Something wasn't right.
As he stared over Ensign Mayweather's shoulder, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed found that the hairs on the back of his neck were beginning to stand on end, and every one of his instincts was telling him that something was terribly, terribly wrong. In his previous career, the one that no one aboard Enterprise knew about, he had learned to listen to those warnings, and they had never led him astray.
Well, except for that one time at Risa, but that was Trip's fault.
"Approaching the target," Mayweather related, sending the cell ship into a gentle dive. Giving the terrain map another quick look, Malcolm pointed.
"Set down there," he said. "Once I'm on the ground, lift off and be prepared for an emergency pickup." Reed shifted his combat harness and checked the charge on his phase pistol. He drew in several rapid breaths as he mentally prepared for the craziness that was about that happen. Part of him knew that he was being reckless, and that he should have one of his security troopers with him to provide back-up, but that didn't prevent him from advancing forward with this plan, even if he had no idea how he was going to get the two bodies out by himself. After all, he did his best work alone.
And there was something about this that just didn't feel right...
"Down!" Travis said, and Malcolm darted through the opening hatch, his pistol held at the ready. Keeping low, Reed sprinted toward cover. His heart was already hammering as the adrenaline pumped through his body, and he grimly acknowledged how much he'd missed this sort of thing. Life on Enterprise was great, but sometimes, he really missed the visceral rush of a covert mission like this. Putting his back to the rock, he glanced down at the scanner he held in his other hand, and smiled tightly. No one appeared to have noticed his arrival.
As expected, a pair of native sentries wandered into view several minutes later, their weapons slung over their respective shoulders as they patrolled the outskirts of the crash site. The relative seclusion of this particular area had been the deciding factor for it being Reed's ambush site; in the event that one of the two managed to get away, he still had forty or fifty meters of difficult terrain to cross before he could find reinforcements. Taking aim with his pistol, Malcolm waited for long seconds as they reached the kill pocket before squeezing the trigger.
Neither of the natives had a chance, and toppled to the ground before they even realized that they were under attack. A long moment passed as he waited for someone to react, and when no one rushed toward him, Reed exhaled in relief. He rushed from his concealment, holstering the scanner as he ran. Grabbing the two natives, he dragged them into cover. One of them, he noticed, was his size, and he quickly began stripping the man of his uniform. His own Starfleet jumpsuit he crammed into a hole; it had already been stripped of patches and rank pips to prevent identification if discovered. After making sure that the two natives were hidden from view, he stuffed the phase pistol and hand scanner into his trouser pockets, and hefted one of the archaic rifles. Armed and looking like a native, he squared his shoulders and started toward the central camp.
No one challenged him as he approached, so intent were they on their own duties, and Malcolm made it a point to look like he had a mission. It was something that he had learned during his previous career; as long as you looked like you were supposed to be there, most people wouldn't even pay you any notice. He had gambled (foolishly, he admitted to himself) on the same being true here.
At sight of the shattered remnants of the shuttlepod, though, he jerked to a stop and barely kept from gasping in horror. If he hadn't already known that it was a 'pod, he doubted that he would have even recognized it, so significant was the damage.
Most of the soldiers present were walking around the crash site, annotating the location of debris or carrying on soft conversations. No one was even around the two shrouded bodies, and Malcolm felt his instincts whispering to him once more. He gave the two corpses another glance as he tried to comprehend the warning his sixth sense was giving him. Something wasn't right ... but he didn't know what was wrong.
"You!" A meaty hand clamped down on Reed's shoulder, and he tensed as a grizzled old native glowered darkly at him. "Help me move these bodies," the native ordered, gesturing toward the two corpses. The earpiece that was lodged in Malcolm's left ear relayed the translation from the communicator hidden in one of his pockets, and the lieutenant silently thanked God for wireless connections; an obvious cable would have been a dead giveaway that he wasn't from around here. Nodding, he swallowed and followed the older man to the targets.
They were already on stretchers, Reed noted, and as he came within a meter of them, he realized what his instincts had been telling him. Instantly, he recognized that both were too short to be Trip, and neither had the feminine curves of T'Pol. Relief flooded through him, washing away the grief that he had buried. Too late, he realized that he had drawn the older man's notice with his stare.
"First time you've seen the dead, huh?" the native said with an almost sinister smile. He reached down, flipping the blankets back from the faces of the two and revealing a pair of young men. Get away now! Malcolm's instincts screamed at him, and he turned away quickly, pretending that he was about to vomit as he did. The old man's laugh was loud, and Reed used the opportunity to sprint away from the crash site. He kept his hand over his mouth the entire time.
Sometimes, he reflected, covert operations training was quite useful.
The moment that he found some cover, Malcolm reached for his communicator and flipped it open. His heart was still pounding, but he felt giddy. Not dead, he kept repeating to himself. Not dead.
"Evac in five," he said into the comm before returning the device to his pocket. Glancing around, Reed exhaled a sigh of relief when he saw that the old veteran had enlisted another person to move the bodies. Head down, Malcolm quickly retraced his steps to the exfiltration point.
As he crouched next to the two natives whom he had stunned earlier, Malcolm dug his Starfleet uniform out of the dirt and waited for Travis to make his appearance. For a moment, he considered stripping off the uniform he was wearing before deciding against doing so; it would take too long, he reasoned, even as he wondered what sort of story the unconscious natives would tell when they woke up. His communicator chirped, informing him that Travis was on approach, and Reed prepared himself for a sprint. The uneasy sensation of being watched began bothering him, and he glanced around in an attempt to find any observers. He found no one.
Seconds later, Travis stepped into view – or rather, half of him did – and gestured to Reed. Still unable to shake the feeling that he was being watched, Malcolm leaped up and ran toward the cloaked ship.
"Get us back to Enterprise," Malcolm ordered as he boarded it. He paused for a moment as he once again tried to see anyone watching him, but once again, saw no one. "Those bodies weren't Trip and T'Pol," he grinned.
Seconds later, they were racing home.