"Commander what kind of goat-rope do you have planned today?"

Trip immediately turned at the familiar Vulcan tone using Marine vernacular. Suvak's forehead was partially obscured be a large bandage and the darkened green of dried blood caked the right side of his face. He was still clad in traditional Vulcan pilgrimage robes over his tactical gear as were the four humans with him. At least one of the humans also appeared to be injured, second degree burns on his left ear, part of the jaw and left cheek. It was strange that the humans could have almost passed more for Vulcan than the section chief who was, in fact, Vulcan. With stern countenances they stood like golems waiting to be told what thing or persons threatened their mandates so that they may go crush them in a fury of dark state-sponsored fury. The smells of combat; sweat in the case of the humans, cordite, blood, and dirt hung around them as if it had they had been drenched in it and were pulled out still dripping from a battle zone.

"You were the local forces platoon..."

Suvak nodded, "Along with some indigenous personnel. The regimental group that we engaged had been on the way to take one of the Planetary Defense batteries. Captain Musashibo's arrival likely kept us from being overrun, it was one hell of a fight, Commander, my compliments to the Captain."

Tucker nodded, flipping open a pouch on his LBE to stuff a trio of magazines into place. With the relative shortness of distance between Camp Kelly and the next closest Planetary Defense station, they could afford to pack additional ammunition, and it was quite likely they would need it. He wasn't entirely sure what Suvak and Section 31's presence signified, but it was only fitting that he extend the courtesy of the house he had inherited.

"Is there anything we can do for you, Mister Suvak? We've got good medics and a few particularly talented Vulcan doctors available. There's also plenty of food and ammo, anything you need, you have full authorization to requisition."

One of the agents looked over to Suvak who nodded and the human quickly exited the COC, likely to acquire more combat materiel. The Vulcan section chief remained in place purposefully, eyes still fixed on Tucker. Trip could instinctively sense that the Intelligence Agent wanted something else that hadn't been offered. Trip ceased his preparations, fixing the Vulcan with a knowing look.

"So you want to tag along...huh?"

Suvak allowed a curt nod, "It would only be logical, commander."

"Suvak, you've been fightin' hard for hours now, you and your men have gotta need some rest." Tucker protested, not sounding terribly convincing.

"Me and my men are going with you, mister Tucker. I am a citizen of Vulcan and an agent of Earth, macvee is the only hope for Shi'kahr, and Camp Kelly is not only the heart of macvee, it is sovereign Earth territory. I would no more see if fall than I would see Romulans overrun San Diego, Hague, or Cape Town, mister Tucker."

Trip sighed, not wanting to be on this fool's errand himself he was loath to put anyone else in harm's way. He was already dragging V'Til, fourteen of his commandos, and the seven MARSOC operators along on this imminent bear-fuck , no reason to pull Special Intelligence Directorate into this possible misadventure. "Suvak, you're right, this is a goat rope. I'm not a Marine officer, hell I'm not even a combat MOS, I'm an engineer who just happens to have a bit more extensive cross trainin' than most. I can't command Camp Kelly, all I can manage is logistics and maybe a bit of strategic long view. If the Romulans take even one of the batteries, orbital strikes'll be goin' down on Shi'kahr faster than a Deltan girl on a first date on Risa."

Suvak cocked an amused brow at the analogy remembering both the connotations of "going down" among humans and an incident with his first pon farr and his rather unconventional remedy as an unattached male. It had, in fact, been a Deltan female he had engaged to sate the blood fever. She had been quite proficient, all but sating the feral urge to mate during their first coupling which left him with the compulsive but fully cognizant urge none-the-less which she served to remedy multiple times. As with most things, he was unconventional for a Vulcan regarding his attitudes towards sex. He wouldn't say that he enjoyed it specifically, he wouldn't admit to enjoying most things but he found it to be a logical and effective method for remedying stress and he had established a reputation in a small but exclusive circle in Southern California during his time at Twenty Nine Palms as being quite skilled in the sexual arts. It was manipulative of him, but collegiate human females found him fascinating as an outlet for some forbidden xenophilia as non-organic as plastic and designed to chagrin their parents or, in the case of more mature females, as tangible representation of their social progressivism. They where suitably taken by the "bad boy" persona he had established as the "first Vulcan Marine" as the personnel of Twenty Nine Palms and MWTC Bridgeport had routinely called him as a human joke. Of course he found all of his sexual encounters to be tragically immature, whether they were twenty one or forty one, and served as nothing more than a stress outlet for him, the preponderance of birth control methods on Earth had been, indeed, fortunate as he had been distastefully promiscuous by human standards, much less Vulcan.

"Commander, that is precisely why you should probably stay here, we need your situational awareness to be focused on the Camp, there is a good chance the Romulan forces will hit the camp hard. It's the one thing they haven't tried and there-fore, haven't failed at." Suvak lifted the desert colored ball cap from his head, adorned with a patch of the United Earth Federal Republic and ran his fingers through militarily short hair.

"Well then who's gonna make sure systems are locked down adequately at the defense battery?"

"You can talk us through it Commander Tucker."

Tucker cocked a brow, suddenly it was becoming more clear, the probes, the regimental action the previous day. "We're gonna get hit soon, at least a brigade...they know we know they're after the batteries. We're bleedin' 'em so bad they're gonna be combat ineffective in less than a week if they maintain their current posture in Shi'kahr."

Suvak nodded.

"What other situational intelligence have you got?"

"I have figured out about as much as you have Commander, but it is only logical. If you muster a company to head to the planetary defense batteries in the area, they won't have significant room to maneuver a blocking force, so they'll have to hit the base at full strength, if that is the situation, we need a commanding officer who has the authorization to make the tough decisions inside the wall."

Trip half smirked, "You coulda just said so..."

"My job is just to provide you with relevant information and let you make the decision, sir. That is the rendered essence of leadership, congratulations, you've just made your first step towards being a fine commanding officer." Suvak replied, suddenly feeling his age intensely. Most Vulcans assumed he was in his early fifties at most, the more astute could make the determination from his eyes, the strain that was hinted there. Humans had of course always assumed he was young, by human standards he didn't look a day over thirty two, the fact he was eighty five meant he was approaching mid-life for a Vulcan even if he didn't look it he suddenly felt pangs of regret. Maybe if he made it through this he would find an unattached female and take a mate before it was too late in his life for it.

Tucker nodded, pulling a folding computer console from his LBE, "All the system protocols and security algorithms are in this unit. Once you jack it into the control system it'll hijack the software. We'll be able to control it through the planetary information network using the new protocols I uploaded to our systems here."

Suvak took the unit and nodded, handing it off to one of the other agents who carefully hooked it to his own LBE under the long desert robes. "Well, we will be off then, Commander."


The Vulcan arched a brow, "Commander?"

"Be careful out there, be sure to come back alive, understood?"

Suvak nodded, "Aye, sir."

The Vulcan turned and exited the COC, the remaining three Section 31 Operators and the MARSCO following along with V'Til and one of his lieutenants. Trip felt a moment of strange melancholy, like he was being left behind, like he was sending people off to do something he couldn't or wouldn't do himself. Jonathan had confided in him once, when they had pinned the medals on him after the Xindi campaign he claimed it felt like a millstone was being hooked to his chest. That was the burden of command, the tacit guilt of sending other people to do something you felt you should be doing yourself knowing that given the situation, you wouldn't want to do it either. As junior officers you were ordered on shit details, worse than KP, thankless tasks and suicide missions that you would never get credit or appreciation for while pompous officer-bureaucrats engaged in mutual self-congratulations and awarded each other medals for it. Or at least that's what it felt like; the truth was even the most supercilious windbag had once been a junior nobody who agonized over orders and details and often drowned in the self-doubt that their orders caused. As much calling the shots from the big picture was part of command, so was the agony of sending men to their deaths; you had to internalize, catalogue, and marginalize the fact of it or go mad.

Trip faked a sigh, "All dressed up and nowhere to go."

He looked around the COC for a moment, feeling as if the walls of the C2 building were closing in, trying to suffocate and crush him. The weight of responsibility, the weight of command, the weight of doubt and worry and self-effacing fear. He had to get out of the building, he had to be out in it, commanding the preparations in the hot sun and dry wind where disruptors and mortars and the condensced violence could reach him and force him to be worthy of the right to tell men to go forth, go forth and die for people they didn't know and high ideologies they didn't understand, politics that transcended all but the thoroughly initiated and strategic overview that stared into crystal balls prognosticating effects fifty years in the future and doing what was possible to make them come to pass or prevent them as need be.

"Lieutenant Gayle!"


"Get me all the company commanders down on the grinder, and get transport assets online to move firebase Court, Bannock, and Howes' personnel to Camp Kelly, they're strategically of zero consequence now and we need additional assets online here." Trip barked with military crispness.

"And their materiel, sir?" Gayle inquired.

"Anything that can't be transported field expedient, tell 'em to demolition it, but leave any humanitarian rations behind, if the civilians are in the area need somethin' to eat or water they'll know to head to the firebases, so no booby traps and take the perimeter directionals off-line before exfil."

"What if the Romulans attempt to poison the supplies, sir or take them for themselves?"

"Any Vulcan woman worth her salt'll be able to smell somethin' wrong with the HDRs before the first bite, as for them appropriatin' 'em, calculated risk, but I doubt they came into this tussle ill-prepared, they've got fifty dang ships in orbit right now. I'd rather risk them stuffin' themselves on tax payer paid rations than leavin' any Vulcans hungry or thirsty."

"Aye, sir."

"They're my wife's people after all..." Trip grinned.

Gayle allowed a hint of a knowing smirk, "Oorah, sir."

T'Pau looked long across the cargo bay of the V'slan, the large room usually used to carry the lion share of materials and equipment was packed with humanity. Somehow they had managed to fit an entire company of 294 men in the confines of the cargo bay, their equipment stowed under cots and in cargo netting, the smell nearly floored her as she had entered the room. The pungency and foulness of cramped humanity, three hundred men seething sweat and musk as they worked themselves into the lather of war preparation. It was like entering a room of rutting animals, large predators caught in the frenzied limbo of wanting to destroy or mate. She could understand how the odor could be possibly intoxicating despite the nausea she was experiencing, the members of the First Marine Regiment had fought in every major conflict Earth's United States of America had been involved in since their early twentieth century. Theirs was a long and proud martial tradition and confidence seeped from the room of men in their loudness, crassness, and rowdiness. Among their number some sat quietly, reading books, meditating, tending to the implements of their craft, and they added a strong current of professionalism to the overpowering brew. This was the vanguard of Vulcan's liberation, these were the soldiers that would crash like waves against the numerically superior Romulans and wash them off her world.

When she met the Marines of the First Reconnaissance Battalion earlier in the day she had felt a strange sense of fear; their polite words and strange smiles did little to hide the focused violence in their eyes as they did their best to not let her see the ominous truth of their craft. They were scientific killers, murderer surgeons who would cut into the enemy, cutting their arteries and leaving them bleeding to death there in the desert. It would be swift and mechanically merciless; they would be dead before they even realized what happened, and the scalpel they would wield would be the individuals brigades to which they were assigned as assets.

This was the most proximity she had experienced with humans, surrounded for brief moments by their faces, the stubble that had grown on their faces and their uniforms and equipment, the odor of meat eating bodies. The sweet and cloying smells of deodorant, mint toothpaste and mouthwash and chewing gum, the tinge of pungency caused by their sexual self-regulatory acts accomplished in the dark of lights-out. The fear, the fear, the idea that if they had wanted they could take over the ship, murder the crew and an instinctive fear of worse for the females. But at the same time, there was a strange reassurance in the fact that they never looked the violence at her, it was almost as if it would die for a moment if they made eye contact and would resume to stare past her, off through the light years to their destination almost as if the sheer weight of their animus could burn the invaders from Vulcan. The officers were different for the most part, the danger seemed to have bled from the eyes of the senior officers and staff, and now it was a kind of smoldering mental intensity like a Kal-toh master that moved pieces into position with seeming lack of order or reason as part of a gambit that was hundreds of moves away. When she voiced the comparison the lieutenant colonel in charge of the Battalion had laughed and replied, "Ma'am, we make it up as we go along...semper gumby. No plan survives initial contact with the enemy."

She had been shocked, how did one enter something so dangerous without a plan, "Surely it would be impossible to fight a war without strategy."

"That's why we're always evolving the strategy and adapting to the situation, ma'am. It's just like nature, if you can't evolve, you die."

It was crass and simplistic; that is to say it was a decidedly human perspective. How could her perceptions of these people have been so horribly skewed? They were barbarians, they were poets, they were impulsive, they were wise, how could they be so many contradictory things at once? She suddenly remembered the conversation she had with Colonel Shelby that one night at Maggy's Drawers inside MAC-V Camp Kelly. It had been the only time he had ever made eye contact for more than a few seconds since the first time they had met when she was little more than a child sixteen years before. He never spoke of that first meeting, he likely didn't even realize it had been her. Shelby had revealed many things he had neither alluded to or would have commented on before. Seventeen years on Vulcan, fully over a third of his life had been spent on her world. Everything he knew of home had been severed, his life belonged to Vulcan and while he spoke of it with fondness, there was always a kind of subtle sadness of a man who knew, for whatever reason, that he could never go home. She had finally asked a question she had felt was innocent enough, having no idea how it would server to overshadow the remainder of the evening.

They had sat at a corner table, it seemed as if it was reserved and privileged. A small placard had adorned the middle declaring it to be the "Chesty" Puller Table, he later explained that it was reserved for senior officers and their guests only, just a small privilege of rank. It had been rare for her to see the Colonel out of uniform and she had found his appearance agreeable. He had changed before arriving and was wearing a pale blue button down shirt and dark grey trousers that appeared to have been from much earlier in his career when he had made a conscious effort to show off his physique. He was still very powerfully built, broad shouldered with a strong chest and muscular arms, the only real indication of age was his face, tanned dark and marred with frown lines around his mouth, eyes, and forehead and the slight amount of grey creeping into his brutally short hair. There were times when T'Pau had wondered what he would have looked like had he been Vulcan, the severity in his face likely would have persisted, and she was relatively certain he would not have been as well developed physically. Most Vulcan males were several inches shorter than the Colonel and despite the higher body density of her people, the Colonel probably handily outweighed him owing to the musculature and bone thickness as suggested by his large hands and ample wrists.

He had been sipping slowly at his drink, cranberry juice and gin over ice. T'Pau was not unaccustomed to alcohol, as part of her Kolinahr training she had imbibed regularly as a test of discipline. By the last stages of the training a master could drink until thoroughly inebriated and still maintain complete logic. While she had never quite reached that degree of mastery, usually because of her low tolerance owing to her metabolic rate and size, she could comfortably drink with no loss of mental or emotional discipline, her speech on the other hand tended to begin to fail her as words slurred slightly. In a concession to avoid causing the Colonel discomfort by dint of her refusal to drink while he did so in front of her she had asked for a glass of wine, a tempranillo which was more of a pleasure to her nose than palette and much easier on her alcohol tolerance and the strong spirits of the Kolinahru.

"How has your spouse dealt with such a long separation?" She was under the impression that all officers at the rank of company commander or higher were married. She had always assumed it was just traditional or part of the martial aspect of their culture. It was logical for superior warriors to pass on their genes to ensure their traits would continue in the greater human gene pool, humans clearly bred prodigiously and based on she had learned seemed to enjoy the act. He just laughed, long and hard, wiping a tear from his eye as the display of mirth brought him to lachrymation. She had heard the human term "laugh until you cry", such was the nature of unrestrained human emotions one action causing another that were often disassociated from each other. Now she found herself wondering if the tears had not been the genuine reaction and the laughter was a ruse to cover the fact that her words had caused him emotional pain or discomfort.

"I'm not married, minister."

"I understand, separation of this length could complicate a matrimonial relationship. Were any children produced by a previous union?" What a fool she had been, she had hurt him without realizing it.

"I was never married, minister. I was engaged to a young woman when my first tour on Vulcan began...we didn't last a year, she couldn't get past the distance and the fact it would be three years before I could be posted back to Earth. She left me. So after that point I pretty much concluded it made sense to just stay on Vulcan as long as MCS wanted to keep me here, ma'am." He looked at the wall but kept his voice affable, diplomatically friendly and accommodating as was usual for him and of course he was, as always, deferential and respectful.


He interrupted, "You don't have to call me by rank ma'am, you can call me mister Shelby, or just Wayne if you want too."

Then she had said the most culturally insensitive thing she believed she ever had. "Mister Shelby, that does not preclude the eventual formation of a union, Colonel. It is logical that you would seek to pass on your genetic heritage."

She was viewing it through the Vulcan perspective, not paying attention to the fact that reproduction was not nearly as matter of fact among humans. Her people often married at his age or even later, it was hard at times to remember they only had a little over half a natural Vulcan life span and some humans were wont to die earlier than what a natural life span would dictate. There was another saying that was remarkably similar among most species she had encountered, "the brightest candle burns the fastest". Perhaps it was a mercy that some individuals died earlier than expected; after a life of such intensity to be crippled with infirmity and the painful knowledge that one would never be as they were would have to be maddening in an emotional species like humans.

He smiled, "Minister T'Pau, I'm past my prime, practically an old man for purposes of a first marriage. At my age children would be pretty much out of the question, maybe if I was rich or famous I could find some young filly that would be willing to let some codger like me get her pregnant so she could tie me down legally, but I'm just an old marine, nothing like that in my future, ma'am."

At the time it had seemed a ridiculous assertion on his part, at 47 he was only a third of the way through his projected life span. Further research had gone to show that will the length of life had been drastically lengthened in humans, certain aspect of longevity had not adequately evolved in time. Despite his physique, strength, and endurance, his body was indeed past its spring years and all he could look forward to from that point on was gradual decay and failure of a body they had entirely too short a time to rely on fully. If she had understood the concept at the time she would have viewed it as tragic; this man had burned up the best years of his life on her world, a world that would never had acknowledged or shown appreciation for it. To thank a human for a service they volunteered and were adequately compensated for seemed illogical, however if it was ever to be put into adequate terms a Vulcan could understand they might consider it differently.

The thoughts and emotions she experienced now only served to compound the shame she felt over what she had done to T'Pol. Emotions...how strange, her meditation was not proving adequate, nor was her Kolinahr training. Had there been an element of jealousy in her victimization of her elder? Curiosity was deemed logical when it spurred the individual to seek explanations and understanding, similarly guilt over an act that caused harm of distress to another was acceptable as long as it did not lead to self-destructive or blatantly illogical behavior. Regardless of her intentions, she was now inexplicably entwined in their life as she had seen and experienced a moment of intimacy between them. The concept of debt and obligation were not alien to her, Surak taught that one must be mindful of obligation and seek to repay courtesy with courtesy. It was especially important to ensure recompense was made for offense and it was, without a doubt, an offense she had committed, not just to her Vulcan elder but also her mate for invading his privacy as well when she telepathically invaded their marriage bed.

"Minister T'Pau, I know they may see a little coarse to you, but I'm sure they would find your presence..." The human officer was perhaps as old in standard human years as she, he paused as if looking for the culturally appropriate word, "...agreeable. I assure you they will be on their best behavior if you wish to go mingle among them."

She did not feel any particular inclination to do so she would be in close proximity to them, their brash nature, their bellicose demeanors, the odor, and of course there was the matter of lack of personal space, she would not be able to keep them at the distance she would feel most comfortable with. She still felt herself still relatively intimidated by these humans, however some of them would surely by injured, maimed, and killed within the next few days not for the sake of their world, but for hers. She could endure a little discomfort with that in mind.

By 1330 hours, the Romulans had established a Headquarters post in Tav'Sal'Nava located midway between MSR Viper and Python and had reinforced heavily. Suvak and his intuition had been correct, Trip reflected ruefully as he watched scores of Romulans taking positions to prepare for the assault. Initial estimates put the opposing force at roughly six companies, the Romulan force structure seemed to be based around 100 soldier units as the basic building block for large unit actions. The S-2 had reason to believe that the units were further grouped into an intermediate unit formation of three hundred which operated somewhere between the function of a company or battalion. They had managed to mass a great number of troops just inside the minimum range of the artillery, they could attempt to attempt fire at maximum elevation and raise the cannons slightly to allow for a hyper steep angle, but a sudden crosswind would create a risk of the rounds coming back down inside the walls of Camp Kelly or the cannons themselves could shift uncontrollably damaging the unit or personnel. Within the defilade of artillery, however, mortars were still an option and the weapons company began fire missions in support of the two FOBs outside the camp's walls.

All five platoons that had come in from Fire Bases Court, Bannock, Howes, Gamble, and Lester, all were marginally under strength having sustained casualties during the first stages of the Romulan assault giving Camp Kelly a total of 197 additional Marine riflemen to draw on but it was becoming imminently clear that he was going to have to pull back the troops from the FOB on MSR Python or risk them being cut off entirely. Viper Base, as it was now being called, seemed more defensible at this juncture given that it was half again closer to Camp Kelly and the wide roadway of MSR Viper allowed for easier movement and clearer fire lanes with which to support the post.

Trip had been mulling what course of action to take for an hour and a half as further preparations were being made to secure the Camp's twelve mile perimeter. Camp Kelly's walls were high, topped with razor wire and overlooked by fortified towers that allowed for crew served and designated marksman fire to reduce any attempts to clear the seven meter ramparts. Sapper attacks on the wall proper would be all but useless with anything short of a capital grade weapon given their thickness and reinforced construction, the only point of vulnerability lay at the gates. With the exclusion of the main gate on MSR Viper and the two secondary gates on MSR Python and Sidewinder, all the others had been adequately blockaded and were being guarded by a team of Vulcan commandos and indigenous personnel. The bottleneck that would be produced if the Romulans attempted entry would allow the Vulcan to hold the Romulans under murderous fire until a squad of Marines could make it to the position to help repulse the entry attempt. Six platoons currently manned the main gate with four at each of the secondaries, this left him with a seven full strength platoon reserve and three platoons of mixed Vulcan Commandos and Marines split up into squads and sections manning technicals to quickly respond to any breaches at the foot-traffic gates should they come under attack.

"Private, get me Yamabushi on the prick." Tucker declared.

"Aye, sir."

Trip had spent the past six hours alternating between the grinder, various defensive positions, and the COC. He had climbed the stairs in the C2 building at least twenty times and between the exertion of doing so and his extended time under the sun he was feeling more than a little drained.

"Yamabushi, yamabushi, this is black flag, over."

"Yamabushi, go ahead black flag."

"Yamabushi, prepare to receive traffic from Barracuda actual, over."

Trip took the handset and began to speak into it, "Yamabushi, this is Barracuda; RTB, repeat, RTB. I want everyone out of FOB Python and back to Kelly, immediately, over."

"This is Yamabushi actual, Barracuda, we copy, we will be oscar mike in zero five mikes, over."

Trip took a deep breath, glad the Captain had not deigned to argue the point. In the same position he would have been tempted to do so, but Cpt. Musashibo was a good Marine and a smart one and accepted the fact that Tucker had the long-view even if he himself was not privy to it.

"Roger that, Yamabushi, Barracuda out." Trip passed the hand set back to the private.

"You think they're gonna hit us, sir?"

Trip shrugged, knowing the truth of it but feeling a strange compulsion to express less than utter confidence of the face, "Well, they're all ready for a party, would seem a bit strange if they just packed it in and went home now."

"Ever been in a fire fight before, sir? I mean...before landing on Vulcan..." The young man sounded nervous. He had every right to be, this was going to be the big one, or perhaps the first of many big ones, Trip knew no matter what happened, today would be bad.

"I was in a number of major engagements durin' the forty seven war." Trip acknowledged flatly as he once again viewed the defensive positions built around the main gate.

"Oh, well...I meant on the ground, sir." The private sounded a little chagrined.

"I was on the ground, part of the landin' teams. Klingons just loved to try to overrun us once we hit the ground."

"As a comparison, which would you rather be fighting, sir; Romulans or Klingons?"

Trip didn't hesitate in his answer, "Romulans, compared to Klingons these guys are a bunch'a wimps."

Of course Klingons, unlike their Romulan counter-parts, didn't form into units thousands strong to attack, the biggest Klingon force he had ever seen in a single area was a little more than three hundred strong. Current estimates were that there were at least six thousand Romulans within one kilometer of Camp Kelly and of that number at least half were preparing for the assault. Given those kind of numbers he wasn't sure there was much of a difference, especially with artillery being out of the question and any air support missions would be danger-close, once the actual battle began they might refuse to complete attack missions entirely since they would be too far into the six hundred meter "safe distance" from any ordnance dropped.

"Think they'll hit soon, sir?"

Trip looked back over to the private, momentarily annoyed. He wanted to say something snippy, crass; Nah kid, I think they'll wait about six or seven days then call the whole damn thing off. Kid, that was the operative word here, he couldn't be a day over twenty, twenty one at the absolute maximum. He was still practically a boy, an armed child here to put smoke on the enemies of Earth and Vulcan courtesy of Military Assistance Command, Vulcan. You knew what you signed up for but you never really knew until shots were fired and war was declared. This was probably the most scared the private had been in his life, but something happened with that fear, until the numbness finally overtook you, everything was sharper, more distinct. Energy, one thousand miles a second, pouring into your system like a tidal wave of little bees buzzing around in your head, your spine, your arms, your crotch; it was like nausea and an orgasm combined and if you had slept enough, eaten enough, drank enough it just built and built until the first sign of contact and then it all turned into furry and the most well focused fuck-you that went down your index finger and sent smoke, hate, and discontent at Mr. John Q. Contact-right. He'd been there, he knew what it was.

"Probably, private. They don't strike me as smart enough to hit us at night, they'll be out in the open where we have clear line'a sight. Hell, if they don't start doin' somethin' I might just walk out there and ask 'em if there's a problem. Just stay near me in case I need'ta get anyone on the prick, oorah?"

"Oorah, sir."

Trip had just started to feel the first twinges of low blood sugar, the last few days had been so busy it wasn't like he really had noticed the effects of hypoglycemia but now pretty much all that could be done to prepare had been done. From where he was now it would take him about five minutes to walk a swift trot to the mess hall and there would surely be something available to eat there. He had not been consuming nearly enough calories lately and that coupled with mild dehydration probably accounted some for the fact he had dropped about fifteen pounds since landing on Vulcan. If he could just figure out a way to get some sun bathing in the next time he saw T'Pol he'd look like a south Florida Adonis. Still, part of him wondered if losing much more weight would be a bad thing as far as T'Pol was concerned. Even when he was really packing away the food he capped out at about 7.5% body fat, owing to the series five gene modification he had inherited from three generations of Tucker men and a series two on his mother's side of the family. He was relatively sure now he was sitting at no more than 3.8% at most, and T'Pol seemed to enjoy his appearance the most when he was sitting at five percent. He had just resolved to ask the private if he'd eaten when someone at FOB Viper went cyclic.

"Looks like its startin', c'mon private, double time!"

"The furthest Romulan picket ships are ranging one hundred thirty five thousand kilometers from Vulcan, if we drop out of warp at two hundred thousand kilometers we'll have plenty of time to establish battle formations and ensure we have solid targeting telemetry and firing solutions, Captain." Reed stated in that clipped Limey-with-a-bone-to-pick tone that meant he was gearing up for a nice big ass-kick.

"How long until we drop out of warp, mister Mayweather?" Archer inquired.

"At mister Reed's suggestion, two minutes seven seconds, sir." The navigator/pilot replied in a decidedly more friendly sounding no-nonsense tone.

"Hoshi?" The captain turned to the communications officer.

"We are picking up the Vulcan Planetary Information Network general warning broadcast, they system is back on-line."

Archer turned to look at his science officer, when she had come into his ready room three hours earlier and informed him that Trip had told her that he had taken control of the Romulan system and was using it to lock them out he had looked at her like she was having a mental breakdown. The prospect of having to sedate his de facto first officer and send her to her quarters or the sickbay for the opening shots of the battle had left him feeling almost sick inside. He tried to protest her claims calmly, demurely, and diplomatically when she had looked him right in the eye and called him by his first name, something she had never done before. "Jonathan, please, I ask you to trust me now even if you never intend to do so again." And, by God, she was right, the system was back up, or at least aspects of it that had been down when they had first arrived in system eleven days ago.

"Captain, planetary standard time is nineteen twenty one hours in the area of Shi'Kahr and macvee headquarters." T'Pol notified, "Night will be falling in approximately thirty minutes."

"Anything from macvee, Hoshi?" Archer swore at himself in a small mental office that reviewed all his protocol and made note of infractions, he really had to stop calling her by her first name if he was going to address everyone else in proper naval fashion.

"Still too far out for anything to come in on ULF in real time." She replied, totally overlooking his slip up or perhaps accepting it because she always kind of viewed herself as the young lady and occasional trouble maker when it came to him.

"Contact all ships and let them know we will be dropping out of warp two hundred thousand kilometers from planet."

"Aye, sir." She replied and began sending emergency action traffic through the coding protocols to the two task group flotillas.

Jonathan keyed the communications system on his command couch into engineering, "Engineering!"

"This is Kelby, sir."

"We'll be dropping out of warp in a few minutes, the moment we do I want you pushing all the juice you can into combat systems and in-system propulsion, understood?"

"Aye, sir. Engineering is on it!"

He nodded, knowing Kelby couldn't see him but perhaps knowing the engineering vice-commander, would know he was doing so, "Archer, out."

"Sir, all ships acknowledge." Sato called out from her station.

"Set readiness condition one." Archer barked.

"Set readiness condition one, aye!" Reed echoed as the lights dimmed on the bridge.

"Line of departure, twenty seconds." Mayweather called out from his station.

"Make ready." Archer hissed as much to himself as the bridge crew, perhaps even more so to himself, this was it.

He had dodge the bullet in 47, stationed on the Baron Urt as commanding officer of a destroyer patrolling up and down the Tellar-Earth trade corridor to prevent any commerce raiders from the Klingon forces getting at the freighters. Short of the Xindi campaign this was the only other major military action he had been involved in. The fact he had done so well against the Xindi and, indeed, held the entire operation together through what was deemed to be skillful command and sheer willpower meant he could handle this, but he still felt the crippling ache of anticipation and fear in his stomach, somewhere between the desire to vomit up his toe-nails and intense hunger pangs.

Star points went from streaks to individual points as they dropped from high warp to normal space. The flurry of commands began to pour from his mouth as they would from eleven other commanding officers on eleven other ships, all to be aped and confirmed by the respective departments on the bridges as compliance was made. "All ahead, one third!"

"Ahead one, third, aye." Mayweather echoed.

"Shields up, power to hull plating."

"Shields up, power to hull plating, aye." Reed's confirmation.

"Power weapons, lock targeting solutions."

"Weapons powered, lock targeting solutions, aye, sir." Reed again.

"Set inertial dampeners to full."

"Inertial dampeners to full." T'Pol replied.

"Get me, macvee, miss Sato."

"Aye, sir."

"Sir, Romulan picket ships are falling back to their battle group." Reed informed.

"Hold course, steady as she goes, mister Mayweather." Archer replied.

"Aye, sir, holding at one third." The navigator replied, fingers loosening and then tightening again on the control yoke he would utilize to pull the cruiser into the graceful and deft maneuvers he so easily coaxed from the ship.

"Macvee command, macvee command, this is CGX zero one Enterprise, come back over." Hoshi paused, waited the requisite five seconds before speaking again, "Macvee command, macvree command, this is CGX zero one Enterprise, please respond, over."


Archer felt a lump forming in his throat, a knot of fear at once boiling and freezing sitting in his lower thoracic like a lump of ice right at his fundus. Were they too late? Was Shi'Kahr lost, was his friend and all the humans on the planet lost? Was Vulcan and its billions of inhabitants already lost and all that could happen now was a long and bloody campaign punctuated by death and misery for the civilians of the world?

"This is black flag, Enterprise, we have solid copy!"

"Black flag, Enterprise, what is your status over?" Hoshi queried.

Sounds of a fire fight momentarily obliterated the sound coming from the ULF transmission, "-did not copy last, say again Enterprise, say again."

"Black flag, what is your SITREP, over." Sato spoke loud and slow to make sure everything was understood over the sounds of battle.

"Enterprise, Black flag, Camp Kelly under heavy assault, Colonel Wayne Shelby whiskey, india, alpha."

"Black flag, who is in command? Over." Hoshi continued as the two flotillas rocketed towards Vulcan and the Romulans as they hastily tried to form combat effective squadrons.

"Enterprise, prepare to receive traffic from Barracuda actual."

"It's 'bout damn time you showed up!" The drawl was unmistakable even over the sound of an intense battle.

"Trip?" Archer exclaimed.

"Roger that, I'm currently n'charge'a this goat rope, sir."

"What's your status?"

"Sir, Romulan ships fifty five thousand kilometers from effective engagement range." Reed interjected.

"We are under heavy assault, second you get the chance we certainly could- Contact left! Contact left!" Trip shouted the words and a series of tapping rifle reports ripped from the speakers of the ship, each feeling like a nail being driven under a finger nail as they literally had to listen to their crewmate friend, and in the case of one officer, lover and soul mate, fighting for his life. The sounds of the close action engagement went on for another ten seconds, each ticking away like it was a life time as seventeen rounds were expended and the sounds of a magazine change and slapping of a slide release, the sharp snap played over the communications system. Another five quick taps and the pronounced proximity clarity faded until all that could be heard was the muted click and thumping bray of weapons not held by the man to whom they had been speaking.

"Trip? Trip? Commander Tucker, respond!" Archer shouted.

Nothing, again, just silence. Archer cut eyes towards T'Pol and saw her breathing raggedly, her nostrils working with each breath as her lips remained tight and her eyes began to shine like tears wanted to well up in them.

Suddenly they heard the muted drawl again, "Aardvark, aardvark, fire mission, pre-plot whiskey niner, whiskey niner, HE airburst, danger close, fire for effect." The communications system crackled as they heard him lifting the hand set back to his head to continue speaking, "Sorry 'bout that. If you get a chance we sure could use Major Hayes and his boys down here at Camp Kelly, they're throwin' four brigades at us right now."

"Who is in overall command, Trip?" Archer demanded, leaning forward, at the edge of his seat, fingers tightened on the arms in a death grip, sweat visibly showing on his brow.

"I'm in command'a the whole Shi'Kahr operations theatre, Camp Kelly is under my command at the moment, seein' as how this is where the fightin' is goin' on, that pretty much makes me the Old Man, sir."

"Can you hold?" He cut eyes back over to T'Pol who had tilted her head slightly towards the sound of her husband's voice.

"I reckon for a while longer anyway, when are you gonna get us some reinforcements down here, I've been tryin' to kill 'em all myself but its turnin' into a pretty tall order." They could hear the lopsided grin, how was he putting a smile on this? But then again, it was Charles Tucker III, and that's just who he was when it was them. His intestines could by lying in a pile on the ground right now and if wouldn't have been for pain in his voice, one would have never been able to tell. Of course he was telling them jokes, he would as long as he could still draw breath and that fact caused a moment of pronounced worry that suddenly seemed to rise like a stench on the bridge.

"Are you alright, Trip? Are you injured?" Archer asked in an even tell-me-the-truth tone.

"I caught a lil shrapnel 'bout an hour ago but nothin' serious."

"How bad is it?"

"Sir, Romulan ships will be in firing range in fifteen seconds." Reed once again updated.

"Just don't make me wear a tie for a few days and I should be just fine."

"Alright Trip, I'm not sure how long we're going to be fighting up here or if we'll be able to get in range to get Hayes' men to you. The remainder of the task group should be here in less than two days, we'll do what we can to buy you time until then, but we're going to have a fight on our hands too." Archer stated with an almost painful stoniness that seemed to be born of the defensiveness of guilt.

"We should be able to hold out that long unless they all start pourin' in at once and if they do that then there'll be not much left of 'em to clean up for the MEUs. I'll just say now if that happens, though; pine box, brass handles." Again the engineer joked.

"You'll have to give that to me in writing when I see you next, commander."

"Alright then, don't y'all do nothin' stupid with my boat, y'understand? If it gets to heavy up there you pull out, don't sit around up there on our account. Standard transport protocols are in place if you get a chance to do a beam-in and if you can pull 'em close to Shi'Kahr we can provide limited support with the planetary defense batteries." Tuckers voice became serious. "I mean it sir, don't you go riskin' my baby! Either'a them!" One last joke.

"Roger that, Trip."

"Barracuda, out."

Archer sat back, "Mister Reed, do you have targeting solutions?"

"Aye, sir."

"You may fire when ready." Archer pronounced.

"With pleasure, sir."