They were going back to war.
Indications of this fact were everywhere as Jonathan Archer climbed the steps that led to the main entrance to Starfleet Command. Everywhere he looked, armed and armored security troopers were in place, weapons held at the ready and grim expressions on their faces. The area outside the building was swarming with officers and enlisted personnel hurrying to their destinations or engaged in mission critical conversations. Whatever was going on, it was big.
"ID, sir?" The security trooper standing outside the door studied Archer with narrowed eyes as he held out a hand; several steps behind the man were two more armed personnel, their weapons charged and pointed in Jon's general direction. His card already in hand, Archer offered it without hesitation and the lead trooper slid it into a handheld reader. Containing an encrypted microchip and an embedded holographic image of Archer, the card also provided door access inside the secured building. A second later, the reader beeped, and the trooper offered the card back.
"You're clear, sir," he said as Jon accepted the card. "Keep your ID handy, Commodore. We're at Ready Level Alpha."
"Understood, Chief." Archer gave the chief petty officer a nod before striding past him and into the main lobby. Almost instantly, he caught sight of Lieutenant Reynolds in conversation with another security officer. The lieutenant gave him a nod as Jon approached.
"Commodore," he said in greeting. "Good leave, sir?"
"Could have been longer," Archer replied with a tight smile. "And yours?" The lieutenant returned the smile.
"Could have been longer, sir," Reynolds repeated.
"Commodore Archer to Briefing Room Six," a disembodied voice echoed through the lobby, and Jon turned away. Without being instructed to, Lieutenant Reynolds fell into step alongside him.
"Did you hear about Admiral Zu?" the lieutenant asked. Jon nodded slightly before shaking his head in surprise. Circumstantial evidence linking the admiral to Terra Prime had been discovered by Jacksonville law enforcement officers dispatched to investigate reports of a firefight on the outskirts of the city. Preliminary reports were sketchy as to what had happened, but the consensus was that the terrorist cell had been planning an attack when one of their members tipped off the police. Either the city's SWAT team had struck (although the mayor of Jacksonville vehemently maintained that it hadn't), or the cell itself self-destructed violently but, by the time the normal police force arrived, it was all over.
"I heard." Archer presented his identity card to another security trooper standing guard in front of the turbolift. He found himself struggling with the realization that someone like Andrew Zu had Terra Prime sympathies. According to the media, the admiral had tendered his resignation to Starfleet almost immediately, even as he claimed that he was innocent of the charges.
Reynolds said nothing further as they rode the lift to the third level of the Command building, perhaps sensing Jon's distraction. Left to his thoughts, Archer found himself re-evaluating his interactions with Andy Zu over the past couple of years. There had never been any indication that the man hated non-humans. To the contrary, in fact. No one had interacted with the Denobulans quite as well as Andy had.
The lift door slid open and, once more, Jon had to present his identification to a pair of security personnel before being given permission to continue. At the door leading into Briefing Room Six, Reynolds slowed his pace.
"I'll be here if you need anything, sir," he said as Archer passed his ID to the trooper outside the door for another scan. Jon gave the lieutenant a nod.
"Find Captain Tucker for me," he ordered. "I need to talk to him once this briefing is over."
"Aye, sir," Reynolds responded as Jon pocketed his ID and entered the briefing room.
Admiral Gardner looked up from where he sat at the holo-table, and gestured for Archer to approach. His face still set in a perpetual scowl, Admiral Black gave Jon a sour look before returning his attention to the data crawling across his screen. Seated around the table in their usual places were the other senior officers of Starfleet Command, with the notable exception of Commodore Casey and the still deployed Rear Admiral Khanolankar of Fifth Fleet.
"Come in, Jon," Gardner ordered as he rose to his feet. He offered his hand. "You've heard about Andy?" he asked, frowning.
"You think you know someone and this sort of thing comes out," the admiral muttered darkly before shaking his head in disgust. "Consider your previous orders rescinded, Commodore," Gardner continued as he retook his seat. Jon sat as well. "The Sixth is yours until further notice."
"Thank you, sir." It was a bittersweet realization that, once more, men and women would be sent to their deaths on his order. Archer momentarily wondered about his sanity: what sort of man actually wanted that kind of responsibility?
"If you'll consult your data screens," Black began the moment Jon took his seat, "you'll find the updated battle plan for Operation Pandora." The master viewer activated, and Jon studied the tactical display intently. "The attack force will consist of Second, Fifth and Sixth Fleets." To their credit, Admiral Washko of First Fleet, Commodore Sanchez of Third, and Admiral Wang of Fourth barely displayed their disappointment at being excluded. "The plan is to hit the system in two waves. Second and Fifth Fleets will approach from Galactic North and South respectively." The master display changed to a simulation of the assault.
Black directed his next comments to Archer. "Sixth Fleet's objective will be the Romulan drydock itself. You have the big guns, Commodore, so you get the high value target."
"Aye, sir," Jon acknowledged as he began examining his data stream. He frowned at the annotation on his screen regarding weapons payload. "Mark Sixes?" he asked with surprise. The new torpedoes had only recently been field tested and approved for combat operations, and were little more than high yield fission bombs. Smaller than the standard photonic torpedo and with a destructive yield somewhat less than the Mark Five Photonic Torpedo, they were easier to construct and took nearly half the time to build. Their physical size meant additional advantages: a ship could carry more of them, and they had an increased rate of fire.
"That's correct," Black replied.
"Now we're using bloody atomics?" Burnside Clapp demanded, the disgust in his voice reflecting Jon's own thought on the subject. "What's next? Bio-weapons? Mustard gas?" He glowered at the Fleet Admiral. "Better yet, how about we field some Augment troops?"
"We're aware of your concerns about the Sixes," Gardner interjected coldly, his words directed toward the group as a whole, "but this decision is final." His expression tightened. "We will use whatever means are at our disposal to defeat the Romulans." He looked at Black. "Continue."
"Second and Fifth Fleets will enter the system at nineteen hundred standard on twenty-nine September," the Vice Chief of Naval Operations said as he advanced the main display to reflect his briefing points. "Sixth Fleet will enter the system at nineteen thirty from Galactic East." He gave the senior officers level looks. "Fleet disposition is to be determined by fleet commanders, but we recommend standard combat wedge."
"To reach the target in twenty days," Jon announced after some rapid calculations, "the Iceland-class ships will have to remain behind. They're only capable of three point seven." To his surprise, Black and Gardner exchanged a look devoid of their usual antipathy.
"Which is why we're going to reassign a few ships," Gardner replied. "All fifteen operational Neptune-class cruisers will be participating in this operation."
"They're still going to be redlining the engines," Burnside Clapp pointed out. He had spent nearly his entire career aboard Neptunes and knew their capabilities better than most of the other flag officers in the room. "We might lose two or three of them before we even reach Zeta Reticuli."
"Then see that we don't," Admiral Black almost snapped.
"With all due respect," the Australian commodore replied tightly, "the Neptunes are fifteen years old." He barely blinked as he openly glared at Black. "Some of their components aren't even fabricated anymore."
"We need those ships, Mitch," Gardner interjected softly. "In your official judgment, are they capable of making this trip at the speeds necessary?" For a moment, Burnside Clapp hesitated, a torn look on his face. He finally nodded.
"It'll be tough, sir," he said. "But I think they will." The admiral returned the nod.
"Study your spheres of influence, gentlemen," Gardner ordered. "We can't afford any mistakes." He stood, a clear indication that the briefing was over. Ingrained reflex caused the rest of the officers to stand as well. "Fleet commanders, coordinate with your officers and get me tactical assessments ASAP."
"We break orbit at zero nine tomorrow," Black stated grimly as he headed for the door. Jon looked at the data crawling across his screen and frowned.
He wasn't looking forward to this.
He was looking forward to getting back to his ship.
As he paced in front of the wide desk, Trip Tucker found it nearly impossible not to fidget as he impatiently waited for his commanding officer to show up. Upon arriving in San Francisco, Trip had been eager to get back to Endeavour and go over Hess' evaluation of the new engine designs. He even had a couple of new ideas about increasing the efficiency of the injectors that he wanted to bounce off her, including one that he suspected T'Pol would disapprove of on general principles. Unfortunately Commodore Archer had other ideas, and had sent Reynolds looking for him.
"When will he be here?" Trip asked the lieutenant as he toyed with the model of the Phoenix that Jon kept on the desk. Along with a model of Enterprise, and unlike the flat image of the president of United Earth currently dominating the east wall, it was the only decoration in the room that wasn't standard issue for all government offices. The spartan appearance of the workspace wasn't a surprise though: Archer used this office only when he was Earth-side.
"I don't know, sir." After much needling from Tucker, Reynolds had finally unbent enough to sit down in one of the plush chairs in front of the desk. "The briefing with Admiral Gardner must have gone long."
Trip grunted as he wandered to the window. Outside, the grounds of Starfleet Command were alive with activity, and Tucker frowned at what that had to mean. The only time he could remember seeing the facility this busy was during one of his brief visits planetside prior to the Expanse mission. Glancing back to the lieutenant, he noted the distracted expression on the younger man's face and smiled in recognition.
"You look like a man with woman trouble, Professor," he commented, using the lieutenant's old nickname from Enterprise. Reynolds' head jerked up and the young man speared him with a surprised expression. "Am I wrong?" Trip asked mildly.
"Not really, sir." The lieutenant sighed. "Amanda wants me to transfer back to Earth."
"Amanda?" A terrible, sinking feeling caused Trip's stomach to drop. "You're datin' Amanda Cole?"
"Yes, sir," Reynolds replied, narrowing his eyes at Tucker's surprised tone. "Is there a problem, Captain?"
"Not at all," Trip quickly said in response. "I wouldn't plan on getting a transfer approved right now," he continued. "Not with the war going on."
"Who said anything about wanting a transfer?" the lieutenant grumbled, mostly under his breath. Trip grinned at the comment, recognizing the sentiment. Amanda wanted a commitment and Reynolds had cold feet. Better change the subject, he reflected as he gave the wall chronometer another look.
"So," Trip began, "I understand you were with the commodore at Carbon Creek." The lieutenant's eyes narrowed.
"I can neither confirm nor deny, Captain," Reynolds said with a slight smirk. "You know that."
"Know what?" Commodore Archer asked as he entered the office. The lieutenant shot up from his seat, almost assuming the position of attention as he did. His hands filled with PADDs, Archer wore an expression that was dark without being angry as he strode by the young man.
"You sure took your time," Trip joked as his old friend dropped the PADDs onto the desk. There were seven of them, Tucker realized.
"The usual problem," Archer replied before glancing at Reynolds. "Have your gear ready for deployment, Scott. We launch at zero nine tomorrow."
"Yes, sir," the lieutenant responded. "What ship, sir?"
"Endeavour." Frowning, the commodore continued. "I want the combat control team in my office at eleven thirty." He rooted through the PADDs before finding the one he was looking for, and handed it to the lieutenant. "Have a runner track down these officers. I want them all in briefing room twelve at sixteen hundred."
"Am I on that list?" Trip wondered aloud, and Archer nodded.
"You are," he replied. "Consider yourself duly informed." The commodore looked again at Reynolds. "And Scott? Make sure your will is up to date."
"Aye, sir." Reynolds barely reacted to the ominous instruction.
"Dismissed," Archer told him. As the lieutenant headed for the door, the commodore was turning his attention to Trip. "We need to talk," he said with a frown. "Starfleet Command wants to transfer T'Pol to the Intrepid."
"What?" Shock pulsed through Trip, and he found himself clenching his hands into tight fists. "Why? The Intrepid isn't even out of Spacedock yet!"
"Starfleet needs combat commanders," Archer said, his expression still dark. "Right now, T'Pol is one of the most experienced ship commanders we have in the Fleet. Certain senior officers feel that she is being wasted by serving as simply an executive officer."
"Yes, sir," Trip replied automatically. His mind was racing as he absorbed this latest twist. The Intrepid was a Daedalus-class, named in honor of one of the Neptunes that had been destroyed at the battle of Pacifica Prime. When it launched, Intrepid would be state-of-the-art, and Endeavour's equal in almost every regard. "When will the orders come down?" Tucker asked, wondering how much time he had left with T’Pol. He didn't look forward to telling her, and silently mused if she would suggest resigning again. With Earth seemingly on the losing side of the war right now, he didn't think that he could actually stomach abandoning Starfleet.
Although, if T'Pol asked him to, he would seriously consider it.
"If I have anything to do with it," Jon declared, "never." Trip gave him a hopeful look and the older man continued. "So far, I've convinced them to hold off on any transfers until after this operation." The commodore rubbed his temples in frustration. "Black isn't behind this one, Trip."
"Needs of the service," Tucker growled in understanding, and his friend nodded.
"The two of you are too good a team to break up," Archer said softly before snorting with amusement. "Did you know that some of the admirals are starting to use ‘T & T’ as shorthand for the two of you? I heard Washko use that today and actually had to have it explained to me."
"Wonderful." Trip's voice was dull, but he couldn't find it in himself to care.
"Is there something I need to know, Trip?" the commodore asked softly, and Tucker looked up. He considered his words carefully.
"Off the record, sir?" At Archer's nod, he exhaled. "T'Pol doesn't want a command of her own, Jon. We've talked about it many times..." He trailed off and glanced at the model of Enterprise as he tried to explain something he didn't entirely understand himself. Fortunately, his old friend caught on quickly.
"Azati Prime." It was stated like a curse, an epithet that carried volumes of guilt and despair. Trip looked up and caught the emotion on Archer's face.
"Yes, sir," he agreed. "It's more than that though, Cap'n." The old nickname rolled off his tongue before Trip realized it. "Together, T'Pol and I are a helluva team." There was no doubt about the accuracy of that statement: the sheer evidence of how efficient Tucker and T’Pol were when working together was overwhelming. "But apart?" Trip concentrated on the breathing exercises his mate had taught him. "Apart, we're a mess."
"Elaborate," Archer ordered. It wasn't the voice of Trip's friend, Jon, but rather of the fleet commander who had to know the weaknesses of the people under his command. Lives depended on that knowledge, and this was no different.
"You know about the Pa'nar," Tucker began, shooting a glance over his shoulder to verify that the door was indeed closed. At the commodore's nod, he continued. "The trellium she was exposed to in the Expanse screwed her up more than you know," he revealed carefully. It wasn't entirely a lie, but T'Pol had never revealed her substance abuse to Archer and it wasn't Trip's place to do so. Even if he vociferously disagreed with her.
"That bad?" the commodore asked, and Tucker nodded.
"Sometimes, her hands shake so hard that she can't control it." Trip shuddered at the memory of seeing her in the throes of a bad attack. "Phlox has her on a medical regimen that helps her cope, but sometimes, that's not enough."
"I saw her hands shake after Azati Prime," Archer said softly, his own expression conflicted as he spoke. Tucker blinked in surprise at that; he'd been unaware that her control had slipped in front of their old captain. "But I thought T'Pau cured the Pa'nar."
"She prevented further decay, but the damage was already done, sir." He frowned as he pushed down the fury reserved for the late and unlamented Tolaris. "Frankly, I'm not much better."
"What do you mean?" It was the voice of Jon the friend once more, and Trip could hear the concern. Setting aside his embarrassment, he decided to trust the commodore.
"I dream about Sim almost every night," he admitted softly. "And I'm not talking about happy dreams either." Trip clutched the armrests of the chair as he forced himself to continue. "Phlox has examined me and suspects that the transplant material has never fully healed."
"That was years ago!" Archer said, his tone aghast. Trip could see guilt in the older man's eyes and hated himself for bringing this back up. He knew that his old captain still lost sleep over Sim's fate.
"No one had ever used the memetic symbiot process on a human before, sir," Tucker shrugged. "Phlox told me that he never expected Sim to be as alive as he was."
"And T'Pol helps you with this?"
"She can ... change the channel when we're sleeping." Trip smiled ruefully. "Don't ask me to explain it, Jon. I just know that when I start to have one of those nightmares, she can usually stop it before it gets too bad."
"How long have you had to deal with this?" Archer asked, and the smile faded from Trip's face.
"Since a couple weeks after the surgery," he said. The commodore visibly winced at that and Tucker knew that his old friend was blaming himself. "Ever since Thor's Cradle," Trip continued, his voice softer, "they've gotten a lot worse." Phlox called it survivor's guilt and combat stress; but Trip knew that it was remorse over the men and women who had died under his watch, hiding under the guise of someone else who had died because of him. Understanding what caused them didn't prevent the dreams from coming, though.
"We're a team," Trip declared. "She keeps me sane when I'm about to lose it, and I do the same for her." The idea of T'Pol serving on a different ship caused Tucker's stomach to knot up tightly.
For a long moment, Archer was silent as he digested this new information. To his surprise, Trip realized that he couldn't read the commodore as he used to be capable of doing, and he silently grieved over that loss. They had been inseparable before Enterprise launched, more like brothers than just friends, and Tucker regretted the loss of that relationship more than he could say.
"I was going to fight for you anyway, Trip," Jon the friend said with a sad smile. "But now, I'll just have to pull out the big guns." He stood and, reflexively, Tucker rose with him. "Can't bust up T & T, can I?" the commodore asked almost mockingly.
"Thank you, Jon," Trip smiled. He offered his hand and his friend took it. "You're a good friend."
"Just remember that when it comes to naming your firstborn," Archer chuckled, causing Trip to roll his eyes. "Now get out of here. I'll see you at sixteen hundred."
"Aye, sir," Tucker said with a grin.
Suddenly, things didn't seem so bad.
It was worse than she expected.
As she scrolled through the duty logs, Commander T'Pol found herself frowning at the logistical difficulties that seemed to have been figuratively dropped into her lap at the last minute. This is Trip's fault, she reflected in annoyance, even though she knew that it wasn't.
Upon her return to Endeavour at zero eight thirty, she had spent four hours being briefed by the various department heads regarding the ship's current status. Another two hours had been spent touring the ship and dealing with minor personnel issues; it was ironic, she thought, that a significant number of the enlisted crew were evidently more comfortable interacting with her than with Lieutenant Commander Eisler. After a brief break for a late lunch (just under ten minutes by her calculations), she had spent another three hours with the department heads creating a functional duty schedule and examining the records of the newly arrived personnel. Several key enlisted crew members had been replaced due to routine duty transfers, and this had led to some difficulty filling sensitive positions.
Another two hours passed as she oversaw the transfer of new munitions to ship's stores; normally, doing so would be Lieutenant Commander Eisler's job, but the tactical officer appeared visibly weary. Knowing his work ethic as she did, T'Pol hypothesized that the lieutenant commander had been standing double or triple shifts while she and Trip were planetside, so she relieved him of duty out of a sense of gratitude. When he balked at the instruction, an unexpected sense of mischief that she blamed on Trip's influence caused her to speak.
"Lieutenant Commander Hess," she instructed with no hint of the amusement coursing through her, "please escort Mister Eisler to the mess hall. See that he remains ... relaxed for the evening."
It had taken a significant amount of control to avoid smirking at Eisler's outraged expression.
By the time the munitions were properly stored it was nearly twenty hundred hours, and Trip had still not returned from Starfleet Command. Although she was curious about his continued absence, she made no effort to track him down, knowing that he wouldn't appreciate it. He had explained once how doing so caused others to perceive that she kept him on a "short leash" (whatever that meant) and that it made him appear weak in front of other males.
Humans, she decided, were completely illogical.
She then spent an hour alone in the executive mess, eating dinner and finishing the duty schedule. Satisfied that she had successfully arranged the schedule in the most efficient manner, she had finished her meal, intending to retire to her cabin to meditate. It had, after all, been a long and trying day and she was looking forward to a hot shower. She had even planned to use the shampoo that Trip's mother had procured for her, which T'Pol hoped was a gift intended to demonstrate Elaine Tucker's acceptance of the Vulcan into her family.
Naturally, the universe did not take her wishes into account.
Twenty minutes later, she was in the briefing room with the other department heads as Trip informed them of the coming operation. Although she considered it an effective assault plan at first glance, T'Pol was mildly skeptical that an engagement of this magnitude could be planned in such a short span of time. There were contingencies that needed to be addressed; yet, true to form, the humans rushed forward, heedless of any problems in their plan.
An influx of the additional personnel accompanying Commodore Archer complicated billeting assignments, and thus T'Pol found herself in the captain's ready room revising an already needlessly complex system. As she entered her second hour of working on the sleeping assignments, the thought that only a human (or, perhaps, an Andorian) could devise such an unnecessarily complicated system occurred to her. On a Vulcan ship, every cabin was the same and assignments were not based on rank or position, but rather were determined by logic. The chief engineer's quarters needed to be close to or, if possible, on the engineering deck. The commanding officer needed to be quartered near the bridge.
Unfortunately, that was not the case with humans, despite the clear logic in such a system.
Sighing softly, she clicked on the Submit button that would send her revisions to Trip for his approval; it was really just a formality, as she had no doubt that he would sign off on it once he saw that she was the one who had written it. As long as it didn't involve the engine in some capacity, he invariably trusted her judgment. Often, she wondered if he even read what she sent, or if he simply approved it upon receipt.
Rising from the desk, she frowned at the time and reached out slightly with her mind. To her relief, Trip was deeply asleep. With Archer aboard, she had almost expected the find the two still in the executive mess, either reminiscing about past times or calculating new ways to cause headaches for her.
Departing the ready room, she paused briefly at the sight of Lieutenant Commander Eisler at the tactical station. The officer of the watch was Ensign Rostova, and the young engineering officer was seated in the command chair as dictated by Starfleet regulations, so there was no reason for Eisler's presence on the bridge.
"Not good enough," the tactical officer was telling someone over the communication line. Eyes riveted on his console, he seemed oblivious to T'Pol's presence. "I want database assimilation by oh seven hundred. No excuses."
T'Pol turned away. The lieutenant commander knew his own capabilities far better than she did, so it was illogical for her to assume otherwise.
Minutes later, she stepped out of the turbolift on E Deck, her attention once more focused on a PADD. A pair of enlisted crew members stepped aside as she exited the lift, before entering it themselves and resuming their conversation. T'Pol raised an eyebrow as she realized that they were discussing one of Earth's numerous sporting events. The competitive nature of humans never ceased to amaze her.
The moment she entered her quarters, T’Pol realized there was something different. Frowning, she looked around for anything amiss, but could find nothing. Her overnight bag was on the bed, exactly where it should be. When she had arrived aboard Endeavour, she had immediately gone to work and had asked one of the enlisted crew to carry the bag to her quarters.
Examining the bag, she noted that it did not appear to have been opened. Despite this, she unzipped the bag and dumped the contents onto the bed. A box tumbled out, and she picked it up. Pressing her finger to the thumblock on one of the boxes, she glanced at its contents and released a slight sigh of relief. Both phase pistols were present, including the one that had been passed on to Professor Tucker by Lieutenant Hayes' associates. Once more, T'Pol hefted that weapon and studied it for a moment. Her scans of it had revealed something fascinating.
The pistol did not exist.
More accurately, the serial number that should have been stamped on the weapon's power cell did not exist, something that was categorically impossible. Every phase pistol constructed by Starfleet had a manufacturer's stamp embedded on the power cell at a molecular level. The process was completely automated and was designed so that the stamp could not be removed. Further scans had revealed that the focusing crystals in this weapon had been manipulated so that it would fire an almost invisible beam. It was a weapon designed for a single purpose.
Frowning, she replaced the weapon in the shielded box and sealed it. As she did, a very faint buzz finally drew her attention to the wall that she shared with Trip. It was such a barely perceptible sound that she doubted a human could have even heard it. A moment of study revealed a curious meter-long strip placed along the crease where the wall met the ceiling. As she reached up to pull it free, a sudden flicker of light caused her to step back in surprise.
It was a holo-transmitter.
Placing her hand at the top of the emitter, she disrupted the beam long enough to realize that a door had been placed in the wall. Her eyebrow skyrocketed in surprise. The buzz of an incoming message caused her to jump.
"Computer," she said into the empty room, "play message."
"Second drawer," Lieutenant Commander Hess' voice said before the transmission ended with a chirp. Once more, T'Pol quirked an eyebrow, but she turned to the drawer nonetheless. A folded sheet of paper was resting atop the precisely folded clothes within. Unfolding the note, T'Pol began reading.
The door can be vacuum sealed, and the transmitter is tied into the ship's power grid. Access code can be changed to whatever you want: it is currently 012345.
I did this because Trip is the big brother I never had, and I've seen what he's like when you're not together. Don't thank me because, officially, this door was never installed.
Shock robbed T'Pol of coherent thought for a long moment. Blinking her surprise away, she studied the placement of the door before pushing the long bench in front of it. For the moment, it would serve as an effective means of drawing attention away from the door until she had the opportunity to find alternative means of concealment. Putting her hand in the way of the holo-transmitter, she studied the door for a heartbeat before reaching for the access pad.
The door slid open soundlessly, revealing Trip's darkened cabin. Stepping over the cot and through the open hatchway, she realized with approval that the door could be locked in the open position. She looked up, noting that a second holo-transmitter was in place in Trip's room.
"T'Pol?" Her mate was propped up on his bed, staring at her with confusion on his face. "Did you just walk through the wall?"
"Yes," she replied, her attention still focused on the transmitter. "Go back to sleep, Trip."
"Not until you tell me how you–"
"Bridge to Captain Tucker." The voice of Lieutenant Commander Eisler interrupted him, and Trip shot the comm panel at the top of his bed a hostile look before reaching back and pressing the Transmit button.
"This is Tucker," he said. "What is it, Rick?"
"Starfleet Command wants you and the commodore on the line in five minutes, sir," the tactical officer replied. His voice was grim. "We're receiving a transmission from Zeta Reticuli." Trip exchanged a look with T'Pol, and she could feel his shock pulse through the bond.
"Contact Commodore Archer," he ordered. "I'm on my way."
The data packet was on its way.
Her face tight, Commander Annike Lundmark studied the data stream that was crossing her console for a long moment. Fear twisted her stomach into knots, but she swallowed the urge to scream. Revealing how worried she was would affect the crew. After all, there was nothing more contagious than fear.
Glancing around the bridge, she noted with grudging approval that her command crew appeared to be completely alert and ready. This was no surprise, though; they had served together for nearly five years now and were among the finest that Annike had commanded in her ten years as the captain of the Iceland-class ship. Under her, they had evolved into a finely honed team that seemed capable of practically anything.
A smaller ship than the newer Enterprise-class or even the outdated Neptune-class, the UES Stockholm had a storied history, and had already been a legend when Lundmark received command of the venerable ship. A native of the city for which the ship was named, she had joined UESPA Starfleet at seventeen, intent on someday commanding the ship. Her entire career had been oriented toward that goal, and once she was named Stockholm's commanding officer, she had gone out of her way to avoid relinquishing the job. Accepting the rank of captain would take her off the bridge of her beloved ship, and Starfleet had finally given up trying to promote her.
Annike pushed down the guilt that threatened to swamp her; she had put the crew in this position when she volunteered for this mission. It had been, in her opinion, one more opportunity to prove that the Iceland was still a good design. Despite its inability to break the warp four barrier, the reliable ship was still sturdier than the newer Neptunes.
"Data stream sent, ma'am," Lieutenant Aaron Hermanns stated from the communication station, and Annike gave him a sharp nod in response. Instead of a realtime site-to-site transmission, she had decided to inform Starfleet Command of their arrival in-system with an encrypted data burst. Their likelihood of detection with the data burst was much smaller.
"Confirm scan," she ordered Lieutenant Margaret Jhabvala, her tone brisk. The science officer acknowledged the instruction with a curt nod and bent over her viewer. A tense moment passed.
They had spent the last two weeks creeping into the Zeta Reticuli system at impulse to confirm the reports that the Romulans were indeed in-system. It had been a difficult fourteen days during which the crew of the Stockholm had been required to maintain silent running almost twenty-four seven. Per Lundmark's order, the communication system had been taken offline to prevent any accidental transmission bursts, and re-initialization required her command codes. Active sensor sweeps were forbidden, and anything that could be even potentially detected by Romulan scans had to be cleared by Annike herself.
As they drew closer to their target, the stress level aboard the Iceland-class light cruiser had skyrocketed. Tempers were frayed as the forty members of the crew dealt with the agonizing realization that they were deep in enemy territory now and detection would lead to their destruction. Despite the pride that the crew had in their old ship, no one held any delusions that the thirty-year old ship could outrun a Romulan attack craft.
"Scan confirmed," Jhabvala announced, almost whispering as she did. The lieutenant looked up from her board. "Multiple encroachments in geosynchronous orbit over Acheron colony."
"On screen," Annike demanded. Instantly, the main viewer snapped alive and displayed the partially constructed drydock. The image was of poor resolution, but Lundmark didn't want to risk detection by asking for an active scan.
"Six birds of prey," her tactical officer commented. "And one warbird."
"Where are the rest?" Annike asked softly. She exchanged a look with Lieutenant Walt Nkrumah, and her tactical officer frowned.
"Energy spike!" Lieutenant Jhabvala shouted before he could respond. "Multiple mass signatures on rapid approach!"
"Tactical alert!" Lundmark ordered sharply as she began inputting commands into the pilot's station; it was one of the complaints among some officers about the Iceland design that the commanding officer was also the ship's pilot, but Annike had always preferred having control. Stockholm's impulse engine whined as she began applying thrust; glancing at the sensor feed installed at the nav station, she cursed softly at the sudden appearance of the trio of ships. Judging by their mass signatures, they were drones. Where the hell did they come from?
The artificial gravity pushed her back into her seat as Annike sent Stockholm into a steep dive. Their only chance for survival was to reach the system's Oort Cloud and use one of the comets within as cover. Capable of barely warp three point seven, the old Iceland-class probably couldn't outrun any of the ships in the system.
"Weapons charged," Nkrumah declared, "and hull plating polarized."
"Three Romulan drones on combat assault!" Jhabvala's fear was growing by the second, but Lundmark couldn't spare the time to calm her down. Leveling out from the dive, she sent the Stockholm into a tight spin even as the trio of drones opened fire. Flashes of disruptor fire lanced out from the pursuing ships, narrowly missing the Iceland-class.
"Hermanns!" Annike growled as she sent Stockholm into a twisting climb to escape from the lethal barrage. "Realtime transmission authorized!" The hollow thrum of torpedoes being fired from the ship's launchers vibrated through the deck of the old ship. "Warn Starfleet Command!"
A pair of photonic torpedoes spiraled toward the fast-moving drone ships. At the last moment, the targeted drone altered direction in a radical maneuver that would have been impossible if it had been manned. It was a common tactic that had earned the drones a deadly reputation as difficult foes to defeat.
"Incoming!" the tactical officer warned a half second before an explosion sent the Stockholm tumbling. Alarms shrieked as the hull was breached on C Deck. Debris erupted outward, ripping into the starboard nacelle and sending a stream of warp plasma into space. Annike cursed at the mass signature surging toward them out of the Oort Cloud.
It was a Romulan Warbird.
Fire erupted from the warbird's main guns, punching through the hull plating of Stockholm as if it weren't online. Disruptor beams seared through the starboard nacelle, igniting the leaking plasma with a horrific flash that ripped the nacelle free and sent it spinning into the void. A second photonic torpedo detonated as the Iceland-class ship tumbled out of control, punching through the hull and spilling frail human bodies into the hard vacuum.
Her ship’s controls no longer responding, Lundmark looked up at the cracked vidscreen with horror in her eyes. Looming toward them, the warbird spat a pair of torpedoes at Stockholm before banking away, and Annike's breath caught: there was no way the battered ship could avoid them.
She closed her eyes.
The End of STAR TREK: Endeavour: "Pandora"
The story is continued in STAR TREK: Endeavour: "Acheron."