He fled from the mess deck at
The impromptu gathering to officially greet the second Enterprise crew was really a party of sorts and had been, to no one’s surprise, Hoshi’s idea, but at the moment, Travis had absolutely zero interest in interacting with any of these people. He could blame it on having too much work to do – which was certainly not untrue by any stretch, especially if Commander Hernandez managed to talk Captain Archer into letting her take Reed on this planned mission to meet Degra – but doing so wouldn’t be entirely truthful. Travis knew full well why he didn’t want to speak with these strangers.
He ducked into the command center and found it thankfully empty. The main viewscreen snapped to life upon his entrance and Travis winced at the results flashing upon the display. Evidently, the data dump from the second Enterprise was complete and Hoshi’s automated search algorithm had completed its initial sweep, finding no discrepancies in the process. It was almost too much to ask, Travis mused darkly, to find out that these people were all liars and this was some elaborate scam. He shook his head and went back to work.
The very first thing he did was locate the anomaly that caused the … what did they call it again? Merlin Sickness? Yeah, that was it. Travis tagged that location as one of the four or five Class IX threats they’d already noted – once identified as such in Enterprise’s computers, the astrogation system would automatically alter the NX-01’s flight path around the threat zone, keeping a safe buffer zone of twenty-four light-hours between the starship and the anomaly. After a moment of consideration, Travis bumped that up to forty-eight – doing so would require the captain’s approval, so he quickly submitted a formal request. Ideally, he’d like to put some warning buoys in place, but that would require actually getting close enough to be in danger, although he did include a recommendation that they consider options about how best to get such devices in place. Kelby had chomping at the bit for awhile now to test a new probe deployment method he’d modified based on some notes he’d found in Commander Tucker’s logs. Just to be safe, he also forwarded the alternate Phlox’s cure for the age regression to sickbay knowing the doctor would want to review it anyway.
He spent the next two hours reviewing data that Hoshi’s search algorithm had identified as potentially useful, though he had absolutely no idea what kind of parameters she’d set because the results were sometimes confounding. There were schematics and formulas for maintaining a stable warp five point five – those went straight to Kelby’s inbox – as well as extensive sensor logs of all known Xindi starships from the last fifty years and what looked like an in-depth sociological study of various species here in the Expanse.
Most of the data Travis barely skimmed, pausing long enough to shoot a copy of the pertinent files to the person who seemed most suited, but he lingered on the sensor scans and related information of the various Spheres. Evidently, Captain Soval had spent the previous sixty-seven years very carefully studying them for any tactical advantage he could find. From the looks of it, he and his crew had only recently developed a plan of action to take down the entire network, though at a glance, Travis suspected it was pretty dangerous. They would need at least two ships, maybe three, and the chances of everyone coming out of this alive were pretty low …
Ah. So that was why they decided to make contact with Enterprise. Travis shook his head again and forwarded the plan to several different people: Captain Archer, Commander Hernandez – to her shipboard internal account as well as the hashed together system over on the Minnow – Lieutenant Commander Reed, Amy Ling in Sciences and even Kelby. He bumped the priority of that particular task to urgent and then put it out of his mind. There were a dozen different medical treatment plans that Phlox would want to review, and the schematics for a new torpedo delivery system that Reed might be interested in, and a more comprehensible star chart that needed to be uploaded …
But inevitably, Travis found himself drawn to the logs of the alternate Enterprise. There were photo captures of the captain and Commander Hernandez, laughing and playing with a little Vulcan boy who had to be Soval on a beach somewhere, and vids of Malcolm and Lieutenant Cole leading their platoon of creepy, white-eyed kids on what almost looked like actual combat maneuvers through a frozen tundra until Travis noticed the snowballs they were all carrying, and a series of data captures of Kelby and some alien whose gender Travis couldn’t quite decipher (not that he looked that closely.) The worst, though, was seeing Hoshi and Phlox together. She looked happy … or at least content, which he suspected should have been enough, but for some reason, it just made him angry. These people … their lives may have sucked, but everyone seemed to have their moments of joy, moments his alternate never had a chance to experience.
With a sharp gesture, Travis killed the power to the viewscreen and went back to work.
His stomach growled a while later, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since sometime yesterday, but he ignored it and continued to focus on integrating the new star chart. Some of the other Enterprise’s software had been manually updated and revised by the crew, which made direct communication between the two computer systems difficult at best, nearly impossible at worst. Normally, this wasn’t his realm of expertise, but over the last couple of months, he’d become extremely proficient at ferreting out and fixing system bugs and everyone else good at this was at Hoshi’s stupid party.
The hiss of the door to the command center sliding open caused him to glance back and he frowned very slightly as Lieutenant Commander Reed entered. Malcolm’s eyes locked onto him immediately – Travis immediately suspected the armoury officer was actively looking for him – and he began walking slowly toward the main console. Travis wondered if it was worth the effort to leave.
“Care if I join you?” Malcolm asked a few moments later. He immediately assumed a position of parade rest with both hands clapsed together at the small of his back, but his body language was guarded. Travis shrugged – he was too tired to work up his usual indignation at the armoury officer’s actions and it seemed so very long ago. “You missed Hoshi’s party,” Malcolm remarked softly after a moment of silence. It wasn’t an accusation per se, but it felt like one.
“Work to do,” Travis replied. Frowning, he gave up on trying to force the code to function as he wanted it to. Instead, he forwarded the error messages to Hoshi’s department. Let them untangle this godforsaken mess. “None of them know who I am anyway,” he said flatly.
“Not all of us had nine kids and lived to be a hundred,” Travis replied crossly.
“Ninety-six, actually,” Malcolm replied with a tight smirk. “Is that what you’re sulking about?” he asked, sounding so much like the Reed that had first boarded Enterprise that Travis momentarily forgot his anger. He scowled at the armoury officer who blithely ignored it. “That isn’t you, Travis,” Reed said. “You’re not going to die like that.”
“Nobody should die like that,” Travis muttered before realizing that Malcolm clearly knew his alternate’s fate. He gave the older man a questioning look.
“Amanda has been … less than pleased about certain elements of our alternate’s lives,” Reed began hesitantly. Seeing him this uncomfortable was actually rather weird, mostly because it made him look human once again. “To be perfectly honest,” Malcolm admitted, “I had intentionally avoided the entire thing until she started in on me and then I became … curious as to why we named our firstborn Travis.”
Very few things could render Travis Mayweather speechless – his mother’s glare, for example, or the rush that accompanied really good sex; once, when he was sixteen, the former followed the latter when his mom stumbled upon him post-coitus with a lovely young passenger aboard Horizon and he’d wisely kept his mouth shut for a full two weeks afterward – but Reed’s comment simply stole his breath away.
“Naming one of the children Charles I understood,” Malcolm continued, keeping his eyes locked on the screen though he was very obviously not actually looking at it. “I suppose Pauline was close enough to T’Pol and Madeline was to be expected.” His lips tightened in something that could have been a smile or a grimace. “We even named one after Amanda’s father and she can’t stand the man.” He stood silently for another moment. “But Travis? That … surprised me given our … recent past.” Finally, he turned his eyes toward Mayweather. “So I started digging.”
“And what did you find?” Travis didn’t think he could have kept from asking, even if he tried, and he hoped Reed did not notice how thick his voice sounded.
“Nothing I did not already know,” Malcolm replied. “I’m sorry that this mission has cost me your friendship, Mister Mayweather,” he said stiffly. “The captain wants me to accompany Commander Hernandez so in my absence, you will be acting first officer.” Travis inhaled sharply – he felt a sudden weight push down on his shoulders, as if the grav plating was malfunctioning, even though he knew it was just his imagination – but Reed kept talking. “It is – and I cannot stress this enough – absolutely essential that you keep an eye on the captain,” he said. “As the first officer, your primary job is the welfare of the crew but don’t be afraid to challenge him.” There was that grimace-smile again. “He hates being told no but just remember: he’s as tired and as scared as the rest of us and sometimes needs someone to slap some sense into him.”
“Got it.” That imaginary weight doubled.
“You’ll do fine, Lieutenant.” Abruptly, Reed smiled tightly. “Just keep doing what you’ve been doing around me.” He spun on one heel and marched toward the door.
“Nine children?” Travis asked suddenly. The question caused Reed to hesitate … or perhaps it was the tone? For the first time in forever, Travis didn’t feel the urge to rage at the armoury officer. No, right now, he was just so damned tired that anger seemed like too much work. “How did Cole take that?”
“I still have the bruises,” Malcolm replied with a ghost of a smile. They stood in silence for a moment longer – Travis could see Reed considering something – before finally, the armoury officer stepped closer, offering his hand. “If I don’t see you again, Travis,” he said, “I would like you to know that-”
“Stop.” Mayweather held up both hands. “None of that crap. Don’t you have any idea how much bad luck it is to start saying that kind of thing?” He was only half-joking, but he took Reed’s offered hand. “Bring them back alive,” he instructed.
“I’ll do my best,” Reed said. “I’ve grown rather fond of Enterprise,” he said with another slight smile. “Do try to keep the captain from breaking her?”
“I’ll do my best,” Travis replied. “Good luck,” he added as Reed backed away.
“And to you.” Nothing else was said – nothing else needed to be said – as they parted, and Travis turned his attention back to the main viewer in front of him.
There was work to be done.