Read an Excerpt
From Ensign Travis Mayweather's
Personal Correspondence File:
Tell Paul his big brother is having a ball at summer camp.
Just kidding. It's been eighty-four days since we entered the Delphic Expanse. There's nothing new to report, unfortunately; we've still found neither hide nor hair (nor scales) of the Xindi, or the large-scale particle-beam weapon they're preparing to deploy against Earth. Everyone aboard Enterprise is getting good and cranky about the lack of results so far in our search.
If we succeed, you and Paul will eventually get to read all of these entries in order. (But I'll certainly understand if you're tempted to skip forward to the end, where we finally catch up to the alien killers we've been chasing.)
If we fail, you'll find that out when the Horizon receives word that the entire planet Earth has been blown to rubble by a hidden weapon built by those very same aliens.
As always, I am hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.
Your loving son,
Friday, September 7, 2153,
Yet another alpha shift passed uneventfully, almost like a milk run aboard the freighter where he was born and raised.
But that's not a good thing, Ensign Travis May-weather thought as he left his post following the shift change and headed for the bridge turbolift. Boredom always exhausted him far more than vigorous activity did.
And he knew that boredom was the last thing the crew of Enterprise needed right now. It was the last thing humanityneeded at the moment.
Because it meant that the search for the aggressive aliens known as the Xindi, the mysterious race whose unprovoked attack on Earth had killed more than seven million human beings, was very quickly going nowhere.
Mayweather stopped the turbolift on E deck, then trudged from the turboshaft toward the port-side rim, where his quarters awaited him.
He hesitated for a moment outside the door, not exactly afraid to go inside, but not quite eager to do so either. I could go to the gym instead, he thought. Work off some of this energy.
But he'd need his workout clothes. And to get them, he'd have to go into his quarters. Chang might be there, and Mayweather simply wasn't in the mood to deal with his MACO roommate at the moment.
Dammit, these are my quarters, he thought as he slammed his palm against the reader mounted on the bulkhead beside the door. Chang is only a guest here.
The door slid open obediently and Mayweather entered the cramped room. He eyed with suspicion the alien presence that had taken it over these past few hectic months.
Corporal Chang sat cross-legged on the bed -- My bed! Mayweather thought indignantly -- dressed in the khaki fatigues that many of the Military Assault Command Operations personnel wore when they weren't on duty. His eyes were closed as though he were lost in meditation. The corporal's relaxed yet formal posture reminded Mayweather of the stoic Sub-Commander T'Pol.
Only Chang made the fastidious T'Pol look almost slovenly by comparison. Although he was wearing what amounted to casual exercise clothing, it was neatly pressed and pleated, all spit and polish, as though a MACO general might conduct a surprise inspection at any moment.
Mayweather cleared his throat.
Chang opened his eyes. "Hello, Ensign."
Mayweather nodded. "Corporal." He dispatched yet another silent prayer of thanks that he was not required to address the corporal as "sir."
"You Starfleet folks have any luck today tracking down those Xindi and their superweapon?"
The muscles in Mayweather's neck tightened involuntarily. Why did Chang feel obliged to sound so dismissive and patronizing whenever he mentioned the crew's ongoing effort to find the Xindi?
"Captain Archer and the whole senior staff are doing everything they can," he said quietly, meeting Chang's steely, accusatory gaze without flinching. You'd just love to think you made me look away, wouldn't you?
"If you can't find 'em, Ensign, we can't kill 'em," Chang said. In a single smooth motion he rose from the bed and stood at parade rest, and regarded Mayweather with that raptor's stare.
He's only staying here until we find the Xindi, May-weather reminded himself yet again.
He was tempted to tell Chang about some of the new leads that Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed were busy pursuing this very moment. But he knew that Captain Archer wouldn't be pleased with any news being released outside official channels, especially when so many of the leads the crew had chased over the past few weeks had come to nothing. Besides, he didn't feel very highly motivated to please Chang.
"If we can't find the Xindi, Corporal, then nobody can," Mayweather finally said. "And aren't you late for your duty shift?" After all, the whole point of the current so-called "hot-cotting" living arrangements was to ensure that those who rotated in and out of Enterprise's overcrowded crew living quarters barely saw one another, let alone had much time to get into one another's way.
"Major Hayes gave me some extra liberty time," Chang said. "I'm working a short shift today."
Hayes probably thinks you need to take up a hobby, Mayweather thought. "Oh. Good for you," he said aloud. The gym suddenly beckoned; it seemed to be his best refuge against any further chance encounters with Chang until the corporal's truncated duty shift began. He moved toward the shelf where he kept his gym bag.
It wasn't where he had left it. Chang must have been cleaning the place. Again.
"Well, I'm off to the gym," Chang said before heading for the door at full march.
The door hissed closed, leaving Mayweather alone in the quarters that were no longer his island of privacy. He gave up searching for the gym bag, since the gym was now the last place on the ship he wanted to go anywhere near.
He glanced at the top of the bureau beside the narrow bed. Several mottled gray, camouflage-pattern MACO duty uniforms and at least one pristine set of dress uniforms, their triangular, two-striped corporal's rank insignia clearly visible on the sleeves, lay in impossibly neat stacks on the top shelf. An optimist at heart, Mayweather allowed himself to hope that Chang had put them there to avoid crowding him out of the bureau drawers below.
Or did he leave the MACO uniforms prominently visible to send Mayweather yet another subtle message about whose contribution to the mission to find and punish the Xindi he considered the most indispensable?
He scowled as he noticed something else. Where the hell did he put my model of the Horizon this time?
Monday, September 10, 2153
"We'd better find the Xindi soon, Hoshi. Otherwise I just might have to kill my roommate," Mayweather said very quietly. He tried to punctuate his words with an easy smile, but he suspected it looked more like the grimace of a man passing a kidney stone.
"Oh, come on, Travis," Ensign Hoshi Sato said, grinning around the last few bites of a Reuben sandwich. She leaned forward conspiratorially across the narrow mess-hall table as she scooped up some of the sandwich's remaining innards, which had plopped unceremoniously onto her plate. "You've had to live in close quarters with other people before."
Mayweather took another sip of his still too-hot coffee. The burning pain felt perversely good as it spread and slowly faded. "Sure I have. But aboard the Horizon, I was mostly among family. This situation is different. Corporal Chang is a MACO, and I'm Starfleet. That's about as far from family as you can get. It's more like enforced confinement with some hostile alien."
Hoshi snickered. "Don't you think you might be exaggerating just a tiny bit?"
"Maybe. But not by much. Come on, Hoshi, you can't tell me you that you and Corporal Guitierrez have exactly become sorority sisters."
Mayweather saw Hoshi's expression darken slightly; the recent cramped living conditions aboard Enterprise had to be taxing the patience of even the most pleasantly disposed crew members. "Not exactly," she said at length. "But I'm not quite ready to do her bodily harm yet either."
"Then maybe you're just more patient than I am," he said, wondering if anyone who could make a career out of parsing unknown languages might possess patience of an entirely different order than his own. "Give it time."
She shrugged, as though conceding his point, but only somewhat. "You must have learned a thing or two about patience during those long freight runs aboard the Horizon, lumbering along at warp three from Draylax to Vega."
"Try warp one point eight," he said, grinning.
"You're making my point for me, Travis. You're a space boomer. You learned more patience working on that freighter than most people develop over a whole lifetime."
"But I also lost my patience for that sort of life, remember? Which is a big part of the reason I ended up here."
She sighed. "Still, things can't possibly be that bad between you and Corporal Chang."
He shook his head. "Oh, you bet they can. I swear, one or the other of us is going to leave feet-first in shirtsleeves through one of the airlocks."
"This isn't like you, Travis. What's he done that's so awful you'd fantasize about making him walk the plank?"
Mayweather opened his mouth, then closed it again. He realized all at once that there wasn't any single incident he could point to. Rather, his irritation stemmed from a seemingly endless series of tiny slights and indignities; it came from the relentless accumulation of Chang's presumptuousness and arrogance.
"For one thing, he's a neat freak," he said at length.
There was pity evident in Hoshi's eyes, but she also looked perplexed. "A 'neat freak.' "
He nodded. "It must be pathological. My quarters are so spotless they make Doctor Phlox's sickbay look like a Tandaran labor camp. You could eat off the deck plates!"
Impatience began to displace Hoshi's expression of baffled sympathy. "And that's a bad thing?"
"It is when you can't find your own stuff half the time because of it. The copy of Chicago Mobs of the Twenties my brother gave me went missing for two days until I found out Chang had stuck it in the bottom of one of the footlockers. I asked him if he suffers from clutterphobia, or some sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder. He said it was just standard MACO discipline and suggested that I try a little of it sometime."
As though anybody could grow up on a freighter as busy as the Horizon and not learn a thing or two about discipline along the way, he thought.
Hoshi suppressed a laugh, which came out as an abbreviated snort. "I don't think the compulsive neatness is necessarily a MACO thing. Selma Guitierrez is a complete slob. Having to clean up after her probably bugs me almost as much as Chang's habits bother you."
Mayweather grinned. "Maybe we ought to consider swapping roommates."
"Very funny. But maybe you've put your finger on a partial solution to your own problem. Why don't you ask D.O. to give you a different room assignment?"
"And admit defeat in front of Lieutenant O'Neill?" Enterprise's third-watch commander, Donna "D.O." O'Neill, had earned her reputation as a no-nonsense officer; the last thing Mayweather wanted was for either O'Neill or Sub-Commander T'Pol, both of whom were working hard to oversee the present difficult crew living arrangements, to start thinking of him as a whiner.
"Okay, then ask T'Pol," Hoshi said with a shrug.
"No, thanks," he added. "Those are my quarters. Remember, I'm not the interloper here; Chang is. Besides, shuffling the room reassignments around won't solve the underlying problem: we're serving aboard a fully-crewed Starfleet vessel designed for a complement of eighty-three -- and we have to accommodate a cadre of thirty-six MACOs on top of that."
"Only until we resolve the Xindi problem, Travis."
But there was no telling how long that might take. "Let's just hope we get a few Xindi in our sights before Chang and I get into a shooting war of our own."
"Shhh! He might come in here any minute." Hoshi looked surreptitiously around the room. A handful of off-duty personnel -- including a pair of fatigue-clad MACOs -- sat quietly, absorbed in their meals and conversations.
"Not a chance. We're 'hot-cotting' these days, remember? I'm sure Chang's off doing combat drills right now, preparing to defend the human race from the Xindi while we lowly Starfleet types handle all the scutwork involved in getting them to their appointed place of battle."
"You sound almost jealous, Travis. That's also not like you. Remember, 'They also serve who only sit and drive.' "
Mayweather was surprised at how her comment wounded him, though he could see from her bantering expression that there was no malice whatsoever behind her words. "You sound just like Chang," he said. "He seems to think I'm some sort of interstellar bus driver." He realized only belatedly that he had spoken a bit too loudly.
Hoshi held up her hands in a placating gesture. "Easy, Travis. You know that's not what I meant."
Mayweather noticed then that two of the Starfleet people present and one of the MACOs was staring at him silently. He tendered an awkward smile, which the other officers returned before turning their attention back to food and talk.
He felt stupid for having blown up at Hoshi. In a much gentler -- and quieter -- tone, he said, "Look, however good these MACOs may be in close combat, fighting the Xindi is going to take a lot more than just three dozen gung-ho, egotistical ground-pounders."
"True enough, Travis. But the MACOs are definitely going to give us an edge when the shooting starts. They certainly earned their rep when they went up against those pirates in the Janus Loop. 'Semper Invictus.' "
" 'Ever Invincible,' " Mayweather said, translating the MACO force's famous official Latin motto into English. "I heard they've picked up a few other choice labels over the past few months as well."
Hoshi nodded, smiling an ironic smile. "One of them is even in Latin. 'Semper Invisus': 'Ever Hateful.' "
Mayweather couldn't help snickering. "Chang wasn't very happy last week when he overheard Ensign Marcel using that one. He accused Starfleet of being 'Semper Invitus.' "
"Ouch. 'Ever Unwilling.' I had no idea your roommate was such an accomplished linguist."
"Haven't you heard? MACOs are great at everything."
Hoshi made a gentle "tsk" sound. "You sound like you've adopted one of the other new Latin mottoes a few of the MACOs have tried to pin on us: 'Semper Invideo.' "
Mayweather favored her with a shrug and a blank stare. "What's that mean? 'Ever Movie Night'?"
"No. 'Ever Envious.'"
Mayweather had to will his back teeth not to grind together at that, but without complete success. "Listen, Hoshi, I don't doubt the skills of the MACOs for a minute, and I really don't think I'm jealous of them. I just resent the fact that they don't seem to appreciate our abilities. Lieutenant Reed has a whole brace of variable-yield antimatter torpedoes with 'Xindi' written all over them, and he'll need me on top of my game running the helm to help get 'em to their targets. Chang's not giving us nearly enough credit for knowing what the hell we're doing on this mission. His whole attitude seems to be 'We're the fearsome sharks and you're just lowly squids.' "
"That's not surprising, at least from a linguistic perspective," Hoshi said.
He frowned, unable to see just where she was heading with this. "What does linguistics have to do with this? Apart from the silly Latin slogans, I mean."
"Well, the acronym for Military Assault Command Operations sounds quite a bit like mako, the Maori word for shark." She pronounced the word "mah-ko," rather than the "may-co" that the MACO troopers used.
Mayweather's eyebrows lofted of their own accord at this revelation; now he understood why the MACO contingent attached to Enterprise wore the image of a voracious great white shark on their uniform insignia.
"And Chang's not the only MACO I've talked with who seems to feel this way," he said. "It's like they're privileged members of a special warrior caste."
A pained expression crossed Hoshi's usually smooth, unlined face then. "Guitierrez has a bit of an arrogant side as well. I chalk a lot of it up to boredom and impatience. After all, the MACOs have been locked and loaded and combat-ready for months, and we still haven't found a single enemy they can put in their crosshairs. I think it goes all the way to the top; even Major Hayes has been sort of snippy lately."
Come to think of it, Mayweather thought, Captain Archer hasn't exactly been Mister Congeniality lately either.
"They're impatient?" he said. "I'm just as eager as Chang is to teach those Xindi bastards a lesson."
Hoshi nodded, looking grave. "Me, too. But I'm willing to cut Corporal Guitierrez some slack on that score."
"For starters, her academic specialty was languages and communications," Hoshi said. She paused as a melancholy expression crossed her smooth features. "And she had some cousins and an uncle living in the same part of Florida that Commander Tucker did. The Xindi attack completely vaporized their hometown."
Mayweather suddenly felt very small and petty. A protracted silence stretched between them, until he said, "Let's just hope we find the Xindi before things get any worse."
Not for the first time, he considered the notion that patience might well turn out to be at least as precious a commodity as antimatter, food, or water.
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