It had been a mistake to come here.
As he carefully picked his way across the packed streets of Coridan, Soval of Vulcan fought to contain a shiver. Dusk was approaching rapidly, and with it came a sharp wind that sliced through his thermal-weave clothes. One of the massive moons already loomed overhead, dominating the entire skyline with its rugged countenance. Light reflecting off of the satellite’s surface bathed the entire valley with an incandescent brilliance that made Soval heave a sigh of relief. He had no desire to walk the remaining distance in the dark. With a disgruntled sigh, he began hiking forward once more, his every sense straining to locate any sound or movement that was out of place.
By all rights, he was supposed to be aboard a human ship creeping along toward Earth, not shivering on a planet many light years in the opposite direction. The muscles in his legs and back burned in protest as he traversed the poorly maintained road, but he paid them no mind. In the past fifty Standard days, Soval had become accustomed to discomfort.
Mere minutes after he departed the safe house, a team of armored assault troops stormed the shop, prompting Soval to abandon his plan to seek passage on the Tesmur Sa-fu. It was likely – probable, in fact – that a team would be waiting to seize him if he illogically showed up at the human ship when it was clear that they were onto his trail. He continued toward the starport, however, quickening his pace slightly even though he knew it would draw unwanted attention.
Another team of assault troops was waiting at the entrance to the starport, arguing with the local authorities about jurisdiction. Soval's name was never mentioned, but he knew that the "dangerous criminal" the armored troopers were pursuing was him. He frowned at the implication that T'Pau might be involved in this, and wondered briefly what exactly he had stumbled onto. Yuris had discovered something about the two children, something that could clearly shake the entire foundation of the Vulcan culture. Not since the revelation that V'Las had been behind the bombing of the human embassy had Soval been this troubled.
He narrowly avoided a third team of troops prowling the starport when he made a less than legal entrance through an unsecured side door. Donning the stolen uniform of a cargo inspection officer from a wall locker, he skirted the third team's notice and very nearly walked into the hands of a fourth. It was only by random happenstance that the trio of armored Vulcans missed him; a crate bearing bulky cargo passed between the two. It took Soval nearly six minutes to calm his heart rate after that narrow miss.
Escaping from the planet had actually been much easier than anticipated. A Coridan trader who recognized Soval from an ambassadorial conference quickly offered to transport him offworld. Within hours, they were racing away from Vulcan at warp six, and Soval finally let himself relax slightly. His worry returned when the Coridan trader revealed that Vulcan authorities had, in fact, warned him to be on the lookout for Soval. It was quite fortuitous that Soval's reputation among the Coridans was as positive as it was.
The whine of an aircar passing overhead nearly caused Soval to dive for cover; it was only his rigid self-control that allowed him to conceal his reaction. Nevertheless, he increased his pace slightly, barely hiding the grimace of pain that crossed his face as his muscles protested even more. No one appeared to give him a second thought as he strode through the streets, despite the fact that his clothes clearly marked him as an offworlder.
After entirely too much physical contact with distracted and busy Coridanites, Soval reached his destination. An intricately carved door constructed of solid duranium was the only indication that he had arrived at the Coridan Central Library. There were no signs or markers displayed, and Soval sighed at the illogic of such a decision.
He applied only the lightest of pressure to the immense door, but it opened without a sound, prompting Soval to give the frail-looking hinges a look of surprised approval. Had he not witnessed it, he would have doubted that the decorated bands of metal could support such weight. It should not have been a surprise, though; the Coridanites had a reputation for creative engineering.
Once past the doorway, he paused in appreciation of the muted silence that hung over the library. The room was much larger than one would suspect, with high domed ceilings that accentuated the appealing architecture. Rows and rows of archaic books lent the chamber an air of timelessness that the suspended hover-lamps only enhanced.
Seated before an immense grimoire, supported by an equally large display stand, was the object of Soval's ill-advised expedition. Once, nearly a century earlier, they had served together in the Ministry of Intelligence, and Tavaris had earned Soval's respect and friendship many times over. A mnemonic virus engineered by one of Vulcan's many enemies had forced Tavaris to retire early from field work, and left him with a paralyzing mental addiction to learning itself. His every waking hour was spent feeding his voracious appetite for knowledge, and what had seemed to be a boon at first was quickly revealed to be a terrible curse. Unable to meditate to control the wildly intense emotions that were every Vulcan's burden, Tavaris had become unstable and unpredictable. Whether out of loyalty, affection, or some other undefinable reason, only his mate and daughter seemed capable of attending to his needs as he vacillated between one emotion to another.
At Soval's approach, Tavaris looked up from the oversized book. Instantly, a look of pleased surprise crossed his face, and he smiled slightly in recognition. A wave of discomfort washed through Soval at the visible display of emotion, but he ruthlessly suppressed it. It was hardly Tavaris' fault, after all.
"If I had known you were planning a visit," Tavaris said in their native tongue, his accent still untainted by two decades among the Coridans, "I would have told T'Sai to prepare a special meal." Soval quirked an eyebrow at the mention of his old friend's daughter.
"I was under the impression that she was on Vulcan, training to become a kolinahr master," he stated calmly. Tavaris' smile broadened at the implication that Soval had been keeping an eye on his old friend's family.
"She is well advanced in her studies," Tavaris declared proudly. He winced slightly, and turned his attention back to the book before him. "It is not like you, Soval, to appear unannounced," he said as his eyes tracked the curious hieroglyphics on the pages before him.
"It was not planned," the ambassador revealed. The sidelong look that Tavaris gave him was a painfully familiar one. "I require your unique talents," Soval admitted. An expression of despair crossed Tavaris' face.
"I have no unique talents, Soval," he said sadly. "You have wasted your time, I fear."
Without replying, Soval pulled a datacard from his pocket and placed it atop the massive book. Frowning, Tavaris picked it up and studied it for a moment. Heaving a heavy sigh, he slid off the chair and walked to a nearby viewer. The machine hummed for a moment as it deciphered the data.
"There are many similarities to the second battle of the Pelaxis Drift," Tavaris pronounced immediately as he examined the digital image, "which claimed the life of Surak's firstborn son. But the numbers are too few on the side of the ambushed. T'Klaas' convoy had more than is displayed here, and the Rihannsu's numbers were smaller." The image flickered, and Tavaris leaned back in surprise. "This is a space battle," he identified, eyes wide.
"Yes," Soval confirmed calmly. He watched silently as his associate studied the data display with the eagerness of a small child. Minutes crept by in silence, and Soval glanced toward the doorway. If he was being pursued, as he suspected, he had no desire to be responsible for his old friend's death.
"The architect of this battle is Rihannsu," Tavaris declared suddenly.
"How can you be sure?" Soval asked. He could feel dread lacing his stomach with ice, as everything that he had feared was coming to pass.
"Observe." Tavaris began to manipulate the controls on the viewer, advancing the digital representation of starships at a curious rate. "This entire flanking maneuver is identical to the ground offensive waged by S'Task prior to the detonation of the first nuclear weapons on Vulcan." He frowned slightly. "It does not take advantage of the extra maneuverability afforded by zero-gee environments, but remains efficient and effective. And the maneuver that destroys this command ship is virtually the same one that S'Task's forces used to capture Surak's son." His frown deepened. "This is a recent engagement," Tavaris said aloud before pinning Soval with a flat look. "The humans?" he queried.
"Yes." The ice in Soval's stomach became solid duranium. "It is a representation of their recent defeat at the hands of the Romulans."
"So," Tavaris mused softly, "Our lost brothers have returned."
"It would appear so," Soval agreed. "I suspect they have infiltrated our government." It explained V'Las's mad schemes, he realized grimly. He glanced away, momentarily lost in thought. Surely T'Pau was not working with the descendants of those who had murdered Surak. But were any of her ministers? Or her aides? "I must relay this information to T'Pau," he said softly before turning his eyes back to his old friend. "You are in danger, my old friend," he warned. "I am afraid that I bring death to your door." The smile Tavaris gave him was not as discomforting as Soval would have expected.
"We all die eventually," Tavaris stated simply. He ejected the datacard and cleared the memory buffer of the viewer. "It has been good to see you, old friend," he said as he offered the datacard back to Soval.
"And you." Soval began to offer the ta'al before reconsidering and offering his hand in a distinctive human gesture. Tavaris quirked an eyebrow. "It is a human custom," Soval explained. "I have been the ambassador on their world for many years." His old friend nodded in understanding as he clasped Soval's hand.
"That explains your curious accent," Tavaris said with a hint of a smile. "Live long and prosper, Soval."
"Prosperity and long life, Tavaris," Soval replied, before turning away.
He did not look back.
Looking back on it, Hoshi Sato-Reed realized that volunteering for duty aboard Endeavour had probably been a mistake.
As the NC-06 rapidly approached the origin of the impulse wake T'Pol had detected, Hoshi sat at the communications board, re-familiarizing herself with a console that had undergone just enough renovations and upgrades since her time aboard Enterprise to confuse the daylights out of her. Every time she started to reach for a particular button, she was forced to hesitate and confirm that it was actually still there instead of being moved to the other side of the console for reasons that completely defied her comprehension.
On top of that problem was the realization that she didn't know the names or specialties of any member of Lieutenant Devereux's team. On Enterprise, Hoshi had known exactly who to contact if she encountered a technical problem with the linguistic database, or if she was having problems with a particularly tricky translation. Here, however, she didn't know where to start.
"We are in visual range of the target," T'Pol announced abruptly, breaking into Hoshi's mental rant about acting without thinking. The Vulcan hadn't moved from the science station since they arrived on the bridge, and had been bent over her viewfinder the entire time.
"Onscreen." Trip ordered from the command chair. He leaned forward slightly but, to Hoshi's surprise, did not stand. She frowned at the realization that she barely knew this veteran combat commander. The war had hardened him, transforming him from a gregarious and fun-loving engineer to a soldier who seemed to be expecting combat at any second.
She wondered if Malcolm would have even recognized him.
"D Type transport," T'Pol identified as the main viewscreen activated. The ancient-looking craft now displayed bore only a superficial resemblance to the many cargo transports Hoshi had seen before. "Heavily modified," the Vulcan science officer continued. "Hull registry identification, Earth Cargo Ship Daramo."
"Daremo," Hoshi corrected absently. "That's Japanese for no one."
"Reading no life forms aboard," T'Pol continued. She straightened and raised an eyebrow in an expression Hoshi recognized as mild interest. "There is mild structural damage on the outer hull that I do not recognize." She pressed a button, and the main viewscreen zoomed in on the structural scarring.
"That's Immobilizer damage," Lieutenant Commander Eisler growled from the tactical station.
"Dammit," Trip muttered, so softly that Hoshi suspected only she and T'Pol had heard it. "Can you get a remote link with that tub and pull the data from their flight recorder?" he asked more loudly, his eyes trained on Hoshi. She swallowed and input a few rapid commands.
"No, sir," she replied. "We can't get a signal."
"Confirmed," T'Pol said in her no-nonsense manner. "Its transmitter array has been destroyed."
"Then we do it the old fashioned way," Captain Tucker decided. He looked in Eisler's direction. "STAB team deploy."
"Aye, sir." The tactical officer pressed several buttons in rapid succession. Seconds later, Hoshi's board beeped as she began receiving telemetry. One of the buttons she did not recognize began flashing on her console, and she pressed it hesitantly. Instantly, the image on the main viewscreen changed to a real-time transmission from one of the security officers beamed to the Daremo.
"This is Roughneck Six," a male voice declared. Hoshi presumed it was the man with the camera. "Are you reading this, Endeavour?"
"We are," Trip said loudly. "You should be able to access the flight recorder from the bridge."
"Copy." The image began moving, and a pair of armored figures entered the camera's line of sight to precede the speaking officer. Hoshi found herself unable to turn away from the real-time image, even when they paused to study a pair of human corpses. "They put up a fight," Roughneck Six stated. "And their weaponry is almost military grade."
"Smugglers," Commander Eisler declared flatly, contempt in his voice.
Beeps from T'Pol's board drew Hoshi's attention, and she watched for a moment as the Vulcan began inputting commands with a speed that brought back many pleasant memories. Her own console chirped, reminding Hoshi that she had a job to perform, and she studied the data crawling across her monitors. Almost without realizing it, she fell back into her old habits, forgetting if only for a few minutes that she was primarily a codebreaker these days. Fortunately, it wasn't always just number crunching.
As the most experienced linguist Starfleet had at its disposal, the few pieces of intercepted Romulan audio inevitably came to her, and she had spent the last six weeks attempting to construct a usable database out of those scraps. From what she could tell, the Romulan tongue was a fascinating language, with some familiar proto-Vulcan words that seemed to indicate the two cultures had come into contact before, probably centuries earlier if the word deviations were any indication.
"Captain." T'Pol's voice broke the silence that had descended upon the bridge. "I am detecting another impulse signature that remains unaccounted for."
"One-three-five mark zero-zero-nine." The Vulcan leaned back from her viewer. "Range: three-seven light minutes." T'Pol nearly frowned. "I am unable to detect any mass displacements in that area." She sounded slightly surprised.
"Roughneck Six to Endeavour." The security officer was now on the Daremo's bridge, and Hoshi winced at the damage she could see.
"The flight recorder is gone, isn't it?" Trip asked sourly.
"Yes, sir. Along with the crew manifest and the sensor logs." Tucker shook his head in frustration.
"Beam them back, Rick," he ordered the tactical officer, before glancing at Hoshi. "Inform Starfleet Command about this. We'll need a salvage team to bring this ship in." As Hoshi nodded, he was addressing the helm officer. "Set a course for the second target area. Maximum impulse."
The seven minutes it took to cover the distance to the unidentified impulse wake seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. It took less than a minute for Starfleet Command to respond to Hoshi's hail, but she was transferred three times before reaching someone who could dispatch a tug to their location to retrieve the ECS Daremo. By the time she had deactivated the active communications link, Hoshi was remembering why she had been so glad that Command had approved her request for a planetary assignment after her son was born.
"Contact," T'Pol announced, a subtle hint of pride in her voice that Hoshi doubted anyone else but Trip would pick up. "Bearing: three-three-six mark zero-seven-two. Range: twenty-three thousand, nine hundred forty-two kilometers." The Vulcan's body language changed abruptly. "Radiological alert," she said grimly. Even as she was announcing this, the captain was speaking.
"All stop," he ordered. "What is it, T'Pol?"
"Indeterminate readings," she replied, frustration in her voice. "It appears to be constructed of a material that absorbs sensor scans." T'Pol frowned. "I am able to determine that it is unmanned and has a primitive impulse drive system."
"That means there's probably a computer onboard," Eisler pointed out. "It looks like a guided torpedo to me, sir."
"That is a logical conclusion," T'Pol gave Tucker a discreet head shake, as if she was responding to something he had asked. "I do not recommend that we get any closer. A self-guided weapon would, by necessity, be equipped with sensors for navigation."
"And those sensors might be touchy," Trip nodded. "We need to get information, though."
"Sir." Lieutenant Commander Eisler was standing ramrod straight as he spoke. "Request permission to go EVA. ARC Two is prepped for launch, and I am best equipped to disable an explosive if necessary."
Hoshi sighed. It wasn't particularly loud, but drew T'Pol's attention nonetheless. The Vulcan quirked an eyebrow as she realized what Hoshi was about to say.
"Captain," Sato interrupted. "I need to go too."
"What?" Tucker was momentarily aghast.
"I have the most experience with the Romulan language," Hoshi pointed out, once more cursing herself for thinking that a visit to Endeavour had been a good idea. "And I can hack into its computer if necessary."
"I'll keep her safe, Captain," Eisler growled. He gave Hoshi a look that was almost approving, and, for a moment, she was inexplicably reminded of an almost identical expression that Malcolm had given her a few times. That nearly brought a tear to her eye.
Hoshi could see that Trip was torn, and she found herself glad that she didn't have to make these sorts of decisions. He so clearly wanted to go himself, yet he obviously realized that doing so was stupid and dangerous. When he nodded his approval, Hoshi could see how much it tore him up and her heart went out to him. For all he knew, he could be sending her to her death.
She made a mental note to never accept a command position.
The Assault Re-entry Craft was squat and ugly, but looked much tougher than a standard shuttlepod. As she approached it, still fiddling with her EV suit, Hoshi found herself wondering if it was as easy to fly. An enlisted man bearing senior chief petty officer rank was already at the pilot's station; he too was wearing an EV suit, but looked much more comfortable in it than Hoshi did. She gave him a nod before securing her comm gear in the appropriate location.
Several meters beyond the hatch, she could see Anna Hess speaking with the German tactical officer. An odd expression was on the engineer's face as she helped Eisler adjust his armored EV suit, and Hoshi frowned at Anna's unmistakable body language: she was protective of Eisler! From what Sato had seen of the man, he could likely kill people with his pinky, and from her memories of Enterprise, the engineer didn't swing that way, so it made no sense for Hess to be protective. Hoshi shook her head; none of this was any of her business.
Eisler entered the ARC moments later, pulling the hatch down and sealing it with a flourish. He took the seat next to the hatch.
"We're secure," he announced. A moment later, Trip's voice floated across the comm line.
"Then you're cleared for launch. Good luck."
The ARC began to shake as the engines activated, and Hoshi closed her eyes.
She hated this part.
More than anything else, Malcolm Reed hated daily briefings.
Seated in front of his computer, he frowned at the images of the various control officers now displayed on the many monitors before him. Most of the digital representations were clearly fabricated, and the voices that emerged were electronically distorted to further conceal the identity of the speaking officer. Even Reed had decided to put up an electronic block to prevent his face from being broadcast to the other officers. In an organization as paranoid as this one, it was frankly dangerous to not conceal your identity.
And yet, Harris' face wasn't hidden at all, almost as if he were daring them to come after him.
Shifting slightly in his chair, Malcolm discreetly attempted to rub away the phantom pain that seemed to lance through his artificial left arm. He knew that any sensations were illusions created by an overactive imagination, but that did not prevent him from feeling a persistent dull ache stabbing through the limb of plastic and synth-flesh. The phantom pains had lessened somewhat in recent weeks, but occasionally resurfaced at the most inopportune moments.
As the imaginary pain slowly dwindled, Malcolm gave his comfortable prison a quick glance. The smart walls were currently programmed to display a beach scene, making it appear almost as if he was on a deserted island somewhere in the South Pacific. Even the overhead lighting system participated in the illusion, bathing the entire apartment with ultraviolet rays identical to those of the sun. It was nearly enough to make him forget that he was thirty meters below an illegal German brothel. Given the nature of his current occupation, the irony of that particular fact almost made him laugh.
Almost, but not quite.
"Sagan City," Harris said, and the control officer in that city shifted slightly. There was a half-second of signal lag, but that was to be expected as the man was currently on Mars. It was always surprising to Malcolm when he realized just how extensive this organization actually was.
"We've secured the Tellarite craft," the control officer in Sagan City announced, his or her voice heavily distorted, "And I've dispatched them to the coordinates of the station. If it's there, they'll find it."
"Good." Harris looked and sounded pleased, but seemed to pick up on Malcolm's confusion. "You have something to add, Aschaffenburg?" he asked, identifying Reed by the city that he was in.
"What station?" Malcolm asked, refusing to address the man with any sort of honorific.
"The one that Enterprise encountered following her encounter with the Romulan minefield." Harris smiled broadly. "An automated repair unit like that would make an excellent asset for the war effort."
"That station is dangerous," Reed argued. "It'll take one of the crew and turn them into part of its central computer!"
"We are aware of that," Harris said simply.
"Is the crew of that ship you're sending?" Malcolm demanded.
"They know what they need to know," was the cool response. Reed fell back against his chair, suddenly grateful for the false image his station was broadcasting to the other attendees of this briefing. He had known that Harris was ruthless, but willingly sacrificing someone simply to acquire an "asset" like this? It was horrifying, inhuman even.
And yet ... he could not deny that the repair station would be an amazing help to the war effort. When Enterprise had found the station, it had taken less than two days to repair what would have taken Jupiter Station three months or more. With the Romulans pushing in on all quarters, wouldn't the sacrifice of one man be worth the price?
Malcolm shook his head in abject disgust, suddenly furious that he was even entertaining the notion. The hate he held for Harris intensified as he realized the insidious nature of the other man's talents: Reed was turning into the very thing he hated.
"Vulcan," Harris said, clearly of the belief that the ethical debate wasn't worth having. This time, the signal lag was even more noticeable as the distinctly male voice replied.
"We've confirmed that Ambassador Soval was involved in some sort of firefight with government officials," the control officer said at his prompt. "Preliminary reports are sketchy, but it appears that the orders came from the top."
"An attempted coup?" Harris queried, even as Malcolm was frowning. He had difficulty accepting that Soval would be trying to unseat Minister T'Pau, not after having worked so hard to put her into power in the first place. They were missing an important piece of the puzzle...
"Unknown, although Soval has gone dark since the incident." The reporting officer paused for a moment. "I don't know how this will affect Vulcan's technology transfer to Earth." That made sense, as the ambassador had been the driving force behind his government's sudden decision to volunteer previously classified technology even before the war with the Romulans began.
"Continue to observe," Harris decided. "If he resurfaces and the opportunity presents itself, attempt to recruit." He barely paused as he shifted attention. "Sacramento."
"Investigation into Black's suicide is ongoing," the female image related. "There are some inconsistencies with Commodore Casey's story that Starfleet Security failed to notice." Contempt was easily detected in her voice, despite the electronic distortions, and as an ex-member of Starfleet Security, Malcolm instinctively bristled. "We're looking into the possibility there may have been a romantic connection between the two."
"Is that speculation or are you basing it on something concrete?" Harris asked.
"Speculation based on some unexplained off-duty interactions between the two," Sacramento replied. "There are a number of recorded instances where the two of them simply dropped off the grid together for hours at a time." The image shrugged slightly. "Both of them are lifelong bachelors with absolutely no known romantic relationships. We haven't found any other connection between them to explain Casey's visit to Black's house."
"Keep digging." Harris was glowering; he hated not knowing something. "Anything else?"
"Archer dropped off the grid for nearly a minute prior to the Romulan detection," Sacramento said with an annoyed tone in her voice. "The agent assigned to follow him says he simply vanished after punching a man whose image we don't have in the database. They reappeared, talked, and the man disappeared again immediately before Archer was contacted by Starfleet Command."
"That sounds like our mysterious Mister Daniels," Harris mused. "Keep an eye on the recordings your agent made of him; they have a tendency to disappear unexpectedly."
"One other thing," Sacramento interjected. "We're reading a rise in Terra Prime chatter in the California area."
"Let the local authorities deal with them," Harris ordered. Malcolm winced slightly at the indifference in the man's voice and briefly wondered what had happened to the Terra Primer Hayes had captured in Jacksonville. Per his instructions, Reed had turned the man over to Harris, never questioning what was intended for the would-be terrorist. It had been something of a surprise for Malcolm to realize that he didn't care what happened to the man, not after witnessing firsthand the depths of depravity Terra Prime would sink to. If he closed his eyes, he could still see the rows of incubators on Paxton's craft that held the failed attempts at crossbreeding Humans and Vulcans, all in an attempt to prove a point Malcolm still didn't comprehend. He had never let Trip or T'Pol know that their daughter was attempt number thirty-six.
"Aschaffenburg has been working on the Romulan problem," Harris announced, and Malcolm glowered at the screen. "What do you have?" Reed drew in a steadying breath, glancing down quickly at the notes he'd jotted down.
"I want to insert an operative into Klingon space," he said calmly. It was the only thing he had been able to come up with that seemed to have a chance of success, and it reminded him of how much he missed being on Enterprise. This sort of problem-solving would have been much easier if Hoshi or Trip were around to bounce ideas off of.
"How does that help the Romulan problem?" the officer in New Delhi asked.
"This operative's objective will be to instigate the Klingons into conducting raids across their borders into Romulan space," Malcolm replied coolly.
"Which will cause the Romulans to divide their forces," Harris smiled. "Well done." Reed wished he shared that optimism. There was a substantial risk of this backfiring; if the Klingons discovered they had been manipulated, they might ally themselves with the Romulans. Even if Earth's manufacturing capacity were completely devoted to wartime use, there was simply no way Starfleet could hold out against two war-like races.
"Can I presume that you have an operative in mind?" Harris asked, and Malcolm nodded.
"I have just the man for the job," he pronounced.
Even though he was ideally suited for this job, Lieutenant Commander Rick Eisler found himself battling worry.
He blamed it entirely on Anna's influence. Years ago, when he was a simple MACO weapons officer working black ops, he wouldn't have given the danger he was about to voluntarily place himself in a second thought. There would have been no hesitation, no fear, and no concern about whether he might make a mistake that could result in a cataclysmic explosion. Now, however, instead of focusing his attention on the task at hand, he was thinking about the most recent absurd movie Hess had insisted he watch. At times, he wished he was strong enough to push her away so he could resume his life of solitude and adherence to discipline, but her unconditional friendship and support was addictive. It wasn't until Anna started pushing him to enjoy the sillier things in life that Rick realized just how lonely he had been.
Yes, this was all her fault.
As the ARC-16 banked sharply and began maneuvering toward the target, Rick pushed those thoughts away so he could study Lieutenant Commander Sato-Reed discreetly. Though she was nearly thirty, she carried the confidence of a much older woman, and the way she studied everyone denoted a dangerously sharp intelligence. In a lot of ways, she reminded Eisler of the three female MACOs he had served with on the Red Sabre teams: quiet and unassuming on the outside, but lethally competent when the situation demanded it. There had been no one he trusted more than those women, and he had gone on record numerous times stating that he would prefer to go into a combat situation with them than with the males of the Team.
"Shutting down the main drive," Senior Chief Petty Officer Gray announced abruptly from the pilot's station. "We'll be using maneuvering thrusters the rest of the way." Rick nodded as he glanced out the viewport and studied the object they were slowly approaching.
It was surprisingly large, perhaps twenty-five to thirty meters in length and five to seven meters in diameter. Comprised of three distinct sections, it had the unmistakable appearance of a missile or torpedo, albeit with a boxy aft area that likely housed the primitive impulse drive Commander T'Pol had detected. It was also nearly pitch black, making it difficult to spot against the backdrop of space.
"That looks like a communication array on the nose," Commander Sato-Reed said, pointing to the front section of the weapon. Rick grunted, but didn't contest her assumption; she was, after all, the communications expert, not him. "How close can we get to it?" she asked, and SCPO Gray shrugged slightly.
"I don't know, ma'am." He started to apply thrust, and an alarm began chirping. "We're being interrogated," he declared, tension in his voice. Drawing in a sharp breath, Sato-Reed reached over the senior chief's shoulder and began inputting a frequency into the communications system. Gray glanced at Eisler, and Rick shook his head at the unspoken question. Suddenly, the alarm went silent.
"I wasn't sure that would work," Sato-Reed said, relief in her voice. At Rick's look, she explained. "I used the comm frequency the Romulans seem to use most of the time, and told it that we were friendly." She shrugged. "Good thing something that size can't have a very smart computer, or it'd realize my syntax was messed up."
"Good thing," Eisler agreed, privately wondering if Lieutenant Devereux would have reacted as quickly. On the heels of that, however, he realized the comparisons were unfair; Lieutenant Commander Sato-Reed had years more experience than Devereux, and had been working on cracking the Romulan language and cyphers since the war started. His admitted personal dislike for Endeavour's absent communication officer likely colored his opinion as well.
Hefting his gear, he quickly secured the pack to his EV suit before checking the grapple launcher that would be necessary. He caught Sato-Reed's quickly hidden frown as she began assembling her own equipment consisting of a personalized computer and transmitter array. Rick didn't ask why she had come aboard Endeavour carrying such a thing; after all, he rarely went anywhere without the tools of his trade either.
"Match velocity," he ordered Gray calmly while securing one end of the grapple line to the ARC's internal clamps. "And get me within a hundred meters."
"Aye, sir." There was no immediately discernible change in the assault re-entry craft's profile as the senior chief manipulated his controls, but Eisler had worked with him long enough to trust him explicitly. Forcing himself to breathe calmly, Rick keyed in the access code that opened the ARC's hatch, immediately exposing the ARC to vacuum. They had been prepared for that, and had never activated the small craft's life support systems.
"Holding steady at ninety-three meters," Gray declared, and Rick hefted the grappler gun. The laser rangefinder integrated onto the launcher painted the surface of the target, and a soft tone sounded in Eisler's ear, alerting him that it had a solid lock. He pressed the fire button, and, with a hiss that Rick knew he imagined, the launcher fired the cable. The magnetic anchor struck the outer hull of the target and attached itself.
"Endeavour, this is TAC-Six," Eisler said into his comm as he secured himself to the line. "I'm moving to the target." Without waiting for a response, he triggered the EV suit's small thruster pack and let himself be carried from the ARC.
It was a thrilling ride, though he'd die before ever admitting that to anyone. He'd read the reports of Captain Tucker's insane ship-to-ship transfer shortly after arriving on Endeavour, and had been suitably impressed as well as just a little bit jealous. The realization that only a slender strand of cable was between him and the abyss of deep space filled Rick with a giddy rush of excitement and a sensation of freedom he'd only experienced a few times in the past. HALO jumps had nothing on this.
His mag boots impacted and latched onto the target's hull all too soon. Forcing the silly smile off his face, Eisler reached for his pack to assure himself that it had made it. The radiation detector on his suit spiked slightly, causing him to study it for a moment. Exposure levels weren't lethal, but he realized that Phlox would likely schedule him for a decon visit.
"This is TAC-Six," he said into his comm. "I'm at the target." He paused to get his bearings. "Proceeding with scans." Kneeling, he placed the hand scanner against the surface.
"Receiving," Lieutenant Commander Sato-Reed's voice filtered across the comm line. A moment later, Commander T'Pol's voice echoed the lieutenant commander's statement.
"Initiating data transfer," Sato-Reed declared as Rick removed the fusion torch from the bag still secured to his suit. With a flash, the torch came to life, and he began cutting into the hull of the target. "I'm hacking into the guidance system now using the remote datalink," the communications officer announced. Rick grunted in response as the visor on his EV suit auto-tinted.
Within seconds, he was barely aware of anything but the job in front of him. The outer hull of the weapon was proving to be surprisingly resilient. For a moment, he considered using a small amount of explosives to breach the hull, but he quickly discarded the idea as both foolhardy and dangerous. Minutes crept by as he worked to pierce the outer structure of the weapon, and sweat began trickling down his brow. Wincing at the sting of sweat in his eyes, he glanced up and almost smiled at how small Endeavour seemed in this moment.
"I'm in!" Sato-Reed stated triumphantly. Despite himself, Rick smirked as the fusion torch sputtered and died. It seemed almost serendipitous that they would both finish at the exact same moment. He said nothing though, as he set the torch aside and aimed the hand scanner at the hole he had carved. The scanner vibrated as it began working.
"Downloading guidance plot," Lieutenant Commander Sato-Reed continued. "Endeavour, you should be receiving it now."
"We are," Captain Tucker responded. "It's headed for Earth."
"Kuso," the communications officer suddenly whispered, her voice carrying loudly across the comm line. Rick didn't know what it meant, but it sounded like an expletive. "Trip, this thing is transmitting a Starfleet IFF code!"
"Are you sure?" Tucker's voice was grimmer than ever before, and Eisler felt his own blood run cold. An IFF transponder relayed a signal that would be interpreted as a friendly target; planetary defenses wouldn't even shoot at it. The codes were top secret, known only to those with an absolute necessity to know.
And the Romulans apparently had them.
"Captain," Rick interrupted as the results of his scan crawled across the small scanner screen. He wasn't even aware that he had violated communications protocol. "This is a fission bomb."
Dead silence answered his pronouncement.