He couldn’t think
A burning spike of raw agony throbbed through his skull, beating time with his pulse like an army of angry drummers, but Jon grit his teet and tried very, very hard to ignore it. He’d already let his crew down once thanks to that disgusting bug juice he’d gotten a faceful of twelve days ago and he wasn’t about to let it happen again. Not to mention, it had been hard enough convincing Phlox that he was ready to return to duty in the first place; asking for an analgesic for a headache he’d promised the doctor he wasn’t experiencing would be a quick way to find himself back in Sickbay for another battery of humiliating tests.
Fighting the urge to fidget, pace, or even worse, rub his temples, Jon instead leaned forward and stared at the blank viewscreen. Soval had been gone for nearly three hours now and they still hadn’t received any indication whether he was alive or dead, let alone if he’d even made contact with Degra. The success or failure of this entire mission rested on the shoulders of one Vulcan who didn’t even like humans that much...
It should have been me, Jon mused darkly. I should have been the one to go.
That had been his original plan, once Travis and Kelby returned with confirmation of the Weapon’s presence on the main planet. He’d thought to arm their captured insectoid shuttlecraft with the last of their photonic torpedoes and personally blow that monstrosity to hell, but a combination of factors - Malcolm recommending against the frontal assault due to the Xindi detection grid protecting the inner planets; Erika and Soval ganging up on him and pointing out that this was possibly the best chance to forge an actual peace between Earth and the Xindi; and of course, Phlox threatening to exercise his authority as chief medical officer to permanently relieve Jon of duty if he took a single step closer to the shuttlecraft - had convinced him otherwise. Sending Soval alone was, to coin a much hated phrase, the logical decision, even if it made Jon sick to his stomach.
“Incoming transmission from the strike team,” Hoshi announced suddenly. Jon looked up, realizing as he did that he’d been pinching the bridge of his nose in a vain attempt to ward off yet another wave of brain-twisting pain. He was only vaguely aware of how the tension on the bridge jumped at Sato’s remarks. “Lieutenant Cole reports facility secure,” the linguist said. “No casualties.” Jon eased back in his seat, exhaling in relief. With Enterprise lurking here behind this particular planetoid, they were out of range of Azati Prime’s detection grid, but the small lunar base they’d identified had the potential of being a threat. With Major Hayes still sidelined due to minor injuries sustained during the almost mutiny – Rostov had put himself on report for the incident, but oddly, the major had instead composed a commendation in regards to the petty officer’s excellent hand-to-hand abilities – Cole had suggested the surgical strike by her team while Hoshi blocked outgoing transmissions from the small moonbase. Malcolm’s suggestion – to simply destroy the facility with a well-placed barrage of fire – Jon had promptly vetoed; yes, it had the advantage of being the simplest and safest course of action for all humans involved, but they were trying to broker a peace here and a photonic torpedo didn’t exactly send the correct message here.
“Any Xindi casualties?” Erika asked from where she stood just behind the command chair. There was a slight edge to her voice and, interestingly, Travis glanced in Malcolm’s direction. The armoury officer scowled at his monitors. What was that about?
“Negative,” Hoshi replied. “Zero casualties.”
“Good.” Erika’s voice was firm. “Let’s keep it that way.” She glanced at Lieutenant Ling. “Anything on the scopes?”
“No, ma’am,” the young science officer said quickly. Jon half-turned in his chair and shot a wry smile at his first officer.
“Isn’t that my job?” he asked with a smirk. “Bucking for an early promotion?” Erika returned his smile, but her eyes were worried. She’d been harder to convince that he was okay than the doctor, probably because she knew his tells a lot better than the Denobulan.
“I’m just trying to get prepared for when Phlox finds out you do have a headache,” she retorted.
“Good thinking,” Jon murmured as he straightened. He was about to toss another tension-easing joke her way – maybe something about his suspicions she had bribed the good doctor in order to clear the way for her ascension – when the tactical board chirped, drawing all eyes. Reed was already frowning at whatever he saw and had donned his own earpiece.
“Say again,” the armoury officer ordered. His expression darkened. “Safeties off,” he snapped in response to the person he was speaking to. Without looking up, he stabbed another button and a klaxon immediately sounded. “All hands: repel boarders,” he nearly snarled into the intraship. “Security teams, converge on D Deck, Quadrant Bravo. This is not a drill.”
“Commander?” Jon’s tone caused Reed to look up.
“We have a confirmed sighting of Crewman Masaro on D Deck, sir,” came the unexpected reply. Jon barely bit back a startled oath as the other members of the bridge crew stirred and looked at Reed with visible surprise that was all too understandable. Masaro was dead, after all, shot by Lieutenant Cole and then spread all over E Deck because he was fitted with a bomb of some sort. Reed stared silently at Jon, a question in his eyes, and finally, Archer nodded. “All hands,” Reed said into the commlink, “be advised that we have a hostile Suliban aboard. Security teams, initiate threat response delta.”
Suliban. The word hung heavy on the bridge and Jon could feel Erika’s eyes boring a hole through him from where she stood. From her body language, he could tell that she was pissed he had not advised her of the extent of the threat, but he pushed it out of his mind. There had to be a reason why Silik revealed himself now. Scenarios tumbled through his mind in slow motion – why was it so damned hard to think? The headache intensified to crippling levels.
“Captain!” Hoshi jerked her head around to look at him. “Someone just sent an unauthorized comm-signal to Azati Prime!”
Oh … hell.
Jon’s instinctive response – to order them to tactical alert – came slower than it should have. By the time his sluggish brain translated Hoshi’s words, Erika had recognized his hesitation and was already acting.
“Battle stations,” the first officer ordered. “Commander Reed, I want all weapons primed.” She stepped off the small platform and took up a place between the command chair and Travis, still speaking even as she gave Jon a concerned look. “Mister Mayweather,” she continued, “stand by for combat maneuvers.”
“Hoshi,” Jon said belatedly, “isolate the location of that transmission and feed it to the security teams.”
“Sensor contacts!” Lieutenant Ling exclaimed. “Three … correction: four Xindi craft on attack vector!”
“Onscreen,” Jon and Erika said at the same time. She gave him a quick, apologetic glance, but he ignored it as he studied the appropaching warships now on the main viewscreen. They were quite a bit smaller than Enterprise – he doubted they had more than ten or fifteen crewmembers total – but just from appearance alone, it was immediately obvious that they were designed for battle.
“Have they detected us?” Erika asked a good half second before the thought occurred to Jon. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it – Phlox had been certain that damned neurotoxin was gone but, by God, Jon couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt this hesitant, this … slow.
“Confirmed!” Ling glanced up from her controls. “Scans indicate their weapons are charged.” Her board pinged at the same time Malcolm’s did but he recognized what it meant more quickly.
“We’re being targeted,” he said flatly.
“Evasive maneuvers,” Jon ordered. Travis obeyed his instructions at once and the muted hum of Enterprise’s impulse drives became a fierce growl. The Starfleet vessel darted out from behind the cover, corkscrewing through the void as the Xindi ships opened fire. Sizzling streams of coherent light flashed across the darkness, most missing. Enterprise rocked with the impact as two shots struck home.
“Return fire!” Erika snapped. That order should have come from him, but Jon’s thoughts suddenly felt like they were cocooned in wool. One of the ships was an insectoid one and he couldn’t look away from that vessel for some reason. Around him, his officers were shouting – mostly at him, he realized – but they sounded an impossible distance away. Enterprise trembled and shook, with junction boxes exploding in showers of sparks that rained down like bloody snow. Flashing red lights bathed the bridge in a surreal fog.
“Hull breach on E Deck!” someone shouted through a tube or tunnel – why else would they sound like that? “Port nacelle is damaged!”
“Hull plating is down to twenty percent!” another voice exclaimed.
“We have two more hostiles incoming!”
“Get that damned fire out!”
Jon’s head swam. He smelled blood. Something wet trickled from his nose. His vision swam in and out of focus. He opened his mouth to issue orders and nothing came out.
“Dammit, Phlox,” Erika was shouting. She was leaning over him, one hand braced on his chest and keeping him anchored in his seat. “I need you here now! He’s bleeding from his fucking eyes!”
“Port nacelle is leaking warp plasma!” someone bellowed. It sounded like Trip … but he was dead. Long remembered emotional pain stabbed through Jon then and he wanted to weep.
“Commander!” That was definitely Reed but why was he calling for Erika? Jon was in command.
“I think,” he began to say, wincing at the taste of blood. Erika shoved him back into the captain’s chair.
“Be quiet,” she hissed. Glaring, she turned her head to the viewscreen. Even through the haze wrapped around his thoughts – when did his headache go away? – Jon could see a lot of ships. Most were Reptilian, but a trio of them were Insectoid … they were friendly, weren’t they? He had something that belonged to them but he couldn’t remember what it was. “We can’t stay here,” Erika said, her voice hollow and distant. “Travis, rig for emergency warp.”
“The strike team…” Reed trailed off, his face bleak. Jon knew there was something important about Malcolm and that team, but again, it didn’t come to him.
“We can’t do anything for them,” Erika said harshly. “Get us the hell out of here, Travis.” Again, Enterprise shook and shuddered. Loud clangs echoed around them and more alarms joined the cacophony. Jon brought his hands up to cover his ears.
“Warp one … now!” Travis did something – there was another sonorous whine – and Enterprise shivered yet again before smoothing out.
“Stay with me, Jon,” Erika’s voice whispered. He tried to open his eyes but the pain in his head that had been missing made an abrupt reappearance. Something hissed at his neck an eternity later and a torrent of ice coursed through his veins, washing away the raging fire in his skull. He had a second of complete disoriention – how did he get onto the bridge? Wasn’t he just in Engineering? – and a momentary memory of Phlox looming over him, a wide-eyed and terrified-looking Erika Hernandez behind him.
But then, the world went away and he felt only blessed relief.