pol will not regain consciousness for several hours." He pinned Archer with a firm look. "And I want you on that," the doctor said, pointing to an empty biobed.
His mouth creased in a frown, the commodore opened his mouth to respond, no doubt to argue that he was fine, but Phlox crossed his arms and gave Archer his most unyielding gaze. It was an expression the doctor had perfected with his children, one that brooked no dissent, and worked equally well on recalcitrant patients. As Ambassador Soval and Captain Tucker settled into chairs alongside T’Pol’s bedside, obviously preparing for mediation, the commodore sighed and relented. Phlox smiled tightly as Archer leaned back onto the bed, and once more silence filled the sickbay, broken only by the muted beeps of med-consoles. As the doctor had hoped, the silence worked its magic on the still recovering commodore.
He was asleep in minutes.
He'd barely gotten to sleep with the door chime sounded.
Scott Reynolds opened his eyes, the last vestiges of the dream already fading from memory. It had been a good dream too, one involving Cole wearing nothing but a smile and those sexy black stiletto boots she wore on ... special occasions. Pizza had been involved somehow - real pizza, not that crap the Chef called pizza - and there had been frictionless bedsheets. He wished that he could remember the particulars; it was a damned sight better than most of the dreams he had.
The door chimer buzzed again, incessant and more than a little annoying. Reynolds shot the door a pissy look as he rolled into a sitting position on the narrow slab of plastic Starfleet called a bed. Across from the bunk, the semi-holographic wall hanging that he'd bought on Risa flickered into an endless starfield, suddenly making it appear as if the entire room were suspended in the hard vacuum of space and not buried somewhere on E Deck. Even before she had rotated back Earthside to begin pre-Med courses, Amanda had refused to stay overnight; though she'd never admit it, Scott knew that waking up to nothing but a starfield had freaked her out. She had liked it at ... other times though.
Not for the first time, he reflected that the woman was absolutely insane.
Again the buzzer sounded and Reynolds contemplated throwing a boot at the door. He glanced at the chronometer: 0036 Local. Sonuvabitch, he thought to himself, is it too much to ask for some sleep? Trying to rub the grit from his eyes, he glanced around the clutter that dominated his quarters without noticing much of it. A rack of hardback books covered the port side wall; nearly all were history texts, but a couple of the newer ones were treatises on tactics. Dirty uniforms were piled in a corner, awaiting laundry day, and his personal pulse rifle hung next to the door along with the rest of his combat gear. The rifle's presence always made him grin; according to Starfleet regs, it was supposed to be stored in the Armory along with rest of the weapons aboard.
That regulation had been tossed out once Commander T'Pol had assumed the position of First Officer aboard Endeavour.
One of the Vulcan's first actions was to implement new security policies originally drafted by Lieutenant Commander Reed prior to his death. These policies, now unofficially referred to as the Reed Protocols, required security personnel to be billeted throughout the ship, hence his own quarters here on E deck instead of D Deck where he would normally be. All security personnel were further required to have immediate access to firearms in the event they had to repel unexpected boarders, which explained the presence of the rifle in his quarters. The only lingering concern regarding the Protocols involved unsecured weapons and sloppy security crewmen, but Scott had aggressively combated that by severely punishing anyone who left a weapon unmonitored.
Clambering to his feet, he muttered a curse at whoever was at the door as they buzzed it a fourth time. He smacked his foot against a discarded boot halfway to the door and barely kept himself from falling on his ass in the ensuing near-stumble. Fatigue still clung to him as he staggered the final half-meter to the door; in the fraction of a second after he hit the 'Open' button but before the door moved aside, two things occurred to him.
First, his sleep-starved brain reminded him that he hadn't even tried to find out who it was at the door; for all he knew, it could be the captain dropping by to shoot the shit or possibly Dan Hsiao looking for a stinking card game at oh-dark-thirty. Second, and quite possibly more important, he realized that he was stark naked.
The door slid open.
“Did I catch you a bad time?” Lieutenant Commander Eisler asked coolly after a shocked moment passed. Scott rubbed his eyes, trying hard to think of a reason not to punch the senior officer.
“It's nearly one in the morning, sir,” he snapped in response, crossing his arms in defiance to his unclothed condition. “I was asleep.” Reynolds frowned as he tried to identify a familiar smell that seemed to hang over the TAC. “Is there something I can do for you, Commander?” Eisler's face hardened further ... if that was possible.
“I want your team on a combat footing in thirty minutes.” He turned away.
“What squad, sir?” Scott asked.
“All of them,” came the cryptic response as Eisler stalked toward the nearest turbolift. Reynolds shot him a frown and started to back into his quarters when he noticed Gunny Karanja lurking nearby. She gave him one of her patented smirks and he felt himself flush.
Technically she held the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer, but Anita Karanja had been a Gunnery Sergeant in the MACOs before the integration and anyone who tried to call her anything other than 'Gunny' usually learned first-hand how bad a mistake that was. Standing nearly two meters in height, she was the biggest, blackest, meanest woman Reynolds had ever met; her temper was legendary among the ex-MACO contingent aboard Endeavour, and it was said the only thing worse than pissing her off was amusing her.
She looked pretty damned amused right now, and the cold air on his lower body reminded him why.
“Get the team squared away, Gunny,” Scott said with as much authority as a naked man could muster, and retreated into his quarters before she could respond. The door to his quarters slid shut and he leaned his forehead against the cool metal. Please, let me wake up, he prayed silently, knowing it was futile. Let this all have been a bad dream. His eyes abruptly snapped open as his tired brain finally recognized the smell that had covered Eisler.
He dressed quickly and was out of his quarters in under five minutes, the rifle slung but loaded and ready for use. Karanja was already in the Armory when he entered, her gear primed for action. She gave him another smirk as he approached.
“Roughnecks should be assembled in another five minutes, sir,” she informed him and he nodded. Already several of the senior non-comms were drifting in, their faces betraying no hint of fatigue. Scott felt a flicker of surprise at how quickly they were responding to the alert as he glanced at his senior NCO.
“Any idea what's going on?” he asked Karanja, and she shook her head.
“COB said Eisler and the XO beamed aboard.” She replied as Ensign Hayes entered the Armory. “Both were beaten up, XO's in the sickbay.” Reynolds frowned at that – he rather liked T'Pol and hated the idea of her being injured. The memory of Captain Tucker's face at Elysium when he thought the Vulcan wouldn't survive still haunted Scott's dreams sometimes.
Lieutenant Commander Eisler breezed into the Armory minutes behind the last of the team, fully geared up and carrying a battered pulse rifle that had clearly seen a lot of use. At a glance, every member of the SecForce – the Roughnecks, as they called themselves – could tell that he seemed more comfortable in the combat armor than he ever had in the Starfleet uniform.
“Five hours ago,” the lieutenant commander began without preamble, “the XO and I encountered a rogue Vulcan on the station.” Eisler paused briefly as his eyes swept over the silent members of the SecForce. “He injured the commander and came damn close to killing me before escaping.” Aside from the newly transferred members of Hayes' Second Squad, the Roughnecks visibly stiffened; despite being Vulcan, T'Pol was well liked for her no-bullshit policies. “Captain Tucker has authorized me to bring him in, so we're going hunting.”
“Rules of engagement, sir?” Scott spoke up immediately. He didn't care for the unspoken hint that Eisler would be commanding the Roughnecks when it was Reynolds' job. The TAC gave him a brief feral smile.
“We will be utilizing ... MACO diplomacy,” the lieutenant commander said in response.
“So that means set your weapons to stun,” Karanja interjected and several of the senior non-comms snickered at the old joke. Eisler nodded briefly to her before continuing.
“The target is in the Orion Quarter.” That caused some brief ripples of surprise. “So bio-masks are to be worn at all times.” He locked eyes with Scott as he finished. “We leave in ten minutes.”
“Sir, we’ll need a CQ,” Karanja abruptly said from Reynolds' side, her voice soft, and Scott nodded absently. Having someone stay aboard Endeavour and be ‘charge of quarters’ wasn’t entirely necessary but he suspected she had an ulterior motive, one that he agreed with.
“Recommendations?” he asked, using his official ‘I know what you’re up to’ voice, and she smirked again.
“Ensign Hayes isn’t checked out with all of the gear, ell-tee.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. Unsaid was her concern that the green ensign wasn’t yet field-tested.
“Agreed,” Scott said in response. The symmetry of it all felt weird to him: Major Hayes had looked out for him in the Expanse out of respect for Scott’s dad, and now Reynolds was doing the same for the major’s son. “Get everyone squared away, Gunny.”
“Hoo-rah, sir.” Moving with that frightening grace, Karanja turned away as Scott crooked his finger at Hayes in a clear ‘come here’ gesture.
“Drop your gear, Hayes,” Reynolds told the ensign once the younger man responded. “You’re on CQ.”
“Sir,” Hayes started to complain and Scott pinned him with an unyielding look.
“That’s an order, Ensign.” Hayes very nearly snapped to attention.
“Yes sir,” he said sullenly. With a slight frown on his face, Reynolds watched him march away.
“What about the commander?” Karanja asked suddenly, her voice so close to Scott’s ear that he jumped before giving her a glare. For someone her size she could move entirely too quietly, and the crooked smile on her face told him that she had sneaked up on him purposely.
“I was just about to ask him before you tried to give me a damned heart attack,” he hissed as she flashed her predatory grin at him. Without another word, he approached the TAC.
“From your gear,” Reynolds said without a trace of emotion on his face, “can I assume you’ll be joining my team, sir?” Eisler gave him a look, recognizing the not-so-hidden meaning. For a moment, Scott halfway expected the senior officer to declare his intent to lead, thus interfering with the team’s chain of command.
“That would be correct, Lieutenant,” Eisler replied. He paused for a fractional moment before continuing. “What squad do you recommend I attach myself to?” Scott nearly sighed in relief as he recognized the olive branch being offered: there would be no pissing contest after all.
“Second squad, sir.” Scott nodded to the appropriate group. “Ensign Hayes will be pulling CQ duties, so Chief Gray is senior.”
“You know your team better than I do, Lieutenant,” the tactical officer said as he turned toward the waiting Second Squad. Hefting his rifle, Eisler readjusted his tactical vest, then said without turning, “Let's go hunting.”