Author's Note: This story will make a little more sense if you have read one of my previous stories, "The Price of Loyalty", but I have tried to ensure that pre-reading it is not essential. By way of information, Lt. Brogan is a former Section 31 Agent from Newcastle, England. She sings a bit and swears quite a lot! Written out of my own desire to escape the silly season for a while... contains lots of swearing, graphic descriptions of injury and violence, attempts at singing and passing references to Christmas. You're welcome.
"What the bloody hell is that?" Lieutenant Malcolm Reed pointed accusingly towards the offending item, his sense of rising ire scoring a deep frown into his brow.
His heavily-tattooed Second in Command, Lieutenant Kate Brogan, folded her arms and raised her eyebrows, the picture of innocence; "What's what?"
Brogan followed the line of Reed's pointed finger, and gasped in mock-horror, clapping her hands to her face; "Oh my God! Where did that come from?"
"Brogan, you've got ten seconds to explain yourself before I load it into a torpedo tube and launch it directly into the nearest sun."
"Aw, come on, Malcolm," she pleaded, beseechingly; "don't be such a miserable git."
"Seriously - what the hell is it and why is it in my armoury?"
"I'll have you know that 'it' is my Christmas tree and it's in our armoury because it's Christmas."
Reed surveyed the offending article dubiously; to call it a 'tree' was a real stretch of the definition. It was actually more of a fabric wall-hanging, obviously old and handmade. It depicted a traditional green tree against a white canvas background that had faded to brown over the years. It was patched and stained, though the green tree still glittered with hand-stitched sequins and ribbons denoting tinsel and baubles. It was obviously a much-cherished item that had been dutifully hung on a wall every year since its creation, but in the armoury it looked tattered, garish and out of place hanging from a hook on the bulkhead beside gleaming consoles and polished torpedoes.
"It's not Christmas," Reed tried a different tactic, "it's still three days until the 25th."
"Three whole days... Okay, so it's nearly Christmas," Brogan countered, her arms still folded defensively, "come on, Mal – it's not doing any harm."
"It's the armoury, Brogan! That thing...tree...is just not appropriate."
"The rest of the armoury crew like it," she sniffed at him, unfolding her arms to stuff her hands casually into her pockets; her sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, revealing the intricate ink-work that decorated her forearms, "we all think it lends a bit of seasonal cheer to the place. Besides, I hear Trip's trying to cajole Jon into allowing some Christmas shore-leave on a nice planet somewhere and Chef's already planning a proper Christmas dinner, though I'm damned if I know how he's going to rustle up a turkey."
"Commander Tucker and Captain Archer can plan shore leave all they like," Reed replied, stressing the formal ranks and names in response to her irreverent casualness, "the targeting scanners are still way out of alignment and the port phase canon is still delivering only eighty-four percent of the maximum yield, so we have got plenty of work to do without entering into a democratic vote on the appropriateness of tacky Christmas decorations."
"Tacky!" Brogan pretended to be outraged, "I'll have you know my very own great-grandmother hand-stitched that tree! Besides, since when did you concede that the armoury is a democracy?"
"It's not," Reed countered, "this is my stringent dictatorship and you'll all do as I say, and I say the tree has to go."
"The tree stays or I'm calling a general strike."
"You can't go on strike; Starfleet regulations do not permit strike action."
"So we'll go on strike against that as oppressive and unfair," Brogan balled her fist and held it in the air, "bugger the regulations, down with the system, up with the Christmas Tree!"
"Bah humbug to you too," Brogan threw her hands up in the air in mock despair, "God Almighty, Malcolm, where's your Christmas spirit? 'Tis the season of goodwill and joy to whoever-the-hell-cares..."
"Good Lord," Reed rolled his eyes, well aware that Ensigns D'Arcy and Timmins were listening in on the conversation despite giving every impression of being hard at work on the targeting scanners, "I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge and I've been forced to live with the Ghost of Christmas Present for the last bloody month."
"Deck the bulkheads, fa-la-la-la-la," Brogan deadpanned back to him, "come on, grumpy guts. You realign the scanners and I'll relay the real-time information back to you..."
She crossed to the console and began to punch up the data, as Reed unfixed the front panel to review the circuitry and relays underneath. The tattered fabric tree remained hanging on its hook, forgotten for the moment. They worked in silence for a few minutes, until D'Arcy and Brogan shared a knowing look and Brogan nodded. D'Arcy began to whistle a soft tune; Timmins picked up on it quickly and began to hum along as well, and then Brogan joined in with sung lyrics.
"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..."
"Okay, okay, enough already!" Reed pleaded, from beneath the console, "God, please, not the songs. Anything but bloody Christmas songs..."
"A promise," Brogan replied, smirking at the grinning Ensigns, "that there will be no singing in the armoury in your presence until 25th December, when it's permitted by law, and in exchange the Christmas tree stays, deal?"
"This feels like blackmail," Reed's voice was muffled by the console, as he had virtually crawled inside it.
"That's because it is blackmail, sir," D'Arcy pointed out, gruffly, sounding amused.
"Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen..." Brogan warbled, deliberately flat and out of tune, as Timmins and D'Arcy both joined in, Timmins going for high-pitched and squeaky while D'Arcy rumbled with a deep yet flat bass; "...When the snow lay 'round about, deep and crisp and even. Brightly shone the moon that night..."
"Stop! Stop! Okay, the bloody tree can stay – just no more singing!"
"Only in the armoury," Brogan reminded him, in a saccharine-sweet tone, "and even then only in your presence... don't forget there's a Carols Concert on Christmas Eve in the Mess Hall."
"I'm not going."
"You're supposed to be playing the piano for it."
"I never agreed to that."
"I agreed on your behalf," Brogan studied her fingernails innocently, well aware of Timmins and D'Arcy sniggering behind her, "I'll have my guitar, and Ensign D'Arcy's got his drums, and Crewman Llewellyn is going to bring his fiddle... The Captain was absolutely delighted to hear how thrilled you'd be to play a selection of favourite carols and Christmas songs for the improvement of crew morale..."
"You... you didn't..."
"I hope you've been practicing."
"I'm not doing it."
"I'll order you to do it."
"You can't order me – I'm the senior officer here."
"I'll order you on the Captain's behalf."
"I'm pretty sure you can't give orders by proxy."
"I'll get Commander Tucker to do it."
"You wouldn't dare."
"I would," Brogan grinned, "and if you make one more disparaging remark about my tree, my singing, or Christmas in general, I promise to make your life a living Christmas nightmare for the next three days."
"As if you weren't going to do that already," Reed shot back, "how's that looking?"
"A girl's gotta have her hobbies," Brogan shrugged, "nah, you're still off by five point three percent; the power seems to be fluctuating and it's phasing the scanners out of alignment. Try repolarising the relay."
"You know damn well if I do that I could blow out the power coupling."
"Yeah, I just like hearing you swear when you do it, especially when you burn your fingers. Besides, Phlox's Osmotic Eel is cute and it's nice to give him something to excrete on now and again."
"Bloody hellfire... What the hell did I do to deserve you for a second in command?"
"I dunno, but I bet you regret it. Besides..." Brogan was sharply cut off when the power relay Reed was recalibrating suddenly and without warning shorted out, exploding in a shower of sparks and a puff of smoke. He let out a yelp and snatched his hand away, dropping the callipers with a loud clatter.
"Shit!" Brogan swore, loudly, "You okay?"
"I'm fine," Reed called back, annoyance lending his voice a sharp edge, "What did you do?"
"Nothing! Absolutely nothing," Brogan's long fingers danced across the controls as she frowned in puzzlement, "I have literally no idea what caused that... D'Arcy? Timmins?"
"Didn't touch a thing, boss."
"Not me, sir."
"Looks like the relay suffered a sudden cascade failure," there was an edge of amazement in Brogan's tone, as she surveyed the screen readouts, "Bloody hell, Malcolm, you're lucky the failsafe cut off the surge or you'd have been fried, along with half of the weapons systems!"
"Bloody thing must have been faulty," Reed commented, emerging from underneath the console, shaking his singed fingers, "that must be why the sensors are out of alignment... we're going to have to strip and rebuild the entire conduit."
"How long's that going to take?" Brogan crouched down beside him, peering under the console, wrinkling her nose at the acrid smell of electrical smoke.
"At least twelve, maybe eighteen hours," Reed's tone was grim, "Brogan, contact the Bridge and tell them we've had a faulty power relay blow out in the targeting scanners and we're going to need to take the weapons systems offline for the next, ah, twenty-four hours. D'Arcy, run down to Engineering, pick up some replacement relay components, a few power couplings and some optical cabling – about five meters should suffice to replace what's burned out. Timmins, there's no point in running those system checks now so give D'Arcy a hand, please..."
The offending Christmas tree and looming carol concert forgotten, the armoury crew buckled down and set to work.
Upon hearing that the Enterprise weapons systems were going to be taken completely offline, Captain Archer immediately ordered course change to the nearest uninhabited sector where the ship could safely wait while the repairs were completed. Reed had not wasted any time; when Archer came to get a progress report on the repairs, he walked in to find the armoury was, quite literally, in pieces. He stepped through the door and immediately froze; he had never seen the pristine workspace so chaotic before. The bench, floor, and every other surface seemed to be strewn with parts, components, relays, couplings, and cabling. Ensign D'Arcy was standing on top of one of the torpedo tube launchers, apparently having removed the bulkhead and was systematically pulling out, checking and replacing the cabling within. Ensign Timmins was on top of the gantry, scanning a selection of components, apparently sorting good ones from bad. The lower half of another person was sticking out from an access hatch beneath the torpedo tube D'Arcy was standing on.
"Can anyone explain to me exactly what's going on in here?" Archer asked, bewildered, "I thought you were just rebuilding the targeting scanners..."
"It's a little more complicated than that..." a muffled female voice replied, distantly, "uh, hand me that micro-spanner, would you?"
Archer picked up the requested tool and pressed it into the outstretched hand, receiving a quick; "Ta, Captain," in response.
"Brogan? Is that you under there?"
"Yes – I wish it bloody wasn't, but it could be worse..."
"How could it be worse?" Archer queried.
"Shout for Malcolm and you'll find out."
"Shout for... why? Where is he?" Archer suddenly realised that the chief Armoury Officer was nowhere in sight.
"Lieutenant!" D'Arcy hollered, making him jump slightly, "The Captain's here to see you!"
Archer heard some clanging, a muffled curse in a distinctly British accent, and then, of all things, Reed literally climbed out of the torpedo launch tube. Archer eyed the Tactical Officer in shock; the normally neat-and-tidy Lieutenant had his uniform sleeves rolled up to the elbows, jacket unzipped slightly at the front. He was plastered in sweat and grease, his hair sticking up at odd angles. As if suddenly becoming mindful of his appearance, he swept a hand through his hair and straightened his posture.
"Sir," he began, but Archer cut him off with a wave.
"At ease, Malcolm – what on Earth is going on in here?"
"We've discovered a serious fault with the weapons systems, sir," Reed's tone was grave, "I thought it was just one faulty relay, but as we began repairs other relays began to fail; so far we've found seven sub-standard relays. We're going to have to check every single circuit in every single system."
"What's causing them to fail all of a sudden?" Archer queried, shocked by the news, "Multiple relays don't just randomly fail."
"The relays that have been failing are not Starfleet standard issue," Reed picked up a scorched, blackened piece of metal from the bench, "oh, they look real enough, but these weren't manufactured by Starfleet... someone made these, replaced the real relays, and set these up to fail."
"Who, how and why?" Archer demanded, incredulously.
"Those are all questions I intend to answer as soon as we've managed to bring the weapons back online," Reed said, a bitter note creeping into his voice, "whoever did this had intimate knowledge of our systems and did this over a long period of time."
"How?" Archer repeated.
Reed did not answer immediately, turning the scorched relay over in his hands.
"Lieutenant – how?"
"It could only have been a member of the Armoury staff," Reed said, eventually, quietly, hating the words even as he spoke, "someone under my command has systematically and deliberately sabotaged the weapons systems, probably over a period of several months. From the positioning of the faulty relays it looks like they were going to cause a cascade failure that would have bypassed all of the safety protocols in order to detonate one of the photonic torpedoes in the launcher tube. It would have crippled the ship, torn a hole through the hull across five or six decks and killed anyone within the blast radius. We were lucky one of the relays began to fail ahead of the saboteur's schedule otherwise we might never have picked up on it."
Archer stared at Reed, mouth agape as he tried to process this information; "Are you telling me there's a saboteur on board?"
"Or an extremely well disguised alien infiltrator," Reed's face twisted into a scowl, "or some other stowaway my scanners can't detect... I've already asked Commander Tucker to start running checks on other key systems to ensure that no other areas of the ship's function are under threat. Someone wanted to use our own weapons to cause serious damage against us, sir."
Archer's mind worked quickly; "Lock down the Armoury and all key systems; non-essential personnel are to be stood down immediately pending a full investigation... Lieutenant, how many people do you need working on this?"
"At least two, sir, but it will need to be around the clock."
"Pick someone you trust."
"Brogan," Reed said, immediately.
"Aw, damn it!" came a muffled voice from under the console, "you bastard!"
Archer's lips quirked in grim amusement even as he said; "D'Arcy, Timmins, you're both stood down for now – nothing personal but this work just became highly classified. You do not breathe a word of this to anyone, understood?"
"Aye sir," the two Ensigns chorused, immediately.
"Dismissed," Archer watched the two of them go as Brogan wormed her way out from beneath the console and stood beside Reed, her dark expression matching his as they waited for the door to close.
"Well, shit," Brogan groaned, raising her hands to her head, running her fingers through her long, tangled hair, "What the bloody hell are we going to do?"
"Rebuild the whole weapons system from scratch if we have to," Reed answered, dropping the faulty relay back onto the table, with a clatter, "sir, whoever did this, they've done it patiently, over a period of months, and it looks like they were almost ready to press the trigger, so to speak. I don't know yet what they hoped to accomplish but we should be on high alert."
"There are too many people out there who want to see our mission fail, for whatever reason," Archer responded, surveying the two weary-looking, filthy Lieutenants, "you two are the only ones permitted to work on the repairs and you'll each be double-checking everything. Take rest breaks when you need to but the Armoury remains sealed if neither of you are here. Malcolm, you'll be heading up the investigation as soon as the repair work is finished – I want to know who did this and why."
"Me too, sir," the Lieutenant nodded, determinedly, "Someone came very close to crippling the ship and killing a lot of the crew with it... there has to be a reason."
"Some people just want to watch the world burn," Brogan growled, "you'd better hope Malcolm finds the saboteur before I do, Captain. I'm a lot less... civilised... about these things."
Archer shook his head, "Just focus on getting the weapons back online – it's not beyond the realms of possibility that the sabotage was intended to coincide with a direct attack. We need to be ready, just in case."
"Aye, sir," Reed nodded, "If Mr Tucker can lend us a hand when he's finished checking the other key systems, it would be appreciated."
"I'll be sure to mention it to him," Archer nodded, "I'll leave you to it – report in as soon as you can."
"Aye sir," Reed nodded, dourly.
Archer departed the Armoury as swiftly as he had arrived, leaving Reed and Brogan to survey the mess.
"Where do you want to start?" Brogan shrugged, spreading her hands.
"Let's see if we can get the torpedo launchers reassembled first – manual targeting is tricky but do-able and at least we'd be able to fire if someone did attack," Reed ran his hand through his hair, turning towards the torpedo tube, "right... let's get on with it, maybe in an hour or so we can get one of the stewards to bring us some tea..."
"And biscuits," Brogan added, already clambering back under the console, "if we're going to be so stereotypically English, I want biscuits with my tea."
"Get those torpedo launchers back online and I'll requisition you every single bloody biscuit on this ship."