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Part of USS Sirius: The Good We Oft Might Win and USS Endeavour: There Must Be Wonders, Too

The Good We Oft Might Win – 4

Conference Room, USS Sirius
September 2401
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Rourke sat at the head of the conference table and scrubbed his face with his hands. ‘We’ve got a lot to get through,’ he said, then looked up at Commander Harrian, stood by the main wall display. ‘Cal?’

The perils of a ship like the Sirius, both as a powerful and versatile vessel in its own right, and its position as squadron flagship, meant there were always a lot of moving parts. While the big picture fell on Rourke’s head, the management of those details was squarely the responsibility of Harrian, the squadron’s strategic operations officer.

Harrian paced as he talked, his deep voice calm and confident while he moved from spinning plate to spinning plate as if they were no trouble at all. ‘A lot’s happened in the last day, but remember: our mission objective is not solely to find the Endeavour and the Ihhliae. We have to study Underspace routes and identify opportunities for commerce that can benefit the Midgard Sector. So let me break this down.

‘The USS Liberty has returned through Underspace to follow the trail on the missing ships and chart the network. Which means we hold position here, a secure location in the network. We’re confident about our route back to known space through the corridors, and from here can serve as a field station to pursue our objectives.’

Rourke looked to his right at that, and Shep visibly brightened, correctly realising she was about to be up. ‘Which means we need to know more about where we are. Shep, you’re taking the Alhabor to scout about the immediate sector. Figure out the lay of the land, look out for any local trouble. And look for any sign of our missing ships.’

Across from Shep, Sophia Hale shifted her weight and gave a gentle clearing of the throat. ‘And assess the region for resources or opportunities for commerce,’ she reminded.

Shep raised her hands before Rourke could backpedal. ‘Got it. Find our people. Failing that, find gold. Failing that, make sure nobody’s about to sneak up on us. Or, do all at once.’

‘Exactly,’ said Rourke with a hint of relief. He knew he’d harnessed the scientific and economic opportunities of Underspace to give him the excuse he needed to sink these resources into a rescue mission. But he couldn’t quite bring himself to champion them over and above the need to find the missing ships. He looked back down the conference table. ‘That doesn’t mean we’ll be twiddling our thumbs here. Carry on, Commander.’

Harrian nodded. ‘I’ve spoken already with Engineering and Science,’ he said, inclining his head to the two relevant department chiefs sat at the table. ‘Commander Riggs is going to take point on scouring our O-class planet for possible signs of Endeavour, with the assistance of the planetary sciences division. Commander?’

Riggs was leant back in his chair, sleeves rolled up, forever the image of the indolent mechanic whose irreverence belied his excellence. ‘Yeah, some good news. Well, not-bad news, I guess. The wreckage we found was one of Endeavour’s probes. Reckon it was studying the mouth of the Underspace aperture. Though…’ He winced. ‘Maybe some bad news. It was destroyed by weapons fire. Still figuring out who might be the culprit.’

Shep sucked her teeth. ‘I guess we know why Endeavour didn’t get here and hold position, one way or another. There’s definitely trouble here somewhere. But here’s the key question, Hal – do you know it wasn’t the Cardies?’

‘Doesn’t match their weapons,’ Riggs assured her.

Rourke let out a sigh of relief. ‘And the planet?’

‘Deuterium levels in the oceans make it real hard to scour the depths for possible wreckage from orbit. But, happy days, a deuterium-rich planet’s a gold mine in itself. So we’re gonna search for signs of Endeavour maybe crashing, and assess the planet for prospecting.’ He shrugged. ‘I don’t know if this is any reassurance, but Endeavour would need to have been obliterated into teeny-tiny chunks to have gone under the surface and for us to still have no sign of it yet. So. Could have happened. Probably didn’t?’

‘I’ll take probably for my blood pressure,’ said Rourke, ‘but let’s not clap ourselves on the back just yet. Carry on, Cal.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ said Harrian. ‘There’s also the matter of studying Underspace itself, especially if we’re considering this a possible site for economic investment by the Midgard Sector. That’s where Commander Locke comes in.’

The scientist was leaned over his PADD, taking notes even though he was being told little new about his own duties. He ran a hand through his hair, mussing it. ‘We’re developing models for how even less-powerful ships can safely traverse this Underspace route,’ he assured them. ‘We’re on this.’

‘Which leads us,’ said Rourke, ‘to our last and newest issue: the Cardassians. Commander Rhade?’

Adamant Rhade, Chief Tactical Officer, straightened and cleared his throat. ‘We’ve been trying to scan the Edorasc as closely as possible without tipping them off,’ he said slowly. ‘But it seems clear enough: they’re not merely holding position at that moon. They’re building something.’

Riggs looked up. ‘Building?’

‘Some sort of platform in orbit,’ said Rhade. ‘Right now, I can’t give you more than that without risking taking a closer look.’ His eyes fell to Rourke. ‘Which, obviously, I’m not going to do without your say-so, sir.’

‘Thanks, Commander.’ Rourke nodded. ‘We don’t want to get dragged into an altercation with the Cardassians that might compromise our other objectives. But obviously we’re not going to ignore them. So we’re considering our options at this point. That should lay out everyone’s duties. Alhabor to the long patrol, smallcraft to assist Commander Riggs and, where needed, Commander Locke. Stick a pin in tactical concerns for the moment. Dismissed, everyone. Harrian, Locke, Rhade, Ms Hale, stick around.’

The others trooped out, leaving him with a more secure inner circle. Rourke waited until the doors had slid shut before he clasped his hands on the table. ‘So. The Cardassians. Rhade, talk me through the naughty options.’

Rhade made a face. ‘I – alright.’ With a sigh, he shifted his weight. ‘Easiest option is to disperse smallcraft and/or probes about the system for ostensibly scientific purposes, and try to as discreetly as possible scope out the Edorasc while we’re there. Give ourselves cover by sweeping the system, studying… I’m sure Commander Locke could assist here, “dispersions of tachyon particles from the aperture about the vicinity,” so forth.’

Locke winced. ‘Gul Kaled isn’t an idiot. He’ll know we’re suspicious, and he’ll be looking out for it.’

‘Then here’s a question,’ said Rhade. ‘Do we care if we antagonise him? Especially if he can’t prove anything?’

Eyes fell on Hale, who sighed. ‘Relations with the Union are tense at the moment. But I know someone’s going to point out we’re a long way from the border here. I understand that if we were ever going to bend the rules, it’d be here, far from where anyone can run to their superiors.’

‘The presence of the Cardassians,’ said Rourke, ‘isn’t a good enough reason to treat them like an imminent security threat. They’re almost certainly just studying the Underspace, maybe building something to assist in that. We also don’t know who destroyed Endeavour’s probe, and I don’t want to make an unnecessary enemy when there could be more trouble out here.’ He looked at Locke. ‘You said one of your team knew Kaled better.’

‘I… sure.’ Locke winced. ‘It’s true. But. I’m not sure how helpful that is.’

‘Let’s find out. Bring them up here. Who is it?’

‘Lieutenant Commander T’Falith,’ said Locke falteringly. ‘Head of Social Sciences.’

Ten minutes later, Rourke found himself facing the impassive visage of a Vulcan as he tried to get inside the head of a Cardassian he’d only just met.

‘I am unsure what you expect me to say, Commodore,’ said T’Falith in a maddeningly level voice once he’d laid out the situation. ‘I have no unique insights into Gul Kaled. He is an officer of the Cardassian Union, and a dedicated professional. I am sure your own experiences with the Union can help you in mapping his likely behaviours.’

‘My experiences were in the war,’ said Rourke, lips twisting. ‘Harrian’s here were in the Occupation.’

T’Falith didn’t blink. ‘And Commander Locke served on the Cardassian border for many years and is a proven expert in the Cardassian military.’

‘T’Falith.’ Locke seemed to notice Rourke’s frustration, leaning forward to intercede. ‘You do know Kaled better. He was closer to you than anyone back on Avalon.’

She paused. For a moment her gaze flickered, not across them, but as if she was reading some invisible script, silently contemplating the question. ‘He and I were collegial. We have stayed in touch since we were parted.’

‘You stayed in touch?’ Locke looked surprised and almost betrayed. ‘And you’re saying you have no unique insights? The hell do you chat about?’

‘Books,’ said T’Falith without missing a beat. ‘We have been recommending literature to each other. I have found the expansion of my understanding of Cardassian culture to be truly fulfilling. But it is why I surmise that Gul Kaled is the picture of Cardassian professionalism.’

Locke glanced at Rourke and blew out his cheeks. ‘He’s a bit grumpy, he didn’t like being on Avalon. I assumed he’d pissed someone off to be stuck with us. But now he’s commanding a modern warship, so it can’t be that bad.’

Rourke rubbed his temples. ‘When you say “the picture of Cardassian professionalism,” T’Falith, what do you mean? I’m not sure everyone around this table agrees on what that looks like.’

‘I’ve known Cardassian officers,’ said Harrian in a somewhat flat voice, ‘who very professionally conducted mass slaughters.’

‘From our conversations,’ said T’Falith carefully, ‘I do not believe Gul Kaled sympathetic to the Bajoran Occupation. Regarding “professionalism,” he adheres to protocol and etiquette. I believe him committed to traditional principles of the Cardassian Union: service to his people, duty.’

Rourke tossed a hand in the air irritably, then grimaced. ‘Sorry, Commander. This isn’t your fault. I asked you a question hoping for a miracle insight into what he might be doing out here, other than “his job.”’

‘I understand, Commodore,’ said T’Falith levelly. ‘He is an unknown factor in a volatile and unknown situation. The only insight I may offer is that I am not convinced Gul Kaled to be a loyalist to Central Command over the Detapa Council. Which may not be of much use on an operation in the depths of the Delta Quadrant, far from any orders.’

I have an idea,’ ventured Hale, and Rourke felt a flood of relief. ‘All of this talk of “professionalism” and etiquette. He’s an officer of the Cardassian Union going about his lawful business. We’re a Starfleet ship going about ours. There’s no reason for us to be at odds, to eye each other warily across a star system.’

‘You’re suggesting we combine forces?’ said Locke, eyebrows raising. ‘I doubt he’ll go for that.’

‘No,’ said Hale. ‘Simpler than that. We invite him, and maybe his staff, to dinner.’

Rourke’s eyebrows shot up. ‘That is simple.’

‘We’re far from the frontier,’ Hale continued, shrugging. ‘Doing hard work in an unknown region. Why not show each other some basic courtesies in accordance to everyone’s rank and standing? Especially…’ Her eyes flickered to T’Falith. ‘If he has a personal relationship with a member of staff he might appreciate seeing again.’

T’Falith did not blink. ‘I would be curious regarding his opinions on Starship Sociology and Community Ecology.’

Locke’s jaw dropped. ‘That’s the last book you sent him?’

‘It is a vital anthology discussing how the cosmopolitan mix of people aboard a starship can cause friction and potential clashes. I believed it provides fascinating insight into life within Starfleet. He had expressed curiosity as to how I was finding my time back aboard a ship.’

In horrified fascination, Locke said, ‘What did he last send you?’

‘Ah. Ari Prilam. A novel retelling the experiences of a young women’s experiences in post-war Cardassia, and specifically how loyalty to family and duty were socially reframed after the conflict. It was best experienced following on from The Never Ending Sacrifice, which he first recommended -’

‘Okay,’ said Rourke, head thumping at the revelation of the Cardassian-Vulcan book club. ‘So you’ve got things to catch up on. Let’s give this a try.’

Rhade’s expression twisted wryly. ‘We’re suspicious of the Cardassian on our front door,’ he mused, ‘so our plan is to invite him to dinner?’

Hale gave a self-aware smile. ‘For all we know, we come away with a friend instead of someone we need to spy upon.’

Rourke and Harrian exchanged glances at that, both judiciously remaining silent. There was little about a Cardassian ship at the edge of the galaxy, conducting mysterious duties, that either of them would deem friendly.