His head ached.
Travis opened his eyes, for a moment so confused as to why he was lying on the floor that he simply stared at the ceiling and tried to jar the memories back into place. The steady hum of Challenger's warp reactor was so much louder here … engineering. He was in engineering. Why was he here? And why the hell was he on the floor? He remembered someone behind him …
The sound of alarms echoing throughout the ship finally penetrated the hazy fog that his brain had been lingering in and he blinked away the pain. They were in orbit over Mars and there had been … a fight? Yes. That was it. That new security team that had arrived on the ship the day before the terror strikes on Earth, the men that Galahad said felt weird, they'd seized the armoury and Captain Hernandez had sent him here to help Kelby hold engineering.
Good job, Travis, he told himself bitterly as he very cautiously looked around. He found Kelby at once – the engineer was leaning against a bulkhead, barely breathing, with blood covering the front of his uniform and it looked bad. Travis knew enough about first aid to recognize the need to get Kelby to sickbay as soon as possible. There were a handful of other engineers nearby, though they were all unconscious or, in one case, secured by vaccuum tape. Travis winced – they wouldn't be much help – and kept looking. He needed to know the scope of the threat.
And it was bad.
There were only four of the false security personnel here, which meant two others were either dead or sent elsewhere. The leader was that Greaves fellow with a sinister face and even scarier eyes. He was directing the other three with sharp gestures and angry glares from atop the upper catwalk. All of them wore Starfleet uniforms and everything about them had checked out, right until they went rogue … which meant these Terra Prime scum had infiltrated Starfleet somewhere down the line.
"Warning," the computer system announced. "Reactor meltdown in five minutes. Please initiate emergency containment procedures."
"Shut that thing off," Greaves ordered. "We need more speed if we are to hit the Sagan dome on schedule!"
"The bridge is still trying to hack us!" one of the men exclaimed. Greaves sneered.
"They're already too late." He held up both arms. "Terra Prime forever!"
"Terra Prime forever!" his cohorts repeated.
It was a slow, cautious motion, intended not to draw attention while he inched toward the nearby warp coolant monitoring station. At the same time, he knew that he could not waste time, not if any of them were going to get out of here alive. All he needed was one more meter …
None of the terrorists were facing his direction when he lunged up to his feet, his fingers stabbing down on the flashing 'emergency vent' button. With a shriek, escaping coolant flooded into the reactor, drowning the threatened overload. Steam roared out of the reactor as Challenger shuddered and slowed sharply, the sudden and drastic deceleration straining the capabilities of the inertial dampers. One of the terrorists shrieked in agony and staggered back, his skin bubbling and hissing from where the emergency vent had bathed him in superheated gases.
But Travis still wasn't done.
His fingers danced across the monitoring console, keying in the automated shutdown sequence that would prevent these bastards from restarting the meltdown. He was just about to kill the safety measures on the accelerator coils when phase pistol fire lanced down toward him, narrowly missing as it sliced through the console and caused it to explode. Travis reacted without thinking, turning and diving toward the opening door that led to the reactant monitoring room. One of the terrorists that had missing was just appearing and Mayweather slammed into him, his shoulder lowered so he caught the man squarely in the abdomen. The force of the impact carried them both back into the room beyond and Travis tore the man's pistol free. He didn't bother checking its settings before jamming it into the man's chest and firing.
Unfortunately for the terrorist, his weapon was set to kill.
There wasn't any time to think about that, though, not with Greaves probably hot on his tail. Travis scrambled to his feet and darted for cover, orienting his captured weapon in the direction of the door he'd just used. With all of the steam billowing in, it was impossible to identify the shape that appeared but it looked like Greaves so Travis fired, dropping his target instantly. Another pulse of return fire slashed through the air, burning into the deck near him but it looked to be a wild shot. Still, he barely hesitated before opening his mouth.
And screaming like he'd been hit.
To his absolute surprise, it worked. Two more shadowy forms lunged out of the steam, both holding pistols. The first dropped without a sound when Travis shot him, but he missed the second who ducked back into the steam.
Come on, Travis told himself. Think! You know this boat better than they do! Use that!
Staying low, he backed toward the hatch behind him, ducking through it and into the main battery room. A moment later, he was sprinting toward another hatch – this one would take him to the corridor that looped around engineering so he could come in behind these guys. He glanced once at his captured pistol, contemplated switching it to stun, and then promptly discarded the idea. If this didn't work or if he only managed to tag one of the hostiles, the others could hold position until their unconscious buddy woke up. For some reason, that line of thinking felt familiar but adrenalin thudded through his body so powerfully that he gave it little thought.
The morons had not even secured the fore hatchways to engineering and Travis was just about to enter when he heard someone approaching. Panic was just about to set in when Galahad rounded the corner, accompanied by a trio of pissed off looking Security types. They caught sight of Travis immediately and he gestured rapidly for silence. Reed nodded and then flashed several hand signals to him that made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Travis guessed at the question and held up three fingers. At that, the white-eyed lieutenant nodded and issued another set of incomprehensible instructions via gestures. All three of the security personnel peeled off, clearly racing toward another entrance to engineering.
"Wait," Galahad ordered softly as he drew alongside Travis. Long seconds later, Reed's commlink crackled. He held up five fingers, then folded one down, and then another, and so on. The moment he made a fist, Galahad was moving through the hatch.
Steam still blanketed engineering but it had lessened enough so visibility was no longer impaired and the two Terra Primers Travis could see reacted to their approach immediately, abandoning whatever it was they were trying to do so they could open fire. Travis dove for cover, noting how Galahad automatically chose the opposite direction. Reed hit the deck, rolled, and then came up, his phase pistol spitting out a solid stream of fire. Travis popped up then, squeezing off a lucky shot that caught one of the terrorists high in the neck. Even as the man toppled, his partner was also falling thanks to Reed's good aim. Both of them spun toward the sound of additional fire but Galahad relaxed when one of his security men called out.
"That's all of them, I think," Reed said bitterly. He produced binder-cuffs as he approached the fallen but hesitated when he realized that Travis had been shooting to kill. Glancing up, he met Mayweather's eyes.
"We need a medic down here now!" Travis said as he slid his pistol into a pocket and went for one of the wall-mounted medical kits before sprinting toward Kelby. He spared only a glance toward his second target, the man he'd shot in the steam. It was Greaves and his expression looked startled.
"We lost fifteen people to these madmen," Captain Hernandez told him later once he reported in. She looked alternately exhausted and furious, not to mention a decade older than she had been when he first met her. "I want Baird looking into how these … dammit." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Who is Baird's second?" Travis blinked before comprehension set in. He scowled.
"Hernandez," he said. Once, that would have amused him and from the sad shake of her head, the captain felt the same way.
"Tell her that I want her looking over the orders these bastards used to get aboard my ship." Her exhaustion was brushed aside by the anger that Travis could also feel burning in his belly. "I want to know who issued them, who signed them and I want it now."
"Aye, Captain," Travis said. He started to turn.
"Travis." Glancing back, he found her looking at him. "My chief of security informs me that you killed four of them." Travis looked down, his stomach suddenly coated in ice. "Including their leader." He inhaled and straightened.
"I didn't have time to set it to stun at first, ma'am," he said. "And then … I wasn't sure if I could take them all on so I didn't want to run the risk of one of them waking up while we were trying to retake engineering."
And then it hit him. Hard.
"There were too many variables to take into account with the stun settings on your Starfleet weapons," Amanda Cole had told him so very long ago. "How long would they be unconscious if it did work? What happens if they're out for a few minutes and the team moves on? Then, we're caught between two groups of hostiles and the whole thing turns into a charlie foxtrot." He'd hated Malcolm Reed for that and here he was, explaining his decision using the same coldly rational reasoning.
Travis felt sick.
"For what it's worth," Captain Hernandez said, "I think you made the right call. Lieutenant Reed thinks so too. And the official report will reflect that."
"Thank you, ma'am." He knew that his voice sounded hollow, that he probably looked as horrified and as shocked as he felt, but there was nothing more he could say or do.
"Tell Hernandez I want that information as soon as possible." Travis nodded sharply as he fled her ready room. He found Petty Officer Hernandez already manning the comm-station and, if her eyes were red-rimmed from crying, he didn't call attention to it. She nodded quickly when he issued the captain's instructions and almost sprang to obey. Travis glanced around, aware that the gamma watch crew were trying hard not to attract his notice. He frowned slightly, noting how that caused them to all wince, before nodding at … well, at nothing really and heading toward the turbolift. Of course. The ship's grapevine was already at work. By tomorrow, he would have singlehandedly killed an entire platoon of battle-hardened troopers with nothing more than a rusty fork. Even though it made him a little sick, Travis supposed there were worse reputations to have among his crew. He wondered how Kelby would react to it.
But he was never given the opportunity to find out.