Check out our latest Fleet Action!

 

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

There Must Be Wonders, Too – 5

Conference Room, USS Endeavour
September 2401
0 likes 87 views

Endeavour sailed upon a sea of azure and violet particle clouds, buoyed along by eddies of silver and emerald gasses. By resting upon the currents of the stellar nursery’s maelstrom, Airex had assured, they were more likely to be overlooked on any sensors. Struggling to pierce the interference of this sprawling phenomena, this birthplace of suns, even the most ardent hunter would struggle to tell them apart from smoke and dust. Here, they were neither lost wanderers nor desperate prey. Here, they, too, were star-stuff.

Kharth kept the view through the conference room windows at her back, stood facing the door so she didn’t have to assume the seat at the head of the table, watched by the silent, exhausted eyes of her staff.

‘Airex,’ she began, hands on her hips, voice brisk. ‘Tell us why we’re not in the shit.’

Although Kharth felt like her soul had been wrung out like a dishcloth, although Thawn’s hair had reached hitherto unknown levels of imitating a bird’s nest in her fraught desperation, nobody at the table looked more tired than Davir Airex. And still, there was a light in the Trill’s eyes as he sat up.

‘I picked us a route through the nursery between several dense particle clouds that should keep us hidden. This area is centred around a class-zero protostar in the early accretion phase. At this stage, it has a relatively low energy output, with fewer sudden flares, and a more settled and less-dense surrounding of ionised gases and other elements.’ He didn’t need to consult his notes, rattling off the details of a birthing star as if he knew it in his bones. With a glance to Logan, he added, ‘There’s a natural dust veil around the accretion disk, also. It should add to our concealment against sensor sweeps.’

‘It’s not helpin’ us look out, neither,’ Logan grumbled. ‘The Hirogen could be right there and we wouldn’t know.’

‘But they’re not here,’ said Airex. ‘And if we can’t see them, they certainly can’t see us.’

‘That’s if our sensors were at full capacity, and they ain’t –

‘Thawn,’ snapped Kharth, pinching the bridge of her nose. ‘Repairs update.’

The Chief Engineer gave an owlish blink, silent for a moment. When she did speak, it came in a sudden burst of energy. ‘Our first priority is the warp coils. That takes identifying the damaged ones, assessing if they can be fixed, and then doing that or replicating and installing replacements. We’ll prioritise repair first. That should stabilise our power fluctuations and give us the energy we need to start replicating the complex parts.’

Centurion Caede leaned forward. ‘Don’t we need to worry about the structural integrity field? If we run into trouble here, like a big chunk of debris…’

‘Some of the field emitters are damaged,’ said Thawn. ‘Identifying which either happens by hand, or happens once I can spare the power for a high-level systems diagnostic.’

‘That has to be more pressing than the warp coils,’ Caede insisted. ‘Don’t you get that if the SIF fails us when we need it, we blow up?’

Beckett, who’d been listening in tense silence, drumming his PADD stylus against his palm, sat up at that tone. ‘Hey, watch the tone -’

‘I get it,’ said Thawn sharply, seeming to not appreciate either Caede’s tone or her boyfriend intervening on her behalf. ‘But it’s my decision to prioritise this; I’m Chief Engineer, and I don’t think I answer to you?’

Caede’s lip curled. ‘That doesn’t make me wrong.’

‘It’s -’

Can it.’ Kharth’s voice rang out like a whip-crack, silencing them. In the pause, she pinched the bridge of her nose and said, reluctantly, ‘Thawn, he’s got a point.’

Everything gets easier once the warp coils are repaired,’ Thawn insisted tartly. ‘The damaged SIF is a danger. So’s the risk of a plasma conduit rupturing, which fixing the warp coils should stop. So’s the risk of one of our impulse engines overloading because the exhaust ports are clogged with debris from Underspace. So’s the risk of one of our fusion reactors blowing because our cooling systems are compromised. And I don’t have a billion engineers.’

Caede rolled his eyes. ‘We’re in a volatile phenomenon. The wrong flow of the wrong particle cloud at the wrong time could be more than our damaged SIF can handle. Everything else is a matter of time. This could happen at any moment.’

Logan turned to face Caede, expression stony. ‘Commander Kharth said to can it and was asking her Chief Engineer.’

‘Yes,’ jumped in Thawn, but her dark eyes were fixed indignantly on Kharth. ‘And I’ve explained.’

Kharth realised Thawn thought she didn’t trust her judgement. The problem was, she didn’t know if it was true or if she was so much more reluctant, with the buck stopping with her, now, to take any explanation at face value. Again, Kharth hesitated, and against her better judgement, her eyes landed on Airex. Help me.

Exhausted though he was, the Trill visibly thought for a moment, then leaned forward. ‘Commander Thawn is, of course, correct about how essential it is that we fix the warp core. That should be her and her team’s priority. I am confident that this region is stable, but I cannot be certain. I suggest, therefore, we deploy shuttles to conduct an exterior examination of the ship, and assess the SIF emitters manually. We can also launch one of our runabouts to sweep this immediate area, confirm my scans, and ensure we haven’t been followed.’

Kharth nodded, blowing out her cheeks. ‘Thawn, stick with your plan. Logan, handle the exterior sweep of the ship. Lindgren, take the Merlin and scope out the area.’ She rubbed her temples again, every decision feeling like it was sapping her energy. ‘Everyone else – do what Airex needs for understanding where the hell we are and how we stay safe, or do what Thawn needs to get us working again.’

Doctor Winters cleared his throat gently. ‘Many of the injured can return to duty.’ It probably wasn’t passive aggressive, but a light reassurance. It still felt like he was rebuking her for not asking. ‘We’re still dealing with some critical cases. I’ll keep you posted.’

‘Yes – thank you.’ Embarrassment made that sharper than she meant. ‘We’ll repair the ship and make sure we’re safe at the same time. Then figure out our next move. Survival’s the priority at the moment.’ It felt like she should end on some reassuring or inspiring words. Tired eyes were on her, and plenty of them were guarded, too, suspicious. But there was little she could conceive of beyond that next step. If they didn’t stay alive, everything was meaningless.

So Kharth opened her mouth again and said, ‘Get to work. Dismissed.’

The hubbub of officers standing and shuffling out was more subdued than ever. When Thawn stood, her gaze hadn’t left Kharth.

‘Commander Kharth, if you have a problem with my judgements about the engine room…’

‘Then I’m screwed, aren’t I, because you’re the only Chief Engineer I have,’ Kharth replied levelly. ‘Don’t posture at me. Do your job.’

That sent Thawn packing, earning a few concerned glances from Beckett and Kally, and a mild sneer from Caede. Kharth ignored them, grabbing PADDs, and so she didn’t spot who’d stayed behind until there was a soft voice getting her attention.

‘Commander Kharth?’

She looked up. Elsa Lindgren stood on the other side of the table, hands on the back of a chair. The helmsman smiled softly. ‘You know,’ Lindgren pressed on at her confused look, ‘I’m a people-person. A people-watcher. MacCallister, Rourke, and Valance all trusted me to do that. Keep track of the crew. See what’s going on.’

‘What’s going on is that we’re fucked and everyone’s stressed,’ Kharth snapped. ‘I don’t need a crew-whisperer to figure that out for me.’

Lindgren, of course, took that in her stride. ‘Use me as you need me.’ There was an unspoken rebuke, perfectly communicated. You know I’m right. Had she said it out loud, Kharth would have probably tossed her out the door. Leaving it implied made it cut deeper.

Kharth drew a sharp breath. ‘Take Caede with you on the Merlin. He should be qualified to help out, good at staying hidden, and keeping him away from Thawn might be best.’

‘I can keep him contained and try to calm him down,’ Lindgren said reassuringly. ‘Thank you, Commander.’

Kharth thought she was free when they both left the conference room. But Lindgren wasn’t the only person who’d tried to intercept her for a quiet chat, as she found when she took the direct door to the captain’s ready room and found Logan already in there.

‘Oh for Vor’s sake,’ she snapped. ‘Do you want to give me a pep-talk, too?’

The burly security chief straightened, blinking. ‘Uh… actually, yeah. Figured you maybe did need a bit of support. That got heated in there.’

‘It got heated because Thawn can’t breathe without being insecure.’ She couldn’t go past him, because that would mean walking behind the desk, and that was a step too far right now. So she moved between him and it, leaning against the edge, facing him without needing to sit where Valance would have sat, where Rourke once sat. ‘It got heated because Caede is a smug Republic officer.’

‘Sure,’ said Logan diplomatically. ‘But you do know we all got your back, right?’

‘I’m not sure they do. But I don’t give a damn if I don’t have their emotional support. They’ll do what they’re told.’

‘They will. Because you’re the captain now.’

Nobody had said it. That was, she realised, his purpose for coming in her, his purpose for taking her to one side. To voice the unspoken, and to try to be a foundation she could build upon.

Kharth drew a sharp breath. ‘Acting captain. To get us through this crisis.’

‘That ain’t a real pertinent distinction.’

‘It’s the distinction we have. It means that I’ll make decisions, I’ll navigate the crisis, but I’m not going to hold their fucking hands or kiss their boo-boos better.’

‘We could be here a while,’ Logan pointed out. ‘None of these ain’t quick repairs. Not if we need to lay low or saddle up for a fight. And we gotta find a way home. If Airex can’t figure a route back through Underspace…’

Then we’re Voyager all over again. That was not a thought Kharth could countenance. ‘Did you come in here to reassure me? Or to tell me that after five seconds in command, I need to improve at being Uncle Fluffy?’

He flinched. ‘You’re biting at me now ‘cos you don’t want to look at weak spots. And you’re hating me for saying that, because you think I’m saying you’re weak – no, ‘cos you think I’m saying you’re not enough.’

‘Being enough or not is irrelevant; I’m what you’ve got.’

‘And we’re what you’ve got,’ Logan countered briskly. ‘So just as we have to rely on you – you gotta rely on us. You gotta trust us. Or at least some of us.’

Her jaw tightened. ‘Trust you, you mean.’

‘You can.’ He watched her, brow furrowing with a mixture of confusion and hurt. ‘Cos I do have your back. Whatever you need, whatever gets us through this. I’ll crack skulls, I’ll sit on Caede, I’ll stop Airex when he wants to ponder the wonders of the universe rather than keep us safe.’

He kept us safe,’ she snapped before she could stop herself. ‘He found this hiding spot.’

Logan opened and closed his mouth. ‘Whatever you need,’ he said after a beat. ‘You can count on me.’

‘Good to know, Commander,’ she said, deliberately emphasising his rank. ‘What I need is five seconds to myself. And for you to start on that hull inspection.’

This time, when he was done hesitating, he didn’t try to handle her. He just left. Left her alone in the ready room with her back to the window, her back to the stars. If she moved, it would have to be to sit where Valance should sit, where Rourke had sat before her.

It meant, instead, she faced the painting on the wall, that damned picture that had been passed down from captain to captain to captain. Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog. The bold figure emerging at the peak of a climb to behold the sights before them, clouds of mystery demanding to be pierced. It was supposed to be inspirational, she presumed. A declaration of how brave they all were, stood at the frontier of known space, forging into the unknown. Not broken and battered and fighting their way through storm clouds.

‘Fuck you,’ Kharth muttered, just as she had to the great unknown earlier. It was not merely at the figure in the painting, but at MacCallister for putting it up, Rourke for keeping it. At Logan for coming in and trying to manage her.

At Valance, for dying and leaving her in this predicament.

Comments

  • I'm enjoying how much Kharth hates their situation, and she's the one who has to lead them through this. This is going to be such great character development for her, and I hope we get to see a bit more tension between her and Logan. Caede may be winding a few people up, but I don't think he will be this annoying for much longer. Also, kudos to Nate for standing up.

    June 22, 2024
  • Forgot to say - Valance better not be dead!

    June 22, 2024
  • Then we’re Voyager all over again - Man, Voyager with Kharth at the helm would have been a time! And with this crew right now, oh boy I hate to think. Loving the Kharth perspective on so much going on here. She really is a nice and direct individual. And then throw in Caede and I can see fireworks on the horizon there at least. That man feels like the sort that when he makes a decision, it's his way or the highway and woe be on to anyone who challenges him. Good think Thawn knows how to fight for the ship now, right? And Nate just won't stand for anyone bullying Thawn. And Kharth's final words here feel so opt once we know her feelings. Spot on and just what you'd expect to hear someone say in this situation.

    June 24, 2024
  • I agree with those above this is ironic that Kharth hates the situation, but she is the one who brought them to the unfortunate place. I am intrigued to see how this story progresses. I maybe the unpopular person but personally I like Caede as a character and I am interested to see how he will [;ay as the story continues. Love it can't wait to read more.

    June 25, 2024