The urge to cry had been firmly suppressed by the time Trip Tucker's brother arrived.
Seeing his normally composed mother on the verge of a complete emotional collapse had struck Trip with devastating force, and immediately brought to mind dark memories of her at his sister's memorial service immediately prior to the Expanse mission. In his thirty-six years, Trip could count on one hand the number of times that his mother had cried openly, and seeing her so visibly distraught had nearly undone him as well. Only the emotional control he’d acquired from T'Pol helped him to stay functional at the sight of his father's wan complexion; and, for perhaps the first time in his life, Trip realized that his parents looked ... old.
It was a sobering realization, particularly when he considered the fact that T'Pol was only a few years younger than either of his parents, but it struck him with such force that his knees nearly buckled. Modern medical science had extended the life expectancy of a human being well into the low hundreds, but the number of people who lived to reach that age remained few. As he held his sobbing mother in his arms, the thought that she had already reached the twilight of her life was an insidious thought that refused to leave him alone, and the glances he gave his father didn't ease his mind very much.
Officially, it was a case of acute myocardial infarction that had landed Charles Tucker Junior in the hospital and, as Trip learned, was likely to keep him here for a while. A fancy name for a heart attack, the condition was a culmination of a number of factors, not the least of which was Charlie Tucker's absolute refusal to retire from his job as a structural engineer, despite his doctor's recommendation. According to Trip's mother, the elder Charles Tucker had kept the results of his last doctor visit secret from even her and it was only lucky happenstance that found them at the hospital visiting a friend when the heart attack occurred. The attending doctor had been grim in his outlook: Charles Tucker was lucky to have even survived.
Trip tried not to think about how much his father's work ethic had influenced his own.
Though it had taken more persuasive ability than he thought he was capable of, Trip had finally managed to convince his mother to go home for several hours and get some rest. That she was physically exhausted had been clear the moment Trip arrived at the hospital, and it was his sincere hope that she would just collapse in bed for a couple of hours once she got home. A friendly neighbor had offered to make sure that Elaine Tucker got home without incident, which eased Trip's mind significantly. Even with the autodrive option on his parent's car, he didn't care for the idea of his mother driving home alone – not in her current condition, anyway.
Nearly four hours after his mother's departure from the hospital and over six since his own arrival, Trip's younger brother William appeared in the doorway of Charles Junior's room. Billy was still bleary-eyed from his long flight but wore a somber expression that Trip knew was mirrored on his own face. Three hours from Dublin to Jacksonville was nothing compared to how long it had been in the early years of trans-Atlantic crossings, but making the trip in the dead of the night with no early warning was anything but easy.
“How's Mom?” Billy asked once their requisite back thumping hug had been exchanged, and Trip smirked at the hint of an Irish brogue now beginning to creep into his younger brother's accent. It was a curious thing, mixing a Gaelic accent with a Southern American one, and Trip could only wonder what his own dialect would sound like in fifteen years if he and T'Pol retired to Vulcan after the war.
“She's doing okay,” Trip replied with a heavy sigh. “As well as could be expected, I guess.” He stretched slightly, feeling his joints pop as he did so. “I managed to talk her into taking a break for a couple of hours. Aunt Linda said she'd swing by and check up on her when she arrives in town.” For a moment, he and Billy stood quietly before their unconscious father.
“Any word from Lisa?” came Billy's next question, and Trip frowned darkly at mention of his older sister.
“Not a word,” he growled, at once furious that their continuing feud had resulted in the eldest Tucker child apparently deciding to not even show up at what could easily be their father's death bed. “I left messages, but no one responded.”
The disagreement had started early in Trip's Starfleet career when Melissa accused him of abandoning the family for, in her words, “militant expansionism”. It had simmered for years afterward, ever a source of tension in their rare interactions, before finally exploding into a full out pique of fury when the Xindi attack resulted in Elizabeth's death. By the time Enterprise made it back to Earth, Melissa had convinced the rest of his family that Starfleet, and thus, by default, Trip himself, was responsible for the attack. No one aboard Enterprise had even been aware of the situation, nor even suspected that Trip had spent next to no time with his family before shipping out for the Expanse mission. In his anger and grief, Trip had even adjusted his personnel file to reflect only one sibling: the now-deceased Elizabeth Tucker.
“You know how she is,” Billy reminded him, and Trip nodded in annoyance. Having grown up with her, he knew exactly what she was like.
“Yeah, but you'd think she'd have the decency to at least show up,” Trip snapped. “I mean, this is Dad!” William gave him a knowing look, and Trip closed his eyes, focusing on his breathing and recalling the lessons that T'Pol had spent so much time drilling into him. This was hardly the ideal time to let his emotions flare and bring up old problems.
“So,” Trip asked after a long moment of silence, “how's Mary?” His brother smiled at mention of his wife's name.
“Pregnant,” came the proud response.
“Again?” Trip didn't mean to sound aghast, but the idea of six children left him just a little freaked out. Billy grinned.
“What can I say?” he asked, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “I love my wife.”
“At least six times,” Trip snickered. He expertly dodged out of his brother's half-hearted attempt to hit him on the shoulder before quickly holding his hands up in a surrender pose. “Congratulations,” he said, offering his hand. “Boy or girl?” A flicker of sadness crossed Billy's face and Trip knew that meant his brother would soon be having another son.
“What d'ya think?” Billy asked with a momentarily sour look on his face. “I love my boys to death but I really wanted a girl, ya know?”
Pain stabbed through Trip at the comment as a mental picture of an impossibly adorable girl with his eyes and T'Pol's ears flashed across his mind's eye, once more reminding him of what Terra Prime had stolen from him. He glanced away, barely noticing the sudden expression of anguish and embarrassment that crossed William's face. Anger warred with the constant sadness, and Trip clenched his hand tightly before drawing a steadying breath. With effort, he pushed the emotions down, burying them under a layer of rigid control that let him function normally. He wasn't surprised to see the remorse on Billy's face.
“Trip, I'm–” his brother started, an apologetic tone in his voice, but Trip waved it away.
“Don't worry about it,” he interrupted, a forced smile on his face. “Got a name picked out yet?” It was clearly an attempt to shift the subject and, from the expression on Billy's face, the younger Tucker recognized it as such. Once more, discomfort crossed William's face and he hesitated for a long moment before replying.
“We were thinking about naming him Charles Anthony,” he said softly, glancing away in an obvious attempt to avoid meeting his older brother's eyes, and Charles Anthony Tucker III smiled in understanding.
It was an entirely logical decision, and if T'Pol had been present, Trip knew exactly what her response would have been. It was, in fact, a feeling that he shared. The chances that she would actually bear his children so he could pass on his name grew smaller with each day, as the war with the Romulans continued to drag on and the list of casualties grew. They had been lucky so far, despite the deaths that had taken place around them and the injuries they had sustained, but neither harbored any doubt that their luck would hold out forever. Recent events had only served as a stark reminder that either of them could die well before the war ended and, though he'd never said it aloud, he simply knew that he wouldn't outlive T'Pol for very long in such an event. A discreet and surprisingly candid conversation with Soval had revealed to him just how traumatic the death of a bonded mate could be and, if it could potentially kill a Vulcan, Trip sincerely doubted his human brain could handle it.
Not that he would want to live without T'Pol...
“That's a really good idea,” Trip declared as he dropped a hand onto his brother's shoulder. He gave the younger man a sad smile and they exchanged a long knowing look, conveying more with their eyes than any words ever could. Finally, Billy nodded.
“I'll let her know,” he said before returning his attention to their unconscious father. “Where's T'Pol, by the way?” Billy asked, the twinkle returning to his eyes despite the innocent-sounding question. Of everyone in the family, William Tucker seemed to have accepted T'Pol the the most quickly, and Trip loved his brother dearly for it.
Not that he would ever admit such a thing.
“Finishing Endeavour's refit.” Trip found himself frowning at thought of the work that remained unfinished on his ship and was, once again, glad to see that his brother still knew when to let things drop. For another long moment, they stood in awkward silence, neither really knowing what else to say. They had few common interests anymore, with William being a journalist-turned-newspaper editor and Trip an engineer-turned-captain. The necessity for operational security (OPSEC, for short) further made it essential for the elder Tucker to watch what he said when he wasn't aboard his ship. As a result, their already infrequent conversations rarely touched on anything Starfleet-related.
“New uniforms, huh?” Billy finally commented, and Trip gave him a slightly annoyed look.
“I hate these damned things,” he grumbled to his younger brother as he readjusted the jacket for a better fit. “We're in a war for our very survival out there, and some idiot at Command thought it'd be a good idea to change our wardrobe.” Trip glared at nothing in particular as he continued. He held out one arm and gestured to the command stripes that encircled the lower sleeve. “How the hell am I supposed to know what these damned things mean?” Billy's grin was growing by the second as Trip continued. “Who thinks about fashion at a time like this?” he asked.
“Some idiot at Command,” came his brother's amused response. “Can I quote you on that? My readers would love to hear the official reaction to Starfleet's new militarized look.”
“Oh God,” Trip lamented softly, “not you too.” He gave his younger brother a dark look before glancing at the biobed readouts above his father's bed. “Do you know how tired I am of hearing this nonsense about Starfleet being the military?”
“You are the military, Trip,” Billy said softly. A hint of contempt was within the younger Tucker's voice, once more reminding Trip of how little he actually had in common with his family. It was depressing, actually.
With a sigh, he took a seat and began to wait.
Waiting was not his strong suit.
Fighting back a frustrated sigh, Jonathan Archer leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. When he had received the order from Starfleet Command to report to Earth immediately, he'd found himself hoping (and praying) that the idiots-in-charge had decided to reverse their previous decision regarding Enterprise and were finally going to put her back on the repair schedule. That hope had been dashed, however, the moment that he had arrived on Earth. Within minutes of his arrival, he'd learned about Admiral Gardner's decision to re-examine the strategic overview of the war with his senior officers.
And thus, Jon found himself in a sealed conference room along with eight other flag officers, seated before a holo-table.
The table itself was a technological marvel. Two meters long, it was rectangular in shape and had a glassed-over surface that covered the master holographic display imbedded within it. Before each seat was an integrated display console that would allow attendees to focus their attention on specifics related to their area of expertise or mission objectives. With the controls before him, Jon could zoom or pan anywhere on the master holographic image without affecting the rest of the briefing. Not for the first time, Archer wished that he had one of these holo-tables aboard Enteprise.
At the moment, though, both screens were dark as Commodore Alexander Casey droned on about the level of readiness of Security throughout the fleet. An ex-MACO who had risen to the highest levels of that organization, the commodore never let anyone forget his previous affiliations, nor did he conceal the fact that he had been stringently opposed to the integration in the first place. If Casey could get away with it, Jon assumed that the man would wear his old MACO uniform instead of the Starfleet one.
From the expressions on the faces of his colleagues, Archer suspected that his dislike for Casey was shared. To say that the man was a martinet was putting it kindly; on no less than four occasions, Jon had actually seen the commodore hide behind rules and regulations to avoid making a difficult moral decision. Given his own propensity for bending or outright breaking the rules if the situation called for it, Archer wasn't surprised in the slightest that he and Casey were constantly at odds.
“This revised two-branch system was proposed by Lieutenant Commander Eisler of the UES Endeavour,” Casey was stating, and Jon fought to restrain a sigh. He'd already read the Eisler proposal – Trip had sent it to him for his feedback before officially submitting it to Starfleet Command – and agreed that it was a good idea. What he wasn't looking forward to was the inevitable comment about how the lieutenant commander was an ex-MACO.
Archer let his attention wander and glanced around the room, noting without surprise the slightly bored expressions on the faces of many of his colleagues. Commodore Burnside Clapp, the Second Fleet commander, gave him a sidelong glance complete with an exaggerated eye roll. The Australian commodore's dislike of Casey was common knowledge, and their often loud disagreements were always amusing to observe.
At that, however, Admiral Hannibal Black, recently promoted to Vice Chief of Naval Operations, gave Archer a dark look before returning his attention to Casey's briefing. Through means that Jon admitted he did not understand, Black had suddenly shot up through the chain of command, displacing the previous VCNO following the success of the recent Icarus Project. Trip hadn't been very forthcoming about exactly what it was that the admiral had done while aboard Endeavour, but whatever it was, it had been very, very good for Black's career.
“This is all well and good,” Black abruptly interrupted, drawing Commodore Casey's darkest look, “but what does it have to do with the war effort?” The two men glared at one another for a moment, prompting Archer to wonder about the curious nature of their mutual antipathy. He supposed that the similarities in their personalities were responsible for their constant clashes: Black shared the commodore's unhealthy love of regulations and military etiquette. A memory from his time as Enterprise's commanding officer surfaced, and Jon let himself smile inwardly at the idea of the two men being mentally linked by that snot monster that had temporarily connected him and Trip. Almost immediately, though, he realized that he would have to be mentally linked with them also if he wanted to see their reaction, and he shuddered at the thought.
No, Jon decided, it probably wouldn't be a good idea if some of these people knew what I actually thought about them. He fought a smile at the surprise he'd felt when Trip's less-than-professional thoughts about a certain Vulcan sub-commander had flooded into his own mind, followed quickly by the embarrassment that Tucker had felt when he realized that Archer knew.
Almost instantly, that memory triggered a random thought and he spent another moment considering it. Prior to the cerebral linkage with Trip, however short a period of time it had been, Jon couldn't recall thinking of T'Pol in a sexual way. Afterwards, however, he'd found himself constantly being distracted by her looks, so much so that he eventually made an abject fool of himself when Porthos had been sick. Even now, many years after the fact, he couldn't help but wince at how juvenile he'd acted around her. It just hadn't been like him ...
The theory rattled around in his head as Black and Casey began to argue, and Archer found himself examining it from all angles. He freely admitted that T'Pol was a striking woman – he'd have to be dead or just plain stupid not to see that – but she had never really appealed to him on any level beyond that. Sure, she was a loyal friend and a more than effective first officer, but Jon simply couldn't envision living with – or loving – her.
So, could those thoughts, those feelings, have been Trip's? Even in the days after Enterprise's launch, Tucker had made no real attempt to hide the fact that he found the Vulcan sub-commander attractive. Many had been the time that Jon had noticed his friend's eyes wandering, usually to watch T'Pol departing from a room or to watch her discreetly when it seemed that no one else would notice. Even if Trip had been annoyed at her, or found her initial comments insulting or abrasive, he'd at least openly noticed her looks.
“That's enough,” Fleet Admiral Gardner snapped, ending the Black-Casey argument and bringing Jon back to the present. “You've made your case, Commodore, and we'll examine the merits of this proposal at a later time.” Casey glowered at the chief of naval operations, but made no further reply. “Captain Assad,” Gardner continued, directing his attention to the only standing member of this briefing, “is here to give us an overview of the conflict.” Archer straightened slightly in his chair and frowned at the captain's body language: it didn't bode well.
“We lost two more ships last week,” Assad said without preamble, his expression bleak. “The Hawking and the Valiant were destroyed on 2 September. There were no survivors.” The disgruntled murmur that rumbled through the briefing room was understandable. “No other ships in the Atlantis strike group suffered significant damage, and Rear Admiral Khanolankar reports that three Romulan drones and one bird of prey were destroyed in the engagement.” Assad shifted slightly. “As has every other disabled Romulan ship,” the captain declared, “the bird of prey self-destructed before it could be captured.”
“This is getting out of hand,” Black interjected as he glared at the captain for a moment. Transferring his hot look to Gardner, he continued. “We're losing this war because you won't let us fight it!”
It was an old refrain, one that continued to make the rounds each time a new setback occurred. Despite himself, Jon found himself grudgingly agreeing with Admiral Black, even if he didn't agree with some of the more extreme measures that the admiral had proposed in recent weeks. Dark memories of the decisions that Archer had made in the Expanse resurfaced, reminding him that success could sometimes come at too high a cost. If they defeated the Romulans, but lost their souls in the process, would humans be any better than those they were fighting? Unexpectedly, an old proverb came to mind, one that he could not recall the origin of: The man who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself.
Jonathan Archer didn't want to become that man.
“Do you have anything new to add, Admiral?” Gardner asked, his expression and voice tight. The dislike between him and Black was old news and, if the rumors were true, was responsible for Gardner's decision to park his disliked colleague in the Vice Chief of Naval Operations position. Since the war started, five admirals had held that job and all five had ultimately resigned; a discreet betting pool had sprung up inside Command regarding how long the current VCNO would last.
“Operation: Pandora,” Admiral Black replied, and Jon frowned at the unfamiliar name. From the confused expressions on the faces of the assembled officers, he wasn't the only one who didn't recognize it.
“Elaborate,” the CNO demanded. At Gardner's tone, Archer fought another frown; it seemed pretty clear that the admiral wasn't even aware of this operation, and that rarely went over well.
Black, however, appeared unconcerned at his commanding officer's barely concealed anger. Instead, he was connecting a PADD to his viewer control with an air of eagerness and excitement. A moment later, the master display within the table snapped to life, revealing the image of an unfamiliar binary star system.
“This is the Zeta Reticuli system,” Black announced as he began manipulating the controls. Archer blinked in surprise. Contact with the Acheron mining colony there had been lost months ago and, as thinly stretched as Starfleet already was, no ships had been available to re-establish contact. The image continued to zoom in on Zeta 1 Reticuli before resolving into what appeared to be construction facilities. Romulan warships, both the birds of prey and the larger ones that had been classified as Warbirds, patrolled the area, as well as dozens of smaller ships that Jon recognized at once as drones.
“As you can see,” Admiral Black continued, “the Romulans have set up shop less than forty light years away and are building more ships.”
“How did you get these images?” Rear Admiral Washko, the commander of First Fleet, demanded.
“That information is classified,” Black replied, almost snidely. His comments drew several dark looks, but he ignored them and continued. “Based on this new intelligence, it is essential that we strike with everything we have and destroy this complex before they can get it operational.”
“There are at least thirty ships there,” Admiral Wang of Fourth Fleet pointed out. A grizzled old veteran, he had a reputation for being capable of squeezing blood out of a stone. “This will need to be a joint operation...”
“Two fleets, at least,” Burnside Clapp agreed. His attention was now focused on the images on the table display, and the frown on his face was bleak.
“Three,” Admiral Black declared. He paused, as though for dramatic effect, before continuing. “I recommend Second, Fifth and Sixth Fleets.”
Instantly, the room degenerated into an argument as the commanders of First, Third and Fourth Fleets began debating their own combat effectiveness, but Jon's attention had already shifted. He began manipulating the controls on his personal viewer and zoomed in on two ships that were distinctly not Romulan. The image itself was grainy, and the resolution wasn't high enough to make out specific details, but Jon would have recognized them anyway. With a frown, Archer stared at the familiar-looking craft for a long moment.
“You have something to add, Commodore Archer?” The sharp question from Admiral Gardner cut through the din and brought the arguments to an abrupt end. Jon looked up, meeting the admiral's eyes with his own.
“These are Xindi ships,” he announced. He expanded the image onto the main display. “Reptilian, by the looks of it.”
“Are you sure?” Admiral Wang asked, and Jon gave him a flat look in reply. “Of course you're sure,” the old admiral smiled, shaking his head at his own stupid question. If anyone in the room would recognize a Xindi ship, it was Archer.
“We've suspected some cooperation for a while now,” Black reminded Archer, once more wearing an insufferably smug expression. “This doesn't change anything.”
“With all due respect, sir,” Jon retorted, “it changes everything.” He eased back in his seat slightly. “The Xindi utilized FTL that made their ships nearly impossible to track or pursue, and if they've given the subspace corridor technology to the Romulans–”
“He's right,” Burnside Clapp interrupted, a tense expression on his face. “They were able to drop in behind our defenses with that weapon of theirs, and we couldn't even detect their arrival until the Kumari showed up.” Jon gave the commodore a glance, recognizing the guilt behind the man's words. The Australian had been in command of one of the perimeter defense ships.
“And the Xindi have transporter technology,” Archer pointed out. The memory of the stomach lurching fear he'd felt when Hoshi was beamed off of his bridge churned within his gut; though she'd never said anything about it to him, Jon had read Phlox's medical reports and knew that she still struggled with nightmares.
“Then it's more important than ever to hit this facility,” Black urged. “We need to strike now!”
As the arguments resumed, Jon fought to keep from sighing. It was going to be a long day.
The day had barely begun and he was already exhausted.
His muscles groaning with protest, Malcolm Reed eased himself out of the shower and reached for the nearby towel. Glowering at the effort it took to do something as simple as dry himself off, he slowly limped toward to the sink. In mid-step, his legs nearly buckled and he quickly grabbed the sink's edge to steady himself. Anger pulsed through him at his continuing weakness, and he silently determined to increase the pace of his continuing physical therapy, regardless of what the physicians recommended. After a long moment, he regained his balance and straightened. Using the towel, he wiped the condensation from the mirror and took a moment to study the reflection he saw there.
The facial scar he'd become accustomed to, despite Harris' repeated “suggestions” to have it covered up with synth-flesh; Malcolm couldn't quite explain why he kept refusing to have the scar concealed, although simply being contrary was as good an explanation as any. As long as the scar was present, it barred him from ever participating in field work again, but he didn't harbor any delusions that he would ever be a field operative again; the injuries alone were too extensive for him to be an effective agent, and his official status as “killed in action” made any such field ops even less likely. A moment passed as he studied his eyes in the mirror and, not for the first time, he found himself frowning at the deadness he saw there. He hated seeing this look, hated knowing what it meant for him.
He took another moment to study his image and glowered at the scars that now decorated his body. Only his left arm was without apparent damage, but the too smooth skin was an immediate giveaway that it wasn't the same limb that he had been born with. With the artificial prosthetic, he traced the massive scar that ran down the length of his chest as he tried to fight the memories that inevitably flooded his mind's eye.
The last clear memory he had of New Elysium was of Enterprise shuddering under Romulan fire as the bird of prey loomed closer in the sensor feed. Even the moment of impact was a hazy blur of light and sound and smells. The taste of blood in his mouth, the scream of protesting metal, the stench of scorched flesh: all of it came back to him in spurts of jumbled memories that didn't make sense no matter how hard he tried to comprehend them. And then – a darkness that seemed to last for an eternity, broken only by momentary glimpses of consciousness. He had no idea how long he drifted in that emptiness before he found himself waking in a hospital somewhere on Earth, to the face of a man he hated. Never before had Malcolm experienced such despair as he did when he learned that the life he'd made for himself was over.
“You had a lovely funeral,” Harris had told him with a smirk on his face. “Full honors, complete with a 21-gun salute.” The smirk grew into a smile. “Captain Tucker gave a moving eulogy. There wasn't a dry eye present.” The smile became a malicious grin. “Welcome back, Malcolm.”
It had taken some digging but, during his extended recovery, Malcolm had finally pieced together some of the unlikely tale of how he’d survived Elysium. The discovery that the chief medical officer of Columbia was one of Harris' operatives shouldn't have surprised Reed as much as it did; more than most members of the Section, he was quite aware of how extensive the organization actually was. In the chaos following Columbia's arrival at Elysium, she had placed Malcolm in stasis even as the official record classified him as KIA; how he survived his injuries to that point remained unclear to him. Following their return to Earth, his body was then transferred to a Section hospital where judicious amounts of surgery had been necessary. Esoteric solutions had even been utilized, including the memetic symbiot process that Phlox had used in the Expanse to save Trip's life.
Malcolm didn't want to consider that is was his reports that led to the Section learning about that process.
Limping out of the bathroom, he paused at the threshold that opened up into the giant room that was now his home and his prison. Octagonal in shape, it was a high tech utility apartment, complete with living quarters, integrated kitchen and working space. There was a protein resequencer in the kitchen, an emergency transporter, and thirty-three hand weapons scattered throughout the apartment in concealed locations. Everything he needed to survive was here.
Everything but Hoshi.
With another frown, Malcolm limped toward the desk and lowered himself into the seat. The integrated sensors on the computer suite detected his approach and activated the monitors before he had even situated himself in the chair. He glanced over the data displays quickly, a dark expression on his face, before inputting a new command. Instantly, the main monitor switched to a realtime image of a massive English church and Malcolm spent a few minutes watching silently, hoping that Hoshi would make an appearance. The wedding party was already beginning to file into St. Michael's Cathedral, and Reed drew in a sharp breath as his parents hobbled into the image. He smiled slightly at the sight of his mother carrying his son. For a moment, the urge to contact them was nearly overwhelming, and he swallowed at the memory of his father's anguished expression at the funeral.
“Your previous life is over, Malcolm,” Harris had said grimly after showing Malcolm a recording of the funeral with unnatural glee. “If you try to contact anyone from that life, they will be killed.”
“Why are you doing this?” Malcolm had demanded, furious and terrified at the same time.
“Because I can,” was the cold reply. “And because no one leaves the Section.”
Additional digging had eventually revealed that Harris had not been bluffing. Electronic paper trails disclosed the presence of mercenaries or semi-retired Section operatives within striking distance of Reed's family and loved ones. A number of realtime images of Hoshi or Maddie had mysteriously appeared on Malcolm's computer screen; these images could only have come from a rifle scope. Recorded images of Trip, Commander T'Pol or Commodore Archer showed up periodically in his “in-box,” along with additional proof that they weren't safe either. Each example was an promise of implied violence designed to dissuade him from seeking escape.
Malcolm got the point.
It didn't stop him from trying, though. In the weeks since Reed had assumed the duties of a Control officer, his continuing search for a way out of the Section had turned into something of a chess game with Harris. Malcolm's discreet inquiries were met with counter-moves by Harris, and investigation into potential avenues of escape revealed poorly concealed traps or assassins waiting. Frustrated, Reed had been forced to re-evaluate his plan and adjust his tactics. It would take time and patience, but Malcolm was confident that he would be successful.
Providing he could sway the Augment operative to his side.
Exhaling softly, Reed keyed in new commands, minimizing the realtime image of the wedding and spending several minutes studying the status reports from his agents in the field. Currently, there were only twelve of them active, but coordinating their mostly unrelated operations had proven to be more difficult than he would have expected. The sheer amount of paperwork necessary was staggering, and, as the workload continued to grow, Malcolm began to wonder if that was also part of Harris' plan. A distracted enemy was a vulnerable enemy, after all.
Reed leaned forward as a Starfleet data packet crossed his screen. With Endeavour still being refit for combat operations, the fact that Trip was on emergency leave came as something of a surprise. Within seconds, Malcolm had accessed the hospital records and was glancing over the medical files of a Charles Tucker, Junior.
The computer beeped again and Malcolm quickly maximized the image as the wedding party began to file into the cathedral. Smiling broadly, the groom exchanged anxious looks with his best man as the wedding march began to play. Reed found himself smiling slightly at the man's anxiety; though he had never met the man, Malcolm had thoroughly investigated him before grudgingly admitting to himself that the man was worthy of Maddie.
His breath caught as Hoshi entered the image. A moment later, he tore his eyes away from her as Maddie appeared, resplendent in her bridal gown and glowing with happiness. Anger mixed with glee as Malcolm watched his sister and her fiancé drink in one another's appearance. He should be there, in person, to watch Maddie's big day. If nothing else, he desperately wanted to tease her about having a month for a last name now...
As he watched the wedding, his attention inevitably drifted to Hoshi and he spent several minutes studying her. She was a little thinner than was probably healthy, but there was no trace of the sadness that had been on her face for the last several months. It was the first time in a long time that he'd seen her look so happy.
“A lovely ceremony,” Harris' voice abruptly echoed from Malcolm's computer suite. Seconds later, a realtime image of the man appeared on a different monitor, and Reed gave him a dark look. “Your sister looks quite happy, Malcolm.”
“What do you want?” Reed asked, once more focusing his attention on the wedding. This was his sister's day, dammit, and he wasn't going to let Harris ruin it.
“Just passing on some information to you that I thought you'd appreciate.” Harris' expression was impossible to read as he continued. “You've heard about Tucker's father?”
“Yes,” Malcolm replied hesitantly. This was already touching on his “old life” and he didn't quite know where the other man was going with it.
“Terra Prime knows about him also. We're getting an increase of chatter among several of their known cells, and I suspect they're going to try something.” Annoyance flashed across the older man's face. “Those fanatics are starting to turn into a problem. A problem that will need to be dealt with.” Harris abruptly smiled. “See to it, Malcolm. But remember ... no contact with anyone from your old life.”
The monitor blanked out and Reed studied the wedding image for a moment longer. With a sigh, he minimized it once more and began re-examining his available assets. Local authorities would need to be informed, but given the current state of affairs on Earth, it was entirely possible that Terra Prime had sympathizers present. Given Trip's propensity for getting himself injured, Malcolm reflected that Tucker would need a bodyguard to keep him out of trouble. Reed sighed again as his head began to hurt.
Harris had quite thoroughly ruined his day.
Her day had already been thoroughly ruined.
A slight frown on her face, Commander T'Pol studied the incoming reports with a growing sense of frustration. According to the timetable that she had drawn up months earlier following Starfleet Command's decision to restore the NC-06 to an active role in the war, Endeavour should have been at full combat status by now. As was all too often with humans, however, Trip and Lieutenant Commander Hess had conspired together and made an abrupt change in the repair schedule without even consulting her, all to make an adjustment based on Trip's “gut.” Sometimes, she wondered if the inability to follow a plan without alteration was a racial deficiency in humanity or if it was simply one of Trip's character flaws. Admittedly, this unscheduled innovation would result in additional energy output, but the fact that the first officer had not even been informed of the change was frustrating.
But then, dealing with humans was always frustrating.
Leaning back in the chair, T'Pol exhaled slowly and focused on controlling the unruly emotions that were coursing through her. She grudgingly admitted that the anger she was experiencing had as much to do with the current situation as it did with her current annoyance at her mate. Less than a week earlier, he had issued a new ship-wide standing order without consulting her or any of his other senior officers. It was now common knowledge among the officers and crew of Endeavour that, unless the captain specifically stated otherwise, she was barred from all away missions or landing parties.
T'Pol frowned once more as she grimly acknowledged that she should have anticipated this from him. When they were alone, he'd made no attempt to conceal how terrified he had been during her brief captivity aboard Harrad-Sar's ship, and, as she had discovered in the years since she'd first met him, Trip often allowed his emotions to dictate his actions. This was no different and should not have come as a surprise.
But knowing how he thought didn't make his actions any easier to stomach.
Despite her annoyed anger, she found herself partially amused at Trip's over-protectiveness. Though he cloaked it behind the annoying machismo that all human males seemed intent on cultivating, she knew that he cherished her very much, and his desire to keep her from harm was oddly endearing. Had he explained his decision-making process in a logical and unemotional way, she might even have been willing to accede without complaint. After all, the drive to protect one's mate was at the heart of the telepathic bond that connected them. True to form, however, he remained unresponsive toward her entreaties and refused even to discuss the order.
It was, she mused angrily, quite annoying.
The chirp of a door annunciator broke the silence, and T'Pol straightened slightly in her chair as she glanced toward the door.
“Enter,” she said loudly. A moment later, Lieutenant Commander Eisler appeared in the doorway, a PADD in one hand. He entered the ready room and approached the desk, offering the data device.
“The progress report you wanted on Commander Hess' repairs, ma'am,” he announced. The tactical officer placed the PADD on the desk before assuming a parade rest stance. “Weapon and defensive systems are both at one hundred percent, but navigation and engineering are still running behind schedule.”
“Thank you, Commander,” T'Pol replied as she glanced over the PADD. Another sigh threatened her normal poise at the numbers she saw there. At least four days would be required before Endeavour was fully combat operational and, based on the rumors coming out of Starfleet Command, that was unacceptable. “What is the delay?” she asked tightly and Eisler shrugged slightly.
“I don't know, ma'am,” the lieutenant commander responded. “I'm not an engineer.” T'Pol gave him a glance, wondering if she'd imagined his slight emphasis on the word “engineer,” but Eisler's expression didn't change. “If you want me to, I'll ask Commander Hess to draft another report.”
At that, T'Pol nearly frowned once more. If Trip were here, she suspected that he would already know what was taking so long. Knowing him as she did, she also theorized that he would have some unnecessarily risky yet ultimately effective “short-cut” in mind that would halve the repair time. And, if previous experience was any judge, that short cut would have a better than fifty percent chance of putting him in Sickbay.
“That will not be necessary, Commander,” she declared, deciding that it was probably for the best that Trip was Earthside. The tactical officer nodded and turned toward the door. He paused at the entryway and T'Pol glanced up to find him studying her with a curious expression on his face. She quirked an eyebrow at his look.
“Have you heard anything about the captain's father, ma'am?” Eisler asked in response to her unspoken question.
“Acute myocardial infarction,” T'Pol said calmly. “I do not know the prognosis.” The tactical officer's expression shifted to one that she didn't quite recognize and she narrowed her eyes in mild confusion. Despite her familiarity with Trip's body language, she still found herself struggling to comprehend the gestures of other humans. Eisler gave her a nod and ducked through the doorway, leaving her alone with her thoughts once more.
Inevitably, her thoughts drifted toward Trip's father, and she spent a moment staring at the drydock struts beyond the viewport. Though it was an illogical waste of time, she found herself hoping that Charles Junior would make a recovery. She had only met him four times, but each time he had displayed an easy charisma and friendliness toward her that was welcome. To her surprise, the elder Charles Tucker had accepted her into their family without question or hesitation; Trip had even accused his father of “flirting” with her on their second meeting during a curious human tradition called a “barbecue.” It was not difficult to see where her mate had inherited his charm and outgoing nature.
Elaine Tucker, on the other hand, remained an enigma. When she had first met Trip's mother, T'Pol had been amazed – and slightly uncomfortable, if she were entirely honest – at how unlike other humans the woman was. Reserved but confident, Mrs. Tucker seemed to be the antithesis of all things Terran. Though she clearly cherished her adun and offspring, the human woman kept her other emotions and thoughts tightly concealed behind a veneer of composure that reminded T'Pol of her own mother. The similarity between Mrs. Tucker and T'Pol's own personality had even been a source of amusement to the rest of Trip's family.
“My God, Trip,” William Tucker had exclaimed when they first met. “She's just like Mom!”
The observation had been made with feigned shock and had been spoken in a jesting manner, but had actually caused a considerable amount of discomfort for Trip. It was, T'Pol supposed, the first time that her mate had actually examined the similarities between her and his mother, and had caused him unnecessary emotional distress. Using ship's business as an excuse, he had even gone out of his way to avoid her while coming to terms with the unexpected discovery. On the tenth day, however, T'Pol had tired of his avoidance of her and had taken steps to rectify the situation. Using her superior mastery of their bond, she had bombarded him with amorous thoughts and sensations all day; confused and so aroused that he couldn't think straight, Trip hadn't even sensed her presence in his cabin when he retired for the evening. Creative explanations had been required to explain to then-Captain Archer why his chief engineer needed a day off to recover.
Despite her residual anger toward Trip for his recent actions, T'Pol smiled slightly at the memory.
An hour passed as T’Pol worked on the voluminous paperwork that would normally be part of Trip's job. Most of it was routine: promotion papers for enlisted personnel, additional requisitions for parts and equipment from the quartermaster, or even signing off on awards for exceptional crewmen. With a barely noticeable sigh, T'Pol placed her thumb on the small optical scanner; serving as a digital signature, the scanned thumb print officially acknowledged that Lieutenant Junior Grade Elizabeth Cutler had been reassigned to Starfleet Medical on Earth. The lieutenant would be missed, T'Pol noted, particularly by Doctor Phlox, who had been almost entirely responsible for her battlefield commission in the wake of the Expanse mission.
“Bridge to Commander T'Pol.” Lieutenant Devereux's voice emerged from the comm panel, interrupting the Vulcan's study of additional reassignment orders. Without shifting her eyes from the datasheet before her, T'Pol reached for the 'Transmit' button on the panel and depressed it.
“This is T'Pol,” she declared.
“Incoming transmission from Starfleet Command,” Devereux announced. “It's marked 'Eyes Only, 'ma'am.” T'Pol raised an eyebrow at that.
“Transfer it to the ready room, Lieutenant,” the first officer ordered as she minimized the transfer orders on her screen.
“Aye, ma'am. Stand by.”
A moment passed before the screen before her changed to the United Earth Space Probe Agency seal. T'Pol frowned; Endeavour was still in drydock over humanity's homeworld, so the transmission should have been instantaneous.
“Commander T'Pol,” a heavily distorted voice abruptly stated, and the Vulcan quirked an eyebrow in reaction. Whoever the owner of this voice was clearly did not wish to be identified. “Per your agreement with Achilles, I am contacting you with important information.” T'Pol froze, recognizing the codename instantly as the program that had resulted in Lieutenant Junior Grade Nathaniel Hayes' illegal genetic augmentation. Use of that name could only mean that this voice was a member of Hayes' mysterious “Section.”
“Do not attempt to trace this transmission,” the modulated voice ordered even as T'Pol was inputting commands for that very purpose. She ignored the suggestion. “You will find that I am not where your trace tells you I am.”
“And who are you?” she asked as the trace program began working.
“Call me ... Lazarus,” the voice replied, and T'Pol frowned at the unfamiliar name. She was inputting the name into Endeavour's computers even as the voice continued. “Captain Tucker is in mortal danger.”
Time seemed to freeze as T'Pol drew in a sharp breath. Her desire to identify the mysterious benefactor was forgotten as her Vulcan instincts began screaming to protect her mate. Nothing else mattered.
“Do I have your attention?” the voice of “Lazarus” asked, and T'Pol instinctively nodded, barely aware of the human trait that she'd adopted so readily.
“You do,” she replied quickly. “Elaborate.”
“Terra Prime is initiating an operation against him in retaliation for his actions on Mars.” Anger pulsed through T'Pol at that, and she glowered at the screen before her. “Specifics are unknown and local authorities are of ... dubious character,” the voice continued. “Counter-operations are being planned, but protection for the captain is out of our mandate.”
“I understand,” T'Pol responded as she began to plan her next move. “I will see to it personally.”
“Of course you will.” Lazarus sounded almost amused, despite the electronic modulation, and the Vulcan frowned slightly at that. “I do not recommend that you involve Starfleet Security either, Commander. Terra Prime influences have not yet been fully purged.”
A chirp sounded as the transmission disconnected. Less than a second later, T’Pol’s trace program announced success, and she grimaced slightly at the results; somehow, she doubted that Commodore Archer was this Lazarus person. Glancing quickly over the results of the name search, she quirked an eyebrow at the data. Based on a human religious parable about a man being restored to life by a supernatural messiah figure, the name gave her no immediate insight into the identity of the man or woman behind the voice. It was, for the time being however, irrelevant. She reached for the comm panel once more.
“Commander Eisler to the ready room,” she ordered with more calm than she actually felt. For a moment, T'Pol wondered how much she should tell the lieutenant commander about the threat against Trip's life before realizing that she couldn't tell him anything without compromising the source of the intelligence. Another quick moment of reflection made the situation even more starkly clear: Lieutenant Hayes was planetside, attending a mandatory training school for his job as Endeavour's weapon system officer, and Phlox was on personal leave.
It was up to her.