His head ached.
His expression sour, Commander Malcolm Reed walked quietly through the corridors of Enterprise, wondering if he had been mad to accept the promotion to first officer in the wake of Captain Hernandez's departure. For the better part of two months, he'd struggled to balance the demands of his twin jobs. As Armoury Officer, he was responsible for shipboard security, but more and more, he'd pushed those duties off onto Amanda's MACOs in order to focus on the surprisingly demanding job of Captain Archer's XO. No matter how hard he worked, how many hours he spent with the endless routine paperwork that came across his metaphorical desk, he couldn't seem to actually make a dent in what was left to do. There were personnel jackets to update, medals and promotions and commendations to sign off on (or reject in rare cases), not to mention the oversight of personnel issues like the ongoing (and unstated) rivalry between Science and Engineering. And that didn't even take into account his regular watch duties or the captain's all too often 'make this happen, please' assignments that couldn't always be foisted off on junior officers.
Yes, he was quite convinced that taking this job had been a terrible, terrible mistake.
He caught sight of Hoshi – Lieutenant Commander Sato now – in the mess as he ducked in for his morning coffee, but did not even make eye contact, all the while trying to remember the last time they'd even served a bridge watch together. She was at least smiling and talking with several of her division, so that was a good sign. Ever since Enterprise had relaunched from Earth, Hoshi had seemed to be in a persistently bad mood. Amanda insisted that Sato was pining over Travis who was now on Challenger, doubling up as chief helmsman and first officer, but Malcolm still thought that was utter bollocks. Those two had been friends and that was it. Right? He frowned. What did he know? His friendship with Travis was still in shambles since it evidently required more than just one conversation to move past such difficult issues, and with the former Boomer on Challenger, it seemed unlikely that he would manage to ever fully mend those fences let alone figure out what had been going on between Hoshi and Travis.
Malcolm shook the thought away – it wasn't any of his bloody business – and glanced at his PADD. Why did he have an appointment with Phlox in five minutes? He sighed. Had the doctor really pulled an end around on him? He brought up the scheduled meeting and glanced briefly at the notes before groaning.
"Your annual physical is now nine days overdue, Commander," the doctor said when he stepped into Sickbay. "I am exercising my authority as chief medical officer to inform you that there will be no additional delays." He gestured toward a nearby biobed. "Please disrobe, Commander."
"I hate you right now," he grumbled as he moved to obey. He heard the doctor chuckle.
By the time Phlox was done, Malcolm was in an even fouler mood than normal, though that might have been due to just how embarrassingly in depth this particular exam went. The doctor laughed – maliciously, Reed thought – when this was brought up and stepped back.
"The next time," Phlox said as he smiled that insane smile of his, "you will know not to miss appointments with me."
"You look terrible," the captain said with a smirk when he joined Archer in the ready room long minutes later. "Phlox?"
"Phlox." Malcolm scowled slightly.
"The next time, don't miss your appointment with him." Archer shook his head. "When I served aboard the Saratoga, our chief medical officer was even worse. If you missed or tried to get out of a physical, she put a non-deployable tag on your record and wouldn't remove it until she'd finished the most invasive exam you can image." He shuddered. "I was late for my first physical because our captain was being … difficult and after that, I made a point of never ever being late for anything with that woman."
"I'll keep that in mind, sir." He took the seat in front of Archer and offered his PADD. "With your permission, Captain, I'd like to run an unscheduled drill this evening."
"Repel boarders and fire in engineering?" The captain glanced up from the data device. "At the same time?"
"Yes, sir." Malcolm made a face. "We've got too many new people aboard, sir, and even our veterans have gotten rather sloppy since the Expanse." He drummed his fingers on the armrest of his chair. "I would also like your permission to appoint Lieutenant Commander Sato to serve as morale officer." At that, Archer blinked. "The mood of the crew is … conflicted."
"Because we lost a lot of good people to Erika." The captain glanced away, his own expression irritated. "I can't blame her for that, not really, and different duty assignments is a way of life for those of us in Starfleet, but I can see how some might take it." He pursed his lips. "Why Hoshi?" he asked.
"She's more of a people person than I am," Malcolm replied wryly which caused the captain to chuckle. "Major Cole has informed me that Commander Sato has already been unofficially acting in this capacity so I thought we might simply make it official." At his use of Amanda's name, Archer's eyes narrowed, though thankfully, he made no other comment about her. Technically, she wasn't actually a major, but Starfleet, in all of their brilliance, had decided using her actual rank – captain, in MACO terms, which would be Lieutenant in the fleet – might be confusing so it was decided to call her by a higher rank. There were centuries of precedence of this – in the ages of wet navies, an Army or Marine captain was addressed as Major while aboard a ship to avoid confusion with The Captain – but still, Malcolm thought it was a ridiculous tradition.
"I'll defer to your judgment there," Archer said and, from his tone and posture, he was also making a subtle point about Malcolm's continuing relationship with Amanda. Automatically, Reed straightened in his seat, knowing that his expression had hardened and not really knowing what else to do or say. He and Amanda had gone out of their way to avoid drawing attention to the nature of their relationship and Malcolm knew no one could accuse them of acting improperly while underway. They never spoke without at least two other people being present and both of them made sure they addressed one another in a perfectly professional manner. The Expanse veterans all knew the truth, but the new enlisted personnel and junior officers almost seemed convinced that they loathed each other.
Which was good enough for now, at least until he and Amanda could figure out where the hell they were going with this.
"What time are you thinking about running these drills?" Archer asked after a long moment. Silently, Malcolm exhaled, suddenly relieved that the captain wasn't going to launch into another very awkward discussion about regulations though honestly, that wasn't particularly surprising, not when factored against the captain's own history as well as his very clear efforts to … well, to facilitate Malcolm's relationship with Amanda while in the Expanse.
"I haven't decided, sir," Malcolm replied. "You are the only other officer who is aware that this is going to be drill."
"Soval is going to nerve pinch you into next week," the captain said with a smirk. He was about to say something more when his desktop chirped. "This is Archer."
"Sir, we have a priority one transmission coming in from Starfleet Command," Petty Officer Jameson stated calmly.
"Pipe it here," the captain said before straightening in his chair. A moment later, he nodded to the screen. "Admiral. Good to see you, sir."
"I wish I had better news, Jon." Admiral Forrest. Malcolm started to stand in order to make a discreet exit but Archer gestured for him to stay.
"Sir, I have my first officer here. Is there anything he isn't cleared to know?"
"Commander Reed's security clearance is higher than yours, Jon," Forrest revealed with what sounded like forced humor. "Six hours ago, a Klingon warship was hit by what appears to be human Augments." Malcolm froze in place, the same shock he felt reflected on the captain's face. "Enterprise is closer so I'm sending you to investigate. Challenger will join you once they pick up Doctor Soong."
"Soong? Arik Soong?" The captain glowered. "Why are we involving that maniac?"
"The DNA that Intelligence retrieved from the transport we believe the Augments used to board the bird of prey matches that of some embryos Soong stole twenty years ago." Archer exchanged a look with Malcolm. "We can't afford a war with the Klingons, Jon. Get to the Borderlands and find these Augments. I'll have Hernandez contact you as soon as she can."
"Well." Archer stood. "So much for a nice leisurely cruise." His eyes flickered to Malcolm. "By the numbers, Commander," he ordered. "Alter course. I want full division readiness reports as soon as possible."
"Aye, sir." Malcolm turned away.
"Malcolm?" At the captain's call, Reed paused and glanced over his shoulder. "Pass the word to the command crew. We'll debrief in thirty minutes." Archer frowned. "Make sure Major Cole is present. If Augments are involved, we should be ready for a fight."
Malcolm wondered if the captain knew how sad he looked when he said that.