Time was running out.
Ensign Nathaniel Hayes forced back the lump that was in his throat and checked the power settings on his pulse rifle yet again. It was unnecessary - the settings hadn't changed in the forty seconds since he had last checked them - but it gave him something to do that didn't involve looking at the transporter. Less than a week on the Endeavour and he was already going on an away mission.
He had expected more time, had expected to be slid into the duty rotation gradually after he had gotten to know the capabilities of the men and women he was to lead. It wasn't that he was afraid; in the three years that had passed since he had been recruited into the Section, he had already participated in five covert operations, two of which had devolved into combat. Though he loathed playing the role of the "new guy," it wasn't hard to appear at least a little concerned; he was barely checked out on half of the equipment he carried, and hadn't qualified or even test-fired the rifle they’d issued him. In addition, there was the exhaustion that came from having not slept in the last twenty hours. And yet, despite it all, he was excited, eager to live up to the expectations of the Section, to finally prove his worth to Starfleet.
There were five other members of Third Squad present and, though he outranked them all, they still managed to make him feel like the new guy. At a glance, he could tell that all of them had seen combat; it was in their eyes and the casual way they stood waiting for orders. To them, the transporter was just another tool, just another technological marvel that allowed them to complete their mission even more quickly. None of them even spared the engineering crewman a glance, trusting her expertise with the equipment in a way that Hayes realized he couldn't. He swallowed again, and his eyes drifted toward the machine before he could stop himself. He had no desire to think about being dissassembled, piece by piece, molecule by molecule, atom by atom. No desire whatsoever.
From where he stood, Nate had a clear view of Lieutenant Commander Eisler and took a moment to study the man. Despite his broken ribs and an ugly bruise that covered most of his face, the commander was at his station to coordinate the coming assault. He appeared to take his job as senior tactical officer absolutely seriously, and Hayes was convinced that the cold-eyed German hadn't cracked a smile since coming aboard Endeavour. In the wake of Eisler's escapades aboard the station, the ship's rumor mill was working overtime and fully half of the Roughnecks seemed convinced that the TAC was an ex-spy.
Nate knew better.
"Contact," the voice of CPO Luckabaugh whispered across the intrasquad frequency. He and PO2 Elliot were kilometers away, carefully concealed in an overwatch position above a docking berth. Contained within that docking facility was an Orion gunship.
Tentatively identified by documents seized during the assault on the bar in Green Sector, the gunship officially did not exist. According to station records, Docking Berth TK-4-21 was empty and undergoing renovations. Eisler had suggested holding off seizure of the gunship in the hopes of nabbing additional members of the Orion Syndicate, and Captain Tucker had signed off on the plan immediately.
"One-four hostiles approaching target zone," Luckabaugh continued his quiet report, and Nate frowned at the thought of facing fourteen aggressive Orion legbreakers. "All are armed with disruptor pistols. Two have rifles." The chief petty officer paused briefly. "No sign of armor."
"Acknowledged," Eisler said in reply before quickly triggering the intraship comm. "Bridge, Eisler. Third Squad ready for insertion. Recommend standard defensive dispersal." He turned toward the transporter and the squad took their places; Hayes found his breath coming fast as he climbed onto the platform. He really didn't want to do this.
A chime sounded and Hayes felt his stomach lurch. Though he was facing the rear of the transporter, he knew what that meant. The captain had given them the go-ahead. He was about to be torn apart at the subatomic level and reassembled in an entirely different location. For a long moment, he would be nothing more than a data stream. Oh God, I don't want to do this! he thought, and then Eisler's voice cut through his fear.
It was like diving into a pool of icy water while stark naked or cold-shirting through the hard vacuum of space in nothing but his underwear. Only seconds elapsed but he hated every single moment of it. Was it his imagination or could he actually feel his parts disappearing as he stood on the pad? He blinked - or tried to blink - and suddenly found himself facing the wall. Embarrassment flooded through him as he realized that the TAC had placed him in the safest spot available. Stop acting like a damned rookie, he snarled to himself as he glanced around.
Already, two members of Third Squad had moved to the connecting airlock to cover it as two others advanced to the entryway leading to the docking berth. At Nate's side, Crewman Wakulich shifted quietly as he loaded a grenade into the under-the-barrel launcher that was attached to his pulse rifle. Hayes gave the five Security personnel a quick once over, noting the complete lack of worry on their faces with approval.
"This is Three Alpha," he whispered into his comm. "Good to go."
"Bravo good," Luckabaugh's voice came at once.
"Charlie good," PO2 D'Agostino reported, indicating that he and Crewman Hawkins were ready in their sniper position. Having two sniper teams in position above the cavernous docking berth had been another of Eisler's suggestions, one that Nate was more than happy to see implemented.
"Go to night vision," Eisler commanded from Endeavour, and Hayes pressed a button on the side of his helmet. At once, the transparent face shield seemed to darken as the light enhancement technology built into the helmet activated. Despite being based on centuries-old technology, helmets had only recently made a reappearance in the standard gear issued to a soldier. "Stand by," the TAC officer continued. A tense moment passed before the entire corridor was suddenly plunged into total darkness. "Execute," Eisler ordered.
The two Roughnecks that had moved to cover the airlock - Hernandez and Hoffman - wheeled around and rejoined the rest of the team as they rushed through the opening hatch that led to the docking berth. Like the corridor, it too was pitch black but that had been part of the plan; Hayes wasn't sure who was responsible, but someone on Endeavour had killed the power to the berth lighting system.
Three Orions were already down as the assault team entered, dropped by well-placed shots from the two sniper teams, and a fourth fell in the seconds afterwards. A fifth and sixth Orion surged toward the gunship despite the darkness and Wakulich triggered his launcher without hesitation; tumbling through the air, the grenade exploded between the two runners, erupting in a goopy mist that enveloped the two before hardening almost instantly. Encased in a rigid but air permeable shell, the two fell, no longer a threat.
Like vengeful ghosts, the six members of the assault team moved toward the gunboat, weapons spitting fire. Seven more Orions toppled to the ground as the six neared the open hatch of the gunboat, victims of the precise aim of the team. Without a word, Crewman Hoffman and PO1 Vera sent a pair of stun grenades sliding into the ship; both detonated with loud flashes and a resulting surprised cry warned them of at least one hostile. Up the small ramp Hoffman and Vera went, weapons at the ready, followed immediately by Hernandez and Simons; three steps behind them, Nate followed.
He heard the shots before he saw them.
Hoffman took a blast to his chest and the brutal kinetic energy of the shot sent him sprawling backwards. As he fell, his finger reflexively tightened on the trigger of his rifle. A stream of pulse rounds hammered into Vera, catching him completely by surprise and slamming him into the unyielding bulkhead with bonecrushing force. The petty officer dropped, a victim of so-called friendly fire, and “Doc” Simons moved instantly toward his fallen comrade, corpsman training kicking in and overriding his survival instincts. Caught by surprise, Hernandez lurched to the side and, momentarily overcome by panic, sprayed wildly with his rifle.
Straightening from his crouch, the waiting Orion shifted fire, abandoning his cover to get a steadier grip on his rifle. Taking careful aim at Hernandez and ignoring the wild shots that flashed by him, he squeezed off a single shot; shrieking in sudden agony, Crewman Hernandez fell to the deck of the gunship as the disruptor beam burned through his armored cuirass and into his stomach. Acting as if he had all the time in the world, the Orion took aim at Simons.
By then, Hayes was on him.
It took every gram of restraint Nate had to not break the Orion's neck as he pounced on him. A small part of him - the part remaining distant and logical - knew that it would have been more efficient to simply shoot the Orion but the anger that washed over him came too quickly, and he found himself suddenly in front of the pirate with a need to lash out, to inflict physical pain. He batted the pirate's disruptor rifle away, using his own weapon as more of a melee weapon, then brought the rifle butt up in a blurring attack. It caught the pirate on the jaw and Nate felt the satisfying crunch of broken bone. Limp and completely senseless, the Orion collapsed in a heap.
Kicking the disruptor away from the unconscious pirate, Hayes turned back to his team, his face bleak with the effort to fight down the thundering rage that swept through him. It had been a long time since such a fit of fury had overtaken him, a long time since he had lost control so suddenly and completely, and he struggled to contain himself from lashing out again. He drew a breath, held it for exactly five heartbeats, and released it. His anger faded, exhaled with the breath; it did not completely go away - it never would - but it faded to controllable levels.
Gratified to see the others already assisting the fallen, he pulled the stun-cuffs from his belt and secured the bleeding Orion. If he were a better man, he would have attended to the pirate's broken jaw or given him a painkiller; but he had long since given up thinking he was a good man. PO2 Simons stood up from Vera and shook his head. The calmness that Nate had just found fractured slightly and he focused once more on his breathing. Hernandez was no longer screaming but was clearly in extreme pain, and an unmoving Hoffman drew ragged breaths as Wakulich began to apply first aid. Activating his comm, Hayes spoke.
"Endeavour, Hayes." His voice was flat but he couldn't completely contain the anger.
"Endeavour here." It was Devereux. He didn't want to talk to her. Not right now.
"Inform Endeavour Actual that the target is secure. Two casualties, one KIA, one-four prisoners. Require immediate medical attention for two casualties."
"Acknowledged." The line fuzzed out for a moment and the captain replaced Devereux as the lights flickered back on in the docking berth.
"This is Tucker. Can the casualties be moved?" Hayes glanced at the two; Hernandez gave him a thumbs-up despite the grimace of pain on his face but Simons, who was now checking on Hoffman, shook his head and spoke for Hayes.
"Negative, sir,” the corpsman said. “One is critical. I need Phlox."
"All right. Stand by."
"Get the prisoners ready for transport," Nate instructed Wakulich. “Bravo, Charlie, area is secure.” A distinctive hum sounded and three figures materialized around them. As the two med-techs began assembling a stretcher, Phlox glanced over the three fallen men. Vera he ignored; from the odd angle that his head hung, the petty officer was clearly dead. Hernandez received a momentary glance before Phlox moved on to Hoffman's inert form and began scanning him. The Denobulan raised an eyebrow and met Nate's eyes.
"This crewman requires immediate surgery," Phlox declared and Hayes nodded, triggering his comm once more.
"Endeavour, Hayes. CMO and patient to beam directly to sickbay. Standing by to begin transporting prisoners." He was barely aware of the acknowledgement as the unconscious pirate began to stir. The anger started to resurface; if he didn't get out now, he might do something he would regret later. "Wakulich," he called out as the doctor and Hoffman dematerialized. "Secure that prisoner," he ordered before turning away. If anything, the insane fury that was always there intensified, heating into a raging volcano.
Being an Augment, he reflected bitterly, really had its drawbacks.
The drawback to being a senior officer, Rick Eisler mused, was being forced to attend so many meetings.
As walking wounded, he and Commander T'Pol were the only members of the senior staff seated around the situation monitor. Master Chief Petty Officer Mackenzie stood quietly by the wall display, his face closed up and his stance rigid; Rick had already heard the rumors of a romance between the COB and Lieutenant Li and, from the way the Master Chief stood in the wake of her death, it appeared that the rumors were true. Lieutenant Commander Drahn lingered quietly near the exit, alternately exchanging unprofessional looks or smiles with Lieutenant Devereaux and shooting equally improper frowns at the Vulcan commander. The Andorian's position placed him at the maximum distance away from the XO, but Eisler wasn't particularly surprised; according to the reports he'd read before arriving, Captain Tucker had been forced to create the DCO position for Lieutenant Li so Drahn could remain in Engineering and, thus, away from Commander T'Pol. Old hates died hard, it appeared. Standing on the opposite side of the monitor from Devereaux, Lieutenant Hsiao kept his attention mostly on the master systems display but, in between poorly concealed yawns, gave the communications officer subtle glances that were not intended to be noticed.
He found himself struggling to contain his disapproval of the antics between the three. In the past, he'd served in units almost completely comprised of men; the few women with whom he had served had known the unspoken rules about not getting involved with members of their teams, and it bothered him to see how lax Starfleet appeared to be in that regard. Even the captain and First Officer weren't immune; he tried to hide the frown that the idea of fraternizing with a junior officer caused him. Eleven days aboard Endeavour and he already missed being a MACO.
He did his best not to look at Commander T'Pol as they waited. The screams of the rapist in sickbay had awakened him and he'd seen the naked fear in her face as she clutched the captain's hand. Rumor had it that this particular Vulcan – Tolaris, he was called - had assaulted her some years earlier, and Rick found himself regretting that he hadn't had the opportunity to cut on the bastard a little longer. Whatever it was that Ambassador Soval did, however, it was brutal and painful and, as the ambassador had stepped back from the privacy curtain, Eisler had found himself momentarily intimidated by the grim expression on the Vulcan's face. Every one of the Roughnecks present had given the ambassador a wide berth afterwards, and more than a few studied him with new eyes.
A tactical 2D map of the Vigrid system was displayed on the wall monitor and Eisler tried to focus his attention on it, hoping to distract himself from the dull ache that was spreading through his chest and face. The painkiller that the doctor had given him was already beginning to wear off, and he wasn't looking forward to visiting the Denobulan again; Phlox had barely wanted to give him the dosage necessary in the first place and, given how quickly the first was wearing off, Rick doubted he would be more forthcoming the next time. It wasn't his fault that he had such a high tolerance for pain medication; Rick's system had gradually built up a resistance over the years, and each subsequent injury had required stronger dosages.
His onetime addiction to painkillers didn't help much either.
Tucker exited his ready room and joined them at the situation table, his face grim, and Eisler knew he had bad news. The captain had been in communications with Starfleet Command for the last twenty minutes.
“Farragut, Republic, and Soyuz have been dispatched to aid us,” he said in opening, taking his place at the head of the table beside T'Pol. Hsiao frowned at that information and glanced back at the table display. “Unfortunately,” Tucker continued, nodding to the NAV who had clearly recognized something unspoken, “all three are capable of only warp three so it'll take 'em at least two days to get here.” He gave a brief look to T'Pol. “We've got five hours until seven birds of prey are in-system so we need to be prepared.”
“What about the Vulcan ship?” Drahn asked, crossing his arms as his antennae wiggled.
“The Ti'Mur has broken mooring,” Commander T'Pol replied smoothly, “and is transiting out of the system now.” The Andorian frowned at her, his expression dark, and Rick knew what he was thinking, probably because he shared that very thought: cowards. Captain Tucker must have interpreted the expression.
“I asked Ambassador Soval to get the commodore clear of the combat zone,” the captain pointed out grimly, and mentally Eisler kicked himself. Of course Tucker would do that; they couldn't run the risk of having Archer captured by Romulans. “Commander Eisler,” Tucker said, “what's the status of that gunboat?”
“Fully functional, sir,” Rick replied. He passed a PADD to Tucker, wincing slightly at the twinge of pain that shot through his chest. “Ensign Hayes has it secured and I've instructed him to coordinate with Lieutenant Hsiao regarding its capabilities.” A flicker of something flashed through the captain's eyes and he shot the First Officer a hooded look. T'Pol said nothing as she inclined an eyebrow.
“Dan, who do we have that can fly it?” Tucker asked, and Hsiao hesitated.
“Well, I can, sir.” The NAV officer recognized the impossibility of that and considered for a moment before glancing at Eisler. “Ensign Hayes is the only other person I'd recommend, Captain.” Rick felt surprise at that. “He's got a better grasp of flight mechanics than any of the other pilots we have aboard.”
“And he reads Orion,” T'Pol stated. That caused a minor stir of surprise. Devereux and Hsiao exchanged surprised looks and Drahn frowned - though at what exactly, Rick didn't know.
“Eisler?” Captain Tucker asked and Rick quickly gathered his thoughts.
“It's doable, sir.” He paused for a moment before pressing on. “It'll leave the Roughnecks without an OIC.” The captain smiled slightly at that.
“Put Gray or Luckabaugh in command.” His smile turned into a smirk as he shot a brief glance at the COB. “Besides, as the Master Chief keeps tellin' me, they don't need an officer-in-charge anyway.” Both lieutenants chuckled at that and even Drahn smiled, but Mackenzie barely reacted. “Damage control?” Tucker asked as he shifted his attention to the chief engineer.
“It's ... coming, sir,” Drahn winced at how bleak his prognosis sounded. “The bombers really did a letter on the station.”
“A number,” Lieutenant Devereux corrected softly. “Did a number.”
“I have damage control teams working on bringing lift control back online,” Drahn elaborated after giving the COM officer a sheepish grin. “They should be repaired within the hour.” His grin faded quickly into a frown and Rick found himself amazed at just how expressive the Andorian could be. “The defense grid is ... shot,” he said, giving another glance to Devereux who nodded. “It needs to be replaced, not repaired.”
“Sensors?” Tucker asked, visibly amused despite their situation.
“Also shot.” Drahn offered the captain a PADD as he continued. “Atmo-processors are partially repaired but I've diverted the teams to lift control.” Tucker nodded his approval and the engineer continued. “To be honest, sir, this station is a ... lost cause.” Once more, he glanced to Devereux for confirmation that his usage of human slang was accurate.
“Agreed,” the captain stated. He frowned. “Orders from Starfleet are simple: we're to hold the line until the Boomers get clear.” No one spoke; no one needed to. “And then we retreat.”
“What about the station?” Eisler asked, hiding the latest wince with ease. “If this a retreat, we can't let the Romulans take it.” He paused before pushing on. “We should rig the station to blow, sir,” Rick suggested. The captain almost smiled as he glanced briefly at Commander T'Pol.
“What is it with tactical officers and blowin' stuff up?” he asked her, amusement tingeing his voice. Before Rick could defend himself, Tucker continued, this time directing his words to the Andorian engineer. “What d'ya think?” Drahn didn't hesitate.
“It's ... doable, sir," the Andorian said in clear imitation of Eisler's earlier comment. "I'd need two hours, maybe three, and a zero-gee qualified explosives expert.”
“Commander Eisler fits that profile,” T'Pol announced and Rick nodded in agreement, suppressing his momentary discomfort. He really hated zero-gee ops.
“All right then,” Tucker declared. “Make it happen. Marie, I need you to continue coordinatin' our efforts with the station.” Devereux nodded and the captain shifted his attention to T'Pol. "I want you to make scannin' the nebula a priority," he instructed and she raised an eyebrow in response. "If there's a tactical advantage, we need to know." Without a word, she nodded. "Any questions?" he asked, his eyes studying his senior staff.
"Sir?" Hsiao asked tentatively and the captain gave him a nod. "Where's Lieutenant Li?"
In the sudden silence, one could hear a pin drop. To his credit, Hsiao seemed to realize the answer nearly at once as Mackenzie visibly jolted and Devereux closed her eyes to stem tears. The captain's expression was a odd mixture of anger and sadness as he responded to the NAV's question.
"I'm sorry, Dan," Tucker said, "I forgot you just came on duty." He frowned as he continued. "Nearly two hours ago, Lieutenant Li was killed in action on Vigrid Station." Hsiao appeared momentarily shocked as the captain finished his explanation. "She saved the lives of Commodore Archer and Ambassador Soval, but … she died in the process."
"Senior Chief Petty Officer Karanja was also killed," Mackenzie interjected, his tone flat and emotionless. "We've also lost Petty Officers Creed and Vera in Roughneck operations."
"Make no mistake," Captain Tucker said softly, his voice demanding their attention, "there will be more casualties. Our jobs as officers-" He gave the COB a sidelong glance, automatically including the senior enlisted man, "-and noncomms is to keep our people focused on the mission no matter what." Devereux was losing her fight against tears and Hsaio looked shellshocked; Rick nearly frowned as he realized just how young both of them actually were. "We were lucky at Pacifica," the captain continued, "but we can't trust luck forever." He paused, giving them all appraising looks. "I'm relyin' on each of you to do your job in the most professional way you can."
The situation room was silent as the members of the senior staff absorbed Tucker's words in their own way. Eisler studied each of them carefully, noting how the two lieutenants straightened slightly, and how Drahn smiled as if he'd heard similiar comments before. Mackenzie remained a silent statue, his face betraying little more than T'Pol’s. After a moment, Tucker spoke again.
"You've got your assignments," he said, "so let's get to work."
Working in zero-gee was not his favorite pastime.
Despite being one of the most qualified engineers in Starfleet, not to mention one of only four or five actively serving Andorians, Lieutenant Commander Drahn loathed spacewalks. Starfleet EV suits were not designed for his Andorian physique and, as a result, his head always hurt as the helmet bore down on his antennae; but that wasn't why he hated it. It wasn't the upending vertigo he always experienced when facing the endless starfield, either; nor was it the sense of how small, how truly inconsequential and insignificant he actually was that he felt when staring into the glittering expanse of space. His engineering knowledge was particularly troublesome during these excursions; knowing exactly how little pressure was actually required to tear the EV suit only served to make him even more cautious, more hesitant, and considerably more jumpy. No, it was none of these things that made him hate zero-gee operations.
It was all of them.
As he stared at the exposed core of Vigrid Station, he fervently wished he could have tasked this duty out to his 2IC; Lieutenant Hamilton Riggs derived an unnatural pleasure from spacewalks and had all but begged to take this one. At any other time, Drahn would have gladly, eagerly pushed it off onto Riggs, but the lieutenant hadn't yet acquired the necessary touch for this kind of work.
Neither, for that matter, had Drahn.
He'd spent the last three and a half hours watching with interest as Lieutenant Commander Eisler worked, using two hundred kilograms of detonex (acquired from where, Drahn couldn't say) to fashion a ring of explosives that would cause the station core to go critical. It was fascinating to observe: the various charges were tied in together and were intended to detonate in a sequential order, creating a cascading effect that would rupture the core and force it to go critical. Had he not seen Eisler rigging the explosives himself, Drahn would have thought that nothing short of a photonic torpedo could create such an effect. It did irk him somewhat that, so far, all he had been needed for was to disable the security measures around the station core and carry the detonex. He hated feeling useless.
"I didn't know we carried detonex on Endeavour," he said in a possibly vain attempt to start a conversation. Compared to Eisler, Commander T'Pol was positively vociferous.
"We don't," the tactical officer replied sharply and Drahn gave him a dark frown. He suffered the silence for a long time - at least a minute - before venturing another opinion.
“You know a lot about explosives,” he said hopefully and indeed, the human was a veritable genius in that department. Eisler glanced in his direction, his expression annoyed, before returning his attention to the charge before him. Long minutes passed in absolute silence as the human worked. Just as Drahn was about to say something, his scanner beeped. Giving it a quick once-over, he spoke.
“Radiation levels are rising.” It was to be expected; with the containment field offline, the core was beginning to become dangerously unstable.
“How long?” Eisler asked as he set another charge. By Drahn's count, that made one hundred and eleven.
“Six minutes to lethal exposure,” he replied, and Eisler grunted. “Is there anything I can do?” Drahn asked.
“Being quiet would help,” the tactical officer snapped. He pulled the last charge from the carrying case and briefly consulted a PADD anchored to his EV suit by a mag-line. Moving as quickly as the suit allowed him, he traversed several meters, his eyes glued to the PADD as he walked. Stopping abruptly, he resecured the data device before kneeling. “Time?” he inquired once more and Drahn could hear the frustration in his voice.
“Four minutes, forty seconds.” Without a word, Eisler planted the charge and consulted the PADD once more. He tapped several buttons, finally nodding as he rose.
“Re-initialize the containment field,” he ordered. Frowning at him, Drahn tapped several keys on his wrist-comp. Immediately, a faintly visible force screen snapped into place. “Lieutenant Commander Eisler to Vigrid Station,” the human said into his helmet comm as Drahn cycled through the various start-up programs. No error messages could be found, and he let his breath out softly.
“Administrator Maddox,” the station reply echoed through their helmets.
“Charges are set,” Eisler announced, “and you have the ball.” Drahn filed that particular bit of slang away for future use; he hoped he understood what it meant. “Don't let us down ... this time. Eisler out.”
“This time?” Drahn asked as he began gathering their gear. It mostly consisted of carrying cases with magseals on their bottoms, but there were a couple of specialized tools that Eisler had brought along with him.
“I warned that ... I warned the Administrator about the bombers before the Green Sector op.” The human's tone was dark, angry, and Drahn realized what Maddox must have done in response: nothing. Eisler activated his comm unit. “TAC-Six to Endeavour.” The reply was nearly instantaneous.
“Endeavour,” came Marie's voice, and Drahn smiled. He rather liked hearing her voice so close to his ear.
“ENG-Six and I are done, and are RTB.” It took the Andorian a moment to translate the acronym to 'returning to base' and he wondered why the man didn't just say so. “ETA twenty minutes,” Eisler finished and Drahn realized the tactical officer was staring coldly at him.
“Acknowledged,” Lieutenant Devereux said.
“TAC-Six out.” Eisler hefted his three cases and began the long walk toward the airlock.
“Is it the skin color?” Drahn asked abruptly, tired of the human's reaction to him. “Or the antennae?”
“You obviously have a problem with me, Eisler, and I want to know what it is.” He was pushing, but couldn't find it in himself to care. The tactical officer gave him a brief look.
“Don't take it personally, Commander,” Eisler said, not even slowing his stride. “I don't like anyone.”
“That sounds ... lonely.” Drahn couldn't imagine living like that and, incredibly, found himself feeling pity for the cold-eyed human. He hoped that it didn't leak into his voice; no male, regardless of species, wanted to be pitied. Eisler said nothing as they continued the walk toward the airlock, didn't even acknowledge the comment, and Drahn struggled to find something else to say.
Ever since defecting to Starfleet, the Andorian had tried to integrate himself into the human organization as quickly as possible. Initially, he'd faced some serious prejudice within the ranks and had quickly tired of being treated as 'The Andorian.' Despite his experience as the assistant chief engineer on an Andorian cruiser, he had first been assigned to Spacedock and given light administrative duties. It took several weeks for him to realize that the humans didn't entirely trust him, and depression had just begun to set in when he ran into Tucker again.
They had met once before aboard Enterprise, when Commander Shran had made a gamble to seize the prototype Xindi superweapon. Drahn had been surprised that Tucker recognized him, but found himself enjoying the human's company so much that, before he knew it, he was confessing the sorry state of his career. Three days later, Starfleet Command cut new orders for him: Chief Engineer of Endeavour, under Captain Tucker. Happier than he'd been in years, Drahn had gleefully reported to his new commanding officer.
He had very nearly resigned when he learned that he would be serving under a Vulcan.
In her defense, Commander T'Pol had gone out of her way to avoid antagonizing him and had, on several occasions, backed a few of his proposals to the captain, but it didn't make things much easier. He had lost his temper with her more than once over inconsequential disagreements and, when the captain had reprimanded him, even Drahn agreed that he had been wrong. The captain's decision to create a specialized bridge engineering position just to keep Drahn in Engineering suited the Andorian fine; he preferred tinkering with his engines to visiting the bridge anyway.
Drahn still didn't know what to make of the odd relationship between T'Pol and the captain; the idea of romance with a Vulcan was just ... wrong.
“Endeavour to TAC-Six!” It was Devereux again, and she sounded stressed. Eisler keyed his comm.
“TAC-Six,” he replied.
“Stand by to be beamed aboard.”
“Negative!” Eisler shouted into the comm. It was the closest Drahn had seen him to losing his temper. “Do not use-”
The rest was lost as reality fuzzed around them. Clenching his eyes shut, Drahn waited for it to be over. He really hated that device.
“Scheisse!” the tactical officer snarled as they materialized on the transporter platform. “Who the fuck ordered that?!” Eisler yanked off his helmet to glare at the lieutenant manning the controls. “That could have set off the detonators!” Recoiling from his fury, Lieutenant Ricker opened her mouth to respond when Marie's voice echoed around them.
“Tactical alert! All hands to battle stations! This is not a drill!”
Seconds later, an alarm began sounding through the ship corridors.
"Kill that alarm," Charles Tucker ordered as he stepped down onto the bridge. "Get me a situation report from all departments, Marie," he instructed Lieutenant Devereux as he took his seat in the command chair. Flicking his eyes to his mate, he spoke again. "What do you have, T'Pol?"
"Seven Romulan birds of prey have dropped out of warp at the outer edge of the system," she replied, and Tucker nodded. Had this been any other system, the attackers could have gotten much closer to the station before slowing. The mass shadow and sensor distortions cast by the nebula, however, made intra-system warp in the Vigrid System a risky proposition at best. "They are arrayed in a standard battle formation."
"No surprises so far," Trip mused. "Keep an eye on the subspace relays," he instructed, and she gave him a withering look that nearly made him smile; T'Pol hated it when he tried to tell her how to do her job.
"All personnel accounted for, sir," Devereux announced as the lift door slid open. Still clad in his EV suit, Lieutenant Commander Eisler entered the bridge and made a beeline for his station. He was, Trip noticed, carrying a uniform in one hand.
"Signal Bad Omen," Tucker ordered. The curious name for the gunboat had been Hayes' idea and, for some odd reason, the name had appealed to Trip. Even now, with Hayes at its helm and Chief Petty Officer Gray at its weapons console, the gunboat lurked mere meters under Endeavour, so close to the larger ship that its sensor signature would appear as nothing more than a minor sensor shadow. That had been T'Pol's idea and, recalling how successfully it had worked with Lorian's Enterprise in the Expanse, Trip had agreed at once. The element of surprise would only work once, but it might tip the balance just enough...
"Ensign Hayes signals ready, sir," the COM officer stated.
"The Romulans are maneuvering to attack the subspace relay," T'Pol abruptly announced, and Trip suppressed a smile. One of Eisler's first recommendations after he’d awakened had been to seed the immediate area around the relays with proximity mines.
"Onscreen," Trip ordered, and the main viewscreen snapped to life, displaying an image of the relay.
A sudden flash of light filled the screen as one of the Romulan ships swooped into view, triggering a mine during its attack run. Using an old Mark III torpedo as a template, the mine was programmed to detonate when a ship not broadcasting the appropriate IFF transponder code came within 500 kilometers of it; such a distance was negligible in the vastness of space, but distortions emitted by the sensor relays required an attacking vessel to close to within that distance to acquire a targeting lock.
A more 'dirty' weapon than Trip preferred, the mine was a fragmentation grenade written on a huge scale. Hundreds of half-meter long durasteel rods surrounded the outer shell that encased the explosive itself. Upon detonation, these rods would be hurled from the shell at incredible velocities; to any craft within its killing radius, the durasteel shrapnel was devastating if not lethal. Many in Starfleet - Trip included - continued to grumble about using the mines despite orders from Command; the durasteel rods that didn't impact against the target were still out there.
"Surprise," Lieutenant Hsiao muttered from the NAV console.
"Detonation," T'Pol said unnecessarily as she leaned toward her scanning display. Trip gave her backside a quick look, despite the situation and the unflattering Starfleet uniforms. Through the bond, he felt her exasperated amusement at him a fraction of a second before she gave him the mental equivalent of a mild slap. He got the hint: Not now. "Heavy damage to one Romulan craft," she said aloud.
"That'll give 'em something to think about," Trip commented. "Mister Hsiao, cut us loose from the station." Glancing at the empty DCO station, Tucker frowned and mentally reviewed the engineering roster for a replacement. "COB to the bridge," he ordered. He knew that Mackenzie wouldn't want to man the station - Lieutenant Li's station - but right now, Trip needed a damage control officer more than a chief of the boat.
Seeing how Mackenzie responded to Li's death had finally clued Trip in to how close the two had been. He wasn't entirely surprised that they’d had feelings for each other, but it did come as something of a shock to discover that they were still a couple. Amusement flickered over the sadness as he wondered if Jon had felt the same way when he found out about Tucker's relationship with T'Pol.
"How long until they reach firing range?" Trip asked.
"At their present speed," T'Pol replied calmly, "twenty-one point seven five minutes." Trip nodded before glancing at Eisler.
"Commander, you might want to get rid of that EV suit," he suggested. "You can store it in my ready room." The tactical officer gave him a quick nod and darted - or at least the closest equivalent while in a pressure suit - toward the door; he was back within minutes, still buttoning up his uniform jacket.
The lift door slid open and Master Chief Petty Officer Mackenzie entered. Trip gave him a glance, noting the rigid way the Brit held himself. He appeared, for all intents and purposes, to be entirely professional and completely in control.
"Master Chief," Tucker said in greeting as he gestured toward the Engineering board, "I need you to man the DCO board." Mackenzie flinched almost imperceptibly before giving a sharp nod and striding toward the indicated console.
"Several ECA ships are making a run for the nebula," Lieutenant Hsiao suddenly announced, and Trip frowned. According to the scans that T'Pol had conducted of the nebula, that was a quick suicide; entering the nebula, which was filled with debris and ionic storms, was the stellar equivalent of taking a rowboat into a category 5 hurricane. He mentally weighed their options and felt T'Pol's agreement with his decision.
In situations like this, their bond was invaluable. Words weren't necessary; in the span of a single heartbeat, Trip could tap into T'Pol's experience, exchange ideas and options with her, and develop a working plan at the speed of thought. People had commented on their curious verbal shorthand; he'd tried to explain it to Malcolm several months before Elysium but Reed, having never experienced the sort of telepathic communion Trip had with T'Pol, couldn't wrap his brain around many of the concepts. In the end, Malcolm had been too ... human to understand.
Trip still lost sleep over that thought.
"Lieutenant Devereux, wide broadcast, all Boomer ships," he instructed as he eased back in the command chair, immensely grateful for the sense of calm that T'Pol radiated through the bond; it was important that he look and sound entirely in control. The COM gave him a nod, indicating the channel was open. "This is Captain Tucker of the Endeavour," he announced, his voice perfectly calm and professional-sounding. "Form up on us. We'll punch a hole through the Romulan formation and cover your retreat." He paused for a mere heartbeat; it was a suicide run, and anyone with half a brain could see that. There was simply no way Endeavour could take on that many birds of prey and survive, even with the gunboat's aid. "Godspeed and good luck," he concluded before giving Devereux a nonverbal command to kill the transmission. He turned his eyes to Eisler and found the ex-MACO studying his board with the same intensity he remembered Malcolm having. "Weapons hot," Trip ordered and Eisler reacted without looking up, his hands dancing across his tactical board. The sudden change in Endeavour's ambient noise could not be mistaken for anything other than what it was.
"All Boomers report standing by, sir," Lieutenant Devereux declared from her COM station, and Tucker nodded in acknowledgement.
"Lieutenant Hsiao." Trip kept his voice cool and his features composed as he spoke. Control. "Put us between the Romulans and our fleet." He felt T'Pol's momentary confusion at his identification of the Boomers as 'our fleet' but it was almost immediately washed away by understanding and approval at his use of psychology. Here we go, Trip frowned to himself.
At his command, Endeavour's engines roared to life and the ship surged forward.