Part of USS Endeavour: I Burn and Bravo Fleet: The Archanis Campaign

The Coast is Clear

Bridge, USS Endeavour
June 2399
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‘Haydorien patrols confirm the system is presently secure,’ Bekk reported from Comms. ‘And the dry-dock has a berth waiting for us.’

‘Coming out of warp now,’ said Drake, and Endeavour shook more than she should have as she slowed.

The viewscreen changed from streaming stars to the bright blue hues of Haydorien. Rourke knew he should have found the sight relaxing, but all that changed in him was a low, humming sense of urgency. It was time to rest, but only so they could fight again. ‘Bring us in to dock, Helm.’

Kharth looked up. ‘Sir, confirming the presence of multiple Starfleet ships: DiscoveryShackleton, and the Odyssey. The Odyssey looks like they’ve taken a hammering of their own.’

‘It’s the fashionable thing,’ Rourke murmured. ‘Send them a standard greeting, Mr Bekk, and explain why we’re here. Tell their captains I’ll be happy to talk more once Endeavour’s squared away.’ His gaze swept across the bridge, then he stood up with a sigh. ‘Lieutenant Kharth, if the coast is clear, the bridge is yours to bring us in. Commander Valance, my ready room.’

He caught the guarded, confused glances exchanged by both, women who didn’t like each other and still spared a look to confirm his behaviour was odd. But Valance followed him into his ready room anyway, and he made straight for the replicator for a cup of coffee that he desperately wanted to be whisky.

‘Cortez reckons we can be fighting fit in under a week,’ he said gruffly. ‘Do you think she’s telling me what I want to hear? Or under-promising to look like a genius if we’re underway in five days?’

Valance clasped her hands behind her back, cautious. ‘I think with all we’ve put the Engineering Department through, and considering this is a civilian dry-dock, we should take her at her word. And be prepared for an extra day or two, if only to give the engineers a chance to rest and recover before we’re back in the line of fire.’

He grunted. ‘Haydorien’s nice. Make sure everyone gets at least 24 hours’ shore leave.’ The coffee was piping hot as he took a swig and went to his window, taking a moment to watch the system begin to stream past. ‘Damning thing is that the people who need the longest breaks should use the time to work. Repairs. Drills.’

‘I’ll work out a fair rota. Forty-eight hours for Security before coming back to combat drills refreshed?’

‘And everyone who has transferable skills should spend one shift helping repair work. Even as extra hands. Get the department heads to assess how to best fit them in without giving Cortez more work managing them.’

‘Yes, sir.’

The silence hung between them, an uncertainty of what was wrong and what could be done and how much to say. Without the immediacy of battle hanging over them, the honesty of the past few days evaporated as captain and commander both retreated to safe ground, fortified enclosures of their thoughts and feelings. At last, Rourke turned back. ‘We need a plan.’

‘Aren’t we waiting for the Vondem Thorn?’

‘You disagree.’

She hesitated. ‘I respect that this is your area of speciality, sir. I don’t know the Borderlands. But I think we’ve taken a lot on faith.’

‘If I believe one thing about them, it’s that an operation like theirs wants the D’Ghor gone, and they’re obviously prepared to fight. The worst that happens is they take our information, forget about the Kut’luch, and go give the D’Ghor a bad day.’

‘Or they sell it to them.’

‘The D’Ghor don’t do well with local illicit economies and infrastructures. You know as well as I do that they’re not average pirates, or average Klingons.’ He frowned. ‘You had nothing to report from the prisoners.’

Valance straightened a half-inch, and by now he could see the war of indignation and defeat in her. ‘I’m not a trained interrogator, sir.’

‘That’s why I only asked if you’d talk to them,’ he said carefully. ‘The most important part of questioning is establishing a rapport. Fundamentally, people want to be understood. I asked because I thought you had the best shot at connecting with them on any level. Which is more of a reflection of the D’Ghor being very alien to Starfleet officers, principles, and ideas.’

‘Except for me, sir?’

Rourke blinked. He hadn’t expected this minefield. ‘If you were unsuccessful, I’ll talk with Kharth.’

Her shoulders sagged. ‘Do you think a Romulan Starfleet officer will do better?’

‘I don’t know what will do better. We know very little of their motivations and ideology. I agree that it’s a significant challenge – how do we make a connection with people who revel in murdering innocents because the more depraved they are, the higher their place in hell when they die?’ He put down his mug and braced his hands on the desk. ‘Fundamentally, an interrogation like this is an exchange. You have to give the suspect something they want in exchange for their information. It’s just when you control their environment, you can control those wants, and sometimes it’s as simple as believing the questioning will stop once they talk.’ He glanced back up. ‘So what do the D’Ghor want?’

Valance sighed. ‘Nothing we can give them, sir. Unless you’re prepared to sanction handing a d’k’tagh to a prisoner, on his word he’ll tell us whatever he knows before he ritually commits suicide in one of our cells.’

‘We’ll call that Plan B,’ Rourke said wryly. ‘No, they don’t get out that easy.’

‘They know it’s over, sir, at least for them. We’ll hand them to the Empire, who’ll probably execute them as honourless traitors, which Starfleet wouldn’t normally do but we transparently have no idea what to do with them. Their hope of death in battle is gone. Their chance at continuing to serve the D’Ghor is gone. We won’t free them and we won’t give them a more honourable death than the Empire. What can we possibly give them that they want?’

‘They want death or blood or honour,’ he murmured. ‘And we can’t give them death or blood. How do you give a warrior back their honour, Commander?’

‘They’ve been discommendated by the High Council -’

‘But for one of them, honourable suicide is enough to make a deal. So there is a personal element to their honour.’ He frowned at nothing, thinking. ‘Is there anything we can do to restore their honour? Even partially? If they recover some honour and we don’t hand them back to the Empire to be further dishonoured, that’s… surely better than nothing?’

‘They didn’t lose their honour down the back of the sofa, sir,’ said Valance a little flatly. ‘It’s not something we can give. It’s earned and it’s found.’

‘But not always by grand actions, or then how would this ritual suicide work? That’s an innately personal act. I assume it would still apply if nobody ever knew that was how a warrior died.’

She sighed. ‘And there you approach the question if Klingon honour is something one holds inside, or something created by how one is perceived. I don’t know, sir. Different Klingons have different opinions.’

‘But this warrior has to think it’s partly personal. If he’ll take dying alone in a cell with only Starfleet to see him.’

Valance watched him a moment. ‘I don’t know what you want from me, sir. I’m not an expert in Klingons, I just know how to talk to them. I spent some of my youth on Qo’noS, and I was in the exchange program for two years.’

‘So honour, for you, is internal.’

She straightened, but he could see the tension there and realised he’d misstepped. ‘Honour, for me, is something Klingons think about that is irrelevant to my life as a Federation citizen and Starfleet officer.’

Once he might have backed off and apologised. But her indignation hit the cold lumps inside him left by Elgatis, and he squared his shoulders, too. ‘Well, that’s horseshit, isn’t it, Commander.’

That staggered her. ‘Sir?’

‘I sent you months ago to find leads on the Wild Hunt and you came back befriending a local Klingon gang after honour-duelling a Mo’Kai agent into giving you the information you wanted. The Hazard Team’s reports from the refinery are polite, but I can read between the lines, Commander, and those gaps are screaming that you fought like a Klingon. You lived on Qo’noS and you served as a Klingon officer and frankly, Valance, I don’t give a damn what sort of family issues or cultural disconnect you’re working through.’ He jabbed a finger at her. ‘I wouldn’t have half the information on the D’Ghor I do without you, and especially not on how our prisoners are thinking, and you don’t get to bail on this issue because it makes you personally uncomfortable.’

She had been squaring up as he had, but halfway through his words she’d gone very still. When Valance spoke, her voice was low and cold. ‘Don’t make assumptions about my family or my life, sir. It’s not your place.’

‘Any assumptions I’ve made are based on your behaviour, Commander. And that behaviour suggests you have a perfectly decent understanding of Klingon culture and honour. You just choose to set yourself apart from it, like you chose to cut yourself off from what you saw as your Klingon traits because you thought they made you a worse officer.’ His chin tilted up. ‘Remember I am the blood-brother of the son of a Klingon house. Torkath thinks you’re a warrior, and that’s good enough for me. Right now I don’t need a cold first officer to write my rota and tell me when to pull back. I need someone who’s going to get inside our enemy’s head and tell me how to break them.’

‘I don’t know what you want from me, sir,’ said Valance flatly. ‘I can’t conjure honour for this D’Ghor out of thin air.’

He rolled his eyes. ‘Klingon culture is rife with ritual and protocol exploring a personal sense of honour. There has to be something, Valance – an act of atonement? Can I bring Torkath here and try to get him to forgive just one D’Ghor if it’ll make them talk? We have a week, Commander, find me something.’

Her gaze went distant as she looked away, and while his chest was heaving, Rourke knew he’d pushed her to a place which had nothing to do with the two of them. At length, she said, ‘There is one thing I can think of.’

‘Tell me.’

‘The Niy’It. The Long Walk. A physical and spiritual journey of cleansing, reflection, and personal understanding.’ Her voice was now toneless. ‘It is an opportunity for the honourless, or at least the lost, to shed themselves of guilt or distraction or burdens and find clarity. They undertake a long trek through perilous terrain with no weapons or supplies for four days and four nights, and meditation rather than sleep. It is not exactly a recovery of honour, but a chance to discover… a turning point. For when a warrior cannot find the wood for trees, so to speak.’

Rourke nodded slowly. ‘I assume we couldn’t just do it on the Holodeck.’

‘The safeties would have to be off. And I’m not sure we can rely on Endeavour’s power-grid or gravity plating being perfectly stable for all that time; if he had even the slightest suspicion it was a controlled environment, it’d be pointless.’ Valance shook her head. ‘We would have to find a remote location in the system. A subdermal equivalent to a combadge could be injected. With a shuttle in orbit, he wouldn’t be able to run.’

‘We can’t dump even the most cooperative D’Ghor on a moon on his own and assume he’ll just enact this Long Walk and tell us what he wants. He’d have to be accompanied.’

‘He can’t have a guard, sir; that defeats the object. The Long Walk is only for the honourless.’ It was as if she had to drag her eyes back to meet his gaze again. ‘We would have to offer him the Long Walk as a means of recovering some measure of honour, or at least a commitment to help him in whatever clarity it gives him if we can. In exchange for what he knows about Kuskir or Gaveq.’ Valance drew a deep, shuddering breath. ‘And if that’s the case, the only person who can go with him is me.’