Captain’s starlog, March 29th, 2158. On Commander T’Pol’s recommendation, we’re en route to the Xanthan homeworld where we … where Enterprise encountered Rajiin the first time. I’m not sure how much info we’ll be able to obtain about her from there although I seem to recall the Oran’taku world is only a light year or so distant. While I haven’t yet ruled out visiting that planet, on the advice of my senior officers, we’re holding off going there for the time being.
He was beginning to regret this.
It had been his idea to accompany the latest shuttlepod sweep, despite the growing sense of futility, and Trip Tucker silently wondered if this entire expedition was going to ever reveal anything but wiped out planetary cultures or destroyed starships. Upon their arrival in-system, T’Pol had instantly detected the presence of dozens scrapped hulls, all bearing indications of an intense space battle. Unlike previous instances, though, the battle of the Xanthan system had evidently included quite a number of different species – in addition to the eponymous Xindi starships, most of which were Arboreal or Primate, there were several Ikaaran vessels, a trio of Illyrian transports, and even an Osaarian merchant tug. The remains of at least six other ships of unknown origin filled the space around the waterworld and, from T’Pol’s preliminary scan, nearly five times that number had been completely destroyed.
None of the floating bazaars that had dotted the planet escaped damage and most had completely vanished underneath the waves, though there were large sections that remained relatively intact. Their hails went unanswered – it honestly looked like there was no one alive to answer them – but Trip ordered additional sensor sweeps and close surface scans that could only be handled by shuttlepods. He knew that the likelihood of them finding even a single survivor was so remote that it might as well be no chance at all, but he just felt the need to do something.
Shortly after the first wave of scans were complete and they had an even better grasp of the sheer scope of damage, Phlox had discreetly complimented him on the use of psychology – according to the doctor, this subtle attempt to cement in the minds of the crew what might happen to Earth if they lost the war was most effective. Unfortunately, Commander Eisler had also been present and he had promptly added his own congratulations on what he called an ‘excellent psyop campaign.’
Trip had very nearly thrown them both off the bridge.
Disgusted, both at them and at himself – while that wasn’t the only reason he wanted Endeavour to linger, Trip would be a liar if he said the thought hadn't crossed his mind – Tucker had exercised his command authority to overrule Eisler’s standing orders and joined the last shuttlepod sweep. He’d intended to be as alone with his thoughts as possible, but that turned out to be nearly impossible, in between Warrant Officer Gray refusing to let him fly one of the ‘pods because his certification had expired and Rick’s choice of Roughneck escort. T’Pol knew that he was uncomfortable around CPO Fernandez, but so far, she hadn't figured out that the chief petty officer simply reminded Trip entirely too much of Natalie for him to even look at the woman for longer than a few moments without feeling a cold shiver crawl up his back. They had the same hair style, same facial structure, and even the same last name! There was no actual familial relationship – Trip was embarrassed to admit that he’d actually checked when Rick first shanghaied the woman from the Telemachus – but the similarities were just so spooky that it freaked him out.
“Commencing final sensor sweep,” Lieutenant Commander Mayweather declared from the pilot’s station of the ‘pod. She’d been passing by the launch bay when Trip had been arguing with Gray – seriously, the former Roughneck’s combat promotion to warrant officer had clearly gone straight to his head; Trip was the captain, dammit, which meant he shouldn’t have to put up with this kind of nonsense – and had surprisingly volunteered to fly the ‘pod. Gray had been recalcitrant with her too, but had eventually relented when she demanded he point out the regulation that forbade her from piloting a shuttle.
“Nothing,” Trip said as he studied the sensor feed from the navigator’s console. “Not a damned thing.”
“Except water,” Mayweather agreed. She shook her head in disgust. “Doesn’t look a thing like the pictures Travis sent us…” Trip blinked – he always forgot that she was Travis’ sister, what with her general standoffishness, although she had opened up quite a bit in the last few weeks. He’d seen her eating with Hoshi a couple of times recently, laughing and joking over stories about her late brother.
“Water, water, every where,” Fernandez quoted softly from the back of the ‘pod, her voice clearly not intended to be heard. “Nor any drop to drink.”
“Just don’t shoot the damned albatross,” Trip grumbled, ignoring the look that Fernandez shot him. “Take us home, Selina,” he ordered with a heavy sigh.
“Aye, sir,” Mayweather replied.
They were only minutes away from Endeavour when the comm-line crackled and came alive. For the briefest of seconds, Trip hoped it was a survivor finally responding to their hails with a miraculous tale of how he or she managed to stay alive, but the illusion was shattered almost instantly when an all too familiar voice echoed out of the speakers.
“Shuttlepod One, this is Endeavour.” Hoshi sounded calm, unflappable, but with a slight undercurrent of excitement in her voice. Trip hit the transmit button on his panel.
“This is Tucker. Go ahead, Hoshi.”
“Sir, we’ve detected a distress signal from an Illyrian ship about two light years out of the system.” Even though she couldn’t see him, Trip nodded.
“Set a course,” he ordered. “We’re…”
“Three minutes,” Mayweather said in response to his unspoken question.
“Three minutes out,” Trip said. “Once we’re aboard, break orbit.”
“Understood. Endeavour out.”
It took a little over three days to reach the source of the distress signal, even at warp factor six, and by the time they slowed to impulse, Trip knew that they were about to witness more carnage. T’Pol’s scans quickly revealed their destination was the site of yet another space battle, though this one was much smaller in scale than what they’d seen at Xanthan or the Xindi council planet. Only six craft had been involved – five Illyrian transports, all much larger than the one that Enterprise had encountered so many years ago, and a single Xindi-Insectoid patrol cruiser – and one of the Illyrian ships was still mostly intact. It was heavily damaged, with its entire hull blackened by particle cannon fire and the engine dark. They were, at best, coasting on maneuvering jets but at least they still had power.
“Life signs?” Trip asked as Endeavour crept forward, its weapons systems prepped for action in case this was an ambush.
“Twenty-one,” T’Pol replied. “All conform to known readings for Illyrians.” She frowned. “Their warp core is offline.” Trip grimaced at the flood of memories that came on the heels of the simple comment. As far as he knew, Starfleet had never been able to find out what happened to the Illyrian ship that Enterprise had boarded…
Stop it, he told himself. If we hadn't acted, Earth could have been destroyed.
It was an excuse, a valid one that he knew to be completely accurate, but still, the very thought of their actions made him sick to his stomach. He wondered how Jon was able to live with himself. Sometimes, he wondered how he managed to live with himself.
“Open a channel,” Trip began but Hoshi spoke over him.
“Incoming transmission,” she announced. “Audio and visual.” Trip nodded and she flipped a switch that activated the main viewer. The female Illyrian who appeared looked to be exhausted, wounded and just a little shell-shocked.
“…please respond. This is Illyrian vessel Grace of Fire to unidentified starship. We are not hostile. Do not engage.”
“This is Captain Charles Tucker of the Earth ship, Endeavour,” Trip said. “We’re here to help.”
“Earth ship?” the Illyrian woman repeated with a hopeful expression. “Captain Lorian?” Trip inhaled sharply, even as T’Pol visibly flinched and Hoshi turned wide eyes on him.
“No,” Trip said softly, “Captain Lorian isn’t with us.” He swallowed a thick lump in his throat and concentrated on appearing captainly. “We’re standing by to render aid.”
It took less than ten minutes for Anna’s engineering team to determine that the Grace of Fire’s warp core was a lost cause. Microfractures were everywhere and none of the injectors looked like they could handle the stress of even warp one. From just the brief glance he’d given the core, Trip was astounded that they hadn’t suffered a catastrophic breach and he wasn’t sure if the design saved their lives or if it was just dumb luck. The Illyrian captain – fourth officer, actually; the captain and his number two had died during the attack by the Xindi-Insectoid ship, and the third-in-command had died during damage control emergency venting – grudgingly agreed to abandon ship and allow Endeavour to carry them to their final destination.
“This is twice I owe an Earth ship,” she admitted during dinner later that evening. “Your Captain Lorian pulled our ship out of an anomaly a few cycles ago, right before they disappeared entirely.” T’Pol raised an eyebrow – she normally disliked these social gatherings and had admitted to barely tolerating them when Jon had forced her to attend, but had decided to join him out of an irrational distrust of Acting-Captain Kandos-Tir, not because the Illyrian woman was untrustworthy but because she was a non-human female and, according to T’Pol, he had an exceedingly bad record in that regard.
Trip had laughed outright at the statement.
“Indeed?” T’Pol said, no sign of her thoughts in her voice or on her face. “How soon before they ended?” she asked.
“It was a few solar days,” Kandos-Tir said with a smile. Trip glanced at T’Pol and their eyes met. It was little more than circumstantial evidence – the incident could have been before they encountered Lorian … but it could have also been after their trip through the subspace corridor.
“You have his ears,” Acting-Captain Kandos-Tir said abruptly. “Are you related to him?”
“I am,” T’Pol replied. She hesitated, clearly unsure how to proceed.
“His daughter,” Trip offered quickly. Kandos-Tir’s face lit up with a smile even as T’Pol shot him a sour look that caused him to shrug. Honestly, would anyone believe that she was Lorian’s mother?
“When you look upon him again,” the Illyrian said brightly, “you must thank him for me.”
“I shall … do my best,” T’Pol said.
Naturally, the conversation turned to the circumstances that the Grace of Fire found itself in and Trip listened with growing despair as Kandos-Tir outlined the depredations of the Xindi-Insectoids and Xindi-Reptilians in their ongoing civil war. With the dissolution of the thermobaric clouds that made the Delphic Expanse so dangerous, the two were no longer restrained from making a grab for power. First, they had united to crush the military forces of their fellow Xindi, starting with a surprise attack on the Aquatics that crippled their more powerful cousins. After that, the Arboreals and the Primates were easy to pick off, and, within a matter of months, the only rivals the Insectoid and Reptilians faced in the Expanse were each other.
So naturally, they started fighting.
Entire worlds were ravaged by the brutal engagements – Kandos-Tir knew firsthand about the virtual extermination of the Ikaaran race as she and the Grace of Fire had narrowly escaped a Reptilian battle fleet when it arrived at the Ikaaran homeworld to assault an Insectoid outpost that had been forcibly imposed upon the natives of that world. Xanthan had, for a time, been neutral space, with at least twelve different species rallying to defend it. Unfortunately, when they mistakenly allowed Xindi-Arboreal and Primate refugees to land on one of the commerce bazaars, the Insectoids attacked, using the decision as flimsy excuse for conquest.
“We were en route to Xanthan with the hopes of finding survivors,” Kandos-Tir said glumly, “but the patrol cruiser attacked and our defenses were not sufficient.”
Trip was silent for a long moment as he digested the new information. At his side, T’Pol was staring at her now empty plate, her lips pursed slightly and her eyes narrowed. She glanced up to meet his gaze and Tucker inhaled slowly.
“Tell me about these Xindi refugees,” he said.
Silence answered him.
=/\= =/\= =/\=
A far distant chime echoed through the mountain of Gol, each deep note perfectly timed to begin at exactly the instant that the previous one faded away. Though they were never seen by the public, the acolytes responsible for the sounds were more than simply diligent in their duties; it was a widely known fact that those seeking to attain kolinahr relied upon the ringing of the ancient chimes to focus their minds and purge all emotion. No matter the day or hour, the gongs were an eternal constant that never ceased or paused, a steady, rhythmic sound that a deeply buried part of him likened it to a pulse.
His muscles protested as he rose to his feet from the stone floor where he had been kneeling in meditation, but Soval ignored the discomfort as he adjusted the outer robe that identified him as a member of T’Pau’s government. His was a new position, created especially for him and with a carefully phrased mandate that alternately confused and impressed. Only a select few understood what it was that Sub-Minister Soval did and, at times, his level of authority seemed excessive for one without a clearly defined role. On one day, he appeared to represent Internal Security, while on another he was with defense, and yet another he seemed to answer to Transportation, but most of his race simply perceived him as just another bureaucrat to be mollified until he went away and life returned to normal. This was completely intentional, of course, and Soval was once more impressed by T’Pau’s level of competency. Obfuscation, it turned out, was not just a diplomat’s tool – it was a governmental agency.
This visit to Gol had been an unscheduled one that accomplished several objectives at once, which, with his limited free time was always a boon. First, and quite possibly most important, it gave Soval the opportunity to avoid another pointless meeting with the Earth ambassador. A career politician with his eye on advancement, Thomas Vanderbilt had no business acting as a representative for his culture. Despite having been on Vulcan for three years, he had yet to learn how to temper his passions or reign in his emotions. Even Archer had come to realize that raising one’s voice when opposed did not impress humanity’s oldest ally. Still, Vanderbilt was of sufficient intelligence that conversing with him was not like speaking to rocks, which Soval had to admit was how he often felt when talking to other members of EarthGov.
And sadly, he had discovered certain elements of his own government were so obtuse that comparing them to rocks was a grave insult to inanimate stone.
Of secondary importance, although Soval suspected that T’Pau might disagree with his list of priorities, was obtaining a status report on Master Chief Petty Officer Colin Mackenzie, the Endeavour crewman who had been telepathically assaulted by V’tosh ka’tur from the Vahklas. It was illogical to presume that the female responsible had not been at the very least a Romulan sympathizer; the question that Soval was most interested in was rather simple: had the female – T’Mab, according to the records they had obtained – been Vulcan or was she Rihannsu?
The Initiate-Master responsible for Mackenzie’s treatment turned out to be Tavaris’ daughter, T’Sai, and Soval admired her grace as she approached. Once, an eternity ago, he had hoped that his son would be mated to this woman and would find the same level of contentment that his parents had discovered with their own marriage, but that dream had been laid to rest alongside the remains of a brilliant, creative child who had died far too early.
“Sub-Minister,” T’Sai greeted with subtle inclination of her head. It wasn’t a bow or even a nod like the humans were so fond of, but rather a simple gesture of acknowledgement that they were equals. Soval lifted his hand, fingers automatically spreading in the traditional ta’al.
“Live long and prosper, Lady T’Sai,” he intoned. She returned the gesture smoothly, but from her body language, he could tell that she was exhausted.
“You have come to ask about the human, Mackenzie,” she said, mispronouncing the master chief petty officer’s name.
“I have,” Soval replied, deciding against correcting her.
“The damage wrought by T’Mab has been corrected,” the Initiate-Master declared. “I have released him to quarters where he is resting.” She narrowed her eyes. “But I suspect you are less concerned about his well-being than you are about the secrets he may have uncovered.” Soval’s lips twitched and he fought down the urge to smirk.
“You are truly your father’s child,” he said wryly. T’Sai’s right eyebrow climbed a centimeter and Soval quickly realized that she might perceive an insult where none was intended. He opened his mouth to continued, but T’Sai spoke first.
“There is no offense,” she quoted calmly, “where none is intended. I thank you for the compliment.” A moment later, she continued, her tone brisk and her eyes hooded. “The human does not have sufficient information to link T’Mab and those who followed S’task.”
“Do not underestimate humanity,” Soval warned her. “They are more intelligent than they may appear.”
“Of this, I am aware,” T’Sai said. She paused for a moment. “I do not believe that T’Mab was of S’task’s Flock,” she admitted. “The flavor of her thoughts … she was Lost to us, yes, and without logic, but nothing of what she left behind in the human’s mind indicates anything but one who had abandoned the true path and unwisely sought to follow in the footsteps of the Adepts of T’Pel.” Soval inhaled sharply – even now, centuries after they had departed Vulcan, the Adepts were still remembered. An order of assassins, their founder had been rumored to be Surak’s blood and they had twisted his teachings into something abhorrent. “It would not be logical to presume that she was operating without their sanction, but I do not believe she was Rihannsu.”
“You do not appear surprised that our cousins have returned,” Soval said after a few seconds of silence. T’Sai raised an eyebrow.
“Should I be?” she asked. A different gong sounded, though somehow, in a way that Soval could not possibly fathom, it neither overpowered the steadier, softer chime, nor clashed with it in any way. Instead, the second tone merged with the first and became the same sound, all the while adding a difference that was both unmistakable and aesthetically pleasing. “My duties summon,” T’Said said as Soval was admiring the acoustics and expertise that were at work. “If you require additional information,” she continued briskly but without rush, “I will make myself available, Sub-Minister.” She raised her hand to salute. “We are here to serve,” she said.
“Your service honors us, Lady T’Sai,” Soval replied instantly as he returned the ta’al.
A moment later, she was gone.
The muscles in his back chose that moment to begin protesting and Soval bit back a frustrated sigh that would have no doubt revealed how close he was to an actual emotional display. His head ached as he slowly retraced his steps to the landing platforms. Already, more questions were crowding into his awareness and forcing him to re-evaluate his next step. If Mackenzie remained ignorant of the link, that was fortunate, but the master chief petty officer would likely return to service aboard Endeavour once T’Sai declared him fit, which would place him in close proximity to Commander T’Pol. She was, at the best of times, a frighteningly intelligent woman who would need only a few pieces of the puzzle to realize that something was amiss. And if T’Pol became aware of the Romulan-Vulcan connection, it was logical to presume that Captain Tucker would know shortly thereafter. He would tell Archer and then?
This time, Soval did allow himself to sigh.
He was barely three steps beyond the entrance to the kolinahr complex when he became aware of eyes upon him. Pausing in mid-step, Soval surveyed the landing pad with cautious eyes, his muscles tensing in the event that another assassination attempt was likely even though he suspected that to be improbable. Since his intervention against those that sought to murder T’Pau at Surak’s Tomb, there had been no additional attempts on his life, no matter that, at his direction, specialist commando teams continued to engage citizens deemed to be potential threats to Vulcan stability. When his fell upon a familiar figure, he blinked in surprise.
“Live long and prosper, Sub-Minister,” Citizen Koss said as he approached. Soval examined him carefully, noting immediately that the younger man had shed a considerable amount of weight. Koss’ clothes hung loosely around him and the haggard expression on his face implied that this was more a result of stress than of a dedicated exercise regimen. “May I have a moment of your time?” Koss inquired. When Soval began to prevaricate, Koss spoke once more. “I have become aware that you are conducting an internal investigation into subversive elements within our society,” he said. It was said with a certainty that was mildly troublesome and Soval nearly clung to his cover story until he noticed something about the younger man.
Koss was terrified.
It was not immediately obvious, but having only recently been hunted himself, Soval instantly recognized the signs. Koss appeared to be hyper-aware of his surroundings, visibly reacting to sounds and movements that were slightly out of the norm, regardless of the source. His eyes never stopped moving and his entire body seemed poised on the verge of motion.
“You are well informed,” Soval said slowly. “For an architect, that is,” he added.
“Becoming informed has become necessary,” Koss replied. After a moment of consideration, Soval nodded.
“Come with me,” he ordered. He turned away without another word and was unsurprised when the architect fell into step behind him.
“Jolan’tru, Sub-Minister,” the commando standing guard at the shuttle said in greeting and Soval could feel Koss immediately tense. Recognition flickered across the architect’s face and was instantly noticed by the commando. Soval gave him a discreet hand gesture – do not engage, he instructed with little more than a wave of his hand – and Major Tanis responded with a subtle disapproving flare of his nostrils. The use of the Romulan greeting, obtained through means Soval preferred not to think about, was one of their many tools: a Vulcan who had never interacted with their lost cousins would likely react in confusion as the phrase meant nothing in their native tongue, but a dissident or an actual Rihannsu operative would invariably respond, whether by returning the greeting or by growing more wary.
That Koss reacted as he did placed him in very dangerous company.
“You have your moment,” Soval said once they were airborne. He was unconcerned about their flight plan: Tanis was an exceptional pilot and his loyalty was without question; melding with the commando was one of the very first things Soval when the former Syrannite was assigned to him by Minister T’Pau.
“I have been conducting an independent investigation into the activities of my family,” Koss began, his eyes grim, “and have discovered a number of … troubling links to numerous seditious activities.” Soval quirked an eyebrow and Koss continued. “You are aware of my short-lived marriage?”
“I am,” Soval said carefully. T’Pol’s brief union with this man had long been a source of speculation on his part as very little of the circumstances seemed logical. That Koss brought it up at all seemed a calculated attempt to further personalize his dire circumstances since Soval’s professional relationship with Endeavour’s first officer was common knowledge. It was a masterfully logical stroke.
“What you are likely unaware of,” Koss added, “is that I pressured T’Pol into marriage against the wishes of my father.” Soval raised an eyebrow at that – he had been certain that it was the other way around – and Koss exhaled deeply, his exhaustion becoming more obvious. “I was quite fond of Professor T’Les during my time at the Science Academy,” he said, “and felt that the marriage was the only way to protect her.” Abruptly, Koss looked away, his control faltering ever so briefly. “My father was quite … displeased that I would press the matter with T’Pol, particularly since it was quite obvious that her interests were directed … elsewhere, and it was following the bonding ceremony that I became convinced that he – my father – was actually responsible for the allegations against Professor T’Les.” Soval remained silent and Koss continued. “I shared my concerns with the professor prior to her decision to join the Syrannites,” he said with a tight frown. “After her death,” he said, “my father made several comments to some of his associates that I took as threats toward my wife…”
“Which is why you released her from the marriage,” Soval guessed.
“Yes,” Koss said. “I continued to investigate my family afterward, but as you are aware, I am simply an architect.” His lips tightened. “I have neither the skills nor the talent to conduct an efficient and covert investigation of this magnitude.” Soval gave Tanis a quick glance, noting with well-hidden pleasure that the commando was discreetly inputting new search parameters into their computer system, all aimed toward corroborating Koss’ tale. “I attempted to make contact with my former spouse for assistance,” the architect added, “but I either misjudged the level of … antipathy she harbors toward me or my attempts at being circumspect were more successful than I anticipated. In either case, she has not responded.”
“May I presume that you have no solid proof?” Soval inquired. It was the logical explanation for Koss’ decision to come forward and he was unsurprised when the architect’s shoulders sagged.
“You may,” he admitted. “I have observed documents and overheard conversations that link my parents to certain elements of the former government of Administrator V’Las, but have been unable to obtain copies of them for your examination.”
“I see.” Soval leaned back in his acceleration seat and studied the individual in front of him. Everything Koss had told him was, on the surface, completely circumstantial – without any actionable evidence, there was little Soval could do apart from continue his observation of the family in question. Despite his better judgment, though, he had to admit that Koss’ story carried with it the ring of truth. He glanced once more to Tanis who nodded in unspoken agreement. “Tell me everything,” Soval ordered. “Leave nothing out.”
“You believe me?” Koss asked, hope appearing in his eyes.
“I do,” Soval replied simply.
And at those words, Koss visibly relaxed.
=/\= =/\= =/\=
Around him, the rest of the bridge crew were in varying states of worry, with at least two bordering on absolute panic, but to Dan Hsiao, the entire situation felt like just another day at the office. In his opinion, it was really quite simple: they were all ultimately doomed anyway so why get worked up over the specifics of how they would die? Hell, even the Vulcans got it: in accepting the inevitable, one of their maxims went, one finds peace.
Dan had found peace a long time ago.
Currently, Hyperion was creeping into the Zeta 1 Reticuli system – better known as Acheron – at speeds only a little faster than Dan’s last car. He’d only briefly considered taking the warp core offline, knowing that it would make them more difficult to detect, but decided that the negatives simply outweighed the positive. The very last thing he wanted in the event that there were a fleet of Rommies lurking in-system was to be unable to go to warp.
As was his habit, he was standing in front of his command chair rather than sitting in it. Although he often complained that it wasn’t very comfortable, the truth of the matter was that he just preferred to be on his feet. Not only did this mean he could look over the shoulder of his helmsman, a cute ensign who had a tendency to mutter under her breath when she was concentrating, but it also allowed him get a better feel for Hyperion. Sure, some of his officers probably believed he was a little crazy when he claimed to know that the maneuvering thrusters were acting up or the impulse manifold was a little wobbly but so far, he’d been right every time and that was all that really mattered.
“Anything on the sensors?” he asked, directing his question to the dark-skinned junior lieutenant manning the science board.
“No, sir,” Lieutenant Tariq Nadir replied. Dan nodded in understanding – they’d been running silent for most of the trip and passive scans weren’t exactly known for their accuracy. Still, even without active sensors, they’d been able to tell that the Romulans had so thoroughly nuked what was left of the Acheron colony that Hsiao suspected it was still glowing.
“Okay,” he said with a slight frown. “Light ‘em up. Go active.”
“Is that a good idea?” Marie Devereux asked from the communications station. Hsiao had been more than a little surprised when Admiral Archer assigned her to Hyperion following Lieutenant Watt’s promotion and reassignment – Dan hadn't even known Marie was on Earth! – and the long voyage had been complicated as hell. This was a perfect example: she was accustomed to being his equal, not his subordinate, and had an unfortunate tendency to question his orders in front of everyone. As far as he could tell, it wasn’t malicious on her part, but each time it happened, Dan had to fight the urge to snap at her.
Of course, it probably didn’t help that he knew what she looked like naked, especially since his brain tended to skip straight to that part of his memory whenever he looked at her.
“Make it so, Lieutenant,” Hsiao instructed, not bothering to answer Devereux. He gave her a quick, sidelong look that hopefully conveyed a firm ‘stop it,’ before turning his full attention to Lieutenant Karl Anthony, his tactical officer. A bear of a man, Anthony had reputedly retired from Starfleet at the rank of chief petty officer before the war began and had been aboard a Boomer ship at Thor’s Cradle. “Go to condition red,” Dan ordered.
Long seconds crept by as they waited for the inevitable Romulan assault – the instant Nadir began sweeping the system with active sensors, they were announcing their presence to any ship in the system – but no attack came. Dan collapsed in the command chair and leaned forward, cupping his chin with one hand while he tapped the armrest with the other.
“No sign of Romulan ships, sir,” Lieutenant Nadir announced. “Reading … debris from Starfleet vessels and Romulan drones … no encroachments.” Hsiao grunted and his eyes drifted to Marie. Instinctively, she glanced up from her board and met his gaze.
Dan looked away.
“I’ve got something!” Nadir suddenly declared. “It’s weak … but it’s definitely a power signature of some kind.”
“Where?” Hsiao demanded. On the main viewer, a flashing red bracket appeared atop one of the numerous small moons orbiting one of the gas giants on the outer fringes of the system. Dan was about to order it magnified when Nadir zoomed in.
And as one, the command crew inhaled with surprise.
“A bird of prey,” Anthony breathed. “And it looks mostly intact…”
“Confirm no encroachments,” Dan snapped, fighting to keep his excitement under control. Admiral Archer had ordered him to poke around the system and see what the Rommies were up to, but if they could come back with an intact bird of prey? He shivered.
“Scanning,” Nadir stated. For long moments, the whir of his sensor board and the distant hum of the warp core was the only sound. “Confirmed,” the science officer said. “No other sensor contacts detected.” Dan inhaled, then nodded.
“Take us in, Ensign Nguyen,” he ordered. “Let’s go take a look.”
The bird of prey was in remarkable condition, with only a single nacelle missing. A trio of undetonated Mark VI torpedoes were lodged in its hull, but what had ultimately killed the ship was the gaping hole that pierced straight through the engineering deck. It was a miracle that there hadn't been a core breach when the warship suffered the damage in the first place, but based on just an external examination, it seemed likely that the catastrophic loss of oxygen and pressure had killed most of the crew instantly.
Despite Anthony’s complaints, Dan accompanied the initial security team as they transported down to the bird of prey. They materialized inside the ruined engineering deck, phase pistols at the ready. With much of the ship still exposed to vacuum, EV suits were necessary and that made a more in-depth investigation slow going. By the time Dan’s suit beeped at him, warning that he’d reached danger levels in terms of his oxygen supply, he and the three security teams had swept the Romulan ship from bow to stern.
“Our sensors are having difficulty penetrating its hull,” Nadir said once Dan returned to Hyperion and gathered his command officers for a discussion about their options.
“I noticed,” Hsiao retorted. “Even the handhelds aren’t too useful down there.” He glanced at Marie – she was at the far end of the situation table. “Comms weren’t very reliable either.”
“Don’t blame me,” Devereux replied. “We boosted output to over two hundred percent and you were still coming in choppy.”
“Locator beacons would be a good idea,” Lieutenant Anthony interjected. He tapped the table’s screen which was displaying the rudimentary deckplan they’d cobbled together for the bird of prey. “If we set up a string of relays along these corridors,” he said, “that might amplify both comms and beacons.”
“Good idea,” Dan said with a nod. “ChEng?” he asked, pronouncing the abbreviation as if it were a single word. Officially, Lieutenant Tammy Gilchrist was the ship’s first officer, but there was some continuing confusion over the exact chain of command; by both time in grade and time in service, Marie technically outranked Tammy and the two had butted heads from the instant Devereux came aboard.
“As far as I can tell,” Gilchrist said, “both their warp core and their impulse drive are totally shot. If you want this thing to fly, sir, too bad.” Dan grinned – one of the things he liked the most about Tammy was her sense of humor. Well, that and her absolutely fantastic ass. “I think we might be able to seal off the hull breaches and restore some power to internal systems,” she continued. “We might even be able to get life support restored to some sections …” Dan frowned at the way she trailed off.
“I’ve been looking over the scans you made,” she began. Anthony cleared his throat and Gilchrist gave him a long-suffering look. “The scans you and the security team made,” she corrected herself before tapping a few buttons on the situation table. Several locations on the deckplans began flashing. “There are some odd discrepancies in these sections that I can’t explain.”
“Define odd,” Dan said.
“Define discrepancies,” Anthony said at the same time.
“Odd as in strange or weird or irregular,” Gilchrist said with a smirk, “and discrepancy as in ‘I don’t know what the hell it means.’” Anthony gave her a sour look and she shrugged. “Look,” the engineer said, “I’m guessing with half of these damned systems. If I’m reading this right – and that’s a damned big if – there’s some weird power consumption going on in these areas that I can’t explain.”
“A survivor?” Marie offered. Gilchrist shrugged.
“I have no idea,” she admitted. “Could be a survivor, could be a system malfunction, hell, it could be just a sensor glitch or the Romulan equivalent of music stuck on repeat. Just thought I’d mention it.”
“Lieutenant Anthony,” Dan said after a moment, “have your teams do another couple of sweeps in those areas.”
“Lot of space to cover, sir,” the tactical officer pointed out. “Lot of places to hide if it is a survivor.”
“How likely is that anyway?” Marie asked. “It was five months ago…”
“We still know nothing about Romulan physiology,” Nadir replied. “They might be able to survive extended periods without food or water.”
“Hell,” Gilchrist muttered, “they might not even need to breathe.”
“Unlikely,” Nadir said in response. “The bird of prey appears to have had functioning life support which would indicate a humanoid of some sort.”
“There weren’t any bodies,” Anthony mused. He glanced up and met Dan’s eyes. “Not a single one.”
“Great,” Gilchrist grumbled. “As if I wasn’t already freaked out enough.”
“Make scanning those sections your top priority,” Dan told Anthony before shifting his attention to Gilchrist. “In the meantime,” he said, “I want your team working on a way to get that thing off the moon and into orbit.” He held up a hand when she opened her mouth to speak. “No excuses,” Hsiao said. “I want it aloft and then I want a viable way to tow it back to Earth.”
“Right,” she said. “No pressure at all.”
“Marie,” Dan continued, “I want you to prepare a data-dump that we can send back to Starfleet Command. Let’s let the Admiralty know what we’ve got.” He pursed his lips. “While you’re at it,” he said, “coordinate with Engineering to download as much of the Romulan computer core as we can handle – don’t worry about translating it. I just want the raw data so we can turn it over to the big brains back on Earth.”
“Aye, sir,” Devereux replied, no trace of irony or amusement in her voice. Out of the corner of his eye, Hsiao could see that she was looking at him oddly, almost as if she didn’t recognize him. He pushed the thought away.
“All right,” Dan said sharply. “Let’s get to work.”
=/\= =/\= =/\=
Her skull was on fire and every sound was amplified to the pound that it was physically painful. Lights were too bright, sending sharp, stabbing pains through her brain. All she wanted to do was to find someplace dark and cool where she could curl up and cry. What the hell had she been thinking when she agreed to this? The Vulcans had centuries to figure this whole telepath thing out and they obviously still had problems. Who was she? A single mother of one who just happened to be good with languages. She wasn’t a telepath, dammit!
“That’s it,” Hoshi Sato-Reed announced as she rolled off the bio-bed. “I’m done.”
“My scans aren’t complete,” Phlox began, but Hoshi shot him a dark look and reached for her uniform jacket.
“I have too much work to do to be wasting time on this,” she said sharply. Phlox harrumphed and, to her disgust, continued to point the hand scanner in her direction.
“We are quite close to a baseline, Commander,” he said with a slight smile. “A few more tests and …”
“And what?” Hoshi demanded. “Am I suddenly going to be able to read minds?” She snorted. “That isn’t exactly something I’m interested in!” Phlox blinked, probably more at her tone than her words, and lowered his scanner as he gave her another long, weighing look. Hoshi shifted awkwardly. “What?”
“Ah,” the doctor said softly. “Forgive me.” He put the scanner down. “How are you handling our current mission?” he asked unexpectedly. Hoshi stared at him in confusion.
“I’m fine,” she said hesitantly.
“Are you?” Phlox’s smile was fleeting and sad. “We are only days away from having Xindi aboard,” he pointed out and the simple statement caused Hoshi to flinch. Phlox nodded. “I know you still have many unresolved feelings toward them…”
“Toward the Reptilians,” Hoshi correctly tightly. She frowned. “Is this an intervention?”
“Does it need to be?” Phlox countered. He gave her another sad smile. “Captain Tucker has been struggling with his own unresolved feelings,” he said, “but unlike you, he has an intimate companion to assist him with overcoming those feelings.” Hoshi inhaled sharply, not because of the doctor’s words, but because she realized that she hadn’t thought about Malcolm all day.
Not even once.
“I can’t do this right now,” she said softly. The urge to get away from Sickbay, away from the dark memories threatening to resurface, was too intense to be denied.
“I understand,” Phlox replied. “I am here if you need me,” he said simply. Hoshi nodded.
And then, she fled.
Left alone with her thoughts, Hoshi was disgusted to realize she could not remember exactly what Malcolm sounded like anymore. He had been gone for a just a little over two years now, and already, he was disappearing from her life. Their son barely looked like him – which was a good thing, both Stuart and Trip had joked, but it made her more than a little sad – and the only other thing she still had of him were a few still photographs, a couple of handwritten letters, and memories that were fading more every day. It wasn’t fair.
She found the gymnasium mostly deserted – with most of the security personnel Commander Eisler had taken from the three Daedalus-classes no longer aboard, everyone was able to go back to regular workout schedules and Hoshi no longer had to fight for a machine – and dialed the treadmill up to a punishing pace. By the fifth kilometer, her legs were already howling but she kept on running.
Anna Hess entered the gym shortly after Hoshi hit the twenty kilometer mark, and Sato immediately noticed that the engineer’s mood was as dark as it had been at the morning command briefing. In the last three weeks, Hoshi could count on one hand the number of times she’d seen Anna really smile – interestingly enough, they were all when Hess was in the presence of Rick Eisler – but lately … lately, it seemed like Anna was so distracted and depressed over something that it hurt to even be in the same room with her.
“Hey,” Hess said by way of greeting as she climbed onto the treadmill next to Hoshi’s and began warming up.
“Everything okay?” Hoshi asked. Anna grimaced and shook her head.
“Not even close,” she replied. They ran in relative silence for a few minutes – Hess was still warming up while Hoshi was cooling down – when Hess abruptly gave her a sidelong look. “You were with Reed for a while before Elysium, weren’t you?” she asked. Hoshi stumbled and Anna flinched. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “That was … it was … dammit.”
“Anna, what’s wrong?” Hoshi stepped off the treadmill and grabbed her towel. She glanced around – there was no one else in the gym – and stepped around to the front of the Hess’ machine so she could make eye contact.
“How did you convince him?” Anna asked, her eyes suddenly bright. “I mean … I knew Reed. He had a major stick up his ass about regs and fraternization regs, but somehow, you got him to unbend.” She glowered at the wall. “I can’t even get Rick to talk to me anymore,” she muttered.
And just like that, it fell into place.
Hoshi bit her lower lip and once more wished Travis was alive. They’d had a long-running – and secret, of course – wager over Anna Hess’ sexual preference, and this revelation only seemed to confirm Hoshi’s theory that the engineer was bi. Mayweather had been thoroughly convinced that Anna ‘batted for the other team’ as he put it, and Sato had often wondered if he only thought that way because Hess had shot him down. Still, her curiosity got the better of her and Hoshi was speaking before she thought it through.
“Rumor has it,” she said, “that you weren’t into men.”
“That’s true for most of ‘em,” Anna said. “The ones actually worth your time don’t waste it trying to get into your pants.” Sato snickered at the comment. “Made things easier early in my career if my superiors thought I was gay,” Hess added. She slapped the emergency stop button on the treadmill and hopped off, her expression still dark.
“So,” Hoshi remarked. “Commander Eisler, huh?” Anna glared.
“That jackass gets my motor running and doesn’t even know he’s doing it,” she complained. “I remember the first time I had to go through decon with him,” she said suddenly, her lips curving up into an unwilling smile. “He’s standing there, applying that stupid gel to his chest and all I could think of was that I wanted to lick every one of his scars.” Anna abruptly shook her head. “I’ve got it bad, Hoshi,” she said, “and I don’t have a goddamned clue what to do.”
“You could do what I did,” Hoshi said with a smirk. “Attack. Don’t trust him to make the first move – he’s a guy and will probably screw it up – so be proactive. Knock on his door at oh-dark-thirty and don’t give him the opportunity to say no.” She smiled. “And from what I’ve seen,” she added, “the commander wouldn’t turn you down even if you did give him the chance.” To her surprise, Anna’s shoulders slumped.
“You don’t know him as well as you think you do,” she said as she grabbed her towel and turned away. As she walked away, her body language screamed defeat, which made no sense. Hoshi briefly considered pursuing her and asking more questions – it was pretty obvious that Anna knew some dark secret about the tactical officer – but quickly discarded the idea. If Hess wanted to talk more, she knew where to find her.
“Good luck,” Hoshi whispered in the direction of the chief engineer before discreetly making her exit.
Hess’ romantic woes weren’t exactly unique aboard Endeavour. Excluding the captain and the first officer – whom most crewmembers believed were still involved but weren’t sure since they didn’t have the inside scoop like she did – Hoshi knew of at least a half dozen illicit relationships off the top of her head. There was Lieutenant Rostova and Senior Chief Luckabaugh, Lieutenants Zhao and Rifkin, Doctor Reyes and Chief Warrant Officer Ross … the list just went on and on. It wasn’t really a surprise, though; wartime romances were the stuff of stories and with their jobs, any day could be their last. Most seemed to fizzle out fairly quickly – Reyes and Ross, for example, were pretty obviously on the verge of a permanent break, and Zhao was getting frustrated with Rifkin’s inability to commit – and Hoshi had observed several former couples struggling to cope with one another. Generally, the ‘avoid unless duty requires it’ principle seemed to be in place, but there were actually a couple of instances where open hostility had replaced a previously solid working partnership.
Which was, Hoshi suspected, the reason Starfleet tried to forbid such relationships in the first place.
Unlike the gym, the mess was filled nearly to capacity. After getting a salad and water, Hoshi finally found an empty spot at a table whose sole occupant was the ordinance officer. From her brief interactions with Lieutenant Kimura, she’d found him to be polite, reserved and extraordinarily quiet. During their trip to Endeavour aboard the Ni’Var, Kimura had unintentionally scared her numerous times thanks to his unconscious stealth.
“Good evening, Lieutenant,” she greeted, nodding toward the empty seat. “Do you mind if I join you?”
“Not at all, ma’am,” Kimura replied quickly. He set aside the PADD that he’d been studying.
“Interesting reading?” Hoshi asked. The lieutenant smirked slightly.
“I think so,” he said as he slid the storage device to her. Hesitantly, Hoshi tapped the <ON> button. The PADD lit up instantly and she smiled at the title.
Tactical Applications of Ship-Based Grapplers by Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Reed.
It was one of the numerous position papers that Malcolm had authored while serving aboard Enterprise, and Hoshi remembered how surprised she’d been that he actually wrote such things. His style was so evocative of who he was: to the point, wry, and more brilliant than he initially appeared. Shaking her head, she pushed the PADD back to Lieutenant Kimura.
“I’ve read all of the commander’s tactical dissertations,” the lieutenant said. “My … my wife used to tease me that I had a man-crush on him.” Hoshi sipped from her glass and considered how to best proceed. From Kimura’s tone and body language as well as his use of past tense, it was obvious that his wife had passed away. It was obviously fairly recently as well because the lieutenant immediately looked away and clenched his jaw. She wet her lips.
“How did she die?” she asked softly. Kimura exhaled deeply and his eyes turned inward.
“She was aboard Atlantis at Acheron,” he said. “That’s where we met, actually. I was serving under Captain Ebadi and Trish was the gamma shift nav officer.” He frowned. “Hard to believe it’s already been five months…”
“You were on Atlantis?” Hoshi asked. He shook his head.
“Not at Acheron, no ma’am. Command had rotated me back to Earth to complete the new ordinance delivery system training.” His expression soured. “So I was in a stupid classroom, listening to an instructor describe how to repair a Mark Six torpedo when she died.” Hoshi gave him an understanding look.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Sometimes,” she admitted softly, “I think it’s harder to be the ones left behind.” She offered him a wan smile. “They’re not suffering anymore.” Lieutenant Kimura considered her comment for a moment.
“I don’t know if I believe in an afterlife, ma’am,” he said slowly, “but I hope you’re right.”
“So do I,” Hoshi said before forcing down another surge of despair. It was moments like this that she missed Malcolm the most. “So,” she said with false cheer, “tell me about your wife.”
The lieutenant smiled. And began to talk.