Songs in Red and Grey

Disclaimer: Enterprise doesn't belong to me, I wish it did. The only thing I get out of this is someplace for my imagination to run riot.

Rating: PG-13

Archive: yes, just ask first.

Spoilers: all four seasons

Summary: Trip is ordered to go on one last mission for Special Projects, but as usual nothing is as simple as it seems.

AN: This is the sequel to Red Rain. In this universe Reed is not part of Section 31, in fact Special Projects could be seen as a sort of proto-Section 31. One of these days I'll get around to rewriting the appropriate scenes in "Affliction" and "Divergence" so that they fit in with this universe.

AN2: Star Trek physics is broken and Star Trek Stellar Cartography doubly so. I'm sticking with Qo'nos being four days away from Earth at warp 4.5.

AN3: This series began before season 4 aired, so ignores almost all of it.

Still I am sure I was only but one
Of a number who darkened that door
Of your home and your hearth and your family and wife
Who'd been darkened so often before

Oh, the red leaf looks to the hard grey stone
To each other, they know what they mean
Somewhere, their future is still yet to come

In ways that are yet as of now unforeseen

- Suzanne Vega, Songs in Red and Grey

The Armoury firing range reverberated with the sound of phase rifle fire. The dark metal walls reflected light from the firing range in bursts.

"So how did the Captain take it?" asked Reed as he aimed his weapon at the target and fired.

Trip waited for Reed to finish his sequence before he spoke. "Badly."

Reed smiled. "One of our MACO officers going to act as advisor to the Andorians? I'm not surprised." He checked the display to see how he'd done and was pleased to see a ninety-five percent average.

"The Colonel never was one to be conventional," replied Trip, checking his own rifle before he stepped up to the marks.

"That's certainly true, but I suppose you don't get into covert ops without being a little unconventional."

Trip just gave Malcolm a look. "You suggesting something, Lieutenant?"

"You have to admit that you don't always follow procedure," said Reed.

"Says the man who wanted to draw power for the phase cannons directly from the impulse engine."

"You're the one who let me do it. Are we going to talk or finish the target practice? Your average isn't getting any better, Commander," said Reed.

"Don't I know it," said Trip, taking up position, "don't I know it." He'd had a solid seventy percent average for as long as he'd been on board Enterprise. It was better than the crew average, but considering that most of them were scientists and engineers that wasn't that surprising.

He was about to start his sequence when he heard the door open behind him. He turned to see their visitor.

"Don't stop on my account," said the dark haired woman. After their last mission, MACO Captain Anna Kanatova had needed a lift back to Vulcan and, since it was on Enterprise's route, Archer had offered to play taxi. Trip suspected the only reason he'd offered was because the MACO had beaten him at chess and he wanted a rematch.

"Anna, I don't need an audience," said Trip.

"I'm just waiting my turn," replied Kanatova. She leaned against the wall behind her. She was wearing her green MACO uniform that bore the red caduceus insignia of the MACO medical corps and indicated that she was also a doctor.

Trip gave Reed the nod to start the program. He completed the sequence and turned to Reed for his result.

"Not bad, seventy-five percent. You're getting better."

Kanatova burst into laughter behind them. Reed turned to look at her.

"What's so funny?" asked Reed, completely missing the look of dread on Trip's face.

"Anna," growled Trip in warning.

"Trip getting seventy-five percent and you say he's improving," replied Kanatova, wiping the tears out of her eyes. "He's better than I am and I have a ninety average. The only one who could beat him was Carter and he was the team sharpshooter."

"Trip?" asked Reed, in disbelief. "Trip's not bad, but he's no where near as good…" He trailed off and took in Trip's look of embarrassment. "You really are as good as she says, aren't you?" said Reed in resignation.

"I was. I'm a bit out of practice. Only managed a ninety-three on my last session."

"Okay, before we go into how you managed to have secret target practice sessions on my Armoury range without my knowledge, why would you even bother to hide this?" asked Reed.

"At first for the same reason I didn't want people to know I could fight. Later I thought about progressively pretending to get better, but you weren't exactly happy when Major Hayes showed off his target shooting skills…" said Trip.

"Damn right I wasn't happy. He set me up."

"Well, that's why I didn't let on how good I was. Didn't think you'd appreciate me showing you up like that."

"Showing me up? Trip, this isn't the same situation. If you're a better marksman than me, I really don't care. This isn't a competition. Why don't you show me what you can really do?"

Trip nodded a little reluctantly. He stepped up to the marks again and readied himself to fire. Reed started the program and watched Trip go into what he referred to as "MACO mode". When Trip was tapping into his MACO training he had a different look about him. He was somehow more focused and his body moved in a different way, all signs of clumsiness gone.

"Ninety-seven percent," said Reed, reading off the result from the screen. "Welcome to the Enterprise shooting elite. I'll have to get you to shoot against Ensign Romanov, she's the only person to ever achieve a perfect score on this program."

"I'm not that good," said Trip. "I should have got Carter to give you a demonstration when he was on board."

"Actually he did. We had to do something while you were lazing around in sick bay, you know," said Reed.

"Lazing with a severe concussion, broken ribs, dislocated shoulder and broken fingers," interjected Kanatova.

Trip cast her a look which told her to keep quiet. "So you're not upset?"

"No. There's a difference between showing up my inadequacies on purpose and just being better. This is who you are, Trip," replied Reed.

"I still wish it wasn't," replied Trip.

"Don't be embarrassed by your abilities," said Reed. "I wish I was as good."

"Yeah, but I know who I want beside me if we run into a Klingon bird of prey out here," pointed out Trip. The duties of the Armoury and Security officer weren't limited to being able to shoot straight. No one knew weapons like Lieutenant Reed, or had a such a fine grasp of enemy hostile manoeuvres. Trip could explain how the phase cannons drew power but he'd have very little idea how to calibrate them for the best possible performance. However, the problem remained that Trip knew how to shoot because of his past, a past that he would rather forget, and no one could do anything about that.

The com alert sounded. "Commander Tucker to the com," said Hoshi's unmistakeable tones.

Trip moved to a wall com unit. "Tucker here," he said.

"Commander, I have a Colonel Daria Andros on the subspace band. She would like you to take the call in your quarters. Apparently it concerns a confidential matter," said Hoshi.

"Thanks, Hoshi, give me a moment and then put it through," replied Trip.

"Andros?" asked Kanatova, "she's the latest head of Intelligence at MACO HQ. What could she possibly want?"

"I guess I'm about to find out," said Trip, heading out of the Armoury.

Trip sat down at the desk in his quarters apprehensively. A few moments later his caller appeared on the vid screen in front of him. Colonel Andros was in her mid to late forties with dark brown hair that was cut to a neat, short bob. Her eyes were an equally deep brown and, if it wasn't for the scar across her left eye down her cheek, she would have been considered quite beautiful. Her dark green MACO uniform clearly showed her rank of Colonel and her assignment as Intelligence Corps. Trip had heard the rumours about this woman, the same as Kanatova had. She was ambitious and on the fast track to make General. No doubt she was now trying to prove herself in her new post as Head of Intelligence.

"Colonel Andros, what can I do for you?" MACO protocol indicated that he should salute when reporting to a superior officer, even across a com channel, but he wasn't a MACO any longer. He would have saluted Colonel Darwin, his former unit commander, even now, but it was a sign of respect rather than rank or his former honorary MACO status.

"I have a mission for you," said Andros, getting straight to the point. "I need you to go to a planet in the Coriolis system. It's about a week's journey from Enterprise's current position."

"Ma'am, with respect, hang on a minute there, I think you've made a mistake. I'm not under your command and I'm not a MACO," said Trip.

"I know that you're not, despite your training. However I need an Engineer for this mission," replied Andros. "Coriolis is a backward planet without warp capable ships. In the interests of galactic peace we believe that they should be given warp drive technology."

Trip realised that she was the type of military leader that he really hated, the kind that expected unquestioning loyalty. She was assuming that he would jump at her word without even getting the full story.

"You've got to be kidding me," said Trip. "That violates so many rules of contact that I don't know where to begin."

"The Vulcans have a rule of non-interference, not us," said Andros.

"There's a damn good reason that they have that rule and we agreed that we'd abide by the Vulcan code when we launched Enterprise," replied Trip. "Contaminating another culture is a serious business."

"Special Projects never seemed to worry too much about that," retorted Andros.

"Yeah, and look where that got us," said Trip. "Why are you so willing to give Coriolis warp technology anyway?"

"It's expedient to the galactic situation," said Andros.

"Expedient? You want me to contaminate an entire culture and give away Starfleet secrets because it's expedient?"

"Perhaps I didn't make myself clear, this is a direct order, Commander."

"You can't give me orders, Colonel. Why me anyway? You've got to have half a dozen personnel who could do this and are actually in the MACOs."

"What we need, Commander Tucker, is a rare commodity, an engineer with covert operations experience. Do you know how many of them there are in the fleet?"

"Do you know how may regulations this violates?"

"Which is why this is Special Projects."

"There is no Special Projects. It was disbanded after the Faranor mission."

"I beg to differ, Commander."

"You reinstated it?"

Andros nodded. "Some time ago."

"I'm not going back to Special Projects." Trip's eyes were hard and set with determination.

"You know that no one ever leaves Special Projects, Tucker."

"I did."

"No, you just think you did."

"You can't order me to do this. I have duties on Enterprise. I'm the god damn Chief Engineer."

"Your current assignment is of no interest to me. Make no mistake, Commander, you are mine now. I can make life very difficult for you. There are things that Special Projects did that you don't want brought into the light."

"There are things that you don't want known about as well. I did what I had to. I may not have liked it, but it was what was needed."

"If you go to Coriolis, then I'll make your record clean. Special Projects will never have happened."

"It happened, I can't just wipe it from my memory. I live with my decisions every day."

"Yes, I heard about your recent adventures with the retired Colonel Darwin. To me it seems like you can't let go of the good old days."

"There were no good old days!" shouted Trip, jumping up from his chair. "This wasn't some vacation for us. We killed people and you can never understand how much I regret what I did. And you know what, you can't use it against me, Captain Archer already knows what I did and so do Starfleet."

"Yes, I had noticed that breach of confidentiality. I'm not sure that we should have front line officers with the kind of knowledge that you have. The risk of enemy capture is very high. Perhaps I should arrange for transfers for you and your Captain."

"What? You can't take Enterprise away from Captain Archer."

"I can and I will if you don't co-operate," replied the Colonel. "One of the things about being in intelligence is that you know the dirt on everyone. It would only take a couple of com calls to have your Captain removed."

"I can't leave Enterprise without a Chief Engineer."

"They can cope without you for a little while. It shouldn't take more than a couple of months at most. I have temporary transfer orders ready to go on your word. All I need is your say so, Tucker, and this mission is yours." She paused before continuing. "Or I can draft recall orders for yourself and Captain Archer. It's up to you."

"Fine, you've got your pound of flesh. I'll do it, but I don't like it," said Trip.

"You don't have to like it, you just have follow orders," replied Colonel Andros. "Your new orders will be with you by the end of the day and Captain Archer will receive instructions to rendezvous with your transport. Andros out."

Trip dropped his head and sighed. The Captain wasn't going to like this.

Kanatova was at his door a few minutes later. He'd expected her visit. She breezed into his quarters, her eyes going to the screen where Andros' image had been moments before.

"So what did she want?"

"The usual. Top secret mission to the middle of nowhere."

"You turned her down, I assume." Kanatova slumped unceremoniously onto his bed. Trip had been looking down at his hands unwilling to meet Kanatova's gaze. Now he flicked his eyes up to meet hers. She understood his silence immediately. "You're going?"

Trip nodded. "She hasn't given me a choice."

"What's the mission?"

"You know I can't tell you that."

"So you're just going back to the life, just like that?"

"No, damn it, not just like that. I can't do anything else."

"You're giving in too easily. There's always a way out."

Trip gave Kanatova a rueful smile. "Maybe with a team of Special Ops MACOs to back me up. This isn't the same."

"No, I suppose it isn't." Kanatova got up from the bed and stretched out the kinks in her muscles. "You're not going to tell me what this is all about, are you?"

"And let you get into trouble as well? Uh uh. I have to do this."

Kanatova sighed in exasperation. "You always were stubborn. Well, it's your funeral. I just hope not literally."

Trip stood outside Captain Archer's door and rehearsed what he was going to say. He'd just received his transfer orders only a few minutes earlier and almost everything they contained was marked classified, which was going to make this even harder. He was putting off the inevitable and, to be honest, there was no way to make what he had to say sound any better than it was. If he didn't go in soon the orders from Colonel Andros would be on the Captain's desk before he had a chance to warn him, and that was not a situation that he wanted to be in. He kept on reminding himself that his last brush with Special Projects had earned him strike two in the Captain's eyes and he really didn't want this to be strike three and out.

Trip nervously reached out a hand to press the button for the doorbell only to find the door sliding open in front of him. Archer was reading a padd and nearly bumped into his Chief Engineer.

"Trip! I was just on my way to see you. How quickly do you think we can make it to Andoria?"

Trip didn't answer and it only took Archer a moment to take in the worried look on his face. "What's the problem, Trip?"

"Captain, I need to talk to you," said Trip.

Archer stepped back into his room, and indicated for Trip to follow him. The door slid shut behind them. "Talk to me."

"You're going to be getting some new orders through from Starfleet before the end of the day concerning me." Trip's voice was dull and lacked its usual animation. Everything about his posture radiated just how much he didn't want to be telling Archer this. "I'm temporarily being transferred off Enterprise, as soon as we can rendezvous with my transport to my new post."

Archer was stunned for a few moments and wasn't quite sure what to say. Trip could see Archer trying to adjust his perspective to this new piece of information. His manner was subdued when he phrased his first question. "The correct procedure if you want a transfer is to come to me, Trip. Why didn't you?" There was a mixture of hidden hurt and anger behind this question.

"I didn't ask for it, Captain. I've done some stupid things in my time, but going over your head isn't one of them."

Archer got down his decanter of bourbon and two glasses from their resting place. He took a seat at his desk and indicated for Trip to sit as well. Trip gratefully slumped into the chair and took the generously poured measure of spirits that Archer set before him. He gently swirled the liquid in the glass, warming it with his hands, before taking a large sip.

"So are you going to tell me what this is all about or do I have to get you drunk first?"

"I don't think that my boss would be too happy if I got drunk on the job." Trip gave Archer a half smile that didn't reach his eyes. It just wasn't in him to joke at the moment.

"Your boss might make an exception in this case," replied Archer. "Do you know, I don't think I've ever seen you drunk. All those times we went out drinking and I never noticed that I was always the one that needed to be helped home."

"Someone had to look after you, and it wasn't that often," replied Trip.

"You're stalling, Trip," said Archer. "Please tell me that this isn't more Special Projects madness."

Trip took a deep breath. "I got a call from Colonel Andros this afternoon. She's head of MACO Intelligence at the moment and that means she's also in charge of Special Projects."

"Special Projects doesn't exist any more."

"She reinstated it. Something came up that requires, how did she put it, an engineer with covert operations experience. "

"You're not a MACO. She can't order you to do anything," said Archer.

"I tried to turn her down, but she made it clear that I don't have a choice." Trip took another large sip of his drink.

"I'll call Admiral Gardner, get him to sort this out." Archer reached for the com button, but Trip reached out a hand and stopped him.

"He can't help," said Trip.

Archer looked at his friend for a moment and realisation dawned. "She's holding something over you. What has she got on you?"

Trip hung his head. "Enterprise."

"Enterprise?" Archer didn't understand.

"I was a member of a covert MACO black ops unit with access to a lot of sensitive information. She could make a case for saying I should be back on Earth where I can't be caught and interrogated by an enemy. I don't want to lose Enterprise."

Trip knocked back the remainder of his bourbon in one shot. He felt the liquid burn pleasantly down his throat as he stared through the window in Archer's quarters out at the stars. He sure as hell wasn't going to burden Archer with the knowledge that it had really been him who Andros had threatened with being posted to Earth. If Archer knew that he was being used to make Trip do this then there was no telling what he might have done. The simple fact was that Trip didn't really care what happened to himself, but by bringing his friends into it, Colonel Andros had found his weak spot.

"I would never let that happen, Trip."

"You wouldn't be able to stop it. She's a powerful woman and you know that Special Projects has some important friends. It's not for long anyway," said Trip.

"How long?"

"Two months, give or take, and depending on what Enterprise is up to when my assignment's complete. I'll be back before you know it."

"You still haven't told me what the assignment is," said Archer. "Or where you're going."

"I can't tell you. I wish I could, but opening my big mouth when I shouldn't has got me into more than enough trouble recently. The less you know the better."

"Actually it was because you didn't tell me about Special Projects in the first place that…"

"I nearly lost your friendship," finished Trip, solemnly. This was still a raw wound for both of them, although they each now saw where they had been at fault regarding their behaviour, they preferred not to discuss past problems and move on. "But that was because it affected Enterprise. This time I promise not to get you involved."

"I'd be less worried about you if Enterprise was involved," said Archer.

"You know if I could see any way out of this then I'd take it." Trip's eyes showed open and honest regret.

When Archer replied, his voice was full of quiet sincerity. "I know."

The orders to rendezvous with the transport that would take Trip to his assignment arrived in Archer's mail that same afternoon. Archer already had other things to consider, however, and he couldn't spend long brooding about what Trip was walking into this time. He called the usual staff meeting to discuss their up coming mission.

"Our mission to Vulcan has been postponed," said Archer to his assembled senior staff. Reed and T'Pol stood to his right hand side, while Phlox, Sato and Mayweather were arrayed down the left side of the table. The only person missing was Trip - he was busy packing for his upcoming mission.

"Kanatova's not going to be happy," said Reed.

"We'll drop her off on our way back. Besides she might come in useful for our next mission," said Archer. "We're going to Andoria."

T'Pol raised an eyebrow. "For what purpose?"

"They've got an epidemic on their hands. It's a disease that they've never seen before and so far they've drawn a blank on finding a cure. They're hoping that Doctor Phlox can help."

"I shall certainly do my best, but from the data that I have received so far this is unlike any Andorian disease that I have ever seen. I really need more information." Phlox looked worried.

"Then we are required to reach Andoria urgently," said T'Pol. "I take it that Commander Tucker has already been informed and that is why he is not present."

"Commander Tucker isn't coming with us to Andoria." Everyone turned to look at Archer. "We're making a small stop on the way."

"If you don't mind me asking, where's he going, sir?" asked Reed.

"All I've been told is that Enterprise is to rendezvous with his transport and that he'll be away for a couple of months. Lieutenant Hess will be in charge of Engineering until he returns," said Archer. Several glances were exchanged around the table and he wondered whether his officers had already guessed that this had something to do with Special Projects. Officially the unit didn't exist anymore but somehow Trip just didn't seem to be able to shake his past, and everyone around the table was aware of that. "Right now we have rather more pressing concerns."

Everyone seemed to be reminded that they were meant to be discussing the Andorian situation and returned their attention to the screen on the table in front of them that displayed information on the status of the disease's progress. The rest of the briefing proceeded normally, with Phlox emphasising all the precautions that they would need to take. Some diseases were unable to jump species barriers, but since they weren't sure what exactly they were dealing with here it was wise to assume the worst. Everyone was aware of how easy it was to spread an illness through the entire ship very quickly, a recent outbreak of the common cold had made that all too apparent.

The briefing concluded and Archer dismissed his officers. Lieutenant Reed lingered for a moment, obviously hoping for a private word with his Captain.

"Something I can do for you, Malcolm?"

"I believe Commander Tucker informed you that Colonel Darwin is on Andoria at the moment," said Reed. "Does that have anything to do with why the Commander isn't joining us?"

"I wish I knew, Malcolm," replied Archer. "I really did just get orders that tell us to meet this transport. Trip isn't talking but I get the impression that the information he's been given is minimal."

"This is Special Projects though, isn't it?"

Archer nodded. "Apparently the concept, if not the actual unit, has been reinstated by the new MACO Head of Intelligence. Trip didn't want to go but they threatened him with removal from Enterprise if he doesn't."

"Isn't there anything that we can do?" Reed obviously didn't like this any more than Archer did. Sometimes Reed reminded him of a guard dog who liked to have all his sheep in one place so that he could protect them more easily.

"Trip doesn't seem to think so. You know as well as I do how bullet proof Special Projects is."

"Maybe the Colonel can shed some light on what's going on," suggested Reed.

"I'm not exactly on good terms with Darwin at the moment, and Andoria is at least a week away at high warp. If he even knows anything at all." Archer had actually been the one responsible for getting Colonel Darwin dismissed from the MACOs and that was only the latest issue between them. He just didn't like what the Colonel stood for and the two of them always clashed.

"He still owes Trip a few favours."

"More than a few from what I've heard. I'm sure Trip can look after himself for a few weeks, Malcolm."

"If you believed that, sir, then we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Archer realised that Reed was absolutely right. Trip had a way of getting himself into trouble and any association with Special Projects seemed to multiply that propensity. Trip could handle himself in a fight better than anyone else that Archer knew, but being able to defend oneself wasn't always enough.

"Do you think you could do some digging and find out what his orders are? Or at least where he's going?" asked Archer.

"Perhaps," said Reed. "It depends how good their security is. They had a complete overhaul of their procedures after we were able to access classified information last time. I might need to borrow Hoshi's code breaking skills if I hit a brick wall."

"Do what you need to, Malcolm, but I want to know where Trip is going and what the hell is so important that they need to steal my Chief Engineer from me."

To be continued...

This story is complete so updates will be every few days. Review and let me know what you think!