She was a ghost.
Wearing only the bare essentials for an op like this – battle fatigues, a head-mounted display that mostly covered one eye, and of course, the touchpad strapped to her primary shooting arm – Amanda crept forward, her muscles tensed as she slowly advanced upon the port water processing tank and waste extraction turbine. Corporal Richards was a few steps behind her, moving just as quietly as she was, though he was certainly no Woods who could give ninjas and ghosts tips on staying silent. The plan was a good one: engineering had remotely (and discreetly) sealed off all but two of the access hatches or ladders, and Chang would lead his team through the one she wasn't watching, making as much noise as they could in the process. It was no different than flushing a rabbit or deer out of hiding. Admittedly, rabbits and deer didn't shoot back so that was an imperfect analogy.
There wasn't much room to maneuver in this cramped alcove, especially with the access ladder behind them that led down to D Deck, but Amanda was accustomed to cramped quarters and carefully found a good, solid supported firing position. From here, she would have a clear line of sight on the unsealed access hatch. Richards slid silently to another position, though from what Amanda could see, his location was even more difficult to maneuver in. She double-checked the loadout on her rifle – triple-checked, really, as she'd verified it was all good long before setting out from the armoury – and then reached for the touchpad on her left arm. At no time did she look away from her target or relax her hold on the rifle; she'd used this pad so many times in the past that typing on it was second nature.
cole rdy, she typed. The words appeared in head-mounted display, seeming to float there in her field of vision. Seconds later, a reply materialized.
chang rdy. Amanda drew in a slow, steadying breath, waiting. Her fingers moved slowly across the touchpad once more and her question appeared in her HMD as she typed.
hoshi status. Lieutenant Sato's reply was fast.
No change, it read. Five humans detected in target radius. All personnel accounted for. CDR Hernandez gives green-light.
Again, Amanda inhaled slowly, carefully. For the last ten days, immediately after they'd destroyed that Sphere, her team had been aboard Enterprise hunting down Silik. Even before then, they'd been doing so when they could spare the time and personnel, but in between tangles with the Xindi, there simply had not been the time to devote for a dedicated hunt. If the reports were correct, though, Money had winged the sneaky bastard when he popped up the last time during that battle at Azati Prime, and he'd stayed off the radar as much as possible since then. Now, with Enterprise limping home alongside the Minnow (which none of the other Xindi had contested their ownership of, strangely enough) and the Kumari (with an unbelievably exuberant Andorian crew, aggressively flushed over the still recent battle), Amanda had focused the efforts of the entire MACO unit toward this particular end. They had scoured the Starfleet vessel from bow to stern, deck by deck, room by room, pressing closer to their target with each moment. And now, they had the sonuvabitch.
execute, she typed before quickly returning her right hand to the rifle and rotating the selector switch off of Safe. At any minute, she'd hear … there! Sergeant Chang's rather loud orders and the stomping of many boots could be heard even despite this distance and bulkheads between them, but then, the acoustics of this ship were still utterly bizarre to her. If they were right, then …
The hatch she was monitoring slid open and an Enterprise crewman darted out, panic on his face. Amanda took an extra second to confirm her sight picture and then fired. With a surprised squawk, the crewman went down.
So she shot him again. And again. And again. Just to be safe.
Unconscious, Silik's disguise melted away, revealing the Suliban in all his feral glory. His clothes were ragged, torn and burned. He was cadaverously thin, to the point of almost looking skeletal. One of his hands – the left one – was misshapen, like it had been broken at some point or smashed but had not been properly attended to. None of that really mattered to her, though, not as she held her steady aim at his unmoving body. If he so much as twitched, she intended on pumping another handful of shots into him. She was pleased to note that Richards hadn't budged – he was just there as backup really, since she was such a much better shot.
Chang appeared a moment later at the hatch, along with Kelly and Parsons. Without a word, Kelly knelt before the Suliban and quickly secured the alien with a pair of zip-ties. They were only intended as a stop-gap measure, until they could get Silik somewhere more secure, but from the utter lack of resistance offered, the Suliban was either more unconscious than expected or had just given up. Amanda suspected it was the former – she'd seen it before, during training, when a trooper pushed themselves so hard that they were operating on willpower alone; once stunned, the body's need for rest took over and refused to let them wake. Kelly looked up and nodded, which allowed Amanda to relax. She slid her communicator out of a shoulder pocket and flipped it open.
"This is Hammer-Six," she announced across the comm-line, trying hard not to grimace at her legitimate use of the late major's call-sign. "Target is secured."
The rest of the day flew by and, for a change, she was too damned busy to think. First, they had to transport Silik to sickbay so Phlox could check on him – and, exactly as she suspected, the Suliban was borderline malnourished, suffering from a dozen untreated injuries, not to mention desperately needing a shower, preferably in decon – but to her surprise, the doctor was surprisingly curt in his examination. Later, she would learn from Hoshi that the Denobulans considered sabotage a crime right up there with child molestation and talking in the theater, but at the time, it was just one more unexpected thing to deal with. After that, they had to secure their prisoner in the brig after ensuring that it was escape proof … which was categorically impossible since no jail cell was wholly escape proof. And then, there were more of the endless, inane briefings with Commander Hernandez and the rest of the command staff of Enterprise. Lieutenant Mayweather wasn't physically present, of course, but he at least had a virtual presence from the command deck of the Minnow and Amanda tried very, very hard not to look at the white-eyed man who looked so damned much like Malcolm standing just behind Mayweather.
It had been yet another surprise to discover that her two … kinsmen had survived the destruction of the second Enterprise, though neither of them seemed especially pleased by this fact, not after revealing that their captain, the young Soval, had nerve pinched them both and intimidated junior members of his command staff into carrying them to escape pods right before he conducted his suicide run. It had been Commander Hernandez's idea to reassign Galahad Reed – ugh. What had her children been thinking? And how bizarre was it, knowing that these two were her grandchildren? – to Minnow to assist Mayweather on tactical matters while Amanda conducted her Suliban hunt.
To her astonishment, Amanda also realized that she was disappointed she would not be returning to Minnow. For all of their conflict early in this mission, she and Lieutenant Mayweather had turned into a finely oiled machine. He was sharp, decisive, with a natural sense of command and absolutely none of the irritating 'knowitallitis' that most Starfleet officers seemed to naturally possess. When he didn't know something, he didn't put on airs or try to hide the fact, and instead turned to the person who did have a clue in that area and asked them. During combat, he told tactical what he wanted done and then let them figure out how to do it rather than trying to micromanage every damned thing. In fact, he was the kind of officer she'd gladly follow to the gates of hell … and that, more than anything else that had happened, surprised the crap out of her.
She retreated to Malcolm's cabin the moment she was able and burned through her entire day's allotment of hot water for the shower. Officially, these were now her quarters – Commander Hernandez had pulled her aside and discreetly informed her of this fact, with the clear implication that the entire command staff including the captain had known of her arrangement with Malcolm which was only slightly humiliating – and she was damned lucky she didn't have a roommate, what with all of the rescued crew from the second Enterprise now aboard. Tears once again threatened, but she pushed them back and let her anger cool her grief. What the hell had Reed been thinking, going off on a stupid mission like this without even letting her know? She hadn't learned about the captain's desperate pursuit of the Xindi weapon until several hours after Sphere 41 was scattered debris…
The door chimed and Amanda grimaced. It would be Hoshi, here to check up on her, to ensure she hadn't gone over the edge or done something equally stupid. A tiny part of her wanted to rage at Sato, to scream at her to go away and leave her to her pain, but Amanda ignored it, instead, focusing on the much larger slice of her conscious mind that was so grateful at having a friend who could understand what she was going through. Killing the stream of water, she grabbed a towel and wrapped it around her torso, then reached for another to dry her hair. It was getting too long again – she needed to get it chopped off to something more manageable.
"Yeah?" she demanded through the annunciator.
"It's me," Hoshi said. Amanda smirked as she released the door lock. "Oh," Sato said as she took in Amanda's state of undress. "Did I come at a bad time?"
"Water was turning cold anyway," Amanda replied. She walked to the wall locker and opened it, aware of how Hoshi stepped into the cabin and allowed the door to hiss shut. "What's the good word?" Amanda asked as she first tossed her hair towel aside before pulling the other one free. "Any news?"
"Do you have to do that?" Hoshi demanded. Amanda glanced her way, then fought back the smile at how intently Sato was avoiding her.
"Right." Amanda stopped fighting the urge to grin. "You're not comfortable with naked people."
"I'm not comfortable with exhibitionists," came the sharp reply. Amanda chuckled.
"I keep forgetting you're a prude," she said before reaching into the locker and extracting a pair of sweats.
"I am not a prude!"
"Liar." She pulled on the sweats and then donned one of Malcolm's shirts (principally because all of hers were dirty, not because she was still moping.) "You don't need to check in on me, Hoshi," she said calmly. "I'm fine." The disbelieving look that remark received actually stung. "I am," Amanda insisted.
"We don't know they're dead," Hoshi started, sounding so much like Phlox that it was almost irritating. Amanda tuned it out – she'd heard the Xindi-Primate tell Commander Hernandez how the Weapon just vanished shortly after the captain and Malcolm led their team aboard, which could only mean one of two things: it hit some stupid Expanse anomaly and was destroyed or, more likely, it successfully made the jump back one year where it was destroyed over Earth. So many of the crew seemed to forget the second option, that their entire objective here had been to prevent the superweapon from being deployed in the first place, but Amanda hadn't. In either case, Malcolm was probably dead. Hiding from the truth accomplished nothing. And since they were still technically on a combat footing, getting so drunk she couldn't remember her name was right out too.
"So Phlox had a couple of kids in sickbay with him today," Amanda said, interrupting Hoshi's train of thought. She almost smiled at how quickly Sato blanched – knowing that her alternate and Phlox had become romantically attached in the past was one thing, but seeing firsthand knowledge? Hoshi was still freaking out over that, especially since she'd once admitted that she didn't find Phlox even slightly attractive. For her part, Amanda suspected it had been a matter of circumstance – according to the logs, the other Hoshi had taken Lieutenant Mayweather's death very hard and Phlox had been responsible for helping her through her grief. That hinted at much deeper feelings toward the Minnow's acting commander, but Sato had laughed off any intimations she might see Travis as more than a friend. Amanda let her … for now.
"Nice change of subject," Hoshi muttered. She scowled briefly, then brightened. "Speaking of unexpected offspring," she said, "did you hear that Commander Hernandez is talking to Madeline about a field commission?" Amanda grimaced and looked away. She'd have to introduce these Reeds to her mother, dammit. Mom wouldn't forgive her if she didn't. If she was lucky, it might even buy her a couple of years freedom from the usual 'when are you going to settle down and give me grandkids?' Technically, she'd given Ima grandchildren and great-grandchildren so that had to count, right?
"I'd heard something along those lines." Her stomach growled. "I need food," she said quickly, which was both true and a way to get out of this uncomfortable conversation. "I need food and I have bridge duty in a few hours."
"Chef's in a weird mood," Hoshi warned as Amanda pulled on some shoes.
"We're all in weird moods," Amanda retorted. She just wanted to find someplace quiet, where she didn't have to think, where she could forget if only for a few minutes that Malcolm was gone.
Naturally, Madeline Reed was on the mess deck and, naturally, Hoshi wanted to sit with her. There were times when she wanted to strangle Lieutenant Sato. Today was most certainly one of those times.