A/N: Watch for language. The Mirror Universe is a nasty place. This act takes place about 120 days after the first scene of act one. Also, replies at the bottom.
Sorry for my absence - first, I broke up with my Muse (she wanted a friends-with-benefits relationship, I wanted more, which meant it was time to move on) so I'm looking for a new one, and then, after Independence Day (the Fourth of July to you less historically minded folk), I was the victim of debit card fraud which cleaned out my checking & savings accounts. Yeah, my bank has made good on that and restored my monies, but talk about an inspiration killer...
Charles Tucker was worried.
There was very little evidence of it on his face as he leaned back in his command chair, but, with each passing second, he grew more and more concerned. It was to be expected, of course. Endeavour was at the tip of the spear, the vanguard for the entire strike group as they raced toward the subspace corridor that would carry them to within striking distance of the Xindi homeworld. Concealed deep within a nebula, it would shave weeks off of the already four month-long journey. And they needed every shortcut they could manage; this damned Expanse had already claimed two ships of the strike group with their hull-crushing anomalies.
Out of the corner of his eye, Charles noticed T'Pol shift fractionally at the science station and fought to keep a grimace off of his face. Nearly three months had passed since their aborted … encounter in the shower, and, per his order, she had made no further attempt to seduce him. Obedience to that directive hadn't stopped her from flaunting her nudity in his presence though, and each night when they retired, she climbed into their bed completely nude. More often than not, Tucker woke to find her halfway sprawled atop him like a lover or a living blanket, an almost proprietary grip on him. It made sleep difficult, knowing that she was there and oh so willing, and days went by when Tucker wondered why the hell he even bothered. Memories of his time in the agony booth and how callously she had used him strengthened his waning resolve in those moments, even as he tried to figure out why he fought against what seemed to be inevitable.
Sometimes, Tucker wondered if he was going insane.
"Status report," he demanded, mostly to get his mind off of the memory of how intoxicating the feel of her warm body against his was or how wonderful her hair smelled early in the morning. His words came out harsh and loud, perfectly reflecting his dark mood. A frisson of amusement seemed to wash across his awareness, and Charles ignored it. He was getting good at ignoring that particular sensation, especially since it had a completely foreign feel to it.
A Vulcan feel.
"All stations reporting ready," Lieutenant Devereux announced from her station. As usual, the communications officer kept her head down and her attention focused entirely on the small screen before her. Years earlier, when Tucker had first recruited her for this assignment, she had been almost frivolous; that had died alongside one of her lovers, the Andorian engineer Drahn.
"Weapon systems are green," Eisler stated. "Combat teams standing by for instructions." The major shot an openly hostile look at the master chief manning the DCO board and, when Eisler spoke again, a hint of heat entered his voice. "I've issued the lockdown order. Any personnel found in restricted areas will be shot on sight."
With effort, Tucker managed to keep from sighing in disgust. The ongoing strife between Major Eisler and the COB hadn't escaped his notice; even before Soong had most recently mentioned the conflict, Charles had been wondering what he should do to resolve the situation. T'Pol's solution was brutally simple: kill Mackenzie and make him an example for the rest of the crew. She had made no attempt to conceal her distrust of the COB. No matter how tenuous or circumstantial any evidence was, she sided with Eisler every single time there was a new incident aboard the ship. They made a terrifying combo, the major and the Vulcan first officer, and Tucker found himself agreeing with them more often than not. It did seem like it was only a matter of time before he'd have to kill Mackenzie and a preventive strike could save a number of lives.
Anger flashed through him then as Charles realized that he had finally sunk as low as the late and unlamented Jonathan Archer. After nearly two decades of trying to avoid it, Tucker was playing the stupid Imperial game. Sixteen years had passed since he first donned the uniform, and in that time, he'd seen the end result of the back-stabbing and political manipulation that seemed so intrinsically tied to promotion. Sure, he'd done his own share of blackmail, but that had been directed against a sociopathic empress in order get a measure of freedom that would otherwise be denied to him. Tucker suspected that he'd still be on Earth, shackled to Defiant's warp core with orders to reproduce technology a century beyond his comprehension if Sato had her choice. All he wanted to do was to get out of human space forever, to live out his final years on some uncharted world with a T'Pol he could actually trust to love. He blinked in surprise at that thought and wondered once more what the Vulcan had done to him.
Or why he kept allowing her to do it.
"Three minutes to target," the subject of his musing said, and Tucker nodded without making eye contact. "Multiple warp signatures detected within two light-minutes of the subspace corridor."
"Battle stations," he ordered tersely. Lights dimmed as the offensive and defensive systems began sucking up power. "Show me," Tucker told the Vulcan and the main viewscreen snapped to life.
Nearly a dozen of the now-familiar looking Xindi ships were weaving through the violet clouds of the nebula. All of them bore signs of heavy action, with blackened hull plating that could only have come from intense weapons-fire. As far as Tucker could tell, there was no sign of this wormhole they had been assured existed, and he gave his first officer a quick, sidelong look. Before he could even phrase his question aloud, she was replying to it.
"There is no visual evidence of the subspace corridor," T'Pol stated coolly, and Charles tried not to think about how she knew what he was going to ask. "Scans confirm its existence, however."
"Targets are moving to intercept," Eisler snapped. "One minute to weapons range."
"Send to all ships," Tucker ordered. "Engage at will." His stomach tightened in worried anticipation and he leaned forward in his chair. The sensation of being watched caused him to give T'Pol another glance; instantly, the tips of her ears darkened and she looked away, almost as if she were embarrassed at being caught. Charles frowned slightly at her unusual actions, but pushed it out of his mind. There was work to be done.
Proximity alarms began shrieking seconds before Endeavour's guns began barking out fire. Phase cannon pulses flashed through the void, slicing into the hulls of two separate Xindi ships. Torpedoes screamed from Endeavour's launch tubes and raced through the indigo clouds to detonate with fierce explosions; one of the Xindi ships was destroyed instantly as the anti-matter warheads vaporized metal and flesh alike. Debris from the shattered craft was sent spinning into the vast nebula as the ship broke apart under withering fire.
Before the Xindi ships could retaliate, five of the Ares-class light destroyers flickered into existence, deactivating their cloaking devices only in the half-second before they opened fire. Reverse-engineered from captured or destroyed Klingon and Suliban ships, the cloaks only seemed to work (officially, anyway) on the smaller, wedge-shaped ships, and were nearly impossible to penetrate with modern sensors. Their use had afforded Starfleet a massive tactical advantage in every single engagement since their deployment.
Suddenly under assault by multiple ships instead of the one they had detected, the Xindi defensive formation splintered apart as each craft went evasive to avoid destruction from unexpected quarters. The entire nebula seemed to light up with brilliant explosions as phase cannons and plasma pulses hammered home. Two more Ares-classes shimmered into view, bracketing one of the damaged Xindi ships with brutal precision fire that burned through its outer hull. The craft wobbled slightly, and then started to straighten its flight path when Endeavour's phase cannons raked fire across it with crippling results. No longer able to even power its hull plating, the Xindi ship became little more than target practice for the two Ares-classes on its tail.
And just like that, the battle was over.
"Damage report," Tucker demanded, though he knew it wasn't necessary. None of the Xindi ships had even managed to hit Endeavour with their own weapons, and he doubted that any of the smaller Ares-classes had suffered more than superficial paint scarring.
"No damage," Mackenzie replied from the DCO board.
"All weapon systems still green," Eisler announced at the same time. Charles glanced toward the science board and T'Pol answered his unspoken query.
"Nine Xindi craft destroyed, two crippled," she reported calmly. "The Mao Zedong and Khan Singh are maneuvering to board them."
"Lieutenant Devereux," Tucker said with a dark frown. "Send to the Mao and the Khan: belay the boarding action." It would mean the destruction of the two ships, but Fleet Command – which was to say Empress Sato – had been clear: no prisoners. This was a reprisal mission, not an information gathering one. "Mister Hsiao, resume our previous heading, maximum impulse."
"Aye, sir," Devereux and Hsiao replied in unison. The helmsman shot the communications officer a smile that she feebly returned before focusing again on her board. Charles narrowed his eyes at the interaction – he knew they were sleeping together, but something just didn't add up – and filed it away for future reference.
"T'Pol," he started to say, but the Vulcan again anticipated his instruction and reoriented the image on the viewscreen. A digital overlay appeared around the still invisible subspace corridor, mapping out its boundaries and giving Charles a sense of its size. He rolled his tongue along the inside of his cheek and realized he was gripping the command chair's armrests so tightly that his knuckles were white.
"Thirty seconds," Hsiao stated as Endeavour raced toward the unseen wormhole.
"Shields at maximum," Tucker ordered. A flicker of apprehension caused him to draw in a deep breath, but he ignored it. It didn't feel like his thought.
"Curious," T'Pol murmured, and Charles turned his attention to her. No one else seemed to have noticed her comment.
"What?" he asked, and the Vulcan gave him her equivalent of a startled look, complete with raised eyebrow. Suddenly, he wondered if she had actually spoken or if he had imagined it.
"I am detecting unusual field fluctuations within the corridor," she answered.
"Ten seconds," Hsiao declared. Charles ground his teeth together and pressed the transmit button on the comm.-panel integrated into his command chair. There was no time to examine the fluctuations and he found himself praying that it meant nothing.
"All hands brace for impact," Tucker snapped.
Moments later, white light consumed them all.
=/\= =/\= =/\=
The flash of an exploding starship filled the viewscreen.
"Full evasive!" the captain shouted, and Commander T'Pol felt gravity push her deeper into her chair as Lieutenant Hsiao sent Endeavour into a stomach-lurching dive. T'Pol clung tightly to her board as the warship twisted and spiraled to evade enemy fire.
On the main viewer, debris and fierce explosions dominated the space around Xindi Prime. Everywhere she looked, T'Pol could see another hostile warship, weapon systems ravaging the smaller, less advanced Imperial taskforce. A mere four minutes and twenty-three seconds (Terran Standard) had passed since their arrival in-system, and of the seven Ares-class destroyers that had entered the lightfight alongside the Endeavour, only two remained. Both were under heavy fire at the moment and T'Pol doubted that they would last much longer. Aggressive combat maneuvers had been abandoned for solely defensive ones, and even they appeared to be of minimal effectiveness. It seemed inconceivable a third-rate military power such as the one fielded by the Xindi could possess such advanced weaponry.
Abruptly, one of the two remaining Ares-classes – the Phillip Green according to its markings – vanished in a fierce flash of blue-green fire as its warp core breached. There would be no survivors. Even before the ship completely broke apart, its pursuers were reorienting upon Endeavour.
"Hard about," Tucker snapped, his expression bleak. "Rig for silent running." T'Pol was astounded to realized that she could almost feel his thoughts racing as he stabbed the transmit button on the command chair comm.-panel. "Anna," the captain said quickly, "Stand by for gamma-two."
"Gamma-two, acknowledged," Hess replied from engineering. She sounded sober for once, and T'Pol fought down a surge of disapproval for the engineer; the woman had an unhealthy attachment toward Tucker and, in more than one instance, had displayed a barely concealed desire to mate with him. The captain seemed oblivious to Hess' interest, but T'Pol had noticed.
She always noticed.
Endeavour shook as the Xindi starships continued to unleash salvos of fire at them. A trio of sleek warships raced through the silent void, sliding into pursuit courses as their weapons continued to spit streams of sizzling light. They were smaller than Endeavour, but based on T'Pol's scans, were far more advanced than they had any right to be. An alarm abruptly sounded, warning of a confirmed target lock by the Xindi pursuers.
"Gamma-two now!" Tucker ordered as the ships opened fire. Lights dimmed and, to T'Pol's utter surprise, Endeavour vanished from visual and sensor scans alike. She looked up at the captain with poorly concealed shock on her face. "Hard to starboard," the captain added sharply.
"A cloaking device?" she asked. Based on the reactions of both Lieutenants Devereux and Hsiao, they too were unaware of the device's existence. Tucker shrugged, seemingly indifferent to the fact he had evidently solved one of the Empire's most difficult engineering problems and done so secretly, if the startled expression on Mackenzie's face was any indication. As far as T'Pol was aware, every expert in Starfleet had attempted to meld a functional cloak with an Enterprise-class hull, but had failed to make it work long enough to be of tactical use. Tucker's accomplishment aboard Enterprise had been considered an aberration, particularly since the Tholians had been capable of detecting the craft. Had he been holding back even then?
"Whatever works," her mate replied without looking at T'Pol as he spoke. "Countermeasures deploy," Tucker continued sharply. "Helm, stand by to get us clear of the target zone."
Pushing her surprise away, T'Pol refocused her attention on her sensor feed as six decoy ballutes were ejected from Endeavour's primary hull section. All six dove away from the Terran warship on random vectors, emitting just enough electromagnetic radiation to be noticed by the pursuing Xindi ships. Like ravenous sehlats, the Xindi craft pounced upon the decoys, weapon systems barking angrily.
"Come about to zero-zero-three by two-nine-seven," Tucker stated, leaning toward the sensor feed installed before his command chair. "Stand by for emergency warp speed." His eyes darted to T'Pol's, and she could feel how easily he reigned in his crippling fear. Astounding, she reflected, even as she wondered if he was drawing strength from her. More likely, she realized angrily, she was drawing upon his composure and control. "Status on lifeboats?" he asked, and T'Pol gave her board a cursory glance.
"There are none," she replied. "The Xindi appear to be targeting them as well."
It was the wrong thing to say, and T'Pol nearly recoiled at the fury that pulsed through the bond she shared with Tucker. He glowered at the image of the unremarkable planet that was the Xindi homeworld, and T'Pol could see his anger reflected in the face of the other humans on the bridge. Even Major Eisler, whose face was normally as emotionless as any Vulcans, stiffened at his station and narrowed his gimlet eyes.
"Is that a fact?" Tucker murmured softly, and T'Pol fought back the urge to sigh. Based on past experience with humans, she knew exactly what was coming: instead of retreating before a superior force as was logical, they would throw themselves into the fray with a suicidal frenzy in an insane attempt to avenge their fellow Terrans. Personal relationships were irrelevant and old hates would be temporarily forgotten as the humans gorged themselves in an orgy of mindless destruction. It was, at once, both their most telling weakness and their greatest strength. Some of the more successful rebels against the Terran Empire had learned to exploit this dangerous aspect of the human psyche to great effect; the Andorian recidivist Shran, for example, had excelled at losing battles but winning psychological victories that would allow him to escape.
Knowing what was to come, T'Pol tuned out the emotions thundering through her bond with the captain and focused on the task before her. An idea occurred to her abruptly, though she was unsure if it was her idea or Tucker's. Keying in a demand for data from her station's console, she examined the extent of defenses arrayed around the target planet seeking a weakness. Knowing Endeavour's design capabilities intimately assisted the process and it took her less than a second to identify the most efficient approach vector, one that would allow them to deploy their payload while still providing Endeavour with some measure of protection from the majority of planetary defenses. She had no desire to throw her life away on a senseless gesture of defiance or anger, not now when she was finally recovered from her captivity.
The feel of Tucker's eyes on her drew T'Pol's attention up from her datafeed, and she bit back a curse at her carelessness. In her haste, she had allowed her mental shields to slip and she suspected her mate had felt the brief mindtouch. How else would she have known what Endeavour was capable of?
"You have something for me?" he asked coldly. Tucker's eyes could have been chips of ice for all the warmth they exuded, but T'Pol exhaled softly in relief that his professionalism overruled his psionophobia in this moment. She nodded.
"A tactical assault vector," T'Pol replied, keying in the commands that would transfer the data to their appropriate destinations. The main viewer flickered and changed to a two-dimensional representation of her attack plan, and Tucker barely gave it a glance before nodding. Major Eisler, however, glanced up from his station with a glint of malicious approval in his eyes. Had he been capable of smiling, T'Pol suspected that he would be doing so.
"All stations," Tucker stated calmly, "Stand by for emergency maneuvers. Major Eisler, stand by to release our payload." He leaned forward slightly. "Lieutenant Hsiao, execute assault vector, maximum impulse."
"All decoy-drones disabled or destroyed," T'Pol announced. "Estimate maximum of forty-four seconds before detection."
"Time to target?" The captain's voice was tense as Endeavour raced closer to the planetary defense network over Xindi Prime. It was understandable, T'Pol reflected. A concentrated barrage from all of the weapons currently in range would destroy Endeavour in seconds. She could not help but to frown at the scan results of the nearest defensive weapon; it was entirely too advanced for the Xindi.
"Fifteen seconds," Eisler replied as T'Pol began tasking Endeavour's stellar mapping capability to track the alignment of the local starfield. A worrisome theory was beginning to weed through her thoughts and she wanted further evidence before presenting it to the captain. "Ten seconds," the major counted down. "Opening drop bay doors. Tracking telemetry reading green. Five seconds." Another chime sounded from his station. "Aft launch bays opening."
With a soundless flash, the four weapons were released. Two tumbled from the same drop bays utilized by Endeavour's assault shuttles and two were ejected from the aft launch bay of the engineering hull. Cylindrical in shape, each was half the size of a shuttepod and bore multiple warheads, individually programmed to strike separate and distinct targets. It was not a new design: Vulcan had used similar weapons during the Ferengi Holocaust in the time of Surak the Terrible. What was new, however, was the payload on each warhead.
Based on data acquired from the Defiant's computers, these generators had been developed by the Empire during T'Pol's captivity using the research of her alternate universe twin. When she learned of the existence of the weapons aboard Endeavour, T'Pol had glanced at their technical schematics only once. To her continuing surprise, she had experienced a deep sense of sadness that her alternate's research had been corrupted into weapons of mass destruction. Unable to explain her dismay, T'Pol had avoided examining the weapons or her thoughts about them in any further detail.
"Energy spike," she announced off her sensor feed. "The weapons have been detected." Major Eisler spoke at the same time.
"Payload One impact in three, two, one." A brilliant flash momentarily blanked out the main viewer, but just as quickly subsided. To a less discerning eye, there appeared to have been no change. T'Pol knew better.
"Planetary shield system has been disrupted," she reported, another frown working its way onto her face as she considered that. The very existence of such a shield had been an unpleasant discovery for the human fleet and led to some troubling questions. Even Earth, as advanced as it currently was, was incapable of maintaining a planetary deflector screen for any significant length of time. How could the Xindi, a proverbial backwater system in comparison, accomplish this task?
"Payload Two detonation in five, four, three…" Additional flashes lit up the main viewscreen as the warheads from Payload Two imploded in the upper atmosphere of Xindi Prime. The sudden formation of multiple singularity points within the mesosphere could only be described as catastrophic, and T'Pol maintained her focus on her datafeed instead. It was surprising, at the least, to realize she had no desire to watch the destruction of a world. I've become weak, she reflected darkly.
"Payloads Three and Four impact in three, two, one, impact," Eisler continued a moment later, his voice cold and devoid of any emotion. "All warheads have detonated." With a glance at her sensor feeds, T'Pol could see that the weapons had been more effective than anticipated. The airburst implosions of Payload Two had essentially robbed Xindi Prime of a viable atmosphere while the ground impacts had fractured both the continental and oceanic crusts of the planet. A mental image of Vulcan suffering the same fate flashed across T'Pol's mind's eye, and she blinked back a sudden swell of self-disgust.
At almost the same moment, though, T'Pol realized that she wasn't the one feeling self-disgust.
"Burn, you bastards," Lieutenant Hsiao murmured gleefully at the horrific carnage wrought by perverted science. To T'Pol, it seemed an entirely apt analogy to Terran domination of the Alpha Quadrant: Peace through obliteration.
"Stand by for emergency warp," Tucker ordered sharply, a fraction of a second before Mackenzie's DCO board began wailing.
"Engineering reports fluctuations in the warp field," the COB relayed. "ChEng advises against warp."
"Dammit," the captain snarled harshly. He was silent for a heartbeat. "Find us a place to hide," Tucker said, his eyes jumping to T'Pol. "Someplace we can make repairs in case we need to fight our way outta here."
"Acknowledged," T'Pol replied. "There is a gas giant within eight million, nine hundred seventy thousand kilometers of the system's star."
"A hot Jupiter," the captain identified. "Set a course, Hsiao," he ordered, before glaring at Mackenzie. "I want warp speed within the hour." Tucker stood. "And T'Pol," he added coldly, "We just got our asses kicked. I want answers."
=/\= =/\= =/\=
They weren't the answers he was expecting.
"Time travel?" Master Chief Petty Officer Colin Mackenze repeated with a startled expression on his face. "You can't be serious."
Along with the rest of the command crew – excepting Lieutenant Commander Hess, of course, who was hip deep in repairs somewhere in the bowels of the ship and Soong, who was probably pulling wings off of flies or something equally cruel in that hellhole he called a sickbay – Mackenzie was standing in front of the situation table as the Vulcan first officer explained the results of her findings. Nearly six hours had passed since the catastrophe that had claimed the entire battle group, and spending that much time at 'silent running' was already beginning to wear on the COB's nerves.
At his outburst, both Captain Tucker and Commander T'Pol glanced in his direction, giving him identical looks of disdain rooted in either the fact that he interrupted the Vulcan's dry commentary or, even worse, dared to question her ridiculous theory. Refusing to be cowed, Mackenzie crossed his arms and glared back. It was impossible not to notice the division of power in the command center as a result: Tucker, his Vulcan whore and their pet German assassin were on one side of the table, while on the other, Mackenzie stood defiantly alone. Lieutenants Hsiao and Devereux crowded opposite sidelines of this silent, undeclared war, with the former leaning toward the master chief and the latter halfway into Tucker's sphere of influence.
"He's right," Hsiao said. He was staring at the display with a sour look and unconsciously inched closer to where Mackenzie stood. Ever vigilant, Eisler's eyes narrowed fractionally, and the COB could almost see the helmsman be slotted into the tactical officer's list of probable enemies. A more cautious man would have chosen a less tense moment to signal where his allegiances were, but then,no one had ever accused Daniel Hsiao of having an overabundance of intelligence.
"Time travel is impossible," the helmsman continued, earning himself the Raised Eyebrow of Woe from the first officer.
"The Vulcan Science Directorate," Commander T'Pol retorted coldly, "has determined that time travel is quite possible." She exchanged a quick, sidelong glance with Tucker that no one at the table was meant to notice.
But Mackenzie did.
His eyes narrowed at the implications of their unspoken interaction and he forced himself to re-evaluate his earlier thoughts. Despite the insanity of the entire situation, Tucker and T'Pol seemed completely comfortable with the notion that someone could travel through time, no matter how many laws of physics doing so would violate in the process. In fact, now that Mackenzie thought about it, he couldn't help but to recall how, when the Vulcan stated her theory, the captain's hand instinctively sought out the deceptively fragile-looking (but frighteningly advanced) beam weapon – the phaser, Tucker had once called it – that was on the older man's person at all times. It was as if they had personal experience with temporal displacement…
Almost at once, Mackenzie's thoughts jumped to the Defiant. Like most members of the Empire, he had simply assumed the warship was the culmination of Imperial technology, a product of one of the numerous hidden shipyards scattered throughout the quadrant. Now, however, he wondered if that was the case at all. Could that vessel, with its amazing abilities, actually be from the future? Could the Empress he had sworn to obey have deceived everyone when she made her grab for power?
It was a chilling thought.
"How far into the future?" Tucker asked with a dark scowl. He was staring at the Vulcan with an expression so intense that she shifted uncomfortably under his gaze.
"According to my calculations," she replied smoothly, "three hundred and seventy-five Terran years."
"The twenty-sixth century?" Hsiao whispered. He looked sick.
"Just as importantly," T'Pol began once more, "I do not believe that we are in our dimension at all, but rather have traveled forward in time to an alternate one, a … mirror universe, if you will." She gestured to something on the screen – equations and formulas that made Mackenzie's brain hurt just looking at them – and continued. "Initial scans indicate that the frequency of atomic resonance for this dimension is fractionally different than what we would consider normal."
"Is it dangerous?" Tucker asked. The Vulcan shrugged – a purely human gesture that looked odd on her – and frowned.
"I have no way of knowing," she answered calmly. "Not without further study."
"How do we get back?" Hsiao wondered, voicing the question that was clearly on everyone's mind. "We just obliterated their planet," he said, "so I'd rather not be around when they start looking for us again." Mackenzie found himself nodding in agreement even as he wondered what would happen to the Earth of this reality. There had to have been some survivors from the taskforce taken prisoner by the Xindi.
"We must retrace our path to the subspace corridor," the Vulcan said. "Our velocity must exactly match what it was when we originally entered it in our reality."
"Is this based on any real science," Tucker asked, "or is it just your best guess?" T'Pol gave him a cool look that, directed toward anyone else, would have seemed scathing.
"I am using all available resources at my disposal," she retorted, a hint of heat leaking into her voice. "You are welcome to corroborate my findings however you wish." The captain studied her for a long moment, his lips turned downward slightly.
"So it's your best guess," he translated flatly. He glowered at the images on the situation table before looking up. "That's good enough for me," Tucker said a moment later. Once more, Mackenzie noted how the Vulcan reacted – an infinitesimal straightening of her shoulders that, on a human, would have indicated pleasure at the backhanded compliment. "Do we need to retrace our exact route," he asked, "or just as we enter the corridor?"
"I have no way of knowing," the commander answered carefully, "although logic suggests we attempt to replicate our route as carefully as possible."
The hiss of an arriving turbolift caused Colin to glance away from the situation table momentarily. Face and uniform covered with streaks of something filthy, Lieutenant Commander Hess approached wearily, a PADD in one hand. Her eyes were bright despite her visible exhaustion, prompting Mackenzie to suspect she was riding the wave of a stimulant. When he returned his attention to the situation table, he couldn't help but to notice how the Vulcan commander's eyes had narrowed. Her laser-like gaze was locked on Hess and every line of her body indicated disapproval.
And jealousy. That was interesting. Very interesting.
"Report," Tucker ordered. He was frowning once more, and Hess faltered slightly before straightening and offering the PADD.
"We're fully combat ready, sir," she said. "Port nacelle has a half dozen micro-fractures, but she'll hold warp factor four point five easily."
"And the cloak?" the captain asked. Once again, Colin felt a shiver crawl up his spine. How the bloody hell had Tucker managed to get a cloaking device to function with this hull? According to every one of the experts back on Earth, it was completely impossible! Even more frightening was that the bastard had accomplished this without Mackenzie finding out. It made him wonder what else Tucker had going that he was unaware of.
"It's drawing more power than we expected," Hess said as she leaned heavily upon the situation table. Commander T'Pol's nostrils flared – though Colin couldn't see why – and she took a fractional step closer to the captain. "At the rate it's burning through converters," she continued as she looked up at Tucker, "we've got two hours, maybe two and a half before they can see us again."
"Likely less," the Vulcan retorted calmly. She pressed a button on the situation table and the display changed from an overview of the ship to a system scan. "Xindi reinforcements have arrived and are establishing a sensor net obviously intended to locate Endeavour."
"They haven't detected us yet," Hess answered. She was clutching the table tightly and trying hard not to glare at the first officer. "We don't even know if they can detect us."
"I have already developed three methods to penetrate the cloaking screen with only the sensors aboard Endeavour," T'Pol said coldly. "It is illogical to presume that the Xindi, with significantly advanced technology, have not done the same."
"Agreed," Tucker said before Hess could reply. The engineer glowered and looked down, the muscles in her jaw dancing as she bit back the words clearly on the tip of her tongue. Colin made a mental note of the interaction – he had long been aware of Hess' driving need to please Tucker and had avoided attempting to suborn the woman for that reason. If she felt that she was being replaced entirely by a Vulcan, however, there was an opportunity…
The feel of eyes upon him caused Mackenzie to look away from the chief engineer and lock gazes with an unblinking Major Eisler. Colin barely managed to hide the stab of gut-wrenching terror that twisted his stomach into knots as the MACO watched him with an expression that immediately brought to mind a cobra about to strike. Eisler had said absolutely nothing during this briefing, instead opting to stand silently on Tucker's left with a face so cold it could have been chiseled from marble. An off-hand remark by Soong had finally revealed how Tucker had gained the major's fanatic loyalty, and, once Mackenize understood the specifics of the terminal condition Eisler had been suffering from prior to the captain's intervention, a great many things fell into place. Their private little war had been temporarily suspended, but Colin knew he would have to neutralize the major and his Blackshirts before any future moves against Tucker could be implemented.
Which was certainly easier said than done.
"I want a flight plan that'll steer us clear of the sensor net," the captain said, ignorant of or, more likely, simply ignoring the staring contest taking place between Mackenzie and Eisler. Tucker abruptly grimaced and turned to the Vulcan. "What?" he demanded. She blinked, as if surprised, but responded immediately.
"I am unsure if such a flight path is possible." At Tucker's look, she leaned forward and pressed a button that switched the display to something that Colin wanted to look at but couldn't while he was trying (and failing) to stare down Eisler. "As I said earlier," T'Pol declared, "logic suggests we replicate our previous route to the subspace corridor as closely as possible. Doing so will take us directly through the sensor net."
"Find us a way around it," the captain ordered tersely. "What's our status on weapons?" he asked.
"All phase cannons are operational," Eisler replied calmly, his cold eyes never leaving Mackenzie's. "We have a very limited number of torpedoes remaining, however." He finally looked away, glancing once toward Tucker. "Additionally, there is a single micro-singularity weapon aboard. It was not utilized due to a faulty guidance computer."
"Not like we needed it to burn those fuckers," Hsiao said with a snicker.
"I have a suggestion regarding the sensor net," Eisler continued. He immediately launched into an explanation of his idea, which allowed Colin to partially tune him out while he turned over plans in his mind. Once they were clear of this mess – and he had no doubt that they would survive; Tucker was harder to kill than a cockroach, and that seemed doubly true now that T'Pol was fully recovered – the undeclared truce would end, and Mackenzie would need to be ready to act. It had not escaped his notice how often the Vulcan and Eisler teamed up, and Colin knew it was only a matter of time before they convinced the captain to move against him. With each day that passed, he could feel his power base slipping away; if they weren't simply neutralized by Eisler's Blackshirts, they were suborned by Tucker's surprising charisma and leadership style. Time was running out and Mackenzie knew he needed to move quickly. Ideally, he needed a plan that could take all three of them out at the same time – four if Hess remained intractable – but doing so would require more finesse than Colin suspected he was capable of.
What he really needed, Mackenzie mused with a slight smile, was a fool.
=/\= =/\= =/\=
Daniel Hsiao was no fool.
Oh, he knew most of his crewmates thought him so, but that was entirely intentional on his part. Since joining Starfleet, he had carefully cultivated an image of sloppiness and ignorance, of obliviousness and slothful incompetence. No one paid attention to a moron, after all, and he had learned more about the crew's true dynamics by pretending to be an idiot than a genius. Did the captain or the COB know that Anna Hess had been carefully (and slowly) establishing her own power base with her seemingly hedonistic life style that was actually a cover for a frighteningly intelligent woman? Or that she had been spending most nights in Major Eisler's cabin (which was frankly a surprise as it was almost common knowledge the man's pain and pleasure centers had been burned out years ago)? Or that Doctor Soong was covertly reporting to someone very high up in Earthdome, and was very intentionally playing all sides against one another?
None of them noticed … but Hsiao did.
Fighting the ridiculous urge to smile at the tangent of his thoughts, Daniel shifted in his seat and forced himself to focus on the display in front of him. Endeavour was six minutes away from making a potentially suicidal end run for the subspace corridor – if it was even still there – and Hsiao knew he would need every scrap of skill to keep them alive. He couldn't let himself be distracted by his own plans, not now when they were heartbeats away from death or capture. In an attempt to get his fingers as loose and as nimble as possible, Daniel began popping his knuckles.
"Final torpedo away," Eisler announced from the tactical board. The captain grunted, but made no other remark, and Hsiao blew out a deep breath as he studied his sensor feed. There was no obvious sign of the fifteen torpedoes racing through the silent void of space like hungry sharks; none of them were actively seeking targets, but were instead programmed to follow a certain trajectory for a specific amount of time and then go active with their rudimentary sensors. Against the dangerously advanced Xindi ships prowling the system, the ordnance wouldn't be particularly effective – it would be like spitting against a wall – but fifteen active mass signatures appearing at once would hopefully cause confusion.
"Five minutes," The Vulcan commander declared. She sounded calm, collected and totally in control, a far cry from the broken woman who had been come aboard the ship almost a year earlier. If he hadn't been so focused on mentally preparing himself for the coming chaos, Daniel would have let his eyes wander to the reflective surface of his control panel so he could watch Endeavour's first mate. It was a pity she would have to die alongside Tucker when Hsiao finally made his move; he'd always wondered what sex with a Vulcan female was like and she was certainly one of the most attractive women he'd ever met, but the way she followed Tucker like a good little dog made it pretty clear where her loyalties were.
"All departments," the captain ordered harshly, "stand by for combat maneuvers."
"Acknowledged," Marie replied from her station. Daniel gave her a sidelong glance, noting with dark humor how quickly she averted her eyes from him. After this was over, he would have to talk to her about that, to remind her that he was in charge. If she didn't want her dark secret about the late and unlamented Andorian, Drahn, how she had murdered the engineer in his bed because he was double-dipping with the then-first officer, Commander Hernandez, to be revealed, Marie would need to remember her place. He let a smile stretch his lips – it had been too long since he had really found a reason to … punish her, and this was as good as anything else he might come up with. It would reinforce her fear and keep the simmering hatred she had for him under wraps. Eventually, he'd have to come up with a more permanent solution – perhaps after he'd discovered a way to break Hess and turn her talents toward his goals – but, for now, it would do.
"Four minutes." The Vulcan's cool voice broke him out of his momentary reverie and he glanced over his board. Everything was green and ready to go. He reached for the controls and let his mind go blank. It was a trick he'd picked up from a Vulcan crewman some ten years ago, a way to divorce his fear and worry from what truly needed to be done to accomplish the task before him, and if Daniel hadn't ultimately been forced to kill the untrustworthy green-blooded bastard, he might feel a hint of gratitude toward the knife-eared sonuvabitch. Probably not, though. In Hsiao's experience, the only truly safe Vulcan was a dead one.
"Ahead full," Tucker instructed an eternity later. Daniel reacted instinctively, feeding power to Endeavour's oversized maneuvering drive. With a muted growl, the ship leaped forward, curving around the hot Jupiter under Hsiao's firm control. Even at this distance, movement could be seen as the Xindi reinforcements swarmed around their devastated homeworld and once again, Daniel had to push down the urge to grin – it had been altogether too satisfying to watch the micro-singularity weapons being dropped on a living world and he wondered how long until they were turned against Andor or Vulcan. Now that would be a wonderful day to behold…
The main viewscreen abruptly changed to a digital display of the sensor net stretching across the system and linking the various Xindi ships together. Daniel was immediately reminded of a spider's web, although this web was invisible, intangible and appeared to have no holes in it at all, so his analogy kind of fell apart. He grimaced and tightened his grip on the flight stick – if something didn't change quickly, this was going to be a very short trip. How the first officer managed to acquire such a detailed analysis of the sensor net without using active scans he neither knew nor really cared to learn. Yes, it was a terrible shame she would have to die…
"Incoming signal," Marie announced. "All torpedoes active and seeking."
Even before Devereux finished speaking, the sensor web splintered and began breaking apart as most of the ships involved reoriented the bulk of their detection arrays in the direction of the new contacts. Daniel flashed a grin as he began inputting new instructions and aimed Endeavour toward a particularly narrow window of opportunity.
"Abort," The Vulcan commander ordered sharply as Endeavour responded to his commands and banked. "I am uploading the flight path you should follow."
"Don't tell me how to do my job," Hsiao growled. He knew it was dangerous to ignore the Vulcan, especially here on the bridge, but the implied slight regarding his skills stoked the fury simmering within his chest and short-circuited his common sense. It was a flaw of his that had gotten him into trouble numerous times in the past, and one of his old mentors had accused him of sometimes reacting without thinking. Of course, that mentor was long dead, the victim of a tragic accident involving a power loader, a drugged up crewman, and the detonation of a prematurely armed warhead…
Barely a second after the words left his mouth, Daniel's board went dark and he could feel the artificial gravity struggle to compensate as Endeavour radically changed approach vectors. It took a long moment for him to realize what had happened and he half-spun in his seat to pin the Vulcan with a dark glare. She ignored him completely while continuing to input new instructions to the helm … from her station. Hsiao swallowed – just like Tucker and that damned cloaking device trick he'd pulled out of nowhere earlier, the Vulcan first officer had accomplished something that, according to all schematics and computer protocols, should have been patently impossible. Glancing up, the commander met his eyes with a cold, emotionless expression that nearly froze his blood and reminded him once again that, no matter what she may look like, this woman was an Alien.
"Is there a problem, Lieutenant?" Tucker demanded, his own voice low, hard and brittle. Hsiao shot a look at him, flinching less at the glare that the captain was sending him than at the fact the scarred man's shooting hand was resting atop the odd-looking weapon he never went anywhere without. Having witnessed it in use firsthand, Hsiao knew better than to test his commanding officer in this moment. Now wasn't the time for confrontations. That could come later.
"No, sir," Daniel replied before turning his attention back to the sensor feed on his display. As if by magic, the flight path that the Vulcan had outlined opened up for them even as the route Daniel had intended to take collapsed. He glowered darkly.
But kept his mouth shut.
Time crawled by with agonizing lethargy as Daniel sat quietly in front of his deactivated controls, raging impotently at how casually the Vulcan had humiliated him in front of the entire command crew. He could feel eyes upon him – Master Chief Mackenzie especially was studying the powered down flight control board with poorly concealed worry on his face, no doubt wondering how the revelation that the first officer was capable of doing this sort of thing would affect his own seditious plans – and Hsiao squirmed slightly in his seat as he fought to keep his temper under control. Gone were his concerns and fears about surviving, and in their place was a seething storm of fury. When he was done with her, that knife-eared bitch would beg for death, would beg to be released from the agony Daniel had in mind.
"Stand by for warp speed," the Vulcan whore declared an eternity later. On the main viewer, Hsiao could see that they were nearing the periphery of the system. None of the torpedoes remained operational and, just at a glance, Daniel could tell that the damage they'd inflicted was so minimal that, if the Xindi hadn't realized they were a distraction, then those damned aliens were dumber than they looked. Already, the system-wide sensor net was beginning to reform as the various craft resumed their hunt for the cloaked Starfleet ship. They had minutes only before detection was a certainty and there were at least two light destroyers within intercept range. A soft rumble echoed through Endeavour – it was the warp reactor coming back online – and Hsiao shot the first officer a quick glance. He barely bit back a plea to be given control back.
"T'Pol," the captain hissed from where he fidgeted in his chair. The look the Vulcan gave him almost seemed to be her usual calculated dispassion, but, as was always the case when she interacted with Tucker, her eyes seemed softer somehow.
"Engaging warp drive … now," she declared. The soft grumble transformed into a muted roar as Endeavour sprang away from the Xindi star system, evidently still undetected. A whisper of excitement filled the bridge as officers and crewmembers began to relax. "There appears to be no pursuit," the Vulcan said.
"How long until…" Tucker began, but the first officer continued over him, as if he hadn't even opened his mouth.
"Correction," the Vulcan said sharply. "Two Xindi warships have detected us." On the main viewscreen, Hsiao could see the two light destroyers abruptly change course and begin pursuing them. "Estimate maximum of two minutes to intercept." Tucker opened his mouth to ask something else, but once more, the first officer continued over him. "At our present velocity," she said, "the subspace corridor is thirteen minutes away."
"Weapons range in one minute, forty seconds," Eisler announced.
"Crank it up," the captain ordered. He must have made a hand gesture to the Vulcan that Daniel didn't see because a heartbeat later, the flight control board lit up once more. "Tucker to Engineering. Kill the cloak and stand by for maximum warp."
"But, sir!" Hess' voice erupted from the speakers, tiny and distorted.
"That's an order!" Tucker snapped. "Lieutenant Hsiao, stand by for emergency maneuvers." His eyes flashing, Daniel wrapped his fingers around the flight stick. He demanded more power and slowly, ever so slowly, it began trickling in. The numbers on his console flashed brightly – warp four point five, point six, point seven, point eight. Around them, Endeavour began trembling as the warp field fluctuated. A loud chime echoed – warp factor five – but still Hsiao pressed on.
"Hostiles have increased speed," the Vulcan said flatly. "Weapons range in forty seconds."
There was more chatter between the command crew as they sounded off with status reports, but Daniel didn't hear them. He was too focused on his own console, on the distance remaining between their destination and the imbalance in the warp field. If his calculations were right, he had twenty seconds at five point three before the port nacelle completely failed … but that would be just enough to get them within striking distance of the subspace corridor. He considered, then nodded to himself.
And accelerated to warp factor five point three.
Alarms began howling almost at once, and he was vaguely aware of the captain shouting something, but Daniel ignored the man and continued to concentrate on his goal. He glanced quickly at the small sensor display on his console and frowned – the Xindi were within firing range so why weren't they shooting?
Almost the instant the thought crossed his mind, the two light destroyers opened up with their directed energy weapons, filling the void around Endeavour with a blistering storm of fire. Endeavour rocked as two immensely powerful blasts slammed into the protective force screen enveloping the Starfleet vessel. Hsiao's console chirped and the automatic cut-off system kicked in, dropping them out of warp speed with a violent shudder. Sparks erupted around him as power conduits ruptured, but that wasn't important. The subspace corridor was within reach.
"Shields are failing!" the Vulcan exclaimed, even as Endeavour rocked under another onslaught from the arriving Xindi ships. Cursing darkly, Daniel twisted hard on the yoke, inverting the warship and sending it into a steep dive that capitalized on their sole advantage against their pursuers: maneuverability.
"Tactical!" the captain shouted. "Stand by to deploy singularity bomb!" Hsiao risked a quick glance at his commanding officer – was the man insane? The MSW was a weapon to be used against planetary targets, not starships! – but quickly refocused his full attention on staying alive. Sweat crawled down his back as he rolled Endeavour, reorienting it toward the subspace corridor. The engines howled with protest as he demanded more power, and emergency alerts began flashing upon his screens as core containment neared collapse. They had one chance at this…
And three seconds later, exactly as it had the first time they passed the event horizon of the subspace corridor, Daniel's board went haywire.
"Drop it now!" Tucker ordered the instant the lights dimmed and Eisler reacted without hesitation. On his screens, Hsiao could detect the MSW's deployment from the aft launch bay. Mere seconds after being ejected into the void, the warheads detonated and the sudden formation of multiple singularity points within the subspace corridor was positively catastrophic. What had been a semi-stable wormhole between points in time and space became a swirling maelstrom of chaos and energy. Ribbons of green-white exploded outward, smashing into Endeavour with crushing force that tore through the hull polarization system, before just as abruptly being sucked into the vortex as the corridor imploded.
One of the Xindi destroyers was halfway through the conduit when it collapsed, and the abrupt severing of the spatial conduit sliced the warship in half so cleanly that some of the bodies spilling out into the void were still trying to accomplish their shipboard duties. The starship lost power almost immediately although it continued along its previous path, still vomiting oxygen and Xindi into the hard vacuum. No matter how hard he tried, Daniel couldn't tear his eyes from the shattered wreck.
It was beautiful.
"Status," the captain demanded sharply, his words breaking the unusual silence that had descended upon the bridge.
"Multiple hull breaches," Master Chief Mackenzie replied as Hsiao automatically began consulting his console for damage reports from flight ops. "Engineering reports port nacelle has failed. Warp reactor currently offline."
"No additional sensor contacts," the Vulcan said a moment later. Tucker grunted.
"The Xindi ship?"
"Adrift," the first officer answered, "but powerless."
"Captain," Major Eisler began, but Tucker interrupted.
"Approved," he said. "But hold off for a while. Make sure they're all dead, and then send a salvage team over."
"Yes, sir." The MACO sounded giddy, if that was even possible.
"Stand down to condition yellow," Tucker continued after a long moment of silence. "I want a full damage report in one hour." He stood and gave the Vulcan a flat look that she returned calmly, a hint of emerald crawling up the back of her neck. To Hsiao's surprise, she rose to her feet as well, as if Tucker had actually issued an order. "You have the bridge, Major," the captain said as he and his non-human first mate walked toward the turbolift. Daniel discreetly watched them depart before exhaling softly. He glanced back at his console but suddenly felt a powerful hand clamp down on his shoulder.
"Do not think that I have forgotten your actions, Lieutenant," Major Eisler growled, his grip nearly as implacable as the darkness in his eyes. The hiss of a hypospray at his neck was Hsiao's only warning before the blood in his veins seemed to catch fire. He toppled out of his seat, unable to even scream as his muscles – all of them – suddenly locked up. "Insubordination and general misconduct during a combat engagement carries with it a harsh penalty," the major continued, his voice seeming to echo from an unfathomable distance away. "You are fortunate we still have need of your expertise," Eisler growled. "Take him to the agony booth," he ordered darkly, speaking to someone Hsiao couldn't see through the haze of agony. "I will be along shortly."
And, as his arms were seized and he was lifted up from the ground, the last thing Daniel Hsiao saw was Master Chief Colin Mackenzie watching him.
BnB - 1) Empress Sato was using T'Pol as a hostage. A "move against me and she dies" sort of thing. And Tucker's smarts are in different arenas than Sato's. He's no good at playing the game of thrones and Sato rules at it (literally.) So it isn't correct to say he's smarter than she is. 2) The mating bond isn't in the database for the same reason pon farr isn't - Vulcans don't talk about it and are good at keeping it quiet. So Tucker doesn't know about it and if Soong does, he's not going to mention it. If you look at T'Pol in the RU, she identified the mating bond as something that is almost a myth. 3) A good question and one I don't really have an answer to. He's emotionally screwed up, if that helps.
Alelou - FYI, T'Pol's not reading the MU Kir'Shara, she's reading the RU one which was yanked from Defiant's database. As to Cole, well, it is the Mirror Universe and I always thought it would be amusing if they ended up being decent friends in the RU. Not because of any crack!ship (coughamandasovalcough), but just because I thought it would be funny.
Zero - Mac isn't hated by everyone, just key members of the command structure (and the Blackshirts.) He's got the admin people behind him, and the cooks, and the quartermasters, and so on.