On day two of Operation: Cleansing
Flame, Commander Malcolm Reed found himself falling toward the moon.
The built-in rangefinder that was part of his armored environment suit ticked off the range until contact and he fought the urge to trigger the attitude jets on his maneuvering harness. He didn’t know how effective the sensors were on the compound below but there was no sense in testing fate. Underneath his helmet, Malcolm scowled.
“We’re shutting them down.” Admiral Harris’ words from two days earlier still rang in his ears. “With extreme prejudice.” The head of Starfleet Intelligence had leaned forward, fire and rage in his eyes. “As of today, they are done.”
The admiral’s involvement hadn’t surprised Malcolm terribly. Twenty-three had died in Terra Prime’s attack on Starfleet Command, among them Harris’ own niece and her new husband of less than a month, and that had only been the beginning. Six more simultaneous attacks across the planet claimed the lives of four hundred and six, at least half of which were children under the age of ten, and the entire planet was screaming for vengeance. Whatever Terra Prime had intended to accomplish with their strike, it had backfired terribly.
And for the first time since this organization had started making waves, Starfleet Intelligence had officially taken the gloves off.
All across the system, assault teams were descending upon known enclaves or arresting personnel with ties to the terrorist organization. Enterprise was in orbit over Earth to provide support planetside while Challenger did the same over Mars. Malcolm already knew of three admirals who had been taken into custody as well as a pair of senators and five journalists who had helped disseminate propaganda and classified intelligence. Fifteen separate terror attacks had been shut down in just the last day alone but as long as the snake still had a head, it would go on and on.
Which was where Malcolm came in.
His team’s deployment had been timed to avoid detection. From Enterprise, they’d beamed to an automated orbital platform that was carefully selected. Serviced by a team based on the moon, the platform was principally a relay station for inter-system communications and, when Sergeant Woods messed with certain circuits, a repair team was dispatched to fix the issue. The techs on shift were both Starfleet Intelligence, put into place months earlier when Terra Prime made a failed attempt to hack EarthGov’s communication net. Until they docked their repair pod on the comm platform, though, the two Intel agents weren’t even aware that an op was underway. Had anyone but Harris vetted this pair, Malcolm would have probably been forced to kill them both to maintain silence, but instead, he had them return to their ‘home’ base for additional supplies.
Midway there, as the repair pod passed over a certain spot on the moon, Malcolm’s team detached from the exterior of the pod and dove toward the surface.
The automated systems in his maneuvering harness fired ten seconds before impact, allowing Malcolm to touch down lightly. He crouched for a moment, releasing the harness with one hand while pulling his rifle free with his other. A moment later, he heard a rapid succession of soft chimes echo in his ear, advising him of the successful landing Strike Force Alpha. There were fifteen of them, all hand-picked from what remained of Joss’ whisper team. Amanda had vouched for all of them and Malcolm had no reason to distrust her judgment. Half of the team had been pulled from Challenger, half from Enterprise, which likely meant that the crews of both vessels were aware something was going on. At the moment, it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but the mission.
With a quick glance around, Malcolm was able to confirm the presence of his entire team. They were already spread out to minimize potential detection but all helmets were facing his direction. Malcolm inhaled deeply before giving the go signal. Chang and Woods immediately bounded forward, covering the distance to the concealed venting port that would be the primary access point, while the rest spread out. Some would remain on the surface to ensure no one escaped, but the majority would accompany him into this facility.
“Six, Three.” It was Chang across the tightbeam comm-line; short of stepping in front of the laser, there was no way to eavesdrop. “They’ve got sensors in place. Will take one zero mikes to circumvent them.”
“Three, Six,” Malcolm replied, his voice soft even though no one else could hear him. “You have five.”
Chang managed it in four minutes, thirty-six seconds, and at Malcolm’s signal, the entire assault team advanced in a bounding overwatch, with half of them springing forward in great, prodigious leaps while the other half held position, weapons at the ready as they scanned for hostiles. Once the initial group reached cover, they covered for the second unit.
They hit the first group of defenders within seconds of entrance, but these men and women fell before they were even aware their base was under assault. No one bothered using the stun setting for this op – the risk of being flanked by hostiles who regained consciousness was simply too great and these pieces of crap had long ago given up any right to coexist alongside civilized human beings – which was a very large reason why Malcolm had selected this team. Every one of them was an Expanse veteran and most had been on the assault team that had rescued Captain Archer and Ambassador Soval from that trellium mine so they knew the necessity of swift action and lethal results. These terrorists would offer no mercy nor would they receive any in return.
By the time they hit the inner ring, the facility was in lockdown and alerts were shrieking. Thanks to the team moonside, there was no escape – some well-placed ordnance had reduced the concealed sublight engines of this mining facility to nonexistent – and the fighting grew fiercer the closer they drew to what Intelligence thought was command. Malcolm lost three men taking the location – Parsons, Richards and Romero – and then Hawkins fell when the Terra Primers counter-attacked with suicide vests. Malcolm shot the bastard who’d killed Hawkins personally. Only then did they take a real look around their surroundings.
It wasn’t a command deck.
It was a nightmare.
Horror did not begin to describe it. Row upon row of glass cylinders, each with half-formed fetuses inside. Most of the clones were misshapen or almost hideous, but a handful looked like they might have been healthy children if brought to term. Some had Vulcan ears, some had strange ridges upon their too smooth foreheads, but all … all of them were innocent.
And these monsters had killed them all.
Some were partially dissected, others had been closed back up post mortem and bore the unmistakable scarring of an autopsy. Malcolm blinked, trying very hard to fathom the madness behind this, and then swallowed the urge to vomit as he took in the extent of what these … these creatures had done to the innocent. Confusion was suddenly and abruptly overwhelmed by a seething rage that turned his vision scarlet.
There were twelve … scientists – if they could be called that – in the breeding laboratory and they’d surrendered the moment his team dropped the last of the armed personnel. Most were men of varying ages with only three women, and they stared at his team with fear in their eyes. Malcolm returned their looks even though they couldn’t see his face through his polarized visor.
“Sir.” It was Woods who had already hacked their computer systems. Malcolm closed his eyes – he could hear it in the sergeant’s voice. There was no way he was going to like this. “You need to see this.”
Most of the notes were well beyond his understanding as they dealt with genetics and xenobiology, but he recognized a handful of familiar markers from files that could only have come from Enterprise. It took him a long moment – his mind was still reeling in shock over what he was seeing – but suddenly, he remembered. Once, an eternity ago, before fire fell from the sky and obliterated his family, Malcolm recalled having a conversation with Captain Archer about a security breach in sickbay. Masaro. This was because of that piece of…
He could feel eyes on him – Amanda, of course, but also Woods who had already skimmed some of the contents – but Malcolm focused on the computer system. Two keystrokes brought up an overview and his stomach nearly seized at what he found there. Forty-seven attempts. Forty-seven failures. Half of the genetic structure was T’Pol’s in each of the attempts, but the other half … dear God, nine of these almost-infants were his.
Malcolm was moving before he realized it, advancing on the cowering scientists with fury singing in his veins. How dare these monsters? He shot the first of the men in the head with his pistol, which naturally caused the others to begin panicking. Two more fell to his sidearm before Amanda’s team hosed down the rest. No one asked why – they were a whisper team, after all, and each one of them had blood on their hands – but then, in this room filled with absolute horrors, did they need an explanation? They were soldiers and killing monsters like this was what they were supposed to do, after all.
“Woods,” Malcolm said through a snarl. “Download everything and then crash their entire system. Kill everything. Lights, power, life support. Every bloody thing.” The sergeant nodded and went to work. “I want Paxton,” Reed continued to the rest of the team. “We find him and we kill him.”
They found Paxton in the command deck, already dead from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot. Malcolm stood before the corpse for a moment, wishing he could remove his helmet and spit on this monster. Instead, he waited until they confirmed his identity via genetic scanner and then shot the body two more times with his rifle set at the highest intensity possible. It wasn’t nearly enough to assuage his fury.
An hour later, he was back aboard Enterprise, standing on the bridge while still in his combat armor much to the confusion of the duty officers. Captain Archer was there as well, his own expression tight. The captain remained ignorant of the twelve almost-children he and Subcommander T’Pol might have found themselves the parents of had the monsters in Terra Prime accomplished whatever mad schemes they’d had in mind and Malcolm had no plans whatsoever of informing him. It did encourage him somewhat that Archer asked no questions when Malcolm made this request of him.
“We’re in position,” the helmsman announced. Reed nodded and turned his head to the petty officer manning the tactical board. It was Zabel.
“Fire,” Malcolm ordered, his voice hard. The subtle thrum thrum thrum of launched photonic torpedoes rumbled through the ship and Reed watched silently as the payload flashed through the void, smashing into the exterior of the now dead mining facility that had once housed Terra Prime. Explosions tore the structure apart as the warheads detonated. A second salvo obliterated what remained and a third reduced the remains to ash. Malcolm watched coldly until he was satisfied that they had scrubbed the universe clean of these monsters.
And then, he turned and left the bridge.
On the way to the armoury, he detoured briefly to sickbay where he had a very discreet, very sensitive discussion with Doctor Phlox. The Denobulan was suitably horrified at the information provided and then more coldly furious than Malcolm had ever seen him but agreed to undertake some research of his own, armed as he was with every scrap of data they’d pulled from Terra Prime’s computers. It would no doubt piss off Admiral Harris if he learned but right now, Malcolm didn’t bloody care.
“I will see that some good comes of this … madness,” Phlox said grimly as he made the data cube vanish with some impressive sleight of hand. “I swear it.”
“Thank you,” Malcolm said before he retreated once more.
Woods gave him a knowing look when he entered the armoury and Reed could not help but to see how the MACO sergeant appeared to be on the verge of throwing up. He considered saying something to Woods, especially since they’d lost Hawkins down there, and ever since the Xindi sphere and that bizarre time-jump, the two MACOs had been inseparable friends, but Malcom had never been good with words so he offered only a thankful nod. The other members of the team were waiting with Amanda standing watch near the doorway so no one could accidentally eavesdrop.
“Good work,” Malcolm told them. “I will be attaching commendations to everyone’s files but I think we all know that they’ll probably never see the light of day.” They watched him with steady eyes, as unconcerned about medals as he was. There had been a mission that needed doing and they did it. “You’re all professionals,” Reed added, “so I don’t need to go over the usual threats to keep your lips sealed.”
“Like I want to tell anyone about that,” Chang muttered darkly. His statement drew many nods, Malcolm included.
“Sir.” It was Woods. “Was it enough? Did we take out these bastards?”
“I don’t know,” Malcolm replied. “I think so, but … I don’t know.”
“If they reappear,” Sergeant Woods said, “I want in on the op to shut them down.” There was tightly controlled anger in his voice and in his eyes with barely controlled grief over losing friends. Each and every one of the MACOs nodded their own agreement with the sergeant. Malcolm nodded.
“I’ll make it happen.” He gave the team another nod. “Dismissed.”
Amanda was silent as she followed him to his cabin, which was a flagrant violation of their usual ‘keep your head down and attract no attention’ policy but right now, Malcolm realized he didn’t give a damn. Not about Starfleet regulations or the disapproval of Captain Archer or any of that sort of crap. Right now, he just needed …
“It’s okay,” Amanda said once they were alone in his quarters. Malcolm felt her wrap both arms around him and he reciprocated without hesitation or thinking. His self-control faltered. Nine. Nine almost children that he’d never have met. Was it the universe’s idea of a joke? His alternate on the other Enterprise had fathered nine children with Amanda and now this?
“I wanted to murder that monster with my bare hands,” he whispered.
“I know.” She sounded as shaken as he did so Malcolm stopped talking and just held her.
Neither moved for a long time.