If it were up to him, hospital food would be banned as a weapon of mass destruction.
Standing before the beverage dispenser, Trip hefted the small cup of coffee and sniffed it once before taking a sip. Almost instantly, he grimaced at the foul taste and quickly reached for the artificial sweetener. Tastes worse than warp coolant, he reflected bitterly as he dumped several packets of the sugar substitute into the cup. Glancing around, he fought back a frown as he became aware of the numerous eyes on him.
It wasn't a new sensation, but it was definitely one he didn't care for. Popular opinion on the ongoing war remained sharply divided, with vocal minorities on both sides of the issue desperately trying to dictate policy. The warhawks – usually made up of men and women who had never fired a weapon in their lives – were loud in their demands that even more aggressive action be taken; in their eyes, Starfleet should be fielding starships bristling with weapons and the captains of those vessels should be shooting first. Questions, if absolutely necessary, could be asked later.
At the opposite end of the political spectrum were equally radical voices opposed to war, regardless of the reason and no matter how necessary. To these people, the wounds from the seven million dead Xindi assault were still healing, and they insisted that, despite clear evidence throughout history to the contrary, violence did not solve the problem. In the eyes of this group of radicals, Starfleet was the problem, and they clamored for complete disarmament, convinced that the Romulans were only attacking out of a perceived threat from humanity, ignoring the mounting evidence that the mysterious attackers were interested only in conquest.
The lack of a coherent political will at the very top of United Earth's government only served to make things even more difficult for members of Starfleet like Trip. As the number of casualties grew and colonies were lost, the UE government was paralyzed with indecision. In a move that mirrored the previous administration's solution to the Xindi attack, Earth turned to Starfleet and gave them free rein to wage the war as they thought appropriate.
Unexpectedly, an organization devoted to peaceful exploration of space had been transformed almost overnight into a military. Scientists were suddenly expected to become soldiers and diplomats at the drop of a hat with little new training. The focus on sensors and scientific equipment shifted toward weapon suites and defensive networks. Now, instead of eagerly looking forward to achieving greater warp velocities and flirting with T'Pol in front of Jon, Trip found himself having to give orders that would send young men and women to their deaths.
Cognizant of the eyes on him – or, more accurately, on his uniform – Trip approached the order window, wondering if the lady manning the register would react in the same way the previous attendant had. Never before had he been as disgusted with his fellow humans as he had six hours earlier.
“Murderer!” the pimply-faced boy had called him, before launching into an ill-informed and emotionally-charged diatribe about Earth being ultimately responsible for this war. It had taken every gram of Trip's self-control to keep from responding with a right cross. Instead, he had politely thanked the young man and returned to his father's room.
“Can I help you, Captain?” the girl manning the register asked, her voice devoid of the anger he'd faced earlier. For a heartbeat, he was surprised at her accurate recognition of his rank, but he pushed it away and smiled slightly, hoping that she was sane. After the day he'd had already, Trip didn't think he had the strength to deal with another argument about the war.
“I'd like a cheeseburger and fries,” he replied as he fished out his cred-chit from his pocket. “Extra mustard, no ketchup, no onions.” As the cashier input the order, he momentarily let himself imagine the look of horrified disgust that would have crossed T'Pol's face at his choice of food if she were present.
“Please have a seat, and I'll bring your meal to you, sir,” the young woman remarked as she returned his cred-chit. With a nod, Trip carried his cup of faux-coffee to an isolated table near a wall monitor and sat. Several minutes passed in relative silence as he sipped from the cup and watched the newsfeed, and in those minutes, his mood continued to darken. A pair of news anchors pontificated loudly over the various operations being conducted by Starfleet, operations that Trip knew for a fact were supposed to be classified. He quietly shook his head in disgust at the blatant misrepresentations that were poorly disguised as news. It sounded more like propaganda to him.
When his meal arrived, he gave the attendant another smile, noting almost instantly her curious hesitance. Suspecting that she wanted to ask him something, he gave her his full attention. Under his look, she swallowed and blushed slightly.
“Could I ask you a question, sir?” Trip smiled at the formality, even as he wondered if he'd ever been this young or naive.
“You can ask,” he replied with a twinkle in his eyes, “but I can't promise to answer.” Once more, she flushed, and Trip glanced at her nametag. His stomach lurched instantly. T'Pol is gonna kill me, he reflected with morbid amusement.
“I'm just curious about Starfleet, sir,” the young girl declared and Tucker blinked in mild surprise at that. “About the training. Is it as hard as they say?”
“That depends,” Trip replied. “I don't know who they are, or what they say.” She gave him a cautious smile and he decided to abandon humor. “It takes a lot of guts to think about signin' up with the war goin' on.” Another flush darkened her features. “How old are you, Amanda?” The young woman gave him a startled look when he used her name, and he smiled as he tapped the nametag on his own uniform.
“Sixteen, sir.” Inwardly, Tucker grimaced at that. The memory of the two eighteen year-old engineering crewmen who had died with Lieutenant Commander Drahn flashed across his mind's eye, and he winced.
“You've still got a couple of years before Starfleet will accept you,” he pointed out, and she nodded.
“Yes, sir.” She stood up straighter. “But I want to join, sir. My brother is aboard Columbia under Captain Hernandez and his stories are exciting!” Trip almost asked her to identify her brother in the offhand chance that he knew the man, but quickly decided against it. After all, it wasn't his job to recruit.
“Finish school, darlin',” he drawled before giving her a grin. She returned the smile with one of her own. “We only take the best,” Trip continued, “so I'm sure you'll do fine.”
As she returned to her register, now smiling brightly, Tucker returned his attention to the newsfeed on the monitor. His good mood vanished almost instantly as the casualty list continued to scroll along the left side of the screen, and the newscasters reported a clash between anti-war protesters and supporters of the conflict. Suddenly, the burger and fries weren't that appealing any more.
Twenty minutes later found Trip back at his father's room, no longer hungry but still in a lousy mood. He'd lost track of how long he'd been in the hospital as he sat in one of the uncomfortable chairs. William was gone, having taken an autocab to their parents’ house several hours earlier, and Trip's mom was still at home, hopefully sleeping. At the moment, it was just him and his father.
Once more, boredom began to set in, and Trip pulled the PADD he had brought with him out of his jacket. Switching it on, he spent several minutes reading the translated Kir'Shara in a possibly vain attempt to understand the woman he loved. He'd read the entire thing four times already and, despite his best efforts, a number of the precepts continued to elude comprehension.
As it always did, reading the Kir'Shara brought T'Pol to mind, and Trip grimaced at the coming headache. Though she'd never admit it to him, he knew that she was pissed off at him for barring her from landing missions and, for once, he admitted that she was right. He was acting emotionally; but dammit, he wasn't going to let her get killed.
Rubbing his temple with his free hand, he glowered at the same screen as if it were Surak's fault that T'Pol was so damned frustrating. Normally, he enjoyed it when they argued. It was, as Hoshi had once joked, their own personal foreplay, and nothing got him quite as fired up as T'Pol did. This was different, however. Ever since her trellium addiction, T'Pol had struggled with control, and when she was genuinely angry, Trip could feel it through the bond.
Most of the time, the resulting psychic backlash that occurred when T’Pol’s emotions flared was manageable. Sometimes, it even had enjoyable benefits, especially when they were experiencing the same emotions; sex, for example, was absolutely mind-blowing, and Trip was happily convinced that she'd ruined him for life in that department. But when she was having a bad day, he occasionally had to visit Phlox for analgesics. Afterwards, though, she was always impossibly sweet and loving as she tried to make up for the pain she'd put him through.
He usually milked those moments for all they were worth.
With a frustrated sigh, Trip set the PADD aside and stood. He walked to the window and studied the Jacksonville landscape beyond. Night was approaching, and he made it a habit to watch the sun set whenever he was planetside.
Abruptly his communicator chirped, and he drew it in an easy, practiced motion that was almost second nature now. Flipping it open, he spoke as he watched an ambulance shuttle lift off the tarmac.
“This is Tucker.”
“Hey.” Commodore Archer's voice emerged from the small device, oddly distorted but still recognizable. It was a measure of their friendship that the older man didn't even identify himself, trusting Tucker to know who he was simply by the sound of his voice. “How's your dad?” Archer asked.
“Sleeping,” Tucker replied as he returned his attention to the flashing lights of the medical shuttle. It was rapidly disappearing downtown. “The doctors say he's gonna make it, but they wanna keep him here for a couple more nights.”
“That's great news, Trip!” the commodore exclaimed and Tucker nodded absently as he dialed down the volume on the communicator. He gave his father a quick glance, hoping that they hadn't woken him, and was relieved to see the older man still asleep. Evidently, the drugs he'd been given were good ones.
“Yes, sir,” he replied before sighing again. “Are you still flyin' in tonight? Mom would love to see you.”
“I can't make it tonight, Trip,” Archer said, and Tucker smirked at the annoyance in Jon's voice. “Staff meetings,” the commodore continued, making no effort to conceal his disgust. “The usual problem.”
Trip's smirk vanished at Archer's emphasis of the word “usual.” In recent weeks, it had become their code word for Admiral Black since he was, usually, the problem. A sour expression crossed Tucker's face as he recalled the less than diplomatically worded order that Jon had been forced to relay from Fleet Admiral Gardner: “The non-frat policy has not been suspended for any member of Starfleet, and officers who violate it will be disciplined.”
Black's fingerprints were all over that order.
To make matters worse, Trip had then been informed that Lieutenant Commander Eisler would not be considered for promotion until he had completed several key UESPA training schools. Given the state of the ongoing conflict, however, and the fact that Eisler was irreplaceable aboard Endeavour, that effectively eliminated the chances of his being promoted.
“Understood,” Trip said into the communicator. “Let us know when you're arrivin', sir, and we'll have the spare bed rolled out.”
“Will do,” Jon replied, the annoyance replaced by amusement. “Archer out.”
With a sigh, Tucker returned the communicator to his pocket and spent several minutes staring at the skyline. He watched the city come alive with lights as the sun slowly dropped below the horizon. It was always an inspiring thing to watch, and he wished T'Pol were here to see it.
“An agreeable sight,” came her soft voice, and he jerked his head around in surprise to find her standing less than two meters away. For a long moment, he stared at her, too startled at her unexpected appearance to even comment. She was dressed in civilian clothes that reminded him of what she had worn on their first ill-fated trip to Vulcan, but her hair, once more trimmed to its normal length, was brushed over her ears. Aside from her eyebrows, there was nothing to immediately identify her as a Vulcan.
“You cut your hair,” he blurted before mentally kicking himself at the stupidity of the statement. In reply, she quirked an eyebrow and glanced toward his father.
“How is your father?” she asked, giving the window an almost uncomfortable look. In deference to her greater sense of privacy, he closed the blinds as he began to explain his dad's condition.
For a moment, he almost forgot that she was mad at him.
She was mad at him.
As he manipulated the controls on the shuttlepod, Jon Archer struggled to keep the smile off his face at the absurdity of the situation. When he had contacted Erika to tell her about the sudden change of plans, he had known she wasn't going to take it well. After all, they hadn't seen one another in nearly three months.
“I'm sorry,” he apologized as he adjusted his heading slightly. “But I promised Trip that I'd stop by and see how his dad is doing.”
A long moment passed in relative silence, and Jon gave the comm panel a quick look to make sure that it was still transmitting. His amusement faded as he realized the extent of her annoyance; instinctively, he sighed softly in frustration. Why did dealing with women always have to be so damned complicated?
“And how is Captain Tucker's father?” she asked, her voice slightly distorted over the communication line but still tighter than normal.
“I think he'll make it,” Jon replied as he studied the incoming flight data and once more adjusted his heading. Most pilots would have long since let the autopilot assume control for the relatively short trans-continental trip, but Archer missed flying so much that he had maintained a hands-on approach the entire time. “The doctors are keeping him under observation for a few more days, but I promised...” He trailed off, hoping she'd let it go. After all, getting away from the idiots at Starfleet Command before he went on a shooting rampage was nearly as important as checking up on Trip's dad.
“All right,” Erika stated after another long moment of silence. “I'll forgive you this time.” Her voice was teasing, and Jon smiled even though she couldn't see it. “I should be planetside in a few hours,” she continued. “Call me later?”
“I've got a better idea,” Archer said in response. “Why don't you fly out here? Trip would love to see you again and there's this fantastic steak place I'd love to take you.”
“We'll see,” she said in response, and he could hear the smile in her voice. “I've got to go, Jon. Love you,” came her final statement before the comm-line went dead, and Archer smiled broadly. Despite the dark days still ahead of them, he was surprised to discover that he was happy ...
And it was all because of Erika.
It had been her constant presence and support that got him through the difficult weeks after Elysium. There had already been a connection between them even before then, but it had deepened as he struggled with his difficult recovery. Try as he might, Jon couldn't imagine life without Erika in it, and he found himself smiling at the mental image of what her expression would be when he popped the question.
Banking the shuttlepod slightly, Archer studied the approach profile being uploaded from the Jacksonville International Starport with growing annoyance. He sighed at how long he was going to be parked in a waiting profile. Briefly, he wondered if he should exercise his rank and land at the Naval Air Station instead but, almost at once, decided against doing so. There were already enough civilian complaints about Starfleet personnel getting preferential treatment in aerospace matters, and Jon didn't want to add any more fuel to the fire.
Nearly two hours passed before he was finally on the ground and heading toward the Tucker residence. As he wasn't that familiar with the Jacksonville area, he input the address and let the car's autodrive function take over before turning his attention to the status reports that never seemed to end. Glumly, he reflected that the amount of paperwork one had to sift through seem to multiply exponentially as one rose through the ranks.
Manpower shortages were the continuing bane of Starfleet Command, and had been the driving reason behind the Daedalus-class being as heavily automated as it was. With a small but extremely vocal segment of Earth's population actively dedicated to opposing the war with the Romulans for reasons that defied Jon's comprehension, recruitment continued to be a problem. The media, ever a problem in times of war, only exacerbated the problem by focusing on the setbacks, and updated the casualty lists on an hourly basis. Sometimes, Jon was afraid that Earth would actually need to be attacked again before humanity would wake up.
Setting aside the PADD for a moment, he glanced through the windshield and studied the massive buildings of Florida's most populous city. In the weeks after the Xindi attack, Jacksonville had been flooded with refugees who had survived the attack but no longer had a home to return to. Already the largest city in the state, the sudden influx of people from Miami and Tampa, both rendered nearly uninhabitable due to environmental damage, came close to destroying the local economy. Even now, Jon could still see the aftermath of the sudden population boom as the car cruised through the streets; never before had he seen as many homeless as he did in that moment.
It was a sobering realization as the car merged onto Interstate 10 and accelerated to match the speed limit. Reclamation efforts and social programs continued to struggle under the weight of the damage wrought by the attack, and it wasn't much of a surprise that many anti-war activists made Florida their base of operations. Nothing was quite as effective as protesting a war in front of the massive canyon that had once been Gainesville, or Ocala, or Orlando.
Ironically, new recruits from the Florida-Georgia area seemed to outnumber any other location on the globe per capita, almost as if in direct response to the anti-war protesters.
Another twenty minutes passed before the car slowed and exited the interstate. Looking up from the paperwork that he'd been focused on, Jon blinked in surprise at how much the area had expanded since he'd last visited here. Dozens of new homes had been built, and twice that number were in various states of construction. A massive billboard announced the future location of a mega-store, and Archer found himself shaking his head in staggered awe at the tenacity of human beings. Despite the nearly crippling wounds inflicted by the Xindi attack, people were moving forward with their lives in defiance of the damage.
He took over from the autodrive and turned onto the street leading to the Tucker residence. Three vehicles were parked in the small driveway, and Jon parked next to another rental vehicle that he presumed to be Trip's. He glanced at his overnight bag before deciding to leave it where it was; after all, it was entirely possible that the Tuckers might be overwhelmed with visiting family and he didn't want to presume that he'd be staying here.
Billy Tucker met him at the doorway, looking so much like a younger Trip that Jon had to smile. They shook hands.
“Glad you could make it, Commodore,” the younger man said, a smirk on his face.
“It's Jon,” Archer reminded him as he followed the man into the two-level house. “You know that.” Billy's refusal to use his name had turned into something of a running joke between the two of them, one borne of tragedy. It had been to William that Jon had turned when Archer was working through how to cope with Trip's reaction to baby Elizabeth's death. Acting against Starfleet orders, Jon had contacted the younger man and relayed the extent of Trip's loss in the hopes that Billy could rally the rest of his family to help him get over the latest Tucker loss.
“Mom's at the hospital, and Trip and T'Pol are in one of the spare bedrooms,” Billy revealed, and Jon started in slight surprise; he didn't know that the Vulcan had accompanied Trip. With another grin, the younger Tucker explained. “She just got in last night. I don't know the specifics.” He gave Jon a questioning look. “You want a beer?”
“Love one,” Archer replied before nodding toward the hall. “But bathroom first.” Billy nodded as he and pointed toward the hall. As he passed in front of the spare bedroom, he gave it a glance...
And froze in surprise.
Still dressed, Trip and T'Pol were asleep together on the bed. They were facing the doorway, with Trip spooned behind the Vulcan and one hand draped over her body in an almost possessive embrace. His nose buried in her hair, Tucker looked more peaceful than Jon had ever seen him. T'Pol was equally sedate in appearance as she shifted slightly, her hand instinctively seeking out her mate's. As the sleeping couple interlocked fingers, Archer was startled to see the hint of a smile cross T'Pol's face.
His mind whirling, Jon quietly pulled the door shut in deference to T'Pol's sense of privacy. Unexpectedly, he found himself smiling broadly, and he fought to keep a chuckle from emerging as he considered the scene that he'd just witnessed. This was, as far as he could remember, the first instance in which he'd actually seen that the two were a couple… in human terms, that was.
There had been many instances of Trip and T’Pol displaying Vulcan affection in the past, after all. Jon remembered seeing them do the curious two-finger caress that he'd observed other Vulcan couples perform on numerous occasions, but he had never asked about it. Even though he'd always suspected that it was the equivalent of a kiss, he had been afraid to ask in the event that he found out it was much, much more than that.
Seeing them together in a very human fashion finally washed away the last of Archer’s preconceptions about T'Pol. If he was entirely honest with himself, Jon had always wondered if an expressive person like Trip could handle not being able to display his affection in a public manner. After seeing them together, however, Archer suspected they more than made up for it in private settings. Glancing in the bathroom mirror, he found himself grinning like a fool and struggled to wipe the goofy look off his face.
He was still grinning when he rejoined Billy in the living room, and the younger man gave him a funny look. In reply, Jon took his beer and downed a healthy swallow.
“It's nothing,” he said in reply to William's unspoken question. “Good beer,” Archer remarked, as he looked around the living room. Mementos of the Tucker family were everywhere, whether they were newer digital captures or ancient photographs from years gone by. He drew in a sharp breath at an unexpected image of baby Elizabeth on one of the mantels; anger came at once, hot and fast, and he clenched his glass tightly as he looked away. He closed his eyes and exhaled slowly, taking a moment to regain his calm.
“So, how's Ireland?” Jon asked Billy as he took a seat on one of the couches. A dog person, he barely paid attention to the Tucker's cat as it leaped down from the couch and stalked away with an angry hiss.
The hiss of a door opening was his only warning.
Acting purely on instinct, Soval rolled from his bed, striking the floor with a heavy thump and putting himself between the bed and the far wall. Less than a second later, the distinctive whine of a disruptor pierced the silence and an emerald beam of light flashed from the doorway, burning into the bed with lethal fire. A second burst of energy immediately slashed into the room, carving a fiery chunk out of the plasticrete wall.
Even as a third and fourth stream of light flashed out, Soval was reacting. The hand disruptor that he kept concealed on the far side of the bed fell into his hand, and he struck another hidden release. Instantly, the floor opened beneath him and he rolled into the small tunnel below the floor. Soval had never before utilized the escape tunnel, a relic of his past as an intelligence operative.
The tunnel slid downward at a sharp angle, and Soval hit the floor of the underground cellar feet first. Adrenaline was pounding through his body, stripping him of the infirmities of old age, and he darted toward the armored cabinet at the far end of the small cellar. He put his hand on the scanner and, a moment later, the door popped open. Moving quickly, he discarded the hand disruptor and reached for the larger pistol within.
Spinning in place, he drew a bead on the exit tunnel even as a body slid into the cellar. Without hesitation, Soval squeezed the trigger and sent a pulse of lethal fire into the chest of the newcomer. There wasn't a sound as the figure crumpled into an unmoving heap. Heart pounding, Soval didn't move for a long moment, his aim unwavering as he aimed into the mouth of the tunnel.
When no one else appeared, Soval gave the armored cabinet another look and frowned. On the inside of the small door was a sensor display keyed just to his home. Five bio-signatures were detected on the upper level of the house, and Soval made a rapid decision. The likelihood of his surviving an extended firefight with five unknown individuals was minimal at best. He was too old for such extended physical activity, and the skills he had learned as an intelligence operative had long since atrophied. Logic dictated an immediate retreat until he had a better idea of whom and what he was facing.
Speed was of the essence, but Soval nevertheless forced himself to slow down. He couldn't afford to become careless in his urgency. Snapping a tactical vest over his underclothes, he checked the charge of the two smaller disruptor pistols in the cabinet before holstering them and pulling a loose-fitting robe over the vest. As he adjusted his feet in a pair of old but comfortable boots, he glanced once more at the sensor display and frowned again. Seven signatures were now present, and two of them were in his bedroom. He was running out of time.
Yuris warned me that something was wrong, he reflected bitterly as he began inputting an old code into the computer array. He recalled the poorly suppressed fear that had been on the other Vulcan's face when they had spoken via comm earlier, and Soval wondered briefly if placing the two children rescued from Vigrid Station in the disgraced doctor's care had been a mistake. It was a decision that had plagued Soval's meditations afterwards, one that he now questioned. Though he was loath to admit it even to himself, guilt had played a significant factor in his illogical choice of seeking out the doctor's aid. After all, it had been Soval's own ward who had been partially responsible for Yuris' disgrace.
The computer display flashed in acknowledgment of his command, and he hefted the heavy pistol once more.
“A'fic: tu'ash,” he said as he approached the concealed exit. Without a sound the wall slid open, revealing a ladder leading down, and Soval quickly began to climb down. He spared only a single glance at the fallen figure and frowned at the unexpected ridges on the Vulcan's forehead; they were all too reminiscent of those on the faces of the two children currently in Yuris' care.
Overhead, the concealed door closed and, twenty seconds later, Soval could feel the explosion rumble through the rungs of the ladder.
The explosive charge was negligible, sufficient only to destroy the cellar and potentially collapse a portion of his home, but it would hopefully slow any further pursuit. Another side benefit would be to alert the local authorities and emergency services – providing that they weren't already compromised.
By the time Soval reached the bottom of the ladder, his body was screaming in protest and his breath came in ragged gasps. The adrenaline surge had long since faded and he was once again an old Vulcan, too near his final days to be engaging in late night firefights and narrow escapes. He wanted his tea and meditation candles.
The ladder ended in a small tunnel that opened up into a wider complex. A small anti-grav sled was waiting, concealed under a heavy tarp, and Soval gave it an appraising look. When he had purchased it, the sled had been state-of-the art and equipped with every trick he could envision. It had cost him a small fortune, one that he hadn't hesitated to pay. With a wry look at the vehicle that was easily three years older than T'Pol, the ambassador sighed at the foolishness of youth.
Fortunately, the grav-sled was still functional and the engine engaged on the first try. Activating the onboard navigation system, he allowed the autodrive function to take control so as to avoid having to illuminate the head lamps. It was an uncomfortable trip, traversing the absolute darkness of the tunnel without being able to see anything, but he swallowed his unease and waited.
Originally a part of an underground sewer system, the tunnels had been abandoned over three centuries earlier, but, as a testament to those who had constructed them, they remained intact and traversable. Many were the Vulcan children who had discovered these lost sewers over the years, and Soval didn't want to theorize how many had used them to escape from their parents for a time.
It was, after all, how he had originally discovered them.
Twenty long minutes passed before he reached a safe exit point. Quickly programming the grav-sled to continue to another, more distant point in an attempt to throw off any additional pursuit, Soval stared at the ladder before him with distaste. His muscles immediately began protesting as he started his climb, but he calmly disassociated the sensation and focused on his breathing.
The ladder ended a half meter above a sealed hatch and Soval fished an access key out of his pocket. Without a sound, the hatch retracted, allowing the ambassador to climb up onto the alleyway. He resealed the hatch before drawing the hood up over his head and starting toward the street beyond.
Like most streets on his homeworld, the avenue was brightly lit to compensate for poor Vulcan night-vision. As he stepped out of the alleyway, Soval took a moment to study the few inhabitants who walked along the narrow streets. Unsurprisingly, there was little to hear beyond the ambient sounds of passing vehicles or the hum of the electronic street lamps. Equally expected was the wide berth that Soval was given; that was, after all, what he had intended.
Although his robe was relatively normal in appearance, the broad sash that he wore over it was a distinctive one. Dark red in color, it bore traditional Vulcan symbols in bright gold stitching. This sash marked him as someone bearing the katra of another and, by Vulcan tradition, meant he was not to be spoken to or interfered with so as to avoid potentially tainting the katra. Though wearing the sash had fallen out of practice as the kash-nohv was made illegal, most Vulcans still recognized what it meant and honored the tradition.
And it made an ideal disguise for someone on the run.
Walking slowly through the streets, Soval kept his hands together, concealed under the sleeves of the robe, and his head down. Under the sleeves, he gripped the disruptor tightly with one hand, hoping that he would not have to use it again. He slowed his pace at a street crossing and lifted his eyes to study the street address.
A muted siren caught his attention and he glanced to the right, instantly frowning at the sight of emergency vehicles turning onto the street that would lead them to Doctor Yuris' residence. Soval pushed down an uneasy feeling and followed, once more grateful for his disguise as no one seemed interested in questioning his presence. Rounding the corner, he stopped at the sight of a fiery blaze that had engulfed Yuris' home.
Inching closer to the circle of emergency workers, Soval looked among them for indication of the mysterious cranial ridges, but he found none. Three covered bodies were present and Soval felt almost certain that they were Yuris and the two children. As he considered the best way to gain access to the bodies to verify that, one of the emergency workers lifted the cloth covering the larger corpse; Soval exhaled softly in sadness at the charred features of the doctor before he turned and strode away.
An hour passed as he walked toward the human sector. In that time, the ambassador deduced a number of things. First, whatever Yuris had discovered was more dangerous than Soval had expected. When he had placed the two children in the doctor's care, Soval had also asked that Yuris conduct a genetic scan of them and their dead mother in hopes of identifying why they bore the cranial ridges. As time passed and his duties in T'Pau's administration continued to demand his time, Soval had briefly allowed himself to forget the children and the dangerous theory that he had about them.
Two days earlier, Yuris had contacted Soval and requested a meeting. At the time, the ambassador had been too busy to respond immediately and it had only been after the doctor's second, more urgent communique earlier this morning that Soval had agreed to meet with him.
“I've discovered something, Ambassador,” Yuris had declared, worry visible on his face. “About the children. I cannot transmit this; I need to see you in person.”
The second thing that the ambassador had determined was that Vulcan was no longer safe for him. An assassination attempt in his house was sufficient cause for worry, but the destruction of Yuris' house, and his and the children’s murders, made it perfectly clear that someone didn't want Soval to know what the doctor had discovered. Equally troubling was the fact that only a member of T'Pau's senior cabinet had the command codes to gain entrance into Soval’s home.
Several blocks away from the human sector, Soval ducked into a nondescript building, a shop that traded in pre-Surak artifacts. The proprietor took in the ambassador's expression quickly, only an uplifted eyebrow betraying his surprise before he stepped aside to allow Soval entry into the back room. They had not interacted in over sixty years, but, to the proprietor's credit, no questions were asked.
The small safe house room was stocked with modern equipment and Soval stripped off the robes and tactical vest. He wondered briefly if the proprietor was still in the service of the Ministry of Intelligence, before putting it out of his mind. From one wall cabinet, the ambassador pulled out a newer version of the vest and, from another, he extracted more functional clothes. Once he was dressed, he approached the integrated wall computer and activated it.
“Burun ifis-tor,” he ordered, frowning at the possibilities that flashed across the screen. “Komihn ifis-tor,” Soval amended. Vulcan transports, after all, would be monitored, and few would think to look for him aboard a human craft. One craft leaped out as nearly ideal. According to its flight plan, the ship was scheduled to depart within the hour and was bound for Earth. Soval mentally translated the human ship name to his native tongue: Tesmur Sa-fu.
It was a good sign.
It wasn't a good sign.
Clutching the clipboard he was carrying tightly, Terrence Bailey busied himself with a pretend task to avoid notice. When he had accepted this task, his Terra Prime contacts had insisted that the target would be undefended. As a result, Bailey hadn't even bothered to request backup, instead spending the last several days establishing himself as a nurse in the hospital.
Contrary to the assurances he had received, however, the Vulcan whore was not only present but never left the target's side. Her eyes were rarely still, and she studied everything with a cold analytical expression that reminded Terry of the frightening rumors he had heard about Vulcan psychic abilities. Excitement and fear pulsed through him as he approached to within two meters of the pair, and he concentrated on filling his mind with mundane minutiae in an effort to stave off any telepathic assaults.
The primary target – who bore the unlikely codename “Ben Arnold” in Terra Prime correspondence for reasons that defied Bailey's understanding – gave Terrence an uninterested glance before returning his full attention to the PADD he was studying. His Vulcan companion, however, watched Bailey with a stoic expression on her face as she sat at the captain's side. With a forced smile on his face, Terry checked the IV drip as well as the biobed readings with practiced ease. It was ironic, he reflected, that his normal job made him such an ideal assassin.
From where she sat, the Vulcan – “Lilith” according to Terra Prime codes – shifted slightly, her unblinking eyes fixed on Bailey. If he didn't know better, she could easily pass as human in this moment; her hair was combed over her unnaturally shaped ears and she was wearing civilian clothes that wouldn't look out of place on Terrence's own sister. She even went so far as to hold the traitor's hand in public!
His duties complete, Bailey quickly departed the room, conscious of the Vulcan's eyes on him the entire time. Once back in the hallway, he drew in a steadying breath and glowered at the floor in frustration. The Vulcan's presence seriously complicated his initial plan; no longer could he jump the traitorous captain with a hypospray loaded with a deadly poison. He sighed as he began to evaluate other options.
“The Tucker room?” a voice asked, and Terrence jumped in slight surprise before turning wide eyes to one of his fellow nurses. Carla Espinosa gave him an understanding smile as he nodded. “You get used to her,” she commented as she turned her attention back to the paperwork in front of her.
“I don't know about that,” he muttered darkly. “She creeps me out.” Espinosa gave him another smile, before glancing around to see if they were alone. Once assured that no one was near them, she leaned toward Terrence.
“She's Vulcan,” the nurse whispered, and Bailey gave her a sharp look. “I've seen her ears,” Espinosa continued, now smiling at the shared gossip. Forcing the disgust that he felt for the whore's race from his face, Terrence gave Espinosa a wide-eyed look of surprise.
“But she was holding his hand! Vulcans don't hold hands!” he declared in feigned surprise, swallowing the contempt that surged forward at the look of distracted envy that crossed Espinosa's face. She sighed.
“Isn't it adorable?” she asked with a sigh. “It's like ... a star-crossed Romeo and Juliet!” Still wearing the bemused expression, she turned away.
Stomach rolling, Bailey watched her walk away, eyes narrowed in disdain. Even in this place, so close to the damage wrought by aliens, humanity had become tainted. He snorted softly in disgust at the notion that the Vulcan could even experience an emotion like love. Anyone with eyes could see that she was manipulating Tucker.
Placing the clipboard in the appropriate place, Terrence glanced at the wall chronometer and frowned. His shift wouldn't end for another two hours and, if he wanted to maintain his cover, he couldn't simply leave to contact his Terra Prime associates for additional instructions. For a moment, he toyed with the idea of finding an unused vid-phone and calling from the hospital, but just as quickly discarded the notion as too dangerous.
Over an hour passed during which time two patients coded and one passed away. Bailey almost managed to forget his disgust over Tucker and his Vulcan whore during that time, but the sudden appearance of Commodore Jonathan Archer, dressed in civilian clothes, served as a stark reminder. At one time, Terra Prime had considered attempting to recruit Archer into their ranks, especially once he was named as the commander of Enterprise, but had ultimately decided against doing so as Archer's reputation for being actually interested in alien cultures had circulated. And when his damning testimony condemned Paxton to four subsequent life sentences, any thought of recruitment vanished.
“I'm looking for the Tucker room,” the erstwhile hero of the Xindi war said, a friendly expression on his face.
“Three three six, sir,” Terrence replied smoothly, gesturing to the appropriate door as he gratefully noted that his shift had nearly ended. As he spoke, Tucker and the Vulcan emerged from the room, and Archer started forward once more, a broad smile on his face. The three stood outside the door, speaking softly to one another, and Bailey struggled to keep the glower from his face. Two traitors and an alien whore, he angrily reflected. An idea occurred to him, and he wondered how hard it would be to smuggle an explosive charge into the elder Tucker's room. If they planned it right, they could take out all three at the same time...
As if sensing his thoughts, the Vulcan abruptly turned her eyes toward him, and Bailey quickly looked away. He could almost feel her alien gaze on him as he busied himself with paperwork. I'm no one important, he recited over and over before hefting another clipboard and heading toward the elevator. Shooting a glance over his shoulder, he found the Vulcan's eyes still on him.
Emerging from the elevator at the ground level, Terrence hesitated just long enough to determine that there weren't any law enforcement officers waiting for him before heading toward the main exit. Still holding onto the clipboard, he exited the hospital and strode toward the public transportation stop. He paused several times in the short trip to give handouts to several particularly destitute-looking citizens. Looking into the eyes of these victims of alien aggression, Bailey found his anger resurfacing. If the Vulcans had not held Starfleet back, Earth would have been ready for the Xindi incursion and the seven million wouldn't have died. His parents wouldn't have died. His brothers wouldn't have died.
His wife wouldn't have died.
Forty minutes later, he was entering his safe house, fury still simmering within his heart. It was little more than a rental apartment, but its placement in proximity to the hospital made it perfect for his needs. Once assured that he hadn't been followed, Bailey tossed the clipboard onto the table and sat before the vid-phone. His call was answered on the first ring.
“You're early,” his contact said with some surprise, and Terry frowned.
“There's a complication,” he replied coolly. “Lilith and Loxley have joined Arnold at the hospital.” Terrence frowned as he spoke Archer's codename, wondering briefly where it came from and why it was necessary. On the heels of that, however, he chastised himself. After all, it almost seemed as though Earth's various security forces were intent on waging all-out war on the organization.
“I see.” The contact, a heavyset man with a vaguely Asian cast to his features, leaned back in his chair for a moment before exhaling sharply. “Do you still have access to Arnold's father?”
“Very well. Continue intelligence operations.” The contact offered a sinister smile. “I will dispatch additional resources to assist,” the other man continued before ending the transmission with a flick of his wrist.
“Terra Prime forever,” Terrence muttered under his breath as he stared at the blank screen. With a frustrated sigh, he rose from his seat and walked toward the bathroom, hoping to wash off the stench of human traitors.
Ten minutes later, dreams of fire and vengeance comforted him as he drifted off to sleep.