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

The Right Call

USS Endeavour
June 2399
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It was a good day.

Even if Dathan Tahla had not been a spy, she wouldn’t have shown her good mood. She was from a culture where keeping your cards close to your chest came as easy as breathing, and had thrived under the double-edged blade of being overlooked and underestimated. It was the most amateurish of mistakes to show something had pleased her, and doubly so when the reason was that she had an advantage over someone.

Bulkheads along Deck 15 were still scored with phaser and disruptor fire. A bloodied smear had dried on a junction corner as only a day ago an injured officer would have staggered past. She walked by crewmembers whose uniforms were still worn or torn, often sporting cuts and scrapes so minor nobody in Medical had yet had time to patch them up. They had only just docked and would soon enough have time to recover, but most looked tired, some looked morose, and everywhere she walked bore the exhausted, bloody air of defeat.

She would have thought that madness under normal circumstances. They had driven off brutish scum. That they’d escaped was immaterial; there were always more brutes. But now, today, Dathan could barely stand it, the hint of decadent weakness, like these Starfleet officers had looked into the heart of darkness for only the first time.

This had been nothing. True darkness would break them.

She had to measure her gaze more when she stepped into the turbolift to find Carraway inside. While he was still a bit dishevelled, he looked like he might have slept and washed. She didn’t know if she wanted to commend him for his pragmatism or sigh at how he carried lesser burdens but presumed to tell everyone how to bear theirs. Neither option was appropriate, though, so she chose a tired, polite smile. ‘Counsellor. Bridge.’

‘Lieutenant.’ His smile was still irksomely kind. ‘You doing alright?’

‘I wasn’t hurt, and I don’t think I’d met anyone we lost,’ she pointed out.

‘You still fought in vicious hand-to-hand combat and were ambushed by several Klingons on your own in the corridors.’

‘I know we made an agreement,’ she said dryly, ‘but I didn’t think you’d want to hold a session on the lift.’

Carraway chuckled and looked down, bashful. ‘No.’

‘Not to mention,’ she said, turning to face him, ‘you had a rather difficult time.’ It wasn’t that she cared, Dathan reasoned. But suggesting that she did made her less suspicious, and people often preferred to talk about themselves anyway. It would get her through a turbolift trip.

‘Yeah,’ he allowed, and there was a vulnerability in his eyes when he looked up that she found startling in its acceptance. ‘I’m not a soldier or a security officer. I’ve barely been in a fight. Once a year I go down to Security and run through the basic tests I need to stay rated for a starship assignment.’ He shrugged, but then his gaze went shrewd. ‘You know how it is.’

And by pretending to care, Dathan realised she’d let him outmanoeuvre her. Her gaze flickered to the ceiling. ‘Computer, halt turbolift.’

Carraway drew a deep breath. ‘I’m not looking to push you, Lieutenant.’

‘It’s not what you think,’ she said, more calmly than she felt, and aware she was speaking to fill time until she figured out what she’d say.

‘I understand that there are some things in your line of work that you can’t talk about.’ He spoke like she was some startled creature that might bolt if he didn’t keep her calm. ‘And that’s even harder if your official records list you as an analyst and not a field-rated Intelligence Officer. But I’ve got higher clearance than I bet you think, exactly so I can talk to officers like you about things they can’t talk about with anyone else.’

He knows I’m a spy, Dathan realised with wonder. He just thinks I’m a spy who works for Starfleet. She sighed, and let a dose of her genuine relief sink in. Lies were always best when they hewed close to the truth. ‘Counsellor, my situation in Starfleet is… complicated,’ she said honestly. ‘You’re correct. I’m more than my records say I am. I’ve had experiences that aren’t in my personnel files. But I do receive counselling for this.’

His kind smile returned. ‘Okay, Lieutenant. I’m not really worried; you do what you gotta to get through these few weeks. Just know that if you want to talk, I can listen. More than anyone on this ship except the captain, and I imagine you don’t want to talk to him about this.’

‘The captain…’ Dathan sighed. ‘No. But I do need to speak to him.’ She tapped the turbolift control panel, and it hummed to life again, rising through the ship. ‘But. Thanks.’

‘It’s my job.’

‘Your job that’s about to get easier if we’re getting downtime now we’re at Haydorien, right?’

‘It’s the right call,’ said Carraway with visible relief. ‘I’d rather counsel people through their guilt than through their grief.’ The turbolift slid to a halt at Deck 2, and he inclined his head as he stepped out. ‘Good luck with the captain.’

Today was getting better and better.

This was the first time she’d been to the captain’s ready room, the windows beyond the desk showing the surface of Haydorien Prime peering through the gaps in the dry-dock’s frame. Rourke had shown little interest in her presence, which she’d told herself was convenient because it gave her space to get established on Endeavour before dealing with him, a man whose history with Beckett would prejudice him against her. But the truth of it was that she was happiest not being in the same room with that hulking frame and those square features, especially not alone, even in this universe.

That he looked tired was little comfort. In her memories, that was when he was at his pettiest and most dangerous. But Captain Rourke waved her to a seat as she came in and sat up, at least managing to fake a courteous expression. ‘Lieutenant. We’ve not had much chance to check in. How’ve you been?’

They’d had the chance. Just, apparently, not the will. But Dathan sat and clasped her hands like a meek analyst and gave a tight smile. ‘Settling, Captain. Your staff have been most supportive as I’ve worked.’

‘I only hear good things,’ Rourke said with a nod. ‘Commander Airex praised your assessments that led us to Elgatis in the first place.’

She suppressed any hint of wry amusement at that notion. ‘I believe Commander Airex had already reached those conclusions without me.’

‘Maybe. Second opinion doesn’t hurt in this line of work, when we have to fly out ourselves to face the music instead of just make recommendations.’

While it was good that he thought her merely a backseat analyst, a jibe from him was still more unsettling than she’d have liked. ‘I’m sorry that it didn’t really pay off.’

‘I disagree. We were successful at Elgatis.’

‘In saving forty people. But the Kut’luch got away.’

Rourke’s eyes on her were level. ‘If you want to present that assessment to Admiral Beckett and see if he’ll put someone else on the job, be my guest, Lieutenant.’

Dathan forced herself to sigh. ‘That’s not really my concern, sir. My concern is more that your conversation with the crew of the Vondem Thorn appears to have included handing over secure Starfleet intelligence briefings. To a completely unknown band of local pirates.’

He tensed and leaned forward, clasping his hands together. ‘Lieutenant, let me make this clear: the hunt for the Kut’luch is my responsibility and my priority. Endeavour is in no condition to continue chasing that ship into increasingly unknown territory. And so I will make whatever deals or compromises I deem necessary to make sure that ship does not disappear on us.’

She forced herself to meet his stern gaze. ‘So you did make a deal, then, sir? All of that intel in exchange for them hunting down the Kut’luch?’

‘For a lead on the Kut’luch. We’ll finish the job.’ He shrugged with an indifference she knew was feigned. ‘And all it’s cost me is arming a group with a vested interest in the local community the means of fighting back against the D’Ghor. It’s far from ideal, and I would rather operations like the Vondem Thorn didn’t exist – but they do. They’re here. And we share an enemy for now. If you want to report that to Beckett so he can drag me up before a disciplinary panel, be my guest, Lieutenant. All I ask is that you wait until the D’Ghor are done -’

‘Sir, I think you misunderstand me.’ She made her expression sink. ‘I’m not here to threaten to report you to Admiral Beckett. Not for what happened at Elgatis. Not for what happened with the Vondem Thorn.’ Dathan shook her head. ‘I came here to assure you that I’m not going to raise this with the admiral. That I understand what’s happened and why, and that the mission comes first.’

Rourke’s eyes turned cautious. ‘That’s not what I’d expect of a staff officer of your history, Lieutenant.’

She bit her lip as she calculated. ‘Sir, as I’m sure is becoming increasingly apparent, my records don’t tell a full story.’ There was a surge of satisfaction at the thought that this wasn’t a lie. ‘I’ve been in Starfleet Intelligence long enough to understand the price of doing business. That decisions in the field need to be made based on the practicalities of a situation, rather than wider policy or principle.’

There was a long pause as he watched her, and she tried to not squirm. In her recollection, this was a prelude to rage, but when he spoke he sounded thoughtful. ‘You didn’t want to come here, Lieutenant Dathan.’

‘I joined Starfleet to make a difference,’ she lied. ‘I’ve believed for months that I can make the most difference by advising the Director of Fourth Fleet Intelligence. So no, I didn’t appreciate being transferred to a front-line starship, having an impact on a smaller scale. But first, I’m here, which means supporting you in this hunt for the Kut’luch, sir. And second…’ She sighed and shook her head. ‘It’s been a while since I made this sort of difference. It has a different sort of meaning.’

‘It does,’ he said softly, still watching her. ‘You’ve worked for Beckett for a while?’

‘Only six months. I was on the staff at Task Force 58 before that.’

‘I don’t know if you’ve realised that this is what he does, Lieutenant.’ Rourke sounded careful. ‘He selects promising officers, gets them close so he has a measure of them and so they feel patronised, then sends them off into the galaxy on seemingly “better” assignments. Ostensibly to reward talent, and in practice to develop a loyal network distributed about the fleet.’

‘I had noticed that, sir. Nobody has been in my role for very long. He regularly has me seek updates from relatively junior officers who have first-hand accounts from across Starfleet.’ She tilted her head. ‘You’re saying I might have out-lived my usefulness.’

‘I don’t know. The admiral and I have a history. I can’t pretend it doesn’t colour my perspective. You wouldn’t be where you are if you weren’t very good, but I know he’ll expect you to report back about me. And he may not be impressed if you don’t.’ He shrugged. ‘Normally I don’t have a great deal to hide. But the D’Ghor…’

‘Are something different.’

‘I suppose that’s what everyone says about the circumstances that force them to break with principle and protocol. When these are the times we need to hew hardest to our ethics. I’ve had to choose my poison. Don’t think I’ll sleep easy with the decision, Lieutenant.’

‘I’m not in a position to challenge you to explain yourself to me, sir.’

‘You are when you’re saying you won’t report this to Admiral Beckett. If he finds out anyway, he won’t be impressed.’

She frowned. On the one hand, the situation with the Vondem Thorn had provided her with the perfect trump card. She’d come to use it to show her principles and loyalty to Rourke, and it was working a treat. His warning about Beckett replacing her soon enough rang true, and was consistent with suspicions she’d had for several weeks, and she had to be sure that once she left his office she was still somewhere useful to her true loyalties. But burning bridges with a resource such as Beckett was risky.

‘However,’ Rourke said, hunkering down a little to meet her gaze, voice going softer. ‘He’s not the only one who rewards loyalty. I happen to value it, and I happen to particularly value principle. If you’re saying you’re all-in on Endeavour’s mission, Lieutenant, then I can assure you: Endeavour is all-in on you. We owe you our successes so far, after all.’

The satisfaction should have just been professional. She’d played her hand perfectly, and knew broaching the question of Endeavour’s knowledge and intentions on her true comrades and superiors would be much, much easier when the time came. Her first duty as a spy was to secure trust, and the evils of the D’Ghor were a magnificent opportunity to appear principled and committed while obfuscating her true priorities. But Dathan did not like the more personal satisfaction at Rourke’s words. Nevertheless, perfectly-honed survival instincts that demanded she seek approval and protection from her cohort positively purred with relief.

So she kept her gaze more studied than she might. ‘The mission’s not over, sir. Endeavour can be all-in on me if I actually help us get the Kut’luch.’

He nodded thoughtfully, and sat back. ‘As you say. But I appreciate your candour. All I ask is for you to carry on in that vein, Lieutenant.’ Rourke shrugged. ‘After all, sticking together is the only way we’ll get through this.’