His body still
ached, but considering the alternative, Jon was happy to deal with
For the last two or three hours, he hadn't moved from where he reclined on the hard, uncomfortable bed of the dark cell, but that was at least partially because he'd finally found a perfect balance between the dull pain in his chest and something reasonably close to relaxation. In fact, he was drifting dangerously close to actually dozing off, even though the painkillers the Starfleet physicians gave him earlier this morning were finally beginning to wear off. He wasn't cold, though, not with Porthos nestled at his side, snoring softly in that hilarious way of his. All things considered, this hadn't been a completely terrible day, even if the Admiralty and the United Earth government didn't agree.
Jon exhaled slowly, letting his mind wrap around the sheer oddness of his life at the moment. Today was the second of May, 2153, exactly one week after he and the crew of Enterprise had stolen the NX-01, even though his brain and biological clock told him it was the day after Valentine's Day, 2154. He shook his head in mild disgust – Daniels had to have known this would happen. In retrospect, as he reviewed his conversations with that damned time traveler, Jon realized that the man had never really admitted they could actually prevent the Xindi attack on Earth. He'd simply let Archer believe it was possible when, in fact, Jon's future self had already been on Earth with Malcolm, Hawkins and Woods, keeping themselves out of sight until after history played itself out as it had to. In the chaos following the attack, as humanity panicked or prepared itself for war, staying out of sight had actually been rather easy. Reed had even snuck into Starfleet Command the day before Enterprise roared out of Stardock and then conducted some elaborate rope-a-dope with his younger self, Erika, and Crewman Baird to ensure that everything played out exactly like they remembered it.
God, he hated time travel.
Exactly three hours after the NX-01 departed Earth, Jon had marched to the main gate of Starfleet Command, flanked by the three other men, and let the security patrol swarm over them. Almost at once, they'd been split up, and Jon was hustled off to a cell – he didn't think this was the same one he'd originally been incarcerated in – where he was searched, scanned, searched again, scanned again, and then dragged into an interrogation room where fierce-looking officers and investigators demanded to know what the hell was going on.
So he told them.
This led to another round of scans, though they were medical this time, and whatever the physicians found clearly gave them pause because Jon was forced to undergo another battery of unbelievably uncomfortable (and frankly, embarrassing) round of tests before he found himself in another room. The interrogators were friendlier this time and more polite, but were even more skilled. They went over his story again and again, asking him about things he'd mentioned and then backtracking to cover a point he'd mentioned in passing. They'd reunited him with Porthos on day two – evidently, the beagle had been found in a maintenance closet an hour or two after Enterprise vanished – and Jon was embarrassed to admit that he'd actually teared up when his beagle barked loudly and jumped up into his lap.
In the week of his … debriefing, he'd yet to see anyone above the rank of commander, though he didn't delude himself in thinking that the Admiralty wasn't watching. He also hadn't seen Malcolm or the two MACOs; from the line of questioning he received, however, and the subtle changes in the inquiries, Jon guessed they were getting the same treatment. At least the food wasn't terrible. He'd forgotten how much he loved coffee since they'd run out on Enterprise three or four months ago. Or rather, they would run out.
God, he really hated time travel.
He'd just started to drift off to sleep when the hiss of the door and the sudden illumination of the cell lights caused him to snap awake. Porthos jumped at the distraction as well, but upon seeing that it was just Max, the beagle lowered his head back to the bed. Jon, however, forced himself to his feet.
"Admiral," he began, but Forrest waved it off and took a seat on the tiny metal stool. The door slid shut behind him.
"As you were," he said. It didn't really mean that, so Jon made sure to just sit down, keeping his back as straight as he could manage. A seated position of attention, as it were. "You never do things halfway, do you?" Forrest asked with a tight smile. "I've got half of Command demanding that I bust you down to able crewman and throw you in the darkest hole I can find and the other half insisting you should be immediately bumped to commodore."
"Sir?" Jon blinked in vague surprise. What was this?
"Medical has been going over your tests and everything they find seems to confirm this story of yours." He held up one hand to forestall Jon's next question. "I don't begin to understand the science behind it, but I think I got the gist of it: you and the rest of your team are … well, you're out of sync or something with the now." Jon's lack of comprehension must have shown on his face because Forrest chuckled. "That's how I reacted too," he said.
"Out of sync?" Archer looked down at his hands. As far as he could tell, they looked normal to him. "What does that mean?"
"I have no idea." Forrest offered a wry smile. "More importantly," he said, "that armoury officer of yours was carrying his duty log on a PADD." Max shook his head. "Our computer techs have confirmed that, if his year of entries was faked, then it's the best damned forgery they've ever seen."
"Damn," Jon muttered. "I wish I'd thought of doing that."
"Commander Reed has also admitted to some other actions during your mission that are … troubling." Abruptly, Max frowned. "Which leaves us in something of a quandary. How do we punish someone for something he hasn't done yet?" Jon gave him another look – what was he talking about? – but Max shook his head and kept talking. "I've been in contact with Geneva," he said, "and the president has decided to punt." His good humor fell away, revealing the man of steel and iron that Jon knew all too well. "So, Captain," the admiral said in a low, hard voice, "explain to me why I shouldn't find that deep, dark hole and throw you into it."
"Because I don't know if we accomplished our mission, sir," Jon said softly. "Erika – Commander Hernandez – was taking Enterprise and attacking the central sphere." He grimaced. "If our scans were right," he added, "the Delphic Expanse was … is getting bigger." Jon shook his head. "If those clouds reached Earth," he began before shaking his head again. "We need to be ready if she … if they don't succeed, sir."
"And you think you're the man for the job?" Forrest gave no sign of what he was thinking. "Gardner is already foaming at the mouth because I haven't lined up a firing squad for you yet."
"With all due respect, sir, Admiral Gardner hasn't seen the Expanse like I have." Jon bit back his instinctive anger when it came to that … martinet? Yes. That was the perfect word for a clown like Gardner. The man hadn't been out of the solar system in twenty-five years. Hell, Jon had logged more time in deep space by the time he hit lieutenant commander than Gardner had in his entire career! "Bust me down to able crewman if you must, sir," Jon continued, "but at least let me advise! Earth has to be prepared for the worst!"
He saw it then. Forrest's mask cracked ever so slightly, revealing a hint of subtle approval and relief. Anger flashed through Jon the moment he realized that this had been a test. He scowled.
"Don't give me that look," Max ordered as he stood. Automatically, Jon rose with him.
"You've already made your decision, haven't you?"
"You and your officers are confined to Starfleet Command until otherwise noted," Forrest said. "As soon as Medical gives you the all-clear, I want you at Jupiter Station. You'll be overseeing construction of Challenger and Discovery." Jon blinked – that sounded an awful lot like a promotion to a desk which wasn't something he really wanted. "I'm going to have Reed assigned to you as chief of security. Those two MACOs also."
"Hawkins and Woods, sir," Jon said. Max nodded.
"Yes, them." He paused. "While you're on Jupiter Station," he continued, "the four of you are to maintain as low a profile as humanly possible. All of you are going to be on duty twenty-four seven, without leave or two day passes. Is that clear?"
"I want those ships operational yesterday." The admiral paused in front of the door. "I'm going to be riding your ass like never before, Jon," he said. "If Enterprise does make it home," he added grimly, "how her crew is treated by Command rests entirely upon your shoulders."
"I understand, sir." Jon exhaled. "Are there any plans to send reinforcements?"
"What reinforcements?" This time, it was Forrest who scowled. "We lost sixty percent of our fleet when those goddamned Xindi attacked and most of the rest are damaged or obsolete. There aren't any ships to send!" Again, he paused in front of the door. "These … Spherebuilders. Reed said they were behind the Xindi. Any idea why?"
"No, sir," Jon lied. "Most of the Xindi were bullied into this, sir. By the Reptilians and the Insectoids."
"I don't know whether I should be relieved or horribly depressed to learn that these aliens are just as screwed up as the rest of us," Max said darkly. He banged his hand upon the door and it slid open. "Get some sleep, Captain," he ordered. "Tomorrow is a big day."
Jon waited until Forrest was gone and the door was shut before exhaling deeply. He retook his seat on the bed, scratching Porthos' ears when the beagle thrust his head closer. His thoughts were racing at warp speed – until he found a way to communicate with Malcolm discreetly, he wasn't going to even whisper the word Romulan, not until he'd found some way to confirm some of the terrible theories he and Reed had bandied about quietly in the month plus that they'd spent staying out of sight. Careful examination of Vulcan history hadn't turned up much, but there were a handful of references in some of the really old texts to extremists exiled from their homeworld in the age of Surak. Could these Romulans be those extremists, now returned? He vaguely remembered a book about them that he'd seen, when Daniels pulled him into the future during that Paraagan mess …
And what the hell had Malcolm done that was worthy of punishment? Jon frowned. From the expression that had been on Max's face, it was bad. He shook his head – there would be time to interrogate Reed later, once they were on Jupiter Station. Jon leaned back, already making plans. Trip wasn't here to pull out some engineering miracle, but dammit, Archer intended to see those ships launched before Enterprise hit Sphere 41. Maybe, just maybe, he could see to it that Erika and his crew had some help. God, he hoped she was safe.
He was still thinking about her when sleep crept up on him.