Log Rhythms - Season Three
Devastation. Eighty million kilometers of debris. The remains of a ruined world.
Too easy, Archer thought, angry and disappointed and so many other things. His voice was tight as he asked, "How long ago did this happen?"
T'Pol heard the barely contained emotion in the Captain's tone, and replied evenly, "Judging by the field dispersion, approximately one-hundred and twenty years."
"I'm pretty sure there was a population here, Captain," Trip said from the engineering station. "I'm picking up refined metals and traces of alloys." His voice grew quiet and intense. "And some of them match the hull of the Xindi probe."
The Xindi prisoner they'd taken from the trellium mines had fulfilled his promise. He had given them exactly what Archer had asked for. With his dying breath, he'd told Phlox the coordinates of his homeworld.
Archer discovered with bitter irony that this information was neither what he wanted nor what he needed.
Too easy. His internal voice was pained and pinched. He kept himself calm, began to postulate aloud. "They're building a weapon, planning to annihilate Earth because they think we're going to destroy their world in four-hundred years." He paced the bridge, almost storming the viewscreen as if he could intimidate it into giving him what he sought. His anger leaked out as he went on. "How is that possible if their world doesn't exist anymore? Hasn't existed for decades."
Tucker said nothing. Reed looked down at his tactical console, unable to think of an answer. Mayweather and Sato, too, were silent. It was T'Pol who responded in scientific fashion. She was accustomed to verbal discussion of theories and hypotheses.
"We know the probe that attacked Earth was built somewhere in this Expanse, and it was built recently. It's logical to assume the new weapon is being developed at the same location."
"But if it's not here " began Trip.
Archer crossed around the front of the helm station, ordering Mayweather as he went, "Prepare to go to warp four."
"What course, sir?" asked the helmsman.
Archer sat in the captain's chair, one hand on its arm, the other on his knee, and leaned forward. "Deeper into the Expanse."
Reed spoke up. "Long-range sensors are showing increasing numbers of spatial distortions." He looked across at the Captain.
Archer looked at him, and then away—acknowledging and ignoring in one movement. He turned back to Mayweather. "You heard me, Travis."
Without another word, Mayweather took the ship to warp.
Maggie entered the cabin she shared with Stephanie. Her bunkmate was there already. To Maggie's surprise, Stephanie was reading a hardbound book. She smiled a hello, not wanting to interrupt.
Stephanie looked up at her quizzically. "Is it that late already?" she asked. She glanced at the bedside chronometer. It was barely past 2200 hours. "No," she answered her own question. "You're back early."
Maggie shrugged. "Yeah." She sat on her bunk and pulled off her boots. Her evening with some of the other MACOs hadn't been as fun as she'd hoped, and it had ended on an unpleasant note.
"Everything okay?" Stephanie slipped a marker into her book and closed it on her lap. She hadn't known Maggie very long, but it wasn't tough to read her moods. The young MACO tended to wear her emotions close to the surface.
"Yeah, fine," Maggie replied unconvincingly. Then she went on. "I just got sick of listening to Ryan bragging about how he took out that guard at that trellium mine." She rose, put her boots away in her locker, and took out clean pajamas.
Stephanie rolled her eyes. "Is he still going on about that?" Maggie nodded. "What a sad little life he must have."
"I don't understand." She looked at Stephanie, confused.
"If that's the only thing he has to brag about, that's kind of sad. I heard it was an impressive shot, sure. But it's one shot, eh?" Stephanie's wry expression filled in any blanks that her words might leave behind.
Maggie smiled, pleased to have a fresh perspective on the subject. "I hadn't thought of it like that." While it wasn't necessarily a more charitable view, she preferred to think of Ryan as pathetic rather than as an asshole. She began to undress, sorting dirty clothes from those that could be worn again as she did. "What are you reading?" she asked her bunkmate, her curiosity getting the better of her. It was rare enough to see an old-fashioned book, but to see one as thick as the one on Stephanie's lap was almost unheard of in Maggie's experience.
Stephanie glanced at her book for no reason, and then looked back over at Maggie. "Shakespeare. The Winter's Tale."
Maggie pulled her pajama top over her head. "I don't know that one."
"It's a late one. Technically a romance. You know, not really fluffy enough to be a comedy, but with a happy ending."
"Oh." Maggie finished dressing for bed, disposing of her uniform into either the laundry or her locker.
Stephanie silently watched her, considering her options. Finally, she bit the bullet and asked, "So what are you doing next movie night?"
Maggie knew instantly what her bunkmate was leading up to. It wasn't the first time, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. It didn't happen often, so Maggie didn't mind. "I was planning on going to the movie, actually. It looks really good. I don't know who picks them, but I like their choice this time."
Stephanie was momentarily distracted by a sudden realization. "I don't know who's picking them. It used to be Commander Tucker."
"Why wouldn't he still be doing it?" asked Maggie, plopping down on her bunk facing the older woman.
"He " Stephanie tried to find a good way to put it, and then gave up. "His sister was killed in the Xindi attack. He isn't dealing well, and I don't think he's thinking about movie night these days."
"Oh." There wasn't really anything else to say. Maggie decided to go back to her bunkmate's almost-request. She turned a bright, slightly coy smile on the older woman. "I can stop for a drink after the movie if you and Ensign Fraser want an evening in."
Stephanie was relieved and a little embarrassed at the same time. She smiled gratefully. "That'd be great. Thanks." She hated having to ask her bunkmate to vacate the room, but with Ari and Mae apparently on the outs, there was nowhere else comfortable for Bonnie and her to go. Not that they didn't both like the occasional thrill of meeting somewhere they might get caught; there was definitely something to be said for a tryst in the shower or some little-used storeroom. But that wasn't what either of them wanted all the time. Maybe I should have asked Bonnie to move in with me when Liz and Travis got married. But she knew she'd made the right choice by waiting. She could live with the inconvenience for a while.
"Have a drink on me," she quipped. "Remind me and I'll give you my alcohol ration code."
"You don't have to do that," protested Maggie.
"No, but I choose to. You just have to remind me, because I probably won't remember. Hey," Stephanie went on, "we're having a chicks' poker night next week. You should join us."
"Thanks, but I think I'll pass." Maggie appreciated the invitation, but she wasn't sure if she was ready to hang out with fleeters in her recreational time. It didn't seem right somehow. She rose, went to her locker, and pulled out her small toiletries bag.
Stephanie put on a cajoling tone. "You're sure? There's chocolate involved."
Maggie shot her a smile on her way to the lav. She did love chocolate. "Tempting, but I'm not much good at card games."
"All the better," joked Stephanie with a smile.
Maggie laughed. "For you, maybe. Thanks anyway."
"Okay. We'll be at Liz's place a week from Thursday if you change your mind."
Maggie doubted she would, but replied, "I'll keep it in mind." Nothing was impossible, after all. She took her toiletries into the lav as Stephanie turned back to her reading.
"May I join you?" Phlox smiled hopefully down at the seated T'Pol.
She didn't set aside her datapad, but she knew from experience he was unlikely to go away no matter what she said, so she nodded. "Of course."
He set down his plate and a strong aroma wafted up from it. T'Pol fought to keep her expression carefully schooled. He'd chosen one of the two vegetarian dinner entrées—the one she had bypassed for the milder, if still hopelessly human, curried lentil soup with lime.
"Doesn't the eggplant parmesan smell lovely?" Phlox asked eagerly. He took a bite and if possible his expression grew even more rapturous.
"I find that Italian cuisine doesn't agree with my digestion," she replied. She returned her attention to her pad and her soup.
"Mm, hot!" He swallowed his bite, and chased it with iced tea. "Delicious! How's the soup?"
"It's fine, thank you."
Phlox tore a crusty roll in two, scattering small crumbs like a halo around his plate. "Hm, messy," he commented happily, dipping half of the roll into the rich and cheesy tomato sauce. Every new culinary experience was a delight to the Denobulan. Even after all his time spent among humans, there were always new foods to explore. The sight, aroma, taste, and texture were a source of excitement and discovery on a nearly daily basis.
Phlox continued to alternately eat and talk. "Reading something interesting?"
"I'm reviewing the data from the examination of the Xindi weapon."
"Ah, yes. I've spent a number of hours studying the data on its pilot. I wish we knew more about their psychology, but unfortunately that's not something a forensics report can tell us. The Xindi prisoner Captain Archer and Commander Tucker rescued from that mine could have been so helpful." There was obvious disappointment in his tone, and his face grew briefly somber. Losing patients was inevitable, but that didn't mean he had to like it. Still, there was nothing to do but move on. He speared a piece of steamed broccoli in cheddar sauce and popped it into his mouth. His face lit up again instantly. "Mm!" he exclaimed. He gave T'Pol an almost conspiratorial look. "I'm exploring cheeses tonight. Did you know there's even a cheesecake for dessert?"
"I didn't look."
He went on, undaunted by her reticence. "It looks quite interesting. There are brightly colored berries in syrup on top."
Finally T'Pol conceded the losing battle and set aside her datapad. "Fascinating," she deadpanned.
"So," Phlox said now that he'd gained her full attention. "How are you adjusting to your new role as Science Specialist?"
"My job is the same as it's always been. No adjustment has been necessary."
"Ah, but you're no longer the ship's First Officer."
"I am aware of it," T'Pol replied dryly, "but very little has actually changed beyond the official command structure." She didn't bother to add that Archer still reguarly left her in charge of the bridge when he had work to do elsewhere.
Phlox once again shifted his attention to his food, and T'Pol presumed it meant the end of the conversation. She reached for her datapad, but before she could even find her place on the screen, he spoke again. "The Vulcans provided some intriguing information on the Delphic Expanse, didn't they?"
"Intriguing?" She picked up her spoon. If she couldn't read, she could still eat her dinner.
"Well, yes. I found it intriguing, if unfortunately limited."
"All the information we're working on for this mission is limited." Her tone of voice bordered on annoyed. It wasn't lost on Phlox.
"It's a bit frustrating for someone whose work revolves around collecting data and proving or disproving theories," he opined sympathetically.
"Indeed." She thought back to the disturbing footage from the Vaankara. It had been in her thoughts regularly since she'd first seen it, and particularly recurrent since Enterprise had entered the Expanse. All the theories in the galaxy couldn't conclusively explain what had happened to that crew, what had turned them into the mindless and violent creatures she'd seen on the screen. The only way she could ever know was by exploring the Delphic Expanse, and even that was no guarantee she'd find the answer.
"I've, hm, seen the Vaankara footage, by the way," Phlox said, uncannily following her train of thought. "Captain Archer thought it wise should we encounter anything, ehh, similar."
No sign of discomfort showed on T'Pol's face. "That was a sensible decision on his part."
"What did you think of it? The transmission, that is."
"I found it unsettling."
"Naturally, naturally!" Phlox nodded. "Who wouldn't?"
T'Pol finished her soup. "If you'll excuse me, Doctor," she said as she rose. "I have a great deal of work to do."
"Of course." Phlox nodded again, unoffended by her abrupt departure. "Have a pleasant evening."
"Thank you." She picked up her pad and her tray of dirty dishes. With a calm, "Good evening," she left the table.
T'Pol deposited her tray with the other dirty dishes and strode out of the mess hall. Phlox's talk of the fate of the Vaankara bothered her more than she cared to admit even to herself. She decided that rather than continuing her studying immediately, a bit of meditation would be wise. She headed to her cabin, already beginning the silent mantra that would help to focus her mind.
Fraser tried and failed not to yawn as she rose from the helm, relinquishing the seat to her Alpha shift replacement.
"Rough night?" Mayweather asked.
"Not rough," she replied. "Just long and dull. I suppose I should be glad."
He smiled sympathetically and sat down. Fraser went to the turbolift and hailed it, nodding a good morning greeting to T'Pol as she passed the Science Specialist.
The turbolift opened and Sato stepped out. "Morning," she smiled to the waiting helmsman.
"Morning," echoed Fraser less enthusiastically as she stepped into the lift. "Hey," she added, placing a hand over the door to keep it from closing. "You in for poker night?"
"Sure. I'll be there."
"Great! See you later." The doors shut and Fraser was whisked away.
Sato relieved Donnelly of the comm chair. "Anything new to report?"
"Nah. It was dead quiet all night."
"I suppose that's good."
He looked doubtful. "I suppose. See you tomorrow."
He departed and Sato turned to T'Pol. "Is the Captain in yet?"
"Yes. He has a meeting with Negotiator Reed first thing this morning." It didn't take a master at communication to tell that Madeline was late, and that T'Pol was unimpressed.
Sato turned her attention to her instruments. "Yes, ma'am," she said, happy to end the brief conversation.
At that moment, the turbolift opened once more and both Negotiator and Lieutenant Reed emerged from it. The tension between them was carefully suppressed, but T'Pol and Sato could feel it. It puzzled Hoshi. From her own experience with Madeline, she was sure the woman all but idolized her older brother. She was equally sure that Malcolm loved his sister in return, even if he wasn't so quick to show it. Without any siblings of her own, she had a hard time understanding the family dynamics between them. It was easier for her to interpret the body language of a room full of Kreetassans.
Neither Reed said a word to the other as Malcolm took his station and Madeline rang the chime to the Captain's ready room. Once she'd stepped inside, Malcolm visibly relaxed. It was tiny, but it was notable. Hoshi promised herself to delve a bit deeper into what was up. She smiled to herself as an idea occurred to her.
I wonder if Madeline likes poker.
Deep, cold, enveloping blackness. She looked around, but it was like being in an old-fashioned photographer's darkroom with the safety lights off. Her eyes ached with trying to see anything in the utter darkness.
Light flashed suddenly and she winced, wide-open pupils contracting with painful swiftness. Another flash of white-hot light, and then another. The light strobed, blinding her more effectively even than the heavy darkness. Her head throbbed with each flare, and she shut her eyes tightly. It didn't help. The whiteness was so bright it cut through the shadow of her eyelids.
She opened her eyes again, squinting and searching for somewhere safe from the light.
Another blaze flashed before her and she gasped. A twisted alien face glared at her furiously in the brief, fiery strike. By sheer instinct she ducked his first blow, aimed directly at her face. But the darkness and light were too much, and she never saw his elbow as it came around to slam sharply into her temple.
Stephanie awoke with a feeling like an ice pick being stabbed through one side of her skull. Her eyes hurt and her head ached to the beat of her pulse.
Shit, she thought. She half rose, half fell from her bunk, stumbling as bare feet hit the floor.
Across the small cabin, Maggie stirred in her bed and rose up on one elbow. "Stephanie?" she asked softly.
"Yeah," grunted her ailing roommate. "Sorry. Go back to sleep." She used the wall to hold herself up, and reached a hand into the lav to turn the light on to its lowest setting. Even that made her wince and squint as the light seemed to flare in front of her oversensitised eyes.
"Are you okay?" asked Maggie, sitting upright now.
"Migraine," was Stephanie's answer through tightly clenched teeth. "I'll be okay. I just need meds."
Maggie shoved back the blankets and started to rise. "Do you need help?"
Stephanie forestalled her with a hand. "I can do it, thanks." She stepped into the lav and found the first-aid kit. It took several moments for her aching eyes to find what she sought, but she did. Pressing the hypo against her neck, she injected a dose of analgesic into her system. She closed her eyes, waiting for relief. In moments, her muscles relaxed and the pounding and slicing pain in her head faded. She took a deep breath and let it out in a relieved sigh.
Maggie watched her curiously, a dark memory making her stomach turn uneasily. "Are you sure you're all right?" Her tone was worried and uncertain.
Stephanie put away the hypospray and then the first-aid kit. "Yeah, thanks," she replied. She turned off the lav light and returned to her bunk. She sat down, still shaky but regaining her equilibrium. "That wasn't nearly as bad as the last time, and I caught it quicker."
"Last time?" Maggie couldn't see her roommate's expression in the dim starlight, but Stephanie's voice sounded calm and easy when she replied. Oddly, the quiet tone set off alarm bells in the younger woman's mind.
"Yeah. That one was really bad. Took two doses to kill it."
Maggie's concern grew and she frowned in the darkness. She'd recognized behavior in Stephanie that disturbed her—behavior she'd seen in her little brother, but only recognized after it was too late. That experience made her acutely aware of it in others. "Wow. That must've been really bad. I " She hesitated. When she'd arrived on Enterprise, Maggie had checked out everything in the cabin short of invading her new bunkmate's privacy. It was her standard practice to memorize her surroundings and their contents. She never knew when it might be necessary to find her way in absolute darkness, and she believed in being prepared. As a result, she knew how potent the analgesic doses in the first-aid kit were. She dared another comment. "Those meds in the kit are really strong."
"Not nearly strong enough, if you ask me."
Maggie heard sheets ruffle and could see Stephanie's silhouette as she laid back down and pulled the covers over herself. Maggie wasn't quite so ready to go back to sleep. She hated to pry, but she felt compelled. "What happened last time?"
"Last time you had a migraine. What made it so bad?"
There was a pause as Stephanie thought about it. She frowned, although her bunkmate couldn't see it. "I don't know. I was dreaming. It was like a B-movie with flying saucers and laser beams—all in black and white. I don't really remember. And then when I woke up, I thought I was gonna die." She yawned. The intense pain and its quick relief made her sleepy; it was an extreme change for a body to go through in a very short time.
"Does it happen often?"
"No." Stephanie yawned again. "Last time was in April. Before that, it was years ago."
"I mean, I wonder why it came back then, is all." Maggie laid down on her side and pulled up the blankets, still looking at the other woman across the little room. She felt better now, too, her concern at Stephanie's behavior ebbing with each answer she received.
Stephanie's reply was flat and heavy, but Maggie put it down to sleepiness. "Yeah. Weird. Good night."
Stephanie laid there, staring at the ceiling and thinking about what Maggie had said. She knew suddenly why that other migraine had come when it had. Why didn't I think of it before? she wondered silently. Why didn't Bonnie? Neither of us made the connection. Then a thought occurred to her. Or maybe Bonnie did, but she didn't want to say anything. If it were true, she could hardly blame her lover for not mentioning it. She knew how Stephanie disliked any talk of her so-called clairvoyance. The talent, as Doctor Douglas had once called it, had never foretold anything good. Just the opposite, in fact. And the connection between her dream of an alien invasion and the Xindi attack on Earth only confirmed it. She couldn't believe she'd never thought of it before.
But tonight's dream What had it been? She thought hard, but the images were scattered, fragmented. All she could see were extremes of light and dark. She thought maybe there'd been someone there, but the memory was gone. She yawned hugely and rolled over to face the wall. In spite of her spinning thoughts, sleep came quickly.
Trip scrubbed both palms over his face. He was tired beyond all definitions of tired. Even Malcolm's nightly foot rubs were only marginally effective in helping him sleep. He was lucky to get more than an hour or two a night, and that was usually upset by dreams. And now, on top of everything else, a spatial anomaly had caused half the plasma relays in the warp engine to reverse polarity. He and crewman Fuller had managed to shut down the reactor safely, but the damage was done. Anomalies all across the ship left Enterprise running on emergency power with primary systems off-line. They were stuck defenseless and with a maximum speed of one-quarter impulse until repairs were complete.
Trip stared at the mess before him and sighed heavily. He turned to Fuller. "Let's get to it. We've got a lot of work to do."
When Mayweather announced a disabled and drifting ship nearby, Reed knew what the Captain's response would be. He didn't have to wait long to be proved correct. In spite of the need for every available pair of hands to work on repairs, he, Archer, and three of the MACOs were in EV suits and onboard Shuttlepod One and headed to the derelict within the hour. What they discovered there wasn't encouraging.
Kemper found the first body. It floated out at him unexpectedly when he forced open a hatchway that appeared to lead to crew quarters. The sergeant kept his cool admirably, but Reed knew what it was like to come across such unpleasant surprises. He didn't envy the other man.
They reached the bridge to find more corpses floating in the null gravity. It brought back a sharp, disturbing memory and Reed had to pause a moment to get a hold of himself. He shoved down the memory and continued with his task, scanning the area for anything that could lead him to the ship's computer.
In the end they counted seventeen corpses. It was obvious the ship and its crew had been attacked. Several of the bodies showed evidence of particle weapon fire. The rest had died when their life support ran out. The species was entirely unfamiliar, but hopefully the files Reed managed to download from their bridge computer would tell them who these people were and exactly what had happened to them.
The atmosphere in the shuttlepod was quiet and intense as Reed piloted them back to Enterprise.
Mayweather acknowledged the Captain's order and closed the comm line. He laid in their previous course and headed out at one-quarter impulse. It felt like a snail's pace to the boomer. He glanced over his shoulder at Sato, and her look said it all.
"We might as well walk," she said softly, although there was no one else on the bridge to overhear them.
He nodded and turned back to the helm. He didn't like the situation at all, but he agreed with Archer's decision. Better to make repairs as they went rather than waiting around for whoever attacked the other ship to come back.
Tucker leaned heavily on the wall as he spoke to Lawless through the comm. "All right. I'll take a look at it myself as soon as I get a chance. Meantime, just patch it up as best you can, and then you and Kelly go get some sleep."
"Yes, sir," came Mae's tired reply.
Trip closed the comm and stole a moment to simply stand still. From where he stood, he could see Fuller and Rostov on the upper level working hard. He could even make out their quiet conversation in the otherwise empty engine room. Rostov left Fuller, heading to the opposite end of the big room. Tucker pushed away from the wall, and suddenly all hell broke loose.
Tactical Alert sirens blared throughout the ship.
"Hayes to Bowman and Romero!"
"Here, sir," the young woman responded immediately, her words overlapping with Romero's through the comm line.
"Intruders in the cargo bays. Now!" barked their commander. The line closed as they replied. Clearly Hayes had others to contact.
Maggie donned her vest and boots in a blur, all traces of her usual sweetness subsumed by her professionalism. She strapped her gunbelt around her slim hips and grabbed the weapon itself from its secured locker.
In the small cabin they shared, Stephanie couldn't help but witness the call that went out to her bunkmate, and wondered why she didn't receive a similar one from her own C.O. She responded anyway, jumping from her bunk and yanking on her coveralls. At that moment her own call came through from Reed.
"Intruders in the armory," he informed her sharply. "Get there."
"On my way."
Four armed alien intruders appeared out of a shimmering yellow-green light, and Tucker immediately understood why the Captain had been so intent on getting tactical systems back online. They shot crewman Fuller before Trip could even move. He fell from the catwalk, hitting the deck with a sickening thud. On the catwalk above Tucker, Rostov ran for cover. He barely avoided several bursts from an energy rifle before one caught him in the shoulder and he went down. It was the distraction Trip needed. He climbed quickly to the top of the dark warp reactor, out of sight of the raiders.
Trip watched in silent fury as they began to collect up essential equipment and pile it together as if they were on a shopping trip to the local parts supply store. He knew he had to choose his moment carefully. There were four of them and they were armed. He reached down, happy for once to see that someone had carelessly left a hyperspanner lying about on top of the reactor. It made a tiny scraping noise as he picked it up.
The alien at the computer console below him looked around. He'd obviously heard the sound and moved to investigate. Tucker almost smiled as the man rounded the end of the reactor, taking him out of view of his friends. Trip crept along silently above until the intruder was in just the right position, and then he leapt. He took the intruder down, but the man quickly regained his feet. Trip's first swing went over the man's head as he ducked, but the second blow was better aimed. The spanner smashed into the alien's left shoulder, sending him reeling into another computer console. Trip was right behind him, ready with a sharp uppercut that knocked the alien on his back, unconscious, right next to the fallen Fuller.
The noise of the fight attracted the other raiders' attention. With their comrade out of the way, the three remaining aliens fired at Tucker. He dodged their shots and leapt to the reactor control. He slammed the reactor on, causing lightning-like sparks to shoot out sideways from it and ground through the metal catwalk and anything else they could. The aliens were forced to duck down to avoid getting electrocuted. But it was a stopgap at best; Tucker couldn't hold them there forever.
At that moment, Reed burst through an upper door followed closely by Trooper Woods. He quickly assessed the situation and knelt on the catwalk, firing at the intruders. Woods threw himself down next to him and joined in the fight. Phase-pistol and -rifle fire connected with the surges coming from the reactor, sparking and exploding in spectacular fashion.
The three aliens hunched down and one reached an arm to his sleeve. In a moment, they and their looted goods shimmered and vanished, transported back to their own vessel. Trip shut down the reactor and looked up at Malcolm. He saw that Reed was unhurt, and a wave of relief so strong it was almost jarring struck him. Momentarily unable to speak, he nodded up at the other man.
Reed's heart still raced with adrenaline as he called down, "Are you all right?" He hurried towards the nearest ladder down to the lower level. Trooper Woods followed wordlessly.
Trip took a deep breath. "Yeah." He nodded again as Malcolm reached him. "Yeah, and I’ve got you a prisoner," he said with grim satisfaction.
Tucker's satisfaction at capturing one of the invaders was quickly eclipsed. It would take Phlox's autopsy to know if crewman Fuller had died from the disrupter blast or the fall from the catwalk, but Tucker didn't really care which it was. One of his people was dead. That was what mattered. It was one more reason to hate the Expanse and everything that came from it.
He embraced his anger at the young man's useless demise. It was the fuel that kept him going, and he needed it. He'd thought there was a lot of work to do earlier. There was much, much more now.
The raiders had appeared all over the ship, striking with uncanny accuracy. Archer was certain they must have used their sensors to pinpoint where the most useful supplies could be found, and then transported their parties over accordingly. There was nothing he or the crew could have done to prevent the intrusion. The attack was quick, but the damage was extensive.
When the tedious job of inventory was done, the list of missing items was long. The raiders had made off with three photonic torpedoes, a case of plasma rifles, two-dozen stun grenades, half the food stores, and everything out of Cargo Bay Two. Worse than that, they'd taken all the anti-matter storage pods. All that Enterprise had left was what was in the main reactor, and that wouldn't last more than another month.
Archer paced his ready room and mulled over what he'd learned from the prisoner, an Osaarian named Orgoth. Orgoth had been far too relaxed as Archer glared at him through the cell door, demanding answers. He'd gotten some, but not enough. He knew from Phlox that the Osaarians weren't native to the Expanse. Orgoth had told him a sob story about looking for trade routes and becoming trapped. He claimed that the only other Osaarian ship was destroyed trying to return back through the thermobaric cloud layer and the remaining ship was forced into piracy to survive.
It might all be true, but Archer found it difficult to give a damn. He needed to find the Osaarians, and he needed to do it quickly. But they were masking their ion trail, and he'd been unable to learn how to track them.
Orgoth's smug expression hung in Archer's mind and he scowled fiercely. The pirate's casually superior attitude and refusal to cooperate infuriated him. There had been a moment during the interrogation when Archer wanted to tear open the cell door and smack that knowing smirk right off of Orgoth's twisted face. It had taken a great deal of self-control to stop himself doing just that. Am I really that ready to beat information out of someone I don't even know? he wondered. Jon didn't like to think of the implications, and his stomach sickened slightly in agreement.
He had learned something useful, though, without having to resort to force. The damage to Orgoth's face had been caused by a spatial anomaly. Until hearing that, Archer had harbored the hope that the anomalies only affected non-living matter. He was distressed but not surprised to learn otherwise. Fortunately there was a solution. Ships traveling in the Expanse used trellium-D to insulate themselves against the spatial anomalies. He only hoped there were more reputable suppliers of the stuff than the trellium mine boss who had tried to abduct Enterprise's crew.
The comm chirped suddenly and T'Pol hailed him to the bridge. She and Sato were working non-stop to decipher the database Reed had downloaded. It turned out that the other aliens had found a way to trace the Osaarians' trail, but their life support ran out before they could even begin. T'Pol immediately gave the sensor modification instructions to Mayweather.
Archer headed down to the armory. The tactical systems were still undergoing repairs, and they needed to be ready for a fight when they found the Osaarians. Hull plating was back up and phase-cannons would be next, but he knew Reed could use all the help he could get. Archer had ordered Trip to get those systems back up, but there was only so much his team could do at one time. Their resources were split between engineering and tactical. One more pair of hands could only speed up the process, and Archer knew he wouldn't be able to relax until the job was done.
He entered the armory and looked around. Reed and Cormack huddled together at the main control console, while two crewmen worked at a secondary console. He guessed the latter pair were finishing repairs to the phase-cannons, and so headed instead towards Reed.
"I hear you're having trouble with the torpedoes," Archer said as he approached them. Reed looked up, surprised by the Captain's unexpected arrival. "I thought you might be able to use another pair of hands."
"Yes, sir," replied the lieutenant with a nod. "We're having difficulty modifying the guidance systems to compensate for the anomalies."
"So I heard." Archer didn't add that this was exactly what T'Pol had told him. Not for the first time, he noted how his Tactical Officer and Science Specialist tended to think alike. Both were naturally cautious, detail oriented, and very private people. The incongruous thought crossed his mind that it was a wonder Malcolm had been drawn to Trip rather than T'Pol. Once more proving the old saying that opposites attract. Aloud, he asked simply, "What can I do to help?"
Reed gave a small nod of thanks. "The passive and semi-active targeting sensors are the problem. Ensign Cormack and I are trying to modify them to identify targets despite interference from any spatial anomalies. Unfortunately there's no predictable pattern to the anomalies or their affect on various objects."
"T'Pol's team is working on that," Archer said.
Again Reed nodded. He had assumed T'Pol had the matter in hand, but like everyone else she was constrained by linear time. There was only so much she and her team could do and only so fast they could work. "If you could monitor the systems' response from here, it would allow both Cormack and me to do the hands-on work inside." He indicated an open section of bulkhead with a tilt of his head.
"If you don't mind, Lieutenant, I'd like to do the hands-on work." Archer's need to be helpful went beyond simply monitoring systems. He needed to do something more active, even if it meant crawling through jefferies tubes.
"Yes, sir." Reed had no objections; in fact he preferred the arrangement the Captain suggested. Normally he liked to work on the systems himself, but in this case it would help him to oversee everything rather than focus on individual elements. It also left him readily available should crewmen Namod and Nahai need his help with the phase-cannons. He handed Archer a communicator, which the Captain tucked into his sleeve pocket.
At the same time, Cormack picked up the toolbox at her feet. She exchanged a nod with her immediate C.O., and then she and Archer headed into the crawlspace behind the bulkhead. She wasn't entirely comfortable clambering around the small space with the Captain, but she refused to let it slow her down. They had a job to do, and her baseless uneasiness wouldn't help.
They reached their destination, and Archer pulled the communicator from his pocket. "Archer to Reed. We're in position."
"Aye, sir," Reed responded.
They were in a relatively large area, considering. Both of them could stand upright and turn around. It would be tight, but they could manage. Cormack set down the toolkit and opened it. "Choose your weapon, sir," she quipped, trying to ease her own discomfort.
Archer gave her a small smile of encouragement. Despite his informal command style he didn't directly interact with all the crew regularly. He knew his presence could sometimes make people uncomfortable. "This is your domain, Ensign. I leave that decision to you."
She smiled back, a tired but gratified smile. She pulled out a circuit probe and a micro-caliper. "In that case, you get the micro-caliper. I hate taking measurements."
He chuckled and took the tool from her. "Fair enough."
Cormack entered the darkened mess hall. It was late, well into Gamma shift, and she hadn't taken a break since lunch. Reed had ordered her to eat something and get some rest while he and Archer finished up. She doubted she'd find much sustenance at that hour, but she was hungry, and there was no reason to disobey his order. Things were under control in the armory, even if the repairs weren't entirely complete.
She peered into the cabinets that held the leftovers from that day. Nothing appealed, but her stomach growled so she chose a plate with some sort of sandwich on it. Then she got an empty glass and filled it with water.
As she turned towards the tables, she started. She'd thought she was alone, but someone was sitting in the far corner sipping at a steaming mug. It took her a moment to realize who it was. She walked quietly across the room and slid into the chair across from her friend, setting her plate and glass on the table.
"Hey," Stephanie said quietly, as if they were in a library rather than the mess hall.
"Hey," echoed Mae.
Stephanie took a bite of her sandwich and frowned. The lettuce was limp, and the bread had gone slightly stale. She set the sandwich down and took a swallow of water. "How are you?" she asked finally.
Mae shrugged. "Tired. How about you?" She looked across at her friend, and Stephanie was struck by the dark circles under her eyes.
"I was gonna say 'tired', but looking at you I think I'm feeling pretty damned perky by comparison."
"Thanks." Mae's tone was flat.
Stephanie tried another tack. "I heard about Fuller." Mae only nodded. "I'm sorry. I didn't know him very well."
"Neither did I. He only transferred on when we were home last time. He came on straight from Starfleet R and D with the new torpedoes."
"Oh. I guess that explains why he knew those systems so well."
"Liz said Rostov and Griffith are going to be okay. That's something." Both men had suffered serious injuries from the Osaarian disrupters.
"Yeah," Mae said again. "Something."
They sat in silence for a while. Stephanie choked down a few more bites of her sandwich and Mae continued to sip thoughtfully at her drink.
"What're you drinking?" Cormack asked, more for the sake of breaking the silence than anything else.
"Decaf latté," was Mae's brief answer.
They fell silent once more, but this time Stephanie couldn't face any more of her meal. She nursed her glass of water, but it could only last so long. Finally, her glass empty, she broke the silence once more. "I guess I'll try to get some sleep." She hoped her friend would get the hint and follow her lead.
Mae glanced at her and nodded, but she didn't show any sign of leaving. "Good night."
Stephanie hesitated. "Are you okay?" she asked, a concerned frown on her face.
Mae didn't answer immediately, and for a moment Stephanie thought she was actually going to talk to her. But she was wrong. "Yeah. I'm fine."
"Okay." Stephanie rose, taking her plate and glass with her. "I'll see you later."
"See you later."
Cormack bussed her dishes, filled a mug with hot milk to help her sleep, and reluctantly left the mess hall.
Tucker entered the mess hall, unsurprised to find it empty. He had no way of knowing that he'd missed running into Lawless by only a few minutes. He got himself a mug of coffee and sat down, spreading out the multiple datapads he'd brought with him. He hoped a change of scenery would help him focus and find the answers he needed. The anomalies that appeared to litter the Expanse defied all explanation. The Cochrane Equation wasn't constant here and no matter what he tried he couldn't compensate for the quantum variables. He doubted Zephram Cochrane himself could have made sense of it. Maybe he could, he thought bleakly, if he had Hawking, Einstein, and Newton to help him.
He rested his head on his balled-up fist and stared at the datapads. He was exhausted, but there wasn't time to sleep even if he could. There had to be an answer. He must just be missing it.
Reed found him there by chance. "You finished rewriting the physics books?" he asked as he got himself a mug of hot black tea.
"I don't think I'll be taking home the Nobel Prize any time soon," Trip replied grimly.
Malcolm took his tea and crossed to where his lover sat. "A few hours rest would do you a world of good." He sat down.
"No kidding," sighed Trip.
"I'm sorry I've not been more help."
Trip shook his head. "It's not your fault. You tried."
"I'll keep trying as long as you'll let me."
Trip looked across at Malcolm. He knew his partner was sincere, but he didn't know if he could stand much more of Malcolm's help when it was only marginally effective. He decided to change the subject. "How are the weapons coming?"
Malcolm recognized the deflection tactic, but let it slide. "The Captain and I managed to bring the guidance systems on-line, but I'm going to need more time for the aft launchers. Fuller knew those torpedo systems better than anyone. He won't be easy to replace." He went on in a quiet, somber tone. "Considering all the hostile aliens we've met, I suppose it's fortunate that we haven't lost more people." Malcolm took a sip of his tea.
"I doubt he'll be the last," said Trip bitterly.
Malcolm was surprised. Despite everything, he'd never thought he would hear such a pessimistic statement come out of Tucker's mouth. "There's no reason to get cynical," he said, recognizing the irony of the words coming from him.
Trip looked at him intently, and Malcolm could see the exhaustion in his face. He looked more than tired; he looked world-weary and old. "Every species we run into seems to be gunning for us," Trip said. "We might as well paint a giant bull's-eye on the hull."
"What do you suggest we do? Turn around and go back to Earth?" countered Malcolm.
Tucker shook his head. He didn't have an answer. "All I'm saying is that this mission, whether it succeeds or not, is looking more like a one-way ticket all the time."
Malcolm felt like he'd been sucker-punched in the gut. On top of everything else he'd been through that day, it was almost more than he could take. He rose abruptly. "I need to get back to the armory."
Trip just nodded once and turned his attention back to the line of pads that stared bluely back at him from the tabletop. Without another word, Reed took his tea and left.
Catching up to the Osaarians wasn't at all what Archer had anticipated. Four hours of tracking them led Enterprise to a dead end and a puzzle. The ion trail simply stopped, and then picked up again 70,000 kilometers farther on. Stranger than that, the trail they'd followed was eight hours older than the second trail. There was no sign of the Osaarian ship.
"Bring weapons online," Archer ordered Reed. He turned to Mayweather at the helm. "Take us to where the first trail ends."
Soon the ship began to shake.
"Travis?" Archer asked, crossing to stand next to the helm.
"I'm not reading anything," Mayweather replied, perplexed. They continued forward, the turbulence increasing with each kilometer.
"Power's fluctuating," announced Reed from tactical. Screens flickered all around the bridge and a computer panel near him sparked and flared. "Forward plating's down."
"Micro-fractures are forming on the outer hull," T'Pol said. "We should come about."
Archer spoke through gritted teeth as the console behind Reed flared again. "Keep going."
An anomaly rippled through the port bulkhead, and then suddenly everything was calm. They all stared at the viewscreen where a huge silver sphere, like a manufactured planetoid, hung alone in space. Its surface was mapped out in straight lines and sharp angles, like a grayscale aerial photograph of prairie farmland. But instead of square and rectangular plots, the sections were all rhomboid, triangular, or randomly asymmetrical. It was at once both fascinating and disturbing.
"T'Pol," said Archer tightly.
She understood the question without his having to ask. "It's approximately nineteen kilometers in diameter," she replied.
"Ever seen anything like it?"
"No." Her scans came back with preliminary results at that moment. She sounded almost surprised as she passed the information on to the others. "It's constructed entirely of a single alloy."
"Who could build something that big?" marveled Reed.
Archer couldn't tear his eyes from the screen. "Take us in closer."
Sensors couldn't penetrate the sphere, but it didn't take long to find the Osaarians' entrance into it. As T’Pol remarked, polyduranium was easy to spot when everything around it was entirely different in metallurgical composition. And it matched the Osaarians' hull. The hatch was too small for Enterprise to fit through, but a shuttlepod had plenty of clearance.
Cormack met Reed on his way to suit up for the mission. "Sir, shall I assemble a team to accompany you?" It was obvious she expected an affirmative answer. Her expression indicated that she had also expected to be contacted earlier, and wondered why she hadn't.
"I've already selected one, Ensign," Reed replied. He went on, knowing she wouldn't like what he had to say. "Kemper, Hawkins, and McKenzie will accompany the Captain, Travis, and me into the sphere."
"Sir?" Her tone was questioning, just on the regulation side of challenging.
Reed stopped despite his hurry, and Cormack came to a halt beside him. He knew she wasn't happy; he wasn't especially happy either. However, even he had to admit there was something to Major Hayes's early argument. He voiced it now. "The MACOs are trained for just this sort of task," he said. "I need you and the rest of the security team to protect the ship from within should the Osaarians return while we're still inside the sphere."
Cormack pursed her lips in displeasure, but she saw the logic in his words. "Yes, sir. We'll be ready."
"Good." Reed nodded once and continued to the staging room.
Cormack watched him until one of the MACOs passed her, heading in the same direction. She recognized McKenzie, and nodded once to the woman before turning around and heading to the bridge.
After wandering uselessly through several rooms of stem-bolts and other unhelpful items, the away team found what they sought. Reed gave a grim smile as he picked up a Starfleet ration pack. "We're on the right track," he commented with satisfaction to Kemper.
Archer hailed the ship. "Send over another search party," he told T'Pol. "The faster we find our stuff and get it back on board, the sooner we can be on our way again."
"Understood," the Vulcan replied. "Enterprise out."
Mayweather's search turned up what appeared to be a cargo manifest. Apparently even as pirates the Osaarians kept good records. He quickly downloaded it and transmitted it to Sato for translation.
Cormack desperately wanted to be on the second team going into the sphere, but she conceded the spot in the away team to Ensign Young. Reed had left her in charge of ship's security, so she was stuck on board. She sat at the bridge tactical station and frowned down at her instruments. Does Malcolm really trust me so much that he wants me in charge here, or is it that he doesn't trust enough me to watch his back over there? She thought back to horrible misunderstanding they'd had last year. That was all sorted out, she assured herself firmly. She shook her head, unable to dispel all her uncertainties. There was no way to know Reed's motives, but she forced herself to give him the benefit of the doubt.
As Ensign Hutchison piloted the shuttlepod through the hatch, Ian couldn't help but take a moment to marvel at what he saw—and not just because Stephanie had made him promise to tell her all about it. He'd never imagined anyone could build anything so vast. He estimated the sphere could have contained Jupiter Station and the shipyards at Utopia Planetia with room left over.
Energy conduits crisscrossed the sphere's interior with incredible precision. Numerous other pipes and tubes connected different modules, each of which had a breathable atmosphere. It was to one of these that they headed.
Hutchinson docked the pod carefully. Young and the team of MACOs and Starfleet personnel disembarked. They were met by Lieutenant Reed. He immediately broke them into small teams and put them to work.
Young and crewman Cui were teamed up with Corporal Romero and Private Money. Led by Kemper, who had come with the first group, they moved out. Young followed the MACO sergeant with well-suppressed reluctance. He would have been much happier to have gone with Reed as the other new team had, but no such luck. He didn't distrust Kemper or any of the MACOs. In fact he'd found most of the military commandos to be very capable. He just wasn't sure he was ready to rely on any of them should the shit hit the fan out here. Young shoved his feelings aside. Trust them until they give you a reason not to, he told himself firmly. It wasn't the best philosophy under the circumstances, but for now it would have to do. Then he added silently, And always cover your own ass.
"This conduit system connects the various storage modules," Kemper said, unaware of the edge of unease the ensign harbored. "It'll take some luck, but it's possible we'll find all our stolen goods within close range of each other."
Young doubted it, but kept silent. It was possible after all that the Osaarians had unloaded their take and then headed out again before sorting through everything and storing it away. It was the way Kemper said "our" that rubbed him the wrong way. They were Starfleet's stolen goods; Kemper wasn't Starfleet. He resented the way the MACO laid claim to the stuff. I'm being stupid, Young thought. We're all on the same ship. We all need what was taken in order to survive. Deal with it. But there was still a kernel of antipathy that he couldn't quite shake off. He forced himself to ignore it and focus on the task ahead.
Romero was equally dubious, but for different reasons. He tried to fall into line behind Young as they set out along the narrow corridor, but the fleeter had managed to get behind him instead. He wasn't sure if it was on purpose or coincidental. Maybe Young was simply accustomed to bringing up the rear in situations like this and fell naturally into that position in the group. Whatever the reason, that was where he was and Romero didn't like it. There was something about Young that he found unsettling. He respected him, respected his combat skills, but Palmer had been right when he'd described the ensign as uptight. It was that uptightness made Romero tense. He wondered if Young might be wound so tightly that he could suddenly snap.
At that moment he caught Money stealing a quick, ardent glance back at the burly fleeter. He remembered her early description of him: "hella good looking". In other circumstances, he'd have been amused. But this was neither the time nor the place. "Eyes front, Private," he admonished her quietly.
"Yes, sir," she responded instantly, and returned her attention to her job.
Tucker left sickbay feeling like he'd just been hustled by a professional con artist. He'd gone in with a second-degree burn on his left hand and wrist. He'd been reinstalling deuterium injectors and found out the hard way that one of them was still polarized. Phlox treated the burn and somehow managed to coax far too much information from him as he did. Trip hadn't intended to tell him how little success he and Malcolm had had with their reflexology sessions. He'd also admitted that they hadn't had one in over a week, which might explain why Trip had only gotten one hour of sleep the previous night despite his exhaustion.
Phlox had offered him the use of his Aldeberan mud leeches; their secretions were a natural sedative. Somehow Trip just couldn't bring himself to take the doctor up on his offer. He tried to keep an open mind when it came to the Denobulan's natural remedies, but the idea of sleeping with leeches on his chest and stomach was too much.
Phlox's next suggestion had been decidedly less disgusting, but just as odd to Trip's mind. Yet somehow he'd actually gotten Trip to agree to the possibility of learning some yoga from Ensign Cormack—assuming she was willing to teach him. Phlox had seemed certain he could make the arrangements. Trip wasn't so sure. He told himself that was why he'd agreed; he didn't believe anything would come of it.
He made a quick stop in the mess hall, grabbed a cup of coffee, and headed back to Engineering. The search teams had found eighty percent of their anti-matter and it all needed to be safely stored back where it belonged. He sighed. It was going to be another very long night.
Archer, T'Pol, and Madeline Reed gathered in the Captain's ready room to discuss the sphere, the Osaarians, and Enterprise's next move.
"Quantum scans indicate the sphere is over one thousand years old," said T'Pol. She sat in one of the two soft chairs in the small room, looking as if she'd prefer to be standing. "There are seven fusion reactors, each of which is almost twelve meters long, and three of which are still functioning."
Madeline, seated next to her, glanced down at the datapad in her hands. "It says the sphere is producing an extraordinary amount of gravimetric energy." She looked up at T'Pol. "Forgive my ignorance, but what exactly does that mean beyond the obvious?"
"It means that it may have something to do with the spatial anomalies."
"And since those anomalies appear to increase the deeper we move into the Expanse, does that mean we should expect to encounter more of these spheres?" Madeline asked.
Archer looked at her intently. His thoughts had been moving in the same direction, but between the recovery of their stolen goods and his dealings with their prisoner, he simply hadn't gotten that far yet. Before he could speak up, however, Sato paged him to the Situation Room.
The three left the ready room and joined her there. When Archer learned what she'd discovered, he left T'Pol in command of the bridge and headed straight for the turbolift. Madeline quickly followed him, slipping inside as the door was losing.
"What do you intend to do?" she asked evenly.
Archer didn't look at her. "You heard what Hoshi said. The Osaarians attacked a Xindi ship less than two weeks ago."
"I heard her, yes. I'm asking you what you intend to do with the information." Her tone was professional but determined. She wanted an answer.
Archer tried to appear calm and reasonable as he replied. "I intend to find out everything Orgoth knows about the Xindi."
"Do you think he'll give up that information easily?"
He turned to her, and Madeline's concerns were confirmed. His green eyes were cold and hard, and he no longer looked like the peaceful man she'd seen in so many photographs as she'd studied for this mission.
His voice was as cold as his eyes as he answered, "No."
The lift arrived and the doors opened. Madeline followed him as he strode purposefully along the corridor towards the brig. She had to hurry to keep up with his long stride. "Captain, you should let me—"
"I need to know now, Negotiator." He neither slowed his pace nor looked at her. "I suggest you find somewhere else to be."
Madeline stopped in her tracks and let him go. She knew precisely where else she should be. She turned around and headed to the armory.
It took only a moment to spot Malcolm once she entered. He was hard at work on the weapons. Half a dozen other crewmembers were scattered around the room, checking various systems. Precisely what they were all doing she had no idea, and frankly she didn't care.
"Lieutenant Reed," she called out in her most professional voice. "May I have a word with you?"
He looked at her in stunned puzzlement, as if she'd just asked if he'd like to go fishing or something equally absurd.
"Can it wait, Negotiator?" he replied. It was obvious from his tone that he could think of nothing more urgent than what he was already doing.
"I don't believe so." Madeline's eyes spoke volumes, and Malcolm had learned at an early age how to read them. Something was very wrong.
He crossed the armory to where she waited just inside the door. When he spoke, it was quietly so as not to be overheard. "What's going on?"
"You need to get to the brig. Captain Archer is questioning the prisoner."
Malcolm failed to see why this was such a problem. "He has that right."
"He's questioning him about a Xindi ship the Osaarians attacked a fortnight ago. He seemed intent on his goal." Her words were neutral, but her meaning was clear in her eyes. She believed Archer might resort to extreme measures to get what he wanted from Orgoth.
Malcolm hated to believe Archer was capable of such things, but Madeline could read people very well. Her instincts about individuals were usually right. Without a word, he went to the nearest console and queried the computer for Captain Archer's location. Before it could give him an answer, the comm panel chirped.
It was the security crewman currently on guard at the brig. "Ferridec to Lieutenant Reed."
Reed opened the line. "Go ahead."
"Sir, Captain Archer just left here with the prisoner," he said in his light Québecois accent.
"Do you know where they were going?"
"No, sir. But, sir— The Captain had a phase-pistol."
Reed's expression grew grim. "Understood." He closed the comm at the same moment the computer came back with its response. Archer and the prisoner were at an airlock very near the brig.
He went to the weapons locker, calling over his shoulder, "Obundo, with me."
The tall African man joined him, and Reed passed him a pulse-rifle as he clipped a phase-pistol to his own side. Madeline quickly stepped aside as they rushed past her out the door.
Reed could barely believe what they found at the airlock. It was depressurizing and Orgoth was inside. Archer was pressed up against the small port, glaring in at the choking man. "You'd better start talking now because in about forty seconds you won't be able to. The Xindi!" he shouted furiously.
"Captain?" asked Reed, his tone tightly contained.
Archer didn't look at him. "Everything's under control, Lieutenant."
It didn't look that way to Reed. "The airlock's decompressing, sir." He paused, hoping the Captain would do or say something that would make this situation anything but appalling. When he didn't, Reed added tensely, "He'll die."
Archer continued to watch Orgoth gasp for air. "Not for another twenty seconds he won't," he answered through a jaw clenched tight with fury. He shouted through the window again. "The Xindi!"
"Sir?" Reed queried urgently.
Archer ignored him. He yelled once more at the breathless prisoner. "Your memory getting any better?" Orgoth nodded slightly—not enough for Archer to be certain it had been a nod. "Say again!" he demanded. This time Orgoth nodded more forcefully.
Reed practically shouted, "Captain!"
Archer repressurized the airlock, releasing the door the moment it was done. The prisoner fell out onto floor at the Captain's feet. Archer barely looked at his prone form. "Take him back to the brig."
Reed and Obundo helped the still gasping Orgoth to his feet. "Let's go," said Reed, and they half escorted, half carried the man back to his cell.
The Osaarians had downloaded a database before destroying the Xindi vessel. Archer intended to get it. He handed a datacard with the Osaarian access codes to Sato. She wondered how he'd gotten them, but didn't ask. Even if it were a prudent question, now was not the time. They would have to get within one kilometer of the Osaarian vessel for her to have any chance of downloading the database Archer wanted so badly. That would put even Mayweather's piloting skills to the test. First, however, they had to find the Osaarians.
Archer had a plan. Evidence showed that the Osaarians would eventually return to the sphere to unload whatever new booty they'd pirated. Enterprise was safe for the moment where it was. They would simply wait.
When the moment came, Archer didn't hesitate. At his command, Reed fired a warning shot at the Osaarian vessel the moment it was in range. The Osaarians tried to run, but Enterprise went after them.
Archer glanced at Sato. "Open a channel."
The comm chirped. "Go ahead," Sato replied.
The Captain spoke up, his tone angry but controlled. "This is Captain Archer. Remember us?" He paced two steps from his chair and back again as he spoke. "You probably noticed that our weapons are back online. You're out-gunned. Stand down."
Weapon fire rocked the ship.
"They're moving off," announced Mayweather.
Archer sat down and spoke quietly to the helmsman. "One kilometer, Travis." He looked again at Sato. "Get ready."
The comm officer nodded as another blast shook the ship.
"Hull plating's holding," Reed informed them all.
"They're heading back into the cloaking field," confirmed Mayweather.
Immediately, Archer rose and was at his side. "Stay with them."
They followed the Osaarians into the cloaking field, but instead of going directly through, they lead Enterprise on a chase within the field. The ship shook as it had before, but the prolonged chase seemed to increase the turbulence exponentially. It was rough going.
Around the rest of the ship, there were several people who would have considered "rough going" an understatement.
Bonnie awoke in mid-air and crashed painfully to the deckplating a split second later. "Ow!" she exclaimed in gut reaction, and then, "Shit!" She fought her way out of the tangled blankets and rose unsteadily to her feet. The ship bucked again and she was deposited unceremoniously back on her bunk. Her face firmly planted on the mattress, she muttered in muffled irony, "Perfect."
In sickbay, Phlox did his best to quiet his panicked menagerie. Ari stumbled across the room and caught a tray of medical paraphernalia before it could completely spill its contents. He looked over his shoulder at Liz who was hard pressed to keep her footing just standing in place. "You need to talk to your husband about his driving," he quipped, trying to dispel his own fear in the uncertain situation.
Liz felt similarly and answered in kind. "Why do you think I drove the rental car in San Francisco?"
On the catwalk in Engineering, Mae was flung sideways into the railing. She gasped in pain and surprise, and then sank to sit on the grating. One hand hung onto the rail for dear life while the other arm wrapped around her middle, supporting and protecting her bruised ribs. "Son of a bitch," she swore softly.
In an interior cabin, a particularly violent shimmy slammed Rostov into the lav doorframe. He swore loudly in Russian. He was still sore from his injuries and the impact aggravated the tender skin and recently repaired shoulder.
His new roommate looked at him from his bunk. "I don't know what you just said, but it sounded filthy." Palmer smirked a little. "You gotta teach me that."
Down another E-deck corridor, Kyrin made his careful way around the desk in his small office. He picked up the framed diploma that had fallen from the wall, and the new photograph of his niece Leia. He'd taken the picture himself, and in it the little girl grinned delightedly at something he couldn't remember. He looked at it and smiled despite the danger around him. "I'll see you soon," he promised the picture just as he'd promised her as he'd boarded the shuttle that returned him to Enterprise.
In the cabin she shared with Stephanie, Maggie stumbled from her bunk to the lav. She fell to her knees in front of the head and leaned her cheek on its cool surface. She muttered through gritted teeth, "I will not throw up. I will not throw up." The ship lurched and so did her stomach. Choking back the lunch that suddenly tried to escape her stomach, she held onto the basin like a drowning woman to a life preserver.
Several decks above her, Madeline was thrown out of her chair and into the edge of her desk. She clung to it, trying to regain the wind that the impact knocked out of her. Her mug of tea toppled over, spilling warm liquid that soaked into her cotton blouse. Feeling absurdly resentful, she thought, At least last time there was a warning.
At last Mayweather got the ship within range and held it there.
Moving quickly and using the access codes she'd been given, Sato connected with the Osaarians' computer. "I'm into the computer!" she announced with satisfaction. Archer leaned against the rail by her station as if his presence could help her find what she sought.
Several seconds passed. "Anything?" T'Pol asked urgently.
Sato shook her head, and her tone was less excited. "I haven't found the Xindi database." More seconds ticked away. An anomaly suddenly rippled through T'Pol's console, and she leapt back in her chair. "I'm losing them!"
"Travis!" shot Archer over his shoulder.
The ship continued to shake violently, buffeted by the energy waves of the cloaking field. Back at her console, T'Pol said, "Forward hull plating is off-line."
"I found it, Captain!
"How long do you need?" demanded Archer of his comm officer.
"A few minutes," she responded.
The prolonged exposure to the cloaking field was taking its toll on the starship. The Osaarians seemed to move easily through it, while Mayweather fought with the helm to stay with them.
"Hull fracture on E-deck, section fourteen. We're venting atmosphere," stated T'Pol over the cacophony.
"Close emergency bulkheads!" ordered Archer. T'Pol quickly complied.
"They're getting too far away. I'm losing the comm-link again!" Sato shouted.
Mayweather responded, eyes trained on the controls. "Our impulse drive's destabilizing. We've got to get out of the cloaking field, sir."
All eyes flicked to the Captain and then back to their instruments. Archer took only a moment to reach a decision. He turned once more to the helm. "Head back to the sphere."
"Aye, sir," said Mayweather, banking the ship hard to starboard. They broke through the cloaking field, and the sphere loomed before them.
"Where are they?" asked Archer.
Mayweather's answer was short. "Still inside the field."
Archer looked at Sato. "How much did you get?" he wanted to know.
She looked at him, knowing he wouldn't be happy. "About a third of it."
"Take us closer to that portal," Archer ordered the helmsman. "Let's see if we can lure them back in here."
Mayweather complied, and the Captain turned to Reed. "Ready forward phase-cannon. I want a single burst, minimum yield. Take out that portal."
Reed gave a tight nod. "Aye, sir." He input the command and fired. It was on target, but not enough to penetrate the polyduranium doors.
"Travis?" Archer turned to the young man.
"No sign of them," he responded.
"Again," snapped Archer.
Reed fired again, tearing a gaping hole in the portal. He couldn't help but smile just a little.
"That got their attention," announced Mayweather. "They're coming through."
Archer sat down, bracing himself for the weapon fire that came immediately. "Stay within a kilometer. Return fire." The exchange of weapons fire and the sparking of consoles created an awful din.
Sato spoke up over the noise. "I'm back in."
Archer stepped towards the tactical station. "Can you take out their engines?"
Reed shook his head. "Not without risking damage to their main computer."
Another blast rocked the ship and Archer almost lost his footing. He gripped the rail at tactical and turned to face Sato. "Ensign!" he shouted at her.
"I've got eighty percent," she answered, not daring a glance away from her work. "Eighty-five "
Bright flares erupted at several consoles, and small fires broke out across the bridge.
"Hull plating's offline," T'Pol stated. "They're targeting our reactor."
"I've got ninety percent."
"Good enough!" declared Archer, turning back to Tactical. "Mr. Reed!"
Reed already had his target locked in. He fired the forward phase-cannon. The Osaarians' port nacelle erupted in fire quenched quickly by the surrounding vacuum. But the damage was done. They fell end over end towards the sphere, barely avoiding a full collision. The Osaarians' starboard hull scraped the surface as they managed to get the ship under a modicum of control. "Their engines are down," Reed announced with satisfaction.
"Keep our weapons locked on them."
Archer gave Sato a nod and a tiny smile of congratulations as he wordlessly crossed the bridge to the turbolift.
Reed monitored the Osaarians diligently as a shuttlepod carried Orgoth back to the sphere and then returned to Enterprise. The pirate ship showed no sign of aggression. If his scans were correct they were in no state to cause trouble to anyone for quite a while. They hadn't even returned to the sphere themselves, which suggested that not even their sub-light engines were working.
Archer returned to the bridge after personally overseeing the prisoner's release. He ordered Mayweather to take them out of the cloaking field and resume their earlier course. He looked over at T'Pol. "I'll be in the command center." She nodded her acknowledgement, and he turned to Sato. "Hail Negotiator Reed. Have her meet me there."
"Yes, sir," she replied, turning to her comm.
Archer didn't wait to hear her pass on his message. He left the bridge and went directly to the command center—once a storage bay for conduit housings, now a room devoted to hunting down and stopping the Xindi.
Madeline arrived at almost the same moment he did. Neither said a word as they entered the room. They stood before the main viewscreen and Archer spoke firmly. "Computer load the Xindi database."
Malcolm sat on the bunk with Trip's feet in his lap. He could tell that his lover wasn't convinced of the treatment's effectiveness, but he'd given in to the suggestion anyway. Malcolm said nothing, knowing that even if the reflexology did nothing, the massage would at least ease any soreness in Trip's feet. After all, it had been a crazy couple of days in which both men had spent many hours up and running. He let his mind wander over recent events as he worked.
Reed had said nothing when Archer handed Sato the datacard containing the Osaarians' access codes. He knew what the Captain had done to get them; it wasn't something he would soon forget. Nor was it something he intended to talk about—not to Obundo, who also witnessed the near suffocation of the prisoner; not to Madeline, whom he knew wanted to know; not to the Captain; and not even to Trip. Ferridec might wonder why Orgoth was out of breath and yet so willing to talk when he was brought back to the brig, but he could just keep wondering.
Malcolm wondered if this was the right decision. Only a day had passed since leaving the Osaarians and the sphere, and Trip hadn't spent that evening with Archer. As far as Malcolm knew, Trip had no idea the extremes his old friend had gone to in order to get what they needed. He didn't want to be the one to tell him, but it was something he thought Trip should know. For the time being he simply kept the knowledge to himself and hoped that Archer confided in Trip the next time they met.
He continued his ministrations until Trip fell asleep, his breathing deep and even. For as long as that lasts, Malcolm thought as he tucked the blankets in around Trip's feet. He knew that in roughly two hours, possibly less, Trip's recurring nightmare would wake them both.
He sighed as he slipped into the bunk and turned off the light. He snuggled up to the sleeping engineer and wrapped an arm protectively around him, hoping that this time he could keep Trip's bad dreams away.
Jon sat alone in his private dining room, his legs stretched in front of him and his sneakered feet resting on a chair. He wore faded jeans and a pale gray t-shirt. Next to him on the table were a single glass and the bottle of Kentucky bourbon he and Trip had opened the previous week. It was still nearly full.
He almost hailed Trip to see if he wanted to join him; he didn't like drinking alone. But he didn't move from his seat. He told himself that Trip and Malcolm needed the time together more. Jon could wait until another night to talk to his old friend. Below that reason, though, there was another that he was reluctant to admit even to himself. Although he wanted to talk to Trip, he didn't want Trip to know what he'd done. Of course there was the chance that Malcolm had already told him, but Jon doubted it. He suspected his armory officer would leave that decision up to him.
He lowered his feet, turned to the table, and picked up the bottle. Opening it, he poured himself a scant two fingers' worth of the amber liquid, and then firmly recapped the bottle. He had no intention of drinking himself into a stupor, and he still had work to do that night that required a clear head. He sat back with his feet up and sipped the liquor, thinking.
It would take more than bourbon to banish the memory of what he'd done anyway, and in truth he didn't want to. The horror of his actions towards Orgoth weighed on his conscience, but those actions had gotten them what they needed. Never in his life had he expected to be put in a situation like that. He hated what he'd done, what he'd had to do. He'd always believed that he was above resorting to torture. Now he knew he wasn't.
What does that make me?
He sipped at his drink again, embracing the burning sensation as it traveled down his throat. It felt good.
Orgoth's words as crewman Zabel had escorted him to the launch bay rang in Jon's mind.
"So you have let your morality get in the way after all. Mercy is not a quality that will serve you well in the Expanse, Captain."
It was clear that Orgoth had expected to be executed once he'd outlived his usefulness. Was it mercy that had caused Archer to release him? Jon wanted to think it was simply humanity's way to respect life in any form, but history proved that wasn't true.
Jon shook his head. It wasn't humanity or mercy. It was guilt. It was a desperate need to atone somehow for what he'd done to Orgoth. Despite the Osaarians' piracy, despite Orgoth's unrepentant attitude, even despite crewman Fuller's death, Jon couldn't play judge, jury, and executioner. It wasn't humane; it wasn't human.
On some deep level he knew his logic was flawed, hypocritical. After what he now knew he was capable of, his reluctance to finish the job, so to speak, was almost absurd. All his career he'd toed the Starfleet line of morality. He used to believe that the end didn't justify the means. Now he was no longer sure. If the end was saving the human race, who could say that what he'd done wasn't justifiable?
He shook his head again, not really knowing who or what he was trying to deny. He'd been naïve and idealistic for too long, but this baptism of fire wasn't how he would have chosen to destroy his illusions. Unfortunately, one never got to make that kind of choice. All he could do was move forward and do the best he could in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
He tipped back his glass, swallowing the last of his drink. He briefly considered pouring another, and then decided against it. One was enough. He left the glass where the morning steward would find it and dispose of it. Then, taking the sealed bottle, he returned to his cabin.
Porthos sat up from his doze and happily thumped his tail on the bed.
"Hey, boy," said Jon tiredly as he put the bottle of bourbon away. He sat next to the dog and took off his shoes. "How's it going?"
Porthos licked his hand in reply and tried to climb onto his lap.
Jon chuckled. "Hang on, hang on," he said, gently pushing Porthos aside. He rose and went to his desk. Activating the screen, he called up the personnel file for the late crewman Fuller. His expression grim, he reviewed the file, shaking his head at the pointless loss of the young man's life. Finally he looked up Fuller's next of kin—his mother.
It was a task he'd dreaded for years and had unrealistically hoped he would never have to do. That hope was gone, and his duty could not be put off now that the immediate crisis was past. "Computer, begin recording." He received a chirrup of confirmation. "Dear Ms. Fuller," he began. "It is my sad duty to inform you of your son's death." He paused. The words sounded terribly harsh, but there was no easy or good way to tell someone that their child was dead. He went on, giving the facts without divulging anything that could be called privileged information. It took him longer than he expected to say so little.
When he was done, he closed the file. He would review it in the morning before sending it out through Starfleet channels. He stood, and immediately Porthos perked up and wagged his tail again.
"All right. I'll be right there." Jon quickly changed into his pajamas, used the lav, and climbed into his bunk. Porthos curled up next to him, his tail still thumping lightly on the blankets.
"What would you do if you were me?" Jon gave the beagle a melancholy smile and answered his own question. "Probably demand endless supplies of cheese and fire hydrants." Porthos barked once, and Jon's smile warmed a little. "I wish all problems were so easy to solve." He reached out and turned off the bedside light. Between the warmth of the bourbon inside him and the dog beside him, Jon soon fell into a heavy sleep.