Fire burned through her.
It was a liquid pain that seared through her stomach with each ragged breath she took, a pain that scorched away coherence and thought each time she shifted under the imprisoning weight. Gritting her teeth against the waves of agony that pulsed through her, she strained to move the column of fallen metal that pinned her in place; muscles honed by nearly two decades of military service struggled in vain against the unyielding steel. Numbness crept into her lower extremities and, though she was not a trained physician, she knew what that meant.
Anita Karanja was dying.
Around her, she could hear the cries and whimpers of the dying and wounded, could smell the distinctive stench of seared flesh and smoke and death, could feel the gentle spray of fire suppression systems upon her face as they fought the flames. It wasn't unfamiliar to her; as she recovered consciousness in the moments after the blast, her first thought was that she was back on Mars, following one of the more extreme 'Free Mars Now' demonstrations. The moment passed quickly, however, as memory flooded back and pain thudded through her.
Commodore Archer was safe, that much she knew. In the seconds after the explosion that consumed Lieutenant Li and the bomber, Karanja had seen the commodore knock a dark-skinnned Boomer to safety with a well-timed body-check that carried them both out of the immediate danger area. Lieutenant Reynolds' voice had been the last thing she heard before darkness and pain consumed her; the lieutenant had sounded calm and collected despite the chaos, and she felt a flicker of amusement at the sudden image that flashed through her mind of him issuing orders wearing nothing but his boots. She'd been looking forward to teasing him about his earlier nudity, eagerly anticipating his flush of embarrassment, but now it didn't look as if she'd get the chance. She regretted that.
She regretted a lot of things, actually.
"Gunny?" The voice of PO1 Mitchell snapped her drifting thoughts back to her current situation and she grunted in response. Even doing that much sent a stab of pain through her body, and she winced; his warm hands touched her neck, seeking the pulse point. “Stay still, Gunny,” Mitchell said, his voice calm. Despite herself, Anita felt a smile touch her lips at the thought of the petty officer calm: he was easily the most hotheaded member of First Squad. “Doc's on his way,” Mitchell continued, “so you just hold on, okay?”
“Report,” she rasped, her words nearly unintelligible. Once more, fire swept through her, pain so intense that she momentarily lost the train of Mitchell's words.
“...and you're trapped under a girder of some kind,” he was saying and Karanja would have frowned if she could. “There's blood all over the place and...”
“The mission,” she tried to snarl but it came out slurred and soft.
“The ell-tee took command of Second Squad,” Mitchell said quickly in response, his hand now on her shoulder, his touch oddly comforting. “He left Chief Gray to coordinate with you and got the commodore clear.” Mentally, Anita saluted Reynolds for that; his ability to stay focused on the mission, no matter what, was one of the lieutenant's strongest points. She hoped he got the ambassador out as well. Mitchell continued, his grip on her shoulder tightening. “First Squad is conducting rescue ops now.” Despite the dire circumstances, she felt a surge of pride that her team was already helping people. It also now made sense why Reynolds had left behind the more experienced First Squad; one of his first orders of business when he assumed command was to make sure that every member of the Roughnecks was a trained medic. The lieutenant had even gone so far as to acquire an actual corpsman in the form of PO2 Simons; 'Doc' to the team, Simons was a qualified nurse and often found himself aiding Phlox in emergency surgeries. Second Squad, having just arrived on Endeavour, had only started their training with the Denobulan doctor and would be of negligible use in an actual real-world situation like this one. “Phlox is on his way, Gunny,” Mitchell finished, his words clearly meant to be soothing.
Her mind drifted as he spoke and she fought against an overwhelming sense of fatigue that tried to overwhelm her. It helped that the pain had begun to lessen, slowly fading to a dull ache that merely amplified her lassitude; Karanja knew that she should be concerned, knew that she needed to fight the exhaustion, but simply couldn't find the strength or the motivation. Memory flitted through her awareness, recollections of past experiences both good and bad. She remembered the swelling pride within her breast at MACO Boot Camp graduation, felt once more the crushing despair when her fiancee Johnny died, and recalled with sharp amusement the sight of a naked Lieutenant Reynolds glaring at Commander Eisler.
Voices pierced the mental fog, distant and hollow, and she struggled to focus on them, fighting to push aside the regrets of the past and the memories of a man ten years dead.
"...clipped the femoral artery," a female voice was saying. Anita tried to place the voice, but couldn't. "There's nothing I can do, Mitch. Frankly, it's amazing she's still alive with the amount of blood she's already lost." Consciousness wavered once more as Karanja realized the unknown voice was talking about her. Looks like I'll be seeing Johnny sooner than I expected, Anita thought to herself sadly.
"Where the hell is Phlox?" Mitchell demanded, his words coming out loud and angry. If she’d had the energy, Karanja would have smiled then: that was the Petty Officer 1st Class Mitchell that she knew.
"He's trying to save a three-year old," the unidentified female replied, still perfectly calm. "I'm sorry, Petty Officer, but she's already gone."
“What can I do?” a subdued-sounding Mitchell asked and Anita tried to open her eyes, tried to tell him that it was okay, but her strength was gone. The numbness spread into her torso and arms, and she felt sudden fear surge up within her.
“Make her comfortable,” the female said from an impossibly vast distance. Karanja felt Mitchell’s hand on her shoulder again and she tried to speak, trying to reassure him. His words floated to her ears.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Once more, amusement trickled through her; she’d always suspected Mitchell was a religious guy and wondered why he had felt the need to hide it. She felt him take her hand.
And then she was gone.
She was gone.
As he observed the Roughneck medic stand up from the little girl's body with a grim expression, a flood of anger and guilt washed through Jonathan Archer. It was his fault that this girl had been killed by bomb debris, his fault that so many others had been injured or killed, his fault that T'Pol was in the sickbay on Endeavour...
"This is my fault," Paul Mayweather muttered from where he stood, his eyes glued to the body of the little girl, anger and despair on his face.
Jon knew exactly how he felt.
"Your fault?" Archer asked, his expression and tone bleak as he stared at the corpse: she couldn't have been more than eight or nine. "That bomber was coming for me." And Tolaris ... if Jon had blown that sonuvabitch out of the airlock when he'd had the chance...
"I picked the Cradle for these negotiations," Mayweather pointed out. Soval interrupted abruptly, his voice flat.
"Blaming yourselves for the actions of one individual is neither logical nor productive," the Vulcan declared. Jon gave the ambassador a frown, knowing that he wouldn't or couldn't understand; out of the corner of his eye, Archer noticed Mayweather giving Soval an identical look. Jon’s eyes met those of the Boomer for a moment, and silently they reached a mutual understanding. Archer would never forgive himself for this child's death and, judging from the Boomer’s expression, neither would Paul Mayweather. Guess we're not so different after all, Jon thought to himself.
"Sir, we need to keep moving," Lieutenant Reynolds whispered into the moment of silence. Archer gave him a sharp nod of acknowledgement but said nothing else as the ex-MACO issued quiet orders to his men. Twenty minutes had passed since the tram bombing and Reynolds had kept them on the move ever since; when Archer suggested that they lend a hand with the rescue operations, the Roughneck lieutenant had directed a pointed look at both Ambassador Soval and Captain Mayweather, a clear reminder that there were other lives to be concerned about.
Jon had taken the not-so subtle hint and had fallen into step with them.
It was yet another stark reminder for Jon that, despite his rank, he was not in charge anymore. The ten-day trip from Starbase-1 to Vigrid Station had been bad enough, with the crew stepping lightly around him but always - always - looking to Trip or T'Pol for confirmation of any order Archer issued. Nothing had prepared him, however, for just how difficult it would be to hold his tongue during a crisis. From the moment he stepped on the bridge of Endeavour in response to the tactical alert to the moment that Administrator Maddox had hailed them for an emergency meeting some forty minutes later, Jon had been grinding his teeth and struggling to keep from offering his opinion. If Trip had noticed, he had been too busy to care.
The word given, the Roughnecks set out at a brisk pace, Archer in their center along with Soval and Mayweather. Around them, debris from the bomb damage cluttered the corridor, slowing their progress to a crawl; four suicide bombers had struck in the last three hours, the most recent at the central tram depot, and the resulting damage had virtually crippled Vigrid Station. The first of the bombers had struck mere minutes before Soval had melded with Tolaris; that suicide attack had completely knocked out the defense grid of the station, causing an immediate panic to set in among the station administrators. By the time they had contacted Endeavour for assistance, a second bomber had destroyed the station’s long-range sensors.
Even to civilians, it was immediately clear that the stage was being set for an all-out attack.
“Copy that,” Lieutenant Reynolds muttered into his throat mike, slowing his pace to come alongside Archer. “Sir,” he said, “Captain Tucker wants me to advise you that a fifth bomber has just taken out the atmospheric processors.” Archer glared at nothing in particular as Mayweather softly cursed; ever the picture of Vulcan poise, Soval gave no hint as to his thoughts. “Damage control teams are being dispatched now. He further recommends that we make haste back to Endeavour,” Reynolds finished, his expression grimly amused. Jon had to smile. They had been trying to get back to Endeavour for the last twenty minutes.
Bomber number three had struck at an outlying computer facility manned by only three people; compared to the other attacks, it seemed an unlikely target as it resulted in only four deaths, but it quickly became apparent that the location had been chosen with deliberate care. Since the area served as the central hub for lift control, the destruction of the facility completely halted all turbolifts, whether they were between decks or not. On a station the size of Vigrid, such damage effectively stopped travel. Getting to the docking ring without the use of turbolifts was proving to be nearly impossible; they had been forced to retrace their steps no fewer than three times in the last twenty minutes, each time returning to the outskirts of the tram depot to start anew.
“Tell him I'll take that under advisement,” Jon ordered as he glanced to Soval. “Guess we should have had that emergency session on Endeavour after all,” Archer commented, and the ambassador lifted an eyebrow.
Destruction of the defense grid had done more to convince the Earth Cargo Authority of Starfleet's position than any of Jon's arguments had; when Administrator Maddox had commed Endeavour to demand a resumption of the integration discussions, it had been at the behest of the ECA reps. Recognizing the concession for what it was, Archer had quickly suggested that they meet aboard Vigrid Station, hoping that his choice of locales would show a trust in the Boomer security.
Having the Roughnecks escort him to the meeting and back had been Trip's idea.
Paul Mayweather gave him a sour look and Jon mentally kicked himself for the unspoken intimation that Station Security wasn't up to the task, even if it was true. The Boomer had been mostly silent since signing the official agreement that placed the ECA under the aegis of Starfleet protection, and had barely said anything beyond a muttered "thank you" when Archer saved his life at the tram depot by knocking him clear of a falling durasteel girder. He now bore a haunted look that Jon recognized all too well. Despite their personal differences, Archer realized that he empathized with Mayweather; the fear that the Boomer must be feeling, that he was signing away his freedom and an entire way of life, had to be paralyzing. Time to mend some fences, Jon thought, grudgingly admitting to himself that he hadn't exactly been the easiest to negotiate with either.
"Change of plans, Lieutenant," Archer said suddenly, and Reynolds turned to face him, eyes narrowing. Jon nodded toward the Boomer. "We're going to escort Captain Mayweather to his ship." Reynolds frowned, opening his mouth to argue, but Archer continued over him in his sternest voice of authority. "That is an order, Lieutenant." Once more, the ex-MACO frowned before triggering his throat mike.
"Endeavour, this is Roughneck Six," he said, his eyes never wavering from Archer. The commodore almost smiled at the hint of frustration in the younger man's voice. "I need to speak to Endeavour Actual," Reynolds informed whomever he spoke to, clearly hoping that Tucker would give him orders to countermand Archer's.
Jon did smile then.
"This isn't necessary," Mayweather declared, and Archer turned his attention to the Boomer rep, aware of Soval's silent observation of their discussion. "I can make it back to Horizon without your help," Mayweather continued.
"On the contrary," Jon argued, "it's the entire point of the Vigrid Accords. You need protection." He gestured to the security troops - the Roughnecks - spread out in the corridor around them, knowing that the civilian wouldn't see the inexperience in the younger troops. "And that's what we're here for. It's our job: exploration and defense." A long moment passed as Mayweather let Jon’s words sink in.
"I'm not going to forgive you for Travis' death," Mayweather said softly and Archer recognized how difficult it was for the Boomer to say even that.
"I'm not going to forgive myself," Jon replied, his tone grim, "but it's up to us to make things better for those that follow us." Archer drew a breath, hiding the twinge of pain that shot through his chest. "I can understand your anger," he said, "and I probably deserve it, but we have an opportunity - you and I, right here, right now - to make sure that what happened to Travis doesn't happen to others." Mayweather pursed his lips in thought. "Together," Jon said, offering his hand, "we can build something greater than ourselves, something that will make all of the pain we've suffered, all of the losses, all of the setbacks actually worth it."
For a long time, Paul Mayweather said nothing as he stared at Archer's outstretched arm. Jon held his breath as the Boomer slowly reached forward and took the offered hand. An entire decade of grief seemed to be lifted from Archer’s shoulders.
“Now let’s get you to your ship,” he said with a slight smile.
He was no longer smiling.
In the thirty-minute walk from Captain Mayweather’s ship to Endeavour, Soval had quietly observed Commodore Archer’s good cheer gradually fade, to be replaced by a grim expression that the ambassador remembered all too well from the days after the Expanse mission ended. Twice in the last half hour, the presence of the Endeavour security force was all that had prevented looters from assaulting them. Administrator Maddox had announced an imminent Romulan attack minutes before they arrived at Mayweather’s ship, and the resulting panic continued to rage throughout the station. Frightened humans rioted and looted, causing unnecessary destruction as they scrambled to find a way off of the station.
It was a sad display of humanity’s darker side.
Unsurprisingly, Captain Tucker was waiting for them as they entered Endeavour’s docking hatch, his own dark expression mirroring that of the commodore’s.
"The Ti'Mur wants you to contact them at once, Ambassador," the captain said by way of greeting, gesturing toward a wall unit as he continued. "You can use the comm panel to respond." Soval gave him a slight nod before striding toward the unit. Behind him, the captain began to quietly debrief Commodore Archer. Had he desired to, Soval could have easily eavesdropped on their conversation, but he instead focused his attention elsewhere.
The comm panel was easy to operate and, within seconds, the ambassador had a direct communication link with the Ti'Mur.. His assistant, a promising young diplomat named Skon, quickly answered.
"The Ti'Mur is standing by for departure, Ambassador," the young man said simply, his words unhurried and calm. "Captain Vanik has informed me that seven warp signatures have been detected on an approach vector. All have been tentatively identified as Romulan, and they will be in-system within six point five two standard hours." Skon paused briefly before continuing. "What are your instructions?" Soval nearly frowned.
As a senior ambassador and close associate of Minister T'Pau, he had been given absolute command of this diplomatic mission. It fell within his authority to have the Ti'Mur remain in-system and provide additional support to the outnumbered and outgunned humans. Logic dictated an immediate withdrawal in the face of a numerically superior force, but the ambassador seriously doubted that either Archer or Tucker would follow such a course. Endeavour would remain and face the Romulans, would offer what meager defense it could, and would be destroyed if necessary so that some of these 'Boomers' could survive. It would be a tragic and completely unnecessary loss.
And yet, Soval could not help but think of Surak's own words: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. By remaining to defend the fleeing humans, the crew of the Endeavour would be holding true to that maxim, whether they knew of it or not. They would do so without thought or complaint, and would offer up their own lives without hesitation, if it meant that another human would survive.
It was one of the things Soval admired about humanity.
Ordering the Ti'Mur to participate in the battle had its own risks. Thus far, Vulcan had provided only strategic advice in the ongoing Earth-Romulan war and had resisted being drawn into the escalating conflict. Many within Starfleet had accused Minister T’Pau of cowardice, or decried the lack of military assistance as further proof that the Vulcans desired to stand in humanity’s way. Few desired to look at the difficulties Minister T’Pau continued to experience as she struggled to keep her fledgling government intact. Discovery of the Kir’shara had fundamentally altered the way Vulcans saw themselves. Seemingly overnight, their military force had dwindled to less than a quarter of its original might as most of their experienced officers resigned to re-evaluate their lives. As it stood, Vulcan could ill afford to be drawn into the war, no matter how badly they may wish to aid their allies.
“Inform Captain Vanik that I will rejoin you within the hour,” Soval ordered. He needed more time to determine the appropriate course of action. “I will issue instructions then.” Skon gave him the slightest of nods as he deactived the link. Turning his attention back to Commodore Archer and Captain Tucker, Soval let himself focus on their conversation.
“…here in six and a half hours,” Tucker was saying, his face grim. “I’ve got T’Pol coordinatin’ the evacuation plan with station authorities.”
“T’Pol’s on the bridge?” Archer asked, his face reflecting his surprise. “But her injuries-“
“I need her there, sir,” Tucker interrupted. "She's under strict orders not to get out of the command chair." He rolled his tongue around inside his cheek as he observed Soval’s silent approach. A flicker of something flashed through his eyes as the commodore spoke.
“You’ve talked to Maddox?” Archer queried, and Tucker nodded.
“Yes sir,” the captain replied. He frowned angrily. “Eisler warned that moron about the suicide bombers and the idiot didn’t even sound an alert.” Archer’s expression darkened and he opened his mouth to speak when Captain Tucker suddenly turned his attention toward Soval. “Ambassador,” he said, and Soval could not help but notice the flicker of surprised annoyance that appeared briefly on the commodore’s face. The Vulcan inclined his head slightly in response. "Is your ship ready to go?" Captain Tucker asked, his face giving nothing away.
"It is," Soval replied calmly. “The captain merely awaits my arrival.” Tucker nodded, gave Archer a sidelong glance before pressing on.
"Then I'd like to officially request you get Commodore Archer clear of the battle zone, sir." Had he been Human, Soval would have smiled his approval at Tucker's logic even as he realized that the appropriate course of action was now before him.
"Not a chance, Trip," Archer declared, his voice tense and his face flushed with some emotion that Soval could not identify. "I'll coordinate the evacuation from Endeavour or from one of the Boomer ships." Tucker frowned as he and Archer squared off, but that was the only indication of his emotional state. As Soval calmly took a step back from the two, it occurred to him that Commander T'Pol had clearly been a good influence on Captain Tucker.
"Sir," Tucker began but Archer cut him off with a sharp hand gesture.
"That's enough, Captain." The emphasis on Tucker's rank was clear. "I'm not jumping on the fastest ship out of here and that's final!"
"Where's Columbia at right now, sir?" Tucker's question seemed to come out of nowhere, but Soval mentally saluted him for his choice of tactics. T'Pol had been a very good influence.
“What?” Commodore Archer asked, showing momentary confusion. It faded quickly as understanding appeared in his eyes.
"How about Discovery or Atlantis?" Tucker took a step forward, invading the commodore's personal space. "What about Challenger? When will she launch again?" With each question, the older human visibly flinched and his features became more grim. “How’s the Neptune-class refit comin' along? Or maybe-"
"I know where you're going with this, Trip," Archer interrupted, "but Romulans don't take prisoners."
"That we know of, sir." Captain Tucker clasped his hands behind his back in a stance that Soval recognized from T'Pol. Once more, amusement swelled within the ambassador. "Can you take that chance?" the captain asked softly.
"All right," Commodore Archer said quietly, his confrontational air gone. "You've made your point." He shot the younger man a look that Soval could only call disgruntled. "T'Pol's been a bad influence on you," he muttered.
“She'd argue that point,” Tucker said with a grin. "You'll have to walk," he continued. "Both shuttlepods are deployed and we're usin' the transporter for rescue operations." His mirth faded quickly as he turned away. "Professor," he said as he turned his attention to Lieutenant Reynolds. Even if T'Pol had not explained why her mate called the lieutenant by that appellation, Soval would have recognized it as a 'nickname' by the annoyance that briefly appeared in the younger human's eyes. Knowing it to be a friendly alternative to the man's name, however, did not give Soval additional insight as to why it was even necessary.
He wondered if T'Pol could explain it.
"I want you and Second Squad to escort the ambassador and Commodore Archer to the Ti'Mur," Tucker ordered. Reynolds gave a sharp nod and the captain continued. "Stay with him until you reach Starbase One." Both Archer and Reynolds tensed at that; the commodore shot Tucker a hard glare as the captain shifted to his oddly accented Vulcan. "Keep him from trying to do anything ... heroic." The lieutenant blinked in surprise, then nodded again. "I'll owe you a case of beer," the captain finished.
"Make it Andorian ale, sir," Reynolds responded in unaccented Vulcan and the two men shared a smile. Tucker turned his attention back to Archer, clearly ignoring the frown on the commodore's face.
"Mind telling me what that was all about?" Archer asked; Tucker opened his mouth to respond, then glanced away, an expression of surprise on his face. Commander T'Pol's voice on the intraship comm sounded mere seconds later.
"Captain Tucker to the bridge," she declared.
"Sorry, Commodore," the captain smirked. "Duty calls." He offered his hand and Archer took it without hesitation. "Be seein' you, sir."
"Good luck," the commodore replied. "Look after T'Pol and Phlox for me." Abruptly, Archer drew the captain into an embrace and they exchanged hearty back slaps. "Don't get yourself killed, Trip," the commodore said as he released his old friend.
"I'll do my best, sir," Tucker smiled. His expression shifted to one of startled annoyance as he glanced once more in the direction of the bridge. "I'm comin', woman. Jeez," he muttered under his breath and Soval found himself fighting to maintain his composure. Tucker frowned at Soval's poorly concealed amusement as he lifted his hand in the traditional ta'al salute. "Live long and prosper, Ambassador," the captain said in his mangled Vulcan and the ambassador returned the gesture, not even trying to hide the smile in his eyes.
"Peace and long life to you and your mate," Soval replied and Tucker grinned.
"I'll pass that on," he replied. His eyes darted briefly to Archer and he continued in Soval's native tongue. "Look after him for me?" he asked and Soval nodded.
"Let's get moving," Commodore Archer suggested as Tucker disappeared into the turbolift. He took a step toward the docking hatch. "Mister Reynolds..."
"On it, sir," the lieutenant stated, gesturing quickly to his security troops. Two of them preceded the commodore, weapons held at the ready, and another two flanked Archer. Soval glanced at Reynolds, inclining an eyebrow. "Shall we, Ambassador?" the lieutenant asked in Vulcan.
With the slightest of nods, Soval stepped through the docking hatch and into the corridor.
The corridor was empty.
His face mostly concealed by the seemingly opaque faceplate of the tactical helmet he wore, Scott Reynolds felt his lip curl in contempt as he silently observed the after-effects of human panic. Debris littered the broad walkway that linked the two parts of the docking ring. Signs had been smashed, computer consoles had been ripped free, and three bodies could be seen, one of which appeared to have been bludgeoned to death. As a student of history, Scott immediately recognized a riot zone when he saw it, and it depressed the hell out of him that humans had yet to evolve past such insanity.
“Second Squad,” he said into his comm, “move out.”
For a team of rookies, the seven soldiers of the squad were surprisingly professional. With PO3 Konikowski directing them with rapid hand signals and soft verbal commands when necessary, they spread out through the mostly empty corridor, pausing only long enough to verify that the dead were actually dead. At no time did they display a lack of caution or relax their guard; hyper-alert, each of them treated everything as a threat, regardless of how mundane it appeared.
Experience was a harsh teacher.
Even before Konikowski had given the all-clear signal, Commodore Archer was striding forward into the corridor and Reynolds found himself gritting his teeth in frustration. Ten minutes had passed since they’d departed Endeavour, ten minutes and two minor skirmishes with panicked looters, and still - still - Archer acted as if he were out on a stroll through a park. Scott wasn't sure if the man was totally fearless or completely insane.
"Ell-tee," Crewman Hensen said abruptly, pointing to an air vent near one of the bodies, "I've got two bio-signs." The computer and sensor operator - CSO, for short - adjusted the scan frequency on the dedicated sensor pack he wore. A comm-tech by training, it was to him that Scott would turn should a computer system need to be hacked or a security system bypassed. "Both appear to be Vulcan," Hensen identified, and Reynolds exchanged a look with Ambassador Soval.
"Konikowski, set up a defensive perimeter," Reynolds quickly ordered, not even bothering to see if the instruction was obeyed before turning his attention back to Hensen. "Weapons?" Scott asked.
"Negative, sir," the CSO replied. Out of the corner of his eye, Reynolds noticed Soval taking a step forward, eyes intent on the indicated spot.
"Ambassador!" Scott said sharply, drawing the immediate attention of the Vulcan. "Let me handle this, sir." For a moment, the lieutenant thought that, like Commodore Archer, Soval would argue but, after a moment of consideration, the ambassador nodded. With Archer quietly observing, Scott approached the vent.
"I'm Lieutenant Reynolds of Starfleet," he said softly in Vulcan. "We're not here to hurt you." He frowned as he realized the body sprawled out in front of the vent was that of a female Vulcan, although she had some slightly curious ridges upon her forehead the likes of which he had never seen before. Mentally, he shrugged; it wasn't as if he were an expert on their species.
"You're human," came the accusing reply and Reynolds nearly frowned again; the voice had been that of a young boy. Scott glanced at the body of the dead Vulcan again as a troubling thought came to him.
"Yes, I am," he said. "But I won't hurt you. We're escorting Ambassador Soval to the Ti'Mur."
"Are the bad men gone?" a second voice asked. She was young and so heartbreakingly innocent-sounding that Scott felt a wave of sadness wash over him. Once more, his eyes flickered to the corpse and anger replaced the sadness.
"Yes ma'am," he replied, gesturing for Soval to join him. "And we'll make sure they stay gone."
It took a few more minutes - time they could ill afford to lose - but they coaxed the two from the vent. The boy - Skov - looked to be nine or perhaps ten and stayed protectively in front of his much younger sister, T'Valit. Both were filthy exhausted, and had the curious forehead ridges but held themselves with a dignity beyond their years. Ambassador Soval they accepted at once, and the older Vulcan slid into the role of father figure so easily that Scott knew he had to be a parent. Skov identified the slain Vulcan as their mother, killed in the chaotic panic that followed the announcement of an impending Romulan attack. Once more, Scott found himself wanting to do bodily violence to the administrator of this station.
Immediately prior to the operation in the Orion sector, Lieutenant Commander Eisler had informed Reynolds of the suicide bombers, information that the commander had already relayed to the station authorities. Eisler had even gone so far as to provide a number of suggestions for station security that could have limited the number of casualties inflicted by any of the bombers that weren't apprehended.
Administrator Maddox had done nothing.
It wasn't an uncommon course of action for weak leaders; human history was rife with incidents of governments or rulers electing to do nothing in the face of a growing crisis, only to regret it in the end. The Second and Third World Wars were perfect examples, with the civilized nations doing nothing as the aggressors - Nazi Germany or the Augments respectively - rose to power. Maddox's rambling and terrified stationwide announcement in the minutes after the fifth bombing only fed the fires of chaos; from the way he spoke, the Romulans were within minutes of arriving.
Naturally, the station had exploded into panic.
"Second Squad," Reynolds said into the silence. They had wasted too much time here and he had a mission to complete. "Let's get ready to move." Out of the corner of his eye, Scott noticed the ambassador studying the dead Vulcan with an eerie intensity and wondered if Soval had known her. "Chao, LaPolice, you're on point." The two named crewmen nodded and took up positions near the exit; according to the station schematics, that particular hallway would lead them directly to the docking berth that the Ti'Mur was connected to. "Diamond formation, Commodore Archer and Ambassador Soval in the center." Scott gave the two young Vulcans a brief glance. "Ambassador, I'll need you to carry Skov and T'Valit."
"I will not be capable of doing so," Soval replied as he hefted the body of the slain Vulcan over his shoulder. Reynolds opened his mouth, to suggest that the ambassador leave the dead Vulcan behind, but hesitated when he noticed something odd.
Soval appeared ... troubled.
"No one needs to carry me," Skov declared, holding himself so stiffly erect that Reynolds thought he could almost hear vertebrae cracking, “I can keep up with you.” It was difficult to hide the amusement that the young Vulcan's words caused and several members of the squad looked away to hide their smiles, no doubt recalling their own adolescences; some things, it appeared, were universal. To Scott's surprise, Commodore Archer crouched before the Skov’s younger sister and gave her a slight smile.
"Hello," he said in broken but understandable Vulcan. "My name is Jonathan. I will carry you ... if that is acceptable.” She stared at him, eyes wide and appearing so much like an elf from ancient European mythology that Reynolds had to smile; it was a scene straight out of a dream, a perfect moment of innocent beauty juxtaposed against the chaos of war, and Scott knew he would take it to his grave. Finally, like a regal queen of ages past, she nodded before crinkling her nose.
“You smell funny,” she told him bluntly and Archer laughed as he straightened.
“That's because I'm human,” the commodore said lightly.
“I was unaware that you could speak Vulcan, Commodore,” Ambassador Soval stated, an inclined eyebrow the only hint of his surprise.
“There are a lot of things about me that you don't know,” Archer said in reply, smirking as he continued. "It's just a little something I picked up from when Surak was in my head." Soval gave him another indecipherable look before finally nodding. A tug on his pants leg drew Scott's attention to T'Valit.
“Are you going to hurt the bad men?” she asked in a solemn voice, and once more he felt something tear within him.
“If I have to,” he replied in as neutral a voice as possible.
"Good," she murmured, drawing another frown and a long look from Soval.
"You'll need this, sir," Konikowski abruptly said, offering the ambassador his sidearm. The Vulcan raised an eyebrow as he responded.
"It is unnecessary." He pulled a fist-sized pistol of unfamiliar design from a concealed holster. "I am already armed." Commodore Archer shook his head.
"Didn't know you carried that," the commodore said, and Soval gave him a brief glance.
“There are ... a lot of things about me that you don't know,” he replied in clear imitation of Archer's previous comments. The two men locked gazes and were about to speak when Crewman Hensen broke in, his eyes still locked on his scanning equipment.
"Lieutenant, I've got multiple bio-signatures heading this way."
"Let's move, people," Scott ordered, his voice tense.
They were running out of time.