Author's Note: I am truly overwhelmed and humbled by the positive reviews of my first fic; thank you so much to everyone who took the time to read it an left such wonderfully kind comments. I actually started writing this before my first story but abandoned it part-finished; it was your lovely encouragement that inspired me to pick it up and complete it. I hope that you enjoy it. Thank you!
The Price of Loyalty
The Starfleet Charter, Article 14, Section 31, allows extraordinary measures to be taken in times of extreme threat. The wording of the Article is purposely vague, drafted ambiguously, granting a wide range of illicit powers to the people who work covertly for the shadowy establishment known only as Section 31. Very few officers within Starfleet had ever had cause to know of the elusive Section 31; fewer still had any real knowledge of the inner workings and the operations undertaken by this most ruthless of organisations. Even the highest members of the admiralty only uttered the name behind closed doors, preferring to publicly deny all knowledge of such an organisation. However, there was one man in Starfleet who knew, better than most, exactly what it meant to work for Section 31, and the sorts of operations undertaken by its recruits. This one man, who knew above all else the cost that one paid to work for Section 31; the organisation with the highest mortality rate of any establishment affiliated with Starfleet; the elitist of the elite; the men and women who boldly went where others feared to tread.
And, unfortunately for him, that man, one Lieutenant Malcolm Reed of the Starship Enterprise, was about to be dragged further back into that dangerous, shadowy world than he would ever have wanted to go.
The chirping of the communications channel snapped Malcolm Reed awake with a startled gasp. Blearily, he blinked at his alarm clock; it was 02:43 ship's time, he wasn't due on duty until 08:00. The channel chirped again, this time with a vocal summons.
"Captain Archer to Lieutenant Reed, please respond."
Flinging off the duvet, he stumbled out of bed, staggered over to his desk, activating the two-way channel.
"Reed here, go ahead," he replied, quickly, rubbing sleep from his eyes, even as he was reaching for a uniform.
"Report to my office immediately, Lieutenant. Archer out."
Reed winced slightly at the tone – the captain sounded royally peeved, and Reed was forced to wonder what the hell he'd done to put his commanding officer in a mood so bad that he would receive such a peremptory summons at this unholy hour. He quickly changed into his uniform and finger-combed his hair into place even as he was running through the corridors towards the turbo-lift. He was outside the captain's office in less than ten minutes, still shaking off the last vestiges of sleep as he pressed the buzzer.
"Come," said a sharp voice from within.
Reed stepped through and snapped to attention; "You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Sit down, Lieutenant," Archer gestured towards the chair opposite his desk, as he interlaced his fingers and scowled at his subordinate.
Reed sat, outwardly composed, inwardly wondering if he was about to get thrown in the brig again. For the life of him, he could not imagine why.
"About an hour ago, I received a transmission from Admiral Sloan," Archer began, tersely, "It seems that five days ago, a member of Ambassador Soval's staff was attacked while on Earth and murdered. This staff member was carrying key tactical information and top-secret plans for a critical conference between Humans, Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites. Starfleet intelligence indicates that the information has been stolen by a small cell of xenophobic criminals who intend to sell the information to the highest bidder."
Reed processed this information quickly, still none the wiser as to why he had been summoned, and why his commanding officer appeared to be so angry with him. Archer caught his expression and the captain's frown deepened slightly.
"The assassin was tracked leaving Earth," the captain continued, his tone dark, "and followed to Outpost 66. I understand you are familiar with the location, Lieutenant."
Reed's heart skipped a beat, and he felt the blood drain from his face. Archer must have seen his expression, as the captain's face softened, but only slightly.
"The Starfleet officers who attempted to apprehend the killer met with no success; in fact, they barely escaped with their lives," Archer stated, glancing briefly at his computer terminal, "Admiral Sloan has ordered me to take you to Outpost 66, where we are to locate and apprehend the fugitive and recover the stolen data."
"Captain..." Reed's voice failed him, and he licked his dry lips, "sir... have you ever been to Outpost 66?"
"I've heard of it," Archer responded, in a grim tone, "it's an independent colony outside of Starfleet jurisdiction, founded by ex-boomers, traders and social outcasts, and a haven for shady dealings from what I've heard. When Admiral Sloan told me a certain Security Officer Harris had recommended you for the recovery mission, I decided to check the database to find out why. Do you know what I found?"
"As an Ensign, I... I was there, on an undercover mission," Reed fought to keep his voice steady and neutral, "I had to pose as an arms dealer; a mercenary for hire... I was there to gather information on a group of terrorists who were planning an attack on a ranking member of Starfleet in an attempt to sabotage relations with the Vulcans. I was involved in apprehending them and preventing the attack, amongst other missions. I also had general orders to investigate any matters pertaining to Starfleet security and the safety of Earth, sir."
"Which is pretty much exactly what the file says," Archer agreed, with sharpness to his tone that made Reed flinch internally, "my understanding was, however, that I was meant to have full and unrestricted access to your rather interesting past, Lieutenant, not the sanitised version presented in your Starfleet records."
"I handed over all of the data files, captain. There are things in there that I'm not proud of, but I handed everything over."
"Then why is this one file encrypted?" Archer demanded, turning the monitor to face Reed.
When he saw the name of the file that Archer was trying to open, he felt his jaw drop slightly and his cheeks began to colour with embarrassment.
"Oh God," he murmured, raising a hand to his mouth, "I never even... I forgot... captain, sir, I'm so sorry – I encrypted that file myself; I didn't want anyone to see it... I'd forgotten all about it..."
"I want to know what it is, Lieutenant!" snapped Archer, "We agreed that there would be no more secrets – if you expect me to trust you..."
Wordlessly, Reed reached out and typed in the password to decode the encryption. He looked away as an image filled the screen. Archer swung the screen back around to face him, and did a double take. His anger evaporated like a snowflake in a volcano as his eyebrows shot up in amazement at what he saw.
"Is this...? Oh my God - this is you!"
"Yes, sir," Reed closed his eyes, resisting the urge to flee back to his quarters and look himself in there for the rest of their five year mission, "that's... that was my disguise... my cover. Outpost 66 is not a... civilised place, captain."
Archer was silent for a long moment as he looked at the photograph, and then at his armoury officer, and then back at the photograph again. He leaned back in his chair, and surveyed Reed carefully, wondering how many other surprises the reserved Brit might be hiding.
"Are the... are the tattoos real?"
Reed actually did squirm a little this time, and Archer could not suppress a chuckle at the younger man's obvious discomfort, which only made Reed blush a little more.
"It says here that your cover name was Kyle Woolf," Archer noted, "is that an active pseudonym, Lieutenant?"
Forcing himself to sit a little straighter in his chair, Reed tried to concentrate as he was assailed by a flood of unpleasant memories.
"Kyle Woolf was never officially terminated," he said, evenly, hating the sounds of the official Section 31 terminology even as he spoke, "his records currently list his whereabouts as "unknown", and is suspected to be hiding out in Orion space."
"So if he were to suddenly make a miraculous reappearance, it wouldn't raise too much suspicion...?"
"It's Outpost 66, sir. Everyone there is suspicious of everyone else. But no, Kyle Woolf would fit right in there; especially if he started to spread word around that he was interested in valuable Starfleet secrets that he could sell to his Orion allies."
Archer nodded his understanding, looking back at the picture again. The high cheekbones and grey eyes were immediately recognisable, but the rest... the face staring back at him from the screen did so with a mocking leer Archer would never have ascribed to his tactical officer. Archer cleared his throat and glanced back at Reed.
"I'll be alerting T'Pol to the fact that you and I will be off the ship for a week or so," the captain said, at last, "she, Commander Tucker and Dr. Phlox will be the only ones who know the full details of our mission. We'll be rendezvousing with a Vulcan cruiser at 05:00 to take on board a salvaged Orion shuttle. Trip will get it operational and will accompany us to Outpost 66. I need you to advise us on appropriate weapons, clothing, disguises, and so on. Dr Phlox will carry out any necessary, ah, cosmetic alterations..."
"Captain," Reed spoke, and then hesitated, "please – do I have to be him?"
Archer paused; he could not recall ever seeing Reed so... anxious... before. But the captain was forced to nod his head.
"It's my understanding that Kyle Woolf has a number of allies and contacts still operating in and around Outpost 66," he finally responded, in a measured voice, "don't you think that would come in useful on our mission, Lieutenant?"
Reed swallowed, hard, composing himself quickly; "Yes, sir. Of course. My apologies... it's just that..."
Archer reached out and swiftly shut down the computer screen, closing it and giving Reed his full attention.
"What is it, Malcolm?" he queried, his tone casual, his earlier anger gone as if it had never existed, "What are you not telling me?"
"Sir," Reed hesitated, and then looked up, his grey eyes looking haunted, "Outpost 66... It brings out the worst in people. It's a rough place, the people who live there are desperate and ruthless. Mercy is a weakness and it will get you killed. We may have to do... questionable things... to obtain the information we've been ordered to retrieve."
"We are operating with Admiral Sloan's authority," Archer replied, "and where that doesn't extend far enough; I've been told that you fall under Harris's remit. I like it even less than you do, Malcolm, but that information is vital to Starfleet and we have been ordered to recover it at any cost. It also means that, for the purposes of this mission, you'll be calling most of the shots."
This shocked Reed to his core; he could not envisage giving orders to his own captain. Kyle Woolf, however, did not take orders from anyone...
"Relax, Malcolm," Archer offered him a small smile, "Trip and I will be accompanying you; we'll follow your lead but the ultimate responsibility is mine. Think you can get us prepared with everything we'll need?"
"Yes, sir," Reed inclined his head, "if that's all, captain?"
"That will be all, Lieutenant. Dismissed."
Reed returned to his quarters. The bedding was still rumpled and in disarray after his hasty exit earlier, but he had no inclination to return to it. He doubted sleep would be much of an option now; his head was reeling and his heart was pounding. Kyle Woolf. Bloody hell. Not him. Anybody but him...
Sitting down on his bed, Reed dropped his head into his hands and permitted himself a moment of absolute despair. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Captain Archer had no idea what he was getting them into. Reed toyed with the idea of asking to go on the mission alone, but he knew Archer would never allow it – the man's sense of duty was even stronger than Reed's. Reed had long ago accepted that his sense of duty would probably get him killed, while Archer seemed to think that his protected the captain from everything the universe could throw at him.
See if he still feels as dutiful and noble once he sees Outpost 66, Reed thought, sourly.
Getting to his feet, he made the bed automatically, out of habit. He paced his quarters, and then sat down at his desk. He activated the computer; reading through the mission briefing Archer had sent him. He went cold when he realised he had also received a transmission from Harris. He read the contents, and then he swallowed the lump in his throat and accessed his old mission logs. He automatically decoded the highly classified information, but he barely needed to read the words to remember his time at the hellish outpost. He opened the file Archer had forced him to reveal, and stared in revulsion at the face leering back at him from the screen. It wasn't that Reed had hated being Kyle Woolf, per se; he just didn't want his captain – his friends – to see him as that person. It had been a role to play, nothing more. Kyle was everything that Malcolm was not; a rough and ready pirate, cutthroat, dirty and duplicitous, and for all the useful contacts he had made – and maybe a couple of friends – he had three times as many enemies waiting for his return.
With a shuddering sigh, he encrypted the picture again, and sent it to Dr. Phlox, marked 'top secret' with a brief note that simply read; I'll need to look like this.
With that, he left his cabin, and strode down to the armoury. Ensign Miller, the Gamma shift supervisor, glanced up in shock at seeing him.
"Sir," the ensign greeted him, quickly, casting a quick glance around the armoury to make sure nothing was out of place, "I'm sorry sir; I wasn't expecting you to be on duty for a few more hours..."
"I... have some rather urgent work for Captain Archer," Reed told him, "it can't wait, unfortunately. I'll carry out the rest of the duty shift. You're relieved, ensign."
"Yes, sir..." Miller looked confused, but was not about to question his immediate superior over an early finish to his shift.
When the ensign had gone, Reed checked that the armoury was clear of personnel, and crossed over to a sealed storage locker. Keying in the code, he opened it up, revealing an array of weapons. Each one was alien in origin, a collection Reed had built up during his time on Enterprise, all confiscated or salvaged from their encounters with the less friendly people they had met on their journey. At the bottom of the box was the only weapon he had brought on board with him when he had joined the crew. He wondered why he had never parted with it; possibly because he had built it – an entirely customised weapon he had made by himself, for himself... for Kyle Woolf. He picked it up, noting the dull patina on the muzzle and the depleted power cell. With a sigh, he sat down at a work bench, and began to take the weapon apart. Kyle Woolf, like Malcolm Reed, had, at least, always maintained his weaponry...