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Part of USS Endeavour: There Must Be Wonders, Too and Bravo Fleet: Labyrinth

There Must Be Wonders, Too – 3

Bridge, USS Endeavour
September 2401
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Darkness faded, but in its place was only crimson and shadow. The emergency lights of the shrouded bridge felt like they pulsed in time with the throbbing in Kharth’s skull. Unconsciousness might have been preferable.

‘You’re alright,’ came a low, soothing voice as she stirred. ‘You’re safe and the ship is in one piece.’

It was Doctor Winters, and she still ignored the implication she shouldn’t respond quickly. Kharth sat up. The thudding in her temples worsened. ‘What the hell happened?’

Winters ran his medical tricorder over her. She had been moved – or thrown – to the side of the bridge. Silhouettes of conscious and upright senior staff gathered near the front consoles.

‘The ship hit a disturbance the inertial dampeners couldn’t adequately compensate for,’ he said. ‘Most of the crew was sent flying. My medical staff are patching up bumps and scrapes all over. You have a mild concussion and had some minor intracranial bleeding; I’ve patched that up and applied a neurogenic stimulant.’ At her suspicious look, he gave a rather cool smile. ‘You can get up and do your job. I’ll want to check up on you in six hours. I don’t like it, but I saved us the time of bargaining, so please do accept this compromise, Commander.’

He had a point. They didn’t have time to argue. Kharth accepted Winters’s aid in getting to her feet and found her head was already beginning to clear. The miracles of Starfleet medicine were fast.

The knot of officers at the front consisted of Airex and Logan leaning over Lindgren at helm. Ops was empty. ‘Report,’ Kharth said dully.

They turned, and Logan’s brow immediately creased with concern. ‘You alright?’

‘Doc Winters has patched me up.’

‘You went flyin’ a hell of a -’

‘We’re out of that subspace tunnel.’ Airex cut him off without missing a beat. ‘And back in normal space. Between the micro-debris fields and the tachyon particle flows, it was a bumpy ride. There’s clearly some damage to our plasma conduits forcing us to low operating power, but Commander Thawn’s still assembling a full damage report. As, ironically, damage report systems are down.’

Kharth sucked her teeth. ‘Casualties?’

‘No serious injuries or losses reported. Minor to moderate injuries all over the ship,’ said Logan, more officious now.

‘Alright. And the thousand-credit question: where the hell are we?’

‘Figuring that out’s our current priority,’ said Lindgren. She had not looked up from her seat at helm, the navigational sensors on screen.

‘Surely,’ said Airex with an edge to his voice, ‘you can ascertain a rough location quickly?’

‘I can. And I have. But I wanted to double-check.’ Lindgren turned her chair. She looked like she’d been strapped in when the worst of the turbulence had hit, little more than mussed up. ‘Because nav sensors are saying we’re about fifty-five thousand light-years from our last location.’

‘Are you shitting me?’ said Kharth before she could stop herself. ‘How long was I out?’

Airex was rubbing his temples. ‘This journey took hardly any time at all. What kind of subspace passageway can let us make such a journey in the blink of an eye?’

‘This one, seems like,’ mumbled Logan. ‘How’d we get out? An aperture like the one that dragged us in?’

‘Yes,’ said Lindgren. ‘It’s on our sensors. I got us a good distance away, but it’s not closed and it’s not dragging us in or anything. We’re in orbit of an O-class planet with no signs of local civilisation.’

‘Can we just turn around and… I don’t know, go back?’

‘A great suggestion,’ said Kharth, feeling a little more light-headed.

‘Absolutely not!’ Airex burst. All eyes fell on him, and he winced. ‘Ignoring the damage that traversing this corridor did to the ship, even the limited look I had at the conditions inside showed debris fields and volatile tachyon flows. There were multiple branching points in this, this network. The wrong calculation and those tachyon flows throw us off-course and we could be even more lost.’

‘We’re in, what, even more of the ass end of the Beta Quadrant than we were the other month,’ said Logan. ‘Can we get more lost?’

‘I think we’re in the Delta Quadrant,’ said Lindgren in a light, almost sing-song voice. ‘So, yes.’

‘And I bet,’ said Kharth, ‘we’re nowhere near the Barzan wormhole.’

‘Sorry, Commander.’

‘Underspace!’ Airex snapped his fingers. ‘Of course!’ At their nonplussed expressions, he brightened. ‘There’s a network of subspace corridors that traverses much of the known Delta Quadrant. Except it’s volatile, dangerous, difficult to navigate it. Starfleet only does so with the assistance of the Turei, who’ve studied it for centuries.’

Logan’s nose wrinkled. ‘I thought Underspace was only in the Delta.’

‘We only knew of it in the Delta Quadrant. There’s no reason it couldn’t extend across the whole galaxy.’

‘Then why’d a door to it open up on top of us out of nowhere an’ suck us in?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘This is fascinating,’ Kharth snapped, altogether done with Airex’s tone of wonder. ‘But how do we retrace our footsteps?’

Airex sucked his teeth. ‘I’ll work with Lieutenant Lindgren and brainstorm.’

‘Good.’ Kharth’s chest tightened as she drew a sharp breath. ‘Any sign of survivors from the Ihhliae?’

Logan’s shoulders sank, and the eyes of more than Kharth fell on him. ‘That core overload blasted her into a hundred bits, Commander. I don’t see how anything left could have survived passing through Underspace.’

Lindgren looked up. ‘They said Captain Valance had finished with Commander Morvith… could she have gotten away on the Tristan?’

‘I checked my sensor records. Rechecked ‘em. There’s no sign of no shuttles launching, no escape pods, no debris big enough to sustain life -’

‘Sensor conditions in Underspace were hardly optimal,’ said Airex quickly, folding his arms across his chest. ‘Surely the Tristan could have launched beyond your notice, Commander.’

‘I’m telling you what I know.’ Logan could have been frustrated, Kharth thought. Instead, he softened. ‘I’m sorry. There ain’t no indication I can find that Captain Valance survived. I wish there were.’

There were others on the bridge, officers who had held their post or come up to lend assistance. While they’d been hard at work, focusing on whatever the situation needed, all of them had fallen silent to listen as Logan explained. All of them stayed silent as he finished.

When they stopped looking at Logan, they looked at Kharth, and the weight of their eyes could have crushed her. This was the moment they expected her to say something – to show defiance against Logan’s incomplete knowledge, to fight for hope, however ephemeral it was, fleeting. Foolish.

Saeihr Kharth was not one for fool’s hope. ‘She’s gone,’ she surmised in a clipped voice. ‘Let’s not follow her. Airex, Lindgren, get me an exact idea of where we are and figure out how we get back. Logan, if we don’t have all systems operational, then we can’t be sure the whole crew’s accounted for. Get security teams sweeping to check up.’ She paused, eyes falling on the empty console beside Lindgren. ‘Where’s Athaka?’

‘Sickbay,’ said Airex, voice low. He did not meet her eye. ‘He was one of the seriously injured.’

‘So we’ve had nobody overseeing Ops?’

Which was when the battered figure of the Romulan centurion Caede joined them from the shrouded aft of the bridge, holding a PADD. ‘Thawn’s given us as much spare juice as she can for now. Might be able to boost sensors with it.’ He’d been approaching Airex, but when he spotted Kharth, he paused, then shoved the PADD towards her.

She stared at him. ‘What’re you doing here?’

‘My shuttle never launched. My entire crew’s dead. I came up here to help. Turned out you needed an operations manager since your kid’s skull got split open.’

Airex gave Kharth a hapless shrug. ‘…he offered. And seems to know what he’s doing. And we’re short-handed.’

She clenched her jaw, then turned to Caede. ‘We need to get home. All of us. And -’

‘I’m not here to steal your technological secrets or whatever,’ Caede rumbled. ‘I want to get back. And above all, I’m a soldier. I’ll help you. I’ll follow your orders. But I don’t want to play stupid games where you second-guess me.’

For a moment, Kharth wasn’t sure what to say. Then she extended her hand. ‘Deal.’ He clasped her by the wrist and the arrangement was done. ‘We need everything at once, Centurion. Eyes everywhere, systems everywhere.’

There were questions. Like how he knew enough about the systems of a Constitution III class to do this job. Like how much a Romulan she suspected was part of Republic Intelligence would not spy on them. But the more pressing question was whether, and how, they could get home. Everything else was secondary.

If the ship’s systems were temperamental at best, opening a dozen comm frequencies wasn’t the best idea. So instead of hitting her badge, she proceeded to Kally’s post to the rear of the bridge. ‘You can patch me through to Engineering?’

Kally looked smaller than usual, the weight of anxiety pushing her down. There was a glint in her eyes, and for a split second, Kharth was afraid she was about to be cried on.

But the young ensign rallied. ‘I… yes, Commander.’ She hit a button and handed the earpiece over.

We’ve had ruptures in multiple plasma conduits, which means our power flow is erratic,’ said Thawn once Kharth had got through to the Chief Engineer. ‘We have reserves, but I’m keeping us at emergency levels while Caede takes stock. Structural Integrity Field emitters are damaged. Several overloaded from the disruption to our power flow.

Kharth sucked her teeth. ‘That’s pretty bad.’

And our warp coils are damaged. Some misaligned, some cracked. We’re still evaluating. But we can’t go to warp right now.

‘You really buried the lede there.’

Aside from immediate damage, repairing and replacing the plasma conduits is our first priority. Without stabilising our power supply, we can’t replicate what we need to fix the warp coils. Tell the captain I need at least eight hours –

‘The captain’s dead.’ Kharth thought the words would have been difficult to speak. So often, speaking of something made it real. But this wasn’t reality, it was a nightmare, and speaking it didn’t change the sense that her soul was being dragged through tar.

There was silence for a moment. Thawn was, Kharth thought, perhaps the person aboard who’d served with Valance the longest, the officer who’d been with her in Captain MacCallister’s crew and who’d followed her to Pathfinder and back. Then, ‘What?’

‘The Ihhliae was destroyed. She was aboard. We’re alone out here.’ Wherever ‘here’ is. ‘I need you to get this ship functioning, Thawn. So we can get home.’

I…

‘Can you do that?’

A beat. Then, ‘Yes, Commander.

Kharth tossed the earpiece back to Kally once she was done. ‘I’ll be in the conference room.’

It might have been the ready room, but that felt like too much. She didn’t need the space for meetings, or the table for paperwork. But her head was pounding by now, and the last thing she needed was to draw Doc Winters’s attention.

A glass of water from the replicator and sitting down for what felt like an eternity but couldn’t have been more than a few minutes began to level her out. Kharth had been taught meditation techniques as a child, means of obfuscating her thoughts and feelings from the outside. They felt as far away in time as it seemed home was in space.

Wherever ‘home’ is.

The treacherous thought had her lifting her head, and her eyes fell on the viewports at the rear of the conference room. Deep space stretched beyond. These were stars no Starfleet officer had ever seen before, and yet she could not summon a shred of awe. The pinpricks of light were nothing to the pitiless space between them, the maw that would consume them. There were officers who would kill to see the far side of the galaxy. Many who had dreamt of what marvels lay where no one had been before.

Saeihr Kharth stared at the great unknown and whispered, ‘Fuck you.’

There was a soft knock at the door, and Kharth was on her feet, sure she looked back under control, when Kally stuck her head in. The nerves radiating off the young officer did not look limited to the interruption.

‘We need you back here,’ Kally warbled. ‘There’s a ship approaching.’

Comments

  • Wow what a rollercoaster of a ride! The fact that the Captain is dead wow what an addition to the story. The way you conveyed the story was incredible. I can feel the crews emotions, as well as Karth's regarding the whole situation. I like how the ship made it through the Underspace. This was seriously a great way to wake up! As always the stories you write have a great immersion to them! Keep it up!

    June 20, 2024
  • Can we get more lost? - Yes, yes you can. But that's just a numbers game really. Being far enough away from any of the stable shortcuts is still lost enough. The Caede/Kharth dynamic is a time. It was building up to fireworks and then plateaued, for now at least, with Caede's wonderful 'don’t want to play stupid games where you second-guess me' comment. I liked that a lot. No-nonsense from this guy. Can we keep him? Kharth seems a little quick on the gun about Valance, but in Kharth fashion, as we've gotten used to, once she made up her mind, it's what she went with. Could she have obfuscated the fact a little with Thawn? Perhaps, but that's just not Kharth. Now I'm waiting to see how it plays out when Valance does show up since Kharth is now in this emotional space. Oh boy!

    June 21, 2024
  • Is Valance really gone? Some characters have lead charmed lives or just been plain lucky, but as this mission and others have proven, space is an extremely dangerous place. Caede stepping in to help, wasn't something I'd expected, but then he's as much stuck out there as they are, so it does make sense that he'd pitch in. This continues to be a well crafted story.

    June 21, 2024