Author's note: First, the usual 'don't sue me' line. I do not make any money from this and there is no copyright infringement intended in any way.

SECOND, if you have not read my first Startrek;Enterprise story "Into Darkness", stop now and go do that. If you don't, this story will give you a migraine. Seriously.

THIRD, I realized after "Into Darkness" that the time line in my little AU was completely screwed up thanks to what I had done, so. . .in trying to continue my story while still staying at least somewhat true to the series while still meddling like I am prone to do, I've taken some liberties. Okay I've taken several liberties. By several I mean a bunch.

So suspend what you believe once again, and ride into adventure with Trip Tucker, Lord Grim the Destroyer, etc and so forth. I hope you enjoy.

Bad

CHAPTER ONE

"I like it," Trip said finally, looking at the plans Kov had designed for the new cargo ships.

"They're expensive," Kov admitted. "But I did some research before I began. These ships are faster, tougher, and better armed than any cargo ships on the market today. I won't go so far as to say they're pirate proof, but. . . ."

"But they can hold their own," Trip nodded in agreement, "and run away from most threats to boot."

"That was the plan," Kov agreed. "Using the twin engine design you developed along with the quad nacelle design was the answer. Each engine is much smaller and more efficient than older designs currently in use by most cargo vessels. We've effectively doubled the speed, adding only thirty-seven percent mass to accommodate the changes."

"Top speed?" Trip asked.

"Estimated at warp 5.1," Kov replied. "And with a good engineer they can likely push 5.5 in an emergency for an hour. Perhaps a bit longer."

"So they can cruise at Warp 4, and still be considerably faster than any thing out there," Trip mused. "Dammit Kov, these ships might derail my idea of protecting convoys!" Trip laughed. "Well done, my friend."

"Thank you, Trip," Kov smiled. "We'll have the first prototype ready in less than two months. Field trials will consist of a run to Earth for shake-down, then a trip from there to Andoria carrying cargo. We'll use that run to see what changes need to be made on the follow up hulls."

"I assume Janos wants the first few for himself?" Trip asked.

"He's considering taking half the first run for his own line," Kov nodded. "The other three will be offered for sale. I expect that we'll soon have actual orders for the ships not long after that."

"Outstanding," Trip nodded in approval. "Being able to sell these hulls will go a long way toward paying for our own upkeep, I imagine."

"That's my hope as well."

"I've had a new thought myself," Trip announced, producing a PADD of his own, handing over to his friend. "See what you think about this."

Kov studied the plans for a moment, eliciting a raised eyebrow from him on three separate occasions. Finally, he looked up, grinning.

"This is a very interesting design," he said deviously. "It could change a great deal of the way we protect shipping as well as how we wage war. What made you think of it?"

"Ships like Acheron, or now Reaper, are expensive to build and maintain," Trip shrugged. "And while these little fellas can certainly provide escort, they would also be useful in battle and for station defense."

The design was a small 'cutter' type craft, capable of Warp 5. Designed for a small crew, leaning heavily on automation, the smaller ships were fast, nimble, and well armed.

"You could use them as escorts for your larger ships," Kov pointed out.

"And sell them as planetary defense vessels as well," Trip nodded. "They're not nearly so heavily armed, but sometimes all you need is a small hammer rather than a sledge."

"And vastly easier to produce and crew," Kov nodded.

"See about putting a crew together to get one knocked out," Trip ordered. "Let's see what we can build out of it. If it works like I think it will then I'm willing to bet we'll get advance orders for some of these, too."

"I'll see to it," Kov promised. "Tarn and the others are still working mainly on the second set of battle crusiers, but I'll run it by him for his input."

"Thanks, Kov," Trip smiled. He was about to say something else when the door chime to the conference room sounded.

"Enter!"

Delana Grix walked in, her face set in a look of determination,

"We need to talk," he told Trip. The look on her face told Trip how serious she was.

"We're about finished here, anyway, I think," Kov mentioned, gathering the PADDs from the table. "I'll let you know how things progress."

"Thanks, buddy," Trip smiled. Kov departed, leaving Trip and Delana alone.

"Have a seat." The doctor plopped into a chair, arms crossing beneath her magnificent bosom, her body language screaming defiance.

"You're an idiot," she said at once.

"Been told that before," Trip nodded. "Not by someone as sexy as you, usually, but I've also been called worse." Delana blushed but was not put off her mission.

"You have to talk to Neera."

"I already talked to 'er," Trip frowned. "What's your interest in it?"

"She's my friend," Delana scowled. "And you've hurt her. Badly."

"She's a big girl," Trip replied, though kindly. "She'll get over it. All I did was point out that certain things weren't going to happen again. Her decision is hers to make."

"Don't you know how sorry she is?" Delana demanded. "Hell, I didn't even know she could cry, yet she's done almost nothing but for the last three days."

"Delana, I'm not sure this is any of your business," Trip told her. "What passed between us is. . . ."

Oh, no it's not," Delana shook her head. "Do you know she offered to 'share' you with me?" Trip thought about that a minute before catching on, his face growing dark.

"Well, that was big of 'er, considerin' I wasn't in on that conversation," he didn't quite growl.

"She made the offer so you could have an heir, you twit!" Delana almost yelled.

"I had already told her that wasn't an issue," Trip checked his anger. "And it had nothin' to do with the 'talk' we had that upset her, either."

"My point was that she loved you enough to share her relationship with you with someone else. Someone who could give you what she couldn't."

"Which, again, ain't got nothin' to do with what she and I talked about," Trip said a bit more firmly. "I allowed my feelin's for her to get in my way. I changed my mind because of her influence, and it could o' cost a lotta people their lives. Including mine."

"I ain't willin' to allow that to happen again," he ended firmly. "As to sharing me, I'm not a possession. Neither was she. Is she. Happens I 'share' with anyone, I'll be the one decidin' that. Not her, and not you."

"You don't live in a vacuum, Trip," Delana said. "Every decision you make has an influence on those around you. It's not all about you."

"I've never said it was," Trip grated. "Nor have I implied it, neither. But things are gonna change around here, Delana. I am sick and tired o' watchin' my people catch the short end of the stick. It's through. Understand? And if that means our enemies have to cease to exist to get the point across, then I got no problem with that. And I got no time for anyone who sees it differently. Not on the ship, anyway."

"My people are constantly being robbed, taken as slaves, or killed outright for no other reason than it pleases someone else. That's going to stop, and I don't really care who I have to destroy to make that happen."

"There are others, non-humans, who serve me too, and I intend to protect them and their people as well. No one else seems willing or able to do that. Earth is too weak and indecisive. Vulcan couldn't care less unless it's their own people and even then they talk more than act."

"Andoria gets 'outraged', but then they're so pre-occupied with Vulcan they can't seem to spare much thought for anything else. The list goes on, and on."

"Well, I do care, and I'm both willing and able to put a stop to it, and I aim to. And it's not open for discussion. In a few days, Reaper will leave this dock and go slaver hunting. When she's done, slavery will be a dyin' occupation in the Alpha quadrant. Anyone who wants to live long, and prosper, as the Vulcan's would say, better find another way to make a livin'."

"Neera talked me out o' fryin' Azati Prime and the weapon almost made it into space. Lot of people, includin' Xindi, died tryin' to stop it. None of 'em would o' had to if I had done what my gut told me to and destroyed the damn thing on the ground."

"I will never let that happen again," he finished darkly. "And I don't care what it costs me, personally. I can't afford to."

"So that's it, then," Delana said.

"It doesn't have to be," Trip shrugged. "Like I said, there's choices to be made. I made a bad choice, allowin' my personal feelin's to interfere with my decision makin'. That bad choice almost cost us Earth. An entire way of life and entire race of people. My people."

"I will not be put in the place of havin' to do that again," Trip said firmly.

"Doesn't it matter that it worked out in the end?" Delana asked, more softly.

"No, it don't," Trip replied solidly. "Nothin' but blind luck and the loss of a ship worth more than some planet's annual budget kept that thing from getting away and destroying the Earth, and maybe anything else in it's way." He paused, taking a deep breath.

"I flew my ship into that battle station knowing I was gonna die," he told her softly. "I didn't cause Shran was nearby, watchin', and took the risk of comin' in close enough to beam me out. At least seven Xindi ships and no tellin' how many more atmospheric vessels died with all hands tryin' to keep that thing from launching. They would all still be alive if I had followed my instincts and nuked the damn thing while it was still on the ground. Well, under the water," he added.

"Destroying how much?" Delana shot back. "Doing how much damage to the planet and killing how many people?"

"I don't care!" Trip finally snapped and Delana saw a ripple across his forehead. He stopped suddenly, beginning deep, calming breaths. She watched in a mixture of awe, fear, and wonder as Trip managed to get himself under control again.

"I didn't put the weapon there, they did," Trip spoke again, this time being very particular. "I didn't attack Earth, they did. I didn't build a weapon capable of destroying a planet, they did. So whatever might have happened to that planet would be on them, not on me."

"And the rest of the quadrant, hell the Universe, better start understanding the same thing. The days of Earth being run over roughshod are finished!"

He stood abruptly, startling her.

"I don't care who it is, Delana. Not anymore. If they're out there," he waved beyond the bulkhead, "and they think they can kill our people, make them slaves, and threaten our lives, then they'll learn soon enough that I mean business."

"Had you had your way, Trip, then there wouldn't be three Xindi races on Earth working out a peace treaty," Delana reminded him.

"And there wouldn't still be the other two Xindi races out there willing and able to make war with the plans to build another one of those weapons," he replied bluntly.

"What?" Delana's shock was evident.

"Oh, Neera neglected to tell you that, did she?" Trip's voice was scornful. "How 'bout that. You walked in here all ready to condemn me and didn't know all the facts." His smirk was ugly.

"That's right, Doctor," he nodded. "The Reptilians and Insectoids are still out there. The two more warlike races of the Xindi, and they have the plans for the weapon. With the right resources, they can build another one. And I don't think we have to wonder if they'll use it, now do we?"

"I. . .I didn't know. . . ." Delana sputtered.

"You didn't, huh? Then how is it you storm in here all about how wrong I am and how good it was I didn't follow through?"

"I. . .Trip, I was just. . . ."

"That's what I live with, now," Trip finished. "That I let them get away because of a weakness in me that I allowed others to place there. Because I was too weak to say no, the Earth is still threatened with destruction. So I'll thank you, Doctor, to keep your judgmental attitudes to yourself in the future, at least until you have enough information to know what the hell you're talkin' about. Think you can do that?"

Delana, now completely cowed, simply nodded. Trip's look softened.

"I'm sorry," he said slowly. "I should have just kept my mouth shut."

"No," Delana shook her head, rising slowly. "No, you shouldn't. I should have. I had no idea the stress you were under, Trip, and I'm sorry."

"Well, if it's any consolation, I'd o' prob'ly let Neera 'share' me with ya," he grinned, and winked. Delana blushed again, but smiled back.

"Hey, it might work out so I don't have to share," she shot back. "And I'm a patient woman."

STE

"So how does it feel to be a Commodore?" Forrest asked, smiling.

"I feel like a fraud," Jon Archer replied, his hand rising on instinct to caress his new rank. "I didn't manage to do anything like enough to warrant any of this," he pointed to the medals he was now wearing.

"I disagree," Forrest said sternly. "So did the Senate."

"If it hadn't been for Trip. . . ."

"That's another discussion," Forrest held up a hand. "I'm sorry that Tucker is gone, but it was his choice."

"No it wasn't," Archer shook his head. "He was going to destroy the weapon on the ground, and several of us talked him out of it. If we hadn't, he'd still be alive."

"And there wouldn't be the start of a treaty between us and the Xindi," Forrest countered.

"Part of the Xindi," Archer reminded him.

"Regardless, things are looking bright at the moment. The Vulcan's are even singing your praises."

"Hell with the Vulcan's," Archer's voice trembled. "Other than T'Pol, the rest can burn in hell as far as I'm concerned."

"What happened to you dream of a coalition of star nations?" Forrest asked.

"No one helped us, other than Andor. And I'm fair certain that was for their own gain. I like Shran, but he wasn't there with three Kumari class ships just looking around. I think they wanted the weapon, or the plans to build one, to attack Vulcan."

"I wish I'd given it to him," he muttered darkly.

"You can't say that in public," Forrest warned.

"I can say any damn thing I like," Archer shot back. "I've earned it," he added. "All of us have. The rest of you? You'll have to decide that."

"Jon, don't forget your responsibilities in a fit of anger," Forrest frowned. "We can't have the Commodore of the fleet flagship muttering about our allies."

"What allies?" Jon shot back. "Hell, you wanted to incarcerate the only people willing to help us in the Expanse, Max. Vulcan isn't an ally."

"That's enough, Jon," Forrest said flatly. "Keep your opinions to yourself."

"And if I don't?" Archer challenged.

"Then we might have to find someone else to Captain the Enterprise," Forrest threatened.

"Maybe you should do that anyway," was Archer's only reply.

STE

"What are you going to do on your leave?" Hoshi asked the duo of Mayweather and Reed.

"I'm hooking up with a friend," Mayweather grinned.

"Uh huh," Hoshi grinned back. "What about you?" she looked at Reed.

"I'm gonna see if I can find someone," Reed said absently, hoisting a bag over his shoulder. "Two weeks is a long time for leave. Not that we don't all need it."

"I heard that," Hoshi nodded. "I'm going to visit my family in Japan."

"Safe travels, Lieutenant," Reed smiled. Both Sato and Mayweather had received promotions on their return from the Expanse. "Both of you."

"Thank you, sir," the two replied in unison as Reed walked away.

"He's up to something," Hoshi said softly, once Reed was out of earshot.

"He definitely knows something we don't," Travis agreed. "Or thinks he does, anyway."

"Maybe we should follow him," Hoshi mused.

"Not a good idea," Travis shook his head. "I like the Lieutenant Commander, he's a good man. But a dangerous one, too. Better let this one lie."

STE

"Hello, Malcolm."

Reed forced himself not to start at the sound of Harris' voice, right here in public, not twenty yards from the shuttle pad.

"Harris," he nodded, still not looking. "What brings you out in the sunlight?"

"Now, now," the voice chided. "Just here to hail the returning heroes and all that."

"Mission accomplished," Reed snorted. "Anything else?"

"You came into some intelligence just before you went into the Expanse, Malcolm," Harris replied. "I'd love to know where you go it." Reed felt a tingle up his spine.

"It was anonymous," Reed shrugged. "You're the only one I've told that, by the way," he added, which was true. "I have no idea where it came from. But it was, as far as I know, completely accurate."

"I'll need to know more than that Malcolm," Harris came into view. "You know how this works."

"I know how it used to work," Malcolm replied. "But not anymore. Starfleet has everything I know. Hand delivered, no less."

"You know about the ship Tucker built, though," Harris pointed out. "And I'm very interested in it. So will we do this the hard way, or the easy way, Malcolm?"

Malcolm tensed, knowing what was coming, but before he could act, three loud thuds came to his ears. Harris' eyes widened for a second before he joined his cronies on the ground. Reed turned cautiously to see a smiling Jerl McCann behind him, along with another man he didn't recognize.

"Hiya, Malcolm. Was afraid you might need a hand. How you doing?"

STE

Harris woke slowly, his senses returning in fits and starts. He finally realized that he was in a warehouse, somewhere. His men were no where to be seen.

He wasn't secured in any way, Harris was surprised to see. Whoever had him didn't think him a threat. That worked for him. What else would. . . .

"I see you're awake," a voice called out. Harris looked up to see a man standing several feet away, leaning on a shelving unit, watching him closely.

"You have no idea the trouble you're in, my friend," Harris said calmly, rising to his feet. "Do you know who I am?"

"Harris, Hiram J. Real name Harold Richard Sterling. Parents David and Michelle Leeder Sterling, 432 Virginia Cove, Dover, Maine. Leader of Section 31, a somewhat skewered name considering. Guilty of murder, torture, kidnaping, theft. . .well, you know the list as well as I do. Short answer, yes. I know who you are. And I don't care."

Harris blinked at that. He had scrubbed his real name, his familial connections from every source, every where in the world. His own family believed him dead. Long dead, in fact.

"What do you want?" he demanded.

"I want a lotta things, Harris," McCann smiled. "I'm just gonna call you Harris, since you answer to it. First and foremost, I want to let you know that Malcolm Reed is off limits to you, Harris. Now and forever more. If you call him, contact him, approach him in any way from this day forward, there won't be enough of you left to identify with a DNA scanner. Understand?"

"He works for me," Harris said firmly. "He always will."

"Always the hard way," McCann shook his head slowly. "I had read that in your file, but. . .somehow, I got the impression you were smarter than that."

Before Harris could blink, McCann was in front of him, holding Harris' left arm. Slowly, he began to squeeze. Harris almost collapsed as he felt his arm breaking under the grip.

"S. . .stop!"

"Why?" McCann continued to apply pressure. "I mean, I warned you, you didn't listen. There's no reason not to just get rid of you right now, is there?"

"What do you care about Reed?" Harris managed to grit out as the bone in his arm gave way in another place.

"He's my friend," McCann shrugged. "And he's attracted attention at a high level, if you know what I mean. Much higher than you. I've been sent to deliver a message, and see to it that it's followed. Since you openly refused, I have to. . .well, make adjustments. My orders allow for that, fortunately. So. . . ." He squeezed harder, and a third place in Harris' arm gave way, the bone crushed to near dust.

"He has information I need!" Harris screamed.

"No, you don't," McCann shook his head. "You need to go back to doing your job, and forget you ever knew the name Malcolm Reed. Now that I've explained things to you, do you think you can do that? Killing you is the last option in my orders, Harris, because despite how repulsive you are you do run an efficient organization. Still, I am allowed to kill you if I have to. Do I have to?"

"N. . .No," Harris replied weakly, sinking toward the floor. His right hand, out of sight, reached toward his ankle.

"It's not there, Harris," McCann sighed, shaking his head. "I guess I do have to kill you. Tell me, is there someone in your organization who can take over for you?"

"No!" Harris screamed in pain. "No one knows. . .e. . .everything," he gasped.

"Well, that's too bad," McCann feigned sadness. "They'll have to start all over, won't they? Probably set the whole program back years. Then again," McCann mused, "that might not be a bad thing, huh?"

"P. . .please," Harris gasped. "Th. . .there's so much t. . .to do."

"And you can do it, all without Reed," McCann agreed. "Now, I think this arm is about finished, so I'll need to move to the other one. You'll need someone to help you in the bathroom for a while, I guess," he added.

"I'll leave him be!" Harris almost shouted. "He's good, that's all! I needed him!"

"You don't need him anymore, Harris," McCann's voice hardened. "I been fuckin' with you up til now. Just having some fun, so to speak. How's it feel, Harris, being treated like you treat others? Sucks, I bet." Harris felt himself lifted off the ground by his broken arm, elevated to the point that his tormentor was looking up at him.

"I don't want to have this conversation again, Harris, so we won't. Remember what I said. I was in no way joking. You'll be dust in the street if you ever approach him again."

"Oh, and just in case you misunderstand, that means if anything happens to Reed, too. If he has a hover car accident, if his shuttle crashes, if he has a negligent discharge on his phase pistol, if he trips and falls on the sidewalk, I'll assume that it's your fault, and you'll be dead within twelve hours. Understand?"

Harris looked down at his captor, his mind memorizing his face, his voice, everything about him.

"I can see what you're thinking, Harris," McCann sighed. "That's too bad." Before Harris could react, McCann dropped Harris, catching him by the head, and twisting sharply. The crack of his neck was sharp in the abandoned warehouse.

Dropping the body on the floor, he turned to Tomas.

"Make sure he disappears. Forever."

"Yes, sir."

STE

Neera looked up at the sound of the door chime. She was once more 'working' in the book store, covering the front of Janos' operation in Miami. While Trip had assured her she was welcome aboard his new vessel, subject to conditions, she found the idea of being near him too painful. She was fairly certain that her relationship with him was completely destroyed as a result of the events surrounding the Battle of Azati Prime, and being on the same ship with him now would be too much for her to bear.

So, she had returned to Earth. She had expected Janos to be much harsher on her than he had been. In fact he hadn't been harsh at all. To the contrary he seemed to understand all too well what she was going through and had told her to simply stay with him for the time being until she felt she was ready to take on another assignment.

Which found her looking across the counter at Malcolm Reed.

"Hello, Neera," Malcolm said softly. "How are you?"

Neera realized that Malcolm was really asking how she was, thinking that she was here recovering from the shock of Trip Tucker's death. Malcolm was as yet unaware that his friend still lived.

"I'm well, Lieutenant," Neera nodded regally, smiling just a little. "It's good to see you. I assume you're well?" They had heard from Jerl McCann earlier. She doubted that Malcolm was aware of Harris' demise, and it wasn't her place to tell him.

"I am, thank you," the notoriously tight lipped Brit replied. "I was wondering if I might. . . ."

"He's expecting you," Neera nodded again. "I believe you know the way?"

"Thank you," Malcolm nodded back and stepped through the doorway behind the counter. Neera watched him disappear before turning her attention back to the store front. Another man had just entered and was looking around the store.

"May I help you, sir?" she asked, smiling.

STE

Reed made his way through the back to the door of Janos' office. He stopped for a second to brush his clothes and ensure he was presentable. Satisfied that all was in order, he raised his hand to knock. Before he could, the intercom speaker beside the door crackled.

"Do come in, Leftenant," Janos' cultured voice ordered through the speaker. Shaking his head, Malcolm opened the door and stepped inside.

"Come in, come in," Janos waved from behind the large desk. "I'm delighted to see you, Mister Reed. Delighted. May I offer you some tea?" he asked, pointing to a service sitting on the desk.

"Thank you, sir," Malcolm replied, crossing to take a seat. Janos poured two cups, setting one before his guest and taking the other in hand, leaning back into his chair.

"I appreciate you seeing me, sir," Malcolm said, lifting his own cup. As always, it was delicious. The man knew and demanded quality in everything.

"Not at all," Janos waved the statement away. "I told you before, Malcolm, you are always welcome here, even if it's just to visit. But I assume you are not here simply to visit, are you?" his eyes might have twinkled slightly.

"No sir, I'm not," Malcolm admitted. "I assume Trip is still alive, and I'd like to know for sure," he said bluntly. There was no point in beating around the bush with a man who always seemed to know what others were thinking anyway.

"What makes you think that?" Janos asked, leaning forward.

"First, he's the luckiest SOB I've ever known," Reed admitted. "Second, he's too smart not to have a backup plan. Third, he's the luckiest SOB I've ever known." Reed grinned to rob the words of any sting. Janos looked at him for a moment before throwing his head back, laughing.

"You really are a remarkable young man, Mister Reed," he said at last. "And yes, Trip Tucker does still live," he admitted without hesitation. "That information has to stay with you, however. Charles is adamant that he remain 'dead' so far as Starfleet is concerned. He is even now preparing to embark on another war, this time against the Orion Syndicate."

"Sir?" Reed blurted. "Against the Syndicate?" Reed's relief at the confirmation of his suspicion was overridden by this new tidbit.

"Yes," Janos nodded, leaning back once more in his seat. "I'm afraid that Charles encountered a young human woman, a slave, whilst recruiting foot soldiers for his foray into the Expanse. Killed her former owner, of course," he frowned at that, "and decided that once his problems with the Xindi were decided that he would put an end to the slave trade in the Alpha Quadrant. I have, of course, fully endorsed such an endeavor."

"That's a tall order," Malcolm settled for saying.

"And in good hands," Janos nodded agreement. "I don't suppose you're here to tell me you want to join him, are you?" He tried to keep the excitement from his voice, but heard it seep through none-the-less.

"No sir, though I admit it is tempting," Reed admitted. "And I need to thank you, and Jerl, for intercepting Harris for me. I had assumed he'd make contact at some point wanting more about the Acheron, but I didn't expect him to be in broad daylight right at the docks. He's getting bolder."

"Harris won't be troubling you in the future, Malcolm," Janos promised. "In fact he won't be troubling anyone, ever again," he added, voice growing hard. Reed's eyes widened slightly at that, but he managed to merely nod.

"I see," he replied.

"Good," Janos nodded. "I suppose it's possible that someone will contact you, wanting you to take Harris' place with Section 31. You might want to act surprised when that happens," he added with dry humor that made Reed chuckle darkly.

"Duly noted," he nodded his agreement. "I wanted to see also if you're up to date on the Xindi situation?"

"Treaty with three of five races, two still at large with the plans to rebuild that weapon, yes I'm aware," Janos nodded. Reed reached into his pocket and removed a data chip.

"I brought you a gift this time," he smiled, sliding the chip across the table. "At least I think I did. You're familiar with the Xindi Vortex Manipulator?"

"Oh, yes," Janos nodded. "I'm told it's a remarkable. . .is this the plans for it?" he cut himself off, taking the chip.

"It is, indeed," Malcolm managed not to smile. "My gift to you, sir. Sort of a quid pro, if you will. I'm sure that Trip and Kov can make use of it."

"I'm certain they can," Janos nodded. "A very kingly gift indeed, Mister Reed," Janos said softly. "How did you manage it?"

"You really don't want to know, sir," Reed replied evenly. "But it's not traceable. It just. . .is."

"Well done," Janos leaned back, depositing the chip into his desk. "I thank you, young man."

"I don't know what we'll be doing next," Reed continued. "There's been no rotation as yet, which I honestly expected. The Enterprise will likely be in for refit while we're all on leave, but after that I'm assuming we'll put back out. There's no scuttlebutt as to where we'll be headed or what mission we'll be on. Well, there is one," he corrected himself. "There is a rumor that we'll be returning to Xindi space on a trade mission of some sort. I don't think it's accurate, myself, but that is the rumor. Personally, I can't see it. While the delegation will most likely be ferried out aboard an NX class ship, I can't see the Enterprise being that vessel."

"No?" Janos asked.

"It's a good shakedown cruise for a new boat and crew, especially since the mission will be accompanied by the returning Xindi representatives," Reed expanded. "That's just my opinion, of course, but it makes sense. There are three new ships either already on trials, or about to begin them. It makes more sense to allow one of the newer vessels to make that run."

"A sound strategy," Janos nodded. "I have heard rumblings of some kind of turmoil on Vulcan, though I don't yet know what that's about," he confided in Reed. "Something to do with the High Command and their issues with a cult of some kind. Syrians or something of that sort," he frowned. "I thought our own Syrians were enough trouble. I never imagined that the Vulcans had the same issues."

"I'll try and sound out T'Pol about it, sir," Reed offered. "She may know about the cult. Even if it's hear-say, and she'll share it, it might give you an idea of the problem. Is there a chance this will impact Earth's relations with the Vulcans?"

"I don't know as yet," Janos admitted. "Our 'relations' with Vulcan are somewhat cloudy at the moment anyway. I hope that their internal issues stay just that; internal. Still, any shakeup in their government is bound to have at least some effect on us. Agreed?"

"Yes sir," Reed nodded. "I'll forward anything I can find out to you, through Jerl. Will that be satisfactory?"

"Very much so, and I appreciate it," Janos replied. "Though I don't want any question about your loyalty, Mister Reed."

"There is none," Reed declared. "I've seen where your loyalty lies, sir. I'll take my chances."

"Thank you, young man," Janos' voice rang with sincerity. "I appreciate that. Now, could I interest you in a good steak?"

STE

Neera watched the man who had entered the store after Malcolm closely. The man had refused her offer of assistance, insisting he just wanted to look. That in itself wasn't unusual, and the store actually did a good bit of business that way. But this man was paying far too much attention to the store, and not enough to what was inside it, including her. While not vain about it, Neera knew that men found her attractive, and it was a rare man who entered the store that she didn't catch giving her a once over.

This man had not. Again, that in and of itself wasn't an indictment. He might be gay of course. But that was two datum points against him.

And now he had taken a PADD from his jacket and was trying to use it. She watched in rye amusement as the man tried in vain to connect the PADD to the web. After Malcolm Reed's visit and his threat to torpedo the store from space by remote, Janos had installed a dampening field in the building to prevent any signal not passing through the store's own wireless from escaping.

"Can I help you, sir?" Neera asked again, approaching the man. He looked up, eyes narrowing.

"Why can't I access the web?" he demanded.

"I have no idea, sir," Neera replied. She made a show of checking her own PADD. "I'm connected, sir, it must be your unit." She looked up again, but the man was no longer interested in his PADD. Instead his hand was emerging from under his jacket with a phase pistol. He grabbed Neera's arm, aiming the pistol more or less at her head.

"Not a sound," he warned in what she was sure he felt was a threatening voice. She managed to nod shakily, as if terrified. In truth she could already have killed him, but she needed to know who he was, who he worked for, and most importantly if anyone knew he was here.

"I want the man who came in here before me," he hissed, jerking Neera toward the counter. She went along because if she hadn't the man couldn't have moved her at all. "Where is he?" her 'captor' demanded.

"There's no one in here but you and I," Neera replied, more or less honestly. "The man who came in earlier met someone else and then they departed together. I don't know where to."

The man studied her for a long moment, and Neera fought the urge to sigh. She really needed to take acting lessons for occasions such as this. Finally the man pulled her arm again, moving her behind the counter.

"Enter the address I give you," he demanded, indicating the terminal behind the counter. "And don't even think of anything else." He rattled off a set of numbers quickly. Neera pretended to be too scared to enter them quickly so the man had to repeat them. She punched the numbers into the screen. When the connection didn't go through she tried it again without being told.

"Why isn't it working?" the man demanded, emphasizing his question with a prod from the phase pistol.

"I don't understand," Neera told him, trying the address again. She knew exactly why it wasn't working. Beneath the counter was a switch that killed the terminal's connection without cutting off the power. The signal was leaving the terminal, but going nowhere.

"Get up!" the man ordered, dragging Neera from the chair. Which was about all of that Neera was prepared to take. When she was on her feet she just kept getting up, her fist coming under the man's chin with bone jarring force.

He hit the floor as if his bones had been removed. Neera looked down at him straightening her jacket and brushing herself off. Then she took her own com from her pocket and made a call.

Jerl McCann was a busy man today.