‘Everyone aboard, Commander,’ came Thawn’s crisp, clear voice – and then it caught. ‘Cancel that. We lost Commander Rourke’s signal, he’s still on the station.’
Valance sat up in the command chair, throat tight. ‘Then get him out, Lieutenant.’
‘Quantum field is now expanding rapidly,’ Airex reported. ‘If they’re looking to open a rift like the one we were caught in before, I expect it’ll need to engulf at least the station.’
‘I can’t – I can’t get a lock on the Commander, or anyone on the station. It’s like they’re just not there any more,’ came Thawn’s shaky report.
‘Because they’re not,’ said Airex coolly. ‘At least, not enough for a transporter lock. They’re in a state of quantum flux, and already starting to phase out of this reality.’
Valance pushed to her feet with her left arm, her right strapped up against her and still aching. ‘Lieutenant Drake, launch a shuttle. We’ll ferry him back.’
Airex was silent in a way she knew meant he had something to say, and as she looked back, his face was tense. ‘Commander, we don’t have the time. Within minutes, this rift is going to open. That won’t just take the whole station; it opening is going to cause such a breach in space-time it’ll tear us apart.’
She stared at him for another heartbeat, then rounded on Lindgren. ‘Get him back on comms.’
Lindgren tapped her controls. ‘Amplifying the signal through his tricorder; we’ve got him on-screen.’ The viewscreen changed from the battle display to the dim, battered interior of Epsilon-7, and the worn face of Matt Rourke, the image quality much lower as he used his tricorder’s shaky display for visual.
Valance drew another breath. ‘Sir, we’re having trouble getting you out.’
‘I got that,’ came Rourke’s rather dry drawl. ‘Halvard accelerated the quantum field growth. Looking at these displays, I think all ships need to be at least three million kilometres away.’
Valance’s eyes returned to Lindgren. ‘Signal the Caliburn and the Odysseus to pull back to a safe distance,’ she said, then looked at Drake. ‘Hold position, helm.’
‘You’ve got to move outside of transporter range, and you can’t get a lock on me anyway.’ Rourke hesitated, but when he pressed on his voice was clear. ‘Your orders are to get out of here.’
‘We’re not doing that, Captain.’
She hadn’t realised what she’d said, what she’d called him, until he gave a bark of wry laughter. ‘I don’t know if you’re only giving me the courtesy title because you’re disobeying me or ‘cos I’m about to get blown up.’ But he sobered, and she found his eyes locked on hers, piercing even through the low quality of the tricorder’s display. ‘Let me do this, Commander.’
Valance heard the unspoken in his voice, saw it in his gaze, and thought of how he’d stood on the Firebrand’s bridge and watched his crew get shot. Let me die for you, like I couldn’t die for them.
Except that put her in his shoes three years ago. She rounded on Airex. ‘Dav, tell me you’ve got a genius idea.’ If Rourke’s mistake had been to watch his people die, her mistake had been not listening to her people.
Airex looked at her, then down at his controls. ‘He and the station are phasing out of our reality as the matter in this part of space changes its quantum alignment,’ he said, but her heart sank as she realised he was desperately thinking aloud. ‘When the alignment is significant enough, it’ll cause a rift. I don’t -’
Thawn spun in her chair, looking at him. ‘Commander, can you provide some estimation of the alignment the matter’s changing to?’
‘I can,’ Airex said cautiously. ‘We’ve enough scans of that Aquarius. But the process isn’t complete; they’re becoming trapped between realities like we were. You won’t get a transporter lock off that because he still doesn’t fully exist there either – the matter’s starting to coexist in both and neither space at once.’
‘Send it over,’ Thawn said anyway, returning to her controls.
‘What are you thinking, Lieutenant?’ said Valance.
‘I’m going to beam him back with every one of our transporters,’ she said, as if this was perfectly normal. ‘Each one configured to beam from the same location in space-time but on a different quantum level to compensate for the inter-spatial phasing that’s happening to him.’
Airex cocked his head. ‘Beaming him from multiple sources back to the same dimensional plane and back on Endeavour.’
‘This,’ said a narrow-eyed Rourke, ‘sounds bloody theoretical. You don’t have time.’
Valance had joined Airex at his console, reading the output. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the watch MacCallister had given her, heavy and metal in her hand, and flicked it open before glancing to Thawn. ‘You have one-fifty seconds. Drake, set us a course out of here and stand by to go to maximum impulse.’
Rourke scowled. ‘That’s cutting it far too tight -’
‘Sir, don’t make me mute you while Lieutenant Thawn’s thinking.’ Valance moved to the Operations Chief’s side, seeing the young woman’s hands race across the controls, brow furrowed as she bit her lip. Valance glanced between the display and the pocket-watch, then tapped her combadge. ‘Bridge to Engineering.’
‘Cortez here – our power levels are starting to -’
‘I need you to do more dancing with our power, Lieutenant. You’ve got to give everything you can to our transporter systems, and the second we’ve beamed the Commander out, reroute everything to engines.’
She heard Cortez suck her teeth. ‘Alright, but when this is over you’re gonna have to let this girl lie down.’
‘We’ll all have earned that,’ Valance said, and signed off.
Next to her, Thawn slammed her fist down on the controls. ‘Oh, to – to the fucking Great Fire with this!’ Valance almost jumped at the display, not just because her heart was running a mile a minute. But she’d never heard Thawn snap like that.
‘Get out of here,’ said Rourke on the display.
Valance jabbed a finger at him. ‘Shut up, sir.’
Drake had turned in his chair to lean towards Thawn, and put a hand to her shoulder. ‘Hey. Breathe. You can do this, but not if you don’t chill out, right?’
‘Really, Lieutenant, I never thought of that,’ Thawn hissed through gritted teeth.
He smirked. ‘Yeah, I mean, I am the smartest person on this bridge.’ Valance was just about to tell him to stop antagonising her, when inexplicably she saw Thawn’s shoulders relax, her thudding instructions on the console return to focused, not frantic.
‘I’m sorry, Lieutenant,’ Thawn carried on. ‘But I’m busy trying to tell the laws of physics to sit down and shut up while you’re here self-aggrandising…’
Valance looked up at Rourke, who’s indignant expression had shifted for one just as confused as hers. ‘Alright, fine,’ Rourke said. ‘I don’t want to get in the middle of that.’
Thawn jabbed the console one last time, which beeped. ‘Stand by for transport, Commander!’
Valance rounded back to the command chair. ‘Beam him out of there, Thawn. Drake, get us ready to leave the moment she’s done!’ Her eyes snapped up to Rourke. ‘We’re getting you home, sir.’
She saw him flinch, his gaze flickering about the bridge. ‘You’ve gone above and beyond. All of you. If this -’ And the comm feed went dead as Thawn activated the transporters.
Instantly, Drake hammered helm controls. ‘I’m getting us out of here.’
Valance nodded, her eyes on Thawn. Even at maximum speed, they had long moments within transporter range. But for thudding heartbeats she said nothing, gave no indication of success as she monitored her controls and tapped the Ops console. Then Lieutenant Thawn pushed back from her station and sagged in her seat. ‘We got him.’
Drake punched the air even as he flew. ‘Hell, yeah!’ At Comms, Lindgren gave a laugh of relief and a short clap.
Even Airex smiled. ‘Outstanding work, Lieutenant.’
Valance had to fight the urge to collapse back in the command chair, suddenly exhausted, her arm hurting a lot. ‘Keep us out of range of this interphasic rift,’ she said, forcing strength into her voice, and looked back to the pocket-watch.
‘Clear of Commander Airex’s estimated affected zone in five seconds,’ Drake confirmed.
‘Interphasic rift opening,’ said Airex, and at once the deck began to shudder. ‘Gravimetric distortions beginning.’
‘Maintain full speed, helm,’ Valance said unnecessarily. Grip tight, she drove the metal of the pocket watch into the palm of her hand.
‘Rift formed!’ called Airex. ‘Highly similar to what we were trapped in before, exerting same gravimetric forces…’
An alert siren went off at Ops, and Thawn was back at her station, voice a little shaky. ‘Power levels are falling, Commander,’ she reported.
‘We’re losing speed,’ Drake confirmed.
The deck bucked, and Valance hammered comms. ‘Bridge to Engineering; if you have anything left in the back pocket, now’s the time!’
‘I’m giving you all I can!’ came Cortez’s somewhat muffled, frantic voice. ‘I can bypass the safeties I installed, but I don’t recommend this for more than ten seconds or we’ll see another overload like Thuecho!’
‘If we don’t, we’ll be ripped apart anyway! Do it!’
‘You should know this is very scientifically exciting,’ said Cortez, then swore. ‘Rerouted! That’s all I got!’
‘Hang on!’ Valance snapped at everyone as Endeavour continued shuddering and shaking.
‘Rift is already losing cohesion!’ shouted Airex. ‘It’s collapsing; I don’t know if we’re far -’
The deck bucked once more, almost every alert klaxon on the bridge going off. Valance had to brace her feet to not be thrown out of her chair again, but then as suddenly as it had intensified, it stopped.
Drake gave a whoop. ‘Free of distortions, Commander!’
‘Cutting emergency power protocols,’ Thawn reported crisply.
Valance let out a slow breath, then looked back at Airex. ‘The rift?’
He sagged at Science. ‘It’s collapsed. Took the station and the Blackbirds with it. No telling if they were destroyed or… moved.’ But he looked down at his console, and tapped a few sensor controls. At once his tone shifted from tired to curious. ‘I only read a limited array of quantum readings; I think this one was supposed to go somewhere very specific…’
She let him talk, let Airex’s enthused engagement with the scientific impossibility of the situation wash over her, and slowly she snapped the pocket-watch shut. It hung in her hand, heavy and warm, and the mere memory of MacCallister was enough to slow her heartbeat, at least for the moment. Around her, Drake eased off on the engines, Thawn checked systems, doubtless coordinating with the distant, frantic work in Engineering of Cortez, and slowly, slowly the frantic pace for everyone aboard eased. She’d almost let her thoughts completely abandon the present by the time the turbolift doors swished open.
And in stormed a battered, grimy, but living, breathing, and angry Matt Rourke. ‘What the hell were you thinking, Commander?’ Behind him followed Kharth and Templeton, their expressions inscrutable, all three still in combat gear.
Valance rose only slowly. ‘Sir, we had an opportunity -’
‘You had a one in a million shot which left the entire ship in danger of being ripped apart by a damned rift in space-time!’ Rourke stomped over, jabbing a finger at her.
‘A one in a million shot at saving you, sir.’
‘At the potential expense of everyone on board!’
Thawn, who’d gone rather pale once the job was finished, had turned in her chair to gape at him. ‘Sir, we thought we could -’
‘Lieutenant, I’m not finished.’ Rourke didn’t even look over, hands on his hips as he stared at Valance, still. ‘You just ignored my orders because your bridge crew hoped it could be done?’
Now Valance scowled, the pain in her arm turning to aggravation at his ingratitude. ‘The experts on my bridge said it could be done, and I believed it could be done, sir,’ she said, chin tilting up a defiant half-inch.
Rourke looked her dead in the eye for another moment. And then he grinned. ‘How’s that for trusting them and yourself, huh?’ As she gaped in confusion, all tension fled him, and he turned to the rest of the bridge. ‘Thank you. All of you,’ he said, voice suddenly hoarse. Then he looked at Thawn. ‘Especially you, Lieutenant. I don’t really understand how I’m still here, but I know you’re a bloody genius.’
Thawn had wilted, but now she gave a small yet infinitely pleased smile. ‘I’m just glad you’re alright, sir.’
‘I am. And the Wild Hunt is done for. Outstanding job – everyone.’
Lindgren put a finger to her earpiece. ‘Sir, we and the Odysseus are being hailed by the Caliburn.’
Both bridges looked like they’d been through a lot, but Hargreaves sat calm and collected. ‘Glad you could catch up, Endeavour.’
Aquila’s eyes scoured the viewscreen. ‘I hope you pulled my XO out with your people.’
‘He’s fine,’ said Rourke, and Templeton gave a jaunty wave from the back of the bridge. ‘Even made himself useful.’
‘Yeah,’ piped up Templeton. ‘Felt like doing something a bit different.’
‘My science officer is having a field day,’ Hargreaves butted in, ‘on what happened to the station. But with that space-time… incident… it looks like we haven’t picked up a single prisoner for questioning.’
‘That’s the end of the Wild Hunt, though,’ Rourke said firmly. ‘They won’t be a problem for the Minos Sector going forward.’
‘A brutal cost,’ said Aquila, ‘but I assume Command is going to want to mull over the oddities here.’
‘I think it’s reasonable for us to treat them as a defeated paramilitary force,’ said Rourke, ‘rather than criminals we failed to apprehend.’
‘I don’t think I care for the distinction with that loss of life.’ Hargreaves scowled. ‘But what’s done is done, and this was tougher than it needed to be. All our ships would benefit from getting berthed.’
‘We should stick with the mission guidance to proceed to Starbase 157. Reports can be compiled en route. And let our superiors worry about what’s next.’ Rourke let out a slow breath. ‘Thank you, Captain, Commander.’
Hargreaves just grunted, but Aquila smirked. ‘All in a day’s work.’
Rourke turned away as the viewscreen went dead. ‘You heard, Mister Drake. Starbase 157, at whatever speed Engineering can give us while cutting themselves some slack. Then get yourselves relieved. You’ve earned it.’