Petty Officer Voothe was still administering medical aid to the Hazard Team by the time Ensign Harkon set the King Arthur back down on Endeavour’s deck. Valance turned from the cockpit door the moment she felt them alight, barely looking at Thawn. ‘Make sure the medical team knows to bring cadaver pods,’ she called as she left, and slid down the ladder to the belly of the runabout.
They had not evacuated Compton and his people, because the moment they’d re-established contact with Endeavour, shuttles with security and medical teams had been dispatched and the Hazard Team ordered to return. Valance had considered staying on the refinery, but with Thawn a pale mess and Rhade injured, she’d instead left Kowalski to perform any handover and put her duty to the team first.
The team which was a state. Voothe was still hunkered next to Rhade, dermal regenerator hard at work on the vicious cut that had dug through body armour into his left shoulder.
‘We’re here, Petty Officer,’ Rhade was grumbling as Valance descended. ‘I can walk out on my own; see to those who need it.’
Voothe’s lips thinned, but he snapped his tools away. ‘I have, Lieutenant. And I’ll hand you directly to Medical.’
‘Do as Voothe says,’ said Valance tonelessly, and looked beyond him to the other four members of the Hazard Team. T’Kalla had popped the hatch, bringing the heavy door down completely to provide a stairway to the shuttlebay instead of expecting them to clamber the ladder in their state. That would be difficult for Baranel, leg already set in an emergency splint, being assisted upright by Shikar. Rhade got up with the help of Voothe and Seeley, the left side of her face still a mask of blood and bruises. Valance waved them all ahead, Rhade limping off with near-palpable reluctance, and they descended to the waiting arms of Endeavour’s medical team.
Except for four blue-shirted officers who boarded after them to retrieve the two bodies. Valance didn’t leave until they were gone, ginger as she herself descended to Endeavour’s deck.
Rourke stood waiting beside the medical officers as they swarmed across the Hazard Team, his uniform and face showing the signs of his own fight. His expression had been neutral as he watched, but then he saw her and his jaw dropped. ‘Good lord.’
Only then did Valance look down and realise how much blood she was covered in. ‘Most of this isn’t mine.’
Rourke tore his gaze from her to the two cadaver pods. ‘Who’d we lose?’
‘Otero and Palacio. No civilian losses. Maybe three D’Ghor survivors; I left Kowalski to help Security secure the refinery. Foreman Compton still can’t leave the facility until they’ve finished their work.’
Rourke worked his jaw. ‘Otero was married.’
‘And Palacio was young. Two losses against what we fought was…’ She almost said ‘good,’ but even the sinking numbness couldn’t let that slip past her lips. She cleared her throat. ‘It could have been worse. What happened to the Kut’luch?’
‘They detonated the uridium on purpose; they couldn’t outmatch us in a fight and hoped to disable both ships so they could board.’ Rourke’s voice was also rather mechanical. ‘We were a tougher nut than they expected. Boarders were repelled, and the Kut’luch ran. They were in a terrible condition too with the explosion, but after the damage to our power grid with their mine, we couldn’t chase them down.’ A muscle twitched in the corner of his jaw. ‘They got away.’
Valance let out a slow breath. ‘Our priority here was saving Elgatis Refinery. We did that.’
‘It would have been worse if not for Drake,’ he continued, almost without thinking. ‘He kept his post even when D’Ghor were swarming the bridge and the Kut’luch was trying to take out our weapon systems. If he hadn’t kept us flying, they might have clipped our wings and picked us apart, instead of turning tail.’
‘Swarmed the – how bad was the boarding?’
Rourke’s gaze went distant. ‘Otero and Palacio make thirteen dead. Not counting the six we lost two days ago.’ Valance’s shoulders sank at the news, but he kept talking, sounding like he was forcing himself to speak. ‘Those were all below in the uridium explosion or the boarding; lockdown points held, but Security took losses. The bridge was…’ He turned back to her and, as if it took a great effort, looked her in the eye. ‘Elsa was badly wounded. And so was Airex. They’re both in Sickbay.’
The strings it felt had been holding her up since the haze of battle had faded, since she’d let go of the D’Ghor war-leader and realised the fighting had ended while she’d killed him, twanged and threatened to break. ‘How badly?’
‘They’re fighting to save Elsa’s left arm. Commander Airex is still critical.’ He reached out, bringing a strong hand to her elbow she hadn’t realised she needed, but her left side screamed with sudden pain at even this very slight pressure. His eyes widened. ‘Let’s get you to Sickbay. That’s not all your blood.’
‘I think I broke a rib,’ said Valance, the words tasting acidic. ‘Did we capture many D’Ghor?’
‘Your three brings us to nine, all in the Brig.’ Rourke began to steer her across the shuttlebay, and Valance didn’t register that Thawn only stuck her head out the King Arthur’s hatch once they, along with the Hazard and Medical Teams, began to depart. ‘We’ll conduct interrogations but I don’t expect them to know much, even if they’d be inclined to volunteer it.’
‘No,’ Valance agreed. ‘If this Kuskir is keeping his base of operations a secret, warriors boarding enemy ships won’t know the location. But they may know the Kut’luch’s next move.’ Her nostrils flared as they reached the corridor. Even down here near the shuttlebay, the ship smelled different, the smoke like scars and blood of all she’d weathered. ‘The leader of the warband on the refinery seemed to have some rank, but I – he didn’t survive.’
Rourke gave her a cautious sidelong glance. ‘We knew the D’Ghor would fight to the death where possible. It’s almost like the Jem’hadar as a commitment, except the Jem’hadar’s discipline makes the D’Ghor a… different kind of horrific. It sounds like it was vicious on the station, Commander. Don’t blame yourself for fighting to win.’
Valance felt even more unsteady at the familiar voice, and they both turned to see Cortez jogging down the corridor towards them, sleeves rolled up, engineering kit slung over one shoulder, brandishing a PADD. The engineer slowed down, eyes widening at the sight of Valance. ‘Karana – I didn’t know you’d landed, what the hell happened -’
She lifted her hands. ‘I’m alright -’
‘I’m getting her to Sickbay.’ But Rourke sounded more brusque than reassuring, and let go of Valance to turn on Cortez. ‘What’s our status?’
‘That’s what I came to discuss – I called the bridge but it’s just Saeihr up there, and we need to talk -’
‘Good, then let’s talk.’ He set his hands on his hips. ‘How soon can we be underway?’
Cortez stared. ‘Hours, sir. Maybe a day. Our impulse engines are shot, right now we can’t do better than Warp 3, and I’m having Connor move us at a snail’s pace to get out of the belt with our navigational deflectors in the state they’re in. We’ve got multiple deck breaches, including the repairs I did to Deck 7 which blew with the explosion, our lateral sensor array is still offline…’
‘Warp 3’s good enough,’ he said. ‘The Kut’luch probably can’t make that, and definitely not if they’re cloaked.’
‘Sir, you want us to go after them? We’re in no state for a fight.’
Rourke took a step forward, and the diminutive Cortez had to crane her neck to look him straight on. ‘They’re wounded,’ he said, voice a low rumble. ‘And on the run. We catch up to them in open space, it’s only a few barrages of torpedoes and they’re done for.’
‘You think,’ said Cortez, brandishing her PADD. ‘Sir, we can’t get much power to the deflector, and we have sections of the ship that are exposed or have pretty much all armour stripped away by now.’
Valance felt her head spinning as the fading adrenaline continued to reveal every one of her scrapes, cuts, bumps, and probably-broken ribs. But neither appeared to have remembered her as Rourke shook his head. ‘If they’re given a chance to go to ground before we catch them -’
‘If they find even one friend by the time we catch up with them – sir, we’re in no condition for a fight! I didn’t like us going into a fight after the mine, but I knew Elgatis was an emergency!’
‘You patched us up then,’ Rourke rumbled. ‘And you’ll do it again. This Gaveq has killed a lot of people, and if we let him through our fingers now he will do it again. Do you understand that, Commander? Can you step up when I need you to, or do I have to go tell Lieutenant Adupon?’
Cortez rocked back, but her eyes narrowed at the implication. ‘It’s because I’m qualified that I’m telling you this, sir. Commander?’ This last was issued at Valance, the engineer cautious to keep her tone level, but clearly entreating the XO to weigh in.
But Valance hardly heard her. She pressed a hand to her side, winced, and turned away. ‘I… need to be in Sickbay.’
‘I’ll get you there, Commander,’ Rourke said, but jabbed a finger at Cortez as he left. ‘They slaughtered civilians. They drew us here for this fight, they would have killed everyone in that refinery if we hadn’t stopped them, and they killed thirteen of our own. We’re ending this.’
Cortez faltered. ‘Thirteen? It was eleven…’
But Rourke had taken his statement and her reeling as the end of the conversation, and Valance hadn’t made it many stumbling steps down the corridor before he caught up with her, the hand now at her back to steady without putting pressure. ‘One foot in front of the other, Commander,’ the captain said, voice again that low, intense rumble. ‘We’ll get you patched up. Then we’re getting back into the fight.’