He was furious.
His face bleak, Jon marched through the corridor leading to his newly assigned private quarters here at Starfleet Command, not particularly caring at how unprofessional his behavior was. Right now, the only thing that mattered to him was holding onto his temper and not giving into the urge to strangle every single member of Starfleet Command with his bare hands. Even Admiral Forrest was being particularly obtuse, and Archer had spent the last two days arguing himself hoarse with his old mentor.
But no one seemed interested in what he said or thought.
Instead, the whole of Starfleet had inexplicably begun listening to hypocrites like Ambassador Tos, who preached pacifism and non-action in the wake of a massive attack while he made backroom deals between politicians with an eye toward potentially drawing Earth into a shooting war with the Andorians down the road. Logic and facts no longer seemed to matter to the admirals or the politicians they answered to. It didn't seem relevant to them that this Xindi weapon had blown through the best defenses Earth had without much difficulty, or that they hadn't even detected the damned thing before it was almost too late. No, the politicians on Earth wanted Enterprise in orbit over humanity's homeworld for the foreseeable future and the Admiralty was inclined to obey them.
Which meant one thing to Jon: time was up.
A uniformed security crewman was several steps behind him and had been his shadow for most of the day, no matter that Archer knew this facility well enough that he could navigate it blind-folded and drunk – which he had once, on a dare from an equally intoxicated Trip Tucker, an eternity ago when their warp trials for Enterprise succeeded. When questioned about the necessity for an armed guard, Admiral Forrest had spun an elaborate fantasy about how they wanted to make sure nothing happened to him since Jon, as the captain with more deep-space experience than anyone else in the entire fleet, was one of their most valuable resources. The excuse hadn't passed the smell test but Archer swallowed his fury at the 'house arrest' and generally ignored his escort whenever possible.
"I'll be right here if you need me, sir," the crewman announced once they reached the door to Jon's assigned quarters. Archer gave him a dark look.
"I'm going to sleep, Crewman," he said flatly. "I don't think you need to stay here."
"Orders are orders, Captain," the young man muttered. He was unable to make eye contact with Jon, and Archer fought down another surge of anger. It wasn't this young man's fault that the Admiralty was afraid that Jon was going to do something stupid.
Especially since … well … he was.
He ducked through the door of his assigned cabin quickly, not bothering to turn on the lights until the hatch was sealed behind him. As quarters went, the room wasn't much better than an average motel room, with a bed that could double as a torture device, a shower that had two settings – cold and slightly above freezing – and flatscreen wall monitor set in a location that made it impossible to watch without standing. There was even a faint, unidentifiable smell lingering in the air that made sane officers desperate to get out of this … cell and back to work, which often caused Jon to wonder if that was the entire point.
But it was the sight of Malcolm Reed sitting quietly in one of the uncomfortable-looking chairs near the far wall that made him jump.
The armoury officer looked grimmer than usual, with his expression hovering somewhere between angry and furious, and an air of barely controlled violence surrounding him. Reed had been like this since they first learned about the Xindi attack, and not a day went by without Jon realizing just how necessary Trip had been for the welfare of the crew. Tucker would have been able to get through the bitter shell of seething rage that Malcolm had wrapped around himself. But Archer? He could barely get Reed to say good morning without an automatic 'sir' being attached to the greeting, and he had absolutely no idea how to express his condolences without them sounding trite or clichéd.
"You're early," Archer said as he gave the small apartment a quick once-over.
"We're running ahead of schedule, sir," Reed replied while quickly pushing himself to his feet. His expression barely changed. Jon gave him a glance.
"How ahead of schedule?" he asked. Archer's eyes widened when the lieutenant commander pulled a communicator from one of his many uniform pockets and offered it. "Already?" Jon wondered with a head shake. "You and Erika didn't waste any time."
"No time to waste, Captain," Reed retorted smoothly. "New ordnance is completely loaded, provisions stocked, and the crew is standing by for your order." He stared at Archer with unblinking eyes. Jon stared at the communicator for a long moment. This was it, he realized. He was on the verge of committing treason, all on the word of a time traveler that he didn't trust in the slightest, and all in the vague possibility that they might be able to undo something that already happened.
But it was still a possibility.
"Consider the word given," he said softly. "Operation: Memorial Service is a go."
Flashing a feral smile, Reed reached into another pocket and produced a second communicator. He flipped it open and manipulated the tiny device.
"Galahad to Camelot," the lieutenant commander said flatly. "Arthur has drawn Excalibur. I repeat, Arthur has drawn Excalibur."
"Acknowledged," a distorted voice replied. It was impossible to identify the speaker, which Jon supposed was entirely the point. "Stand by."
"I hate this part," Reed muttered, even as Archer glanced around his quarters once more.
"Where's Porthos?" he demanded. The armoury officer gave him a wan smile.
"Already aboard Enterprise, sir," he said. At Jon's look, Reed shrugged. "Commander Hernandez stopped by and took him with her. We thought it would look less suspicious if she were seen walking around with him." Archer grunted and was about to comment about Erika's utter inability to handle dogs when he heard the distinctive sound of a transporter. He closed his eyes at the disturbing sensations that always accompanied this mode of travel. It was like diving into a pool of ice water and Jon was convinced he could actually feel his molecules coming apart, one by one.
An eternity later, it was over, and Archer drew in a deep breath to remind himself that he was still alive. His hands automatically went to his chest, his stomach, his face, but realizing how unprofessional it had to look, he lowered his arms and opened his eyes to find himself facing the rear of the transporter array. Frowning, he turned, freezing the moment he caught sight of the armed men standing around Rostov who was manning the controls. Their uniforms were as distinctive as the slung rifles over their shoulders or their unmistakably aggressive body language.
"Status report," Reed demanded sharply as he stepped down off the transport platform. The lead MACO nodded briefly to three men at his back, and they disappeared down the corridor.
"Enterprise is secured," the MACO major replied smoothly. "I have people stationed at every access point per instructions." He offered Reed a PADD, nodding briefly in Archer's direction. "Captain," he said by way of greeting before returning his attention to the armoury officer. "No one is aboard who shouldn't be here," he added.
"Good," Lieutenant Commander Reed said. "Captain Archer," he stated, nodding toward the MACO, "Major Joss Hayes. We've worked together in the past and I thought we could use the added firepower."
"My people are the best, Captain," Hayes said as he offered a crisp salute. "We're with you until the end."
"Good to have you aboard, Major," Jon said with a quick, sidelong glance at Reed, wondering exactly when the armoury officer had worked with Hayes. There wasn't anything in Malcolm's file about having participated in joint Starfleet/MACO operations.
"Commander Hernandez is already on the bridge, sir," Hayes added before backing away and heading in the same direction his men had gone.
"MACOs, huh?" Archer asked once he and Reed were alone in the turbolift. The armoury officer tensed abruptly.
"We're going into hostile territory, sir," he said flatly. "Hayes' people will free up my personnel to focus on shipboard operations." Reed's bleak expression didn't shift in the slightest. "I apologize if I overstepped my boundaries," he began, but Jon waved it off.
"No," the captain said quickly. "It was good thinking." He paused. "They are aware that this isn't exactly a legal operation, right?" Malcolm smiled darkly.
"That was the final selling point, I think," he replied. At Jon's look, he shrugged. "Joss has always had … issues with the reactive stance of EarthGov's foreign policy." Reed's body language discouraged further discussion about the MACO major, and Archer made a mental note to quiz his armoury officer later. For now, though, he simply nodded and remained silent for the rest of the trip.
"Captain on the bridge," Erika announced loudly as Jon stepped out of the turbolift. The entire alpha shift was on duty and Archer immediately looked to where Hoshi sat before her console. She met his eyes before quickly glancing down, and Jon once more felt his heart go out to her. Just like Malcolm, she had lost her entire family in one fell swoop, and just like the armoury officer, she refused to let it defeat her.
"As you were," Jon said automatically. He walked the short distance to the command chair Erika had just vacated. "Status?" he asked more calmly than he felt.
"All departments report ready," Hernandez replied. "Petty Officer Baird is standing by for our signal." Jon flinched at that – their plan required someone be planetside to upload a virus into Starfleet's computer systems that would free Enterprise from the automated but otherwise unmanned spacedock, and Baird had volunteered to do so, even though it meant he would be stranded on Earth and would likely face the brunt of Starfleet Command's fury. The communications petty officer had been unconcerned about his probable fate and asked only that they bring a piece of the weapon home for him.
And Archer intended to do exactly that.
"Send the signal," Jon ordered before half turning in his seat to give Ambassador Soval a questioning glance. "I'm a little surprised to see you here," he said wryly. "Isn't helping us steal Enterprise a little illogical?" The Vulcan raised an eyebrow.
"There are rare instances," the ambassador replied, "when committing an act of defiance against legal authority is the logical course of action." Jon almost smiled, even as Soval continued. "Sixteen Vulcans also died, Captain. Humanity was not the only species attacked," he pointed out, as if that was an explanation that made some sort of sense. Archer nodded – he knew Vulcan circular logic when he heard it – before turning back to face the main viewscreen.
"Hoshi," Jon said softly, his voice drawing her immediate attention. "I'd like to address the crew." She nodded and depressed a button on her console.
"Intraship ready, sir," she stated. Archer inhaled deeply.
"This is the captain," he said. "We are minutes away from launching what Starfleet Command is calling a foolhardy waste of resources and time. I want to thank you, each and every one of you, for being here, ready and willing to put your lives on the line so that we might be able to stop this weapon from ever being deployed against Earth." Jon tightened his hand into a fist and nodded in Soval's direction. "As our resident ambassador just told me," he said, "there are instances when an act of defiance is the only course of action a person can take." Archer swallowed. "It has been my greatest honor to command you, the finest crew in Starfleet, and together, we will see this through to the end."
"So help us God," Malcolm muttered. It was clearly not intended to be overheard, but Jon nodded his agreement nonetheless.
"So help us God," he repeated. "Mister Kelby," Archer added a moment later, "stand by for maximum warp." He stared at the viewscreen a heartbeat longer. "That is all," he said before gesturing for Hoshi to end the transmission.
"Moorings released," Travis stated several seconds later. Jon inhaled.
"Here we go," Erika murmured from where she stood just behind Archer's left shoulder. He nodded and leaned forward in his seat.
"Take us out, Mister Mayweather," he ordered. "Full impulse." Enterprise's engines growled, and the ship thundered forward, rapidly accelerating away from enclosing drydock hanging high above Earth.
The response was almost instantaneous.
Hoshi's board lit up with incoming transmissions as the starships patrolling the system suddenly oriented toward the NX-01. Several chimes echoed from both the science board and the helm station as their respective sensors detected sudden contacts responding to their unexpected maneuvers. On the viewscreen, Jon could see a half dozen Iceland-classes angling toward them.
"Incoming transmission from Starfleet Command," Hoshi said. She glanced up. "It's Admiral Forrest."
"Travis, lock in the course for the Delphic Expanse," Archer instructed before nodding toward Sato. "Put him on-screen."
"What the hell are you doing?" Forrest screamed the moment his image appeared. There were at least three other senior officers in the background, as well as Ambassador Tos and Minister Samuels, all of whom looked shell-shocked.
"Our jobs," Jon replied flatly. "If there's even the slightest chance in hell we can stop this thing," he continued, "then we're going to do everything in our power to do so."
"Turn that ship around, Jonathan," Forrest demanded. "That is a direct order."
"Article fourteen," Archer retorted, "section thirty-one of the Starfleet charter is clear, Admiral. In times of extraordinary threat, normal rules of conduct may be bent." Reed's head shot up from where it was bent over the tactical console and the look he gave Jon was one Archer couldn't begin to decipher. "This is just such a time."
"Don't you dare quote regulations to me," Forrest growled. "This is a court martial offense, Archer. For every single member of your crew."
"Course laid in, sir," Travis murmured softly. Jon nodded.
"We are aware of that, Admiral," he said before standing. "And every one of us will answer for our crimes when we stop this weapon from attacking Earth." He dropped a hand on Mayweather's shoulder. "Maximum warp, Lieutenant Mayweather."
"Jonathan!" Forrest looked apoplectic as Jon gave Hoshi a telling look. She terminated the transmission at the very instant Enterprise sprang away from Earth at superluminal speeds.
"Any chance the High Command will send any ships after us?" Archer asked of Soval. The ambassador gave him a bland look.
"Curiously," the Vulcan replied, "all vessels within intercept range have been directed to maintain communications silence for a period of no less than four weeks." Soval's eyebrow climbed. "I imagine that Administrator V'Las will be most displeased with Ambassador Tos since those orders were issued by the Earth consulate."
"Good to know," Jon remarked with a slight smile. Soval never ceased to amaze him. Archer gave his command staff – sans Kelby, who was in engineering – another look. "As Benjamin Franklin said," Jon added, "we must hang together, gentlemen ... else, we shall most assuredly hang separately."
"Bloody Colonials," Reed grumbled under his breath. Archer shot him a slight smile, but his good mood faded quickly as the scope of exactly what they had just done and what they were about to do began to settle in. He swallowed.
And silently began to pray.