Log Rhythms - Season Three
By DNash

*****

Log 3:12
Takes place during Azati Prime and Damage, and during and immediately following The Forgotten.
Warnings: Multiple character deaths. (C'mon. This is Damage we're talking about. You knew it was coming.)
Author's note: Covering a lot of ground here, so apologies if it seems choppier than usual. Such is the nature when you're filling in a bunch of "missing" scenes.
A/N2: Stealing more verbiage. You know how it goes. Also, a little more unbeta'd med-babble.
Soundtrack: Black Hole Sun - Soundgarden; Narrow Daylight - Diana Krall; The Parting Glass - Traditional Scottish; Yearning - Basia (I had the soundtrack for this Log a literal decade-plus ago. I knew how the series of episodes felt, how I would underscore their scenes and my own. I can't tell you how pleased I am to have finally caught up to my playlist.)

*****

When she'd accepted the position in Enterprise's mission, Madeline Reed had held no illusions about how difficult it would be to come to peaceful terms with the Xindi. It hadn't occurred to her that she would have to fight Enterprise's captain simply to get the chance. Knowing that there was nothing she could have done regarding the Insectoids' hatchery was no consolation. The captain had been infected into bonding with the eggs; no one had the magic words to dissuade him from giving over vital components to save them. They were lucky to have been able to reclaim the ship from the MACOs, whom Archer had placed in command during the emergency, without serious injury. Luckier still that Phlox found an antidote to the compound that had infected Archer.

She and Malcolm had chatted about it all as soon as the ship left the planet where they'd found the crashed Insectoid ship in the first place.

"Perhaps now Major Hayes understands how different it is out here from anything his people might have trained for back home," Malcolm had said.

Maddy'd concurred but kept her response neutral. They were all under stress here in the Expanse; she couldn't blame Hayes for his actions or his ignorance. "The MACOs aren't alone. This is all new to me, too, and to several members of your Starfleet crew."

Malcolm's grunted reply was proof enough that he'd agreed with her. He was simply too stubborn to say it in so many words. She hadn't pushed it.

If only it were so simple to reach accord with Captain Archer, she thought, emerging from the turbolift nearest the captain's cabin.

Currently, the ship lurked behind a moon in the red-giant system, Azati Prime. On its one M-class planet, Tucker and Mayweather had located the planet-killing weapon hidden deep on an ocean bed. Now, Archer was set to destroy it. Personally. His own staff had failed to dissuade him from what would be a suicide mission and there was no alien bioagent altering his thinking this time. She was the last shot they had at convincing him to make a different choice.

She didn't fancy her chances.

She rang the chime to Archer's quarters and heard him call, "Come in." Entering, she found him seated on the bunk with Porthos on his lap, the very picture of an impending farewell.

He looked up at her, absently fondling the dog's ears. "Don't tell me. It's your turn to try to talk me out of going."

Madeline took in a deep breath through her nose and exhaled it again before replying. "It was."

"But?"

"I'm very good at my job, Captain. Part of that includes recognizing when a certain line of discussion has been played out."

"Good. I was getting sick of having the same argument with every officer on my command staff."

"I'm not here to argue or plead or insist that you see reason. You're clearly determined to follow through with your plan and damn the consequences."

"The consequences are a chance to save Earth. Delay the Xindi by destroying the weapon--perhaps long enough for you to do that job you're talking about and convince them to give up their...preemptive vendetta."

"Normally that would sound like an oxymoron, but in this case it's an apt term. May I?" She pointed to Porthos.

"Ask him." He released his hold and let Porthos move from his lap back onto the covers.

Maddy crouched down next to the bed and held out a hand for the dog to sniff. They'd met, of course, but she'd not really taken the time to become friendly with the dog. "Hello, pup. You're a handsome boy, aren't you?"

Porthos sniffed at her fingers, and deeming her acceptable, licked them once. She reached to scratch under his chin and around to the back and top of his head. He wagged his tail against the bedclothes and leaned into her hand. She chuckled and used both hands to rub his ears and scratch his back.

"You've made a friend for life." Archer smiled and Maddy saw it was melancholy. Still, there was determination in the set of his jaw.

"I'll do my best to live up to it." She stood straight. "I do wish you would find another way. I don't doubt Porthos would agree, if he knew what was going on."

"He knows something's wrong." He pulled Porthos close and the beagle flopped onto his back for belly rubs.

Madeline spoke with quiet intensity. "You're certain there's no one else who can do this mission for you?"

"Who would you suggest? Malcolm?"

She pursed her lips, fighting back an angry response. She knew what he was doing, what tactics he was playing. Why else choose the person on board who meant more to her than anyone else? "This ship needs her captain."

"Enterprise has both T'Pol and Trip. Either one could command successfully."

"Neither one should have to. Your responsibility--"

"My responsibility, Ms Reed, is to Earth. This ship, even Starfleet, is secondary to saving our world. If that means sacrificing one to save millions, I'm willing to be that one."

She wouldn't win this way. She had one more ace to play. "I don't suppose you've considered the position you're putting me in."

That caused him to pause, a look of puzzlement flashing across his face. "What?"

"You blow up that weapon and I'm supposed to walk in afterwards and convince them we're not here to start a war."

"They've already started a war."

"A debatable point for the Xindi."

"You'll be arguing from a position of strength. Without the weapon, they'll be forced to negotiate."

She knew when it was time to stop debating. That didn't mean she couldn't make one last point. "That's idealistic of you. I shouldn't be surprised. You're an idealist at heart. You wouldn't be captain of this ship if you weren't. I'll leave you to your good-byes."

*****

"Have you had any more dreams you suspect to be predictive?" Doctor Douglas asked.

Cormack shook her head, shifting her feet up under her on the little sofa in his office. "Only what's in the journal, none of which is relevant to reality. You've read it. You know." Her last, brief episode had come shortly before they'd encountered a forming anomaly field. She'd written up what she'd dreamed in the four days the crew had been held in medically induced comas as they passed through it. Since that final vision before her first trellium injection, she'd foreseen nothing more about the crashed ship of insectoid eggs they had since encountered, nor the red giant star system where they currently hid behind an outer planet's moon, nor the attack by Xindi ships that she desperately hoped would never happen yet knew was unavoidable. "The trellium injections seem to be doing their job. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about it."

"In what way, specifically?"

"I mean..." She thought how to put it into words. "We know the ship with the eggs was a premonition. Now, here we are at the red giant, just like Degra said and I saw. Since those visions came true, I know the last one will, too."

"It certainly seems inevitable."

"Yeah, but that last one..." She shuddered and curled up tighter on the sofa, recalling the visions of carnage that she'd seen and heard and even smelled.

"Have you discussed any of this with T'Pol or the captain?" Douglas asked gently.

"I haven't had much time to meditate with T'Pol lately. We've both been too busy to connect."

"I suggest you find a way to connect. A written account sent to both her and Captain Archer seems the most expedient way to start. You know two of those visions were true."

"Yeah." She couldn't argue, but she hesitated. "I'll do that today. After I come off shift."

"Good. Even if we can't change what comes, we can prepare for it, and that's a blessing."

"I like your optimism, Kyrin. I can't share it these days, but I appreciate it." She sighed, weary and bemused. "Gods. I hate knowing."

"Knowing what?"

"Knowing what's coming. Knowing I can't change it. You say it's a blessing to be able to prepare, but from where I sit that's crappy consolation." She sat forward, gesturing at nothing, at what was only visible in her mind's eye. "I see these...things. Sometimes they make more sense than others, but that doesn't change the seeing of them. Remember the mutagenic virus?" Kyrin nodded and she went on. "Well, I saw that. I never told you, but I saw them all, transformed. I didn't know when it would happen or how, or if they'd be okay or stuck that way forever. But I knew from experience there was no way to stop it." The remembered vision and its realization played in her memory like a horror movie she couldn't turn off. She shook her head, trying to dislodge the images, only to have them replaced by the brief flashes of battle, smoke, and death. No!

She looked at Kyrin, focusing on his face, his solid presence. His immediacy. "What would you feel in my place? What if you knew someone, maybe a lot of someones, maybe someone you care about or even love, was going to die sometime soon? And what if you knew there was fuck-all you could do to change that?"

"Do you know that?" The question was gentle. He offered a safe place to say whatever she needed to say.

Stephanie curled back into a tight ball, silent for several moments before answering. Did she know? The final vision would come to pass, but what had she seen, exactly? What did she know? She'd seen chaos. An attack by the Xindi. There would be injuries, certainly, but deaths? Cynicism told her deaths were inevitable, but was she certain?

Finally, she shook her head. "No more than you or anyone else does. I mean, we've lost people already. We're bound to lose more. You know? But do I have the inside scoop on who or when or how? No."

"How does not knowing make you feel?"

"The same way knowing does, when I do. Helpless. Powerless."

"You don't like feeling helpless."

"Do you? It's horrible, but... I think--if it means I'm not in constant debilitating pain... I think I can live with the kind of helplessness that comes from not knowing. Not having the dreams. Maybe it's the lesser of two evils, eh?" Or maybe it's the coward's way out.

She kept that thought to herself.

"Sometimes that's the best we can hope for until the circumstances we can't control change on their own."

Cormack chuckled mirthlessly, relaxing a little. "I'm not sure if that's encouraging or just plain pessimistic."

Douglas smiled gently. "Whichever makes you feel better."

"I have to go on duty." She rose from her seat, stretched muscles tightened by tension, and let her arms fall again to her sides.

"Don't forget that report for T'Pol and Captain Archer."

"First thing after duty shift. I won't forget."

"Good."

"Thanks, Doc. Same time next week?"

"I'll be here."

"I hope we all will." She wasn't going to hold her breath.

*****

He's failed. Seated at his post on the Bridge, waiting, Reed couldn't help the thought. They should have seen something by now. Sensors would have picked up an explosion of that magnitude. He checked the time elapsed: two hours and twenty-three minutes since the Captain's departure in the Insectoid pod. He's failed.

T'Pol emerged from the captain's ready room at last, calling Reed and Tucker from their stations to the Situation Room at the back of the Bridge. It didn't take long to conclude that she had no better plan than he or Trip did as to what to do next.

"If we don't hear from the captain in one hour, I'll pilot a shuttlepod into the system," T'Pol announced.

"On your own?" asked Trip.

"No. With Negotiator Reed. We will attempt a diplomatic solution."

"You've got to be kidding."

"You can't possibly believe that has any chance of success," scoffed Malcolm.

"Starfleet believes in your sister's skills, Lieutenant. Don't you?"

That stung and Malcolm bit back an angry retort. He crossed his arms over his chest defensively. Whether defending himself from T'Pol's accusations or defending her from his desire to lash out was a question he chose to gloss over. "I have every faith in Madeline's negotiating ability--if she's actually given the chance to speak."

"I'm Vulcan, not human. I may be able to establish a dialogue. Then, she'll have her chance."

"There's a significant possibility you'll both just be captured or killed."

"Perhaps. But at the moment, I don't see an alternate course of action. I'll inform Negotiator Reed of the plan so she can prepare."

"No," snapped Malcolm, startling Trip who stood close beside him. "I'll inform her. Permission to leave the Bridge?"

"Granted."

Malcolm managed to leave swiftly without actually storming off in a huff. He was angry on so many levels it would have been easy to let his temper go. It seemed the longer they stayed in the Expanse, the longer this mission lasted, the tougher it got for him to keep from exploding at someone. He chuckled mirthlessly as the turbolift carried him to B-deck and he strode along the corridor to Maddy's quarters. His recent altercation with Major Hayes had had the side benefit of letting him blow off some steam, but it wasn't a sustainable method by any measure.

He rang the chime to Maddy's cabin and was surprised when instead of her voice calling him in, her face greeted him in the suddenly open doorway. "Malcolm. Any word on Captain Archer?"

She stepped back and he entered the cabin. It had been his once but it was fully hers now, down to the photograph of the girls' footie team she'd been part of at school. Why she still kept the old picture all these years later, he had no idea.

"No. As far as we can tell, he's failed to destroy the weapon."

"I see." Her face was solemn. "What does that mean moving forward?"

"T'Pol is giving it one more hour. If we hear nothing from the captain in that time, you and she will take a shuttlepod and attempt a diplomatic meeting with the Xindi."

Maddy wasn't surprised. It made sense as a next move. She nodded. "I understand. I'll be ready when it's time to go."

*****

A little over an hour later, Madeline was with T'Pol and Tucker in the launch bay. The officers were arguing so vehemently over T'Pol's plan that she'd begun to wonder if her arbitration skills might be needed sooner than expected. She was grateful for the interruption when the Malcolm's voice came through the comms. His announcement, however, chilled her blood.

"There's no need to go to the Xindi," he said. "It appears they're coming to us."

T'Pol took a breath, steeling herself before speaking, and then ordered Tucker to Engineering and Madeline to join her on the Bridge. Maddy didn't argue. If there was even a remote possibility of talking their way out of whatever was coming, she should be there to do it.

They parted with Tucker immediately and rode the turbolift in silence. If Malcolm was surprised to see her emerge from the lift with T'Pol, he didn't show it. In fact, she wasn't certain he'd noticed her at all.

"Four Xindi vessels closing fast. Two reptilian, two insectoid," he announced.

"Hail them," said T'Pol, striding to the captain's chair. Madeline took up a position at the railing behind her as Ensign Sato hailed the incoming vessels.

"No response," Hoshi announced.

"They're charging weapons," said Malcolm.

T'Pol barely glanced his way. "Go to full alert. Polarize the hull plating and prepare to return fire."

The first shot came from the leading Reptilian vessel. Malcolm returned fire, but they were outnumbered and the Xindi kept coming.

Madeline felt a strange detachment as the ship shook. She watched everything going on around her as if from a distance. As if it weren't real but an immersive ride at a particularly sophisticated theme park. One with a particularly dire script.

Amidst small explosions and massive buffeting, Malcolm dove for the Engineering station to assess the damage. "We've lost hull plating!"

A crewman took over the Tactical Station for him.

"I still don't have helm control," declared Mayweather.

"T'Pol to Engineering." She half sat, half fell into the captain's chair as the ship rocked from another blast. No response. "Engineering, report!"

More explosions flared behind Madeline, knocking out the crewman at the Situation Room station. She turned in time to see him fall.

Sato announced, "Comm is down."

"Get it back," ordered T'Pol.

Another blast. Another explosion. A support beam collapsed on another crewman mere centimeters to Madeline's left. She held her position, hands wrapped tightly enough that the railing bit into her fingers. It all happened so quickly. She didn't have time to feel afraid.

Explosions above. Everyone looked up. Mayweather dove to his right as the large, round, glowing panel overhead burst and fell. Fires burned as automatic suppression systems failed.

The woman at tactical maintained their counterattack. Well-aimed shots destroyed one of the attackers. Madeline saw it on the viewscreen, erupting into sparks and flame before vaporizing. Fires snuffed by the vacuum of space. The remaining three ships redoubled their attack.

"We've got hull breaches on C, D, and E," shouted Malcolm over the din of weapons fire and explosions.

"Close them off," T'Pol ordered.

"The bulkheads aren't responding. We're venting atmosphere."

That was when the fear finally found Madeline. She looked around, searching for a way to help. Spotting a fire extinguisher secured to the base of the Situation Room console, she grabbed it and stumbled towards the largest blaze, beyond the helm station.

Mayweather fought his way back to his station. Debris blocked his way and he heaved and shoved it aside to retake his seat at the helm.

Climbing around fallen support beams, Malcolm raced to help the tactical crewman carry one of the injured to the lift. The other fallen man rose and stumbled behind them. The three crewmen got into the lift and were whisked away.

Malcolm retook Tactical, calling out the latest updates, while Maddy fought each new blaze that burst to life around them. "Another breach on C-Deck! E-Deck's depressurizing!"

Another blast. Insulation and debris rained down over Maddy, Travis, and Hoshi.

"We can't take much more of this!"

Another blast shook them, and then another.

And then...

Nothing.

Malcolm checked sensors. "They've ceased firing," he declared in a voice that said he didn't quite believe it. "They're moving off. Back into the system."

T'Pol joined him at his station, her own face a mask of uncertainty and disbelief. But the readings confirmed it. The Xindi had withdrawn. She looked up and spoke to Mayweather at the helm. "Ensign, get us out of here."

Madeline's heart leapt at the thought of reprieve, of escape, only to crash down again as Mayweather responded.

"Thrusters are down. I don't think we're going anywhere."

It was only then, once the battle was ended, that Malcolm saw Madeline. She was covered in soot and sweat like the rest of them, and held a fire extinguisher in hands gone red from the heat of the fires. Protocol be damned, he darted from his post to her side. "Maddy! Are you all right?"

"Mmm." Lips pulled together between her teeth, she looked around her as though coming out of a trance. She nodded, dazed. "Fine. You?"

He took her head in both hands, forcing her to look at him. It was hard to tell in the patchy lights of the damaged Bridge, but he thought her pupils were reacting normally. "I'm all right."

She snorted a chuckle. "Reeds. We're tougher than some rotten old reptiles, aren't we?"

*****

Cormack opened her eyes and for several seconds could make no sense of what she saw. It wasn't until she realized she was lying on her side that things began to make a modicum of sense. Unfortunately, that was also when she realized her left leg was screaming at her. She pushed herself over onto her back. Sitting up on her elbows, she tried to heave herself backwards only to find she was pinned down. "Gah! Fuck!"

"Ensign Cormack?"

She looked around for the voice that called her name. "Martinez? I'm over here!" She waved an arm in front of her face, trying to clear smoke from her view. It had little effect. The air scrubbers must be down. Watching Martinez climbing over and around wreckage to reach her, she figured a hell of a lot of systems must be down.

"Are you all right?" She knelt next to Cormack, eyes skimming over her, looking for injuries.

"Pretty sure my leg's busted, but otherwise, yeah. I'm okay, I think. Status report?"

"The Xindi have broken off the attack, and good thing, too. Aft torpedo launcher is functional, but everything else is down."

"Phase-cannons? Hull plating?"

"Everything."

"Shit. Life support?"

"Okay. Almost everything."

"Small favors, eh?" With Martinez helping, she sat up straighter, leaning on one hand to keep herself upright. "Can you get this--what the fuck is this?" She gestured with the other hand at the twisted pile of metal and circuitry before her.

"I think it was the secondary control console."

"Gods. Can you get it off me? I'm no good stuck here."

"Obundo! Griffith! Over here!" Martinez shouted. She moved around behind Cormack, supporting her weight. "Lean on me. I have you." The two burly crewmen, both looking like hell, appeared from out of the smoke and sparks. "Lift that while I pull her out."

The men found handholds among the debris and heaved. Martinez wrapped arms around Cormack's torso and hauled her clear.

"Help me up," the Cormack said.

"No, ma'am." Griffith shook his head.

Cormack looked at her leg and understood. At least it's still attached, she thought acerbically.

Martinez took command of the situation. "You two find something to splint the leg. I'll try to stop the bleeding on that gash."

The men disappeared into the chaos while Martinez knelt by Cormack's leg. "Lie back. This is bound to hurt."

All witty comments lost, Cormack only grunted in reply as she let herself lie down flat on the deckplating once more. Martinez unzipped her torn coveralls and pulled off her black shirt. Zipping back up, she used a sharp edge of torn metal to rip the shirt into strips.

Griffith returned with what looked like railings from one of the armory staircases. "Watch the ends. They're sharp. It's the best we could do."

"Where's Peter?"

"Helping other injured."

Cormack let her eyes fall shut and did her damnedest to ignore what was going on with her leg. She breathed deeply, focusing her mind on anything that wasn't pain. All the meditation techniques she'd learned from T'Pol weren't enough and she screamed when they lifted the broken limb to splint it.

"I'm sorry!" exclaimed Martinez, glancing at Cormack's face, twisted in pain.

"Just...finish...please!" Stephanie ground out through clenched teeth.

At last they were done. "You need to get to Sickbay," said Martinez. "Ewan, take her there then get back here A.S.A.P. We'll need every weapon we can get online if the Xindi return."

"Wait, Juliana, no," protested Cormack. She struggled to rise, and instinctively Griffith helped her up. She never would have made it without his help. "Just give me some painkillers from the first-aid kit and something to use as a crutch, and I'll manage for now."

Martinez shook her head. "You can't believe that's feasible." Her dark brows knit in a concerned and determined frown. "Please, Stephanie. Let Ewan take you to Sickbay. Get that cut sealed up and the bones knitted, if you can, and let Phlox check you out to make sure nothing else is wrong. I can handle things until you get back. We've already lost one armory officer. We need you in one piece."

Her words warmed and chilled Stephanie in the same second. It was good to feel needed, but: "Who did we lose?" There were only three officers assigned to Tactical--two ensigns and Lieutenant Reed. Silence met her query and forgetting her injury, she took a step forward on her broken leg and cried out. "Fuck monkeys!"

She had Griffith to thank for not falling on her face, his strong arms catching her before she could collapse. She captured Martinez's gaze with her own. "Juliana. Who did we lose?"

"Ensign Young."

Her words were a gut punch and Cormack swallowed hard. It took a moment for her to find her voice. She had to stay in the moment if she hoped to do any good. "Focus on repairing the forward phase-cannons. One torpedo launcher won't cut it if the enemy comes back, and we can't just keep shooting from our ass."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Okay." She looked at Griffith's grimy face just over her right shoulder. "Get me the fuck out of here."

Without a word, he scooped her up like she weighed no more than a child and carried her from the armory.

*****

It was a circuitous route they took to Sickbay and every added meter was torture. Griffith was forced to negotiate around damage along every corridor. Even with Griffith carrying her, it was enough to make Stephanie want to vomit. "What's...with the scenic route?"

"Part of D-Deck is decompressed," explained Griffith by way of apology.

"Great." She tried to distract herself from the pain by making conversation. "Can you believe I've never broken a bone before?"

"Ma'am?"

"For real. Concussions, dislocated shoulder, plenty of scrapes...bruises." Every meter was a misery, and she winced her way through her litany. "The occasional sprain. Hell. I even died once. Just for a minute, but...never a broken bone. Weird, right?"

"Weird."

She should've remembered. Griffith wasn't a big talker. She'd have to ask questions if she didn't want carry the whole conversation, and she had to have conversation. It was the only thing distracting her from the pain in her leg and the ache of loss in her belly. "What else can you tell me about damages?" She'd missed who-knew-how-much of the battle. She'd certainly missed whatever explosion had blown up the console and knocked her unconscious. She was bound to also be missing a shitload of information.

"Most of E-Deck is decompressed, and there were breaches on C-Deck. Emergency bulkheads are in place, but we can't get in until we can make enough repairs to repressurize the areas."

"Wonderful!" exclaimed Cormack sarcastically through gritted teeth.

"Engines are all down, too."

"Perfect! Agh, fucking fuck!" she exclaimed as he stepped awkwardly over broken deckplating, jarring her injuries. "Remind me never to do this again, okay?"

"Yes, ma'am." They stopped. With Griffith's hands full, it fell to Cormack to reach out a hand and open the Sickbay door.

"Stephanie!" The call came from barely a meter inside the room.

"Mae! Ewan, put me there."

Several cots had been set up for triage. Mae shifted to the end of the one she sat on. Griffith settled Stephanie next to her.

"Get back to the Armory. I'll join you as soon as I can." Cormack looked around. "But I think it might be a while."

Griffith nodded and departed.

"What happened to you?" Stephanie asked Mae.

"EPS conduit blew me into a bulkhead."

"Ouch."

"You?"

"Console landed on me."

"Double ouch. You win."

Ensign Cohn approached looking just as ragged as everyone else Stephanie had seen since regaining consciousness. He was scraped and bruised and filthy. One of his sleeves was torn open and she could see a bandage wrapped around his upper arm.

"What happened?" he asked even as he scanned her with a medical tricorder.

This time she gave a proper answer. "I don't remember much. I'm pretty sure an explosion took me out. I came to with my left leg pinned to the deck under some wreckage. If you can just patch me up and knit the bone back together, I'll get out of your way and back to my station."

"It's not that simple. The bone-knitter is only for small fractures. Your tibia and fibula are--"

"Don't!" Stephanie put up a hand to stop him, and startled, he fell silent. "I genuinely do not want to know the details. Can you fix it?"

"It requires surgery, but yes. The damage is completely repairable."

"Fine. Small price to pay to be alive." She met Ari's gaze. Did he know yet? Judging from the level of activity in Sickbay, she suspected he'd been too busy helping Phlox with the injured to have a full awareness of the dead. He needed to know and there would be no good time to tell him. "Ari?"

"I'll give you something for the pain, but you'll have to wait." He pulled a hypospray from one pocket and reached towards her. She caught his hand and he froze in surprise.

"Ari. Ian's dead. I'm sorry." She let her hand drop and after a slow second's hesitation, he pressed the hypo to her neck. She felt the pain recede, but that awareness was secondary to Cohn's reaction. Had he heard her? He must have, but one wouldn't know it from his reaction.

"It won't be too long," he said. "Phlox will be free as soon as Liz gets back from Engineering."

Mae spoke up gently. "Ari? Are you okay?"

He nodded stiffly. Not making eye contact with either of them, he pocketed the hypo and ran another scan of Cormack. "Lie down. Stay still. Be patient. Phlox will get to you as soon as he can."

"Ari--" Mae grabbed his free hand and he hesitated before meeting her gaze. Once he did, she squeezed his hand, offering silent support and sympathy, and was glad to feel an answering squeeze. She let him go and he moved off to help another new arrival.

*****

Fraser had gotten off lucky in the attack. A few bumps and scratches, a minor burn that dermoline gel had quickly calmed, and she was back to work. At the moment, that work was assisting with repairs on C-Deck. She noticed T'Pol and Lieutenant Reed pass by, discussing the situation. Five dead, she heard him say. Dozens injured. How many of those injured were like her, already treated and back at it? How many were beyond Phlox's skills to save, destined to join the five?

She hadn't seen Mae or Stephanie since before the attack. She didn't know if they were among the injured or the dead. And what about Liz, Travis, or Hoshi? She'd not crossed paths with any of them in Sickbay, but she hadn't been there long. Anything could have happened to any one of them.

Bonnie shoved aside her worries and focused on her job. If she and Lyle could get this segment of relays working, they'd be one step closer to repressurizing the adjacent section. She wondered how many more dead they would find beyond the emergency bulkhead.

*****

Cormack lay in recovery wishing she could get back to work. As it was, she couldn't even get the attention of a med-tech to ask for a pair of crutches. Surely the bed could be used for someone more critically injured than her. She wasn't good at optimism these days, but she tried. Maybe there's no one else who needs it. But does that mean they're okay or it's too late to help them?

Her attempts to catch the eye of any medical personnel were halted by the appearance of Reed and T'Pol assisting Captain Archer to a diagnostic bed. A wave of shock and relief washed over her, followed immediately by questions to which she couldn't even guess the answers. Reed disappeared almost immediately and without glancing in her direction. She'd wanted to ask him what was going on, see if he could tell her anything at all. Instead, she listened hard through the bustle around her, trying to hear what the others said while Phlox treated the captain's injuries and T'Pol updated him on the current situation.

She caught only snatches of conversation.

"...contusions consistent with blunt trauma."

"How many have we lost?"

"Fourteen. Three are unaccounted for."

"...impulse power in six hours. Aft torpedo launchers and one forward phase-cannon are online."

"Have Hoshi and Travis..."

"...suggest it's Aquatic."

"...their ships. That's the last thing..."

"...released..."

"Degra."

That was all she heard before Liz approached her. "Hey," Cutler said in quiet greeting. She opened a tricorder and used it to scan Stephanie. "How are you feeling?"

"Bulldozed. What does your scanner say?" Cormack saw T'Pol depart and Archer soon followed her, with Phlox's concerned gaze following him.

"Bulldozed." Liz offered up a small smile which Stephanie returned. "You'll be okay. It'll take time for a full recovery, but you'll get there."

"Sounds like a diagnosis for Enterprise, too. At least, I hope it is."

"Me, too." Liz hesitated before going on. "I heard about Ian. I'm sorry."

"Yeah." The armory ensigns weren't best buddies, but they had been friends, with more in common than most people would have guessed. "I heard Phlox say fourteen."

"There's more you should know."

Cormack's heart raced. "Bonnie--?"

"No," Liz hastened to assure her. "Bonnie's fine. She was in and out of here before you arrived. Before Mae arrived."

"I've seen Malcolm, and T'Pol, and Captain Archer. And he mentioned Hoshi and Travis." Her brain sought frantically through a list of command officers and friends alike. "Not Tucker. Mae would've told me."

"No. Not him."

"Who? Gods, it's not Maggie, is it?" The thought of losing her MACO bunkmate made her stomach twist anxiously.

Liz shook her head. "Did you hear Phlox say three unaccounted for?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I did."

"One of them is Doctor Douglas."

Stephanie was silent, trying to digest this information. "Unaccounted for. Doctor Douglas," she echoed eventually. It didn't compute. She'd seen him less than 24 hours ago, before going on shift. He'd confirmed their appointment for next week. She shook her head against the diagnostic bed.

"Are you okay?" Liz scanned her again and frowned at the readings. Elevated heart rate, increased adrenaline, and lowered serotonin consistent with heightened anxiety.

"I don't understand. I can't make it make sense."

Liz dug a hypospray from her pocket and pressed it against Stephanie's neck. "None of it makes sense," she said quietly, and waited until Stephanie's system stabilized. "You rest. I have to go, but I'll be back when you wake up."

At Liz's words, Stephanie realized she was already fading. "Don't drug me next time."

"No promises."

Cormack slipped into sleep, and as promised, Liz was there when she woke again. The first words out of Stephanie's mouth were, "Can I go now?"

Liz chuckled at her. "You're singularly single-minded."

"That doesn't answer the question."

"Are you thirsty?"

Stephanie licked dry lips. "Yes."

Liz sat her up and offered water, which she drank too quickly and coughed. "Slow down. Sip it."

"What have I missed?" she asked between sips.

"A distress call from some aliens."

"Like we're in any shape to help out."

Liz shrugged. "They need assistance and so do we. The captain's hoping for an exchange."

"What kind of exchange?" She'd been out of the loop too long. She had no idea what state the ship was in at the moment. What repair progress had been made and what hadn't.

"I don't know the specifics, but we're sharing what medical supplies we can. Beyond that?" She shrugged again. "Their captain is on board right now."

Stephanie handed back the cup of water. "I need to get back to work."

Liz took the cup in one hand and placed the other against Stephanie's shoulder. "You need to rest and recover. Phlox will decide when you go back to work. Behave. Do what you're told, and you'll be out all the faster. You know that."

There was steel in Liz's voice and Stephanie knew when she'd been beat. She relaxed back against the bed. "Okay, okay. I'll be good."

Liz cracked a smile and quipped, "Since when?"

Stephanie chuckled. "There's a first time for everything."

*****

Malcolm barely believed what he heard, but Archer's words were clear enough: "Put together an armed boarding party."

"Who are we boarding, sir?"

"The alien ship we docked with."

"I don't understand."

"We need their warp coil. They won't give it to us, so we're going to have to take it."

"Captain."

"Get your people together!" Archer practically shouted, and then turned and strode from the armory, leaving Malcolm stunned into silence.

It took a moment for him to shake off astonishment enough to act. He hailed Major Hayes to meet him immediately. That done, he considered hailing Trip while waiting for the MACO, then decided against it. If Tucker didn't know yet what Archer was planning, he would soon. In fact, that was probably where the captain was headed now, to tell the engineer the plan face to face. This wasn't something one discussed over the comm system.

Hayes arrived and approached him. "You wanted to see me, sir?"

"Yes. I need an armed boarding party."

To Hayes's credit, he showed less surprise than Reed had at the news. "Yes, sir. How many?"

"Four." Here was where he made assumptions based on recent events. "They'll accompany the captain aboard the Illyrian vessel. Presumably Commander Tucker, as well. We'll be taking their warp coil."

This time Hayes did exhibit some surprise, but still he didn't question. "Understood. I'll have a team ready to go on your order."

*****

Lawless grabbed for a support beam as the ship shook. "I'm getting really sick of being shot at."

"I'm with you," agreed Rostov. "But if it gets us the warp coil we need, it'll be worth it."

"I don't think the Illyrians we'll be stranding in the Expanse would agree."

The ship bucked again and then went unexpectedly calm. Lawless glanced to her right and met Rostov's hopeful expression. "Dare we hope?"

The door nearest the pair whooshed open and through it came Tucker and Private Mercado with the stolen warp coil.

"We hope," declared Rostov with a grin.

"Give me a hand here!" Tucker ordered them and they promptly leapt to help him.

*****

Eighteen. When all was said and done, eighteen members of the crew, both Starfleet and MACO, were dead. Three were well and truly gone, their bodies lost to the vacuum of space when an exterior bulkhead had ruptured in the first attack. Others had succumbed to severe burns, internal injuries, and other things more graphic than Tucker liked to think about. The only good things that had happened in the past 36 hours were the unexpected return of Captain Archer, released from Xindi captivity for reasons that remained unclear, and the acquisition of a new warp coil by admittedly less than ethical means. With that coil in place, they were now on their way to a rendezvous with the Xindi engineer, Degra.

All those thoughts were in Tucker's mind as he reluctantly headed to the shuttle bay and the impending memorial gathering for those lost in the previous day's attack. Arriving, he found Malcolm and the captain already there. T'Pol arrived only moments later. He took a spot with the others behind the captain. Several members of the crew were assembled below and Trip didn't envy Archer his position before them.

Some of the crew were still in Sickbay recovering from the attack. Most remained at work, trying to repair the extensive damage Enterprise had received at Xindi hands. Trip wished he was one of them. There was so much to do if they were going to get the ship through whatever might come next.

Those who could were there to honor the fallen. Trip saw Cormack and her MACO bunkmate, Bowman. There were crewmen Kelly, Rivers, and Nahai, Liz Cutler, and Madeline Reed. There was Rostov, his expression particularly solemn at the loss of crewman Taylor; the two had worked together often. Trip closed his eyes, collecting his frayed thoughts and emotions, and opened them again to stare straight ahead, across the upper level of the bay, away from those gathered on the deck below. It was hard to focus on Archer's words. There were so many things to do and the list played on a loop in his head, each problem crying for his attention.

"I only wish I could thank the 18 crewmembers who were lost," said Archer, his back straight and his face grim. He paced and Cormack could see Trip, T'Pol, and Malcolm behind him, silently listening. Malcolm's head bowed slightly and she wondered if he, like she, was thinking of Ensign Young, lost in the ambush by the Reptilians. In the battle she'd known would come and could do nothing to prevent. She'd never even gotten to write up the report for T'Pol and the captain; the attack had come before her shift had ended.

"We came into the Expanse not knowing what we'd find," the captain continued, "with no one to rely on but ourselves. But we're going to succeed, to accomplish our mission for everyone on Earth who's relying on us, and for the 18."

He nodded to Ensign Fraser who stood at one end of the upper walkway. She nodded back once and began to sing a traditional Scottish song of parting and farewell. Archer departed before she finished, followed shortly by the other senior staff, but the rest of those gathered remained, taking solace in the words or finding comfort in her warm alto voice.

"But since it falls unto my lot That I should rise and you should not I'll gently rise and I'll softly call Good night and joy be with you all."

Slowly, people filtered out of the shuttle bay. Cormack, hampered by her crutches and braced leg, let everyone go before her until only she remained on the lower level. Fraser descended and came to stand beside her.

"Hey," Bonnie said softly.

"Hey, yourself."

"How are you? It feels like ages since we've seen each other."

Stephanie shrugged awkwardly over the crutches. "Getting there. At least I'm mobile enough to get to and from the Armory, even if I can't go crawling through jefferies tubes to help with repairs."

"I'd call that a win. I've crawled through enough of those in the past day and a half to last me a lifetime." She hesitated only a moment before saying. "I was sorry to hear about Ian and Doctor Douglas." She hadn't been close with either man, but they'd played important roles in Stephanie's life for longer than Bonnie had known her. She reached out and took Stephanie's hand.

Stephanie gave her a melancholy smile. "Thanks. I love you."

"I love you, too."

"I need to get back to work. Maybe we can have dinner together tonight?"

"Ration packs at 1900 sharp," quipped Bonnie. She was rewarded with a small chuckle from her partner.

"I'll try not to be late."

*****

Trip sat at the desk in his quarters, trying and failing to complete the most recent, and the single hardest, order Archer had given him. He would much rather have been rerouting power couplings or repairing the injector assembly. Scrubbing plasma filters would be a more welcome task. But not more important, he reminded himself.

He stared at the computer screen with the words "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, I'm sorry to inform you of your daughter's death." on it and thought of how many more of these letters Archer had to write than he did. Christ.

"Computer, delete message." He sat back and scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling his rough palms against the stubble on his cheeks. When had he last shaved? Hell, when had he last eaten or slept? When had he last seen Malcolm when they weren't both hip deep in repairs? They hadn't had two minutes together since before the attack.

He didn't have time to sleep and he couldn't be bothered to shave. Neither he nor Malcolm was going to get any downtime soon. One thing he could do was grab a ration pack and eat while he worked. Maybe he'd even find inspiration for the condolence letter once he got some food and coffee in him. He pushed away from the desk and left the darkened cabin for the emergency lighting of the corridor.

Systems were running slowly and he stood waiting for the turbolift longer than normal. Distracted as he was he almost ran into Malcolm emerging from it once it finally arrived. "Whoa!"

"I'd say I was sorry, but I rather wish I'd actually collided with you." It would have been more physical contact than they'd shared in days. "How are you?"

"In a hurry. Sorry."

"Engineering?"

"Mess Hall first. Or what's left of it." He stepped into the lift, surprised when Malcolm followed.

"I'll ride with you."

Trip said nothing and they rode in momentary silence, broken by Malcolm.

"I wonder if you could reassign some of your people to work in the Armory."

"Playin' favorites?"

"We need all the tactical systems we can get if--"

"Relax, Malcolm. I'm kidding." The lift opened on E-Deck and Trip stepped out, glancing back at Reed. "You hungry?"

"Not enough to eat emergency rations. Maybe this evening. About those people?"

"I'll send some from the teams working on Sickbay. Things are pretty quiet in there at the moment. I expect Phlox can manage without the imaging chamber for a little longer."

"Thanks. See you later?"

Trip nodded with no idea when that later might come. "Yeah. Later."

Malcolm nodded and let the lift door close. He rode one last deck in thoughtful silence. He'd meant to say something about Taylor and Kamata. They were the last of the lost to be accounted for and they were both from Trip's department. He wasn't sure why he'd not spoken. Maybe it was Trip's light teasing; he hadn't wanted darken the mood. Maybe it was simply that there were no words he could offer that would change things or make them better. But I could have tried. I should have, he thought as he stepped onto F-Deck and turned towards the damaged Armory. He wondered, though, at his motivations. Perhaps he sought sympathy for his own loss of Ensign Young. There's nothing wrong in that. Trouble shared is trouble halved. His brain supplied the quote on its own; he had to think a moment to place who'd said it.

He shook off his musings as he entered the Armory. Things looked marginally less chaotic than they had before the makeshift memorial service. He sought out Ensign Cormack, finding her directing repairs from near the port-side phase cannon housing. She leaned against a work table only recently righted and re-secured to the deckplating, a pair of crutches propped within easy reach and a datapad in her hand.

"Status report?" he said as he reached her.

"We've squeaked the hull plating up to 82 percent, for what that's worth," she answered pessimistically.

"Every percent is an improvement, Ensign."

"Yes, sir."

"What else?"

She handed over the datapad. "Weapons are functioning, but I'm not thrilled with targeting sensors. They're still off by nearly half a micron. I've got Walsh working on them, but he could use help."

"I've asked Commander Tucker for reinforcements." As if on cue, the upper door opened and three engineering crewman entered carrying tool cases. Reed looked up and recognized Nahai, Kelly, and Lyle. "Over here." He waved them down.

"Oo. Can I have Nahai for Walsh?" asked Cormack quickly.

"He's all yours."

The trio reached them and while Cormack directed Nahai to join crewman Walsh on the targeting sensors, Reed promptly put the others to work elsewhere.

Before they could do more than open their kits, the ship shuddered as if hit by weapons fire. Reed dashed for the main control console, only barely back in working order, to determine the cause of the disturbance. "Explosion on E-deck, Section 12," he announced, adding soon after, "Any fire is out already, assuming these readings can be trusted."

Cormack came up beside him. "Internal sensors are sound. I ran the post-repair diagnostics on them myself."

Reed glanced about him, called to the room at large. "All right. Excitement's over. Back to work, everyone."

*****

Madeline Reed was at the airlock when Degra and his arboreal colleague, Jannar, came aboard. She wondered at the absence of her brother at the meeting. Surely the head of security would want to be there. Two possibilities came to mind, each as likely as the other; either he was too swamped with repair work or he hadn't been informed of the Xindi's arrival.

Madeline was ready to get to work. At last, she thought. Archer had said the Xindi scientists wanted proof of his claims of time travel and trans-dimensional interference and manipulation. She'd put a plan in place and now led the captain and the Xindi to the first stop on a little tour that she hoped would provide all the proof they might require.

She stood to one side as Archer solemnly opened the cryo-drawers containing the bodies of three Xindi Reptilians, explaining how they'd found them on 20th-century Earth developing a bioweapon to destroy humanity and been forced to kill them in order to stop their plan. She couldn't blame Jannar for his disbelief. She'd had her own doubts when Archer and T'Pol had given her the lowdown on their temporal excursion. However, she couldn't deny the evidence of her eyes, nor the quantum dating report on the bio-weapon. The Xindi, on the other hand, weren't convinced.

"You need more evidence," said Archer. He looked at Madeline, who gave a slight nod of agreement. It was time for stop number two.

"Follow me, gentlemen." She led them to a cargo bay and a smaller, security-sealed compartment within it. Archer entered the unlock code and opened the door.

Madeline hadn't seen the weapon mechanism before. She'd only read the reports. It was smaller than she'd imagined. She expected something capable of wiping out most of humanity to be more imposing somehow. I suppose it's impressive enough. It loomed over Archer, at any rate, as he activated the device enough to extract a metal cylinder about half a meter long from its core. He handed it to Degra.

"They had this with them. We destroyed the toxin, but my doctor kept a sample of it in stasis."

Degra took the cylinder and said with displeasure, "This appears to be Xindi technology."

Displeased at what? To find the captain's evidence compelling? To learn that the Reptilians have gone behind their Council's backs? To have been deceived by a rogue faction of his own race? Too many questions. Madeline kept silent. It was Archer's case to make right now.

"But I'd like to have our engineers confirm it."

"Have them come aboard, perform whatever test they'd like," the captain offered.

Naturally, Jannar wasn't convinced. Madeline had noticed he was the more pragmatic of the pair. "This proves nothing except the Reptilians disobeyed the Council, which comes as no great surprise. But you also claim we've been misled by trans-dimensional aliens. Where is your evidence of that?"

Without a word, Archer returned the cylinder to the device and stepped out of the compartment. The doors slid shut. "Come with me."

"Captain--" said Madeline quietly, tipping her head to the security lock and raising an eyebrow. He took a brief moment to re-seal the compartment and encode the mechanism. She turned back to the Xindi visitors. "This way. To our Sickbay."

Degra's brow pinched slightly, confusion clear enough through alien features. "Sickbay?"

"We have some medical data you'll want to see," explained Archer.

It was quiet in Sickbay, only Ensign Cutler and a burned crewman she was treating were there when they arrived, the rest of the injured having recovered enough to be discharged from care. It only then occurred to Archer to wonder what time it was. A quick check found it was nearly 2300. How had it gotten so late? Each hour seemed to bleed into the next lately. "Where's Phlox?" he asked.

"E-deck, sir," answered Cutler. "With Commander Tucker, I think."

Archer stepped to the nearest comm panel and opened a line. "Archer to Doctor Phlox."

A few seconds passed, and then Phlox replied, "Yes, Captain."

"I need you in Sickbay."

"I'll be right there."

The connection closed on Phlox's end, leaving Archer waiting impatiently and wondering what might be up with his Chief Engineer that would require the ship's physician's attendance.

"Can I help with anything, sir?" Cutler glanced uneasily from Archer to Madeline to the two Xindi.

"If your patient can do without you for a few minutes, you can give us the room, Ensign."

"I--"

Phlox entered at that moment, saving her from protesting the captain's request that wasn't quite an order. "I'll handle things here, Ensign. Why don't you take a short break and get yourself something to eat."

She hesitated, glancing again at the Xindi dubiously. "Yes, Doctor."

All the way to the Mess Hall, Liz wondered what was going on in Sickbay. When had the Xindi come on board? She knew Enterprise had docked with them over two hours ago, but seeing them there in the flesh had been a shock. She'd helped Phlox during the elaborate deception that had gained so much information from Degra weeks ago, but even then she'd never come face to face with the man. He was so unimposing. Shouldn't he be a monster? To have designed a weapon that killed millions of people in one single blast... Surely he was a monster. But he'd looked like anyone else, like a person. She couldn't fathom it.

She queued up for a ration pack and eventually was handed something warm to eat. She took it to a table and found a chair still stable enough to sit on.

"Hey, ex-roomie."

She looked up as Stephanie sat down across from her and smiled.

"Hey, yourself. How are you doing?"

"Limping but improving," answered Stephanie. "Kind of like the ship." She laid her crutches on the floor beside her, tucked under the table as best she could. It wasn't busy enough to worry someone might trip over them. Everyone was so used to stepping over broken deckplating and other debris that it was a good chance anyone passing would be watching their feet anyway. She took a swallow from the mug she'd awkwardly brought with her. "Tell that boss of yours I want to by bipedal again ASAP, will you? I've come too close to spilling my morning coffee multiple times."

Liz nodded, ignoring the fact that proper morning was several hours away. She opened up her ration pack to a pleasant surprise. "Mac'n'cheese."

"Lucky you. I got eggplant parmesan last time I remembered to eat."

"That doesn't sound bad to me."

"Of all the food in the world, I can't abide eggplant. But I ate it."

"Brave soldier," teased Liz.

Stephanie chuckled. "That's me."

"Tell me something," Liz said between bites. She hadn't realized how hungry she was until comfort food had been placed in front of her.

"Sure."

"Does Security know there are two Xindi on board?"

Stephanie sat back in surprise. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Hmm. They're in Sickbay right now with Phlox, Captain Archer, and Negotiator Reed."

"Is that right? Huh." She shook her head slowly. "I had no idea, but I've been off for a couple of hours for a cat nap."

"Will you check with Lieutenant Reed about it? He probably knows, but..." Liz shrugged.

"Better to be sure?"

"Something like that."

"Will do."

Liz sighed, more relieved than she had anticipated she'd be. "Thanks."

*****

Cormack was glad to find Reed fully aware of the presence of the aliens on board. "Degra and Jannar," he informed her.

"Degra?" she echoed.

"You heard right."

"The Degra?"

"I only know of one.

She let out a low whistle. "Damn. How's that going over with Commander Tucker?"

Malcolm was tight-lipped, his reply equal parts tense and weary. "I wish I knew."

"When was the last time you got some sleep?"

"What time is it?"

"Tuesday."

Her quip gained her a small smile and a noise that might have been a chuckle. "I managed about three hours yesterday sometime. I think it was mid-afternoon, but I can't be sure."

"Why don't you go grab a few more hours now? I'm back. I'm still not fleet-footed, but I can keep things under control here for a little while."

"Tempting, but no."

"No because you're in the mood to micromanage your crew, or no because there are Xindi on board and you don't want to be caught napping if things go sideways?"

He side-eyed her. "That nap did you good. You're particularly astute at the moment."

"I know you. And I am distinctly over-caffeinated right now."

The ship shuddered, interrupting their banter.

"God, what is it this time?" muttered Reed, inputting a query into the computer. Ship quakes had grown so common it was hard for any of the crew to get too excited about one, at least until one knew the cause. He grew more alert, and more tense, as the data came through. Before Cormack could ask what it was, Archer's voice crackled through the comm.

"Archer to Reed. Report to the Bridge."

Reed replied quickly. "On my way." He closed the connection and paused. "Get someone to fix that speaker while I'm gone, would you?"

"Aye, sir." He disappeared at a quick clip and she looked at what he'd left on the computer display. The ship was venting warp plasma through a ruptured conduit. Not good, she thought. Why call Malcolm? Can't engineering shut it down? Her knowledge of the warp engine and its support systems was rudimentary. She ran a new query, and muttered, "Shit," at the result that came back. The flow regulators were damaged. What did that mean in practical terms? Another cluster of queries answered that question.

Someone was going out for a walk right next to the fire, and she had a good guess who it would be.

She looked around and spotted Obundo, called him over. "I'm going to the Bridge. Keep an eye on things until I get back."

"Yes, ma'am."

"And ask Snider to come take a look at that comm panel. It's still cutting in and out."

She hobbled to the nearest turbolift. She waited impatiently, shifting her weight from one crutch to the other, willing the lift to hurry the hell up already. Finally, the door opened. Stepping in, she requested the Bridge and was carried upward at a painfully slow pace. Reed had gone by the time she arrived and she guessed he was with Commander Tucker, dealing with the leak. Only T'Pol seemed to notice her arrival, giving her a nod to let her know someone was aware of her presence, although no one had requested it and there was literally nothing she could do there. Cormack nodded back and took the seat at Tactical. At least this way she was at work and sitting down. It made for a pleasant change.

She sat listening with the rest of the bridge crew while Tucker and Reed updated them on their progress outside. She also listened to T'Pol and Sato, updating Archer on Trip and Malcolm's situation. None of it tallied well.

Hoshi spoke up sharply. "Captain, the temperature in Lieutenant Reed's suit is over 44 degrees."

"He's too close to the fire," said T'Pol. "His EV suit can't compensate."

"Malcolm, get back to the airlock," Archer ordered.

There was a pause long enough to make Cormack's stomach turn before Reed responded. "I'm almost finished, Captain."

"That's an order."

Tucker's voice came through the comm system. "Get inside, Malcolm. I can wrap it up."

Yes, Cormack urged silently. Listen to your partner if you won't listen to the captain.

It was too much to hope for.

"Forty-six degrees," announced Sato.

"Malcolm!" snapped Archer.

Reed's breath was ragged but he managed to reply. "I'm sorry, sir, you're breaking up."

"Liar," whispered Cormack, then shut her mouth tightly. A quick glance around assured her that no one had overheard her editorial remark. Cormack imagined both men on the hull of the ship, working against time in the heat of the plasma fire.

Tucker spoke. "I'm purging the last port."

"The forward valve is closed," T'Pol said.

The final instruction from Tucker: "Okay, Malcolm, clockwise 90 degrees." Silence, until: "Nice work, Malcolm."

Cormack let out the breath she only then realized she'd been holding, then drew another at Tucker's repeated, "Malcolm? Malcolm! Tucker to Doctor Phlox. Meet us in the airlock!"

Archer rushed to the turbolift, inviting Degra to follow with a glance. Cormack wanted to go with them, but even if it were appropriate, she was too slow right now to catch them. She was stuck with the others on the Bridge, left to wonder and worry.

*****

Cohn was in Sickbay when Tucker's hail came through. He and Phlox raced to meet the officers, finding Archer and the Xindi scientist had beaten them there. Already, Tucker had shed his own EV suit and he and the captain were working to get Reed out of his.

"What happened?" demanded Phlox, pulling a tricorder from a pocket and scanning Reed.

"Extended close exposure to a plasma fire," answered Archer. He pulled the bulk of the EV suit from Malcolm's feet and shoved it aside.

"We need to bring his body temperature down. Let's get him to Sickbay."

Archer gave them a hand getting Reed to his feet, and Cohn and Phlox supported the lieutenant from the room.

Reed's EV undersuit was soaked in sweat but his skin was hot and dry. His heartbeat raced and his breathing was quick and shallow. He was obviously disoriented. It didn't take a tricorder to diagnose heat stroke. Ari could see and feel all he needed to know as they assisted Reed along the corridor.

"Stay awake, Lieutenant," ordered Phlox, strain in his voice. Reed was practically a dead weight between the two men.

"Dizzy," protested Malcolm, he head lolling to one side despite his attempt to keep it upright. "Sick."

"Hang in there. We'll take care of it all soon," assured Cohn.

It took all their effort to keep the lieutenant from collapsing as they picked their way as quickly as possible through debris and work crews.

Among those crews, Lawless was working with Rivers to double check every plasma flow regulator on the ship. Tucker had made it clear he wanted no more surprises like the one last night. "The hell?" she exclaimed as the trio passed her. "What--?"

"Later," Ari grunted at her. The three men disappeared around a corner.

She looked at Rivers. "Any clue?"

He shrugged. "Right now, with the ship in the shape it's in, it could be any damn thing. As long as it's not a plasma flow regulator issue, I don't need to know."

"Commander Tucker came down hard on you, didn't he?"

"Yeah, well. He's stressed out and it was a bad scene. Crewman West could've died."

"But he didn't. Come on. Let's get this done so the commander has one less thing to stress about."

*****

It was a worn out little group that found itself coincidentally converged in the damaged Mess Hall in the wee small hours of the morning. Cormack, Lawless, and Cohn each arrived independently, not expecting to run into company but happy to find it. Most of the undamaged tables and chairs had been righted and the broken ones relegated to a corner to be dealt with when they had the luxury of fixing non-vital systems. They sat around a table near the windows, not that the scene outside had changed much of late, aside from the debris from the destroyed Reptilian vessel.

"I still can't believe Degra blew up on of his own people's ships," said Mae. She sipped at a mug of tea. She would've preferred coffee, but she needed to wind down and get some sleep, not wind up and get back to work.

"Believe it. I was in the Armory for the fight. Enterprise did not fire the kill shot." Stephanie sighed over her own mug of plain steamed milk. That was the best she could get at the moment. Honey and cinnamon were luxury items until the galley was back in working order.

"You should've been on the Bridge," declared Ari in frustration.

She looked at him, eyebrows raised, challenging. "Excuse me?"

"I'm not blaming you," he said hastily. "I just mean that Lieutenant Reed should have stayed longer in Sickbay instead of diving back into work. Heat stroke is no joke. He was seriously ill for a while there."

"Yeah," said Mae. "Commander Tucker was a bundle of laughs after that."

"Malcolm wasn't too keen, either," put in Stephanie.

"Of course," Mae agreed. "I just meant, between the ruptured plasma flow regulator that sent West to Sickbay, the warp plasma leak that had to be shut down from outside the ship, his partner nearly baking in an EV suit, and having the dude who designed the probe that killed his sister right here on the ship, the commander's had a hell of a couple of days."

The others could only agree, without even knowing the whole of it.

As the little group talked, sharing the latest from their respective departments, Tucker sat alone in his cabin. A letter of condolence to crewman Taylor's parents, freshly composed, glowed on the computer screen before him. A framed photo of his little sister, Elizabeth, lay beside him. He felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, from his heart. He still ached for his sister, so unfairly cut down so young. But for the first time in a very long time, he didn't feel as though the ache would choke him, drown him.

The cabin door opened and he looked over his shoulder to see Malcolm standing hesitantly in the doorway. "Is it all right if I come in?"

"You live here. Of course it is."

Malcolm entered enough for the door to shut behind him. He took in the scene with astute eyes and grasped the situation in a heartbeat. "T'Pol said I'd find you here."

"You asked her?"

"She told me. I don't entirely grasp Vulcan expressions, but at a guess I'd say she was concerned. She suggested you might appreciate my company."

Trip gently pushed the photo of Elizabeth aside and patted the bed next to him. "Sit down."

Malcolm sat beside him, not hesitant, not cautious, but expectant.

Minutes passed without either man moving or speaking, Malcolm waiting for Trip to take the lead, and Trip lost in abstract thought. Malcolm hoped he would speak before some new emergency drew one or both of them back to work.

"Have I ever told you about the time Elizabeth and I went diving at the Belize Barrier Reef?"

"No," answered Malcolm with a small shake of his head.

"It was the last summer before I joined Starfleet. We were on a big family vacation. All of us, even Jake and Ailish with their first kid, Marcella. She was just a baby, less than a year old." He inhaled through his nose and exhaled again, gathering his wandering thoughts. "I don't think I've ever seen anything so beautiful in my life, on Earth or off it. The colors, the sea life. It was Lizzie's idea to go, but my folks wouldn't let her go on her own even with a local dive master leading the trip. She didn't have to twist my arm to get me to come with her." He smiled at the memory as he went on, and Malcolm felt himself smiling, too.

Malcolm listened, caring as much what Trip said as that he was finally saying something. Beyond the occasional pained mention, he hadn't talked about Elizabeth in months. Not to Malcolm, anyway, and Malcolm guessed not to anyone--except perhaps the captain. Now, this story, so pure, so wonderful, meant so much more than either man could have anticipated.

Trip's eyes lit as he described the colorful coral reef and equally colorful fish that lived in and around it. He laughed, telling about a sea turtle that had surprised them as much as they'd surprised it. He smiled broadly as he spoke of descending past reef shark to swim among the stalactites within Belize's Great Blue Hole.

By the time he ran out of words, Trip was more exhausted than ever. The emotions he'd held so long in check had finally broken free. First his anger, lashed out at Degra. Then his pain, choked out to T'Pol. Now his love, poured out for Malcolm, who opened his heart to receive it, to share it, and to return it.

Trip leaned on Malcolm's shoulder and felt Malcolm's arm wrap around his shoulders, felt the hand that rubbed comfortingly up and down his arm. "That's nice," he murmured, his eyes falling shut.

It wasn't long before Malcolm recognized the deep breaths of sleep. He waited several minutes before extricating himself and gently lowering his partner to lie down, carefully moving the photo of Elizabeth back to the desk where it belonged, shifting Trip's feet up onto the bunk so he wouldn't wake up stiff and sore. More than anything, Malcolm wanted to put a Do Not Disturb order on both of their comms and lie down beside him. Instead, he set an alarm to chime in four hours and curled up on the loveseat. He drowsed there, watching Trip sleep, before finally drifting off.

*****

Maddy didn't usually schedule meetings for 2:00a.m. "Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures," she muttered as she wended her way through debris and work crews to Archer's cabin. Reaching it, she tried the chime, uncertain if it would work. It did and soon the captain opened the door and ushered her inside.

"Pardon the mess," he joked dryly.

Glancing around, she observed the room with a critical eye. "I suppose it will have to do." Then she turned to Archer, expression cracking into a smile. "I'm impressed, actually. It looks better than mine at the moment, and that's little to do with the damage we sustained."

"Have a seat." He gestured to the desk chair and took the spot on the bed, which he'd only vacated to answer the door. Porthos looked up from his own bed on the floor and his tail thumped in welcome to their visitor.

Maddy took a moment to pat his head and let him sniff her fingers before she sat down, setting the datapad she'd brought with her on the desk.

"Sorry to ask you to meet at this crazy hour."

"It's a crazy time," she replied. "And we've got a limited window to discuss our approach to the Council before we reach the meeting place."

"What did you make of our visitors?"

"Skeptical. Sincere. Wary. The fact that they listened means they both took us seriously."

"I'm not so convinced Jannar believed anything we had to say. It felt like he was deliberately looking for a way to disprove every piece of evidence we presented."

"I disagree. His questions suggest that he's willing to believe if only we can give him the evidence he, as a scientist, requires. I would be far more concerned if he hadn't had so many questions."

"Interesting perspective. What about Degra?"

"What about him?"

"What's your take on him?"

Maddy sat back, thinking about the best way to say what she thought. "He reminds me of Oppenheimer."

"You've lost me."

"Creator of the bombs dubbed Fat Man and Little Boy that the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending the Japanese threat in World War II."

"Yes," said Archer. "I'm familiar with that part of history. I meant, I don't follow the connection."

"Oppenheimer could have held no illusions about what he was in New Mexico to do. However, he was a scientist, and I imagine as a scientist he buried himself in the work. Perhaps he could convince himself of a purely scientific or possibly even humanitarian use for the fruits of his labor. One can be proud of one's accomplishments while at the same time abhorring how others utilize them. I admit my memory of World War II history is a bit sketchy, but if memory serves, he and other scientists on the project were appalled at the use of the second bomb dropped on Japan and filed a request that future nuclear weapons be banned."

"I don't believe Degra ever thought what he was designing was anything but a weapon of mass destruction."

"That doesn't preclude him having reservations about continuing after the first attack. Look at it this way, Captain. Are you happy with every decision you've made since entering the Expanse? Or do you have doubts about some the actions you've taken?"

Archer's face was stony, his jaw tight. "You know the answer to that."

"You did what you had to do. Every step of this mission, you've considered the options and made the choices you believed were necessary to save our world and our species. Degra's position is the same. The means and the results, the devastation, are on a different scale, of course, but the kernel of his motivation is exactly the same as yours."

Maddy waited silently to see what Archer would say when he came back from the fury she could read in the stiffness of his shoulders and the grim frown on his face. Little by little, she watched his tension and anger ease enough to allow him to consider her words with more logic than emotion. Clearly, three years serving with T'Pol had had its effect on him and she was grateful.

"Go on."

"You still doubt some of those choices, even knowing what you know. Consider that."

Archer nodded once and she continued.

"Degra's own doubts about the weapon existed before he ever met a human. He's admitted as much. Now, presented with the reality of us, the reality of Commander Tucker's personal loss and rage, and most damningly the reality of evidence that, while not proof, is solid enough that he cannot ignore it, how much harder for him must it be to cope, knowing what he's done?"

Archer was silent, considering for a long time. When he finally spoke, it was clear he was done discussing the parallels between himself and the creator of the probe that had killed seven million people. "How about the Aquatics?"

"Ents."

"Excuse me?"

She shook her head. "Sorry. I'm full of analogies tonight."

"No, go on. I'm curious. What is 'ents'?"

She hesitated then dove in with both feet. "They're sentient trees. Fictional, of course. What Degra said about the Aquatics... Slow to decide, slow to act. Extremely deliberate. Considering everything before making a move. It sounds like the Ents from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Of course, that makes us the hasty hobbits trying to convince them to join us, to act before it's too late."

"And how did that work out for the...hobbits?"

Now she smiled, lips pressed together, but curling up at the corners. "Surprisingly well, in fact. If you can keep your temper in check, and I can keep them engaged when they look to be withdrawing, we may win them over." Just like Merry and Pippin, she couldn't help adding--silently.

"We have to get to them first. I'm not thrilled about using the subspace corridor Degra told us about on our own." His shoulders slumped and he rested his elbows on his thighs, suddenly looking every one of his 41 years and ten more on top of them. "Our long-range sensors aren't at 100%. Guidance is still sketchy. Our engines are running on a stolen alien warp coil. What if we can't maintain warp long enough to get to the rendezvous? What if we veer off course and come out the side of the corridor somewhere along the way? That's all supposing we get past any Kovaalan ships patrolling the nebula. If anything goes wrong, we won't get there in time to speak to the Council at all."

"And if nothing goes wrong, it will be half a miracle. I understand, Captain, I truly do." She leaned forward so their eyes were on a level. "One could argue we've had our share of good fortune to still be flying at all. I say we've had more than our share of bad luck and it's time for it to turn in our favor. We will reach the Council planet. I'll be ready to face them when we do. Will you?"

Again, Archer was silent as the moments ticked by. This time, however, he wasn't seething internally. An air of determination suffused his manner and he sat up straight. Maddy matched him, holding his eye contact.

"I'll be ready."

*****

End Log 3:12
Completed 8 May 2018

Continued in Log 3:13
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