For Want of a Nail

By Lt. Zoe Jebkanto

Rating: PG-13

Genres: au drama

Keywords: Mirror Universe

This story has been read by 611 people.
This story has been read 1087 times.


Disclaimer:  I don’t own it, in this or any other universe.

Summary:  It appears Empress Hoshi may have a serious problem on her hands, though for Fleet Captain Reed, it could be far, far worse.  For both of them, it’s name is… Tucker!

A/N:  This is a sequel to “Something Real”, a sequel to “Wary”.  Weeble only asked for one, but… what can I say?- I was having fun.


 

Saturday, 3 October, 2161

Eleven hundred hours

The Royal Penthouse Suite, Saint Francis Hotel

San Francisco, Capital City of the Terran Empire

Continent of North America, Terra

 

“Well, I certainly hope someone’s trying to find out where it went!”

 

Without turning her eyes from her wall screen, Empress Hoshi Sato sent a side-eyed glare at Fleet Captain Malcolm Reed from beneath the hands of her hairdresser.  Her jaw was set, her fingers curled on the arms of her chair.  The sight of an empty hangar on Jupiter Station’s outer maintenance ring, had caused each visible inch of her to quiver with the urge to rise, to pace, to rage.  Still, except for that slight movement of her hands, she held herself in careful, elegant restraint.  “I imagine you can tell me exactly how and when it was taken.”

 

Reed made a pretence of studying his data pad, tipping it so the morning sun shining through the window of the Empress’s outer chamber didn’t obscure the screen.  He’d learned long ago that feeding her information too quickly increased rather than lessened her impatience.  “Almost a week ago now, as far as we can tell.”

 

“As far as…?”  He could hear a slow volcano building beneath her words.  “What does that mean?”

 

Reed shrugged.  It was a carefully casual gesture, designed to keep him in command of the dialogue.  “It means this was no spur of the minute decision.  The operation was  planned, laid out piece by piece, like a domino run set up over an extended period of time.  Probably it was already begun long before the shuttle’s systems upgrades were slated for installation, much less ready for testing.  At least four to six months set up time I’d say, relying as it did on maintenance schedules, falsified inventory reports and simulated system malfunctions.  They all had to line up, ready and waiting for the pilot’s name to top the list for the three-day test flight rotation, combined with a time he wouldn’t draw suspicion by also being the engineering officer in charge of scheduling.”

 

“Why that filthy, lying, unscrupulous, conniving, two-faced, thieving rotten traitor!”

 

The  Empress added several choice expletives in Romulan, Klingon and Ferengi before  swatting the hands of the Vulcan slave girl who’d been arranging her hair into an intricate high, braided coil.  She snatched up a hairbrush and, twisting in her chair, hurled it across the room.

 

Reed ducked aside, reached up and caught the brush before it hit the antique mirror behind him.  Let that jewel-framed thing smash and the seven years’ bad luck would not be hers, but his, and right now, he needed all the luck he could create  for himself.

 

Pocketing the small missile, he sketched her a grin and the hint of a bow, then returned the toss with an object of his own.

 

“Rather thought you might take the news that way,” he said, his British accent lending an air of cheerful amusement to his words.  “So I brought you something that might make the information a little more palatable.”

 

The Empress’s old Fleet training stood her in good stead.  She caught the device in one quick, upraised hand.  “What’s this?” she demanded, glowering down at the square grey box as she turned it between long, slender fingers.

 

“Haven’t been keeping up on your Fleet’s security equipment these days, have you, luv?”  Disregarding royal ceremony or protocol, Reed stepped closer, still grinning.

 

“You presume on our friendship, Captain,” said the Empress, frowning.

 

“Oh, loosen up, Hoshi,” said Reed.  “If you can’t presume, what kind of friendship is it?  Now, would you like to have me answer your question or resume target practice- maybe with that vase over there?  Perhaps you’d prefer to just sit and reprimand me a bit longer for my impudence.”

 

The Empress turned to the slave.  “T’Nor, leave us.  And not one word about anything you’ve heard here.  Return in ten minutes.”

 

“Yes, my Lady,” said the girl, in the clear, well modulated tones that made Vulcans such desirable house servants.

 

The Empress watched her leave the room on silent slippers.  “All right, Malcolm,  I’ll concede you the upper hand.”  The hint of genuine amusement in her voice was encouraging.  “Now,” she continued.  “Come here and show me what this device is.”

 

Reed approached, and with conscious bravado, made a cursory, almost ceremonial show of withdrawing his sidearm, deactivating and re-belting it before leaning close beside the Empress.  The best defense, after all, was a strong offense.  It would never do to let Hoshi know just how very much on the defensive he had perceived himself to be on entering her chambers this morning.

 

“This is just part of my favorite hobby,” he said, tapping the corner of the device for emphasis.  “A nice little collectable, you might call it.  This is a long range tracking device.  One of those originally taken from the Defiant herself.”

 

The Empress sighed.  “We’ve been over that ship with a fine toothed-!”

 

“Hairbrush?” interrupted Reed, pulling it from his pocket with his free hand, then holding it up for her to see, as he allowed the faintest hint of amusement to quirk one corner of his mouth.

 

Despite her royal dignity, she laughed.  She might enjoy the power of ruling the Terran Empire,  but after a while all the bowing, scraping and sucking up people did around her became a dead bore.  Even amid her fury over this morning’s reported lack of progress in finding Defiant’s stolen shuttle, it was good having Malcolm around for a bit of verbal sparring.

 

“The thing about hairbrushes is,” Reed took up the analogy, as he stroked the brush, then paused, half the bristles still caught beneath his thumb and held there for several seconds before he released them. “Things can get through.  I believe that’s why, if you’re going to be thorough, they recommend a hundred strokes every day?”

 

“Yes.”  She nodded.  The end of the braid not woven into the coil bobbed up and down in the middle of her forehead.  Hardly regal.  She pushed it aside as she divided her attention between Reed and her small device.  “So you’re telling me that when the Defiant was stripped of her records and technology, this was missed?”

 

“No, not missed,” said Reed.  “It had already been, shall we say, liberated by your- what did you call him again?-  Filthy, conniving, thieving rotten traitor?  Plus whatever else that was you said.  Dah’rudh, right?  Isn’t that ‘idiot’ in Romulan?  You’ll have to admit, he’s hardly that if it took us this long to discover anything smaller than a shuttle was missing.”

 

Us.  Right.

 

Both the choice of that word and his bantering tone had been deliberate.

 

In reality, “us” meant him.

 

He knew it.

 

They both did.

 

He was, after all, the Fleet Captain.  The man responsible for all matters of ship related security and operations.  The man charged with heading up any and all investigations.  He could only hope his casual use of the inclusive term might deflect the sharpest focus of her attention from singling him out.

 

For a while at least.

 

Something far smaller than a shuttle had gone missing after all.  But the implications of its loss could be…

 

More than enormous.

 

Behind his smile, Reed’s throat was dry.

 

Hadn’t it been Richard the Third who, in the ancient play was supposed to have  opined on the disappearance of small things?  Reed frowned as he watched Hoshi turn the object over once, then twice.

 

Damn!  His Shakespeare had gotten rusty these last years.  But if he recalled the quote correctly, it expressed the exact nature of a domino effect.

 

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost…

 

Data files could be stored on devices no larger than that.  Actually on many that were smaller than nails these days, since some of the USS Defiant’s technology had begun to supplement the Empire’s own.

 

The Empress’s words interrupted his musing as she curled her fingers around the device.  “Well, at least this wasn’t missing.”

 

“No,” said Reed.  “But we found it only, so to speak, after our hundredth stroke.  You wouldn’t believe the time we spent deactivating booby-traps and then ransacking Tucker’s quarters once we realized that  he’d disappeared.   Security’s best guess is that he stashed it, along with several other items, shortly after we found and boarded the Defiant.  Probably managed it even before we left that inter-dimensional space/time anomaly that sent the ship to us from whatever universe she’s going to come from.  The problem is, we don’t know what else he may have taken except for several data files, all of which, as far as we can tell, relate to the next hundred years or so’s worth of warp-theory research.”

 

For want of a shoe…

 

Richard the Third- (it was Richard the Third, wasn’t it?) –continued his silent litany of falling dominos.

 

…the horse was lost.  For want of…

 

The Empress raised thoughtful eyebrows.  “Does Tucker have them with him?”

 

“Well, we certainly didn’t find them and wouldn’t have discovered they existed in the first place, except some of the technical references were out of sequence.  We’ve extrapolated an approximate  number of missing files from the gaps we’ve been able to locate so far.  Either he’s taken, hidden or encrypted them.”

 

The Empress tapped the device with a manicured violet nail.  “But this was left behind.  By accident, or with intention?  What is this thing currently tracking?”

 

“As if you didn’t already suspect!” Reed’s teasing grin flashed again.  “We set it to the shuttle’s warp frequency, of course!”

 

“Captain!” The Empress exclaimed.  Good humored fun was one thing, but enough was enough.  “I don’t know what you’re so pleased with yourself about.  We’ve had long range tracking devices for years.  What makes you think I’d be impressed simply because it comes off a ship from another universe whose time-track is a hundred years in the future?  Or that I wouldn’t imagine it isn’t being used to lay some kind of false trail?”

 

Reed hoped his grin remained unperturbed.

 

…For want of the horse, the man was…

 

Strong offense, remember?

 

“If,” Reed’s tone took on an authoritative tone.  “You understand enough about security systems to know how to do it,  this device can be recalibrated so that it operates independently of any ship’s computer, and even when it is actively monitoring the designated signal’s coordinates, its readings cannot be picked up by standard shipboard security equipment.”

 

The Empress’s smile returned.  “So, we can decide where and when to apprehend Tucker and the shuttle without any rumor of this spreading through the court.  Excellent.  How many of your people know about this?”

 

Reed’s gut tightened as Richard resumed his chant.

 

…the man was lost…

 

“Several,” Reed said after a deliberate pause.  He met the Empress’s gaze and stroked the hairbrush with a slow finger, making the bristles crackle.  His tone was still light, but his words held a cool hint of steel.

 

He liked the Empress, always had, all the way back to when they served  on ISS Enterprise together, under both Captains Forrest and Archer.  He enjoyed her company, her quick linguist’s wit, and believed that with him, she let her hair down- metaphorically as well as physically- more than she did with anyone else these days.   Still, that didn’t mean he trusted her.  Archer had made that mistake years ago and paid for it with his life.  Reed was not about to repeat it.

 

“They’ve already been disbursed on new assignments throughout the Fleet,” he continued.  “For the most part, none of them currently know the full significance of your little friend there, or what was in those missing files.  But, just in case you get any ideas of having all this lovely information for yourself alone, you should know this.  If anything happens to me, within forty eight hours, a code will be triggered that gives each of them complete access to all data related to our conversation.”

 

“Malcolm, you wound me!”  She lowered her chin, rounded her eyes, then looked at him through her long, dark lashes.

 

“You’ll live.  I’m just trying to guarantee we both will.”  The note of casual banter was still there in his tone as he leaned forward to lay the brush in her lap.  “Now, shall I show you how this little jewel works?”

 

The Empress nodded.  “Show me how to locate the shuttle.”

 

“Well, we have a bit of a problem there.  Tucker’s whereabouts for the first two days of the flight match the shuttle’s testing schedule.  Then he reports encountering an unexpected ionic disturbance and expects to be out of contact for a few hours until he can clear the storm front.”

 

Reed leaned closer and, reaching across the Empress’s fingers, began activating a series of commands on the small device with his own.  “That region of space is noted for a certain amount of instability.  Tucker is an experienced pilot, so…”

 

The Empress frowned.  “So little serious attention was paid to his announcement by the personnel at Jupiter Station.”

 

“That’s right.”  Reed’s nod was quick, the brief words blood-bitter in his mouth.  Smart move that he’d already told her about those encoded messages.

 

…the man was… was…

 

He resisted clearing his dry throat and wished Richard would bloody well shut up.  “The appropriate corrective measures have already been implemented,” he said.

 

To his surprise, the Empress flicked that information aside.  “But you are tracking the shuttle now.  How much time was it out of contact before questions were raised?”

 

“Estimates are about three days.”

 

“And you have no idea where he might have spent that time?  What black market or rebel contacts he might have gotten that warp theory information to?”

 

“At the moment, it would be mere speculation.”

 

Yes.  A really good thing about those messages.  An even better one that the last two, three four tapped brisk commands demanded his close scrutiny on the data PADD's display.  He was more than glad of an excuse not to look at her face as he found himself remembering the odd irregularities in his communiqués these last months, the strange disruptions, duplicates and omissions he’d only discovered as he tried to solve the problem of the shuttle’s disappearance.

 

How the hell had Tucker managed that anyway?

 

Those irregularities looked to have gone back a year or more.  At least as far as that delayed shipment of sushi he knew he’d ordered to arrive on time for the Empress’s birthday celebrations…

 

He should have finished that scheming traitor off back on Enterprise five years ago when he’d had the chance!

 

A miniature star field appeared on the screen, then was intersected by narrow, dark blue grid lines with numbered co-ordinates along the edges.  A series of green, pulsing dots trailed one another across it, then, abruptly disappeared a bit to the upper right of center.  The Empress’s tumbled braid tickled his cheek as she bent forward to study the display.  After a moment, she turned to him.

 

“Isn’t that Tholian space?” she began.  “The same area where-?”

 

“Yes,” he replied.  “Those are the same co-ordinates where we discovered the Defiant in the first place.  I’m afraid our thief’s taken the shuttle into the rift.  It’s gone.  I don’t know where.  Or when.  I’m considering heading up an on site investigation by a scientific team to discover a means of…”

 

…for want of the man, the battle was…

 

Even in the silence of his mind, Reed didn’t want to put words to all the options he was considering if he made it out there to the Tholian sector.

 

He couldn’t quite suppress a shudder as apprehension spread cold and tingling from his gut all the way up and down his spine.  Those falling dominos…  Those growing implications…

 

At least the Empress hadn’t noticed.  At least, not yet.

 

That should have been a relief.

 

But it wasn’t.

 

He was the Fleet Captain.  The man responsible for all matters of ship related security and operations.  The man charged with heading up any and all investigations.

 

For want of the battle the kingdom was…

 

There might still be time to repair the damage, once he reached Tholian space.

 

And if he couldn’t salvage the situation?

 

Hoshi’s hand tightened around the device.  She didn’t look at him, but continued to stare down at the display.  “Then he really is a dah’rudh after all.  Anyone would be if they believe that’s far enough away to escape the Empire,” she said.


Comments:

Weeble

I am still enjoying your tale although I don't like "the mirror". It does seem that Malcolm may only delay his most unpleasant end as we know how ruthless her awesomeness is....really like your style in writing regardless.  Your characters are first rate extrapollations, congrats.

Weeble

I am still enjoying your tale although I don't like "the mirror". It does seem that Malcolm may only delay his most unpleasant end as we know how ruthless her awesomeness is....really like your style in writing regardless.  Your characters are first rate extrapollations, congrats.

Linda

I like the banter between Hoshi and Malcolm.  Malcolm knows how to play his empress; that might let him survive longer than most people around her.   

Asso

Intelligent. One piece intelligent and astute.

Rendered with intelligence and cunning.

With consummate and yet fresh skill.

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