Nothing made sense anymore.
Leaning back in his seat, Travis stared quietly at the dark control panel of the Suliban cell ship and once more tried to wrestle his thoughts into submission. In recent weeks, the captured craft had become his favorite place to hide, not only because Kelby was quite often using the sweet spot to do his own thinking, but also because no one seemed to look for Mayweather here. Sure, if an officer or crewman really tried, it wouldn’t be hard to actually find him – internal sensors would inevitably log his entrance into this otherwise restricted location – but so far, nobody had bothered, which gave him plenty of time to be alone.
And right now, he needed that more than anything.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting here, his fingers scratching out a distinctive pattern on the control panel, or how much time had passed since Enterprise went to warp to get clear of that trellium mining facility, but every time he closed his eyes, he saw the same damning images over and over, flashing across his mind’s eye like a movie that wouldn’t advance to the next scene.
On paper, the op to rescue Captain Archer, Ambassador Soval and Major Hayes from the crazy mine foreman while they were trying to get that Xindi out alive had gone off without much of a hitch, even if the Xindi died before he could provide them any useful intelligence. No one had detected the cloaked cell ship Travis piloted planetside to carry two heavily armed MACOs – Chang and Cole – and one equally equipped Malcolm Reed, and that trio had cleared the landing zone of hostiles with terrifying efficiency before the second shuttlepod, this time piloted by Sergeant Kemper, landed with the full assault team. It wasn’t until the whole thing was over and Travis was reviewing his flight data recorder that he realized Lieutenant Commander Reed and the MACOs had used lethal force throughout the entire engagement. Malcolm had fired the first shot, had killed the first non-human guard, but the MACOs had done the same without hesitation or question. No matter how he looked at it, Travis was unable to ignore the truth staring him in the face: he – and the crew of Enterprise – had just participated in a bloody massacre the likes of which humanity hadn’t seen since the Eugenics Wars.
And apparently, he was the only member of the Starfleet crew who knew it.
The data recorder on the other shuttlepod had ‘mysteriously’ malfunctioned, and, if Travis had actually obeyed his unspoken orders to return to Enterprise the moment Commander Reed and the two MACOs were deployed, he probably wouldn’t be aware of it either. Instead, though, he’d loitered over the mining facility, cloaked and unseen, wanting to be on hand to help out if the mess deteriorated, and as a result, he now had damning evidence that Malcolm had violated the rules of engagement laid out by Commander Hernandez when she authorized the mission.
“Minimal casualties,” she’d insisted. “We’re trying to prevent a war, not start another one.”
All of this boiled down to two options, neither of which were especially good. One, Malcolm’s definition of ‘minimal casualties’ was significantly different than the first officer’s, or two, he had flat out ignored her. Travis figured that the MACO whisper team had eagerly agreed to avoid using non-lethal options … although now that he thought about it, he realized he wasn’t even sure if their pulse rifles had stun settings. Regardless of what the truth turned out to be, it would destroy Malcolm’s career. If he hadn’t intentionally set out to … to murder the alien guards, then that meant he hadn’t been paying attention to Commander Hernandez’s instructions or they had slipped his mind, which meant he had no business acting as either the third-in-command or the armoury officer.
Travis thought he was going to be sick.
Normally, he’d go to Hoshi and pick her brain about what to do, but recently, all of her free time was taken up by counseling sessions with Doctor Phlox or ‘girl talk’ with that really hot MACO Malcolm was sleeping with, and if Travis was honest with himself, he wasn’t sure he wanted to bring Hoshi into this mess anyway. Right now, she had enough things to worry about than whether their mutual friend was a murdering psychopath. He shivered – over the last couple of weeks, he’d overheard some of the MACOs discussing amongst themselves some positively scary stories involving Malcom and covert ops back on Earth, and if even a tenth of those stories were true … well, it made Travis seriously wonder if anyone aboard actually knew who Malcolm Reed really was.
“What the hell do I do now?” he murmured aloud.
“You could do like the rest of us and keep your mouth shut,” an unexpected voice answered his soft question, causing him to jump out of the seat with a strangled yelp. He smacked his head on the low overhang as he twisted around to find Amanda Cole leaning against the bulkhead. She was no longer wearing the combat armor she’d had on planetside, but even in nothing but combat fatigues, the MACO corporal looked to be on the verge of action. “Sorry,” she said with a smirk that didn’t touch her eyes. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Yes, you did,” Travis retorted angrily. “I don’t think you’re authorized to be here, Corporal,” he added a second later in a quick attempt to regain his equilibrium.
“Probably not,” Cole replied. She didn’t move from where she stood and Mayweather felt an icy chill crawl up his spine. “Don’t think you are either, sir,” she retorted wryly. They stared at each other for a long, silent moment before Travis blew out a frustrated breath.
“You want my data recorder,” he guessed. Cole nodded. “I can’t let you have it,” he said softly. “What Malcolm did was wrong,” he added a moment later. “What you did was wrong.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” she said with a frown. “This is war, Lieutenant,” Cole said a moment later, “and in war, people die.” Her expression darkened. “How many millions back on Earth are already dead because of these Xindi?”
“So we should start killing until we even the score?” Travis demanded. He kept talking, even though she opened her mouth to respond. “And the aliens you killed down there weren’t Xindi,” he snapped sharply.
“But they were hostile,” Cole replied. “We did what we had to do,” she began, but Travis interrupted her angrily.
“You had orders to use stun settings and ignored them!” he nearly shouted. Cole’s expression shifted slightly – it was barely a flicker of a change, but Travis felt his stomach plunge to his feet the moment he realized what it meant: she hadn’t known. “Oh, God,” he murmured. “He didn’t tell you.”
“Not important,” Cole declared, her expression of feigned indifference falling back into place. “There were too many variables to take into account with the stun settings on your Starfleet weapons,” she said. “Would they even work on those aliens?” she began, ticking off fingers as she made her points. “How long would they be unconscious if it did work? What happens if they’re out for a few minutes and the team moves on? Then, we’re caught between two groups of hostiles and the whole thing turns into a charlie foxtrot.”
“Would you listen to yourself?” Travis stared at her in appalled horror. “You’re coming up with excuses for why you helped murder people!” Cole shot him a condescending look that reminded him far too much of his mother when she was annoyed at his father.
“I’m a soldier, Lieutenant,” she said. “First and foremost, my job is to kill things and break stuff.” She shrugged. “Sometimes, what I’m supposed to do isn’t pretty, but it has to be done so people like you have the freedom to be judgmental.” Cole glanced away from him and, for a moment, looked older than her years as her eyes momentarily turned inward. “Gal … Commander Reed made an error in not passing on those rules of engagement,” she began, correcting herself so quickly that Mayweather almost didn’t notice, “but I don’t think he did it maliciously.” Travis grimaced.
“So I’m supposed to just look away?” he asked softly. “Look away and pretend I don’t know anything because Galahad doesn’t make mistakes?” The moment he uttered the name he’d overheard, he knew it was a mistake. Cole’s head snapped around and she pinned him with an expression so predatory, so dangerous, that Travis had the sudden feeling he was on the verge of having a tragic ‘accident.’ He swallowed.
And then decided to press on.
“I’m not an idiot, Corporal,” he said. “I know all about you MACO whisper teams and the kind of stuff you do.” Instinctively, he pushed down the memory of Horizon’s one encounter with such a unit that had been pirate hunting – to a wide-eyed ten year old, they had seemed to be larger than life action heroes like he saw on the vids, but as he grew older, that awe had passed into muted fear and distrust. These were people trained to take lives, to do things humanity was supposed to have long since evolved beyond, and now having witnessed firsthand what they were capable of, Travis’ hesitation about them had returned tenfold.
“Good for you,” Cole said, her voice low and hard. “Where did you hear that name?” she demanded tightly.
“Around,” Travis replied. “You MACOs don’t realize how far sound travels on this ship,” he added. He didn’t bother verbalizing that Malcolm and Galahad were one and the same – even if Cole hadn’t nearly screwed up earlier, Mayweather had long since put two and two together. “Like I said, I’m not an idiot.”
“That remains to be seen,” the corporal hissed. “Forget you’ve heard that name,” she ordered sharply.
“And you can forget getting the data recorder,” Travis retorted. He gestured to the Suliban pod. “It’s not even in there anymore.” Cole’s eyes narrowed and Mayweather crossed his arms. He was not going to be intimidated by her, no matter that she could probably kill him with her pinky.
“So you’re going to throw him to the wolves then,” the MACO said softly. She shook her head. “I can’t let you do that.”
“You won’t need to.” The soft voice of Malcolm Reed caused them both to jump in surprise, and Travis’ head snapped around to the door where he found the grim-looking armoury officer watching them. Still dressed in the combat armor he’d obtained from the MACOs – a black cuirass, thigh and elbow pads and protective cup – he looked every centimeter the frightening assassin that Hayes’ whisper team gossiped about. “Thank you for your concern, Corporal,” Reed said flatly, his eyes never leaving Travis, “but that will be all.”
For a long moment, Cole hesitated. She opened her mouth to say something, but Malcolm gave her a quick sidelong look that caused her to nod and back away. Moments later, she was through the door, sealing it behind her and leaving them alone.
Travis leaned back against the cellship, crossing his arms and studying the man he’d once considered a friend but now realized he truly didn’t know. Malcolm – Lieutenant Commander Reed, he reminded himself sharply – looked exhausted, with dark circles under his eyes and an air of weary resignation hanging over him. Gone was the image of the grim, implacable warrior and in its place was a grieving, exhausted man. If Travis didn’t still have the memory of thirty-plus corpses seared into his mind’s eye, he might actually feel sorry for Reed.
But he couldn’t. And he wouldn’t. No matter that it felt like betrayal.
“We need to talk,” Malcolm said slowly. “About what happened down there.” He paused, drew in a deep breath and was once more the unstoppable armoury officer. “And what happens next,” he continued flatly. Travis nodded.
“So talk,” he replied.