Captain’s starlog, April 12th, 2158. We’re an hour out from our rendezvous with Xindi refugees. Commander Eisler still doesn’t like this plan – hell, I don’t like this plan – but we’ve been in the Expanse for three months now and still haven’t accomplished a damned thing. I’m hoping that this meeting will clear some things up and put us on the right track. If not, we’re back to square one…
She was tired of talking.
“I don’t care, Riggs,” Anna Hess said in response to a complaint her second-in-command had offered. Officially, his title was Main Propulsion Assistant, but on days like this, Hess mentally promoted Lieutenant Commander Carlos Riggs to ‘number one pain in the ass.’ “I’m tired of repeating myself. Just get it done.”
There were over forty ships in the Xindi refugee fleet, most of Primate design, but with a single, badly damaged Aquatic heavy cruiser and more than a dozen Arboreal vessels of varying designs. Over the last week and a half, Anna’s engineering staff had been run ragged thanks to the captain’s decision to render aid to the ragtag survivors, and she’d personally headed up at least ten separate damage assessment and/or repair teams in what looked to be a futile cause. By her estimates, the Xindi fleet had a month, maybe two at best before lack of maintenance, fuel and general damage grounded them permanently.
Sadly, Trip either seemed to disagree with her or the captain’s pips he wore had stripped him of common sense.
“This thing is a piece of shit, Anna,” Riggs grumbled, as if he hadn’t already said the same thing a hundred times since they’d come aboard the Aquatic cruiser to make another patch job on the ship’s main impulse drive. Hess gave him a frustrated look.
“Do you think I don’t know that?” she snapped. “Do you think the captain doesn’t know it?” Riggs looked away, but Anna continued. “Yes, this thing belongs on the scrap heap, but we’ve been given a job, so shut the hell up and do it!”
She stormed away from him – not exactly an easy feat in a watery environment – and desperately wished that she didn’t have to wear a stupid environment suit. Right now, she very much wanted to squeeze the bridge of her nose or at least wipe some of the sweat out of her eyes. What kind of screwed up aliens lived in water this warm in the first place?
“Endeavour to Commander Hess.” The comm-line crackled and popped and hissed, but Hoshi’s voice was easily understandable, and Anna angrily stabbed the button on her hardened wrist computer to transmit.
“This is Hess,” she said sharply.
“Endeavour Actual is requesting a status report on your repairs,” Hoshi said and Anna imagined that she could hear an apologetic tone in the operations officer’s voice.
“Kindly inform Endeavour Actual,” Hess replied through clenched teeth, “that my team is working as fast as is humanly possible in an alien environment.” Out of the corner of her eye, Anna could see the other members of the DC party glance in her direction and realized that she was transmitting on an open line. Mentally, she shrugged. What was the worst that Trip could do? Demote her? Make her work twenty hour days? Order her to wear something absurdly uncomfortable for ridiculous lengths of time? “If Endeavour Actual would stop wasting my team asking for status reports he knows I can’t give to him,” she continued tightly, “we might be able to actually get some work done.” Hoshi cleared her throat, probably to tell Hess that the entire command staff could hear her, but Anna was on a roll and the frustration that had been bubbling within her stomach washed away her internal dialogue filter. “Further,” she said in an even harder tone, “if Endeavour Actual is displeased with the speed at which our repairs are being completed, then kindly advise him that he’s neither crippled nor incompetent so he should get off his lazy ass and come show us what we’re obviously doing wrong. There’s an extra environment suit waiting for him in storage if he can remember how to put it on.” When Hoshi responded a long, silent heartbeat later, she sounded like she was fighting to keep from laughing.
“Understood, Commander,” she said.
“Hess out,” Anna growled before stabbing the <END> button on her wrist-comp. Realizing that far too many of her engineers were staring at her instead of doing their jobs, she glowered. “If I catch any of you slacking off,” she said darkly into an open comm-line, “I swear to God, there won’t be enough left of you to identify by DNA.”
There was a flurry of motion – again, not easy in this stupid water – as they went back to work.
Nearly four hours later, Anna stumbled out of the decon chamber aboard Endeavour. Her eyes felt gummy and, even though there had been several layers of protective fabric between her body and the Aquatic’s internal water systems, she was convinced that her skin had wrinkled up like a prune. Her headache hadn't abated either and, in fact, had just gotten worse. To her utter lack of surprise, Trip was there waiting for her, his face so utterly devoid of emotion that Hess figured he’d been taking lessons from T’Pol.
“Good job over there, Riggs,” she said in an effort to delay the inevitable conversation with Tucker. Her number two nodded in appreciation but gestured toward an equally bedraggled-looking Natasha Rostova.
“This one was all on the lieutenant,” he remarked. “Damned fine work, Nat,” Riggs added. Rostova flushed – fearless in most situations, she always got flustered when Trip was nearby, which Anna normally found adorable. Not today, though. Today, she just wasn’t in the mood to deal with this crap.
“Good work,” Hess repeated, this time directing her words to the group of enlisted engineers also emerging from decon. “All of you.” She gave Riggs a quick look and he nodded in understanding.
“All right, people,” Carlos said, “go get some food and some rack time.” He grinned suddenly. “Lieutenant Rostova will post duty schedules in an hour, so check them out before you crash.” Rostova’s expression fell – she hated scheduling, especially since it meant complaints or requests for shift changes came to her – but like a good junior officer, she didn’t complain at the extra work unexpectedly dropped in her lap.
“Long day,” Trip said once they were alone. Anna sighed and fell into step with him as he gestured toward the turbolift.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Sorry about earlier, by the way.” Trip waved it off.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’ve had those kinds of days too. I shouldn’t have been pestering you for reports but …” He grimaced and scratched the back of his neck. “Jannar and Naara have been bothering me…”
“So you decided to share the frustration?” Anna asked wryly. “Nice one, Boss.”
“My grandma always said that a burden shared is a burden halved.” Tucker’s smile looked forced. “How well will it travel?” he asked. Hess blew out a breath.
“The Aquatic ship?” she asked. He nodded as he hit the summons button for the turbolift. “Not well and not long. The whole thing is about to come apart at the seams.” Anna rolled her head around, exhaling in relief at the resulting cracks and pops. “How far are we talking?” she asked.
“North Star,” Trip replied, using the code name for the location of the forward operating base. At her glance, he frowned. “Seems they’ve been running scared for a long time now and I’d like to relocate to someplace that’s at least vaguely defensible,” he said. The lift doors slid open and he stepped out of the way to let her enter first. “This is apparently all that’s really left of them and Jannar is afraid they’re on the verge of extinction.”
“So it’s just a civil war, then?” Anna wondered if not really caring whether the Xindi were wiped out as a species or not made her a bad person. As far as she was concerned, they brought this on themselves when they attacked Earth. So what if those Sphere Builders had been manipulating them? They had free will, right? Just following orders wasn’t exactly the best defense for attempted genocide.
“Ethnic cleansing would be more accurate, I think,” Tucker said. “The Reptilians and Insectoids only engage in direct conflict when they’re backed into a corner and have no other options. They like picking on weaker species but don’t like a stand-up fight between equals.” The door hissed open again and Trip led the way out.
“Okay.” Anna wondered where they were going and realized a long moment later that Trip was angling toward the command center. She sighed. A long, pointless command staff meeting was the very last thing she wanted to do right now, especially since Rick would probably be there and she simply didn’t have the strength to deal with him today, not with how he’d been going out of his way to avoid her lately. When they entered, though, Hess was surprised to see that the command center was empty.
“Yes,” Tucker said in response to her questioning look, “we are having a command briefing, but not for another ten or twenty minutes.” He turned to face her, his expression changing into the one she always thought of as ‘Big Brother Trip.’ His eyes softened and his entire body language transformed. “I wanted to talk to you first,” he said. “You’ve been on edge for weeks now and I’m starting to get worried.”
“I’m fine, sir,” Anna started, but Trip interrupted her.
“No,” he said flatly, “you’re not.” Tucker pressed his tongue against the inside of his cheek in an expression she recognized as one he used when he was uncomfortable or when he was thinking about to best tell someone they were being really stupid. “Is this about Rick?” he asked after a moment. Anna blinked.
“What the hell are you talking about?” she asked, hating how she sounded slightly out of breath. Good God, she hadn't been that obvious, had she? Her face felt like it was on fire.
“I know you’re close to him, Anna,” Trip said carefully, “and I know about his … condition.”
“Oh.” Just like that, all of her worries about getting a lecture or, God forbid, advice on the non-relationship relationship she had with the tactical officer went out the window. In its place, that ball of ice in her stomach turned to lead. If the captain knew, that meant he’d have to take action and Rick would end up being sidelined. Nothing would kill him faster than that.
“I’m going to be relying on you and Phlox to keep me in the loop about how he’s really doing,” Trip added slowly. His expression soured. “Doesn’t seem right,” he added, “a guy like Rick getting knocked down by something like this.”
“No,” Anna murmured, “it isn’t fair at all.” Her voice was thick with emotion and Tucker gave her a confused look that she completely ignored. “I’ll keep you updated, sir,” she said, hoping that he would react to her professional tone and respond accordingly. When he did not immediately respond, she glanced around quickly. “What’s this briefing for anyway?” she asked.
“T’Pol has been going over the Xindi data,” Trip said slowly, his eyes narrowed as he continued to study her, “and coordinating with Councilor Depac and Naara.” Tucker shrugged. “They were pretty intense about something, but Jannar wanted me to talk to that Aquatic with the name I can’t pronounce so I let her handle it.” He looked and sounded pretty sour about his linguistic difficulties, which would have once prompted Anna to tease him – despite his engineering brilliance, Trip had always been embarrassed by his utter inability to pick up other languages; it had taken him six years to become proficient in Vulcan and, from what Hess had been told, he still mangled T’Pol’s clan name – but today, she was still too tired, too drained, too depressed to do more than smirk.
They spent the next five or ten minutes debating the best way to keep the Aquatic cruiser functioning for the ten day trip to North Star – as long as they didn’t run into any trouble on the way, it looked like the ship would make it without too much trouble – as well as discussing the status of the remaining Xindi vessels. The Arboreal councilor ship was in the best shape, followed by the surprisingly durable troop courier that Naara commanded. All of the rest were in varying states of ‘fly it into a sun’ and ‘I wouldn’t recommend giving it to a Klingon.’
The other command staff began trickling into the command center in small groups. Hoshi and Doctor Phlox entered together, the former looking about as tense over the presence of the Xindi as Trip clearly was, followed soon after by Lieutenant Commanders Mayweather and Ricker. The acting chief of the boat, Senior Chief Petty Officer Mitchell, snuck into the command center at some point when Anna wasn’t looking, and was lounging near the far wall when Commander T’Pol entered, accompanied by three Xindi – an Arboreal male and two Primates, one male, one female. Rick followed the group with a trio of armored Roughnecks, only one of which entered with him to take up guard near the door. Without saying a word, Eisler immediately scanned the assembled senior officers, his eyes hesitating when they fell on her. Her face flamed and she looked away, but no one seemed to notice.
“Thank you for joining us, Councilors,” Trip said, somehow managing to actually sound sincere. He glanced in T’Pol’s direction and frowned. The Vulcan responded to the nonverbal hand-off and her words sent a jolt through Hess.
“The Reptilians have nearly completed construction of a replacement Weapon,” T’Pol said as she plugged a data rod into the central computer. Instantly, an image appeared on the viewer. It was pixilated and a little out of focus with unfamiliar symbols that were probably Xindi writing, but the spherical construction at the heart of the recording was unmistakable. The Weapon was still anchored planetside within some form of ground-based drydock facility but was swarming with activity. Dozens of support craft – most appearing to be one or two-person flitters or repair drones – darted around the construction while a number of aerial craft orbited overhead, likely to provide defensive overwatch. One of the patrolling craft angled toward the source of the recording. There was a flash of weapons-fire and then … static.
“Well, that changes everything,” Trip said softly. ‘Big Brother Trip’ was completely gone, and in his place was the combat commander who had got them all out of Acheron alive. He shifted his attention to the Xindi. “How long until this thing is operational?” he demanded.
“Weeks,” the Arboreal-Xindi said in a wheezing, raspy voice. “Perhaps days.”
= /\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
They were only days away from being ready.
His hands clasped together in the small of his back, D’deridex i-Mheissan tr’Irrhaimehn stared through the viewport of the observation lounge and admired the elegant lines of the Weapon that he intended to use to change the Empire. Fools like Chulak, currently on the verge of being elected to act in the fvillha’s name by the Convocation of Commanders, would be unable to stand against him and the changes he meant to impose. There would be no one to oppose him this time.
And it would be … glorious.
“Master,” one of his Remans rumbled, and the voice dragged him out of his plans long enough to become aware that one of the Reptilian-Xin’di was approaching. D’deridex gave Rhi a tiny gesture of acknowledgement but remained where he stood, his back to the alien. Underneath the featureless helmet, he smiled when both Remans growled which caused the Xin’di to freeze in mid-step. This was the fifth administrator in as many weeks and he no doubt had no desire to suffer the same fate as his predecessors.
“You may speak,” D’deridex said, still not bothering to turn and face the alien. From his research into their culture, he knew that his posture and refusal to face the Xin’di was indicative of superior social position – it was a deadly insult to them to present your back to one who was greater because it implied callous disrespect toward their abilities.
“We are conducting our final checks, Your Excellency,” the Reptilian said, his eyes darting back and forth between the two hulking Remans. “We are back on schedule and should be ready for deployment as promised.”
“Will be ready for deployment,” D’deridex corrected. “You have earned one week’s respite,” he added before raising his left arm and flicking two fingers in dismissal. The Xin’di bowed low and backed away, once more leaving D’deridex to his thoughts.
By any definition, he had blatantly violated the rules of engagement he’d been issued by Central Command. Do not engage hostiles, he had been instructed, but over the last two months, he’d taken the Vastagor deeper into the Expanse and conducted a series of brutal, targeted strikes against Xin’di-Insectoid holdings. It was calculated violence – engage with maximum lethality, then fade away before defenders arrived – and had the desired effect. No longer did the Insectoids raid this facility on a weekly basis; instead, they had pulled back their military campaign and were attempting to consolidate what territory they had previously seized, all the while attempting to identify who was responsible for the attacks on their facilities.
These unsanctioned assaults also served a second purpose, one that D’deridex believed to be the more important one, which was to allow him to observe the Vastagor’s crew in combat situations. He now knew the strengths and weaknesses of his command staff, knew who to task in dire situations and who amongst them were dispensable meat shields. Sadly, his executive officer, L’haen, was not one of those he could easily replace – the subcommander was both creative and efficient, with a surprising flair for the dramatic that was quite useful at times. D’deridex once more wondered how best to suborn L’haen; if he could but discern a way to turn the junior officer into an ally, the results would be most agreeable.
Another unexpected result of the raids was the discovery that the humans had dispatched their most advanced vessel into the Expanse and it was, even now, conducting research into the activities of the Xin’di. Once more, D’deridex mentally saluted his foe, Archer – sending Endeavour into this sector of space was an inspired action as it placed the Terran warship in a position to directly oppose Romulan interests without sacrificing more numerous forces. In many ways, the human vessel was like the Centurion piece in a game of latrunculo – its movements were seemingly erratic and undirected, but if utilized properly, could wreak havoc upon those unprepared for it.
And D’deridex loathed being unprepared.
“We return to Vastagor,” he announced as he spun away from the viewport.
He still had not removed his enclosing helmet by the time he arrived aboard his warship, less out of a concern that any of the Xin’di might see what he looked like and more out of a lingering fear that today was the day that L’haen would make his next move in their continuing game of intrigue. Thus far, D’deridex had remained three steps ahead but with each day, he could sense his executive officer making plans and consolidating assets. It was only a matter of time. It always paid to be prepared.
S’enrae was not at the launch bay to greet him, which instantly caused D’deridex to grow suspicious. As an attempt to show the depth of her loyalty to him, she had made a conscious effort to be present each time he returned from dealing with the Xin’di, usually in her duty uniform but once still wearing surgical scrubs stained green with blood. That had been an especially difficult day, as a string of sabotage bombings had claimed the lives of five valuable engineers and put the entire crew on edge. The saboteur turned out to be one of the food preparation specialists who held no allegiance to L’haen – it had been most elucidating to observe the subcommander’s wrath at having been targeted by someone other than D’deridex.
Mne loped quickly toward the exit hatch, but paused when D’deridex made no effort to move from where he stood in front of the shuttle. The Reman obediently froze in place at D’deridex’s hand gesture, but began to visually sweep the hangar for signs of danger. Rhi followed suit, though he did consult the scanning device strapped to his wrist and disguised to appear simply ornamental.
“Logged,” a disembodied voice echoed around them. “The commanding officer is aboard. Subcommander L’haen stands relieved.”
Five seconds later, the entire launch bay erupted in blood-green flame.
The soft hiss of a failing electro-plasma system conduit was D’deridex’s only warning and he threw himself back toward the shuttle a heartbeat before containment failed completely. Of the two Remans, Rhi was the faster and reacted at the same moment, diving toward D’deridex and using his larger, bulkier body to cover his master’s. Mne spun at the sudden movement of his brother, his hand automatically darting toward the hyperdense knife sheathed at his waist. And in that very instant, the EPS conduit ruptured, spraying the Reman with ionized electro-plasma heated to temperatures in excess of three million degrees.
Mne was vaporized before he could even scream.
Fire engulfed the entire launch bay, swirling and twisting and snarling like something alive. Duranium girders buckled under the intense heat and the entire launch bay groaned. Exposed oxygen cannisters exploded, the detonations sounding like the cracks of an ancient artillery barrage. Metal shrapnel, superheated by the dense gas, spun through the launch bay.
With a rumbling hiss, the outer hatch slid open, and the fire was forcibly sucked into the vacuum along with all of the oxygen in the launch bay. Flat on his back with a Reman bodyguard atop him, D’deridex could feel the sudden, painful change in pressure in the bay and closed his eyes as he felt the shuttle tremble. The docking arms securing it in place strained as the tornado of flame and wind buffeted it.
And then, just like that, everything went silent.
D’deridex groaned – he could feel places on his body where skin was now exposed to the air and was gratified that the suit’s automatic self-immolation circuitry had not activated – and drew in a long, painful breath. The rebreather on his powered armor labored to obey his needs but already, he could taste it beginning to fail as every inhalation carried with it a hint of acidity.
“Get up,” he rasped to Rhi. When the Reman did not obey, D’deridex pushed the limp bodyguard aside, noting with a black frown that Rhi’s entire back had become a blackened husk barely recognizable as belonging to a living being. The armored bodysuit had completely melted away, exposing his flesh to the remorseless flames. Rhi’s spine was exposed but was a horrible sight as the very bone was charred and distorted. Smoke still curled up from the Reman’s unmoving body and D’deridex could see dozens of fragments of shrapnel embedded within.
Clambering to his feet, D’deridex glanced only briefly at the twisted remains of the launch bay – without extensive repairs, the shuttle would not be able to be launched any time soon and it appeared that the outer airlock was actually fused shut – before limping toward the hatch leading to the rest of the ship. Blood trickled down his leg from where a large piece of jagged metal had punched through his thigh. He discarded the ruined helmet and glanced at the pulsing green lights flashing throughout the corridor.
Someone would pay for this.
L’haen was leaning over the tactical resources board, blood caking the side of his face and a fury stamped on his face, when D’deridex entered the hwaveyiir. The subcommander did not look up at his approach and seemed completely engrossed in his duties. D’deridex’s fury dwindled – the stench of smoke and burned plastic was thick in the command-executive center and at least two of the stations looked to be irreparably damaged.
“You have your orders!” L’haen exclaimed fiercely into the comm-line as D’deridex approached. “I want those fires out now!”
“Report,” D’deridex ordered as he looked over the display. He nearly winced at the flashing representations of system failures.
“Multiple simultaneous explosions across the ship,” L’haen said angrily. “The lead engineering officer is dead and the dhivael who replaced him is … fvadt!” Cutting himself off in mid-sentence, L’haen slammed his hand down on the transmit button once more. “Stand by for emergency venting!” he nearly bellowed. At a glance, D’deridex could tell his first officer had the right of it – the fires were dangerously close to the deuterium tanks and if not stopped immediately, could easily rip Vastagor apart.
“This is the commander,” he snapped as L’haen furiously input commands. “Emergency venting in process. All bulkheads aft of Deck Three sealed in twenty seconds.” Alarms began to wail.
Three long hours passed before they were finally able to stand down from alert stations. In that time, another ten crewmen and three officers had died, all in the course of their duties as they struggled to fight the damage wrought upon the Vastagor. D’deridex quickly learned that S’enrae was in the medical facility, triaging the wounded and doing what she could to save lives. Another three personnel were too far gone for resources to be wasted upon and she dealt the mercy blows with the instruments of her profession. According to preliminary reports, she had been in the medbay when the initial explosions began, treating a foolish engineer who had suffered a non-life threatening plasma burn – that same engineer would later lose his life when all airlocks on Deck Three were opened.
Still, the fact that she had not come to the launch bay to meet him raised D’deridex’s suspicions and he decided to keep a closer eye on her.
My list of allies dwindles, he told himself many hours later as he reviewed his situation. Both members of the Honor Pack he’d managed to salvage were dead, the female who very obviously was positioning herself to become his mate remained untrustworthy, and now, he’d lost a quarter of his crew in an act of sabotage that came perilously close to claiming Vastagor. Every day took him closer to ruin and if he did not act decisively, all would be lost. The Empire could not survive another century under the leadership of fools like Chulak.
“I mistrust you,” he told L’haen shortly thereafter. They were in the first officer’s small quarters – there were few decorations and the Honor Blade stored in a place of honor was both unadorned and conspicuously aged, implying an old line fallen into disrepute. “And I know you have your misgivings about me,” D’deridex said, “but this is a time when we both need allies, not additional enemies.” L’haen frowned.
“You offer an alliance,” the subcommander guessed. D’deridex nearly smiled.
“A secret one,” he said. “Let our mutual enemies believe us to remain foes so we can draw them out.” He was pleased to see a surprised but impressed expression appear briefly upon his first officer’s face.
“And then?” L’haen asked. “What shall we do when we have identified them?” D’deridex smiled darkly.
“We destroy them.”
= /\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
It would need to be destroyed.
That particular decision was the easiest one he had ever made, but even now, nine hours after T’Pol had dropped the superweapon bombshell on them, Trip Tucker was still at a loss as to how they would accomplish that task. Based on all of the data they’d obtained thus far, the weapon was heavily defended by a Xindi-Reptilian battlegroup that was more than a match for the ships they had at their disposal.
But nonetheless, the effort would need to be made, no matter the cost.
With an angry snort of frustration, Trip shut off the shower’s steady stream and reached for his towel, his mind still racing. An engineer by training and choice, he once more lamented that he was even in this situation – all he wanted to do was build or fix things, not plan a large-scale tactical assault against a heavily fortified location. Thank God for someone like Rick Eisler, he mused, who had studied this sort of thing for decades.
Rick. Dammit. Thoughts of Eisler invariably sparked a bright flash of illogical anger. Trip had long since known that this universe wasn’t fair – it had given him and T’Pol two beautiful, brilliant children and then cruelly snatched them away – but the revelation that Rick had less than six months to live … it just didn’t seem right. Eisler was the kind of guy who was supposed to either die gloriously in the middle of some ridiculously ill-advised commando raid to save the planet or live to be a hundred and twenty so he could die peacefully in bed.
Rage warred with terror deep within him, but Trip Tucker pushed it down, suppressed his sadness about Eisler’s lack of an actual future, focused on his job, and tried to keep his game face on. Too much was riding on what they did next and they simply didn’t have the luxury of mistakes, not with the possibility of a superweapon falling into the hands of the Romulans. And thanks to some low-quality image captures, they had confirmation of at least one bird of prey assisting the Reptilians.
Which had officially turned this entire fiasco into the very reason they had ventured into the Expanse in the first place.
He dressed quickly, lingering briefly over whether to buckle on the phase pistol that Rick insisted he wear while they had potential hostiles aboard, before finally deciding to go with his tactical officer’s instincts. So what if having the sidearm there made Trip feel alternately ridiculous and like an extra in a space western? Him being armed made Eisler feel better and reduced the likelihood that Tucker would find a pair of Roughnecks outside his cabin, waiting to escort him to wherever he went.
Beyond his cabin, Trip once more found that the mood aboard Endeavour had turned even darker than he could ever remember it being. Even in the days after Acheron he hadn’t seen this many grim faces on his ship, but he completely understood and agreed with his crew. Already, the Romulans had shown a staggering lack of concern about civilian casualties so the very idea of them having the Xindi weapon? It was terrifying.
At the moment, Endeavour was still loitering in the empty system that they used for the rendezvous with the Xindi refugees despite its inherent vulnerability, all so they could discuss options and make plans. In terms of numbers, the fleet had swelled to twice its previous size thanks to stragglers that had arrived over the last few hours. Most of the vessels were in mediocre shape and of middling use in a combat situation, but there were two dedicated warships – both of Arboreal construction – that seriously augmented their offensive capability.
The presence of the Xindi aboard Endeavour was also causing more problems than originally expected, but sadly, Trip could not find it in himself to really disagree with some of the less than professional responses of his crew. In the grand scheme of things, April 2153 wasn’t that long ago and there were still quite a lot of unresolved feelings. Some, like Doctor Reyes, Phlox’s number two, had lost family members like Trip but hadn’t had the opportunity for catharsis like he did, while others – usually Security, Tucker noticed – still looked at the Xindi as the Enemy. Sure, they might not currently be the biggest threat, but Rick and Lieutenant Kimura and all of the Roughnecks were terrible at hiding the fact that they were watching Jannar, Depac, and Naara exactly like you’d watch a cornered wild animal.
As he expected, the command center was already occupied when he arrived. Naturally, Eisler was there, once more studying the limited data they had acquired about the drydock as if it held the secrets of the universe buried within, and his usual partner-in-crime, Anna Hess, was at his side. The two seemed inseparable these days, even though they barely seemed to be talking, and Trip had given up trying to figure them out. For years, he’d thought Anna was a lesbian – he had very clear memories of her shooting Travis down by claiming vocal disinterest in all men when the late Boomer had asked her out back aboard Enterprise – but the way she watched Rick … well, having looked at T’Pol in the same way for years, Tucker knew exactly what Anna’s eyes were saying.
The ordinance officer, Lieutenant Kimura, was present as well. In the last few weeks, Kimura – that was evidently his last name, even though Takashi always gave it first; Hoshi had explained this as a traditional naming method that had fallen out of practice over the years – had become Rick’s go-to guy and now, knowing that Eisler was suffering from a terminal condition, Trip had to wonder if his tactical officer wasn’t already in the process of training his replacement. Lieutenant Kornegay wasn’t an option – like so many of Endeavour’s officers, she was already slated for a promotion and transfer to a Daedalus-class when they got back where she would serve as a department head – and Stiles was, sadly, not fit to do more than load torpedoes (and then, only with competent supervision; Trip honestly couldn’t believe the ensign was actually related to the late Jake Stiles), so Kimura was the logical choice. Fortunately, the lieutenant seemed more than capable, even if his style was more suited toward stealth and guile than Rick’s aggressive, balls to the wall, maximum firepower aimed precisely for maximum results.
Surprisingly, though, Selina Mayweather was also sitting in on this impromptu pow-wow. Something had changed about her since they’d entered the Expanse and it was almost exclusively positive. More and more, Trip saw flashes of her late brother in his helmsman – she had the same sense of humor, the same brilliant smile, and the same way of just making you think things weren’t as bad as they looked. From her record, Tucker knew she’d been married before joining Starfleet, and her husband, Rashid al-Yasemi, had died at Thor’s Cradle even though his ship had been one of the few to successfully escape the Vigrid System, but he knew very little else about her.
“Give me some good news,” Trip ordered as he joined the quartet in front of the viewscreen. He gave it a glance, frowning at the number of tagged contacts identified as probable enemy combatants. This wasn’t going to be easy.
“There is very little good news to give, sir,” Rick said flatly. He nodded toward the image. “As you can tell,” the tactical officer said darkly, “we are outnumbered and outgunned.”
“Yeah,” Anna interjected with forced good cheer, “but they’re outclassed.” Trip smirked at the joke, noting that both Kimura and Mayweather did as well. Eisler, however, merely grunted and continued his briefing.
“Commander T’Pol is currently coordinating with Councilor Naara to obtain all data recordings from the Xindi fleet for further analysis,” Rick said. There was a curious tone in his voice when he pronounced Degra’s wife’s name that Trip initially thought he’d imagined. When Anna gave Eisler a sidelong look, a question in her eyes, Tucker realized that he most definitely had not.
“You have something to say about the councilor?” he asked. Eisler hesitated.
“I do not trust her,” he said simply. “She is not telling us everything,” Rick added a moment later. “There is something … not right about her.”
“Councilor Jannar mentioned to Lieutenant Commander Sato that he was concerned for Naara’s mental health,” Kimura offered. Trip glanced at him – he’d noticed that Hoshi had started sharing a lot of meals with the lieutenant and wondered if it was any of his business what was going on between them – and frowned.
“She lost her husband,” Selina said softly. She shrugged. “That can really screw someone up.” Kimura flinched, which was an instant reminder to Trip that the lieutenant’s wife had been aboard Atlantis at Acheron. God, Tucker mused darkly to himself, do I have anyone aboard who hasn’t lost a loved one to the Romulans?
The hiss of the door opening behind him was almost immediately followed by a warm mental caress, and Trip half-turned as T’Pol filed into the command center. Directly behind her were a number of others – the three Xindi councilors, the two Arboreal commanders of the dedicated warships, Hoshi, Ricker, Senior Chief Mitchell and two Roughnecks sadly including CPO Fernandez – which made for uncomfortably tight quarters. Without speaking, T’Pol strode directly to one of the alternate computer systems and plugged in her PADD. Instantly, schematics and other images appeared on the screen. She began paging through the data, and Trip could feel the flavor of her thoughts as she absorbed information at an always startling rate.
“Based on our current fleet strength,” Rick said, beginning his briefing without bothering to introduce himself to their guests, “Lieutenant Kimura and I have formulated an initial battle strategy.” He input several commands and graphical representations of ships began appearing on the screen. “Thirty percent of our strength will enter the system from galactic north at this point,” he said, pointing to a spot on the two-dimensional representation of the drydock system. “They will begin maneuvering as if to engage, which should draw the bulk of the Reptilian defenders out of position.”
“How do you know that?” Depac demanded, crowding forward and pinning Eisler with a hostile glare. Rick returned the look with a detached coldness that T’Pol would have approved of if she had been paying more than scant attention. “Have you ever faced Reptilians in combat?”
“I have spent my entire life waging war in some fashion, Councilor,” Eisler said in a low, intimidating hiss. “The Reptilians are aggressive and impatient. Present them with an opportunity for glory, hint at weakness, and you will goad them into making a mistake.” Depac’s anger faltered slightly in the face of Rick’s impassive remark.
“You certainly seem to have an understanding of their weaknesses,” Jannar offered in what sounded like an attempt at a compliment. At his side, Naara was studying Commander Eisler with an intensity that Trip found unsettling. She didn’t blink often enough and her eyes swam with some emotion that Tucker couldn’t quite comprehend. While Rick seemed oblivious to the woman’s attention, Anna Hess clearly wasn’t and Trip nearly laughed outright when his chief engineering officer ambled closer to the tactical officer, giving Naara a look that was unmistakably possessive.
“I am Endeavour’s tactical officer,” Eisler said coldly. “It is my job to know how to neutralize any hostile who poses a threat to this ship or attacks Earth.” The implication was impossible to ignore and both Depac and Jannar shifted awkwardly, neither appearing able to meet his gaze. Trip cleared his throat.
“My apologies, Captain,” the tactical officer said. He returned his focus to the main screen. “Once the Reptilian fleet breaks formation and moves to engage, the rest of our taskforce will approach from galactic south.” He frowned. “By necessity,” he added, “Endeavour will take point. We are the fastest and most maneuverable, so we will engage the Reptillian fleet from their aft.” The graphical representations shifted position. “If I have judged their general tactics correctly, our assault should sow enough chaos among their leadership to allow the rest of the battlegroup to engage.” Rick pinned the two Arboreal captains with a look. “We will be relying on the firepower of your respective ships to help establish an effective buffer zone so we can conduct strafing runs on the drydock facility.” He glanced once toward Anna and she picked up the briefing automatically, as if they’d rehearsed this very thing.
“We’ll use the transporter to deploy as many charges into the weapon as possible,” she said, tapping a button that changed the screen to a schematic. Key locations were already highlighted. “Critical failures at these locations will cause a containment breach, which should also trigger a complete system collapse.”
“While this is occurring,” Eisler said, “we will conduct selected bombardment of the drydock facility, targeting anything that is flammable or explosive to inflict addition structural damage.”
“I’ve got my people working with Rick’s to see what we can do about bumping up the yield of some of our torps,” Anna offered, once more giving Naara a look that the Xindi-Primate returned blithely.
“Fall-back position once the target is reduced will be the North Star forward operating base where we can conduct repairs and refit as necessary,” the tactical officer concluded.
“Where is this … North Star?” one of the Arboreal ship commanders inquired. All of the Xindi appeared at least slightly concerned at mention of a base. Rick hesitated and glanced to Trip who gave him a subtle nod.
“I will provide each ship commander with stellar coordinates,” the tactical officer said, “but it is essential they do not fall into enemy hands.” Both Arboreal captains nodded in agreement. “My primary concern remains the level of firepower we have at our disposal,” Eisler said after a moment. “Most of the refugee ships are ill-prepared for pitched battle.” He locked eyes with Depac. “There will be casualties.”
“My people are prepared to do whatever is necessary to destroy this weapon, no matter the cost,” the Xindi-Primate declared. He looked down. “We never should have never constructed the first one,” he said darkly. The reaction to the statement was mixed – virtually every human present glowered, while the Xindi generally looked embarrassed or guilty.
“So let me get this right,” Trip remarked in an attempt to lighten the mood. “We’re part of a ragged band of rebels trying to destroy a spherical, moon-sized superweapon?” He shook his head as he glanced at Hess. “Haven’t I seen this movie?” he asked wryly.
“Trip.” T’Pol’s voice sliced through the resulting human chuckles and drew all eyes. Hearing her use his nickname while they were on duty sent a shiver up Tucker’s spine and he joined her without question, noting immediately the subtle signs of horror she was radiating. Her nostrils flared and she visibly swallowed. The moment he saw the handwritten equation notations on the display of the weapon, Trip felt something seize within him.
It was in his handwriting.
“Where did you get these schematics?” he demanded sharply as T’Pol paged through them. Her smaller, neater handwriting was as common as his and he could feel the emotions thundering through the bond.
“They were captured from a derelict Reptilian ship,” Naara replied. Her voice was soft and raspy, with an undertone of confusion.
“These schematics indicate radical structural differences,” T’Pol stated, her voice trembling so slightly that Trip suspected he was the only one present – apart from Hoshi, of course, and maybe Rick or Anna – who noticed.
“They’ve reinforced the bulkheads here and here,” Trip said under his breath. “And it looks like they incorporated our idea about the internal shielding to boost structural integrity.”
“Indeed.” T’Pol pointed to a series of distinct computer nodes and the notes next to them. “That is my work,” she said softly. Trip nodded.
“I know,” he replied, equally soft. “They couldn’t have gotten this from Enterprise without us knowing.”
“Not from our Enterprise, no,” she replied. “And I have never written these notes.” She looked at him and Trip met her young-old eyes.
“Sir?” Eisler had joined them and looked slightly confused.
“The plan has changed,” Trip announced. “The charges won’t be enough. We’ll need to insert a saboteur team to plant the charges.”
“More importantly,” T’Pol said, “the captain and I must accompany this team.”
“Unacceptable,” Eisler said instantly. “There is no way I will authorize something like that.”
“It isn’t up to you, Commander,” Trip said. He nodded to the schematics on T’Pol’s viewer. “See those notes?” he asked. “T’Pol and I wrote them.” Silence enveloped the command center. “Somehow, they got our notes from the previous mission and adapted this weapon to compensate for the weaknesses we found.” The blood drained from Hoshi’s face and Anna inhaled sharply, prompting Trip to suspect that they had pieced together the truth. “These notations use my personal shorthand,” Tucker added, nodding in Hess’ direction. “Ask her – you can’t read it if you don’t know how I think.”
“And sometimes even that does not help,” T’Pol said.
“Amen, sister,” Anna muttered, her words clearly not intended to carry. She flushed when both Trip and Eisler gave her a sidelong look.
“I will need additional time to alter the plan,” Rick began. Depac stepped forward.
“I may have a solution,” the Xindi-Primate said. “We have been planning for some time to conduct a raid – Naara’s troop courier is both fast and stealthy. It could be used to insert your team.”
“Our team,” Naara corrected, her eyes bright. “Allowing this weapon to fall into the hands of the Reptilians was our mistake, so it should be us who corrects that.”
Eisler frowned. He clearly disliked this entire plan and Trip had to admit, he’d heard better in the past. If there had been any way to blow this thing to pieces that didn’t involve him and T’Pol putting their necks on the line, he would have gladly have approved it.
“That’s it then,” Trip said grimly. “You’ll be in command of Endeavour during this mission,” he told his tactical officer. “T’Pol and I will go aboard with Naara and her team, plant our charges and get the hell out.”
“Chief Fernandez,” Rick said abruptly. The named Roughneck straightened. “Assemble a team. You’ll escort the captain and first officer.” He gave her a flat look. “And you’ll bring them both back alive.”
“Aye, sir,” Fernandez said before glancing at Mitchell. He gave her a half-shrug, half-nod.
“I don’t like this, sir,” Eisler said softly once the briefing had broken up.
“Neither do I, Rick,” Trip said with a frustrated sigh. “Neither do I.”
= /\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
He didn’t like their current situation.
His environment suit helmet tucked under one arm, Dan Hsiao walked confidently through the corridors of the captured bird of prey, no sign of the seething worry currently burning its way out of his stomach. The crew needed to see him as unworried, implacable, invincible, as they continued the salvage operation. It wasn’t relevant that over half of the ship was still exposed to vacuum, or that Lieutenant Nadir had detected some troubling sensor encroachments only a few hours earlier that might or might not be Romulan reinforcements around the nuked out colony world, or that Lieutenant Gilchrist and Lieutenant Anthony were still arguing over the validity of the ChEng’s scan discrepancies. No, all that mattered was the Skipper, the Captain, the ‘Old Man’ was on the case and wasn’t worried.
At the moment, Dan was conducting his latest tour of the repair work his damage control teams had accomplished. With minimal power, operating pretty much blind since they still couldn’t boot up the ship’s computer to access any tech manuals (in the unlikely event that they could translate the damned things in the first place), and with not enough sleep, Lieutenant Gilchrist’s people had worked a minor miracle. Sure, the power plant was still offline so they were running on battery backups, the warp drive remained a very unfunny joke, and the before-mentioned computer core refused to even turn on, but at least there was oxygen and entire sections of the ship were now pressurized. Plus, Hsiao thought wryly as he surveyed the weapons bay, the torpedo tubes still worked in case they wanted to do some target practice.
“Looking good, Chief,” he told the engineering lead petty officer who was currently showing him around. With Hyperion trying to maintain as low a sensor profile as possible while towing the bird of prey out of the system at impulse with already overstressed grapplers, Lieutenant Gilchrist was needed aboard the Starfleet vessel. If he was honest, Dan would have to admit that was probably a good thing – the LPO was ten years his elder, had a beard and didn’t come close to having as great an ass as Hyperion’s chief engineer, but at least Hsiao wasn’t tempted to push Chief Petty Officer James MacKillop into a storage closet and have his wicked way with him.
“We’re still investigating the brownouts on C Deck that the ChEng reported,” MacKillop said in a surprisingly Australian accent. Just looking at the LPO, with his shock of red hair and distinctly Scottish features, one would expect him to be from Edinburgh or Glasgow, not from Sydney. “So far, we’ve found nothing.”
“I’m starting to think you’re chasing gremlins down there, Chief,” Dan remarked with a slight smile. MacKillop grunted and glanced away.
“Not sure I can agree with you there, sir,” he said. “Every time I’m in that section,” the LPO added, “I can feel someone watching me only there’s no one there.” Hsiao felt a slight shiver crawl up his spine – having visited C Deck recently, he knew exactly what the chief petty officer was talking about … which was why he’d ordered the C Deck sealed off entirely – but he pretended not to notice. “I’ve got Davis looking into whether the computer is active and is doing its own thing.”
“An A.I.?” Dan mused. He frowned – had Command even considered that possibility? – then shrugged. “Whatever it is,” he said, “I’m sure you and your team will figure it out.” MacKillop nodded in appreciation of the compliment and turned away to resume his duties. He was barely three or four steps away when Dan’s wrist communicator began beeping urgently. Sighing, he reached for the transmit button, hoping that it wasn’t Marie calling to ‘check in.’
“This is Hsiao,” he said into the transceiver and was instantly rewarded with a loud crackle of static. Even with the carefully placed beacon transmitters through the ship, communications were spotty and sensors were right out. Thanks to whatever it was the Romulans used in their hulls, a person aboard the bird of prey simply vanished from Hyperion’s scanners. Transport to the ship required the person to be beamed into an section exposed to space … although the shuttlepods worked just as well if a bit slower.
“Commander, we’ve detected an unidentified energy spike emanating from the bird of prey.” Lieutenant Nadir was, as always, unruffled and almost laconic despite the potentially life-threatening news he was relating.
“What is it?” Dan asked as he gestured for MacKillop to return.
“Unknown, sir.” Nadir sounded only slightly apologetic – he’d gone on at great, boring length during one of the daily staff briefings about how difficult it was to penetrate Romulan hulls, and how brilliant he was for Hyperion’s scans to be as effective as they were. The line fuzzed out briefly and when it came back, there was a new voice speaking.
“This is Gilchrist,” the chief engineer announced. “Sir, I recommend we pull back all personnel until we can figure out what it is we’re dealing with.” Hsiao smirked – that was what he was already planning to do and, from the expression on MacKillop’s face and the chief petty officer’s whispered conversation into his own headset, they were already getting started.
“Agreed,” Dan said. He stabbed a button on the wrist panel that opened up a new suit-to-suit comm-line. “Attention,” he said into the open channel, “this is Hsiao. Initiate return protocols immediately. Hyperion, begin beaming out personnel as soon as they reach the extraction point.”
“Copy that, sir.”
“I’m still forward of the central corridor,” Dan continued. “Chief MacKillop and I will begin heading back now. We’ll do the final sweep.”
“There should be a service access point near you,” Gilchrist said, likely studying their crude schematics. “You could use it to get to an airlock and we could beam you…”
“You have your orders, Lieutenant,” Dan said sharply. “Hsiao out.” He was getting thoroughly sick and tired of his command staff constantly acting like he was made of glass. Anymore, the instant the situation started to look the least bit hairy, they were all conspiring to wrap him in bubble tape and styrofoam.
“Evac is in progress, sir,” MacKillop said as he pulled on his EV helmet. Dan nodded and followed suit. “According to the work schedule, we should be the only personnel forward of Corridor B-12.”
“Well,” Hsiao remarked with a smile, “let’s go home.”
They were nearly at the service ladder that connected the A and B Decks when a flicker of motion drew Dan’s attention to his left. He blinked – for a moment, he’d been sure that he saw some shadows move – and was about to open his mouth to call Chief MacKillop’s attention to it when both of their communicators began shrieking a high-pitched alert. Hsiao’s blood ran cold – that signal could mean only thing.
Hyperion was under attack by Romulans.
The bird of prey sudden shook hard, a sure sign that Hyperion had cut the grapplers loose so they could maneuver, and bare seconds later, another harder impact sent them both tumbling. Lights flickered and died the exact same moment that internal gravity failed. Suddenly weightless, Dan tumbled directly into the nearest wall and bounced off it, his inertia sending him in an uncontrolled spin. He flailed his arms out for all of a half second before his fingers finally caught an exposed surface that gave him just enough leverage to arrest his movement.
“Chief!” he shouted, turned his head in the direction where he’d last seen MacKillop.
And to his horror, he saw the engineering lead petty officer die.
A skeletally thin figure wearing the tattered remains of what had to be a Romulan environment suit sprang out of hiding from the corridor that Dan had saw movement in only moments before, timing his or her desperate leap to coincide with MacKillop’s less than acrobatic display in zero gee. Gripped tightly in the hostile’s hands was a long strip of metal that looked to be a section of a duranium girder, probably sheared clean from the superstructure by the original crash landing. Its edges gleamed in the darkness illuminated only by the flashing strobes of the beacons secured at equidistant intervals along the corridor, and the improvised weapon punched through MacKillop’s faceplate before he even realized he was in danger. The visor shattered and globules of crimson exploded outward, floating through the darkness like hundreds of tiny red marbles. Displaying casual grace in the null gravity, the Romulan drew its legs up to use MacKillop’s corpse as a springboard and tore the thick metal pole free with chilling ease. The hostile cast around for less than a second before looking directly in Dan’s direction. From this distance, Hsiao couldn’t make out anything resembling features, nor did he waste time trying to do so. Instead, he acted completely on instinct.
With a speed he didn’t think he possessed, Dan used his legs to push away from the open door he was crouched near even as he went for the holstered phase pistol at his side. Drawing it should have been difficult – he was in zero gee, after all, and the gloves of the environment suit were a little too thick to handle the sidearm effectively – but the weapon came free with only the slightest effort. He brought the pistol up as he flew backwards through the corridor, a tiny portion of his brain recognizing that the bird of prey was shaking again, this time harder than before and that the Romulan was sailing toward him, the improvised weapon aimed directly at Hsiao. He thumbed the safety off.
And without hesitation, he squeezed the trigger.
Focused, coherent energy flashed out, burning through the Romulan’s helmet. The weapon was set at the highest intensity – the kill setting – but Dan squeezed the trigger again. And again. And again. Someone was screaming and the moment his back slammed into a bulkhead, Hsiao realized it was him.
The Romulan corpse sailed past him, limp and no longer a threat, and he spared it only a moment’s glance as it tumbled haphazardly down the corridor, spinning and twirling as it bounced off of walls. Around them, the bird of prey sudden rolled and trembled madly, and Dan could see in the distance Chief MacKillop’s body vanish as emerald energy seared through the hull.
Barely taking the time to orient himself, Hsiao pushed off the bulkhead wall and threw himself headlong through an open hatch. In mid-flight, he flexed his abdominal muscles and forced his body to contort itself to begin a slow somersault. Less than a second later, his feet slammed into the wall and he took in his surrounding with a single glance. Weapons deck, he identified darkly. This was one of the very last places he wanted to be – if he wasn’t mistaken, the energy he’d just seen ripping through the hull was ship-based particle cannon fire and when it reached here, it would ignite the ordinance that they hadn’t transported to Hyperion for further study at which point, he would be thoroughly and completely atomized. No, he needed an airlock or … or …
Or a functioning torpedo tube.
Without letting himself think it through, Dan pushed off once more, this time angling toward the sealed launcher. He fumbled with the controls, wincing at the flashes of green light indicating a rejection of the command he’d input. His breath was coming loud and heavy in his ears which was surreal as it was the only thing he could hear. When the console buzzed another negative – he could feel the vibration through his gloves – he cursed angrily and smashed the butt of the phase pistol into the panel. It sparked briefly before the hatch noiselessly slid open.
Throwing himself into the tube feet first, Dan could feel the bird of prey still rocking. It was worse than any earthquake and he knew the vessel was on the verge of breaking apart. Looking back into the weapons deck, he quickly located the controls for this tube. Almost exactly a torpedo’s distance away from the hatch, it was a computer console raised to almost chest level for a normal human by a metal and plastic support column. Muttering a soft prayer to a deity he wasn’t sure he believed in, Hsiao aimed his pistol once more and pulled the trigger.
God’s own fist struck him then. First, there was unbearable pain, centralized in his left arm but quickly spreading throughout his entire body. It hurt to breath and he was positive that his heart had simply exploded from the agony. His vision swam out of focus.
And then, just like that, a warm lassitude swept through him, washing away the pain and replacing it with a numb blanket of nothingness. A woman’s voice was speaking to him, saying something in a language he wasn’t entirely able to comprehend even though he knew the words. Something flared above him and he looked up in time to see a trio of similarly-shaped ships swarming around a fourth that suddenly vanished in an angry-looking fireball. A fifth ship, ungainly and awkward when compared to the others, was nearby and exchanging weapons fire with the three. Large, gaping holes exposed the ugly ship’s superstructure and it was leaking warp plasma. The three smaller ships dove around the rapidly expanding cloud of debris that had been one of their brothers and converged on the other ship. Outnumbered and wounded, the ugly ship wheeled around and vanished in a flicker of light.
Hyperion, his brain finally pieced together. That was Hyperion and it just got away.
Good for them, the logical part of him exulted. One of the things he’d long tried to pound into his officers was that the mission was more important than any one crewmember, no matter his or her rank, and it looked like they’d finally started to listen. He watched with a growing smile as the three Romulan birds of prey banked hard and accelerated away in the opposite direction as Hyperion.
“Critical injury detected,” the environment suit’s tiny computer advised him and Dan finally began thinking clearly enough to understand what it was saying. “Suit breach contained. Massive physical trauma detected. Emergency medical protocols initiated.” Hsiao frowned – what trauma? He felt fine. In fact, he felt better than fine. There was no pain anywhere. He felt like … oh.
Comprehension dawned slowly through the fog of narcotics. The newer model EV Suits came equipped with medical biosensors that would deploy massive doses of painkillers if the situation warranted it. He glanced down to check the readouts on his wrist computer but quickly realized that the device was no longer there.
And neither was his arm.
Daniel Hsiao began to laugh.