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Matthew Hayes scowled at the Nausicaan “escort” walking at his side. The smarmy tone grated on his nerves and behind him, both Money and McKenzie bristled as they picked up on his mood. Hayes was garishly attired in orange and green silk, with blaster, knife, and ammunition stuffed in his belt. Sascha Money and Fiona McKenzie wore long skirts slit high on the side, showing a judicious amount of leg as they moved, and tight leather bodices more appropriate for bar wenches than MACOs.

Gunny, who watched his back, reminded Hayes of a Boomer pilot, with shirt tucked into breeches, into high-heeled boots, and his ridiculously short gray hair hidden under a kerchief. Gunny’s unhappy look wasn’t feigned at all, and Hayes couldn’t blame him.

I’m a soldier, not a five-year-old trick or treater, Hayes thought again, but he saw the glimmer of the deck lights on McKenzie’s flawless skin, and mentally added, but I guess there are some good things about this charade after all.

“What do you mean, ‘we can work well together’, Sakosh?” Hayes asked.

“I see how much you resent your master,” Sakosh replied, baring his teeth. “You hate him from your very core, enough to challenge his authority. I am sure that you would have beaten him, if given the chance.”

Hayes raised his eyebrows. The words hit too close to home; he deftly steered the conversation away from him. “So, what about you? I take it you aren’t happy with your current employment, either.”

Sakosh spat on the pristine deck and Hayes resisted the urge to mop it up with the Nausicaan’s face. “Soresh is a fool. He accepted help from the Orions to capture this ship, which he never should have done.”

“Never should have captured the ship, or never should have asked the Orions?” He kept a straight face at this new revelation. It explained a lot of things, including how the Nausicaans were able to plan a cunning attack in the first place. How can I let Lieutenant Reed know about this?

Sakosh shrugged and answered, “You can never trust Orions where profit is concerned.”

Hayes made a noise of agreement. They came to Cargo Bay One, where the Nausicaans had rounded up some of the Enterprise crew. “Some of the new slaves are in here. Sixteen, all under heavy guard. Most of them in technical fields, but some do not have any marketable skills. Sciences...they will make good manual labor somewhere. Do you wish to examine the cargo?"

His stomach turned at the Nausicaan's referring of the crew as "cargo". If being a real pirate means being this immoral, I'm glad I'm a MACO. It took Hayes an effort to keep his own tone casual. "No. I'll see 'em later, once we take care of our problem."

Sakosh nodded to the two Nausicaan guards as they went past. "I admire your self-control."

"Get the unpleasant business over with first, then you have more time to enjoy the spoils." He glanced at Gunny, who was still keeping an eye on their surroundings and one hand on his blaster. "Isn't that right, Gunny?"

"Yeah. I think we can all agree with that, Boss," Gunny replied, with a look at Money and McKenzie.

Sakosh grinned and said, "I can appreciate the sentiment. Another reason why I believe we can work well together."

"Don't try too hard," Money muttered under her breath. "Quit while you're ahead, Sakosh."

Hayes consulted a mental map of the ship and realized that they were a deck below Main Engineering. “Where are most of the defenders holed up?”

“Their engine room and their weapons room. We have control of almost every other important function.” Sakosh replied, his voice laced with frustration. “We must gain control of those strategic areas.”

“What would you suggest we do, then?”

“Soresh is more concern about the worth of the equipment and weapons. He is afraid that too much force will cause more damage than he wants,” Sakosh grumbled. “If I had my way, I would have cut into the barriers and overtaken the Humans a long time ago.”

Hayes chuckled. “Spoken like a true Nausicaan. Brute force when you can do it.”

“It has worked for us before. I see little reason to change it now. Soresh on the other hand, is weak-willed. He thinks he can bargain for more. He is greedy.”

Hayes swallowed what he really wanted to say. “All right. How about we tackle Engineering first? More people, more resistance—“ he gave Sakosh a tight smile, “more opportunity to get some frustration out, right?”

Sakosh laughed and pounded Hayes on the back. Although the major was not a small man, he nearly went flying down the corridor. Money slapped the Nausicaan’s hand with her rifle. “Watch it,” she hissed. “You hurt him, I hurt you.”

Sakosh stared at her for a moment, then laughed again. “Your woman here values you much, it seems. I suppose you are fortunate, that you have such loyal female company to guard your back and warm your bed.”

Hayes rolled his eyes and bit his tongue. Judging from Sascha’s furious expression, she’d pound him no matter what he said. Women, he thought with grim humor. I can’t win. He wisely kept his mouth shut.

Gunny chuckled and said, “Don’t underestimate them, Sakosh. They can be dangerous. I can remember them leaving a mark or two in my time.”

“In your dreams, Gunny,” McKenzie said amicably.

“Every night, Mac,” Gunny replied.

“You must be so sleep deprived.”

Hayes shook his head and tried not to smile. “Enough, you two. We’ve got a job to do. Sakosh, how many of your people are outside the engine room right now?”

“Eight, not counting the members of your band” Sakosh replied, putting emphasis on that word.

“Good.” He waved Sakosh to go up the ladder first. “Go on. If I get the feeling you’re pulling something on us, I won’t hesitate to shoot you in the back. Understand?”

“Understood, but like I said, I think we can work together well. You know, you haven’t even given me your name.”

Hayes shrugged. “I give it to those who’re entitled. Which you aren’t.”

Sakosh sighed and began to climb the ladder. Hayes followed, with Money and McKenzie close behind. When they emerged through the hatch in front of Engineering, he saw a group of Nausicaans, plus Lieutenant Kelby, Crewman Rostov, Ensign Lori D’Angelo and Travis Mayweather. Rostov and Kelby were arguing over an exposed circuit panel in the wall, buying some time until Hayes and the others arrived.

“Forget knocking on the door. We’re gonna kick it down,” Hayes said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Is communications working in there?”

“Should be,” Rostov answered in a sullen voice.

“Who’s in there?”

“That damn Vulcan,” Kelby groused, “and her paramour.”

T’Pol and Tucker, Hayes thought with a wicked smile. Obviously, Kelby isn’t fond of either one of them. “Are the charges ready to go?”

“Whenever you say so,” Travis answered with a huge grin.

“All right. Everyone take some kind of cover. Not gonna do any of us a bit of good if the blast knocks us out, too.” He waved at the joint Nausicaan/Human strike team, thinking This is kinda screwed up, but if this works...Deliberately, he punched the button to the intercom. “Last chance, Tucker. We’ve got explosives rigged out here. Give up and no one’ll die unnecessarily.”

Trip Tucker’s scornful voice echoed in the hall. “Ya blow open the blast shield, we blow the warp core. Your choice, Hayes.”

“You’re bluffing, Tucker. You don’t have the guts.”

“Wanna bet? I’m not gonna let ya or that son-of-a-Brit take over the ship.”

“Had your chance, Tucker. You’d better hope you go pretty quickly, ‘cause I won’t let that happen if I get a hold of your hide.” He thumbed the com button, then flashed his team with hand signals. “All right, let’s do our worst. Let ‘em rip!”

Rostov glanced at Kelby, who nodded. He brandished the detonator, then pushed the button.

There was a sharp bang, then smoke poured from the blast shield. It spread quickly over the corridor, hiding everyone—and everything—from view. Hayes counted down the seconds, then Gunny shouted, right on cue, “Dammit, they’ve betrayed us!”

Someone else yelled, then the sound of laser fire rang around Hayes. Nausicaans fell as Hayes’s team turned on their “allies” and made short work of them. Suddenly, a weight slammed into him and knocked him onto his back. Reflexes took over and he tried to throw his attacker off him, but another shockwave shook the corridor and sent him on his back again. The person on top of him was knocked flat on him and before he could react, a pair of lips locked onto his own.

What the hell—? He choked as his brain froze and Major Matthew Hayes, MACO commander and career soldier, melted like overheated lead into the deck. Then abruptly, the kiss was done, and whoever it was had vanished. He lay there for a long minute, stunned, and tried to get his brain back into gear. What the hell just happened??

“Major? Major? You all right?” He tried to sit up and suddenly, he was aware of a faint scent. Flowers? Why am I smelling flowers?

“I’m fine,” he replied hoarsely. “Just...got the wind knocked out of me.” Which isn’t that far from the truth, he thought wryly. Hayes looked up through the thinning veil of smoke and saw Nausicaans lying on the deck unconscious. Travis knelt on one side of him; Tucker on the other. Hayes realized that the commander had raised the blast shield covering Engineering.

“Major, everything’s secure,” McKenzie reported.

“I got a hidin’ place prepared for our friends,” Trip said. “Let’s get ‘em squared away.”

Hayes nodded and calmly began issuing orders, not daring to betray the turmoil inside him.

Malcolm strode down the corridor, back straight, eyes front, like the hardened pirate he “was”. The blue silk shirt brought out the iciness of his eyes, tucked into pants and high boots. The gunbelt he wore held a wicked-looking dagger, a blaster and a nasty array of explosives. Part of him felt utterly ridiculous—he was an Armory officer, not an actor—but a bigger part of him was like a giddy schoolboy who was playing out a long-forgotten dream.

Although the head Nausicaan, Soresh, towered over Malcolm by half a foot, the pirate wrung his hands together as he gave Malcolm fearful glances. Directly behind them were Bernhard Mueller and Corporal Hawkins, both impressively dressed and armed to the teeth. Malcolm still had difficulty seeing Hawkins as a pirate; he seemed so young and clean-cut, even with the diamond stud in his ear and his hand on the bullwhip coiled on his belt.

Yet Hawkins has already proven that he can surprise you. Odd, sometimes he reminds me of when I was younger: quiet, devoted to his duty, but can still do the unexpected. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get to know this young man better. He would be a fine addition to any team. Malcolm’s mouth moved into a smile as he remembered how Hawkins had assisted them on the Seleya, where the Vulcans had been affected by the Trellium-D.

He sobered as he remembered Hayes’s defiance. Of course, that had been part of the plan, for it wasn’t unusual to find conflict among members of a group of pirates. Yet, Malcolm suspected that Hayes enjoyed the ruse just a little too much. Malcolm was thankful that at least Hayes carried out his end of the deal. He’d learned that you could only surprise the MACO only once; if Hayes had been serious, he wouldn’t have fallen for the Klingon move a second time unless it was on purpose.

Bloody idiot. He also didn’t appreciate Hayes’s remark about “small, slight and feisty brunettes.” The major had looked directly at Reed and smirked as he said that remark; they both knew to whom Hayes referred. Malcolm hadn’t been kidding when he’d threatened to kill Hayes if he even touched Hoshi. Now that he thought about it, why had he reacted that way?

And why had Travis, Bernhard and the others exchanged knowing looks?

Malcolm shied away from the thought. Much as he hated to admit it, thinking about the major made him touchy, edgy and irritable. In other words, just like the head of a band of space pirates should be. Damn the man. First he wants my job, now he wants my friend. He’s a thorn in my side.

“I’ve thought about your proposal about splitting the bounty on Archer—“

Malcolm turned to the Nausicaan and asked, “And, Soresh?”

The Nausicaan glared at him, for Malcolm had called him by name, and not by “Captain”. “I can give you a quarter of the cut.”

“Absolutely not acceptable.” Malcolm met the glare squarely. “I want Archer.”

Soresh glared at him. “No. I captured him and the Klingons want their bounty. You won’t cheat me of my prize.”

“Oh no?” Malcolm asked, his tone dangerous. “Is that why you’re here in the first place?”

Soresh smirked. “It’s reason enough.”

Malcolm inclined his head and studied the Nausicaan, who paled visibly under the scrutiny. Hawkins played the role of bodyguard to the hilt, as he crept up behind Soresh with his EM-33 at hand. Bernhard took up a position directly behind Malcolm.

“I have people watching me,” Soresh said. “They’ll cut you and your men down before you can get off a single shot—“ He actually took a step back at Malcolm’s glower. “And you won’t be able to find Archer. I have him hidden so well that even my own men can’t detect him.”

“Indeed?” Malcolm said, his voice chilly. “A challenge, is it, then?” Malcolm shot both Hawkins and Bernhard a look of amusement. Bernhard chuckled evily, causing Soresh to pale even further. “If I find Archer in the next ten minutes, he becomes mine.”

“Ten minutes.” Soresh repeated, his eyes widening. “You can’t do that.”

“Watch me.” Malcolm glanced at Bernhard, who went over to the intercom. Bernhard nodded and Malcolm continued, “Malcolm to Cutler.”

The response was immediate. “Cutler,” she replied.

“Our ‘friend’ here thinks we can’t find his hidden prize, namely Archer. I want your help.”

Liz laughed, and Malcolm could picture her shaking her head in mirth. “You want a thermobiomedical scan, then?”

“Use their own Sickbay sensors, narrowest scan you can manage.” Malcolm kept eye contact with Soresh, who opened his mouth to protest. Hawkins put the barrel of an EM-33 at the side of the Nausicaan’s neck, and Soresh clamped his mouth shut.

“Give me a moment...there are clusters of the crew scattered all over the ship...I assume our ‘friend’ would have Archer in isolation?”

“He bragged that even his own men wouldn’t be able to find him. The sod.” Malcolm made a show of looking at the chronometer on his wrist. “Seven minutes left.”

“I believe I’ve found him,” Liz said, half a minute later. She rattled off some coordinates; Malcolm recognized them and nodded. “Do you need anything else, Malcolm?”

“That will be all. Oh, and Cutler—I believe there’s a supply of those dainty confections you are fond of hidden in Crew Quarters C-8A.”

Liz made a delighted noise, then trilled, “I’m on my way. Out.”

Malcolm cocked his head at the Nausicaan. “Bring him,” he ordered brusquely, “and make sure he doesn’t try to do anything like set off any hidden bombs or anything uncivilized like that.”

Exactly six minutes and thirty seconds later, Malcolm opened the door to Deck G, Quartermaster’s Supply Room. There, in the corner, tied up with cord and a strip of duck tape over his mouth, was Captain Jonathan Archer. Archer’s eyes widened in recognition and he tried to say something, but his words were muffled under the tape.

Thank God. He would’ve blown the entire plan. Malcolm saw that the captain was in one piece and in fairly good condition, if you ignored the fact that he had been tied up wearing his skivvies. It reminded Malcolm of the time he and Trip had been tied up in a basement on Risa. Despite himself, he couldn’t help but smirk.

He turned to Soresh, whose face was infused with anger. “I believe I won the challenge.”

“He’s mine!” the Nausicaan howled. “You can’t have him!”

Malcolm rolled his eyes. “Mister Hawkins, will you please do the honors?”

“With pleasure, sir.” The young MACO gave Soresh a quick love tap with the butt of his EM-33, and the Nausicaan fell like a stone.

“Use the ropes to tie Soresh up,” Malcolm instructed, as he deftly untied the knots holding Archer captive. After all, he was an Eagle Scout, and trained in nautical knots to boot. “Bernhard, find something to keep him quiet. I wish I had Liz here; she could’ve given him a hypospray.” He gave Archer an apologetic look. “Sorry, sir.” He pulled the tape from Archer’s face in one quick motion and Archer yelped.

“Malcolm! How did you get on board? Is everyone all right?” The captain rubbed his wrists, then decided his jaw hurt more.

“It’s quite a story, sir,” Malcolm apologized.

“Did you raid a clothing store on Risa?”

“No, just Commander Tucker’s closet.” The unexpected reply brought a laugh from Archer and Malcolm smirked again. “Major Hayes’s group is helping to free the rest of the group and capturing the Nausicaans.”

“Good. They attacked us not long after your teams left on the training exercise. Somehow, they managed to beam on board and gas the Bridge crew unconscious. For a group of pirates who usually barrels their way down your throats with pure force, they caught us off guard with their tactics.” Archer scowled. “I overheard something about their having trouble getting the crew under control.”

Bernhard nodded and said, “Not surprising, sir.”

Archer tried to stand, but his legs still wouldn’t support him. Hawkins caught him before he fell back down. “Thank you, Corporal.”

“No problem, sir,” Hawkins said, blushing at the praise.

“Let’s get you to Sickbay, sir. Crewman Cutler and Phlox are already there.”

“I’ve got to help retake the ship—“

“Begging your pardon, sir, you’re in no condition to play pirate.” Malcolm shook his head. “Come on, let’s get you out of here before Soresh’s people find out you’re gone. Is Soresh secure, Bernhard?”

The Bavarian nodded. “He’s not going anywhere, Lieutenant.”

“Let’s go.” Malcolm covered them as Hawkins and Bernhard supported Archer on either side. He breathed a sigh of relief. At least the captain was safe. Now he needed to rid Enterprise of the Nausicaans once and for all. As if on cue, they all felt a tremble through the deck and the com erupted in chaos.

“What’s going on?” Archer demanded.

Malcolm replied, “Just a minor glitch. I’m sure it’ll correct itself momentarily.”

*****


Hoshi nodded at Sergeant Nate Kemper, who punched the access code into the door of the Observation Lounge. The MACO stuck his head in and said, “Cavalry’s here, folks. Everyone all right?”

There were a few negative responses, so Hoshi moved to the wall intercom. “Sato to Sickbay.”

“Phlox here.”

She smiled at the Denobulan’s voice. “We’ve got some injured crew in the Observation Lounge, Doctor.”

“I’m on my way, Ensign. Phlox, out.”

She exchanged grins with Kemper. They’d relayed false information to the Nausicaans and the “pirates” through the cross-patches in the comm system. Basically, Malcolm’s and Hayes’s teams were giving the Nausicaans the runaround while she and the other crew freed those who were still being held prisoner. The Enterprise crew were more than eager to find the Nausicaans and break their hold on the ship. Hoshi listened to the frantic demands for backup, the sounds of desperate Nausicaans trying to stand their ground, the cheers of the crew as they retook Engineering, the Armory, Astrometrics, auxiliary communications...

“The Nausicaans still have the Bridge, ma’am,” Kemper said, “and we still don’t know where they’ve hidden the captain.”

Hoshi nodded. “C’mon, Nathan. Let’s find Captain Archer first, then we’ll gather a group together to retake the bridge.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Kemper grinned and added, “Would you consider switching into the MACOs, ma’am? We can sure use you.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. The firefight on the Engineering deck had given her plenty of cover to make her escape from Engineering. Of course, with the smoke and the chaos, she hadn’t been able to see anything, and she’d run straight into—someone. She hadn’t known who it was until the deck had reeled under a second explosion and---

It was an accident. The last thing I wanted was to do was liplock with “Horrible Hayes”. She winced and the color rose in her cheeks. Of course, she spent a lot of time trying to convince herself that it was an “accident”. At first, she’d thought it had been someone like Travis, or Rostov or even (she winced again) Kelby. Even if it had been Gunny, she’d be able to get over the embarrassment. She’d fled the first chance she had gotten; luckily, Hayes hadn’t followed her.

He didn’t know it was me. That’s the only saving grace. She sighed again. Then again, it probably shocked him as much as it did me. And since no one saw me, I don’t think anyone’s going to tell Malcolm. He’d go ballistic if he ever found out. The last thing she wanted was to add more fuel to their feud, especially after what she’d heard over the comm. Trip had made some comment about how she could probably beat the crap out of both of them, since neither man had been successful in knocking sense into each other.

The testosterone’s already a bit much. I don’t need to stoke that particular fire.

“I’m not sure the MACOs need linguists, Nate,” she said lightly. “We need to find out where the captain is, and we can do that using the internal sensors. Come on.”

They rounded the corner...and ran directly into laser fire. Kemper went down before he could shoot back; Hoshi caught a stun bolt in the shoulder. She crashed onto the deck, the breath knocked out of her. Ouch, she thought. Stupid, stupid...watch where you’re going...sorry, Nate...

A pair of hands grabbed her by the front of her jumpsuit and hoisted her into the air. “So, what have we got here?” sneered a Nausicaan. “A little long-haired rat. Pretty little thing, though. Perhaps we can have a bit of fun while we still can, eh?”

Raucous laughter made Hoshi feel sick. She still couldn’t move her right arm, but she could still kick. She swiftly brought her leg back and drove her knee into the Nausicaan’s midsection. He howled and dropped her like a sack of potatoes. Her body automatically tucked into a roll, just like in the aikido dojo. The movement made her dizzy and threw off her sense of direction. Another hand grabbed her hair and jerked her head back, but then it let go. She heard the crunch of a broken wrist and arm and the Nausicaan’s agonized howl. The gorge rose in her throat, but she forced it down.

Another pair of strong arms enfolded her. “Ensign? Ensign? Are you all right?”

She blinked and tried to refocus her addled thoughts. “I—“ She turned her head towards the voice...then realized her lips were inches away from the speaker’s. “Um—“

“Hoshi?” That was Travis, who knelt at her side. He exchanged concerned looks with Major Hayes, who, she noticed, hadn’t let her go yet. “C’mon, talk to us.”

“I’m...okay,” she whispered. She looked into Hayes’s eyes and saw a mixture of relief, anger, concern, and...she managed to turn her head to address Travis. “Nate?”

“He’ll have a hell of a headache when he wakes up, but he’ll be okay,” Gunny answered. He was giving her a strange look that she didn’t know how to interpret.

Hoshi struggled to sit up. “The captain—?”

“He’s all right. Malcolm found him,” Travis said. “We were on our way to the Bridge. The Nausicaans have barricaded themselves up there...we’re gonna flush them out.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” She struggled to her feet, despite Hayes’s efforts to keep her still. “Let’s go.”

“Ensign, you’ve been hit by a stun bolt—“

“I’m fine, Major,” she snapped, more abruptly than she meant.

“You should go to Sickbay—“

She exploded in anger and annoyance, and the words spilled out of her before she could stop them. “Dammit, Matthew! I said I’m fine! I’m not a weak damsel in distress, and I’m not a prize to be argued over, either from you or Malcolm. I’m going to the Bridge—someone has to unlock the communications systems. So, either you let me go or I will finish what Malcolm started and do more than just detach your retina! Do I make myself clear?”

Travis’s jaw went slack. MacKenzie and Money gave her looks of respect, while Gunny just stared at her. Hayes, for his part, clenched his jaw and let go of her arm. Kelby’s eyes were wide with fear and Rostov looked plain terrified.

Hoshi took a deep breath and shook the feeling back into her arm. She refused to look directly at Hayes. “Let’s go.”

As they made their way to the lift, Gunny said quietly, “Small, slight and feisty brunette beauty, eh?”

“Shut up, Gunny,” Hayes growled.

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trekwriter151

May 2012

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