‘It’s quite unpleasant viewing,’ Carraway had warned them when he’d arrived in the CIC, fresh from the surface of Talmiru and his interviews with survivors of the D’Ghor’s raid.
Dathan had maintained her approach to Endeavour’s counsellor: pretending to listen while ignoring everything he had to say. It was a mark of the decadence of these worlds that they so valued a man who existed only to soothe feelings. He indulged their weaknesses, told them to turn their back on strength, encouraged them to expose their vulnerabilities to one another. In the guise of a Starfleet officer, Dathan had to pay Carraway a basic deference, but his words meant nothing to her.
To her mild surprise, Lieutenant Kharth looked similarly unimpressed by the warning as they played the footage from the surface. Carraway had recorded what he was permitted of the interviews, and provided notes elsewhere. Lieutenant Juarez, meanwhile, had plundered local security infrastructure for recordings of the attack itself. It was not a short briefing, the CIC’s projector showing the brutal attack in all its glory, the intimacy of recorded interviews magnified like a gross intrusion. Dathan had to recognise Carraway’s talent in the latter; while he took longer than she would have liked, he was effective in drawing out accounts of the D’Ghor’s activities, and had clearly edited out the irrelevant emotional sections.
She was not surprised when Kharth was the first to comment, halfway through footage of a pair of Klingon warriors dragging a woman screaming from a house to impale her on their blades. What surprised Dathan was the venom in Kharth’s mutter of, ‘Savages.’
‘Agreed,’ Dathan found herself murmuring. ‘I don’t see the point of this. Even in spreading chaos and fear, this lacks discipline or purpose. It’s wanton brutality. Barbaric.’
‘They appear,’ said Carraway, his disapproval gentle but audible, ‘to commit to dishonourable actions. The mass discommendation of the D’Ghor by the High Council makes them pariahs in Klingon society, even if individuals had committed no acts of dishonour. They are already denied Sto-vo-kor, and so adopt the practices of the most depraved and dishonourable figures of Klingon history.’
‘What’s their goal?’ said Dathan, pretending she cared. ‘They embrace villainy, but why? To punish those who exiled them? To find glory in infamy rather than honour?’
‘There are some theories that this monstrous display of strength will win them acclaim among the most damned of souls in Gre’thor,’ said Carraway. ‘But I don’t -’
‘They’re thugs, Counsellor,’ spat Kharth. ‘I’m not dismissing this fascinating social context for their actions. I understand they’re a product of complex Klingon hierarchies and rules. But it’s simple: they’ve been given permission, encouragement even, to indulge every vicious desire they have. There’s no complex justification, no heart of darkness for us to understand. Only bloodlust.’
Carraway shifted his feet. ‘I have to believe rational people -’
‘Sometimes rationally choose horrors,’ Kharth said flatly. ‘Klingon honour was invented to try to give structure and control to their base instincts, and the D’Ghor have thrown off those restraints.’
Dathan had spent enough years suppressing the last vestiges of the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance to recognise the brutality of Klingons. The violence of the D’Ghor surpassed even that, though it was not the scale of brutality that had given her pause. She’d seen worlds brought to heel under the reformed Empire, and enforcing fear was a necessary measure. But those who delighted in violence beyond all tactic or reason had won her disgust even in the ranks of the navy. It was a method, not a pleasure.
But she couldn’t say that. Instead, she lifted a hand and said, in a rather neutral voice, ‘The why matters only so far as it helps us anticipate their methods and tactics. But it’s evident we’re pursuing a group who will commit to wanton violence, which may make them unpredictable but it may also make them sloppy.’
Kharth grunted at that. ‘Sure. I’m going get a coffee. Then we draw up a map of their movements from when they landed; how directly they headed to the deuterium storage, how far they wandered. Try to develop a framework comparing their rampage to their tactical efficiency.’
She went to the side-office, leaving Dathan in the CIC with Carraway, who began to gather his PADDs. ‘I hope that was some use, Lieutenant.’
‘Of course,’ Dathan lied. She cared a lot more for Lieutenant Juarez’s recordings.
‘I’m going to head back to the surface. Try to help people work through what’s happened. If you want to talk, just drop me a comm.’ He gave a kindly smile at her bemused expression. ‘You’re studying an atrocity in detail. Secondary trauma’s a genuine problem, usually played down with -’
‘I think the people on the surface are the ones who’ve really suffered.’
‘Comments like that, yes.’ His gaze turned wry. ‘Once we leave, there’ll be no victims for me to help. Processing your feelings on what you’ve seen helps you be a better officer, Lieutenant. Recognising your emotions makes you better at separating them from your work.’
The very last thing Dathan was going to do was talk to a trained psychologist about her thoughts and feelings. But when she said, ‘I’ll try to make time,’ he looked both like he didn’t believe her, and like he wasn’t going to push the issue, and left the CIC with a polite farewell.
‘Is Counsellor Carraway not very popular?’ Dathan asked Kharth when the security chief came back.
Kharth frowned, clutching her steaming mug of coffee. ‘He’s nice.’
‘He gave me the impression he’s used to officers not wanting to talk to him. Professionally, I mean.’ She’d thought Starfleet would be bending over to discuss their feelings.
But Kharth snorted. ‘Show me the ship where everyone’s racing to pour their heart out to the counsellor? He knows he’s got an uphill battle and doesn’t push. Why, did he try to lure you into his office?’
‘He offered.’ Dathan paused. ‘He was very polite about it.’
‘Yeah, if you’re not sticking around, don’t let him guilt you into it.’
Dathan thought she heard the question as Kharth returned to the main display, summoning their maps of the town and the raid. ‘I’m not intending on this being a permanent assignment,’ she said.
Kharth harrumphed. ‘Gotta get back to a cushy desk job with Admiral Beckett?’
‘I feel I can do good there,’ said Dathan, because her cover demanded some defensiveness. ‘I’m surprised you don’t sound more grateful to him.’
Kharth froze at that, fingers hovering over the projector’s controls. ‘I’m perfectly grateful to the Admiral,’ she said at last. ‘But I’m satisfied to serve as a line officer. That’s where I do good.’
‘I know he can be difficult,’ said Dathan, not sure why she was saying such a thing at all. ‘I’ve worked with him long enough to notice. But it’s far, far safer and more convenient to stay on his good side.’
Kharth looked over at her, gaze level. That was the problem with Romulans, Dathan thought. Lying came second-nature to them. ‘I didn’t realise I was on his bad side.’
‘I think to be on his bad side, one needs to fail to do what he’s asked of you,’ Dathan said carefully. ‘To my knowledge, you’ve done no such thing, Lieutenant.’ She had very little interest, in truth, in the politics of Admiral Beckett controlling those he thought of as his creatures. He was too lax, as evidenced by the long leash on which he kept Captain Rourke and whose insolence he tolerated. Sending Kharth as his agent to Endeavour seemed pointless to Dathan’s eyes, and she suspected that was what unsettled the Romulan officer; lacking a clear motivation, it was assumed Beckett had grander intentions than he did. To Dathan’s eyes, he was just a small man who liked to demonstrate his power for the mere sake of it.
‘Well,’ grunted Kharth. ‘Let’s get on with this.’
Mapping the raid felt a lot more productive. Dathan hadn’t expected much professional satisfaction from this work; many of her duties under Beckett were like watching paint dry, manoeuvring people and resources to further goals for which she cared nothing. But identifying patterns and tactics of the D’Ghor, assembling the picture of how the crew of the Kut’luch operated, felt much more like her duties back home. There was a problem at hand, and a systematic approach meant she would assess it and understand it to find a solution.
‘They split their forces,’ she concluded at length, reaching to the display to highlight a route along the city map. ‘It looks like this contingent travelled relatively directly from the landing location, though they allowed themselves to get caught up in engagements en-route more than was strictly necessary.’
‘They are still Klingons,’ Kharth pointed out. ‘And the D’Ghor prize hand-to-hand combat. It wouldn’t be in their nature to bypass or shoot their way past opponents if they can pick a fight.’
‘But otherwise, they headed straight to the deuterium stores. The chaos came from landing parties who, while they certainly stole supplies, equipment, and valuables, seem to have simply… marauded.’ Dathan’s lip curled. ‘The kindest point I can make is that it gave the primary assault team cover.’
‘I doubt they thought that hard about it.’ Kharth sucked on her teeth. ‘I wonder to what extent this Gaveq has to provide opportunities like this to his warriors?’
‘You mean he could be more efficient, but opportunities for brutality keep his warriors happy and loyal?’ Dathan shrugged. ‘If that’s a significant part of how the D’Ghor maintain authority, that could explain the whole operation out here. The northern borders of the Empire are ready and protected from their raids. Could they have travelled so far just to target a relatively undefended Federation region for the primary purpose of satisfying their warriors?’
‘Clever tactics for an insurgency often involve making the most of small numbers,’ Kharth pointed out. ‘That’s antithetical to what the D’Ghor warriors want. So now they get to feed their bloodlust, likely pick a fight with Starfleet, and they can fade away as quickly as they came.’
‘It’s conjecture at this point.’ Dathan’s eyebrow quirked. ‘Would Captain Rourke look as unhappy with us as Counsellor Carraway did if we argue the D’Ghor are motivated primarily or exclusively by violence for violence’s sake?’
Kharth snorted. ‘The captain isn’t as ignorant of the reality. Commander Valance will act like we’ve personally insulted her, I expect.’
‘It’s bold,’ Dathan mused, ‘keeping a Klingon XO in such a mission.’
Kharth looked like she might say more, but the CIC doors slid open to admit the tall shape of Commander Airex. Dathan had not dealt with him at all yet, but found his reserved gaze even more withdrawn as he looked at them. ‘Lieutenants.’
Kharth’s back tensed in a rather telling manner. ‘Commander. Can we help you?’
‘On the contrary.’ Airex descended the steps to the central circle of the CIC. ‘I have something you may be interested in. It took Lieutenant Lindgren some time to gather data from every ship that bore witness to the Kut’luch attack, but I’ve concluded my analysis.’ He gestured to the holo-display. ‘May I?’
‘You could just tell us the end result,’ Kharth grumbled, but didn’t stop him.
He brought up the regional map, zoomed close to the Talmiru system, and uploaded a dataset that lit up multiple points in a vivid red. ‘Damage to the local infrastructure was so extensive that neither Lieutenant Drake nor I were satisfied with any conclusions on the Kut’luch’s heading when it departed. And these ships survived because they scattered, so many of them had only limited readings.’
‘If this story ends,’ said Kharth, ‘with you having inconclusive findings then I’d rather you didn’t waste our time -’
‘I’m getting to it,’ said Airex in a rather superior tone. ‘It took multiple composite sensor readings for us to put together their flight path, but we succeeded. And we have their heading.’ As the map lit up with a dotted line of the Kut’luch’s journey to and from the Talmiru system, he brought his hands away to draw the projection back, expanding to focus on this region of the Archanis sector. ‘With this heading, there are only so many realistic destinations.’
Kharth’s lips pursed. ‘You think they’re crossing the border?’
‘If they take a direct route, but it’s possible they’re curving to avoid this major trade lane,’ Dathan butted in, advancing to gesture accordingly.
‘Would they avoid such a tempting target?’
‘It could bog them down with minor engagements if their intention is to leave the area,’ she pressed.
‘Quite,’ said Airex. ‘I’m inclined to agree with Lieutenant Dathan, which is why this is what I theorise to be their flight route. You’ll see why.’ He swept a hand across the display to show the path.
Kharth let out a low whistle. ‘The Elgatis Refinery.’
‘The Elgatis Belt is a significant source of uridium, and the refinery is one of the largest industrial operations in the sector,’ said Airex primly.
‘A strike there would make a tempting target both for resources and for sowing chaos,’ Kharth mused.
‘Precisely my thinking.’
‘We’ll need to explore the alternatives,’ said Kharth, ‘if only to send word to nearby vessels to watch those routes, though I don’t know what good keeping an eye out for a cloaked ship is going to do. But I’ll tell the captain so we can start wrapping up planetside.’ She glanced up at him. ‘Good thinking, Commander.’
Airex merely gave an evasive shrug. Dathan tried to not roll her eyes at what she saw as feigned indifference, but Kharth didn’t seem to see through it, her gaze shutting down as she turned away to her notes.
‘It’s merely my job, Lieutenant,’ said Airex, not looking at her as he shut down the CIC’s display. ‘And I will be altogether more satisfied if it proves accurate.’
‘And I,’ said Kharth in a more taut voice, ‘will be satisfied once we’ve stopped these bastards.’