The telemetry revealed nothing new.
Expression set in a frown, Trip Tucker studied the newly installed holo-table with the focus that he normally reserved for engineering problems. It was exactly as the earlier battle plans had painted it, but, for some reason, the data crawling across his screen caused his skin to itch. Glancing up from the table, he met T'Pol's stoic expression with one of his own. She quirked an eyebrow before returning her eyes to the table. Without the bond, he realized, he would never have been able to tell how tired she was at this moment.
"As you can see from this information," Admiral Black's voice echoed out of the wall speakers, "Commander Lundmark's scan has verified our initial concerns about the construction facility."
"The Xindi ships are gone," Commodore Archer noted from the head of the holo-table. He was manipulating the controls with practiced ease, but Trip realized that wasn't very surprising. After all, this secure briefing room had been converted to a combat control facility. During the engagement it would be Archer's station, so the commodore had to be familiar with the table.
"There are also only two Warbirds," an Australian voice pointed out, and it took a moment for Tucker to recognize Commodore Burnside Clapp through the comm distortions.
"Will Stockholm be providing realtime telemetry?" another voice asked, and Trip mentally shrugged when he realized that he didn't recognize the woman speaking.
"That's the intent," Black said. "As long as Commander Lundmark can remain undetected, Stockholm will be sending data bursts with updated situation reports." For a moment, the conference call was silent as the various ship and fleet commanders digested the data before them. In that heartbeat, Trip found himself reflecting on Endeavour's status. With Lieutenant Hsiao still aboard the UES Hyperion, Tucker's principal flight operations officer was a newly minted ensign just out of STC. Several minor systems had been declared operational, but hadn't been sufficiently field tested for Tucker's tastes. None of the primary systems were a concern, though, so that was a relief.
A mental nudge brought him back to the present, and Trip glanced up to meet T'Pol's steady (albeit slightly amused) gaze. She still hadn't explained how a door had mysteriously appeared in the wall shared by their respective cabins. In that hazy moment of semi-consciousness when he had awakened to find her walking through the wall, he had been unaccountably reminded of seeing Daniels do that very thing. Despite his feelings for her, Trip found the thought of T’Pol being even remotely involved in that temporal nonsense chilling.
"Operation Pandora has a green light," Fleet Admiral Gardner's voice sounded. "Second and Sixth Fleets will deploy at zero nine hundred tomorrow as planned."
"Third and Fourth Fleets are to deploy at ten hundred hours, also as planned," Black picked up the instructions. Trip found himself nodding slightly. One of Commodore Archer's additions to the plan had been to send two fleets in diversionary maneuvers intended to make it appear as though they were planning to retake the Vigrid system. Even though the station had been destroyed, the system itself remained a strategic vantage point that the Romulans needed to hold to maintain their invasion. It was hoped that just the hints of an attempt to reclaim the system would force the Romulans to direct additional resources to hold the system.
"Orders are to remain sealed for the members of your crews outside of your command staff until you are underway," the Vice Chief of Naval Operations continued. "Operational security is absolutely essential for this mission to succeed." Trip fought the urge to roll his eyes: when was OPSEC not essential for a mission's success?
"Good luck," Admiral Gardner offered before the comm line went silent.
"Here we go," Archer muttered into the moment of silence that followed. He looked up from the table, smiling slightly at them. "Didn't mean to get the two of you out of bed," he smirked, innuendo dripping from his voice. Trip gave the commodore a dark look before adjusting the robe that he wore over his pajama bottoms. Both had been a gift from T'Pol on his last birthday; as he had learned, Triaxian silk made fantastic night clothes for men too.
Besides, it was better for morale if he actually showed up on the bridge wearing clothes during emergencies.
Still in her duty uniform, T'Pol gave the commodore a single upraised and unamused eyebrow before turning her focus to Trip. He already knew what she was going to say before she spoke.
"I will alert the department heads, Captain," she informed him in her normal monotone before turning toward the door.
"And get a status report from Dan," he instructed. As she exited the room, T'Pol gave him a backwards glance that he instantly recognized as her subtle way of telling him to shut up so she could do her job. Despite himself, he grinned for a moment before turning to Archer. "Any orders, Commodore?" he asked.
"Coffee," Archer replied with an exaggerated sigh. "Lots of coffee. And I'll need my team rousted out of bed." His expression suddenly changed to one of worry. He tried to hide it, but Trip had known him too long to not recognize it.
"Something wrong, sir?" Tucker asked, and the commodore gave him a glower for a moment. Finally, the older man sighed again and nodded, his fierce expression faltering. He gestured to the holo-table.
"This," he said. "I'm a pilot, Trip, not a soldier." The commodore's shoulders slumped slightly. "Yet here I am, about to command a fleet." He glanced at Tucker with worried eyes. "I don't think I'm ready for this."
"Who is?" Trip asked softly. "I know I sure as hell wasn't ready for my job when you pinned the extra pip on my uniform." Archer smiled at that, and Tucker took a moment to bask in the memory. It had been difficult, with Jon barely able to move from the emergency surgery that had been required to save his life. T'Pol had been looking on from a nearby biobed, eyes gleaming with pride, as Hoshi read the orders and Phlox smiled broadly. Trip knew it was a memory that he would cherish until his body was returned to the stars.
"Go get dressed, Trip," Archer ordered with another smile. "You don't look very captainly in your silk jammies."
"T'Pol thinks I cut a dashing figure in these things," Tucker retorted as he rounded the table and headed for the door. He grinned. "She told me that I was very aesthetically appealing in blue."
"Now that's a compliment for the ages," the commodore snickered before returning his full attention to the holo-table. "Don't forget the coffee," he reminded Trip.
An hour later, Tucker was in the Endeavour briefing room, studying the expressions of his command staff. Sipping from the cup that contained the herbal Vulcan tea that T'Pol insisted he drink, he winced briefly at the taste. To his dismay (but not surprise), Senior Chief Killick had flatly refused to provide him with coffee, claiming that the first officer had already threatened dire consequences if he did so.
Apparently, the chef was more afraid of T'Pol than of his commanding officer.
Lieutenant Commander Eisler was glowering at the data flashing on the screen and, to Trip's dismay, he appeared as sharp-eyed and coherent as ever. Knowing that the tactical officer had spent most if not all of the night studying the battle plan, Trip found himself wondering how the German managed to not look tired. Maybe he's a robot under that flesh, Trip mused, recalling a recent entry into Endeavour's movie night. T'Pol had not been amused by the time travel aspect of the classic film.
Seated alongside the tactical officer as usual, Lieutenant Commander Hess appeared as tired as Trip felt, and was downing coffee by the liter. Her uniform was rumpled, as if she had slept in it, and there were grease stains on her left hand. She looked exactly like someone who had spent the last twenty hours purging EPS manifolds.
Trip tried not to envy her too much.
"Communication systems will be hardcoded to my authorization codes," Tucker continued his briefing. Lieutenant Devereux glanced up from the PADD in front of her, a flicker of hurt crossing her face. "This comes directly from Starfleet Command," Trip continued. He understood the lieutenant's sense of betrayal; this was tantamount to saying that she wasn't trusted. "And is a fleet-wide order. I have to approve any communication going out."
"Lieutenant Hsiao is still on the Hyperion," Devereux pointed out, and Trip nodded before glancing to T'Pol.
"Commander Rivers has indicated that the fault in Hyperion's flight computer has not yet been isolated," the Vulcan revealed. "He is confident that the problem will be repaired before departure time."
"And if it isn't?" Hess asked. As she had since he first met her, Anna ignored the protocols that their respective ranks called for. It was one of the things that Trip liked the most about her. "Seems pretty stupid to launch without our chief helmsman on board."
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Trip replied. He turned to Eisler, an expectant look on his face.
"Weapon systems are fully checked out, sir," the lieutenant commander growled, clearly recognizing his cue. "All phase cannons have been zeroed and are prepared for action."
"Any complaints about the new ordnance?" Tucker asked. The tactical officer's expression darkened.
"With all due respect to Starfleet Command," Eisler said angrily, "whoever decided to fund these mark sixes should be lined up against a wall and shot." Trip gave him a startled look; Rick was rarely so open about any disagreements he had with Starfleet Command in front of junior officers. Clearly, Hess had been a bad influence on the tactical officer. "I don't care if we can shoot more of them, sir," Eisler continued. "If what we do shoot doesn't penetrate, then it's a waste of time."
"Like shooting BBs against a concrete wall," Master Chief Mackenzie agreed sourly.
"I'll pass that on," Trip replied. "New hull polarizers checking out?" he asked, and the master chief replied even before the TAC.
"We're reading a twenty percent increase in efficiency," Mackenzie confirmed almost proudly. Understandably so: the master chief had headed the team that reverse-engineered the Orion hull polarizers. Hess gave the COB a sidelong glance, amusement written on her face.
"Twenty-three percent, actually," she corrected. Trip nodded, then glanced at Phlox. The Denobulan gave him a weak smile, reminding Tucker once more how much he missed the doctor's cheerful optimism. Silently, he cursed this damned war for what it had taken from everyone.
"Sickbay is fully operational," the doctor declared, "and ready for casualty collection." Phlox grimaced slightly at his words. "Lieutenant Reyes is settling in nicely, as are the new medical technicians."
"Good." Trip rose to his feet. Without hesitation, his command staff followed suit. "Brief your departments," he instructed. "We deploy in three hours."
Less than two hours remained before deployment, and Commodore Jonathan Archer could already feel his stress level skyrocketing.
Standing before the holo-table, he studied the telemetry received from Stockholm with a critical eye and growing worry. He could feel the eyes of his combat control team on him as he panned across the system one more time, but he paid it little attention. Ten ships were relying on him to be the best fleet commander he could be, and he intended to live up to that.
"Something wrong, sir?" Lieutenant Reynolds asked from his position at the table. Jon gave him a quick glance, noting with approval how easily the lieutenant had effectively assumed command of the team. As the only real combat veteran in the group, Reynolds was technically outranked by Lieutenant Esque but, to her credit, the senior lieutenant had stepped down from the leadership position. He wasn't sure, but Jon suspected that the junior officers of the team had actually been behind the leadership change; surprisingly, there was very little tension between Esque and Reynolds over the situation.
"Something stinks," Archer replied as he began manipulating the holo-table controls for another sweep of the digital system. He zoomed in toward the drydock and spent a long moment studying it. The resolution of the image wasn't as good as he'd like it to be, but it was sharp enough to determine that the construction of the facility was not as far along as they had originally suspected.
"Any chance you could elaborate on that, sir?" Reynolds' tone was wry, and Jon looked up, a hint of a smile on his face. In the year plus since he had tapped Scott Reynolds to join his staff, Archer had nearly given up on getting the man to relax around him. Like most other ex-MACOs currently serving in Starfleet, Reynolds' strict adherence to military protocol marked him as a different breed of officer. At no time did the young lieutenant ever seem to forget Archer's rank.
"Where did the warbirds go?" Jon asked rhetorically as he input commands into the table controls. The master image returned to a system overview, with pulsing boxes highlighting the Romulan forces present. "This facility is too valuable to guard with a couple of warbirds and fifteen birds of prey."
"Has the telemetry been authenticated?" Lieutenant Esque asked, her face set in a frown. The three ensigns on the team gave her a startled look, as if they had never really considered the idea of the Stockholm being suborned. Archer nodded.
"Twice," he revealed. He refocused his attention to the data crawling across the screen and glowered darkly. In his twenty plus years of service in Starfleet, Jon had learned to obey his instincts without hesitation, and right now, they were screaming that this was too easy. The Romulans couldn't be this stupid, could they? They had to know that Starfleet would have learned of the construction facility in this system, so defending it with so few resources made no sense.
Unfortunately, that was all too often the case with the Romulans. Jon frowned as he zoomed in on the planetary ring that surrounded the planet. There was little doubt that the Romulans intended to use the various ores that could found in the ring for ship construction; that had, after all, been the intent when Earth established the mining colony in the first place.
Glancing at the time, Archer realized that he had barely moved since Trip had left almost an hour earlier. He looked up to find the team sitting awkwardly at their positions, desperately trying to look like they were accomplishing something important when they clearly had nothing to do. Jon fought to hide his amusement.
"Lieutenant Reynolds," he said softly as he returned his attention to the display in front of him. "That will be all for the moment." Jon looked up with a tight smile. "Go get some breakfast, people."
"Aye, sir," Reynolds replied for the team. With visible relief, they rose from their positions and filed through the door, leaving only the lieutenant behind. "Can I get you anything, Commodore?" he asked, clearly recognizing that Archer had no intention of leaving. Jon nodded.
"Coffee." He hefted his empty cup and nodded toward the empty pot on the nearby warmer. "We're out."
"Yes, sir." Reynolds ducked through the doorway, leaving Archer alone in the room.
Several minutes passed without interruption as Jon studied the system display from every conceivable angle. Internal alarms were still screeching within his head, and he found himself glaring at the holo-table, as if it was responsible for his inability to find the problem. Everything was pointing toward the plan advancing as it should.
"Something wrong?" Trip's voice came as a surprise, and Archer jerked slightly before tossing a quick glare at his old friend. Tucker was in uniform now, every centimeter the Starfleet captain, and was sipping from one of those mugs that T'Pol seemed to favor while aboard Enterprise.
"I don't know," Jon replied sharply. He rose from his seat and stretched, trying to ignore the cacophony of pops from his body as he did so. "Pre-game jitters, I guess," he continued as Trip approached. The captain placed the cup on the table and began manipulating the controls of the station in front of him.
"I'm worried too," Trip revealed. He sighed as he began studying the drydock. "Any idea what happened to the rest of the warbirds?" Jon shook his head.
"Nothing yet." He looked up. "Maybe they bought the Thor's Cradle diversion." Tucker shrugged.
"Maybe." He didn't sound as if he believed it as he crossed his arms behind his back and stared at the partially constructed drydock without blinking for a long moment. Jon shivered slightly; it was eerie when Trip channeled T'Pol in this way. The Charles Tucker that the commodore knew was always in motion, not this unmoving human statue who studied the data with a Vulcan-like focus. Sometimes, Jon found himself glancing at Trip's ears, half expecting them to be pointed. It was a silly notion, of course, but when Tucker entered his "Vulcan mode," it was hard to believe that he was the same man who had once danced on a table at the 602 Club.
Abruptly, Jon's stomach growled slightly and he glanced in the direction of the door, idly wondering if Reynolds was still in the mess hall. He briefly toyed with reaching for the comm panel and asking the lieutenant to bring him some food while he was at it, but discarded the notion almost before it occurred to him. A curious smell drifted to Archer's nose and he gave the steaming cup that Trip had brought with him a suspicious look. It didn't smell like coffee. On impulse, he reached for the mug and sniffed at its contents. Instantly, he gave Tucker an incredulous look.
"Tea?" he asked with faux disgust. "She's got you drinking tea now?" Embarrassment crossed Trip's face as he reclaimed his mug, once more the man that Jon had known for nearly twenty years.
"I made a deal with her," he muttered softly, going out of his way to avoid meeting Jon's eyes. Despite his earlier dark mood, Archer found himself on the brink of laughing outright. "She wants me to cut back on the caffeine," Trip admitted almost sheepishly.
"No steak, no coffee," Jon said as he began ticking off fingers, a grin on his face. "What's next, Trip? No pie?" The flash of horror that crossed Tucker's face was something that Archer wished he could frame.
"That's not funny," the younger man grumbled, despite the fact that it was funny. Jon smirked.
"She's got you on a short leash, Mister Tucker," he chuckled. It was one of those odd idiosyncrasies that Jonathan Archer knew about the relationship between Trip and T'Pol, while Commodore Archer remained blithely ignorant of it. It was nothing new, though; Jon had been looking the other way in regards to the two ever since he realized that they were more than friends in the Expanse. Selective observation was a good thing, he had decided when he had first noticed the change in their relationship. As long as he had plausible deniability, Command couldn't tell him to step in and do something he had no desire to do.
Not that he ever really did what Command wanted him to anyway...
"Speaking of," Trip responded, a shrewd glint in his eyes, "how's Erika?"
"That's a low blow," Archer replied as he shook his head. He returned his attention to the holo-table in silent acknowledgment that the younger man had struck a telling blow while ignoring the smug look that Trip shot him. It was only a temporary cease-fire, but Jon was sure that he would find another way to harass Trip about his relationship with T'Pol. Unless Trip beat him to it, of course.
The moment he began studying the holo-table, however, his good mood began to dissolve. There had to be something that he was missing, something that would explain why the Romulans had backed off the way they did. The thought that it could be a trap had already occurred to him, but Stockholm's transmission had been authenticated by no less than three different comm-techs. If it was a trap, then it meant that the Romulans had access to even more classified information than seemed possible.
Assume it's a trap, Jon told himself grimly. Knowing where the trap is – that's the first step in evading it. He exhaled softly as he gave the nearby chronometer a glance.
Under two hours to go.
At T minus thirty, Lieutenant Daniel Hsiao found himself fighting off a skull-crushing headache.
When the pain began, he had already been aboard the Hyperion for nearly sixty hours, trying to track down a seemingly nonexistent fault in the Daedalus-class ship's flight avionics. Lieutenant Commander Selma Rodriguez, the ship's executive officer and senior helmsman, had been at his side for nearly the entire time and, despite their mutual frustration, had somehow managed to avoid responding to his short temper. It was only one of the things that made her so damned attractive.
"Remind me again why I'm doing this?" he grumbled as he pushed himself deeper into the bowels of the ship's flight controls. Rodriguez almost snorted.
"Because this stupid upgrade was based on your suggestions," she replied. They were flat on their backs and head to head in the cramped alcove, both staring up at the circuitry that should have been working instead of shorting out ship's avionics at random and amazingly inopportune intervals. "And you convinced the commodore that you could do it faster than any of my engineers."
Dan sighed at her comment and, for what felt like the thousandth time, silently cursed himself for ever proposing that the upgrade he'd developed for Endeavour's flight systems could work on a Daedalus. Even if the Hyperion's systems were based on technology originally field tested on Enterprise and Columbia, the ship classes now seemed too different for any such upgrades to work properly. Unfortunately, Hsiao's shooting off of his mouth about his capabilities had led the engineering team to leave the entire thing in his less than capable hands. If nothing else, this had taught him when to keep his mouth shut in the future.
"The RK36 junction is reading as faulty," Rodriguez pointed out as she tried to maneuver in the cramped space. Armed with a circuit reader and a specialized PADD for this very purpose, she was his eyes and ears. "That might be the problem."
"That junction isn't even part of the upgrade!" Dan muttered as pushed himself closer to the named circuit junction. Placing the tip of the testing tool to the faulty junction, he glowered at the result. "It's dead," he declared. A thought occurred to him, and he checked the surrounding circuits as well. "Dammit ... they're all dead." He craned his head to look at Hyperion's first officer. "How long will it take to pull this entire junction and replace it?" he asked. As she scrunched her nose up in thought, Hsiao found himself distracted by her brown eyes. Now is not the time, he reminded himself as he forced himself to look someplace else.
"At least twenty, twenty-five minutes," the lieutenant commander mused in response to his question, biting her lips as she did.
"That's cutting it pretty close," Dan remarked. He began making some mental calculations: It would take a minimum of twenty-five minutes to get him transferred back to Endeavour via shuttlepod, which would take them to T minus five. Glancing back at Rodriguez, he could see she was having the same thoughts.
"We don't know if this is the actual problem," Hsiao continued. "If it isn't, Hyperion still can't fly and my job isn't done."
"Guess you're staying for a bit," she said with a beautiful smile. "We can beam you over to Endeavour if time runs out." Dan shuddered at the thought of using the transporter; so far, he'd managed to avoid having to use the damned thing, and, knowing that there weren't any other options left, he swallowed the lump in his throat. The things I do for Earth, he reflected darkly as he began pulling the fried circuits.
"I better tell the Skipper," Rodriguez sighed, before pushing herself out from under the control circuits. Without thinking, Dan frowned at mention of Commander Rivers; they had butted heads from the moment that Hsiao had come aboard Hyperion and it seemed Rivers saw the lieutenant's presence as a personal attack on his command. As time passed and the source of the fault remained unknown, the commander's aggression had only intensified, and Dan found himself very glad that Lieutenant Commander Rodriguez was acting as a buffer between them.
As he removed the fried circuit panels, Hsiao found himself mentally grumbling at the design flaws of the Hyperion. What kind of idiot would put the avionics control in such a difficult place to reach? They were nearly as hard to reach as the power cell on his mother's ground car.
The ease with which the circuit panels were removed belied his initial thoughts, though, and he found himself grudgingly admitting that, despite how godawful ugly the Daedalus-class was, the efficiency with which they could be repaired was a major advantage. Every single system aboard the ship was designed to be generic and interchangeable with other ships of the same class. The flight controls of the Hyperion, for example, could be pulled and placed into the Prometheus or the Odysseus or any other Daedalus-class in service without needing a single adjustment or upgrade. The same couldn't be said of any other ship class in the Fleet.
Within seconds, Lieutenant Commander Rodriguez had rejoined him. They worked in silence for a few minutes until Hsiao could stand it no longer. He drew in a deep breath.
"I'm sorry I insulted your ship," he said. Three hours earlier, he had made some less than diplomatic comments about the Hyperion that the lieutenant commander had clearly taken offense over. While he still thought that the ship was uglier than any he'd seen, it probably hadn't been his smartest decision to reveal his thoughts on the matter to her.
"You better be," Rodriguez retorted in an almost teasing tone. "Wrong circuit," she continued as he started to replace one of the ruined boards. Dan glanced at it and grit his teeth in annoyance as he looked for the right one.
"Thought you were a pilot," he began, pushing the board into its proper place. "Never took you for a grease monkey."
"My dad was an engineer's mate on the Republic." She flashed him a bright smile. "He always wanted a son, so he made damned sure that I knew my way around engines." With a grunt of effort, she pulled an especially damaged board free. "We should check the relays. Maybe the upgrade is causing the feedback and fried these."
"That doesn't make sense," Dan argued. "The transfer circuits are working." He gave her a sharp look when she snickered. "What?"
"It's not your fault," the lieutenant commander smiled, almost as she were quoting something or someone. "Never mind," she said when he continued to give her a confused look. "I'll double check the relays. Hyperion's power usage is different than Endeavour's so that might be where the problem is."
"I suppose," he conceded.
"What about you?" Rodriguez asked once she had extricated herself from the tiny alcove. "I thought you were a pilot too." She was half crouched in front of the relays, and it took every gram of Hsiao's willpower to avoid ogling her posterior. Now is definitely not the time, he reminded himself.
"My degree is in astronautical engineering," he revealed. "Joined Starfleet in hopes of being the next Cochrane or Henry Archer." Dan shrugged as he pushed another circuit board into place. "Found out that I'm a better pilot than I ever was an engineer though." He could feel her eyes on him and felt that he had to explain. "I'm great at refining previous designs, but I don't have that instinctive ... feel for machinery that great engineers need."
"Like your captain." Rodriguez was smiling again. She had very white teeth, Dan noted.
"Like my captain," Hsiao agreed with a smile of his own. "How are we reading now?"
"Better." Hyperion's first officer input several commands into the nearby. "But still not right." She gave him a quick look. "I think we're on the right track, though."
With a grunt, Dan pulled himself out from under the alcove and climbed to his feet. He glanced over the data before nodding.
"Yeah," he agreed as he pulled his PADD out of his left cargo pocket. He could feel her eyes on him as he began tapping on the small data device. "If we reroute the power through Junction CV-394," he declared after a moment of study, "it should work." He offered her the PADD.
"We'll need some help," Rodriguez pointed out as she returned the data device to him. Before he could respond, she was turning toward the nearby comm panel. "Lieutenant O'Reilly to flight ops," she said the moment that she depressed the transmit button. "Bring three engineers."
"On my way," came the quick response. The lieutenant commander released the button and turned her attention back to Dan.
"We better get to work," she said, nodding toward the door.
"Yeah," he agreed before glancing at his chronometer. They were running out of time.
Time had run out.
The chirp of the chronometer alarm pulled Commander T'Pol out of her study of the data before her, and caused her to glance up at the wall monitor. With her normal duties completed, she had been studying one of Trip's theories about reducing the induced and parasitic drag of the warp field in an attempt to obtain additional velocity. She wasn't quite sure when he had found the time to make these calculations, but, as she had studied the theory, she had found herself once more fascinated by his analytical process. No matter how much time she spent with him, he constantly managed to surprise her with his leaps of logic that were so often accurate.
Rising to her feet, T’Pol gave the captain's ready room a quick glance before pocketing the PADD that contained her mate's latest warp theories. She had retired to the ready room nearly an hour earlier, knowing that Trip would be spending that time with Commodore Archer as they continued to study the battle plan in an attempt to improve their chances. The sense of disquiet that pulsed through the bond she shared with her mate continued to trouble her, and she found herself echoing his concern.
She strode through the door leading to the bridge, noting with some surprise that the only member of the Alpha shift present was Lieutenant Devereux. As T’Pol stepped onto the command deck, the lieutenant rose from the command chair and moved toward her station.
"Commodore Archer, Captain Tucker to the bridge," the Vulcan ordered as she walked toward her own station. "Shipwide announcement," T'Pol continued. "Stand by for warp."
Less than a minute later, the hiss of the turbolift door opening informed her that Commodore Archer had arrived, and she could feel the warm touch of Trip's katra as he approached. He was still worried over the battle plan, and she winced slightly at the force of his concern. Giving him a subtle look, she frowned almost imperceptibly. Quickly, his control reasserted itself and he gave her a sheepish half-smile of apology.
"Contact Hyperion," the commodore ordered as he took a seat in the command chair. It was clearly an instinctive action, and embarrassment washed across the older man's face the moment he realized what he had done. Amusement pulsed through the bond as Trip grinned at the commodore.
"Comfortable enough for ya, sir?" Trip asked with a smirk. T'Pol quirked her eyebrow at the joking tone in his voice as she sat at her station.
"Sorry," Archer replied as he stood. He gave her mate a slight smile. "Old habits die hard."
Before Trip could reply, the main viewer came alive, transforming into an image of Commander Joseph Rivers, the commanding officer of UES Hyperion. The man had a sour expression on his face but, in her admittedly brief interactions with Rivers, T'Pol had discovered that this was a normal state for him. Trip had once commented that the man looked like he wasn't regular enough; but, even with her ongoing attempts to comprehend the human vernacular, T’Pol remained confused as to exactly what that meant.
Which, she supposed, had probably been Trip's intent.
"Commodore," Rivers said in greeting.
"Time's up," Archer began. "What's your status, Commander?"
"Hsiao is finishing up now, sir." The commander glowered at something off the screen. His curious reactions caused T'Pol to raise an eyebrow in curiosity; her mate seemed to notice and shot her a knowing glance. "The last estimate was five minutes."
"Get him on the line," Commodore Archer ordered before glancing at the chronometer he wore and frowning. He gave Trip a look.
"Lieutenant Hsiao here." As expected, there was no visual image of the lieutenant, and his voice sounded slightly strained.
"I need a status report, Mister Hsiao," the commodore declared. "We launch in exactly four minutes. Will Hyperion be ready then?"
"Yes, sir." Hsiao paused. "Sir, some of these upgrades are jury-rigged. It'd be better if–"
"Say no more," Archer interrupted. He looked at Trip. "I need Hyperion at Acheron, Trip."
"Understood, sir." T'Pol could feel her mate's suppressed concern over the lieutenant's fate and once more marveled at the various emotional connections that humans could make with one another. A Vulcan commander would not express the sort of worry over a crewmember that Trip did.
"Commander Rivers." The commodore frowned slightly. "I'm temporarily assigning Lieutenant Hsiao to your command," he said.
Out of the corner of her eye, T'Pol noticed Lieutenant Devereux straighten slightly in her seat and wondered about it. The two lieutenants were normally close friends but, in recent weeks, the Vulcan had noticed a strange tension between them that she couldn't quite explain. Trip had theorized a failed romantic entanglement between them, but had provided no verifiable proof to back up his hypothesis. Despite this lack of proof, T'Pol had long since learned to trust her mate's instincts when it came to human behavior.
"Aye, sir," Rivers replied. If anything, his expression soured even more, prompting T'Pol to wonder if perhaps the commander had personal or professional difficulties with Lieutenant Hsiao. Archer nodded once before turning his attention to the communications officer.
"Fleetwide channel, Lieutenant," he said. The commodore gave Trip a look that T'Pol wasn't able to identify. Once more, she sensed Trip's worry swelling up within him, but this time, he managed to keep it mostly suppressed.
"Channel open, sir," Devereux announced. The main viewer had split-screened into nine distinct images of the ship commanders of the Sixth Fleet. Archer shifted his stance slightly, inhaling softly and holding his breath for less than a second.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the commodore said as he drew himself upright. "I'd like to address the fleet."
"Shipwide channel," Trip ordered Lieutenant Devereux. On the main viewer, T'Pol could see the other commanding officers relating the same instructions. A moment passed as each ship signaled that they were ready. Archer drew in another breath before speaking once more.
"Officers and crewmen of the Sixth Fleet," he began, "we are about to embark upon a great crusade, the likes of which humanity hasn't seen in over a century." Archer began pacing as he spoke. "We face a well trained, well equipped and battle hardened foe," he continued, "and he will fight savagely for every cubic meter."
As the commodore spoke, T'Pol studied the assembled bridge crew discreetly. All eyes save hers were riveted upon Commodore Archer and, although her ability to read human body language was questionable, she suspected that many were deriving courage from the commodore's words.
"Humanity has lost much since war was thrust upon us," Archer declared, his voice strong. "Though we did not ask for this war, we have faced it with courage and resolve even in the face of terrible loss. Many of us have lost friends and loved ones in the fires of this conflict, yet none of us have lost the will to win." He paused, giving the bridge crew of Endeavour a confident smile. "And win we shall." A low rumble of approval answered his words, and T'Pol quirked an eyebrow at it. "The eyes of Earth are upon us. The hopes and prayers of freedom-loving people everywhere accompany us as we stride forward to meet the Enemy." The commodore smiled broadly. "Together, we will turn the tide of this war. Together, we will show the galaxy what it means to be human!"
T'Pol winced at the resounding cheer that followed Archer's words. Apart from herself, Trip and the commodore himself, every member of the bridge crew were loudly exulting over Archer's words. At a glance, she could tell that a similar action was taking place upon the other ships in the Fleet. Humans, T'Pol thought with a mental smirk. An inspirational speech such as this would have been pointless on a Vulcan craft, and a Vulcan commander would never have considered it necessary.
Despite her attempt to remain unmoved, however, T'Pol realized that the commodore's words were stirring.
"I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty," Archer continued as the cheers began to lessen. "And I know that wishing you good luck is unnecessary. Instead, I'm going to wish you one other thing." The commodore's smile hardened, inexplicably reminding T'Pol of his personality during the Expanse mission. "Good hunting," he said grimly.
"Stand by for warp," Trip ordered as he took his seat in the command chair. As he did, Commodore Archer shifted slightly, eyes fixed on the pilot's station. A wave of amusement washed through the bond that she shared with Trip, but T'Pol was unable to determine exactly who was the source of it. "Commodore," her mate said with a quick glance in her direction, "would you like to take the helm?" Archer's quick look of surprise to Trip caused the captain's smile to broaden into a grin. "That is," Tucker continued, "if you still remember how to pilot."
"Don't mind if I do," the commodore replied as he stepped forward to relieve Ensign Jefferson. For a moment, the helmsman hesitated, but at Trip's nod, relinquished his seat without comment.
"Try to keep from scratching the paint, sir," Tucker said, still grinning. The commodore shot him a look of amused annoyance before returning his full attention to the controls before him. With practiced ease, Archer's fingers flew across the console as he input commands. A subtle vibration began pulsing through the deck plates as Endeavour's engines came online. Maneuvering thrusters fired, pushing the ship from the enclosing drydock, and the commodore fed additional power into the engine. Endeavour slowly accelerated, clearing the drydock within seconds.
A chime sounded from Lieutenant Devereux's board and she gave it a quick glance before looking up to meet Trip's questioning look.
"All ships reporting ready," she informed the captain. Tucker nodded before giving T'Pol a quick glance; in that moment, the Vulcan could feel his still suppressed concern about the coming operation. She gave him a discreet nod, hoping that it would reassure him. Whatever was to happen, they would face it together. He gave her an equally circumspect smile in return before turning his attention back to the commodore seated at the helm.
"Mister Archer," Trip said to the visible amusement of the bridge staff, "take us to warp." With a slight smile on his own face, the commodore input commands. The ambient hum of Endeavour's engines spiked as the ship surged forward.
They were on their way.