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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 – 5

Anthropology Labs, USS Sirius
September 2401
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Sirirus’s anthropology labs were the quietest of the humming depths of the ship’s science facilities, but they were where Edmund Locke felt most at home. He’d thought he was done with front-line duties, where he had to provide mission commanders with answers to any and every scientific question in the blink of an eye, no matter how far circumstances strayed from his area of expertise. Then had come Frontier Day, and Starfleet couldn’t enjoy the luxury of letting an officer of his experience sit on Avalon as a researcher when there were billets to fill.

Bringing as many of his team with him to Sirius had felt like the kind thing to do. A ship of her grandeur gave the crew space to indulge their specialities. Plucked from Avalon’s halls of intellectual curiosity, here they could, he’d promised them, do their day-to-day aboard an Odyssey class while mushrooming from their research so far. Analysing. Refining. Publishing. And occasionally put a shift in with new lives and civilisations.

Most of the team had come with him. Most of the team had taken it well. And then there was T’Falith, the Vulcan.

She was alone in the main lab when he found her, sat before screens scrolling through data and analysis on Cardassian military activities of the last year. She did not turn away. ‘Commander Locke.’

‘Do you recognise my footsteps?’

‘Vulcan hearing is more acute than that of humans,’ she said, and turned in her chair. ‘I expect few others to enter with the confidence of authority but the apprehension of interrupting.’

They had worked together for years, and yet he’d never broken through the confounding mask of a Vulcan. He straightened, reminding himself he was the Chief Science Officer, the one in charge here. ‘We heard back from the Edorasc. Gul Kaled’s accepted the invitation. So here we go – dinner, tonight.’

Her expression did not move. It never did. ‘Who will be in attendance from the Sirius?’

‘Well, you. Me. Hale. Commodore Rourke. Maybe more.’

‘It would be best if Commander Harrian did not attend. He is obviously uncomfortable about the presence of Cardassians.’

‘He’s…’ Locke hesitated. ‘I think he has reason to be, both personally and professionally.’

‘Indeed. But after observing Gul Kaled’s interactions with Commander Corias on Avalon, I believe he becomes stubborn when confronted by Bajorans.’ T’Falith rose, hands clasped together. ‘That would undermine our objective here.’

Locke’s mind went back to the days in their research team, with Kaled dour and brusque towards everyone – but most especially blunt when Bajoran team-member Corias Ash voiced his feelings. ‘I guess you’re right. Regardless, we’ll do polite dinner. But we don’t expect him to spill the beans over dessert. This is step one.’

‘Step two is that I inveigle his mission out of him,’ surmised T’Falith.

‘Step two is that we try to figure the lay of the land better.’ Locke’s brow furrowed. ‘You’re not a spy. You’re the person who knows him best, when we’re in the dark on whatever the hell is going on.’

‘Very well.’ She straightened. ‘Understand that I will not lie to him.’

‘You don’t have to lie. Just… don’t point out we’re trying to get close to him to sniff out what he’s up to.’

‘I am more than confident Gul Kaled has determined that already. Why else would we extend such courtesies to a Cardassian officer? We cannot be indignant about this; we are not sincere.’

‘Which raises the question,’ mused Locke, ‘of why he’s accepted. Maybe he thinks we’re lying about our mission and wants to do his own snooping.’

‘Just because he cannot formally share his mission with us, does not mean it is in any way a threat to us,’ she pointed out. ‘It is more than likely they are conducting their own in-depth study of Underspace, or constructing platforms to facilitate its navigation. By accepting our invitation, Gul Kaled can perhaps demonstrate a lack of ill intent without disobeying orders.’

‘I hope so.’ Locke ran his tongue over his teeth, hesitant. ‘You never explained what happened between you two.’

‘Happened?’

‘On Frontier Day.’

T’Falith didn’t blink. ‘He saved my life.’ At his blank look, she gave the first flicker of uncertainty – or, more likely, contemplation, averting her gaze to summon her thoughts. ‘You asked me to show him the facilities in the Athenaeum, I assume because you trusted me to provide an orientation without discomfort or undue provocation on my part. We were in the archives when the Jupiter Signal triggered the assimilation of the young researchers.’

‘I know that much,’ said Locke, jaw tight in recollection. Their sanctuary of knowledge on Avalon, the island research facility far from any danger, had become a sealed chamber of violence and death. And all he’d done was lock himself in his office with Corias Ash, hearing the screaming and being able to do nothing.

‘I did not anticipate an outbreak of violence from our own researchers,’ T’Falith said. ‘Gul Kaled was swifter to react. He incapacitated the attackers and took their weapons. I would have been satisfied to remain at lockdown in the archives, but he insisted on further action. I suggested we make our way to the security office to ensure the Borg did not override the safety measures that could only silo them for so long. He agreed. We proceeded with the plan.’

Locke stared. ‘You took the security office and stopped the Borg from lifting the lockdown they were trying to break?’ The automatic alarms had sealed so many rooms on the Athenaeum. He’d known the locks had held despite the Borg’s best efforts. He hadn’t known why.

‘In truth, the credit should go to Gul Kaled. My initial decision was to adhere by lockdown protocols until security staff had resolved the crisis. He anticipated the greater danger.’ T’Falith’s eyes were back on him, dark but urgent. ‘Explaining this had not been relevant before now. He had made it clear he did not wish for others to know. I believe he was… uneasy at how this might affect the dynamics.’

‘The dynamics are that we would have been grateful -’

‘Gul Kaled always wished to be judged for his intellectual and academic contributions to the team. Rather than given regard for acts of physical courage that were, frankly, irrelevant to our work.’

Irrelevant? He saved our lives. My team. The entire institute!’

‘Indeed. Do you understand why, Commander, I hold him in high regard? And trust the possibility that he is not our enemy here.’

Locke worked his jaw, thoughtful now. ‘When dinner’s over,’ he said slowly, ‘you should invite him for a walk of the arboretum deck. Or – I don’t know. Something nice. Something we have aboard that might be a genuinely nice change from being cramped aboard a Cardassian warship.’

T’Falith’s gaze flickered. ‘I will not interrogate him on his mission under false pretense.’

‘No.’ He sighed, looking down, resisting the urge to shove his hands in his pockets like a misbehaving schoolboy caught out. ‘I mean, Rourke does want that. That’s definitely what he wants. But I’m actually suggesting that, in the middle of all of this suspicion and lies, you two get a chance to catch up and that he gets a chance for something nice. If he cares about that.’

‘He is more curious regarding Federation cultures than he permitted you to see. I am sure there will be something about the facilities of the Sirius that may be a pleasant diversion for him.’ T’Falith tilted her head. ‘Is this your expression of gratitude for his deeds?’

‘I guess. A bit.’ Locke sucked his teeth. ‘I’d say I could offer it myself – but he probably wouldn’t accept it from me. He would accept it from you. Besides.’ He met her gaze properly now. ‘Ambassador Hale did mention one thing: that he didn’t accept the dinner invitation until she dropped your name.’

T’Falith did not react, but there was something about the ease with which she didn’t react he thought was telling. ‘I see,’ was all she said.

‘Yeah,’ said Locke, not seeing at all. ‘So, Rourke does want you to squirrel the truth out of him. But I was thinking maybe, just maybe, we try treating him like the friend he’s proven to be so far. And see what that gets us.’