‘Why me?’ said Drake, following Kharth along the corridor to Transporter Room 2. ‘Surely you can get the FNG from here to the captain’s ready room without him being shot or something, badass Chief of Security like you?’
She glared, and he remembered implying she couldn’t do her job, even as a joke, was dangerous turf right now. ‘Captain Rourke suggested I and a “friendly” member of the senior staff greet and escort Lieutenant Rhade,’ she said. ‘As if I’m not friendly? I’m friendly as hell.’
‘Yeah, that’s the first word I’d use to describe you. What, was Elsa not around?’
‘Basically,’ sighed Kharth. ‘But if we have to work with this new golden boy, we might as well make the most of it and work out how to tolerate each other.’
‘That’s the friendly spirit! We’ll be at “barely coping with each other’s company” before you know it.’
Kharth would have happily told him where to go in private, but then they were in Transporter Room 2 and nobody wanted to scandalise Chief Zharek.
‘Standing by to transport from the Hotspur,’ the transporter chief reported.
‘Alright, if you must,’ grumbled Kharth, going to fold her arms across her chest.
Drake elbowed her. ‘Basic body language, woman. Hells.’
Again, she might have given him a retort, but the air shimmered above the pad with the lights of the transporter to materialise their new arrival. Lieutenant Rhade was a tall and broad man, bigger even than Rourke and with more muscle than their commanding officer’s tendency towards stoutness. Square-jawed, blond hair crisply short and tidy, dark eyes of his Betazoid heritage clear and intense, Drake wondered how many times he’d been scooped for a Starfleet recruitment advert.
But he bounded down from the transporter pad with more of a ready smile than expected. ‘Lieutenant Rhade, requesting permission to board.’ His voice was deep but melodious, educated and precise but still warm.
Kharth’s gaze was inscrutable. ‘Permission granted. I’m -’
‘Lieutenant Kharth, Chief of Security, of course.’ He extended a hand eagerly. ‘It’s going to be an honour to serve with you.’
Only by the slight tilt of the head could Drake tell she was marginally taken aback, but she shook his hand. ‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.’
‘Not at all. I read your reports from missions on the Cavalier and Starbase 371, not to mention Endeavour’s top work in the Azure Nebula. I’m looking forward to being part of your team.’
Drake wondered if someone had warned him, if he’d dared to read her mind, or if he was this sincerely thrilled. Either way, he smirked at how wrong-footed Kharth was, and elbowed his way in. ‘Yeah, the lieutenant’s all great ideas and a big friendly heart. Lieutenant Drake, Helmsman.’
‘Pleasure.’ Rhade’s handshake was like a cheerful vice. ‘My luggage was beamed to my quarters direct and I’m sure I can find the captain’s ready room. So I appreciate the welcome wagon, but there’s no need for me to waste your time here.’
‘No waste at all,’ said Kharth, still somewhat cool. ‘The captain asked us to escort you to him.’ She extended a hand to the door.
Drake gave her a pointed look as Rhade headed on. ‘Yeah,’ he muttered. ‘We got the absolute devil here, don’t we. Not a muscular golden retriever.’
She glared at him, but stepped up to draw level with Rhade as they walked to the turbolifts. ‘I’ve left you the day to get settled and prepare for your bridge duties, Lieutenant, but tomorrow morning’s a briefing and introduction for the Hazard Team. You can arrange how to move forward from there.’
A frown tugged at Rhade’s honest brow. ‘You won’t be staying on as Training Officer?’
‘I’ve been sharing that responsibility with Commander Valance as I’ve been acting team leader for the last few months.’
‘Understandable, but records suggest your familiarity with the team outweighs hers, even factoring in the Wild Hunt boarding action. And in my experience, Hazard Teams work better the closer we are to Security. If you’ve got your hands full with the department I understand, but I think we’re best looking after the team together, Lieutenant.’
‘We can discuss it. Captain Rourke may have thoughts, and you should meet Commander Valance before counting her out.’
‘Yeah,’ piped up Drake, popping up from behind. ‘She’s even friendlier than the Lieutenant.’ Kharth elbowed him.
Rhade’s smile was polite. ‘I won’t put my weight behind such decisions until I’m more settled. But don’t pull back your involvement on my account, Lieutenant.’
‘I rather have to,’ said Kharth, ‘as you’re the team leader now, and I’m not.’
Drake let out a sigh of relief as the turbolift doors slid open before them, and his gaze brightened when he realised the lift already had one occupant. He slid inside first, extending a hand in an ostentatious welcome. ‘Thawn! Exciting bridge shift ahead? Allow me to introduce -’
But Rhade had stopped in the turbolift door, ramrod straight, gaze apprehensive. ‘Rosara.’ And Drake realised that Thawn’s trapped look wasn’t about him.
Her expression fluttered. ‘Adamant. I hadn’t realised we’d rendezvoused with the Hotspur.’
‘We, uh, made up an hour in the night,’ Drake said in a bit of a rush, not sure why he felt compelled to fill the silence. ‘So I see you’ve met.’
‘Of course we’ve met,’ said Thawn, but she sounded detached, like chiding him was, for once, not her primary consideration. He cast a wild look at Kharth, who shrugged and just looked glad to not have to carry the conversation any more as Thawn spoke on. ‘We’re betrothed.’
Rhade’s apprehensive expression took on a tense edge. ‘I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to speak -’
‘And even when we do, the arrangement between our families is not a secret,’ said Thawn, as if she hadn’t kept all of this from the crew for the days since they’d learnt of Rhade’s assignment. ‘I’m pleased to see you, Adamant.’
Drake thought she sounded more like she’d taken a blow to the head and was slightly stunned, but Rhade looked only a little more at ease as he stepped into the lift. Then he bowed, reached for Thawn’s hand, and kissed the back of it. ‘It is always an honour to see you, Rosara.’
Drake could tell Kharth was eyeballing him in desperation, but he was too busy watching Thawn – the absence of any expression, the pitch-perfect emotional control he felt she’d always thought she possessed but never quite mastered. But she didn’t look at him, eyes on Rhade, and when he straightened she allowed the very slightest tilt of the lips in a smile. ‘Welcome aboard.’
Kharth’s voice, coming as if from very far away, was like a desperate plea as one word cut through the tension of the by now rather crowded lift. ‘Bridge?’
‘So.’ Rourke gave one steaming mug to Lieutenant Rhade and returned to his seat behind his desk. Thus far his new officer had yet to commit what Rourke was inclined to think of as the cardinal sin of being too uptight to have even a hot drink with his commanding officer, and had gamely requested a Gavaline tea. ‘I’m gratified you accepted assignment here, Lieutenant, but I’ve got to say I’m surprised.’
Lieutenant Rhade had a genteel sip before he answered. ‘Surprised by what, sir?’
‘The Hotspur’s a good ship. Four years along the Tzenkethi, Breen, and Kzinti borders; that’s some of the most troubled regions of the last decade,’ said Rourke, glancing down at his PADD even if he’d read Rhade’s records enough by now to not need to. ‘Deputy Chief of Security. Hazard Team Leader.’ Rhade’s polite expression didn’t shift, and Rourke realised he hadn’t directly asked. ‘Why leave?’
Rhade set down his teacup. ‘Obviously you’ve seen my record. The time I’ve not spent on front-line assignments has been back on Betazed.’
‘Yes, I see that – a semester at the Betazed Military Academy in your third year as a cadet; two years running a team out of Betazoid sector security, specifically protecting high-profile government targets. Homesick?’
‘Not quite, sir. Military service has been a tradition in my family for centuries, even as local defence forces across the Federation were largely subsumed by Starfleet. I’ve trained and served with the Betazoid Guard because I expect some time in the next decade I’ll leave Starfleet for them.’
‘So you want to bring the best of Starfleet experiences to the Guard?’
Rhade shook his head. ‘I want to do the most good I can while I’m here, far from home. Since the Breen attack on Barzan, plenty of forces have been reallocated to the Alpha Quadrant borders. I trained my successor on the Hotspur for two years. There’s nothing more I can bring to them, and I’m looking for new challenges.’
‘Challenges, we can give you,’ mused Rourke. ‘I’ll be frank with you, Lieutenant. Your position as Officer of the Watch is something of a smokescreen. You’re perfectly qualified and Commander Valance will make good use of you, and I want you in a position where as Hazard Team Leader you’ve access to senior staff information…’
‘But you didn’t recruit me to be a bridge officer,’ said Rhade mildly. ‘You recruited me for the Hazard Team. I’m prepared to adapt, sir. It’s perhaps for the best, rather than putting me with the security department, if you want a clear delineation between my responsibilities and Lieutenant Kharth’s.’
Rourke watched him a heartbeat, wondering if his chief of security had worn her heart that much on her sleeve. It was hard to see past the courteous voice and measured gaze, and he still wasn’t sure if Rhade was just a perfectly sincere officer or was putting on a good front. ‘That and with her deputy Lieutenant Juarez, it’d be a waste of your skills in the department.’
‘Of course. She and I are to conduct the handover of the team tomorrow. For the record, sir, my standard position is that it’s better if the Chief of Security acts as training officer for the Hazard Team.’
‘I’ll take that under advisement as you have more experience of Hazard Team management than I think the entire crew put together, including myself,’ said Rourke. ‘But that decision will be made between Commander Valance and Lieutenant Kharth.’ And I’m not getting in the middle there. He hesitated, picking at the PADD, and wondered why he was having this conversation twice in one week. ‘I had wondered if your reasons for transferring to Endeavour were personal.’
At last, Rhade looked ill at-ease. ‘You’re referring to Lieutenant Thawn.’
‘I hadn’t realised she was engaged until you attached the notification as a part of the transfer arrangement. I appreciate the transparency.’
‘I thought it only appropriate you be aware of a personal relationship among your senior staff,’ said Rhade, but he still shifted his weight. ‘But the lieutenant was not particularly a factor in my transfer.’
His gaze tensed. ‘You were the first captain to request my assignment. Had I had a choice, I suppose she might have tilted it in Endeavour’s favour.’
‘I’m not looking to pry,’ said Rourke, actually looking to crawl under his desk until the situation went away. ‘And you’re right, so long as I know and Counsellor Carraway knows, there’s no need for professional oversight. Especially considering the separation of your duties.’
‘Not entirely, sir. We will work together on bridge shifts quite a lot, I imagine.’
Rourke tried to not frown. Rhade had come in with measured but easy courtesies, at ease with decorum without seeming rigid. Only now was he showing any apprehension, but it felt odd to Rourke that he be so uncomfortable even mentioning his personal life. Which meant the issue wasn’t the lines between personal and professional being blurred – it was the subject matter itself. Rourke put his elbows on the desk and clasped his hands before him. ‘Your family has a history of service. That’s the Seventh House of Betazed, yes?’
‘Yes, sir. The line was founded from royal guards elevated to nobility a thousand years ago; thus, the military tradition.’ At once, Rhade looked more comfortable, like he thought the topic had moved on.
That cinched it. Rourke nodded thoughtfully, then said, ‘How long ago was your marriage arranged to Rosara Thawn as a daughter of the Twelfth House?’
Again Rhade tensed, but looked uncomfortable rather than affronted. He straightened. ‘Upon her birth. Sir, I have no intention of moving forward with any plans that might remove us both from the Fleet – as I said, I expect to be in service for another good ten years or so, at which point we perhaps might be married…’
‘Of course. No rush.’ Rourke gave a gentle, guarded smile. ‘I hope Endeavour is a chance for the two of you to get to know each other a little better, then.’
Rhade relaxed at that, reaching to drain his tea with a hint of nervous energy. ‘I – yes, sir. Hopefully, sir. I’m not here to cause disruption.’
‘Don’t worry, Lieutenant. Endeavour tends to provide plenty on its own.’ Rourke took some pity, now he’d got to the bottom of his own curiosity. ‘I’ll also be frank. Your record suggests you’re familiar with conflict and military engagement. This is a Starfleet ship, but Endeavour is a Manticore, about as close to a warship as has been designed and built since the Dominion War, whatever my Chief Science Officer might think. In fact, a not insignificant portion of the senior staff are accustomed to Starfleet tradition over what some officers call hard-nosed reality.’
Rhade’s new frown was thoughtful. ‘I would consider myself a soldier, sir. I’m committed to combat in the name of defence. Euphemisms aside I am, yes, committed to violence.’
Rourke watched him. ‘That’s a bold statement to make in Starfleet.’
‘It’s not a conclusion I’ve reached lightly. But violence will be done in this galaxy, and I hope, truly hope, that this ship’s diplomats and scientists will find the best way through or around it.’ Rhade worked his jaw a moment, contemplative. ‘I’ve no time for the notion that I’m a rough man standing by to do necessary things when diplomacy fails. I think that’s self-aggrandising and glorifies hurting people. I don’t want to hurt people.’
‘But you will.’ Rourke kept his voice and expression neutral.
‘After all alternatives have been exhausted. With restraint and with discipline. And, sir, with reluctance.’ Rhade shrugged. ‘Ignoring violence will not make it go away. Sometimes it must be answered with violence. But with that restraint and discipline, I can employ violence to minimise harm.’ He gestured across the table, suddenly a little abashed. ‘I’m sure you don’t need me to explain the ethics and philosophies of violence to you, sir; I’ve read your work.’
‘Glorified course notes,’ Rourke said, himself suddenly humbled. But he stood and extended a hand. ‘I’ll let you meet with Commander Valance to get orientated and settled in. But thank you for accepting this transfer request, Lieutenant Rhade. I look forward to working with you.’