He was … confused.
There was no other word to adequately convey the emotions swirling through his stomach as Lieutenant Cole entered his cell without warning, stunning or killing the Reptilian guard in charge of his torture while Dolim was away before the thoroughly disagreeable creature was even aware of her presence. Before the Xindi had struck the floor, two more MACOs had entered the cell, all bearing signs of recent combat. Cole turned her bizarre white on white eyes on him and frowned.
“Looks like we got here just in time,” she remarked as she made some complicated hand gestures to the other two soldiers. Without speaking, they took up defensive positions alongside the door while Cole stepped closer to where Soval was secured. “Guess your negotiations didn’t go that well,” she remarked as she lowered her rifle and produced a long knife to cut him free.
“They were … less productive than I would have preferred,” Soval admitted. Events had transpired at a far faster rate than he anticipated. The death of the so-called Sphere Builder twenty-four days earlier had confirmed his suspicions about the nature of the Delphic Expanse – although it was barely recognizable as Vulcanoid thanks to the trans-dimensional anomalies that had ravaged it, certain of the words it used prior to its death were unmistakably Rihannsu, which only further verified the assertions made by the time-traveler, Daniels, regarding Vulcan’s lost cousins. Upon his arrival on Azati Prime, Soval had been treated with extreme deference, which prompted him to suspect the Xindi thought of him as an agent of these ‘Sphere Builders,’ a fact he had not anticipated but promptly abused for his benefit. The Reptilian war-leader he made no attempt to convince of humanity’s innocence – Dolim clearly had exactly zero interest in ceasing the hostilities as it firmly cemented his position in the Xindi hierarchy – but in the Primate, Degra, whom he recognized from Captain Archer’s successful stratagem to locate Azati Prime, Soval found a learned man who had clearly begun to question his faith. Their discussion had been quite agreeable and Soval was certain Degra was at least considering the truth.
And then, a furious Dolim entered once again, claiming to have had contact with their Sphere Builders. His soldiers seized Soval and dragged him to this holding cell. Much of that time was lost to a haze of pain and questions, right up until Lieutenant Cole and her team entered.
They departed the cell with no undue haste, entering a corridor already littered with downed Xindi. As they passed the first of the Reptilians, Soval was surprised to see that it still drew breath – he had not expected Lieutenant Cole’s team to exercise such judicious restraint. A fourth and fifth MACO seemed to materialize out of the darkness as they left their places of concealment and quickly joined them. The fifth – Sergeant Chang – was visibly injured, with his left arm bound to his chest by blood-stained bandages, and paused long enough to discharge his firearm into a stirring Xindi. It ceased moving … but not breathing.
“We don’t have time for that,” Cole growled, her expression fierce. Chang shrugged – or rather, tried to shrug; he winced almost at once, and then glared at his wounded limb. “Three, Six,” Cole said into the microphone integrated into her helmet. “SitRep.” An unfamiliar voice answered through her earpiece – Soval doubted most species would have been able to eavesdrop. Fortunately, he was Vulcan and his hearing was quite exceptional.
“Six, Three,” the voice said. “Copacetic. Advise you pick up the pace, though. Getting some hairy eyeballs out here.”
“Roger that.” Cole issued another set of instructions via the complicated hand gestures – Soval idly wondered if he could convince the MACOs to instruct him on their meaning; they seemed quite useful – and the two lead commandos sprinted forward. Chang drew closer to Soval and, to the ambassador’s surprise, offered his rifle.
“You need two hands to use this thing effectively,” the sergeant said in response to Soval’s raised eyebrow. It was a logical action – they were surrounded by numerous hostiles, after all, and the Xindi had shown no inclination toward proper treatment of consular rights – and he accepted it, taking the briefest of moments to familiarize himself with the weapon. The moment Soval took the rifle from him, Chang reached for his holstered pistol and drew it.
They exited the facility that Soval had been transported to several moments later, and to his great surprise, a Reptilian warship waited for them on the tarmac. His initial response was to seek cover out of concern that their escape had been noted – surely, someone must have noticed the unconscious bodies by now – but Cole and her team continued toward the vessel at a trot. Two additional MACOs climbed up from concealed positions alongside the small starship, their weapons still at the ready. Soval’s eyebrow climbed even higher – how had the humans procured this? For that matter, how had they evaded detection? – but he held his tongue and continued forward.
At the last second, just as he was about to board, he glanced back toward the entranceway of the holding facility. One of the Reptilian guards was partially conscious and trying to regain his feet, but it was not he who drew Soval’s attention. Framed in the open doorway was another Xindi, one Soval recognized instantly.
The Xindi-Primate stared at Soval and the MACOs with shock on his face, and then glanced at the stirring Reptilian, before frowning. Soval did not need to utilize his telepathic talents to comprehend the thoughts racing through Degra’s mind then. During their discussions, Soval had made it a point of telling him that humanity only killed when necessary, that they were of no threat to the Xindi, and the Reptilian’s continued existence when the MACOs could have very easily killed all of them during their raid added further weight to Soval’s insistence. As Degra looked up once more, Soval silently gave thanks that it was Lieutenant Cole who was in charge of this rescue mission and not Major Hayes. In the field, the major answered to Hammer Six – six being human military slang for a command element – and it was, in Soval’s opinion, a justly deserved designation given the man’s predilection for the use of overwhelming firepower, even when a lighter touch was justified.
And Soval returned the gesture.
“Move it, Ambassador!” Cole hissed, half shoving Soval toward the captured vessel. He gave her a sour look but stepped onto the craft. The lieutenant followed him, sealing the hatch the instant the last remaining commando was aboard. “Three, Six, go!” The ambient noises of the Reptilian vessel changed and Soval could feel a sudden pressure push down upon him. They were airborne.
He followed Cole toward the command deck as the rest of the MACOs turned to other tasks without needing to be given instructions – one of them began unwrapping the crude bandage secured around Sergeant Chang’s arm, while three others headed toward what were likely weapons stations. The moment the hatch for the bridge opened, Soval once more raised an eyebrow in surprise at the tableau before him. A MACO he vaguely recognized – he thought it was Corporal Hawkins – stood just out of arms’ reach of a Reptilian-Xindi who was seated before the flight controls. Hawkins held an especially brutal-looking weapon in the direction of the Xindi who, in Soval’s estimation, appeared quite young.
And absolutely terrified.
“Status,” Cole demanded as she strode toward the helm. The Xindi flinched away from her, prompting Hawkins to smirk.
“We should be exiting the atmosphere in a few minutes,” he said. His expression darkened. “Isn’t that right, Drac?” Soval almost frowned at the name or appellation, but then promptly decided it was not relevant.
“Yes,” the Reptilian-Xindi said quickly, the universal translator on Hawkins’ communicator turning his words into broken but understandable English. “We exit planet in ninety seconds.” He flinched again. “White-Eyes no kill,” he added. The expression caused Soval to give Lieutenant Cole a questioning look. She shrugged.
“We’ll see,” she replied. “How long until we reach the rally point?”
“Three or four hours,” Hawkins said. “Give or take.” He glowered at a flashing blue light on a nearby panel. “Incoming transmission from planetside.”
“Ignore it,” Cole instructed. She turned her attention to Soval and gave him a quick once-over. “Are you okay, sir?” she asked.
“I am adequate.” Soval glanced around the command deck, and then turned to face the lieutenant once more. He raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Enterprise had to bug out,” she said in response to his unspoken question. “My team was on a lunar facility. We waited until this ship docked, then seized it.”
“Along with Ensign Drac here,” Hawkins added. “Your ninety seconds are up, by the way.”
“No kill!” the Reptilian hissed. He slowly reached for another set of controls, hesitating as he looked to Hawkins for permission. The corporal nodded. With another head duck, the Xindi manipulated the controls. On the main viewer, the space around Azati Prime seemed to ripple and fell away, leaving a tunnel of blue and white. “Away to safety,” the Xindi said hesitantly. “White-Eyes no kill.”
“Like I said,” Cole replied, “we’ll see. Hawkins, secure him someplace until we need him again.” The corporal jerked his rifle and the Xindi sprang up, still muttering under his breath. A moment later, Soval and Lieutenant Cole were alone on the command deck. “I don’t know how damaged Enterprise is,” she began, “but when they bugged out, they were getting mauled.”
“One of my Xindi captors – the Reptilian commander – indicated as much,” Soval said. His back ached and he suddenly wanted to sit down, but displaying such weakness before a human was unacceptable so he clasped his hands together behind him and forced himself to stand straighter. “He implied Enterprise’s destruction.”
“I saw her get away.” Cole removed her helmet and took a seat. She suddenly looked tired. “If this all blows up in our face,” she added, “it was my decision to lead the team to extract you. My boys were just following orders.” Soval gave her a raised eyebrow – there was no logic to her statement; if this situation did result in their recapture, he doubted the Xindi would care who originally developed the plan of action. Unless he misunderstood her point, which was not entirely out of the case. She was human, after all, and they rarely made sense.
“Where are we going?” he asked instead. Cole gave him a tight smile.
“Rally point,” she replied. “Right before they went to warp, Enterprise shot us an encrypted burst transmission with rendezvous coordinates.” Soval almost frowned – that certainly sounded well within Lieutenant Sato’s capabilities, but the potential danger if those coordinates were intercepted seemed too great a risk. He mentioned this concern and Cole smiled again. “Hoshi knows that,” she said. “Per standard MACO E&E tactics, she added forty-two to each of the stellar coordinates.” Her smile broadened. “Even included a heads-up in that transmission that only I would have recognized. I owe that girl a drink or three.”
Three and a half hours later, they exited the subspace vortex and returned to normal space. Almost at once, the captured ship’s sensors detected Enterprise lurking inside a comet dust cloud alongside another, smaller vessel of unknown origin, and Cole gave quick instructions to head toward the Starfleet vessel. Soval was initially concerned that Lieutenant Commander Reed would perceive them as a threat, but Cole waved away that worry.
“We’re squawking friendly,” she told him before she turned away, leaving Soval alone to decipher what ‘squawking’ meant.
Another team of MACOs, this one led by Major Hayes, met them when they docked alongside Enterprise and the Reptilian-Xindi – who was still being referred to as Drac for reasons that eluded comprehension – was quickly taken to the brig. Within moments, Commander Hernandez joined them, her face hard.
“Good to see you, Ambassador,” she said quickly.
“Lieutenant Cole and her team are to be commended for that,” Soval replied. Hernandez almost grimaced and gave the lieutenant a nod.
“I’m sorry we had to leave you behind,” she began, but Cole interrupted.
“We could see the battle from the base, ma’am,” the lieutenant said. “You made the right call.”
“And it looks like you nabbed us a new ship,” Hayes remarked with approval. Hernandez nodded.
“Major, please inform Lieutenant Sato I want her to pull this ship’s database and see what she can get from it ASAP,” she instructed. “Lieutenant,” she continued as Hayes nodded and trotted off, “see to your team and then get some rest. You’ve earned it. Damned fine work.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Cole saluted and pursued the major, leaving Soval alone with Enterprise’s first officer.
“Where is Captain Archer?” he asked as Hernandez gestured for him to accompany her.
“In Sickbay,” she replied grimly. “Phlox didn’t get all of the Xindi bacteria out of his bloodstream and he … well, he experienced some after-effects.” From her tone, Soval suspected it had been unpleasant to observe, especially to one who so clearly harbored an emotional attachment to Archer. “So,” she said flatly, “in addition to a captain who is in a medical coma while the doctor makes sure the neurotoxin is completely gone this time, we have fourteen dead and three missing.”
“I grieve with thee,” Soval said automatically, but he doubted she even heard him.
“We also lost most of the warp plasma in our port nacelle,” Hernandez continued, “and Kelby is afraid several of the coils are fractured.” She grimaced. “I hate to put you right back to work, Ambassador,” she said as she gave his face a frown – he could feel the bruises forming, “but I’m afraid we need you again.”
“The other vessel?”
“Yeah.” Commander Hernandez sighed. “We need replacement parts and warp plasma, but he isn’t especially interested in giving them to us.” She shook her head. “We could take them, but that would make us as bad as those damned pirates we ran into a couple of months ago.”
“I will speak to him,” Soval promised, inwardly wincing at the delay. He desperately needed to meditate and was in no mood to begin a new round of negotiations.
As it turned out, his simple arrival was more than adequate to cause the Illyrian captain to lose any trace of intransigence and quickly agree to assist them. In mid-sentence, he shifted from understanding but firm to obsequious, fearful even. With a trio of engineers to assist and a pair of grim-faced MACOs to oversee the process, he fled, leaving Soval to once again wonder why his visage had such an effect on aliens in the Expanse. On no less than six occasions in the last five months, he and other members of the crew had observed belligerent natives of this section of space take a look at him and quail. In one instance, the alien in question even knew his name.
Soval retreated to his cabin at the first opportunity, following a very quick visit to Sickbay where Phlox gave him little more than a cursory examination – the number of casualties from the recent firefight meant the doctor was simply too busy to do any more. By the time Soval sank into the traditional meditative posture, his mind burned from the stress of maintaining control. His whitespace did not come easily and, with a mental shout, he vented his rage and fear and confusion. Here, he could harness his emotions and bury them under a new layer of control. Here, he could be at peace.
Naturally, his wall panel chirped at that moment.
“This is Soval,” he snapped into the speaker, his control barely intact.
“This is Lieutenant Sato,” came the calm, measured response. She spoke in flawless Vulcan and the sound of his native language was a soothing balm. “I apologize for interrupting you, Ambassador, but I am on the Xindi ship and found something in their communications buffer addressed to you.” Both of Soval’s eyebrows climbed.
“It is from Engineer Degra,” Sato continued. “He provided you a set of coordinates and wants to meet with you in twelve days.” Soval’s control slipped – the corner of his lips climbed very slightly – and he felt a pressure lift from his shoulders.
“Please inform Commander Hernandez,” he ordered. “And advise her I am available to discuss this at her convenience.” In Sato’s response, he could hear her smile.
“I doubt she will be available for at least an hour, Ambassador,” the linguist said. “With your permission, I will also set your status as do not disturb so you may finish your meditation uninterrupted.”
“That would be most agreeable, Lieutenant.” Were he human, Soval suspected he would sigh in relief. He wondered briefly if there was some other way to express gratitude to the efficient and capable young officer, but pushed the thought aside.
Moments later, he was deep within his whitespace, restoring control.