Six Kovaalan ships exited a nebula and attacked Archer and his task force. According to what they had learned from their visit to the floating bazaar on Xanthan, the Kovaalan were a volatile and aggressive race. They attacked first and asked questions later. For an assortment of spices they bought a great deal of information on the Expanse and the species that lived there from a shopkeeper B'Rat Ud.
"Tatupu, let the rest of the task force know that they can take appropriate action to this attack," ordered Archer.
Archer watched as Malcolm turned on the Tactical Station.
"Tactical fire cannons now and prepare a volley of torpedoes," Ordered Malcolm. "I want you to pepper them until they either run or their shields fail."
The Kumari disabled one of the Kovaalan ships' shield then took out its engine and weapons. Archer was thankful that Shran didn't outright destroy the ship. The Andorian had listened to his speech over dinner about the end to tread softly in the Delphic Expanse. He was willing to play the good ally for now.
The Enterprise managed to scare off two of the Kovaalan, while the Challenger, Patton, Apache, and Resolute scared off the rest of the Kovaalan ships. Before the refit and upgrades, The Enterprise might have had trouble with the Kovaalan, but not now. Archer stood up from his command chair and ordered, "Stand down."
He'd let them run. There was no reason to take it to another level with the Kovaalan. The next time they ran into a Starfleet starship, the Kovaalan wouldn't be so ready to attack and take a beating. Archer wasn't here to destroy unless he really had to do so.
Malcolm turned and started to get status reports from stations.
"I need status reports on damage, personnel, engines, and armaments now!" said Archer.
So far they had managed to gain intel and get into a few skirmishes. He was now a week in the Expanse and so far there was no sign of Xindi. It was time to stop avoiding the Reptilian and Insectoid Xindi, even if it meant confrontation. He needed to contact this Degra or Janar because he needed to complete his mission. They were running out of time, if the SPECOM mission was going to go off on time.
"Malcolm, when you have status reports on the Enterprise and the task force ships I'll be in my Ready Room. You have the conn," he said.
"Aye, aye, sir," replied Malcolm.
Archer stood up and marched off the Bridge and into the connected hallway to his Ready Room. He had some thinking to do before they encountered anymore hostile races.
Captain AG Robinson wasn't sure when his efforts to set up a DMZ went south, but they did. He had four Daedalus-Class cruisers dropping buoys meant to setup a sensor net in order to track Romulan starships, even cloaked ones if the net worked, while the Atlantis and six Intrepid-Class frigates flew a CAP. This was supposed to be a milk run. But milk runs didn't have six Romulan Warbirds and eight Birds of Prey appear in the DMZ and opened fire.
The destructive power of the Warbirds and birds of prey disruptor cannons was impressive. If a ship's shields weren't up and their hull plating polarized then it immediately started to take critical damage. Of course critical damage wasn't enough for a Romulan warship. They wanted complete destruction. Rommies liked to turn opposing starships into debris fields.
AG called for shields and weapons, as he watched two of his frigates being torn up right away by disruptor cannons. The other frigates returned fire and three of the four cruisers returned fire, as one didn't make it. A cruiser had its shields fail from the pounding it took by two Warbirds. The Warbirds didn't stop firing until the ship was debris. AG recognized that they were outgunned and outmanned. He had few choices.
"Comm, ship to ship now," he ordered.
He couldn't believe he was doing this.
"Sir, our shields are down to forty percent," Paris told his captain.
"Ship to ship, sir," said the comm officer.
AG took a deep breath. He didn't want to do this. It went against his nature, but he had no choice.
"All Starfleet ships retreat. Emergency warp, retreat. Regroup at Starbase six," he ordered in his most commanding voice, even though he felt like it was the least commanding things he'd ever done.
He ran his thumb across his throat as a sign to kill the transmission. The comm officer killed the link, as AG sunk back into his command chair.
"Helm, get us the hell out of here at emergency warp," AG ordered.
As his starship turned away from the Romulan ships he felt his ship shake from the pounding it was taking from disruptor fire. He let Paris call out the orders for Damage Control Teams to be sent to areas of the in need. His stomach was knotted. How the hell did a milk run turn into this? he thought to himself. We were routed. Fleet Captain AG Robinson, yeah, he laughed to himself. He wasn't sure his career would survive this travesty, four ships lost and God knows how many dead. It was supposed to be a milk run.
"The Romulans are not pursuing us," said Paris.
"Of course they aren't. They've done their damage," AG said.
Yeah, they have definitely done their damage, he thought.
In his casual uniform of sweater and pants, Trip was on the Bridge of the Liberator working to get things installed. Beside his state of the art command chair was the XO Station, which would have the ability to monitor information from all stations. Technicians were at Tactical, Science, Engineering, and Environmental Stations, while Lieutenant Commander Hoshi Sato was at the Comm Station with a technician. Trip had come onto the Bridge unbeknownst to Hoshi because she was already working.
"Damn it, this is not working," Hoshi growled.
Trip put down his new tricorder and walked over to the Comm Station. He saw Hoshi's legs sticking out from under the console. She was wearing blue coveralls. For some reason seeing her hard at work brought a smile to his face, as it reminded him of his days on the Enterprise.
"Can I help you, Lieutenant Commander?" he asked with a smirk on his face.
Hoshi wiggled out from underneath the console, stood up, and with a smile on her dirt smudged face she gave him a big hug. He returned the hug.
"I have been so busy trying to get your new Universal Translator hooked up, as well as your new medical library, diplomatic dictionary and library, and Xeno-reference guide," she said, "that I didn't get a chance to report in to you."
"Well, I guess you're reporting in now with a big hug," said Trip.
Hoshi blushed, which made Trip laugh.
"Is there anyone I have slated to be on staff who knows how to use your upgrades?" he asked.
"Yes, me. I've been temporarily assigned to your command, Captain Tucker," she smiled.
"I thought you loved working at Command working on translations for Starfleet Intel and developing linguistic software," he said.
"I am now fluent in the four dialects of Vulcan. Anyway, I sort of miss space," said Hoshi.
"Okay, I believe you," he said. "How about dinner with T'Pol and me tonight?"
"T'Pol and you?" she smiled.
Trip grinned, "Do you want to come to dinner tonight or not. The Captain's Mess is up and running and the new chef is making us dinner."
"Vegetarian for T'Pol and what for us?" she asked.
"Clam chowder, sea scallops, asparagus, and potatoes au gratin. T'Pol is trying to get me to eat less red meat. She wants me to live a long life," he admitted.
"I bet she does," chuckled Hoshi.
Trip shook his head then he asked again, "Coming to dinner or not?"
Hoshi smiled, "What time, sir?"
"1800 hundred hours," he replied then he thought about something. "Are you still quartered on Earth or have you transferred to the ship yet?"
"Still on Earth," she said.
"Well, I'll talk to the quartermaster and get you one of the big single quarters. You going to be shock at how much more room these quarters have than the Enterprise," he said.
"Lucky me that I'm a senior office and department head," she smiled.
"Ensigns bunk together, as do most noncoms, but even they have decent amount a room," he smiled.
"I get it, Trip, it's a big ship," she smiled.
"She's my baby, Hoshi, I have to brag a little," he said.
"Well, Captain Tucker, I arrange to transfer my things to here. I hope you have my Communication Department filled out," she said.
"You'll have to check with my XO Commander Katsu," said Trip then he looked at the comm console. "Now would you like the hand of an old engineer with your problem?"
Hoshi smiled again, "I'd love that."
There first run in with the Xindi Reptilians left the Apache limping and unable to go better than warp 3. Five Reptilian ships gave them a good fight, but eventually they backed off and used the subspace vortex to escape. Captain Archer decided to send the Apache home along with Patton to protect the Apache's six. The Challenger, Kumari, Resolute, and Enterprise moved on.
More intel was purchased from a vendor at the floating bazaar on Xanthan. This time it was specific information about Degra. According to the intel his personal shuttle would be passing by a planet called Oran'taku in two days' time. Since Oran'taku was only a half light year from Xanthan, they had plenty of time to set up a blockade.
Archer invited Shran, Captain Abigail Roy of the Challenger, and Commander Simon Baker to dinner. Chef served roast beef with roasted potatoes and French-style green beans. The dessert was tiramisu. The serious conversation started over coffee and dessert.
"Tomorrow we are going stop Degra's shuttle. I don't want anyone firing on it. It is imperative that we develop a friendship with him and the Xindi-Primates," said Archer.
"What if this is some setup, Pinkskin?" asked Shran.
Archer looked at the Andorian. His antennae were leaning forward in an aggressive posture. Shran was testing him and by him Starfleet to see if they were serious in waging this war. Archer leaned forward with his elbows resting on the table.
"If this is a setup then we will not only fire on them, but I will look at this as an opportunity to take one of their warship and steal the subspace vortex from them," said Archer.
Shran's antennae relaxed. He liked what he heard.
"But if this isn't a setup then I want the Enterprise to take the lead and deal with the shuttle," Archer said then looked from officer to officer. "You are there as backup. Protect my six."
"Yes, sir," said Commander Baker.
Archer smiled at his enthusiasm.
"What do we have to trade with to entice this exchange?" asked Captain Roy.
"Whatever interests Degra. I have been given permission to allow him to check out the Enterprise and whatever he is interested in offer as an exchange for the subspace vortex," said Archer.
"Even your new Mark III torpedoes?" asked Shran with interest.
"Even the Mark III," smiled Archer, "especially since the Mark IV are being tested by our R&D Department."
"Photon torpedoes with a high destructive yield. We wouldn't mind having those, Pinkskin," said Shran.
"Then have your government talk to the UE. We are coalition partners, Shran, not enemies," chuckled Archer.
"I like you, Pinkskin."
"You're kind of growing on me, too," said Archer.
"Sir," said Baker, "what if we get the subspace vortex specs from Degra, but it needs a metal or mineral or even energy source endemic to this area of space?"
"Then we obtain what we need either through a trade, a contract, or by taking," said Archer.
Baker shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Archer could tell the younger officer didn't like the idea of taking by force. He couldn't blame him, but he had his orders.
"Commander, we are at war with an enemy, who doesn't give any quarter. If we have to compromise our beliefs to make sure that the Romulans don't succeed then we do it. After the war we will do penance for our actions," said Archer.
"Yes, sir," said Baker.
"Well, if all works out, we will be celebrating soon with Andorian ale," said Shran.
"I never thought of you as optimist, Shran," said Archer.
Shran's blue face lit up with a great smile.
"I am Commander in the Imperial Guard, Archer. I am capable of many things, including optimism," said Shran.
"Well, I hope to hoist a couple of ale with you in celebration, Shran," said Archer.
"One way or another, Pinkskin," smiled Shran.
Station Salem One was Starfleet deep space station on the Alpha Quadrant. It was near the planet of Betazed. The Columbia led a convoy of eight cargo ships and Starfleet starships. The last two cargo ships to attempt to reach Station Salem One had been destroyed by Romulan birds of prey. Captain Erica Hernandez sat in her command chair looking at the view screen.
"Helm, ETA to Salem One?" she barked.
"At our current speed of warp 3.5, we will arrive at Salem One in nine minutes, sir," replied the helmsman.
Even with upgrades paid by Starfleet, the cargo ships topped out at warp five, which they could only maintain for two hour bursts.
"XO, I bring us to Battle Stations," she said.
"Aye, aye, sir," said Commander Hill. "Bring us to Battle Stations, Tactical."
The klaxons rang and red light blinked letting everyone in the ship know that they were now at Battle Stations. Erica commanded a protection fleet of eight starships, four cruisers and four frigates. She looked over at her comm officer.
"Ensign Moore, let all ships know to go to Battle Stations," she said.
"Aye, aye, sir," she replied.
Erica turned her chair and looked at her science officer.
"Lieutenant Commander Hyland, extend sensor range. I want a reading on Salem One," Erica said.
"Yes, Captain," Hyland said.
Erica waited patiently for information. Her gut told her that Station Salem One was not left alone by the Rommies.
"Sir, Salem One is no longer there," said Hyland.
"No longer there," repeated Erica.
The station housed and crewed by three thousand Starfleet and civilians. Three thousand souls.
"Goddamn it," Erica said softly then her gut kicked in. "Comm inform all ships to stop progress."
"Captain, what is it?" asked Commander Hill.
"Salem One is gone, Hill. The Rommies are stupid. I bet that left a trap for us," she said. "Comm, give me Ares."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Erica stared at the view screen until Captain Chen appeared on it.
"Captain Hernandez," he said.
"Chen, I'm leaving you in charge. I'm taking Columbia to check out Salem One, which according to my science officer's sensor scans is no longer there," she said.
"Any orders?" he asked.
"The closest friendly planet is Betazed. We have no diplomatic relations with them, but they are supposed to be welcoming people. Head there at best speed if there are Romulan ships in the area," she said.
The screen went blank. Erica leaned forward in her chair.
"Helm, warp 4 to Salem One's location," she said.
"Aye, aye, sir."
The Columbia glided along until it had reached the location of Salem One. Captain Hernandez brought the ship to a halt, as on the screen was a large debris field that was formerly Salem One.
"Mister Hyland, scan the debris and record it," she ordered.
"Yes, sir," he said.
"Hill, once he is done with his scan and recording, I want to back off and fire a particle cannon blast," she said.
"May I ask why?" he asked her.
"I don't trust Romulans."
"I am done, Captain," said Hyland.
"Helm, back off 200,000 kilometers," ordered Hill.
"Aye, aye, sir," said the Helmsman. "200,000 kilometers."
"Tactical, fire one particle cannon blast into debris," said Hill.
"Firing cannon," said the tactical officer.
The cannon fired and there was a bright explosion then another and then another. The Columbia was rocked by the explosions.
"Cloaked mines," Erica said with a snarl. "Release a buoy warning ships about the mines then let's get back to the convoy. There is no reason to be here."
"Aye, Captain," said Hill.
Archer sat in his Ready Room getting himself in the right state of mind to confront Degra. Dispatches were received during Gamma duty shift. He read through them. AG barely escaped with most of his task force. They were setting up a DMZ between the Alpha Quadrant and Beta Quadrant. Three ships were lost.
Also, Station Salem One was destroyed. According to the dispatch, Captain Hernandez quick thinking saved her escort fleet and the cargo convoy from cloak mines. He smiled when he thought of Erica. Next, time he had a chance he'd take to the 602 for drinks.
He sat back in his chair. The Romulans had a large fleet and were war tested. This was going to be a hard fought war for the coalition. Suddenly, his view screen on his desk came on and an unfamiliar face stared at him. The man was dressed all in black and he smiled at Archer.
"Who in the hell are you?" demanded Archer.
"I am Agent Harris from Section 31, Captain. Think of me as your benefactor," Harris said.
"How in the hell have you bypassed my comm officer?"
"Trade secret, Captain."
"I have no time for you spy games, Harris."
"I am afraid that you need my spy games, Captain Archer. Representatives from the Xindi-Reptilians and Xindi-Insectoids have been in contact with Romulans. They have a working agreement, the Xindi-Reptilians and Xindi-Insectoids support the Romulans and they will be given support ships to subjugate the other Xindi races. I am downloading meetings time and locations, photographs, and several audio files into your personal files now. Use them to convince the other Xindi to assist Starfleet, Archer," said Harris.
"How did you get this information?" asked Archer.
"At the cost of several good men," said Harris. "I'll be off, but I have the feeling we will be in contact again. Be seeing you."
The screen went blank. Archer immediately checked his personal computer files and there were the files Harris told him about. He took a deep breath then downloaded them onto a disc. It was time to meet with Degra.
The Kumari, Challenger, and Resolute hung back as the Enterprise approached Degra's long range shuttle. The Enterprise loomed in front of the smaller shuttle. Archer was standing in front of his command chair. He pulled at his uniform jacket then looked at Ensign Tatupu.
"Hail the shuttle then open a channel and let me speak to them," he ordered.
Tatupu did as he was told as quickly as possible.
"Channel open, sir."
"I am Captain Jonathan Archer of the UES Enterprise. I am seeking out Degra of the Xindi-Primates. I have been told by a Human named Harris that you have an open mind and would be willing to talk trade," Archer said.
It took several moments then the view screen turned from an image of the shuttle to a humanoid with slight ridges on his forehead and slits on his cheeks.
"I am Degra," he said.
"Sir, I can either meet on your ship or you on mine. I believe we need to talk," said Archer.
"Come to my ship, Captain Archer, and come alone," said Degra.