Check out our latest Fleet Action!


Fire and Ice

An away team taken captive. Endeavour's oldest enemy returned. Lives and loyalty hang in the balance as officers fight to survive, and Dathan Tahla must finally make the ultimate choice.

Fire and Ice – 1

The Old Neutral Zone, Beta Quadrant
August 2400

Chief Medical Officer’s Log, stardate 77583.33. I knew I was right to complain about Endeavour going back into the old Neutral Zone so soon after Agarath. The region is more volatile, the independent worlds more numerous, and the whole thing a bigger mess with the collapse of the Star Empire, may it rest in pieces. We’ve taken on new crew, Captain Rourke has – finally – cleared Endeavour for families aboard, which means my wife and children joined me a week ago.

So, obviously, five seconds later, we’ve received a non-urgent distress call from a refugee convoy escorted by, of all people, the Fenris Rangers. While Endeavour gets to focus on a planetary survey in a nearby system Starfleet’s never had access to before, my illustrious captain thought it’d be good experience for me, with the ink on my bridge officer’s qualifications barely dry, to lead a runabout team to help them out.

I must think of a way to thank him.

‘Try that!’ Cortez’s voice echoed up from the deck below of grungy freighter-turned-transport. She even sounded grimier, like their environment changed the quality of sound.

Sadek glanced at Thawn, sat at the main control panel in the engine room. ‘She’s so specific,’ Sadek drawled. ‘It’s so very clear what she means.’ They’d found the warp drive sputtering, barely providing basic power and incapable of sustaining a warp field. Cortez insisted the job was straightforward with the King Arthur’s replicator to provide spare parts, but when Sadek had checked in on them, they’d already been at this for hours.

‘She’s had to replace several sections of the antimatter injectors – we really should have brought along extra hands,’ Thawn sighed as her hands trailed across the oily controls. ‘Forrester could have dealt with this.’

‘None of us wanted to be here,’ Sadek pointed out. ‘We’re all dying to find out if Regier’s fourth planet’s safe so we can try out its beaches.’

Thawn’s expression pinched, as it usually did when someone was being facetious. ‘There’s never been a survey of this magnitude of this region of space, or if there has, any records have likely been lost in the Romulan collapses, and Starfleet never saw them anyway. This might be an untouched planet, and it’s so much more than checking out beaches -’

‘And the Science department can have fun with that,’ Sadek mused. ‘I’m here for beaches. Besides, Lieutenant, don’t be so anthro-centric. I’m sure lots of life has touched it.’

Thawn looked like she was going to protest, but the hum of the warp core rose in intensity, and Sadek braced as if it was going to overload there and then. Instead, the dark cloud of a core before them brightened, the churning returning to what she thought of as a healthy colour.

‘That did it!’ Thawn called, jubilant now they had success and she could ignore Sadek’s jokes. ‘Good work, Commander.’

‘It’s like I trained my entire life for this,’ Cortez drawled from below, and the sound of clanking heralded her slow escape from the belly of the engine room.

‘Is that all we need to do?’ said Sadek, eyebrows raised.

Cortez stuck her head up through the hatch. ‘I’ll want to run some more diagnostics, but the problem was faulty parts they’d just jury-rigged to death and needed replacing. All fine with medical aid?’

Sadek shrugged. ‘Bumps and scrapes I’ve already seen to. They’re refugees of political turmoil; I’ve left them with some more food and medical supplies, but they’ve not been malnourished for months or anything. The Rangers can get them where they need to go.’

‘Isn’t it a bit odd,’ said Thawn anxiously, ‘that the Rangers asked us for help?’

‘It was that or cram everyone already crammed onto this ship, onto one of the other ships,’ said Cortez, hauling herself up onto the deck. ‘Shows they actually do care about these people if they can put their pride aside long enough to send word to a nearby Starfleet ship.’

‘I suppose.’ Thawn bit her lip. ‘I just don’t trust them. Did they say much about their plans?’

Another shrug from Sadek. ‘Just that they were taking them to one of the relief worlds ten light-years out. I’ve left the other two to handle the politics.’ At Thawn’s expression, she raised an eyebrow. ‘What? Rank means I get to delegate this stuff. And this is the whole reason we brought Dathan and Rhade.’

‘We brought Rhade for muscle,’ Cortez pointed out. ‘Possibly for morale, so if the refugees felt sad he could flex and that’d cheer them up.’

‘Ooh,’ said Sadek. ‘I should have sent him down there with some apples to crush with his biceps. You know, for the children.’

‘We could record it for future guidance on refugee support -’

‘I cannot believe,’ said Thawn, Rhade’s fiancée, bright red by now, ‘that the two of you are talking about him like that.’

‘It’s purely professional,’ Cortez protested. ‘We’re both far too gay for this to be personal.’

‘I wonder,’ said Thawn in a quiet but snooty voice, ‘what our new Staff Judge-Advocate would say about that.’

‘I’d hope he’s too busy dealing with the wild backlog of awful things we’ve done to worry about new only slightly-awful things,’ mused Sadek. ‘But anyway, if you’ve got the engine running again, I should check up on our… hosts? Grateful supplicants?’

‘Call them that, for sure,’ said Cortez. ‘That’ll keep the Rangers happy with Starfleet.’

‘I really don’t care,’ Sadek sighed as she headed out. ‘I just want to help people.’

‘That’ll keep us going until we get to Danravel IV,’ said the Ranger who had only given her name as Theron, hauling the next crate of supplies atop the pile in the cargo bay. ‘We can do a further assessment of refugee needs then.’

Their loading work finished, Dathan stepped back. ‘Where do you find enough to support these people?’ At Theron’s guarded look, she lifted her hands. ‘That’s an off-the-record question.’

‘Nothing with Starfleet is off-the-record.’ Theron looked her up and down. ‘You’re not an engineer. You’re in gold. That makes you Security. So you can pretend all you like that you’re here in case things go sideways, but I know you’re scoping us out.’

‘It’s worse than that,’ Dathan drawled. ‘I’m the Chief Intelligence Officer.’ While Sadek, Cortez and Thawn had gone to the freighter hauling refugees that needed repairs and help, she had joined the Fenris Rangers on their own ship, moving supplies to their cargo bay so they could be more easily protected. ‘I’m definitely here to scope you out.’

‘I’m grateful Endeavour answered our call. I’d hoped you would, after we crossed paths months ago. But that doesn’t make us friends, Lieutenant. Not enough for off-the-record questions.’

As a member of Starfleet Intelligence, I’m not quite as fixated as some of my colleagues on doing things in the by-the-book way that makes you clash with them,’ Dathan pointed out. And that’s to put it mildly. ‘But you’re right, I did have an agenda. The situation in the old Neutral Zone is changing fast with the Star Empire’s fall. More warlords, more chaos – more possible friends, more opportunities for mutual support.’

Theron rested a hand atop the stack of crates, the physical evidence of Starfleet’s friendship on this one, specific occasion. ‘If you have a question, ask.’

‘It’s an open question. I came here because I thought that we could be of use to each other in the long-term.’

‘Starfleet and the Rangers?’ Theron scoffed.

Dathan shook her head. ‘You and me. Why do you think I asked Lieutenant Rhade to stay on the runabout?’ She reached into her jacket and pulled out a PADD. ‘I want to start by making it clear I’m not breaking any laws by giving you this. It’s a collation of non-classified information on the state of affairs of worlds and factions across this sector. Consider this a gesture of good faith.’

Theron narrowed her eyes, but she took the PADD. ‘Why are you doing this?’

‘Because Starfleet – my ship – isn’t leaving this region any time soon. We’re back for good, Theron. And there’s a lot we need to do to catch up on goodwill and what we know around here. Maybe Starfleet isn’t ready to extend a hand to the Rangers like this, but we – you and me – can maybe help each other.’

‘And you get to look good to your superiors if I grace you with information the Rangers have picked up that nobody else has?’

Dathan shrugged. ‘I’d do this formally if I thought anyone would listen. They’ll listen to results. Taking this costs you nothing today.’

Theron looked down. She was tall and wiry but projected an aura of confidence and command that had struck Dathan the moment she’d come aboard, but as she stopped and thought she seemed smaller, more vulnerable. Aware, perhaps, of the vulnerability of her situation. At length she tucked the PADD away and pulled a small metal token from a pocket. ‘Take this.’

‘What is it?’

‘A beacon of the Fenris Rangers. Activate it if you need to contact me. Or if you need help. I’ll see how this information goes and we’ll… take it from there.’

It was not, Dathan admitted as they parted ways and she headed for the transporter pad on the Rangers’ ship, wholly about developing intelligence connections. She needed cards up her sleeve that nobody else had, whether it was to curry favour with superiors, distract them from paying her too much attention, or in case she needed to make an escape.

Endeavour had changed in even the past weeks. It wasn’t just Rourke’s clearance for them to take aboard family members, though that had given the ship and crew a sense of permanence she found unsettling. They’d brought on new staff, replacements and additions alike, and it was clear from some of the calibre of officers that Endeavour had earned a lot of attention. The ship was a prospect now, which meant her superiors in Intelligence might lean on her more, or hungry colleagues might have an eye on her position.

The last thing Dathan Tahla, renegade agent of the Terran Empire, needed was for anyone to pay close attention. She’d cut her ties with her former handlers and knew the house of cards she’d delicately built couldn’t last forever. Even as she beamed aboard the King Arthur, she had to wonder why she’d let herself get trapped in this position, stayed on Endeavour for over a year now, when that only raised the chances of someone poking through her cover and finding the holes.

When she materialised to see the welcoming face of Adamant Rhade, she had more of an answer than she wanted to admit.

‘All loaded?’ Rhade asked from the door to the cockpit, arms folded across his chest.

‘It went fine,’ she said, answering the question she knew he’d actually been asking. ‘The Rangers are happy to get help. This one is a win for relations in the Neutral Zone.’

He frowned but nodded. ‘They could do so much more if they worked with us more often. They have contacts and relationships, we have supplies…’

‘Supplies we have a track record of cutting off the moment it suits Starfleet,’ she pointed out. ‘They have to keep the Neutral Zone as self-sufficient as possible, because history has taught them they can’t rely on anyone else.’

Rhade’s mouth set in a hard, unhappy line. ‘I wish they saw the Starfleet I do. We’re not who we were fifteen years ago.’

‘They will.’ She softened despite herself, found the desire to reassure him rising despite herself. ‘Keep doing the right thing, no matter the cost or opposition, and they’ll see. They’ll be inspired.’

He nodded at length. ‘It’s good they met you today, then.’

Dathan had to frown. ‘I’m hardly inspiring. I’m hardly the one to do the right thing no matter the cost.’

‘Of course you are. You have been since I’ve met you.’

That’s because I’ve been lying since I met you. She saw his expression flicker, those piercing black eyes locked on her and doubtless seeing more than he let on. But he couldn’t possibly see it all, because he hadn’t thrown her out the airlock as a spy. Whatever he saw in her he had to misread, because the truth was too horrific to be known.

She should have taken the compliment. Acted the good Starfleet officer. But as-established by staying on Endeavour for so long, Dathan Tahla’s judgement was compromised. ‘If I am,’ she said falteringly, ‘it’s because I met you.’

Of course, that was when there was a clang from below, and the tell-tale sounds of the other three boarding from the freighter with which the King Arthur was docked.

‘If these people had just one proper replicator…’ drifted the sound of Cortez’s complaint from afar, and like that, the moment was broken.

That was the mission. Get the freighter moving, get the Fenris Rangers supplies. Do good and earn good-will. So the five officers tumbled into the cockpit from there and Rhade disengaged the runabout’s docking. As mission commander, it fell to Sadek to have a quick conversation over comms with Theron, confirming they’d helped how they could, that the convoy was free to get underway, and that the King Arthur would stay put in the region for an hour or so – within easy communications range – to make sure the repairs held.

But it was to Dathan that Theron’s eyes flickered over the viewscreen, and she didn’t know if her chest was tightening from relief, or apprehension at how she was allowing herself to be known by even more people.

‘And now the best part of the mission,’ sighed Cortez as the Rangers’s convoy flicked to warp speed on their sensors. ‘Putting our feet up and relaxing.’

‘You say that like you weren’t delighted by crawling round a grimy old engine room,’ Sadek drawled.

‘It’s a novelty, but doesn’t get me up in the morning…’

Sat at an aft console, Dathan tried to ignore their bickering. That became unsettlingly easier as Lieutenant Thawn eventually rose from her console to take the co-pilot’s chair beside Rhade and lean in for a conversation she couldn’t hear over the senior officer’s banter.

They had been closer these past few weeks. Not just since whatever had happened to avert the break-off of their arranged marriage, the chaos that had made Dathan try to keep her distance for her own sanity. Closer since Agarath, closer since Rhade had been shot. And this time, Dathan had been less successful in pulling away, caught as ever in the orbit of a man who represented everything she’d expected to find pathetic – the upright hope and ideals of Starfleet – and instead found, in its way, dangerously addictive.

For a woman from a universe where despair dominated, unswerving hope had turned out to be like water to a desert traveller.

But Thawn was there, speaking in a low voice, occasionally giving an anxious, awkward smile, and his eyes were locked on her, too, on the woman he was supposed to marry some day. So Dathan turned away, looked at the sensors, and tried to focus on anything else.

If she had done a better job, everything might have not gone to hell. Because it took an alert notification blaring twenty minutes later before she jerked upright with a frown. ‘What… we have a ship incoming.’

Sadek looked over, not that concerned. ‘The Rangers have come running back?’

‘No, it’s way too big for that.’ Dathan’s hands danced across the controls. ‘The computer isn’t recognising it, but it’s headed straight for us. I’m running a scan.’

And as the data scrolled in, her heart tried to crawl into her throat and choke her. Which was why she didn’t manage to make a report before the hulking ship dropped out of warp. Because she recognised this vessel, and she wasn’t supposed to, and there was no way she could begin to explain.

The canopy of the King Arthur was filled with the battered, bruised, and broken hull of the ISS Endeavour, the Terran Empire’s warship stranded in this universe for some two years now, forced into hiding and desperation as they sought a way home. So far from her for so long that she’d thought they might forget her – that she might forget them – and that all her betrayals might never come to a reckoning.

But it was here, and however much the ship had suffered from trying to stay off Starfleet’s sensors for all this time, it was a vast warship and they were but a runabout.

‘Oh, no,’ breathed Thawn at the co-pilot’s chair, fingers thudding at her console. ‘That’s not – there’s no way, there’s no way…’

‘What the hell,’ said Rhade, looking around, ‘is going on?’

He hadn’t been aboard Endeavour when they’d tracked down the Wild Hunt and realised these pirates weren’t masquerading as dead officers, but were from another reality entirely. Dathan hadn’t, either, but she didn’t keep her mouth shut to keep her shattering cover – she kept her mouth shut because she didn’t have any possible words.

Thawn continued to work. ‘We have to get out of here.’

‘Agreed,’ said Sadek. ‘Rhade, full impulse, bring us -’

But the deck lurched, and Cortez swore. ‘Nope. That’s a tractor beam. We’re going nowhere.’ Then she swore again. ‘We’re being hailed.’

If Dathan’s words had vanished at the sight of the ISS Endeavour, breath was taken when the viewscreen flared to life and showed the gloom of the imperial warship’s bridge, and the grizzled, hard-set features of her commander.

This is Prefect Leonidas MacCallister of the ISS Endeavour. I recognise your ship. I expect you have some idea who I am. It seems we were due a face-to-face eventually, crew of the USS Endeavour.’ MacCallister leaned forward, and Dathan felt his eyes boring into her for a moment, before they snapped back to Sadek. ‘Power down and prepare to be boarded.

Fire and Ice – 2

Captain's Ready Room, USS Endeavour
August 2400

‘Our focus should be on Regier IV. The atmospheric conditions and their impact on the planet’s meteorology remain highly unusual, and are worthy of prioritisation for study.’

All of the planets have unusual atmospheric conditions, it’s just that Regier IV is M-class; a study of the sun’s radiation and its propensity for solar flares would give more insight into the whole system.’

‘We are not certain yet of what questions to ask. To begin with a case study would allow us to identify variables worthy of further inquiry. It would also allow us to harness more of the Endeavour’s Science Division at once, employing the Life Sciences department…’

‘Okay.’ At last Rourke lifted his hands to stop the bickering of blue shirts that had taken over his ready room. It was his own fault; he’d asked them here. But what he’d anticipated to be a straightforward discussion was already showing the gaps in his ship’s roster. ‘Is there any reason we can’t just… do it all?’

His eyes raked over the four team leaders. Beckett, newly inaugurated to lead Social Sciences, was ostensibly reading the briefing paper on his PADD but Rourke suspected he’d zoned out entirely. He’d have been irritated, except Social Sciences had nothing to do in an uninhabited system with no signs of past civilisations, and Rourke also wished he could disappear out of an airlock. The veteran Veldman wore an enigmatic smile, particularly at the suggestion of her Life Sciences department being deployed, but had yet to weigh in.

That left Planetary and Stellar Sciences, and the two new, diametrically opposed faces. Lieutenant Turak was positively loquacious by Vulcan standards, entirely confident in his own opinion and judgement but lacking the expected reserve of his people in either offering it or doing so with brevity. Rourke couldn’t tell if he was uncommonly self-assured or simply uncommonly inclined to talk.

But if Rourke found Turak a lot, he suspected Lieutenant Danjuma of Stellar Sciences was having a worse time. Every time Turak spoke up in that clipped, low, speedy but self-assured manner of his, Danjuma’s voice went higher and quicker.

She was the one who responded after the beat of silence, gesticulating quickly with her hands. ‘We, ah, can do that, sir; it’d just be a question of where to employ Endeavour herself, as she has more sophisticated sensors – obviously – than our auxiliary craft and so would do well sweeping the system while the shuttles and runabouts are supporting any teams on Regier IV or the study of its atmosphere…’

‘Its atmosphere,’ jumped in Turak, ‘which could easily be scanned and analysed by the Endeavour while it remains in orbit of Regier IV to support landing parties. While auxiliary craft can conduct scans of the system and return.’

This was not a complicated situation, Rourke knew. These were not massive, project-changing variables. It was just that normally he had a Chief Science Officer to weight it up and make a recommendation. But this time there was nobody to filter out what he expected of the team leaders: for them to represent their own interests.

He looked a little desperately at Veldman. ‘Your thoughts, Lieutenant?’

She raised an eyebrow. ‘We can make it work either way. Auxiliary craft have enough support materials to keep our teams on the planet operating. Staying in transporter range of Endeavour would do the same.’

Thanks. Rourke glanced to his right, where Kharth sat in a chair with her back to the bulkhead. Where Beckett looked like he’d abandoned the entire situation, she looked like she was considering resolving it with murder. He turned back to the four scientists and drew a deep breath. ‘Endeavour will stay in orbit of Regier IV and support the Planetary and Life Sciences teams, while Lieutenant Danjuma can lead auxiliary craft in their scans of the system. But if you find any irregularities,’ he pressed on, at Danjuma’s openly dismayed expression, ‘we can reassess.’

‘Let me know if you find ruins,’ Beckett drawled. He was probably playing a connect-three game on his PADD by now. ‘Otherwise we’ll be in the labs.’ Social Sciences was the smallest of the teams, with only three officers under him and the rest support staff or analysts. Rourke again couldn’t really begrudge him this attitude.

‘There remain prospects,’ said Turak levelly, ‘of subterranean discoveries -’

‘Which you can tell me about if you find them,’ Rourke said briskly, standing up in a way that made it clear he wanted them all out of his office. ‘Thank you for your time, Lieutenants. Veldman, a quick word?’

The other three left, but Veldman also remained on her feet, openly disinclined to linger as if she knew what was coming, eyebrows raised with mock-innocence. ‘Sir?’

‘I really can’t convince you to step in as acting chief? After…’ He waved a hand vaguely. ‘That?’

‘If you make me acting chief, you’ll work very hard to remove that first word from the title,’ she drawled. ‘And you’ve not made it look at all appealing from this meeting. You could make Beckett do it again.’

He didn’t know if she was trying to shift responsibility, or if she was at all bitter from him appointing Beckett to the role almost a year ago, when he’d been a mere ensign elevated over her. Either way, it didn’t get him what he wanted, and Veldman took advantage of his hesitation to beat a judicious escape.

‘Someone has to do it,’ said Kharth in the silence that followed. ‘Or they’ll kill each other.’

‘They might explode from anxiety first,’ Rourke mused. ‘In Danjuma’s case, anyway.’

‘She’s married to my new assistant, and she is not what I expected. He’s a man of few words.’ She hesitated. ‘Perhaps because she uses up his.’

‘She’s got a teen-aged sibling she takes care of, right?’ Rourke furrowed his brow as he thought. ‘The ship’s filling up with children.’

Kharth shrugged. ‘That’s what happens when you let families aboard. People bring their families. A lot of our new transfers have dependents; I expect officers are considering Endeavour who wouldn’t have before.’ Now she shifted her weight. ‘How’s your daughter settling in?’

He did his best to keep his expression studied, to not betray the combination of terror and delight that had raked through him since Ellie decided she did, in fact, want to stay with him for a while. ‘Taking over my quarters,’ he grumbled instead. ‘Staying out too much with Aisha’s kids.’ That was one mercy; his closeness to Aisha meant that Ellie knew Aamir and Haya, all of them within a few years of age of each other.

‘It’s good she’s got friends?’ said Kharth like it was a question, and Rourke realised his new second officer was just trying to make conversation rather than having any real concept of the challenges of parenthood, especially parenthood when one was now a captain responsible for the lives of hundreds and one’s daughter.

So he gave Kharth a wry smile. ‘It’s good,’ he said, and looked her up and down. ‘Run point on the survey mission.’

She looked like she immediately regretted showing an interest in his life. ‘Me? I’m not a science officer.’

‘I think your low tolerance for bull makes you perfectly suited to filter Danjuma and Turak’s arguing and figure out what the best use of resources is. Consider it further experience as second officer.’

‘Every day I’m second officer is more experience at being second officer,’ she pointed out, but sighed. ‘I should have fought to go on the away mission.’

That’s good experience for Aisha.’

‘So command is about making sure nobody’s where they’re happy to be?’

‘Not the leaders.’ He smirked. ‘Valance is running the training sessions and personnel reviews and settling in all the new officers. I’m not going to give you that kind of pastoral responsibility first.’

‘It’s because of my warm and loving tendencies,’ Kharth drawled, then made a face again. ‘Wait, you’re saying I’m less personable than Valance?’

‘I’m saying she’s better at making it work for her professionally than you.’ He waved a hand at the door. ‘Now, shoo.’

These days – this past week – he usually headed for his quarters after his shift, rather than lingering to finish off work. Unimportant bureaucracy could be handled in his room, and now he had something to go home to. But this time he diverted down to the suite of diplomatic offices, and stuck his head in the bull-pen.

The Diplomatic Service had scaled back its personnel with Endeavour’s crew shift, but Cyrod Brigan wasn’t about to let himself be reassigned. It did mean that for once he had company, and Rourke was relieved to recognise the uniformed figure as his new Staff Judge-Advocate, and not the officer he really didn’t want to deal with right now.

‘There’s no wiggle-room in the wording,’ Brigan was complaining, jabbing his finger at the PADD on his desk. ‘Ambassador Sarek carved it through with perfect logic…’

‘Ambassador Sarek,’ drawled the wiry figure of Lieutenant Commander Hin Ra-Talorei, ‘failed to account for the Denebian concept that words need reiterating and repeating to maintain integrity. Or, at least, someone on his staff failed to record that recommendation. Which is why the 2381 summit of Alpha Cygnus IX was needed, and long-overdue. It wasn’t about the exact wording, it was about the cultural context of its legal weight for the other party.’

Rourke cleared his throat. ‘Gentlemen?’

The two stopped and looked at him like an interloper. Brigan frowned. ‘Ms Hale’s busy.’

Hale had been thoroughly caught up in meetings for a while now. Rourke sighed. ‘She’s pissed off at me for not stopping Rosewood’s assignment, isn’t she.’

‘I don’t know what she is or isn’t pissed about,’ said Brigan, and shrugged. ‘I’m pissed about Rosewood.’

Commander Ra-Talorei smiled. ‘Commander Rosewood seems like such a dedicated young man…’ But there was an indulgent air to the Efrosian’s voice, like he meant what he said and yet knew there were vast gulfs of further unspoken truths.

‘Lieutenant Commander Rosewood is here to make his name in Starfleet off the backs of the First Secretary and my staff,’ Brigan protested. ‘Such as we are any more. And it’s an insult to Ms Hale’s work to have Starfleet diplomatic officers brought aboard.’

‘Rosewood and his team are all of a half-dozen officers here to support and liaise,’ said Rourke, parroting the party line that had been used by his superiors to bulldozer him. ‘Not replace you or take credit for your work.’

‘Tell him that.’

Rourke huffed gently, then looked at Ra-Talorei. ‘You’re settling in fine, Commander?’

‘Oh, don’t worry about me, Captain.’ The Efrosian’s smile became more sincere. ‘I have a backlog of fascinating incidents to read through and a husband quite beside himself at consulting with your science department.’

‘Don’t get too excited by the backlog of fascinating incidents,’ Rourke tried to not grumble. The last thing he needed was a Judge-Advocate taking an undue look at parts of Endeavour’s mishaps he’d thought had been laid to bed. He didn’t know what in particular weighed on him, but JAG sending a representative aboard – ostensibly to act as a legal advisor on the many diplomatic and political missions that were Endeavour’s primary duty – didn’t sit right. However pleasant Ra-Talorei was; perhaps the simplest of the new arrivals in adapting.

He looked at Brigan. ‘Tell Ms Hale I stopped by.’

Hale’s Chief of Staff opened and closed his mouth, and Rourke could almost hear the suggestion he tell her himself. But he just nodded, and Rourke now wondered how much Brigan knew, by being told or divining it himself.

And if Brigan knew anything, that put him a step ahead.

The thought made his shoulders heavy as he left the offices and took the nearest turbolift, and the burdens had not lifted when he reached his quarters. Until he opened the doors and was greeted with a sight that he knew he’d be sick of, some day, or at least wouldn’t brighten his entire evening.

But seeing his teen-aged daughter with her booted feet up on the sofa was still, for now, enough of a novelty and a delight. So of course he greeted her by wandering over and nudging her foot. ‘Oi. Down.’

‘We live on a ship, Dad,’ Ellie Stone groaned, swinging her feet over and sitting up. ‘What dirt am I picking up on my shoes?’

‘You never know what security have tromped in,’ he chided, and sank on the sofa next to her. Then he grinned. ‘Hi.’

She rolled her eyes. ‘Chill out, I’ve been here a week.’

‘Nope. I’m not done being overbearing yet.’ To make his point he reached out to ruffle her hair. Ellie had inherited her mother’s red locks, but he fancied she had his eyes, and a certain squareness to her jaw from him that he knew she was self-conscious about but he felt gave her character. At sixteen she was eager for independence, which he knew had contributed to her leaving Earth for him, at least for a few months.

In time, he’d be just as smothering as her mother. But for the moment he was a novelty, and Matt Rourke would take that after a lifetime of never Quite Doing Enough for his daughter.

‘How was school?’ he pressed on, delighting in going down the check-list of fatherly questions.

‘Fine,’ she huffed. ‘There are eight of us now in the Upper Section, so… you know. Some group work.’ Most education aboard was remote, making the schooling space on Endeavour more of a shared study room while different students took classes to meet their needs. The teenagers fifteen and over shared one such study space, supervised and with the chance to socialise. Rourke knew this was only worsening Ellie’s alliance with Aisha’s kids, something he suspected all parents would come to regret, but he was just happy for now she wasn’t alone. ‘Lawal’s the only one doing advanced lit, though. So it’s him and me arguing with some kids from Starbase 24 about Vulcan classics.’

‘Lawal’s the Danjuma boy, right?’

‘Yeah, Aamir’s too busy with double-biology.’ Again she rolled her eyes. ‘Do you want dinner together?’

Rourke hesitated. ‘You’re not out with them tonight again?’

‘That was yesterday. We’re just going down to the Pembroke later. But I figured we could eat.’

He didn’t know if he was reading too much into her indifference, didn’t know if it was wishful thinking that made it seem forced. But she could have gone out and eaten with her friends at the Earl of Pembroke, the old mess hall he’d had converted to be more civilian friendly. Instead she was, unprompted, suggesting she stay in.

Matt Rourke still grinned, any thought of Sophia Hale’s detachment thousands of light-years away now. ‘Let’s do it.’

And Ellie rolled her eyes at his obvious satisfaction as she pushed to her feet. ‘Again, Dad. Chill out. It’s just food.’

Fire and Ice – 3

Brig, ISS Endeavour
August 2400

‘This can’t be happening.’ There was an edge of hysteria to Thawn’s voice in the darkness, and while Sadek knew she was going to have to calm the young officer down, first she was going to have to slow her own racing heart, her own tense breathing. That was not very easy, when the only thing breaking the darkness around them were the faint rings of light of forcefield projectors in a long, gloomy row of cells in a brig far darker and danker than any Starfleet holding room.

They had been beamed directly aboard, plucked from the deck of the King Arthur aboard this shadow of Endeavour, this twisted mockery of their home – bigger, better armed, a weapon of war and death and suffering. Sadek could barely see into the cells from here, though knew from the silhouettes of the projectors’ glows that Cortez was beside her, and could just about make out the shape of Thawn in the cell opposite.

‘What is happening?’ Rhade’s voice came from the gloom beside Thawn, and he stepped forward for light to paint him in a bright outline.

‘Great question,’ said Cortez in an unusually flat voice. ‘We found out a year ago the Wild Hunt pirates were evil invaders from another reality. But they got beat and were killed or sucked into whatever vortex that station they were using to try to hop dimensions created. Now there’s another, evil Endeavour?’

‘Oh yeah.’ Sadek winced. ‘Matt never told any of you.’

‘Told us what?’ Thawn didn’t sound calmer.

‘The alternate dimension Halvard gave him a warning before he died: that there were more of them. Matt suspected that the Wild Hunt was just one small part of another unit. A much bigger unit.’

‘Like this big ship, run-down to all hell,’ continued Cortez with dawning horror, ‘that’s been hiding out in a wild-ass part of space like where the Neutral Zone butts up against the Talvath Cluster, and is commanded by Evil Leonidas MacCallister.’

‘Yeah,’ said Sadek. ‘Something like that.’

‘Wait.’ Rhade’s voice dropped ten degrees. ‘Where’s Lieutenant Dathan?’

Sadek took a quick step forward, peering through the rings of light in the darkness. ‘She’s not in there with you?’

There was a swish of doors opening, thudding footsteps of boots on metal, and with clicks of pinprick precision, light after light down the long corridor of the brig burst to light to herald the new arrivals. Sadek could only see the glow, and even as she tried to position herself to see, the figures were almost in front of the cells before they were clear to her.

‘Oh, hell, the universe has the silliest sense of humour,’ she sighed as she recognised, stood in the lead, someone who looked a lot like Matthew Rourke.

He was, of course, leaner, more muscular, clean-shaven, his hair only millimetres long. It was as if someone had taken all of Matt Rourke’s softness and scraped it off to sharpen each edge. He arched an eyebrow at her. ‘Either universe. You must be Doctor Sadek.’

‘Oh, hey,’ said Cortez, and pointed to the figure on Rourke’s right. ‘So must you. This won’t get confusing at all.’

‘God,’ sighed Doctor Sadek, looking at herself if she was much more skimpily dressed. ‘I already hate this.’

‘You should,’ said her counterpart in the low drawl she usually reserved for when patients were being particularly uncooperative. ‘You’re going to die in there.’

‘They’re subtle,’ said Cortez to Doctor Sadek out of the corner of her mouth. ‘Nobody said they were this subtle.’ If Thawn had sounded borderline hysterical from panic, she thought, Cortez sounded like being glib was the only thing keeping her from breaking down screaming.

‘My name,’ said the man who looked like their captain, ‘is Commander Thaddeus Rourke. You are all in the hands of the imperial starship Endeavour. And if you are cooperative, you may look forward to slavery rather than death.’

‘I always thought Matt’s middle name was pretentious,’ drawled Doctor Sadek, ‘and those are crappy choices. Not to mention the fact that you are in the middle of our universe, people will come looking for us, and after a year of trying to lay low you’ve just stirred a hornet’s nest.’

The other Sadek gave a whisper of a smile. ‘We won’t be here long enough for that to be a problem.’

But before Doctor Sadek could press that point, from the cell across there was a crackle of energy as Adamant Rhade smacked his palm into the forcefield. ‘Where’s Lieutenant Dathan?’

Thaddeus Rourke turned with an imperious gaze. Then he gave a smile that made Doctor Sadek’s back tense. ‘You mean Agent Dathan.’

Footsteps rung out at his gesture back down the corridor, and Sadek heard Cortez swearing up a storm in Spanish under her breath as, in the same crisp military uniform as the rest of them, Dathan Tahla approached with an expression so utterly neutral it could only have been perfectly cultivated.

Rhade stared at her, then at Rourke. ‘There are duplicates,’ he hissed after a heartbeat. ‘This is your Dathan, where’s ours -’

‘Dead,’ said Dathan Tahla in a flat voice. ‘Abducted by us upon arrival and replaced by me, who insinuated myself into the office of Admiral Beckett, who made the most of being placed aboard Endeavour.’ Her chin tilted up an inch. ‘If you doubt me, then how could I possibly know that for about five minutes after the Century Storm, you and Thawn were not to marry, only for her to get cold feet? You told me this.’

Rhade took a stumbling step back, white as a ghost, and Doctor Sadek leaned to the forcefield in a desperate effort to recover control. ‘What do you mean, you won’t be here long?’ she said, eyes locking on Rourke and her counterpart.

‘We’re going back,’ said Rourke simply. ‘You were very unlucky. We are on the verge of finalising our recalibrations of our warp drive to allow us to return to our universe. We detected your ship in the vicinity and knew we couldn’t risk you stumbling upon us and sending word. Be grateful we didn’t kill you.’

‘Or don’t be,’ murmured alternate Aisha Sadek. ‘Our experiments in studying the quantum frequency in bodies to perfect our calibrations of moving between universes… continue. You will all be of most excellent use.’ She glanced towards Rhade and Thawn’s cell. ‘Especially the xenos.’

Before Doctor Sadek could say anything to try to draw back attention, Commander Rourke slid an arm across her counterpart’s back, his voice dropping. ‘Make sure you play nicely with the toys, my dear. We might need them.’

The other Aisha Sadek ran her fingers along his arm. ‘There’s plenty spare,’ she purred, leaning in for their lips to be mere breaths apart.

‘Gross,’ said Cortez and Sadek in unison before they could stop themselves.

Thawn was watching Dathan, though, dark eyes beady against her pale skin. ‘You’ve been lying to us,’ she said in a low voice, ‘all this time. I can practically smell the guilt. Why didn’t I notice it before now?’

‘Your senses must not be very good,’ was Dathan’s flat response. ‘You couldn’t tell before that I was lying, and I feel absolutely no guilt now. I am a servant of the Empire, and I have finished my mission.’

‘Not,’ said Rourke in an arch voice as he turned to her, ‘without missteps. But we can worry about that later.’

Doctor Sadek clenched her fists. ‘What happens next?’

‘Experiments!’ said her counterpart in a cheery voice. ‘Xenos first. Do you have any suggestions, my dear?’ Her eyes turned on Dathan. ‘The bolshy one or the one who really hates you?’

Doctor Sadek didn’t know if she imagined a hesitation because she wanted to see it, wanted to believe that someone who had worked alongside them for a year now was not simply a spy and a snake. But any of that hope died as Dathan turned to the cell of Thawn and Rhade and gave an imperious gesture, expression still flat. ‘Her.’

Good,’ purred the other Sadek, and as she spoke another figure came thumping down the corridor in fully body-armour, a phaser rifle slung over their shoulder.

If Thawn had looked pale before, now she looked ghostly, her eyes as big as dinnerplates. ‘Oh, no,’ she breathed. ‘No, please…’

Sadek swallowed bile. She had never met Noah Pierce, dead in the battle that had brought her and Cortez to Endeavour over a year ago. But she’d seen the files, and knew he and Thawn had been close; knew his death had hung over her throughout their pursuit of the Wild Hunt. Now his counterpart was advancing on the cell she was trapped in, just as much sharp edges as Thaddeus Rourke.

Rhade side-stepped in front of her. ‘If you need someone for experiments, I’m right -’

But the forcefield came down, and Pierce’s stun baton lashed out, thudding into Rhade’s gut with a crackle of energy.

‘Right here.’ Pierce’s voice was like granite. ‘I know, scum. You’re next.’

Rourke.’ Doctor Sadek was as close to the forcefield as she dared. ‘If we’re missing too long, Endeavour will come looking -’

‘If I let you go, your ship will come looking,’ Thaddeus Rourke rumbled. ‘I rather hope they do. Then finally you can taste the might of the Empire.’ Beyond him, Pierce grabbed a struggling Thawn, dragging her out of the cell and reactivating the forcefield as Rhade writhed on the deck. Rourke looked at his Sadek. ‘Is that all you need, my dear?’

Her eyes swept over the prisoners. ‘For now.’

‘Then you and I,’ said Rourke, turning on an expressionless Dathan, ‘are due a debriefing.’

‘Dathan,’ croaked Rhade, by now on his knees. ‘We trusted you…’

Rourke, his Sadek, Pierce, and the struggling Thawn were moving away from the cells, but Dathan Tahla lingered a heartbeat more, looking over her shoulder at him as if he was nothing more than a stain on her boot. ‘That,’ she said quietly, ‘was your mistake.’

Fire and Ice – 4

Science Offices, USS Endeavour
August 2400

‘I understand entirely why you want Endeavour here,’ said Lieutenant Danjuma, audibly putting herself on the back foot before she’d even started her argument, ‘but that should mean you don’t get any auxiliary craft, Lieutenant.’

Lieutenant Turak gave a slow blink. ‘Planetary Sciences has been allocated one single fighter for detailed surface mapping. Waiting for the Endeavour to survey it all would take considerable micro-manoeuvres and-or waiting for our orbital pattern to align.’

‘I see that,’ said Danjuma, already conceding ground. ‘But I need all the craft I can get, and even a fighter can run basic scans to be followed up later, and the captain said…’

‘Flight Control said…’

‘Oh, for pity’s sake.’ Beckett slumped face-down on the desk in the Science Department’s main office. The three of them sat at a round table with two empty seats, and if the absence of Veldman was cavernous, the absence of a department head was abyssal. ‘Kharth is going to be here any second and if you two can’t get on, she’s going to flay you both.’

Danjuma looked stricken while Turak merely raised an eyebrow. ‘That would be a egregious breach of Starfleet -’

Figure of speech.’ He sat up to drag his hands down his face. ‘Why am I here?’

‘I requested all Science team heads to be here,’ Danjuma squeaked. ‘Lieutenant Veldman sent apologies.’

‘Why didn’t I think of that,’ he growled.

‘We have already acquired several fascinating botanical samples from the surface,’ said Turak obliviously, ‘and Lieutenant Veldman expressed intent in studying them at once.’

‘You don’t have to be here,’ said Danjuma, sounding like she’d make an impression of a drowning puppy if he abandoned her. ‘But I thought, seeing as we still don’t have a department head, the team leaders could hammer this out.’

‘There is nothing to “hammer out,”’ said Turak with a tilt of the chin. ‘Lieutenant Arys allocated my team one pilot and one fighter. You have the rest of the Endeavour’s auxiliary craft at your disposal.’

‘Okay.’ Beckett hopped to his feet with a decisive push off the desk. ‘This has nothing to do with social sciences, and Kharth is on her way, so may God have mercy on your souls and all that.’

Danjuma hesitated. ‘Is she really that mean? Ji-Hun said she was very professional, but he didn’t deny the rumours.’

For a moment, Beckett wondered if he should reassure her. Then he reasoned that if her husband, Kharth’s new deputy, wasn’t going to make her feel any better, he wasn’t going to overstep. He nodded sombrely. ‘She’s really, really mean,’ he said, and left.

Only to almost run into Kharth in the corridor the moment the doors slid shut behind him. ‘Lieutenant! Ah… Commander!’

Kharth arched an eyebrow, holding a stack of PADDs and with her usual air of supreme disapproval. ‘You could have just pivoted to the full rank and drawn less attention to it. Where are you going, Beckett? This is a science staff meeting.’

‘And Veldman’s got work to do and there’s no indication of actual societies here in Regier so… I don’t want to be underfoot?’

Kharth’s eyes flickered to the door. ‘Are they still failing to work together?’

‘They are, I assure you, all yours, Commander.’ And with a pivot that had him on the far side of her and escaping down the corridor before she could rally, he was home free.

I should have pretended I had Hazard Team training, he thought as he padded down the corridor. Danjuma and Turak weren’t to know there would be likely very little training during Lieutenant Rhade’s absence, and he could exploit that. Until or unless there was a new science chief – and it didn’t look like any of the current department staff were about to step up or be elevated – he needed to do everything he could to avoid being sucked into things that were Not His Problem.

It was a feather in his cap to be given Social Sciences, lacking in seniority as he was. But this was always the smallest of the science divisions, and many of his staff were greener officers than him, or NCOs with degrees and a purely research focus rather than the leadership aspirations and talent that marked graduates of Starfleet Academy, or lab assistants. Had it not been for Captain Rourke, Beckett would have suspected the hand of his father in securing such a role for him, a junior lieutenant a mere two years out of San Francisco.

But while he was dodging some responsibility, he was not dodging all responsibility. This was perhaps not that clear to outsiders when Beckett’s next stop was the Safe House, and his target the bar itself.

It was late afternoon in ship time, enough for the alpha shift to be over and for many major players aboard to be unwinding and considering their next step. With this meeting, he’d warned Arys he might be late, so the Andorian looked suspicious when he slid onto the bar stool beside him.

‘I fobbed them off,’ Beckett explained cheerfully.

Arys frowned. ‘You shouldn’t be trying to get out of responsibility.’

‘I’m not, I’m curating my responsibility.’ A gesture at the holographic bartender saw them scuttle off to get him a synthahol. There was too much to get on with to drink anything harder. He nudged Arys with his elbow. ‘How’d it go?’

Earnest features creased with distress. ‘She didn’t talk to me. She never talks to me.’

‘You tried too hard again, didn’t you.’

‘I just said that if she ever wants to talk, I’m there.’

Beckett was relieved that his drink arrived in timely distraction, so he didn’t have to sigh despairingly. ‘That’s telling her you see her grief, you see her pain, and you want to draw attention to it. Elsa’s a smart girl, and she’s seeing Carraway. She’ll talk about it to others when she’s good and ready.’

‘So what am I -’ Arys stopped himself. ‘What are we supposed to do in the meantime?’

‘Be her friends.’ Beckett shrugged. ‘Give her a space to be herself and just… live, without everything being about losing that complete shithead of a man.’

Again Arys looked pained. ‘Commander Graelin died a hero.’

‘And he lived like a shithead. Both things can be true.’ Beckett swigged his beer. ‘He broke her heart and then he got himself irradiated to death and that’s a whole mess I’m not gonna unpack, and you shouldn’t either, pal. So let’s just be her buds and remind her what living’s like and leave the rest to the professionals.’

‘I suppose you’re right.’ Arys stared at his glass of synthahol. ‘She’s never going to look at me the way I look at her, is she.’

Beckett hesitated. Even making the observation was more progress than he’d ever expected Arys to make, besotted as he had been with Elsa Lindgren since long before Beckett had met either of them. ‘Never say never,’ he said first, his instincts stirring to protect Arys or, at least, to stay out of it.

Then he winced and had a swig of his drink before shaking his head. ‘No. And that’s a good thing. Tell me, pal – what do you like about her?’

Arys frowned. ‘What’s not to like? She’s kind, she’s patient. She’s thoughtful.’

‘Okay. What don’t you like about her?’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Are you saying she’s perfect?’

‘Nobody’s perfect.’ Arys paused. ‘I don’t see anything I don’t like.’

‘There’s always something not to like. It doesn’t mean your feelings are invalid – hell, seeing things you don’t like and caring about someone anyway is real. If they can drive you crazy and you’re still committed…’

But Arys had been straightening as Beckett spoke, his expression folding like a gathering storm. ‘Not everyone’s like you, Beckett. We don’t all see the worst in people.’

Beckett blinked. ‘That’s not what I -’

‘You go looking for people’s flaws so you can say everyone’s as bad as you.’ Arys pushed back from the bar, suddenly looking all of his height and build in his defensive anger. ‘Don’t act like you know Elsa better than me; we’ve served together for years.’

‘And you still only see the fantasy version of her,’ Beckett spat before he could stop himself. He’d been ready to work through these feelings, but Arys’s words had been a scalpel under his skin. ‘No wonder she opens up to me, but not you.’

Arys was wrong. Beckett didn’t look for everyone’s flaws so he knew they were no better than him. He looked for everyone’s flaws so he knew how to hurt them when backed into a corner. But with these words, Arys slumped as if all of the fight had gone out of him, fixing Beckett with a look that shone with nothing more than pure hurt – and walked away.

‘Tar’lek…’ Arys didn’t turn back, and with a groan Beckett slumped face-down on the bar.

‘Tough day, huh,’ said the holographic bartender, polishing a glass with a practiced air.

‘Just give me another.’

‘You know,’ continued the bartender, in that slightly detached tone which belied its limited programming, ‘synthehol isn’t the solution to your stress. There are other ways to -’

‘Well, now, this won’t do,’ drawled a familiar voice, and Beckett’s back tensed as a shadow fell over him. ‘Come on, barkeep; I know you’ve got the good bourbon down there. How about a glass for the lieutenant and me?’

It took all of Beckett’s shattering patience to turn a wan smile to the new arrival. ‘You don’t have to do that, Commander.’

Lieutenant Commander John Rosewood pulled up the stool Arys had vacated and leaned on the bar with a smile that shone with messianic glory and no self-awareness. ‘I know I don’t. You look like you’re having a day, is all, Nate. Least I can do is get you a good drink at the end of it.’

Beckett opened his mouth to make excuses, before the bartender slid the two glasses of bourbon – real bourbon – across the bar towards them. The claw-marks inside where Arys had mauled him felt like they’d be soothed by good liquor. ‘I could do a good drink.’

‘There you go.’ Rosewood took up the glass and tilted it to him. ‘To your health, Nate.’

John Rosewood was the latest new member of Endeavour’s senior staff. A lot of people had been confused when this ship, with its civilian contingent of diplomatic staff under Sophia Hale, had been sent a small detachment of Starfleet diplomatic officers. While ostensibly it made sense for Hale and Rourke’s cooperation to be supported by trained Starfleet diplomats, Rosewood’s presence as Chief Diplomatic Officer seemed likely to undermine one or both of them, provide Command with a direct line to any negotiations the ship became embroiled in.

But to Beckett, Rosewood’s presence made perfect sense. The young commander’s career had taken off like the hottest new fighter craft, intricately shaped to maximise his experience, visibility, and impact. On Endeavour, Rosewood could make his mark on the fraught Beta Quadrant frontier, and ditch any mistakes onto Hale or even onto Rourke. Despite himself, Beckett knew Starfleet families, and the Rosewoods were one such lineage of service – and politics. And despite himself, he knew men like John Rosewood. He’d been to school with too many of them, individuals who mistook their privilege for talent and nepotism for hard-earned success.

There was just one other problem with John Rosewood. For all he was a political animal, for all he was a dangerous and disruptive presence if he chose to be, for all he was using Endeavour as a stepping stone to future command, Nate Beckett couldn’t help but somewhat like him. And Rosewood, for his part, had been eager to buddy up with the other son of an admiral aboard.

‘To my disgustingly good health,’ Beckett agreed, and swigged the bourbon. ‘Your timing for this couldn’t be better, sir.’

‘Aw, c’mon, Nate. We’re in the Safe House. It’s John.’ Rosewood set his glass down. ‘I saw Lieutenant Arys leaving in a fair old state. Trouble in paradise?’

‘Oh, we’re not…’ Beckett laughed. ‘No. He’s too uptight for me. We’re friends, he’s just in a mood.’

‘Gotcha. How’s it going in science?’

Was he being pumped for information, or was this small-talk? Beckett shrugged. ‘It’d be better if we had a chief. Turak’s got seniority and he thinks that makes him the big cheese.’

Rosewood made a face. ‘Lieutenant Turak’s records don’t say he throws his weight around. They say he’s real focused on his work, sometimes at the expense of other needs or factors. I’d reckon he’s used to having someone hold him in check, or keep him on-track, or he can’t see the wood for trees.’

‘Do you know Turak?’

‘Nope.’ Rosewood had another sip. ‘Not really. Read about him. Chatted with him on the flight over. Interesting fella, even if I didn’t understand half of what he was talking about.’ He gave a smile like sunlight on a knife. ‘Still, that’s how you keep him in check. Use him as an asset, remind him of the bigger picture.’

‘I’m not keeping anyone in check.’ Beckett raised his hands. ‘I get what you’re doing. I appreciate the help, but I don’t want to leapfrog Turak, or Veldman, or even Danjuma. I’m happy where I am.’

Rosewood laughed. ‘Okay, okay. Still, might make your life easier working alongside them.’

‘It’ll be easier once the away team’s back.’

‘How come?’

‘Thawn.’ Beckett shrugged. ‘If anyone other than a science chief’s going to keep them in-line, it’ll be Thawn running up some strict protocols on resource allocation. Then Science has got to make some hard decisions. And I don’t…’

It wasn’t the bourbon. Bourbon would have made the deck feel like it was rushing away from under him. This was the bulkheads, the crowds; everything tumbling away for a heartbeat. He wasn’t falling, he was exposed, his senses feeling like they were stretching beyond the bar, beyond the ship, beyond Regier. Out, further out, somewhere. Somewhere.

‘You okay?’ Rosewood’s hand on his shoulder brought him crashing back. ‘You went pale there a moment.’

Beckett blinked. His mind felt gummy. ‘Something’s wrong,’ he mumbled.

Rosewood frowned. ‘Do we need to get you to sickbay?’

‘No, not with me.’ He was surprised his legs cooperated when he shot to his feet. ‘Something wrong. Somewhere.’


‘Don’t look at me like that.’ Beckett raised a finger. ‘It’s like a – like a thought at the tip of my brain.’

‘Did you just leave your console on or something?’

‘No, it’s…’ But the sense was fading away, the absolute wrongness he could feel in his bones now dissipating. And all he had was a crowded bar, some good company, a glass of bourbon, and the thought of apologising to Tar’lek Arys if he left.

Slowly, Beckett sank back onto the bar stool with a frown. ‘Okay. That was weird. Maybe I do need a drink.’

‘You had one drink,’ said Rosewood. But then he turned to the bartender, and lifted two fingers. ‘But, hell. Work hard, play hard, right?’

Fire and Ice – 5

ISS Endeavour
August 2400

They were barely outside of the ISS Endeavour’s prison before Thaddeus Rourke turned to grab her by the throat and slam her into the wall. ‘You treacherous alien scum –

I’m going to die here. The thought pounded through Dathan’s skull as heavily as the impact of her head on the bulkhead. They knew she’d killed Kowalski, they knew she’d stopped Thaddeus Rourke’s attack on the old USS Endeavour from killing everyone, they knew she’d gone native. She’d been used for show in front of her old crewmates to break their spirits, and now Rourke – the thug, the bruiser – was going to cut her down.

But a hand fell on Rourke’s arm, and as the sparks died in front of her eyes, she saw Sadek – his Sadek, their Sadek – next to him with an anxious glint in her eye. ‘Not now,’ she purred to Rourke. ‘Not with the xeno watching.’

Rourke’s grip around Dathan’s neck tightened for a moment, then he let her go shoved himself back into the dim corridor. Beyond them was, indeed, Lieutenant Thawn in the iron grasp of Noah Pierce, her eyes wide and suspicious at the display. Dathan did not meet her gaze.

‘Take her to my lab,’ said Sadek with an imperious wave of the arm. ‘There are fascinating opportunities with telepathy and the aperture. Once she is sufficiently motivated.’

Any suspicion in Thawn’s eyes died for fear, and again she rounded on Pierce, as if he was her Pierce and not one of the more loyal enforcers on Endeavour. ‘Noah – Noah, please, you don’t have to do this -’

She’d grabbed fistfuls of his jacket and he yanked her free with a curl of the lip. ‘Keep moving.’

Rourke watched them go, then his eyes fell on Sadek. ‘I hope you have some purpose to this.’

‘There’s clearly overlap between the universes,’ mused Sadek. ‘If she’s alive in our universe, then who knows what I can use a telepathic link to pluck from the minds of… say… a resistance fighter?’ She waved a hand back at Dathan. ‘You can kill the traitor now, sweetling.’

But Dathan was ready now, on the balls of her feet, and she slid away from Rourke’s grasp as he turned. ‘I want to see the Prefect. He’d want to see me. Even if he thinks I’m a traitor, he’d be furious if you killed me first.’

Rourke’s shoulders tensed. He’d never known a problem he couldn’t fix with violence, she thought, so she had to make sure she never entered his arena. ‘Maybe he can make you explain what you did to Kowalski.’

She tilted her head. ‘What happened to Kowalski?’

Even when you’re with your own people, you’re lying.

But Rourke didn’t look convinced. ‘Let’s go.’

She hadn’t been aboard the ISS Endeavour in years. Even before boarding its Starfleet counterpart, she’d spent months insinuating herself into the life of Dathan Tahla, Starfleet intelligence analyst with few friends, no family, and had been trying to turn the meek officer’s fortunes around. She had been the dark horse of the prefect’s plan to get home, the lone operative nobody expected much from. It had been a feather in her cap to slip into the office of Admiral Beckett, Director of Fourth Fleet Intelligence. It had been a setback when he’d sent her to the USS Endeavour.

But she knew these corridors like the back of her hand. The gloomy, dark steel; the forbidding, strict uniforms of the crew, those human eyes on her wherever she went. Even those who didn’t recognise her saw her as an alien walking alongside the ship’s XO, not in cuffs, not slinking behind as a slave. And those who did know her saw a xeno slid above her station.

The turbolift took her to Deck 2, and she realised with some relief they were heading for the prefect’s quarters, not his offices, not the bridge. The more private, the better; the more she could rely on her wiles and her personal relationships without pitting the prefect in a situation where he had to appear strong, hard-line.

Even if Thaddeus Rourke was here.

Sadek left them at the turbolift, doubtless heading for her research on Thawn, and Dathan swallowed hard as she tried to not wonder what torments would be unleashed on the young officer. But they’d be unleashed on someone, and while it would be generous to say she had a plan, she at least had pieces on a board she was desperately repositioning. She’d made her choices for a reason.

If the rest of the ISS Endeavour was stark metals, its master’s sanctum was opulent colours, simple comforts, and distinguished aesthetics. Artwork hung from the walls, framed by drapes of complementing shades to disguise the harsh edges of the bulkheads, but the lights were dim. They had been summoned, but as the two of them entered the gloom, she could not see anyone else.

Then lights shone from the side office, and Dathan’s heart tugged at her throat. Hardly redoubtable, hardly impressive, hardly threatening, and yet the craggy features and bright, intelligent eyes of Prefect Leonidas MacCallister still reached deep into her and told her, as they had for her entire life, Everything will be alright.

Another lie.

‘My dear.’ Prefect MacCallister’s smile even reached his eyes as he padded over and took her hands. ‘I’m glad we were so fortunate you were aboard the runabout. It would have pained me to leave you.’

Rourke gave a low grumble. ‘Yes, it would be terrible if we couldn’t give her what she deserved.’

MacCallister shook his head. ‘Come now, Commander. You’re looking at our most successful agent. Everyone else was forced into hiding before they were caught within a matter of weeks, months. Only Tahla here maintained her infiltration for years.’

‘Infiltration? Or betrayal?’

Dathan let her expression go slack with dawning horror as she looked at MacCallister. ‘Sir – sir, I did everything I could…’

‘I had Endeavour where I wanted it,’ Rourke rumbled, ‘and she sabotaged it.’

‘It would have gained nothing to kill them,’ Dathan protested. ‘And I could use saving them as a means of becoming even more trusted.’ A lie. Nobody aboard Endeavour knew she’d averted catastrophe when Thaddeus Rourke’s agents had sabotaged the Manticore-class ship and she’d minimised the damage.

But she was banking on one simple thing: Prefect MacCallister wouldn’t want to admit in front of his XO that he’d warned her. Rourke had long lusted after the prefect’s job, thought their mission commander weak, and while Dathan knew she was a pawn in the power-play, it was one of the few cards she had if she was going to get through this alive.

MacCallister looked between them. Then he sighed and turned away, waving a dismissive hand, and she knew this was the closest thing to winning she’d get in this scenario. ‘Tar’lek?’

He had a new slave, Dathan realised, as the muscular shape of the Andorian Tar’lek Arys emerged from a side door in simple clothing, hands clasped behind his back. From the dead look in his eyes, she did not think he was so favoured as she had been, so trusted as she had been. He did not speak, merely bowed his head.

‘Drinks,’ MacCallister said. ‘The ruby, I think. This is worth of celebration.’

‘This is worthy,’ growled Rourke, ‘of punishment.’

But MacCallister arched an eyebrow at him as Tar’lek Arys slunk off, and the commander subsided with quietly bubbling anger. At length, the prefect said, ‘How’s the Sidestep protocol progressing?’

Rourke shifted his lips like he was chewing on something, then said, like a petulant child, ‘Commander Cortez is confident we can make the jump tomorrow.’

‘What does she need to make it happen?’

‘Nothing,’ said Rourke, then paused. Dathan felt his eyes on her, felt his discomfort at discussing the matter in front of her. ‘For us to not be interrupted.’

‘I understand it’s a delicate process. But don’t look so glum, Commander.’ MacCallister reached out as Arys returned with a tray on which sat three glasses of red wine that gleamed in the dim light. ‘We’re about to return home.’

Rourke snatched up a glass and rounded on Dathan. ‘Is your Endeavour going to come looking for you?’

‘Eventually,’ she said, forcing herself to be level as she took a drink. ‘But if you’ve figured out a way for this ship to cross dimensions in the next twenty-four hours, no, I don’t think Starfleet will be a problem.’

MacCallister smiled and lifted his glass. ‘There you go, Commander. No need to fret.’

‘I don’t know why we’re celebrating,’ Rourke growled. ‘She went dark on us for the better part of a year, didn’t come in when we sent Kowalski…’

‘I don’t know what happened to Kowalski. When I went to meet him, he’d gone dark. I couldn’t stick around, so I left.’ Dathan shrugged. ‘The RNZ is a dangerous place.’

MacCallister’s smile widened at that, but Rourke shifted his feet. ‘I’ll speak with Cortez. Make sure she knows we might have to get out of here quick if Starfleet shows up.’

‘You do that, Commander,’ said MacCallister. ‘Dismissed.’

Rourke gave her a glare like this threat was her fault as he exited, and Dathan didn’t point out that if they’d left the runabout alone this wouldn’t be a risk. But MacCallister didn’t stop his truculent XO, and soon it was just the two of them in the commanding officer’s quarters, the slave beating a politic retreat.

Now MacCallister’s smile died, and her heart tensed. ‘What happened, my dear?’

She sipped wine. ‘I lost contact with you. The decommissioning of the old Endeavour lost me most of my back-door access to systems. I’d put them in place when I was on Admiral Beckett’s office…’

‘I didn’t warn you so you could warn them,’ he said, his voice low and calm. ‘I warned you because I knew Thaddeus would let you die. Then we sent Kowalski to bring you back in, because I knew you were in a difficult situation.’

‘I never found -’

‘You had protocols for if something like this happened. I left you routes back. What happened?’

Pale blue eyes met hers, and she felt words burn not just in her throat, lies and misdirections that might see her swing if she wasn’t good enough. They burnt in her chest, too in her heart. Deception had become so much second-nature that she didn’t know what truth was any more. ‘I didn’t know how to get out,’ she creaked.

It was a truth, of a sort. Not simply to misdirect him, but misdirect her. She’d been so embedded she couldn’t see the path away, and that meant the only truth she could tell him, tell anyone, was that she’d been too weak.

His eyes softened. ‘I know their world is seductive. If it weren’t, they wouldn’t have the influence they do. But it’s a weakness that let Earth be overrun by outsiders, a weakness where their oldest foes fell apart on their doorstep and they just… watched. They could have secured safety for their people on this frontier for a century, and instead they helped the enemy.’

‘I know.’

‘When we get back,’ MacCallister continued, advancing on her, ‘you will be recognised as one of the virtuous inhumans. Your work helped us return. You did what no others could do. You remained loyal. You are exceptional, Tahla.’

Dathan Tahla had always known she was exceptional. The problem was that she’d always needed to be to stay alive. It did not make it a point of pride. She looked at the man who’d made her, the man who’d lifted her from drudgery and death and brought her to his right hand, who’d given her every chance, and she felt the emptiness inside her as she remembered people who didn’t need her to be exceptional to care.

‘I live to serve the Empire,’ she said, and her voice came clear as a bell with the oiling of deception. ‘And to serve you, Prefect.’

‘Rourke will forget his anger once we’re back. Write me a debrief of anything that’s urgent, and then I’d have you stay out of his way. You’ll have quarters made ready.’

‘Am I confined to them?’

‘Not if I don’t have to confine you.’

Dathan wasn’t sure what the next burst of emotion was. Fear? Hope? Desperation? ‘I would stay better in my quarters,’ she ventured, ‘if I had a distraction.’

He gave a sly smile. ‘You need a play-thing. I suppose spoils of war are only fair…’

‘The Betazoid,’ she said in a rush, on no level knowing what her plan was. ‘The male, the one Sadek isn’t blending the brain of.’

‘We don’t need them in one piece,’ MacCallister mused. ‘I’ll see he’s brought to you.’ Then he set down his wine glass and advanced, hand coming up for his thumb to run along her jaw. Despite herself she shivered, and she didn’t know if it was the sense of coming in from the cold after so long, or because his touch didn’t feel like home any more

‘You’ve done so well, my dear,’ Leonidas MacCallister murmured. ‘I’m so proud of you. It’ll be difficult from here, but don’t worry. Don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll still protect you.’

And Dathan Tahla smiled that nervous, grateful smile she’d given a thousand times, and for the first time ever realised that she’d been lying when she did that all along.

Fire and Ice – 6

ISS Endeavour
August 2400

‘Get off me.’ Rhade yanked free of a ghost’s grasp as Elias Juarez dragged him over the threshold into Dathan’s quarters.

‘Did you ever have him secure?’ Dathan snapped at Juarez. ‘Or did you want to let him go at the last moment so he could try and kill me?’ It was easier to be cold. It was what Rhade expected, it was what projected strength, and it was what stopped the howling in her.

It also provoked exactly the reaction she’d wanted, as Juarez’s lip curled. ‘I don’t answer to you, Bajoran. The prefect says you get a play-thing, you get a play-thing. What happens when it gets here and tries to kill you is your problem. The commander said I should give you whatever you want.’

Rourke would love it if she was murdered in her own quarters by someone she’d been spying on. But while Adamant Rhade looked furious, she was confident he wouldn’t kill her outright the moment they were alone.

‘But fine,’ said Juarez. ‘Enjoy your wretched degeneracy.’

I haven’t missed this, Dathan thought with a more flat internal voice than she usually dared assign to her feelings. Juarez exited, leaving her in the rather modest officer’s quarters that Prefect MacCallister had ordered she be given, bare and stark and with all of the military bearing of the Terran Empire that she had never embodied. It embraced hard metal edges, a solid but comfortable bunk at the far side of the room, and barely a comfortable space to sit on or at.

But sartorial concerns became the least of her worries when the doors slid shut behind Juarez and Rhade hurled himself at her.

Alright. Maybe he will try to kill me outright.

Rhade.’ But she had to pivot back as he swung at her, bring her forearm up to parry his next blow, step back and back as he came at her with all of his speed and fury.

‘You betrayed us,’ he growled, and she was too slow to stop his next blow from landing in her gut.

Dathan kept moving even as she was nearly bent double, and his elbow came down on empty space. ‘Listen to me -’

But he didn’t, and as she knocked aside two more swings, she realised there was only one way to end this. So for the first time she fought him as well as she possibly could. He was big, well-trained, and highly experienced. But he was also Starfleet, and she knew his tricks by now, knew his techniques. She had never fought him like she’d fight in her own universe, all dirty back-alley methods and with more sheer viciousness than she’d ever wanted to suggest Lieutenant Dathan possessed.

She turned aside another blow before stepping inside his reach to slam her heel on his toe, drive her elbow into his solar plexus. As he staggered, she adjusted the curl of her fist, and drove it into his throat. Not enough to crush the windpipe, but still following through. From there it took a sweep of the feet to knock him down, and then she was above him, knee driven into his chest.


He looked stunned in every way possible, chest heaving against her weight. When he shifted, her hands came to pin down his shoulders, putting most of her weight on him and keeping him from pushing up. ‘I trusted you,’ he croaked at last through his wounded throat.

Somehow, that hurt worse than his blows. ‘Please, please, please listen to me. We don’t have a lot of time.’ The first thing she’d done upon getting in was check the room for security measures. The second thing she’d done was make sure nobody was getting any solid audio out of these quarters.

‘Is this the part,’ Rhade hissed, ‘where you say it wasn’t a lie? That you weren’t working for a band of murderers and feeding them information?’

Her jaw tightened. ‘You have two choices. You can decide you know what’s happened and condemn every member of the away team to death when this ship returns to my universe in less than twenty-four hours. Or you can listen to me, really listen to me, and have options. If I let you go right now, are you going to do the first?’

She watched his eyes rake over her, felt their usually piercing edge – and felt him reel back in apprehension, clearly not trusting whatever he saw in her, whatever his senses felt in her. She couldn’t blame him. She’d been tricking a telepath’s passive awareness for a year now. But he still went limp under her hands, expression folding with frustrated suspicion. ‘Talk.’

Dathan slid to her feet, cautious as he staggered upright, too. ‘My name is Dathan Tahla. I was born on Bajor. But my Bajor was conquered by the Terran Empire. Humanity rules half the galaxy, and they are as authoritarian and xenophobic as you can imagine.’

Rhade rubbed his wrists, gaze still baleful. ‘Then why are you a trusted spy?’

‘I was a slave. But I was a slave to someone who took care of me to earn my loyalty, who recognised my talents, and who used them. Prefect Leonidas MacCallister.’ They’d neither of them met this universe’s Leo MacCallister, but the older crewmembers, the originals, spoke of him with a quiet reverence she could almost understand. But hers was love laced with fear. ‘He was on the political rise, and knew all of his rivals would underestimate me. So my first experience as a spy was… spying on others in the empire.’

‘A slave who could go anywhere, learn anything,’ Rhade mused, expression not changing.

‘And then this ship got into a fight with a Romulan resistance vessel near a black hole. Something about their warp drive and the phenomenon collided when we destroyed it, and the whole ship ended up… here. That was about two years ago, now. We had no way home. Little idea of where we were. So we began to investigate.’

‘You mean infiltrate.’

Dathan swallowed down irritation. His responses were the least she deserved. ‘We sent parties out. We learnt more of this universe, of its people. And yes, eventually, we realised that if we did it right, we could replace our doppelgangers in this universe. If they were the right candidates. It was only… half a dozen or so of us. And almost all of those were botched quite quickly – never losing opsec but needing to go dark and leave Starfleet with mysteries. Except for me.’

Rhade drew a raking breath. ‘What made you so special?’

‘Luck,’ she admitted. ‘The Dathan Tahla of this universe was a recluse with no family and no friends but a promising-if-quiet job in Starfleet Intelligence. She was abducted. I learnt what I could. I replaced her, and then I transformed her career, and blamed any changes of suddenly becoming assertive on a spiritual experience nobody could question me on. Superiors suddenly had someone more useful. And there was nobody who knew her well enough personally to challenge this change.’ She hesitated. ‘It helped that I’ve been lying and masking my entire life to get by. It helped that I’m much, much better at pretending to be something I’m not than anyone else on this ship.’ That wouldn’t make him trust her any more. But at this point she had no choice, save the truth.

‘And other groups,’ Rhade mused, ‘tried to find a way back. Like the Wild Hunt.’ He hesitated. ‘Why are you telling me this?’

‘Because I could have left Endeavour,’ she said softly, barely daring to look at him, ‘and I didn’t. Because the person I killed at Theta Curry IV wasn’t an old Intel contact, it was this ship’s Tom Kowalski, and he’d come to bring me back. Because I…’ Swallowing was somehow the hardest thing she’d done. ‘Because I was an idiot and I wanted to stay in this life, and we are not here right now because I sold you out. I didn’t know the ISS Endeavour was here. I didn’t know they were so close to getting back. If we’d been a day later to this convoy, they’d have been gone, and I… I’d have been here forever.’

He watched her with a dark, bewildered glint. ‘Do you really think,’ Adamant Rhade said softly, ‘you could have kept this up forever?’

There was a tone in his voice she’d never heard before, and it was impossible to not hear it as disgust. She shook her head. ‘I was selfish.’

His shoulders fell for just a moment, his expression crumpling – then he tensed again. ‘Then why are you telling me this now? If it’s too late?’

‘It doesn’t have to be too late. If I can get you – all of you – off the ship in the next day, they won’t stick around to hunt you down, they’ll jump, they’ll be gone forever.’

‘You want to help.’ Rhade worked his jaw. ‘Then send word to Endeavour.’

Her blood went cold. ‘No.’


‘Look at this ship – the size of it – and it packs more punch per deck than any Starfleet ship, even in its condition. You do not want a battle between this Endeavour and our – your – Endeavour. More people will die than just the four of you.’ Five of us.

He gave a frustrated sigh. ‘You’re playing with me. I don’t know what sick game you’re -’

Adamant.’ Now she advanced on him, reached to grab his arm before she could think twice. ‘I’m back, I’m home, I’m with my own people. What possible reason could I have to do anything but bask in the acclaim of a successful mission and let you all hang if I’m the monster you think I am?’

‘I don’t know what I think you are,’ he snarled. ‘All I know is that I can’t trust you. And I did! I trusted you, I even…’

She didn’t think even he knew what words might have finished that sentence. Words were not merely limiting; they were absolutes. And nothing about what either one of them felt had been, in any way, an absolute.

‘I spent a long time,’ Dathan said quietly, ‘mastering my feelings so nobody, not even a Betazoid, would pick up on them. But that also included giving you no reason to dig deeper than the surface.’ She drew a shaking breath. ‘So… you should dig deeper.’

Rhade’s eyes snapped on to hers. ‘You’ve tricked me so far…’

‘Do you really think anyone, anyone, can completely fool you if they let you in?’ Her throat tightened with not only apprehension at the situation, but a thread of raw terror at the notion of opening herself to him – to anyone – like this. ‘I want to try to save the four of you. Get you off this ship before you’re condemned to death. And I can’t do that without your cooperation. So if this is what it takes…’

Now the corners of his eyes creased. ‘Why? Why do you want to save us?’

Her hand slid up his arm, and she tried to not brace herself. ‘Come and find out.’

It wasn’t that all the tension melted away as she felt his mind reach out to hers. It was replaced with a different tension – no longer the walls and spikes of being on opposing sides, of betrayal and desperation and terror. This was something altogether more mundane and yet existential: the gut-wrenching horror of being truly known. The fear of diving forward and knowing.

He did not need to disguise what he was doing. She felt him at the edges of her thoughts, and first she tried to marshal them – both out of instinct to protect herself, and some misguided idea that he would find it easier if she ordered herself. But she felt his presence recoil, and so Dathan tried to do what she thought she’d never done in her life: relax.

Thoughts and memories rushed up before her, unbidden. Her conversation with MacCallister and Rourke. Her sincere horror at the sight of this Endeavour filling up the King Arthur’s canopy. And back, back, back.

It was like falling into herself, and she didn’t know if it was his work or who she was now that he was like a thread running through her back a year. Every crossroads, every key moment, had him in it, from the new year’s celebrations in the Round Table to standing on the deck of the Uther Pendragon and clutching at him like he was flotsam and she was drowning after she’d killed Kowalski.

Then back again – working in Admiral Beckett’s office, working to reform the career of Dathan Tahla, working to learn everything she could so she could slip into this world. Standing at Prefect MacCallister’s side for years in her own universe, a slave with power, a tool who needed to please or she’d lose everything.

Then back –


She’d spent a lifetime not thinking about her life. Years not thinking about those years. The earliest years under MacCallister, the years on Bajor, and all the torment and loss and suffering. But even now she didn’t fight Rhade, the word escaping her lips unbidden, and all she did was clutch at him as if the mere concept of turning inward that much would destroy her.

But rather than press, she felt his thoughts leave hers – an echoing ripple of him in her wake – and even as he mentally pulled back, his hands came to her arms. Only then did she realise she was in danger of collapsing.

‘I’m sorry,’ Adamant Rhade whispered as she struggled to stand without his help. Only he, she thought distantly, would apologise after he’d learnt what a treacherous monster she was. ‘I’m so, so sorry…’

But she was too turned inside-out, too folded back in on herself, to muster a steady response. And all she could do was fall against him and sob – sob like she never had before, feel like she never had before. Sob for the situation she was in, sob for him and his shipmates about to be condemned. Sob, above all else, for herself, and for all she’d suffered and all the suffering she’d inflicted.

While Rhade stood there, wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her close. ‘You didn’t deserve this,’ he whispered against her hair. ‘You didn’t deserve any of this.’

Nobody deserved the things I did to them either, she thought, and knew he heard that, too, because he tightened his grip on her, and just held her even closer. This was why she’d stayed, she knew. She’d looked at Starfleet’s principles and the Federation’s softness and thought it weak, when all along it had been an absolution she hadn’t known she’d craved.

‘I only wanted you to listen,’ she croaked against him. ‘If I’ve done all of this, the least I can do is save you, and if I’m going to save you, you have to listen. I can get you out of that cell, I can get you back to the runabout, not yet but soon, but…’ She lifted her head with effort, tears streaming down her face as her eyes met his, peerless black and all-embracing. ‘You shouldn’t be forgiving me, you should be hating me, you just have to listen…’

His forehead came to hers, his breathing shaky. ‘I don’t hate you. I don’t hate you. Your whole life you’ve never had choices, not really. Then when you did have choices, you only made good ones. You saved us, Tahla, over and over, even at risk to yourself.’

She couldn’t start an escape plan right away, anyway. Her superiors would expect her to stay in here with him for some time. So she didn’t know if he bent down or if she stepped up as their lips pressed together, and then she was truly lost. If she’d thought, if either of them had thought, this would never have happened. But they were too intertwined still in mind, body; too intertwined in fear and desperation, and to kiss him was like melting herself into the only thing that made sense in the universe.

He was as desperate as her, and it wasn’t just as if he was pouring every ounce of stability and comfort in. She could feel him unleashing himself, too, just as he was; shedding layers of illusions he’d placed over himself, even to himself.

In that moment, she was not Dathan Tahla, liar and spy, or even Dathan Tahla, officer and colleague. Nor was he Adamant Rhade, a man of duties so numerous they tied him up and blindfolded him to his own heart. It was perhaps, for both of them, the first time they were nothing more than their true feelings and their true wants.

A brief time. But it was all they had, and so it had to be all they needed.

Fire and Ice – 7

Bridge, USS Endeavour
August 2400

When the King Arthur didn’t return to Regier IV at the expected time, standard protocol was followed. A priority communication was sent out. A sensor sweep conducted. And they waited.

Normally, one of their auxiliary craft might have been dispatched a light-year or so to do a quick survey further out and check for trouble. But with no auxiliary craft to spare, this wasn’t done.

An hour later, Captain Matt Rourke looked from his command chair on the bridge over to the comms station. ‘Anything?’ he asked Lieutenant Lindgren.

She’d been so dour and quiet this past month. Now the expression of sincere concern folded her brow with more feeling than he’d seen in a while. ‘Nothing, sir. No response to hails, no distress call.’

At Science, Lieutenant Beckett cleared his throat. ‘Nothing on long-range sensors, sir.’ He paused. ‘Is it weird if I say…’

But his voice trailed off, and Rourke twisted to look up. ‘Nate?’

Beckett winced like he regretted speaking. ‘I had a really bad feeling last night.’ More eyes fell on him, and he squirmed again. ‘I’m not saying it meant something, but I – I just think we should take it seriously that the away team’s not back yet.’

At Rourke’s right, Valance shifted. ‘We’re in a volatile area,’ she said quietly. ‘And there’s nothing urgent about our current mission.’

And, Rourke thought without judgement, your partner’s in the missing away team. But so was his oldest friend. So were friends of many of the bridge crew. They were none of them without bias.

He looked to Arys. ‘Signal the auxiliary craft to pull back to conduct operations in proximity to Regier IV, and I want the Uther Pendragon back aboard.’ Then to Beckett. ‘And signal the science teams to conclude non-essential operations and return to Endeavour. We can leave some teams on the surface or in the system, but I don’t want us scattered to the four winds. Anyone that can’t be back aboard in ten can carry on their duty.’

As expected, nine minutes later he had Lieutenants Turak and Danjuma on the bridge, and for the first time they seemed unified in purpose.

‘Captain, you can’t possibly…’

‘Captain, I must protest…’

Rourke lifted a hand and both of them fell silent, Danjuma quickly cowed and Turak too disciplined to push against a commanding officer. ‘Some of our people are missing,’ he said, ‘and we’re going to look for them. Scoping out the Regier system has just dropped lower on your priority list than finding the King Arthur.’

Turak’s brow furrowed. ‘It is illogical to halt ship-wide operations for the mild tardiness of five officers.’

Danjuma sucked her teeth. ‘In the Neutral Zone? Maybe not so illogical.’ She headed for Science, Beckett happily stepping back to surrender the console to the astrophysicist – though still lurking – and she ran her hands across the console. ‘Do we have anything yet, sir?’

‘No. I want you to pick up the trail.’

They were underway a short time later, all three science officers by then gathered around the console. Soon Endeavour was heading at top speed for where the King Arthur had gone to meet the convoy in distress.

But after an hour, Danjuma made another small, dissatisfied noise. ‘I’m really not picking anything up on long-range sensors, Captain.’

‘What about the warp trail of the convoy?’ Beckett offered. ‘We’ve got scans of some of the specific ships if it’s the same Fenris Rangers we bumped into in January.’

‘Get me the records and I’ll sweep for them?’

That took another half-hour, Endeavour thundering between the stars as the two blue-shirts worked. Rourke could almost feel Valance humming beside him with tension, stock-still and stoic in the eyes of anyone who didn’t know her very well.

At length, Danjuma sighed. ‘Okay, so I am picking up the warp trails of the convoy. They left the spot where they met with the King Arthur maybe eighteen hours ago. But there’s… sir, there’s just no sign of the King Arthur from there.’

Rourke frowned. ‘Is there a sign of anything else?’

‘There are signs of lots of things,’ she said with a shrug. ‘It’s very difficult to establish anything after this time without looking for something specific. It’s one thing to identify a warp signal we already have on record. It’s another to identify, say, the warp signal from a completely unknown ship compared to background stellar radiation.’

He would have killed, Rourke thought, to have Thawn here so he could help find Thawn.

Turak approached the science post. ‘But if we can detect signs of the convoy leaving, and no signs of the King Arthur going to warp, we should explore the possibility that they did not go to warp at all.’

‘I’m not picking them up on sensors at the meeting point,’ said Danjuma. ‘But we’re hours away, still.’

Beckett wrung his hands together. ‘If something had happened to them, would we detect it?’

She made a face. ‘Surely that depends on what happened?’

‘Let us proceed logically,’ said Turak. ‘For the moment, let us assume our sensor readings are correct. We know they are not there. We know they have not gone to warp. Which means they have either been destroyed, or they have travelled to drop off our sensors by some means other than their warp drive.’

‘I don’t get what that could mean,’ said Beckett, sucking his teeth, ‘so let’s look at “destroyed,” huh? Any sign of that?’

‘I’d be detecting that,’ Danjuma said with certainty. ‘The thing is that warp cores don’t disappear. They emit power signatures or they leave very obvious signs of debris and detonation.’

They were still hours out from this meeting point, Rourke thought, and he could only marvel at the technology and scientific expertise which let her speak with such confidence.

Valance was on her feet by now, turned to the crowded console on the right side of the bridge. ‘Which means the ship is elsewhere. Are there any planets nearby? Phenomena?’

‘Not that they could have reached without going to warp.’ Danjuma shrugged.

‘In which case,’ said Turak levelly, ‘I surmise they were taken aboard another ship.’ Eyes turned on him, and he tilted his head. ‘Thus they travelled at warp speed not under their own power, but the power of a ship we either have or have not detected.’

Danjuma bit her lip. ‘None of the ships in the convoy seem big enough to have even docked with the King Arthur and build a warp field big enough for both.’

‘So there may be another ship. One whose warp signature we have not identified.’

Beckett lifted his hands. ‘This is getting wildly into the world of guessing,’ he pointed out.

Turak arched an eyebrow. ‘My logic is clear, Lieutenant. The alternative is that our sensor readings are inadequate or inaccurate.’

‘You’re saying they got abducted or for some reason just hitched a ride on another ship. A starship big enough to take them aboard.’

Valance stood at the top of the science console, reading Danjuma’s display upside-down. ‘What about this nebula?’

Danjuma shrugged. ‘It could obscure our sensors at this range. But I’d expect we’d pick up the warp signature of the King Arthur entering it in the first place. I think Lieutenant Turak’s right – it’s probably that our sensors aren’t giving us enough of the picture at this range.’

‘I believe our sensors are perfectly adequate,’ Turak asserted. ‘I simply leave space for variables. But we must act on what we know.’

‘Not yet,’ Valance pointed out. ‘We have to get there first anyway.’

Rourke twisted in the chair. ‘Tell me about this nebula.’

There was a pause as Danjuma worked. ‘It’s class-11. Primarily oxygen and argon. I’m picking up traces of theta-xenon.’ Another pause, and she cocked her head. ‘Okay, that’s weird. I’m also picking up gravimetric distortions deeper in.’

‘What might that mean?’

She made a face again. ‘It’s hard to tell from this distance.’ Over her shoulder, Turak read the display and turned away with a frown, moving to an auxiliary console.

Rourke looked at his disparate science team, his tense XO, and drew a sharp breath. ‘We’ll proceed to the last known site of the King Arthur. Investigate and scan. And take it from there.’ He looked at their expressions, felt the tension radiate off the rest of the bridge crew. ‘I know the idea of waiting is difficult. But we have to be patient, and then we’ll have more information. Then we know to help. Anything else is tying ourselves in -’

‘Captain.’ Tense eyes fell on Lieutenant Turak, guileless at one of the auxiliary science consoles. He looked up as if their gazes were an invitation for him to speak on. ‘Your crew has encountered something akin to this before.’

‘Akin to a missing runabout,’ Valance pressed in a rather flat tone that belied her impatience.

‘Akin to the gravimetric distortions of this nebula. Even from this distance, the readings are clear.’ Turak looked at them all. ‘We are detecting a phenomenon comparable to what was experienced when the USS Endeavour NCC-87507 was trapped in an anomaly a year ago, and comparable to what was detected in the wake of the destruction of the station Epsilon-7 in the Azure Nebula.’

Valance’s eyes locked with Rourke’s, and he was on his feet in an instant. ‘Signal Lieutenant Adupon to get us every ounce of speed out of the warp core,’ he growled. ‘And take us to red alert.’

Fire and Ice – 8

ISS Endeavour
August 2400

‘What, it wasn’t a fancy enough brig?’ Cortez complained as she and Doctor Sadek were roughly shoved into a new cell. They’d been frog-marched down from what she now saw was a relatively small holding facility, because here there were rows and rows of cells, and they were not empty.

‘That’s temporary,’ grunted Sadek, catching herself against the bulkhead after the guard’s push. ‘This is a prison.’

It was still dark here, too dark to easily see in the cell opposite, and Cortez slunk to the back to sink onto the gloom-shrouded bunk. ‘If they’re right, and they know how to make the jump, and they’re going to do it within a day… we’re really screwed.’

‘I know.’ Sadek glared at the forcefield projector.

‘Nobody will know what happened to us. Nobody will be able to rescue us. There’s so many points of -’

‘I know.’

Cortez looked up and frowned. ‘I’m not a junior officer,’ she pointed out. ‘You don’t have to put on a brave face for me. I’m working through the reality of this situation, not freaking out.’

‘Maybe I’m freaking out.’

‘Reasonable reaction.’ Cortez sighed, shaking her head. ‘Dathan. That’s messed up. Like, we never knew the real Dathan? She was lying to us all along? I don’t know if I believe that. She fought with us against the D’Ghor, she was with the captain at Tagrador. I can’t believe she betrayed us.’

‘You must be new,’ came a low voice from the dark beyond their cell, from the archway opposite them in the long corridor of containment facilities. ‘Betrayal’s the lifeblood of these people.’

Cortez’s back seized up in recognition, but Sadek didn’t seem to have picked up on this, turning towards the forcefield. ‘Who are you?’

Shadows moved from the opposite cell for a pair of silhouetted figures to appear. ‘No way,’ said someone who looked a lot like Saeihr Kharth. ‘You’ve got a lot of explaining to do first.’

Next to her, the tall shape of Karana Valance nodded. ‘Because you look like two people who’ve made our lives hell.’

‘This isn’t my first time dealing with telepathic xenos.’ The voice of Doctor Sadek of the ISS Endeavour had lost that teasingly sultry tone, echoing in the gloom of her lab. Thawn couldn’t see her for the bright light bearing down on the chair she was strapped into; could only see the circle of illumination and shifting shadows beyond.

‘I know what your capabilities feel like,’ Sadek continued, and there was the clink of metal tools on a metal tray. ‘If I so much as imagine you are in my mind, you will regret it.’

When she was a child, Thawn would have reached out with her mind when terrified. She would have reached out for those close to her, felt their presence, felt reassured by the connection. She’d learnt early on after leaving Betazed to stop doing that, that her classmates and colleagues found that an intrusion. And she’d only learnt in Starfleet the true meaning of fear – fear for her life, fear for the lives of others.

After ten years of relearning how to feel, relearning how to connect, fear no longer made her reach out, even in defence. Fear made her close up. Almost.

Almost, because she could see another figure stood at the edge of the ring of light. Shadowed as he was, Noah Pierce looked so believably like the man she’d known, the man who’d died in front of her a year and a half ago. Even at the edges of her thoughts, the feel of him was familiar. She knew that if she looked closer, she’d see the ways he was wrong. If she stretched out with her mind, she’d feel the ways he was wrong.

So she didn’t, and as her head fell to the side, she couldn’t help but croak, ‘Noah…’

His eyes fell on her. ‘Don’t talk to me.’

But there was another move from Sadek in the darkness. ‘No, no, Lieutenant,’ said the doctor, sounding intrigued. ‘Her brain waves are doing something very interesting in response to you. I have a spectrum of scans of telepathic brain waves from home, but any parallels I can draw will be fascinating.’

‘I don’t know what you’re trying to do,’ Thawn managed to gasp through the tightness in her throat. ‘Telepaths aren’t all linked, that’s not how this works…’

‘But are you linked to your other self? We’ve conducted enough experiments in this nebula to create several quantum micro-singularities. If you can impact and influence through that…’

There were too many implications. Being used against her own people, being used against people she’d never met. Even though she didn’t think Sadek had a clue how telepathy really worked, it could be a long, slow, painful road to figuring out this was a dead end. If this was a dead end.

She could give Sadek nothing. Cooperate not one jot. But as Thawn felt a vice-like device from above sinking to a tight grip around her brow, as she felt the first, minor – for now – jolt of electric stimulation to likely provoke more changes in her brainwaves, she couldn’t help but look at the implacable face of Noah Pierce.

He’d died a year ago. And yet he was here, even if he was a part of this, even if he didn’t care. He was still here.

He was still here, even as she began to scream.

‘…there’s a lot of resistance against the Terran Empire.’ The Valance from the other universe by now sat in her cell with her back to the wall as she explained. ‘Klingons and Romulans have banded together to try to throw them out from our space.’

Cortez struggled to take her eyes off this Valance. She’d stayed quiet as Sadek explained, sat with her knees up under her chin listening, watching.

Valance at last seemed to pick up on this, shifting her weight as she ran a finger along one of the ridges on her brow. ‘I’m Klingon,’ she sneered at the attention. ‘These dogs have made it clear there’s nothing human about me.’

‘This ship was hunting down our unit near Romulus,’ Kharth sighed. ‘Our vessel was disabled and they beamed us aboard. We thought we’d be interrogated and killed. But then we were left down here for a while. We think that battle was when something happened to get this ship trapped in this other universe.’ She shrugged. ‘Like that makes a difference to us in here.’

‘You’ve been prisoners for two years?’ Cortez breathed.

Kharth gave her a languid look. ‘While the other you has been trying to punch a way back home.’

‘And the other you,’ said Valance, eyes turning on Sadek, ‘has experimented on the rest of our unit to figure out the differences between bodies across realities. Or that’s what she says. I think she’s just wanted an excuse to be sick and torture people to death.’

Cortez and Sadek exchanged looks. ‘Thawn,’ murmured Cortez.

‘If you were brought aboard with non-humans,’ said Valance, ‘and Sadek has them? They might not be dead yet. They will be dead soon. Days, perhaps.’

‘I don’t know,’ sighed Kharth. ‘If these two are right and this ship is about to jump back, Sadek might get distracted. So, lucky you. You get to see our world and then eventually die in it.’

‘You should worry about yourselves,’ Valance agreed. ‘It’s what you humans are good at.’

Again, Cortez and Sadek looked at each other. ‘Not so much in this universe,’ the doctor mused. ‘If people were better at worrying about themselves, it might make my job easier.’

‘Well, kiss that hope goodbye,’ said Valance. She slumped back to rest her head against the wall and closed her eyes. ‘You’ll never see it again. And when Endeavour gets back to our universe, it’s going to unleash untold hell on our people.’

Kharth shifted. ‘We don’t know how things have been in our absence -’

‘It can’t have gotten better,’ Valance snapped. ‘And this is one of the foremost warships in the Empire. If it returns…’

But thudding footsteps down the corridor cut them short, and a pair of figures appeared in front of the forcefield to Cortez and Sadek’s cell. The engineer was on her feet in a flash, looking to the slumped and smaller of the two. ‘Thawn…’

With a hiss, the forcefield was turned off just long enough for Noah Pierce to shove her in before he re-established the lock. Thawn staggered, stumbled, then fell hard on the deck. Pierce curled his lip. ‘We’ll try again before we jump,’ he grunted. ‘Try to cooperate more, and she’ll hurt you less.’

Cortez had never thought of Sadek as particularly nurturing. But she’d moved to bundle up the tumbled pile of Thawn in a heartbeat, dragging the young officer into her arms as Thawn curled up tight and shivered.

‘Easy, easy,’ Sadek breathed. ‘We’ve got you.’

In the opposite cell Valance was on her feet, hand next to the forcefield generator. ‘What did you tell them?’ she demanded.

Cortez took one look at Thawn, shuddering and whimpering and barely aware of the outside world, and lifted her hands to Valance. ‘Give her a moment,’ she said softly.

‘Anything they learn,’ spat Valance, ‘is a weapon to be used against my people when this ship gets back.’

But Kharth hadn’t stood, closing her eyes. ‘Let them look out for their own, Kar,’ she sighed. ‘It’s all they can do here.’

The two resistance fighters exchanged a look, and Cortez watched Valance’s face and read the shift in emotions clearly – channelled anger turning to faint indignation at being stopped short, turning to iron control as she acquiesced. Only normally it was her, Cortez, who could bring about that emotional journey. Now the begrudging, fond acceptance was turned on Kharth.

Cortez couldn’t help but turn her eyes skyward. Jealousy is the dumbest feeling to have right now.

She turned back to Sadek and Thawn and sank to one knee next to them, reached out to bring a hand to Thawn’s shoulder. ‘We got you,’ she said, trying to sound convincing.

‘I don’t…’ Thawn screwed her eyes shut. ‘I can feel everyone on this ship, and they all… Great Fire, they’re so full of fear and hate… She wanted me to feel it.’

‘You don’t have to tell us,’ Sadek said softly. ‘Rest.’

Thawn had been barely coherent when she’d first come in, but now she seemed to realise it was Sadek whose arms were wrapped around her, and with a panicked whimper she shoved her off, backpedalled on feet and hands across the cell to slam her back against the wall.

‘Oh,’ breathed Sadek with horror, and backed off. ‘I’m sorry, Rosara.’

So Cortez moved over, hunkering down and staying low. ‘The doc can stay over there,’ she said soothingly. ‘Will you let me come over?’

Thawn’s expression was already sinking into shock and guilt at her own reaction, and she gave a muted nod, let Cortez sit next to her and wrap an arm around her. It was, Cortez thought, probably for the best when she slumped against her shoulder and began to sob. It was about the only thing that might help.

With a groan, Cortez pressed her head back against the bulkhead, and closed her eyes. In the distance she could hear the low voices of the other Valance and Kharth, hear the taut breathing of Sadek. But there was nothing more to say, nothing more to do.

We’re going to die in here.

She didn’t know how long they were down there. They had only a day before it was too late, and no idea how to make the most of this time. They had no idea what time was any more.

So it could have been an hour, a day, a lifetime before there were footsteps again down the corridor. These sounded different – not the stiff marching but a quicker, more urgent beat, and that had Cortez open her eyes, look up with curiosity. Kharth and Valance stirred, too.

Her heart lunged into her chest when she saw only one figure stood before the cells, gripping a phaser rifle, and nearly exploded with delight when Adamant Rhade reached to a control panel and killed the forcefields.

‘It’s time,’ he said in a low, urgent voice, ‘for us to leave.’

Fire and Ice – 9

Security Office, USS Endeavour
August 2400

Lieutenant Song was Kharth’s new deputy, and so far he had been a man of few words. After over a year of the ebullience of the late Elias Juarez, she found this stoicism to be both welcome and slightly off-putting.

‘I’ve reviewed the after action reports from Lockstowe and Epsilon-7.’ Song sat before Kharth’s desk and set a stack of PADDs before her. ‘I believe the latter has more valuable lessons for us.’

‘Agreed.’ She pulled out her own PADD. ‘I’ve been comparing these to historic Starfleet engagements with the more elite Cardassian Union forces.’ His confused look was met with a tight smile. ‘They’re the most militarised and disciplined enemy Starfleet has fought enough to have developed engagement protocols for.’

Song nodded, expression clearing. ‘You think this will be comparable?’

‘I think these are scenarios we should be ready for.’ She reached out to take the PADDs and met his gaze. ‘But you should be ready to serve on the bridge.’

He tilted his head. ‘I expected that, in the absence of Lieutenant Rhade, I would lead the Hazard Team.’

‘You’re too new and they don’t know you. I’ll be leading them.’ If we even get far enough for boarding action. It was an excuse, Kharth knew. ‘If we need to deploy more security teams, Lieutenant Jain can run point there.’

‘You’re also more familiar with Endeavour’s combat capabilities than me. And we anticipate getting the enemy ship to a state where we can even deploy the Hazard Team will be difficult.’

But he was testing her, pushing her justification to see how she thought, and she could tell. He was a curious figure, Song – older than her, but had come to Starfleet service later in life after a career as a military historian and civilian consultant at Command. She wasn’t sure why he’d left that to train for front-line service and settle to be an assistant department head, but she suspected his wife, Lieutenant Danjuma, had something to do with it.

‘We’re not sure what we’ll be up against in any space combat. I want your breadth of knowledge on this.’

Song’s expression didn’t shift, but he nodded. ‘We’ll be ready, Commander.’ Now he paused. ‘How likely do we think this scenario is? Invaders from another universe?’

‘It’s possible,’ Kharth allowed. ‘It could be anything. We might not even know when we reach the rendezvous point. But this is an enemy we have to be prepared for.’

She didn’t say, as the meeting ended and they both left the security offices, that she thought Rourke and Valance both were jumping at shadows. The universe was a big place with all manner of secrets behind every star, and the odds of their running into an enemy they’d not heard from in over a year were phenomenal.

But the universe also had a bleak sense of humour.

If she wasn’t going to sow doubt with Lieutenant Song, she could at least push back elsewhere. Or so she thought until she entered Commander Valance’s office to find the XO in full swing.

‘You’ve redecorated,’ Kharth said drily, gaze raking over the holographic displays hovering before every bulkhead and above the desk.

‘There’s still limited data on encounters with forces from alternate universes,’ complained Valance as she stalked between and sometimes through displays. ‘We’re not even sure this incursion is from the so-called Mirror Universe or merely something comparable. But this is all we have to go on, so yes, I’m reviewing all past Starfleet encounters with these people.’

Kharth set her hands on her hips. ‘You know all we have is that near where the team last was is a nebula with some comparable local phenomena? And we’ve put the ship on a war footing.’

‘I would rather be ready for this and find they instead suffered a malfunction than not be ready and have a pitched battle.’

‘Sure. But I’d also rather be ready to not be sucked into a black hole that manifested in the middle of a nebula and is giving weird sensor readings.’ Kharth shrugged. ‘It could be that. It’s probably not, but my point is that we don’t know.’

‘We’ll cross these bridges as we come to them.’ Valance met her gaze steadily. ‘Are you ready?’

I’ve been drawing up battle and boarding plans with Lieutenant Song for the past six hours. Don’t suggest I’m not committed. If there’s a boarding and rescue mission, I’ll be leading the Hazard Team myself with Rhade gone.’ But anger wouldn’t help, because for all Valance frustrated Kharth to her very core – self-righteous and judgemental that she was – she knew what was really driving the XO. Kharth’s shoulders slumped. ‘Your place is on the bridge, Commander. I’ll get them back. I’ll get Isa back.’

Valance looked away at that, gaze going through the hovering holo-displays helping her be ready for anything. ‘I’m the XO. Leading away missions is one of my duties.’

‘Perhaps, but…’ Kharth hesitated. ‘Don’t, though. Not this.’

Valance glanced back at her. ‘You don’t trust my judgement in the field?’

‘I think you don’t need to be tested like this. The Hazard Team are good.’

‘I’m a better fighter than most of them.’

That was almost humble of her, Kharth thought. She knew Valance could take her hand-to-hand. She wouldn’t bet against her in a fight with Kowalski or T’Kalla. And the junior officers were all of them well-trained and increasingly disciplined after a year of working and training together, but had nothing on Valance’s skill and experience.

‘That’s not what’s on my mind,’ Kharth said to pivot away from that. ‘And you know you trust me to do this.’

A muscle worked in the corner of Valance’s jaw, her gaze again going distant. ‘I do,’ she said at length. As if it took a significant effort, she met her eye. ‘Bring them home, Commander.’

Families had been aboard less than a fortnight, and already he had to have this conversation. Rourke drew a raking breath, then hit the door-chime.

A beat. Maybe two. Enough to feel like a lifetime. Then the doors slid open and he steeled his expression: polite but not indifferent, serious but not foreboding. ‘Yasmin.’

Yasmin Zaman, wife of Doctor Aisha Sadek, smiled even though her eyes were guarded. ‘Matt. Come in.’

Sadek had moved to family quarters when her wife and children had boarded, and already Yasmin had wasted no time making herself at home. Furnishings were colourful and comfortable, reflecting her elegant, understated taste.

‘This is not a social call,’ Yasmin said the moment the doors slid shut behind him.

They’d known each other the better part of twenty years. He’d been best man at their wedding. Rourke gave himself a moment to look about the room and confirm what the schedule told him: Aamir and Haya were at school. He turned back. ‘Aisha’s away team is running late. We can’t pick up their runabout on sensors. You’ve felt we’ve gone to warp, because we’re going looking for them.’

He watched as feelings battled on Yasmin’s face, and the dull lack of surprise twisted his gut. ‘This is the fun part of living with my wife,’ she said slowly. ‘I get to live and breathe every risk she takes, even if this turns out to be absolutely nothing. But if it were nothing, you wouldn’t be sending the entire ship.’

‘There’s a nebula nearby our sensors are struggling to pierce. It’s possible they’re in there. If I sent another runabout, I’d just lose track of that, too; it’s only reasonable to send the ship.’

Yasmin tilted her chin up an inch. ‘There’s more.’

There was no way, under any sun, that Rourke was going to tell her about the potential threat of the mirror universe, even as he had his senior staff prepare for the worst. ‘I promise you,’ he said in a low, firm voice, ‘that’s all we know. I’m making ready for all sorts of scenarios, but those just mean I don’t want to get caught out if something really bad’s happened. Odds are good they suffered some malfunction and we’ll find them drifting.’

She gave a slow blink. ‘Odds are good.’ Then she shook her head. ‘You don’t need to use your command voice on me, Matt. I’m not Starfleet.’

This isn’t my ‘command voice.’ This is me managing you. ‘Do you want me to stay to explain things to Aamir and Haya?’

‘So you can use the voice on them?’ Yasmin sounded grimly amused rather than judgemental. ‘I’ll handle it. After all, it’s just an away mission being a little late.’

He left it at that. With Endeavour thundering between the stars to see what crisis had befallen their people, Rourke knew he’d be pulling long hours. Partly to take advantage of a quiet moment between briefings from Kharth and Danjuma, partly to clear his head, he made for his quarters to grab a quick shower.

It wasn’t that Ellie and Lawal Danjuma were looking particularly guilty when he stepped in. Nor did they seem to have grounds for guilt, sat as they were at the dining table with PADDs strewn out between them. But Ellie gave him a suspicious and apprehensive look that had him pausing in the doorway.

‘Hey, Dad, didn’t expect you…’

‘Shouldn’t you be at school?’ he countered suspiciously.

She glanced at Lawal, who gave Rourke the sort of nervous smile he felt befit a father and the ship’s captain coming home suddenly. ‘We’ve got a group project. We needed to talk and the study rooms were being used,’ said Ellie. ‘We were just finishing up anyway.’

Rourke tried to not scowl. This did seem above-board. He looked at Lawal. ‘You’re Lieutenant Danjuma’s brother, right?’

‘That’s, uh, that’s right, sir.’

‘How’re you settling in?’ It was meant to be small-talk but came out more like an interrogation.

‘I like it, sir.’ Lawal tried to brighten. ‘Is it true we’re going to hit up Qualor soon? There’s so much out here I’ve not had a chance to see, and Ky said they’ve got some great museums.’

But his enthusiasm twisted in Rourke’s gut, and he just gave a sullen shrug. ‘Not any time soon. You kids carry on, I’m grabbing a shower.’ Ellie looked pained as he stomped to his quarters, but he didn’t meet her eye.

The sonic shower scrubbed away the sweat of the day, but it did much less to scrub away the tension. He’d be heading back to the bridge once he was done, so he grabbed a fresh uniform and re-emerged in the main room, jacket undone. And found Lawal gone.

Rourke looked around. ‘He didn’t have to leave.’

‘I know,’ said Ellie. She’d moved to the sofa, arms folded across her chest. ‘But even he picked up on something bring wrong. What’s up, Dad?’

‘Nothing’s wrong -’

‘You’re never home this time of day and we’ve suddenly left Regier. We were meant to be here for ages and now we’re at warp. Something’s happening.’

He considered lying to her completely, but realised that would be easily found out later. Rourke sighed. ‘Aisha’s away team’s not back, and we can’t pick up the runabout on sensors. We’re going looking. I’ve told Yasmin, she’s going to talk to Aamir and Haya. Let her.’

Ellie bit her lip. ‘You think this is really bad?’

Only then did the worst case scenario really hit him. Not just that these enemies from another universe might be out there, not just that they might have his crew captive. But that if this became a battle, it would be the first battle Endeavour charged into with this many civilians – this many children aboard.

By the book, he was nowhere near the circumstances to evacuate civilians either to auxiliary craft or for hull separation. All they had was some strange readings, historic records, and bad feelings. But that, in its way, made it worse.

He ground his teeth together, and went to join her on the sofa. ‘I know you wanted to be here mostly for something different,’ he began awkwardly. ‘But are you really sure this is the best place for you?’

However he’d meant it to come out, it came out in a way that made Ellie’s expression crumple at once. ‘Oh, wow, Dad. Way to backhandedly shove me off,’ she said, with fragmented teen-aged bravado.

‘That’s not what I meant,’ he sighed, and scrubbed his face with his hands. ‘My lifestyle can be dangerous. Being on a starship, being on the kind of starships I serve on, can be dangerous.’

Oh.’ Realisation dawned on his daughter’s face. She rolled her eyes. ‘Don’t kids go live on dangerous frontier colonies all the time?’

‘That’s not the same as my professional level of looking for trouble.’

‘Okay. In the times people have died on your ship, Dad, how often was it something you didn’t see coming?’

He paused, thinking. He’d have evacuated civilians before charging into the Azure Nebula after the Wild Hunt; that had been a purely tactical mission. The same for the campaign against the Hunters of D’Ghor. He’d have hoped Valance would have removed civilians before her rescue mission to Tagrador breaching the border. And again, he wouldn’t have brought his family to Velorum. Some of those evacuations would have been for barely a day, some would have been for weeks. Otherwise, the biggest loss of life Endeavour had seen had come from a saboteur who’d hurt them from Starbase Bravo itself.

He scrubbed his face again. ‘That’s not the only times things are dangerous.’

‘Sure, but also on Earth I could die in a shuttle crash or something. I…’ Ellie hesitated. ‘You told me once that growing up on Earth didn’t help you understand the galaxy. That it made you sheltered. You only really understood other people, other ways of life, by going out there.’

Rourke made a face. ‘I was an adult when I moved away from Earth.’ Barely. Still too young for the Dominion War he’d been thrust into. Not that he thought anyone of any age was truly ready. He shook his head. ‘It’s really rude of you to use my own lessons against me.’

‘I know I’m only sixteen. But that’s not nothing, Dad. Besides, who actually thinks they’re gonna die out here? I bet everyone thinks they’ll be fine until they’re not fine.’

He reached out to wrap an arm around her. There were a lot of responses he could give to that, but he knew anything he’d say could be argued with, too. This was why he’d never wanted to clear the ship for families to begin with – but it had been those families who’d wanted this, Aisha who’d wanted this, even though it now put her own family through stress and possible danger.

‘You’re too smart for your own good,’ he grumbled, and kissed the top of his daughter’s head, and silently prayed he was wrong about the enemy at hand. Not simply for the fear they stoked in him, or the danger they presented to his crew and his best friend. But Matthew Rourke knew he was not ready to lead his ship into battle if his daughter was aboard, her life hanging in the balance.

It was a bridge he expected he’d cross some day. But he needed more time. Even just a little.

Fire and Ice – 10

ISS Endeavour
August 2400

‘I’ll explain later,’ said Rhade as he ushered the three of them out of the cell. Cortez kept her arm wrapped around Thawn, who was still unsteady on her feet even if colour had returned to her cheeks. But the lighting shifted as they entered the corridor, and her eyes fell on the opposite cell.

‘What about them?’

The other Saeihr Kharth met her gaze. ‘If you’ve got a way out of here, Human, you should take it. Take it and run.’

Rhade looked at them, then back up towards the prison block’s main doors, shrouded in darkness. ‘Can you open more cells?’

Cortez’s heart lunged into her throat as she realised another figure stood there: Dathan. ‘I could open all of them,’ said the Bajoran from her position at the control panel. ‘That’ll draw attention. And I warn you, a lot of the people down here… you won’t get them to the shuttlebay quietly.’

The other Karana Valance was on her feet, too, next to Kharth. ‘If you let us out of here, we’re not running away. You said this ship is on the verge of jumping back. We have to stop it.’

Sadek stiffened. ‘We don’t exactly want this thing here, either.’

‘No, you don’t understand,’ said Valance. ‘I mean blow it up.

‘I like that.’ Cortez looked at Dathan. ‘I’ve no idea what’s going on with you. But you’re helping us, so? Let them out.’

The figure of Dathan shifted, but she couldn’t see her expression. A moment later the other forcefield went dead anyway. ‘This is going to complicate things.’

‘And I thought this was simple,’ drawled Cortez as they all hurried down to join Dathan at the control panel.

Sadek planted her hands on the console. ‘What’s our route out of here?’

Dathan glanced at her, then brought up an interior map of the Imperial starship Endeavour. Cortez’s throat tightened as she recognised the deck layout, the hull shape. Even across universes, certain things remained the same.

‘We’re here,’ said Dathan, pointing. ‘Four decks up from the shuttlebay where the King Arthur is. If we can get to the hatchway and climb, you’ll be home free before you know it.’

Sadek frowned. ‘Even assuming we get there, what lets us fly the ship out? What stops them from getting us with a tractor beam?’

Dathan drew a slow breath. ‘The moment you’re underway, I’m going to use my codes to start locking down computer systems. That won’t last forever, but should last long enough for you to get some distance. We’re so close to Endeavour making the jump that the smart thing is to let you go; it’s not like you can summon reinforcements in time to stop them.’

The other Valance, stood near the door with her ear to the metal, tensed. ‘How close to making the jump?’

‘Less than two hours.’

Cortez bit her lip. ‘They’re using the warp drive, right? They’ve made modifications?’ Her eyes went to the ceiling, thinking hard. ‘It’s theoretically possible, using a subspace compression pulse inside the warp reactor, to make the warp field fluctuate on a quantum level. Theoretically. That’s astonishingly complicated and delicate.’

‘What I’m hearing,’ said Kharth, ‘is that it’s really easy to make that go wrong.’

Valance looked at Kharth. ‘We can get to Main Engineering. Mess that up.’

Cortez looked at the display. ‘I know the route. I was an engineer on our Odyssey for three years. If I get you down there, help you install something on a timer to disrupt the jump, then get back up to the shuttlebay…’

‘No.’ Sadek’s voice was low, tense. ‘Commander, we’re not splitting up.’

‘She’s right,’ said Valance. ‘I appreciate the help, Human, but we can handle this. There’s also no way we get down there and fight our way back out.’

Cortez stared. ‘You’re planning on a suicide run down to Engineering -’

‘To stop this massive weapon from unleashing hell on either of our realities.’

Dathan sucked her teeth. ‘We don’t have time to have this argument -’

‘I’m not talking to you,’ Cortez snapped. Her eyes locked on Valance, the person with the face, voice, and eyes of the woman she loved. ‘I won’t let you throw your life away.’

But the other Valance shrugged. ‘My life was lost the moment they took us prisoner aboard. I’m just ending it on our terms. There’s no other way out for me, for us.’

Sadek reached for Cortez’s arm. ‘Dathan is right. We don’t have time for this. Let them do this.’

Cortez swore under her breath, then moved for the panel. ‘Fine. Fine. Then let me show you what you need to do…’

‘Good,’ said Sadek as Cortez ran through an explanation of sophisticated sabotage. ‘Then the five of us head for the runabout.’

‘I hate to repeat conversations,’ Dathan said tautly, ‘but I’m not going with you either. I need to be at a command module to use the codes. They’re Prefect MacCallister’s, and he doesn’t know I have them.’

Rhade, stood by the door next to the two from the other universe, scowled. ‘You’re staying behind?’

Her eyes didn’t quite meet his. ‘I’ll jump on an escape pod. Pick me up.’ Then she looked at Sadek. ‘The lieutenant can explain once you’re out of here, if I don’t get a chance to. I didn’t sell you out here, I didn’t know the ship was here. I’m going to help you how I can. Anything else is for the future.’

Sadek swore quietly. ‘Sorting this total mess can definitely wait for the future.’

Dathan looked at Valance and Kharth. ‘Come with me a ways and I’ll get you weapons and to a hatch. I managed to clear this section, but that won’t last long. We need to be off the corridors before the patrol patterns revert. Then someone will probably realise none of you are in here.’

They piled into the corridor, suspiciously empty as Dathan had promised. Cortez helped the stumbling Thawn as they hurried down some twenty metres, where Dathan gestured the Starfleet officers to the hatch and the ladders down beyond.

‘Four decks,’ she reminded them.

‘Don’t have to tell me twice,’ said Sadek, swinging onto a ladder and urging Thawn in her wake. Both Cortez and Rhade hesitated, her eyes on the other two, his on Dathan.

‘You know,’ Cortez said to Valance, then her voice trailed off. There were no words she could summon which didn’t sound at the very least patronising. She sighed and shook her head. ‘I wish things were different. In this reality, they’re different. But not so different – I mean – I know you’ll give them hell.’

Valance gave a gentle, surprised huff. ‘You might be the first human who ever helped us.’

‘I hope I’m not the last.’

Dathan glanced between them. ‘We should go.’

‘Wait.’ Rhade grabbed her arm. ‘You’re getting into that escape pod.’

‘I think we’ve established,’ she said with a certain sweet sadness, ‘that you can’t tell when I’m lying.’ But the bitter amusement faded, and she squeezed his hand. ‘Just know that this is real, Adamant. Pretty much nothing in my life has been, but Endeavour. You.’

They looked like they might say more, then Rhade made a low, frustrated sound and turned. At his gesturing, Cortez hopped into the hatch and he followed, and they began to descend, leaving the other three far behind.

‘This blows,’ Cortez said in the gloom.

‘I’m trying,’ Rhade admitted from above her as they clambered down, ‘to not even think about what I’m feeling.’

So they descended four decks in silence and gloom, and as they reached the flat space before the final hatch, Rhade reached to his belt and pulled out a trio of small, hold-out phasers for the others.

‘These don’t have a stun setting,’ he warned. ‘I don’t think they know the meaning of that in their reality.’

Sadek had her hand to the hatch. ‘I’m going to pop it a little,’ she said, ‘and listen -’

‘It’s right onto the shuttlebay,’ Thawn said in a low, tired voice. ‘There’s three people in there. They’re focusing on the maintenance of one of their worker bees. I think they’re non-human.’

Rhade looked at her, brow furrowing. ‘Are you alright?’

Her eyes flicked up, and Cortez could read her expression without being a telepath. Now you ask. Thawn drew a ragged breath. ‘It’s… difficult for me to suppress my senses right now. So we might as well use them to get out of here. I’ll discuss the ethics of this with Greg later.’

‘If they’re non-human,’ said Cortez, ‘maybe we can threaten them without killing them. They can’t have much love for their slavers.’

‘I’ll handle it,’ said Rhade.

‘I’ll unfortunately help you,’ sighed Sadek. ‘Cortez, Thawn, you two get to the ship and make sure we can leave. And see if you can tell if and when Dathan’s cleared our path. We’ll need to keep this three cowed until then.’

‘Then we have to go loud and firm,’ Rhade warned. ‘Please follow my lead, Doctor.’

He was so polite, Cortez thought, about assuming command. Even if she absolutely preferred to follow the word of Endeavour’s seasoned combat leader, so she did as she was bidden when Rhade burst out into the shuttlebay.

There was shouting. The jabbing of phasers at two Tellarites and an Andorian. But Cortez just grabbed Thawn’s hand tight and strode with purpose towards the grounded shape of the King Arthur.

‘Dathan better have started unlocking things,’ she growled as they approached the landing ramp, and her heart nearly exploded with relief when poking the console brought the hatch up and the ramp swinging down.

‘Can we trust her?’ Thawn said in a low, hushed voice. ‘She betrayed us…’

‘I don’t have a damn clue what she did or didn’t do, so I’m going on, “what will get us the hell out of here faster,”’ Cortez admitted. ‘Anything else can come later.’

They bounded aboard the runabout, mercifully found as they had left it, and hurried to the cockpit. Cortez could hear the shouted commands of Rhade fade into the background, the three alien workers sufficiently cowed by a big man with a gun.

‘This doesn’t look too bad,’ said Thawn, sliding behind the co-pilot’s seat with what Cortez thought was a mechanical ease. If the young Betazoid stopped, she’d probably collapse. Instinct and training had taken over. ‘They just powered the ship down and kept its systems overridden by the shipboard docking protocols.’

‘Have those been unlocked?’

Thawn’s expression pinched. ‘Not yet.’

‘We’re going nowhere without it.’ Cortez sighed and turned to the door out. ‘Try to override it from here.’

‘Where are you going?’

‘To see if I can help by breaking something out there.’

But she wasn’t even at the hatch when she heard, from out in the shuttlebay, the low drone of a red alert klaxon. Shit. Cortez grabbed the ladder she’d clambered down and looked up to the cockpit. ‘Can we launch?’

No!’ came Thawn’s somewhat panicked call. ‘No, a whole new security lock has come on! Something’s warned them!’

For a moment, Cortez wondered if this was Dathan’s gambit. Then she decided that didn’t make enough sense for her to want to figure this out now. ‘Keep trying!’ she called back up. ‘No need to be subtle now! I’ll try out here!’

When she bounded down the ramp into the shuttlebay, it was to find Sadek and Rhade stood with their pistols still levelled at the three workers. Just as the main doors slid open and in marched four imperial soldiers with rifles, Noah Pierce at the head of them.

‘Ah, shit,’ swore Cortez, and dove behind cover as the shooting started.

She shouldn’t have let Valance and Kharth go. That was all Dathan could think as she felt the ship shudder beneath her and heard the klaxon go off. The two resistance fighters had followed her instructions on where to go and what to do, which meant the emergency alert was likely in response to them making it to Engineering and unleashing hell.

If they’d stuck with the plan, she could have got to this small office with a command console and helped the King Arthur get away with nobody any the wiser. Instead, here she was, using Prefect MacCallister’s command codes during a crisis, which was almost certainly going to draw attention. The Prefect couldn’t be in two places at once, after all.

She didn’t have much time. No more could she use Endeavour’s own command systems to make patrols take different routes, no more could she use it to clear the shuttlebay of armed guards, and now she was going to draw even more attention trying to lift the lock on the shuttlebay’s launch protocols and kill the ship’s tractor beam.

Tractor beam first. That would, in a way, be easier if something was going wrong in Engineering. She could slip through the back door of the systems, change the power allocation so nobody would realise the tractor beam wasn’t working until it failed to activate. It would take mere minutes to fix, but that was minutes where the King Arthur could go to warp and escape.

This office was like a cocoon. Dark, warm, cut off from the rest of the world. Here, she didn’t have to think about her choices. Here, she didn’t have to look at those she’d betrayed on either side or contemplate her future. Here, there was just the problem, and that was something she could solve.

Until a small window on her display opened up with an internal comm-link, and up popped a holographic projection of the face of Leonidas MacCallister.

I know you’re out there, Tahla,’ he said, voice colder than she’d ever heard it directed at her. ‘How could you do this to me?’ And her controls went dead.

Fire and Ice – 11

ISS Endeavour
August 2400

Dathan hammered at the console to no avail. She’d been locked out. Her eyes snapped up to the projected face of MacCallister, and she drew a deep breath. ‘You’ve got a crisis in the shuttlebay and a bigger problem in Engineering,’ she said, trying to sound startled. ‘I’m trying to help, sir -’

Spare me the lies. I should have listened to Thaddeus. I know you let our guests out. They’re trying to kill us all, Tahla.’ He was in his ready room, she could tell from the lighting in the backdrop. In the distance, muffled by the doors to the bridge, came the faint voice of Thaddeus Rourke barking out orders.

While Dathan couldn’t give any more commands on the console, she could see the display of the ship’s systems. The warp core’s matter-antimatter intermix was way off. Cortez’s suggestion to Valance and Kharth was paying off. If someone didn’t restore control of Main Engineering, and soon, the interphasic rift was going to manifest far too soon, right on top of them.

And if she didn’t do something, she and the crew of the King Arthur would go with it.

Her eyes snapped to MacCallister. ‘If you focus on shutting them down rather than telling me off -’

Thaddeus has this under control. I wanted to see you for myself, because I couldn’t believe that it was you going behind my back. Even when I saw my command codes used remotely. When did you get them?’

Years ago. That realisation hit her bones harder than she’d expected – the knowledge that she’d prepared to act against him long before she’d come into this universe. At the time she’d thought of it as protecting herself, even from him. It hadn’t had the same taste of betrayal.

Only now the taste was defiance, and it tasted good. ‘You never protected me, did you, Leonidas?’ she said, her voice going distant. ‘I thought you did, for a long time. I thought you were taking care of me. But you were just a different kind of slaver. You made me do horrific things for you and pretended you were empowering me.’ Her throat tightened. ‘No more.’

MacCallister’s expression went cold. ‘I’ve locked you out, my dear. You’re doing nothing else. I’m going to save this ship, then I’m going to kill your friends, and then I’m going to kill you.

Her hands fell from the console. Any time she tried to release the controls, he’d just lock it again. She had nothing she could access, nothing she could switch on or off, except for the communication system he was using, because Leonidas MacCallister was ultimately too self-obsessed to leave her as a problem for later. Too self-obsessed to have realised that what he thought of as looking after her, had turned her against him.

Dathan reached out for the comms systems and activated a ship-wide channel. ‘To all non-humans aboard the ISS Endeavour. I know none of you are here because you want to be – not really. You’re slaves. By use of force or threats against your worlds and loved ones, you’ve been forced to serve the Terran Empire. Forced to serve these people even so, so far from home. And I know most of you have hoped they’ll never make it home, because if this ship gets back, it’ll just unleash more horrors.

‘I know you’ve watched and you’ve waited, telling yourselves that when the time is right, you’ll act. This is the time. I know this, because I’m like you – a slave who’s turning. This is a moment when we can stop this ship, and all we have to do is fight. Resist. You know something is happening.’ She drew another shuddering breath. ‘Please, please. No matter the cost, fight. Because this is the moment it’ll count.’

MacCallister’s gaze was flat as she finished the transmission. ‘Even if you could convince a pack of spineless, weak-willed xenos to stand against the might of the Empire,’ he said slowly, ‘did you really think I wouldn’t shut down a ship-wide transmission?

Her heart only sank for half a moment as she saw a shape over his shoulder. ‘I didn’t need to send that message to the whole ship,’ she said. ‘Just to your room.’

And as she watched, the slave Tar’lek Arys rose behind Prefect Leonidas MacCallister and drove a bread knife into his shoulder. There was a scream, then sharp motion and the sound of scuffling before the line went dead.

Dathan’s next unlocking of the console was not undone, and her hands flew as they issued commands. Keep the tractor beam off. Lift the lockdown on the shuttlebay. Double-check her route to the nearest escape pod, hop to her feet, move to the door…

But she could see the display showing the troop movements down towards Main Engineering. If they made it there to stop Valance and Kharth, they’d regain control of the ship. Jump in safety. Get away.

From here, Dathan could use these commands to block them. Lock them out from getting anywhere, give Valance and Kharth a clear shot at finishing the job. But she’d have to stay and counter every move from the bridge, from Thaddeus Rourke, and there was no guarantee she could then make it to an escape pod in time.

Dathan swore. Looked at her escape route again. And sat back down at the console.

In the shuttlebay, Sadek and Rhade had been too far away to run for the King Arthur, forced to duck for cover behind equipment crates. Phaser fire flew through the air, the bay workers fled, and Cortez could barely stick her head out from cover enough to keep track of what was going on. Pierce and his soldiers were in position. The shuttlebay workers had long fled.

Go!’ she heard Sadek shout from a distance away. ‘Launch the runabout, Cortez!’

‘We’re still locked down and if I leave anyone else behind this is a really shit escape plan!’ Cortez hollered back.

‘We just need time!’ called Rhade, and her heart hurt at the idea he still trusted Dathan. Whether or not she’d betrayed them was becoming immaterial. She’d still failed.

Cortez dared glance out down the ramp, almost got her head blown off by a phaser blast, and gave a few wild shots that she didn’t think would achieve much. She was only half-right – they struck nothing, but diverted the imperial soldiers long enough for Rhade to shoot one of them.

Then she heard the yell of pain as a retaliatory shot took Rhade, and while it didn’t sound like he was out for the count, the amount of shooting from her side went down significantly.

‘Hold your fire!’ she heard Noah Pierce holler from his covered position. ‘You too, Starfleet! You don’t have a chance of getting out of this!’

Silence met his yelling. At length, Sadek said, ‘Yes, because surrendering rather than being killed here sounds delightful!’

‘I’m authorised to accept your surrender. In exchange, I’ll shoot you here. Clean. Quick. Painless. Dignified. Even to your xenos.’

‘That’s a really terrible offer, Pierce.’

‘It’s better than what you’ll get if we take you alive. I don’t know how you got out of your cells, but you don’t want to live to regret it.’

Sadek gave a bitter laugh. ‘As if you’ll kill us all rather than find out how we slipped through your hands.’

Cortez slowly stepped out from cover, hands raised. ‘You’re offering us this out, which means you don’t have backup, which means your ship is busy dealing with a real problem,’ she said in a level voice, trying to not startle them. It was now she also realised Pierce only had two soldiers left from the firefight, and that Rhade was conscious, hunkered behind cover, a hand pressed to a burnt right shoulder. ‘We just want to run, Pierce. Let us go and you can get back to figuring out what else is going on. Then you jump home and you never have to care about us again.’

There was a beat from Pierce. ‘Tell me what’s going on. Tell me why the alarms are going, how you got out of your cell, and I’ll let you leave. Let me restore order to this ship and you can run.’

Options tumbled out before her, all intoxicating, diverting. They could tell Pierce everything and let him become the hero of the hour in this dog-eat-dog realm. Let him do what his superiors couldn’t and prove himself better than them, and escape before they had to deal with the consequences. And all it would take was betraying Dathan, who’d betrayed them all along, and…

…and a woman with the face of Karana Valance, the cause of all the chaos covering their escape.

‘We can’t do that,’ Rhade keened, obviously struggling with his injury.

Cortez looked at Sadek. ‘Doctor. Commander. This is your mission.’ It was true, and still it felt like cowardice.

Pierce was on his feet by now, rifle ready, gaze cold. ‘This is how we all win.’

Then a phaser blast from the top of the King Arthur took him in the throat.

‘Oh, shit,’ Cortez hissed again, her weapon coming up. Sadek was similarly slow, and it was Rhade who rose to shoot one soldier, then a second blast from above took out the last, and again the shuttlebay fell into silence.

Cortez’s eyes rose to the ceiling. ‘…Thawn?’

‘I thought you needed a hand,’ came the voice of Rosara Thawn from the King Arthur’s top hatch. ‘The lock’s been released. We need to go.’

It was likely, Cortez thought, that Thawn had never killed anyone before. The fact that she’d just killed the doppelganger of her old and dead friend Noah Pierce, a man who just this day had tortured her, sounded like it would keep Carraway’s schedule full for a year.

They tumbled into the cockpit, Sadek shoving Rhade into the comms chair and already pulling out a medkit. ‘Get us out of here, Commander,’ she called to Cortez.

‘On it,’ said Cortez, sliding into the pilot’s chair as Thawn took the co-pilot post.

‘Can you fly?’ Rhade said through gritted teeth.

‘I was on a winning Academy flight team,’ Cortez said with perfect sincerity, omitting that she’d led the deck crew as she powered the King Arthur up.

‘Manoeuvring thrusters are online, two green lights from impulse engines,’ Thawn confirmed. ‘We can go.’

Cortez stared at the sensors, consumed right now by the sense of the ISS Endeavour all around them. ‘I guess we’re not waiting for anyone,’ she said, the words leaden on her tongue, and before Rhade could protest she’d launched.

‘And I guess,’ Thawn said in a small voice, ‘we see if the second part of us getting away can happen.’

Cortez just focused on flying. The shuttlebay rushed away from around them and then they were out, not in the blackness of space but the faintest swirls of a blue-purple nebula. At once she pumped everything into speed, everything into getting as much distance between them and the ISS Endeavour as possible, because there was no way she could dodge a tractor beam if they tried to get a lock. If they didn’t have a clear escape, she had to be fast.

‘The Endeavour’s experiencing massive power surges on all decks,’ Thawn reported in a hushed voice. ‘They’ve got bigger problems than us.’

‘There are also,’ Cortez growled, ‘pretty huge gravimetric distortions around here. I think they’ve been practicing their jump, or trying to create a breach, or something… we need distance before we can go to warp.’

Rhade made a pained noise from behind them. ‘Is there any sign of an escape pod?’

‘Nothing,’ said Thawn. ‘But the sensor readings in this nebula aren’t great –’ She stopped, breath catching. ‘I’m picking up a warp core breach, but there’s also a quantum field growing inside Engineering…’

Sadek clicked her tongue as she pulled away from Rhade to grab the back of Cortez’s chair and look over them. ‘Sounds like successful sabotage.’

‘Can we pick them up? Any of these people?’ asked Cortez.

‘I can’t get a good read of individuals aboard the Endeavour,’ Thawn admitted, ‘let alone try to beam them if the ship’s entering quantum flux…’

‘You beamed Rourke off Epsilon-7!’

‘With a combadge and a tricorder boosting his signal and the transporter systems of a starship!’ Thawn squeaked in indignation. ‘But -’

Then the King Arthur lurched, and their argument stopped being the most important thing. Cortez swore. ‘The core’s breaching – but damn, these gravimetric distortions, that quantum field – this is the same thing that happened at Epsilon-7.’

They’d needed to get Endeavour some three million kilometres away from Epsilon-7 as the station was sucked into an unstable interphasic rift of its own generation. Cortez had been in Main Engineering, but it had taken every ounce of power to stop being caught in the rift and ripped apart – or whatever had happened to the station. Now they were much closer, in a much less-powerful ship. Cortez’s hand slammed on the controls. ‘I need all power to engines, Lieutenant.’

‘On it!’ Thawn said, the panic fading as she focused out of necessity.

Rhade was on his feet, too, even as the deck of the King Arthur shook. ‘If any of them got away, we have to pick them up or there’s no way they can get far enough…’

‘If we delay even a moment we’re all screwed, Lieutenant,’ Cortez snapped. ‘Hitting full impulse.’ Her sensors were going wild, and if she hadn’t seen this before, it would have taken so much time to figure out what was going on that they’d be dead before she knew what to do. In their gambit to go home, the ISS Endeavour had sowed the seeds of their own destruction. Their modified, overloading warp core wasn’t helping them jump through realities, but instead creating the rift across universes inside the ship itself.

It was like she was being sucked up from the inside, gravimetric distortions going wild, the ship crumbling and crumpling, hull shattering and imploding. The King Arthur’s deck shuddered as the runabout tried to get more distance, but they weren’t going fast enough. Then Cortez’s sensors pinged and she didn’t have time to look as she kept punching power to the engines.

Thawn swore. ‘The Endeavour’s gone,’ she gasped. ‘It’s just – it’s gone into the rift. There’s no way they’ve not been ripped apart, wherever they’re ending up…’

‘Let’s not let the same thing happen to us,’ Cortez growled. ‘Screw sensors, just go.’

It was like she was trying to tear the runabout apart with just the tips of her fingers at the flight controls. The bulkheads shuddered, alert sirens flared and she could see the power levels fluctuate, feel the engines sputtering.

‘We’re caught in the gravitic pull,’ Thawn said, voice now detached, professional. ‘We’re not getting enough distance and that distortion field is growing – if we don’t get out now…’

‘I know, I know – we die or we end up in a hellscape!’

But there was no more power to give, no more speed to coax out of the engines. If she’d been in the engine room she might have done something, but leaving the controls for just a second would kill them all, even to swap. ‘Cut power to everything but impulse engines!’ Cortez called.

Thawn did so, hands moving fast. ‘Maybe – maybe if we go to warp…’

‘Gravimetric distortions will rip us apart…’


Slam. The King Arthur rocked, and for half a heartbeat Cortez thought the rift had caught up with them. But that wasn’t how it would work; they’d get pulled back, not instantaneously stop, and it didn’t feel right. It was like they’d lost all of their own inertia, the engines sputtering and dying and still they weren’t being pulled this way and that by the gravimetric distortions.

Thawn’s breath caught in her throat. ‘It’s Endeavour!’

By her tone alone, Cortez knew it was their Endeavour, and as she looked up through the canopy she could see the faint blue glow of a tractor beam, see the hull of the Obena-class explorer as the starship, much mightier than their runabout, took a hold and pulled them away.

The comms panel next to Rhade chirruped. ‘Endeavour to King Arthur. Is everyone alright?’ came Rourke’s voice.

Sadek looked up in the air and swore. ‘Matt, you magnificent bastard, your timing couldn’t be better!’

I’ll take that as a yes. Hold tight, King Arthur; we’re pulling clear of the distortion. We got here just in time to see that arsehole get sucked up by its own bad technology again.

‘Are they gone?’ said Sadek.

No sign of them. Either ripped apart or lost in space-time, and I don’t really care which.’ There was a pause, the hint of low, background voices from Endeavour’s bridge, and when Rourke spoke again his voice was taut. ‘We’re only reading four life-signs, King Arthur.’

Sadek bit her lip. ‘It’s a long story, Endeavour. Lieutenant Dathan isn’t aboard.

Rhade rounded on the comms panel at that. ‘Sir, is Endeavour picking up any signs of anything near that rift – escape pods, shuttles…’

A faint shudder ran through the runabout, and Thawn drew a slow breath as everything went still. ‘The rift’s collapsed. Everything’s gone.’

Another silence filled the cockpit before Rourke spoke, voice thick with realisation. ‘We’re picking up nothing else. You’re the only thing to make it out of that disaster. They’re all gone.

Cortez slumped back at that, head in her hands, and finally she could let the ache of the past days reverberate through her. She expected she’d feel it for a while. ‘Copy that, Endeavour,’ she groaned at length. ‘We’re powered down. You can bring us home.’

Fire and Ice – 12

Sickbay, USS Endeavour
August 2400

Lieutenant Rhade hissed as Sadek ran the dermal regenerator over his shoulder. ‘Doctor, you can let Nurse Li see to me…’

She ignored him as she worked, half her attention on Captain Rourke. ‘…so they’re just gone?’

Rourke had come down to Sickbay as soon as the away team returned, only to find Doctor Sadek immediately swinging into action not as mission leader, but chief medical officer. Roughed up and mussed herself, she had insisted on seeing to the injury to Rhade’s shoulder even as she spoke to the captain. For his part, Rourke looked like he didn’t know how to argue with this.

The captain shrugged. ‘No sign of debris. No sign of the ship itself. Their engines created the singularity as it seems they were modified to, but prematurely and right on top of them, and not in a stable way. We saw the ISS Endeavour disappear on our sensors. It’s much like Epsilon-7 – they’re just gone.’

Rhade looked up at Captain Rourke, jaw tight. ‘Destroyed? Or back in their universe?’

Rourke shook his head. ‘Danjuma thinks it’s impossible for the ship to have stayed in one piece with a singularity like that. Maybe they ended up in their universe, maybe they ended up somewhere else, but there’s no way they weren’t ripped apart in the process.’

‘And auxiliary craft, escape pods,’ Rhade pushed. ‘You’re sure there’s nothing, Captain?’

Rourke and Sadek exchanged looks, two old friends who could communicate with mere glances. Rourke spoke slowly, regretfully. ‘Like I said, we picked nothing up.’

‘But the nebula’s disruption to sensors…’

‘If an escape pod was launched, it would have needed to be even further from the singularity than the King Arthur to not be caught in the gravitic pull and ripped apart. Maybe its presence would be muffled on sensors by the nebula, but we should be picking up an emergency beacon.’ Rourke lifted a hand to cut Rhade off as he opened his mouth. ‘Which should be automatic, even if the escape pod was bounced about and someone inside was incapacitated.’

‘We don’t know how the empire designs its emergency equipment,’ Rhade pointed out.

Rourke’s expression creased. ‘I’m sorry, Lieutenant. There’s no indication Dathan got off that ship. And the ship’s gone.’ He drew a slow breath, and glanced at Sadek. ‘If you’re done patching the lieutenant up, can you wait for me in your office, Commander?’

Sadek glanced between them, then at the burns on Rhade’s arm. She tutted. ‘Rest up, Lieutenant, and report back to Sickbay at 0900 tomorrow.’ But she squeezed his good shoulder before she left. ‘And thank you for getting us out of there.’

He could not feel comforted by this as she left and he felt Captain Rourke’s apprehensive gaze on him. ‘I know what you’re thinking, sir…’

‘Funny,’ said Rourke, ‘because I don’t know.’ He sighed. ‘I’m going to need a full report from you about Lieutenant Dathan’s actions. Not just this mission, but this past year. Especially about the operation the two of you undertook on the Uther Pendragon in January.’

Rhade’s mouth went dry, and he straightened. ‘This is going straight to Starfleet Intelligence, isn’t it.’

‘One of their people being replaced by an agent from another reality? You bet. And you’re going to be right in the firing line, Lieutenant, I’m afraid.’ Rourke shook his head. ‘Don’t feel bad; she fooled us all, and I will back you all the way. It’s not like I’ll be clear of suspicion, myself. Expect us all to be investigated, and expect your personal to become thoroughly professional.’

‘She saved us,’ Rhade said weakly, shoulders slumping. ‘I don’t understand any of it.’

‘You don’t need to. Not yet. There’ll be plenty of time for picking this apart, whether you like it or not. You should rest up, and, Lieutenant?’ The corners of Rourke’s eyes creased. ‘It’s very apparent the away team wouldn’t be alive right now if it weren’t for you. Or that we’d be stuck in a battle against a massive enemy ship at this exact moment. Good work.’

It didn’t feel like good work, Rhade reflected as the captain left. But then his gaze swept across Sickbay, and all thought of Dathan fled as he saw Doctor Elrad walking away from Thawn’s biobed. It had been judicious of Sadek, he thought, to see to his shoulder injury so she couldn’t see to her.

Rhade stood and approached, gait stiff after the exertions of the day caught up. ‘Rosara.’ His voice was low, rough.

It was like she had to drag her eyes up to meet his, and only after some effort did she speak. ‘Adamant…’

‘How are you feeling?’ Awkward, he sank onto the biobed beside her, and neither of them reached out.

She shook her head. ‘I don’t know. I don’t have the words. She…’ Thawn reached up to rub her temples. ‘Whatever she did, it was forcing me to reach out telepathically. Not just to the ship, but… they were experimenting with singularities aboard, there were things I felt, people I felt, presences I’d never sensed anything like aboard…’ There was a remarkable calm to her voice, but Rhade could feel without reaching out that it wasn’t about peace or control. It was about experiencing something she couldn’t begin to process.

But then Thawn shook her head and properly met his gaze. ‘I’m sorry about Dathan. I know you were close.’

That was the first real, clear, stab in his chest, though it was like it was from a needle rather than a knife. Or perhaps a stiletto. ‘She was lying to me. Lying to us all,’ he said, because those words came out more easily than anything more complicated. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t see through her. If I hadn’t, maybe this wouldn’t have happened to you…’

When he took her hand, it felt obligatory. When she squeezed back, it didn’t feel any less forced. And still they sat there in silence, and he did not dare reach out for her more – not with his arms, not with his mind. Not just because he didn’t want to overwhelm her after what she’d been through, but the idea of her feeling him was more daunting than he dared acknowledge.

At length, she bit her lip. ‘I should rest. Doctor Elvad’s going to monitor me overnight. He thinks I’m physically unharmed, and he says Counsellor Carraway has a new Betazoid therapist on staff he wants me to see, but… he wants to be sure.’

‘I’ll go,’ Rhade agreed, hopping to his feet and trying to not look or feel like he was escaping. But he was, and he knew it as he left. Most of him wanted to go back to his quarters and crawl into a dark hole and do absolutely nothing.

Instead, when he got to his deck, he found himself walking straight past his quarters and heading to a different door. His codes were enough to unlock it, and while Rhade knew he’d have to explain this later, he didn’t care enough in the moments he walked into Dathan Tahla’s rooms.

He’d been here before. Not much, because she’d always kept him at arm’s length, a thought which was even more maddening in hindsight. Just as maddening as everything he could see and not see before him – the pictures and mementos of the life of Dathan Tahla, the real Dathan Tahla, as much as the signs of the life led by the woman who’d lived here, the woman he’d known.

Rhade didn’t know how long he stood there, in the debris of shattered lies, before the door slid open and there was a soft clearing of the throat.

‘So Captain Rourke had a chat with me,’ said Greg Carraway gently, ‘and by the time I’d checked what was going on, I saw you’d let yourself in. This must be incredibly hard for you, Adamant.’

Rhade said nothing, jaw tight, eyes still roving around the room. At length he advanced on a shelf and picked up the framed holopic, the image of the celebrations held in the Round Table on New Year’s Eve. ‘Why did she keep this?’

‘We… can’t possibly know,’ Carraway sighed. ‘And for you to try to figure out what was going on in the head of a spy – a spy who’s probably dead – is a doomed cause, Adamant.’

‘Maybe it was to keep up appearances.’ Rhade found his voice dropping to a growl. ‘But maybe because she cared. If she didn’t care, why did she save us?’ His eyes lifted. ‘I have this terrible feeling I’m about to be credited for our escape, and she’s about to be condemned as nothing more than a traitor. But she was home free on that other Endeavour, and she threw away everything to save us and to stop them. Why?’

Carraway worked his jaw, then shook his head. ‘I don’t know. And you can’t know.’

‘I read her mind. She let me, she invited me in – so maybe that was all a trick, too, a lie.’ It had felt real at the time. Felt sincere and true, seeing into her mind and life and finding a wretched amount of suffering, loss, and doubt. Except for about him, there’d been no doubt. Just a thwarted sense of want – want beyond the physical, want of a different way of life, and he’d been helpless to do anything but answer with his own aching need for escape, too.

Rhade gave a frustrated noise and pressed the heel of his palm to his forehead. ‘Maybe it was a gambit, maybe it was all a gambit; she fooled me for over a year and I only got in her head because she let me, if she’s this good, she could have controlled it…’

‘That is getting a bit too wild, Adamant. I’m not sure what happened, but if this was a trick, we’re talking fourth-dimensional chess of a level that can’t be understood.’ Carraway advanced, body language open, not reaching for him but emitting an aura of understanding and reassurance. ‘This is going to take some time to make peace with. But I’m here, you know?’

‘You’re right.’ Rhade’s shoulders sunk. ‘Thinking it was a trick is madness. But people can be… can be sincere and still be wrong. She can have believed she was one of us, especially in the moment, and still have betrayed us. That’s how people do horrid things; they justify it to themselves, they create narratives that mean they’re not the villain, that they had no choice…’ He dragged his hands down his face. ‘Great Fire, I was a fool. She played the victim even in her own head, and I lapped it up.’

‘Maybe,’ Carraway allowed. ‘But what’s important is that you and the team walked away from this. And you’ve got time to work through this. Like I said, I’m going to help you. Besides.’ His expression creased, and for the first time Rhade saw the unflappable counsellor shrink. ‘She lied to me, too.’

Rhade had felt that when he’d gone into Dathan’s head. Felt the warmth and affection she’d projected towards Greg Carraway, with all of his gentle kindness. In her eyes, he’d been the first of Starfleet soft weakness she’d met, only to find it intoxicating and reassuring. ‘She really did believe that you were friends,’ he said, because it was much easier to give someone else that comfort than dare to look it in the eye himself.

‘I’m glad,’ said Carraway softly. ‘Because it sounds like, no matter what, Dathan Tahla was an incredibly troubled young woman. I think no matter what, from all we know of that universe, she was certainly a victim of horrific exploitation and abuse. And even if that doesn’t excuse everything – anything – she did as a result, I don’t really have a problem giving my compassion to someone if it helped them.’ He met Rhade’s gaze. ‘Because it sounds like that’s what saved the day, Adamant. Or rather, that’s what empowered her to save you all: our compassion. Our kindness. Even if that was only one moment, one light, amongst all manner of betrayals and horrific deeds. They don’t blot each other out.’

‘That’s… a very you way to look at this, Greg,’ Rhade said with a slow, sad smile. ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to know if she was using me or not, though. And I don’t know if I’m ever going to make peace with that question.’

Carraway didn’t answer that. But he did step forward, and reach to put a comforting hand on Rhade’s good shoulder, and the two men stood in silence there, in the rooms of Dathan Tahla, amidst the remains of truths and untruths with no idea which was which.

Light blazed through the crack in the escape pod hatch, and by instinct she shrank back, heart thudding in her throat. She’d had to kill all power very early, so there had been no understanding of what was happening once the pod had stopped shuddering around her, creaking. Just the darkness, recycled air, a ration pack, and drifting.

How long had it been? Hours? Days? And there was no telling who’d found her. Friends. Enemies. Did she have any friends?

But the figure in the open hatchway was not in a uniform – not Terran and not Starfleet. The landing bay she’d been brought into was neither, but the run-down, battered metal she recognised from days that felt like years ago.

The Fenris Ranger called Theron raised an eyebrow showing all bewildered curiosity, but still her voice was warm when she said, ‘Need a ride, Lieutenant?’

For the first time since she’d activated it, Dathan Tahla loosened her iron grip on the communications beacon to the Fenris Rangers that had been her only hope of getting off the ISS Endeavour and not being picked up by either side. She let out a slow, shuddering breath, and sagged back, closing her eyes in relief.

‘Please,’ she croaked. ‘But it’s not “lieutenant.” Not any more.’

‘Sure,’ said Theron, guarded but not cold. ‘Not the first time we’ve heard that. Welcome aboard.’