Panic was in the air.
Most days, it was subdued, barely noticeable, but in moments of stress which here in the Expanse were all too often, Travis was sincerely surprised there weren't riots or even a blood-soaked mutiny. Every member of the crew was watching everyone else, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Friendships were strained, illicit romances sundered, and the espirit de corps that had been so evident when they launched from Earth was gone, replaced by borderline hysteria and panic. Even the recent successes against the Xindi – destruction of that prototype weapon with Andorian assistance, for example, or the rope-a-dope the captain had pulled on that Degra guy – hadn't helped the crew's mood.
And all because of Masaro.
The damage controlman's death fifty-five days ago had caught everyone by surprise. Not that Lieutenant Cole shooting him was entirely unexpected – the little bastard had been so freaking creepy that the rest of Kelby's department had taken to calling him Gollum long before he stupidly tried to outshoot a MACO – but the aftermath, the startling revelations about him that came to light after his death, those no one had expected. And it terrified them.
Because if there was one Terra Prime sympathizer-slash-operative aboard, then why not two? Or five? Or ten? And even more worrisome, who gained by revealing his affiliations to the crew? Captain Archer had certainly tried to keep a lid on it…
The hiss of the command center's door sliding open warned Travis that he was no longer alone and he glanced over his shoulder to see Kelby entering. David looked more tired than usual, but that wasn't a big surprise given how much damage he'd had to repair lately. What was unexpected was Hoshi's presence at the chief engineer's side.
Things had been strained between them for a long time now, probably since Kaitaama and that mess, and everything Travis tried to get them back to the way they'd been seemed to explode in his face. As horrifyingly self-centered as it sounded, the Xindi attack on Earth and the death of her entire family had actually gone a long way toward equalizing things between them.
And it was disgusting thoughts like that one that convinced Travis he was not a good man, despite what everyone else seemed to think.
"So this is where the two of you always disappear to," Hoshi exclaimed with something vaguely resembling her former cheer. "Did you know that probably half of the ship thinks the two of you are dating?"
"Only half?" Kelby smirked. "I must be losing my appeal."
"Bet they wouldn't be saying that if I crashed us into one of these damned anomalies," Travis muttered. He powered up the main display and opened the navigational starmap necessary for plotting courses through the Expanse. It was a hodgepodge of different starmaps, tacked together and overlaid atop Enterprise's stellar charts. Out of the corner of his eye, Travis noted the instant Hoshi recognized some of the alien references and nav-alerts from the way she narrowed her eyes.
"That doesn't look good," Kelby remarked as he studied the proposed route. It would take Enterprise through a dense cluster of gravitational signatures that had no corresponding stellar mass. From past experience, Travis knew there was a better than eighty percent chance they were looking at an anomaly field and God only knew what waited there there. Time could start running backwards, or gravity could suddenly start working differently, or hell, the nacelles might inexplicably start misfiring and shoot them through a wormhole.
"Here be dragons," Travis said with a glower as he overlaid an Ossarian star chart atop stellar cartography. "I don't have a clue what this says-"
"I might," Hoshi interjected softly. She stepped closer and frowned at the display. "Something something field … axis, I think? I can't make all of it out." She pointed to a string of gibberish. "These are definitely numbers though. One, two, nine, six, five, three, zero, zero."
"And this is why I brought you along," Kelby said with a grin. "We ran it through the universal translator it spat out some nonsense that neither of us could figure out."
"One-two-nine by six-five by three-zero-zero," Travis mumbled. It sounded like stellar coordinates, with an x, y and z axis. On instinct, he split-screened the display, pulled up a blank copy of the nav-display, and then imported all of the Ossarian charts. He located the annotation Hoshi had just identified and set it as the primary datapoint: x as 129, y as 65, and z as 300.
"What about this one?" he asked, as he highlighted another row of unintelligible symbols.
"Nine, nine, zero, one, two, zero, four," Hoshi dutifully replied. She pushed him out of the way and took over. Fingers flying, she opened a third window and activated a program from somewhere on Enterprise's internal servers. Both of Travis' windows flickered and, within seconds, some of the squiggles and symbols began changing to English. "I'm sorry," Hoshi said quietly. "Baird was the one who always imported my datasets to the UT matrix," she continued, "and I just forgot to start doing it since we left him on Earth."
"We've all been stressed," Travis said with a smile. "If Commander Hernandez wasn't always on me about my stupid TPS reports, I'd forget about them every week and you know how important those things are." He gave Kelby a prompting look.
"Hell," the engineer muttered, "I haven't filled out a requisition form since I came aboard. If Taylor dropped dead tomorrow, I wouldn't have the first clue what went where or who needed what."
As motivational speeches went, that one pretty much sucked, which was totally in-character for David. The man was technically astute and a borderline genius, but sadly, he had the people skills of a rock. An especially dense rock. Travis rolled his eyes.
The klaxon suddenly blared, causing all three of them to jump in surprise. They were two steps closer to the door when Malcolm's voice echoed from hidden speakers.
"Repel boarders. Repeat: repel boarders. Security teams to D Deck." Travis was about to mutter a curse about Reed and his stupid training regimens when the tactical officer continued. "All hands: repel boarders. This is not a drill. Repeat: repel boarders. This is not a drill."
By the time Travis reached his duty station, the situation was contained and the alien responsible – the same one they'd pulled from one of the spheres, though the cellular decay made it look like a zombie from one of Commander Tucker's monster movies; it even had pointed ears like an evil Vulcan! – was dead. Lieutenant Cole had fired the killing shot but Travis couldn't even look at her when Major Hayes and Captain Archer both congratulated her on her team's prompt response. Anymore, it wasn't lingering distrust of her over her actions following Reed's colossal screw-up at the trellium facility. No, this was all Phlox's fault. Now, Travis couldn't look at Cole and not think of the alien maggots the doctor injected into her eyes to fix the damage – while she was sedated, of course, because even a scary badass like the lieutenant could not possibly go through a procedure like that while conscious without going mad. And, if that image wasn't disturbing enough, following the Denobulan's removal of the things, Cole's previously green eyes had turned completely white, with only the black pupil showing in the very center. Hardly anyone could meet her gaze now, which the woman took ridiculous amounts of glee over. Even Major Hayes, one of the most terrifying men Travis had ever met, always seemed to be thoroughly engrossed in a PADD whenever he had to speak to her.
Naturally, only Malcolm and Soval seemed immune.
At the earliest point possible, Travis excused himself and retraced his steps to the command center. He knew that Lieutenant Commander Reed wanted to speak with him – not a day elapsed where the armoury officer didn't offer an olive branch – but Travis ignored it each time. Reed had violated one of the core tenets of Starfleet and, even if Mayweather could now admit that the level of violence of the MACO assault on the trellium facility had probably been necessary, Travis couldn't quite forgive him for it. There was mounting evidence that indicated Reed's pre-Starfleet career was soaked in blood, which left Travis with the uncomfortable realization that he'd never really known Malcolm at all. What else was a lie, he wondered.
Hoshi's translation program was still running when he entered, but chirped in completion the moment the door hissed shut. Travis crossed the room and glanced at the results with growing optimism. It wasn't a magical roadmap or anything, but there were references to the kinds of anomalies in the region that would be invaluable. Heck, Enterprise's main computer had even been smart enough to shuffle the potential coordinates around and test various permutations – it turned out the Ossarians inverted the x-y-z axis so the z came first, which made no sense at all – until it identified the arrangement that was most probable sequence. Travis was about to power down the display when his eyes happened to fall on an outlying red giant stellar cartography had originally tagged as a system holding no interest to them. The Ossarian name of this system flashed and pulsed.
Travis reached for the comm.-panel without hesitation.
"Captain Archer, Commander Hernandez to the command center," he said sharply, unaware of how much it sounded like an order. Even if he had, he wouldn't have hesitated.
They were going the wrong way.