Part of USS Endeavour: The Widening Gyre

Better to Beg Forgiveness than Ask Permission

Runabout King Arthur, Teros IV
August 2399
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When Kharth clambered up the ladder into the King Arthur’s briefing room the next morning, she found Airex and Beckett already in full swing.

‘This is an opportunity to change countless lives,’ the young ensign was insisting, hands on the display table, while Airex stood impassive, steaming mug of coffee in hand. She tried to not smirk; one thing she had noticed the Joining had not changed was that Davir preferred a morning of quiet contemplation and caffeine before anyone came at him.

‘There are always opportunities to do that, Ensign. But our mission is to rescue the doctor.’

‘And we’ve done that. Surely while we’re here -’

‘Our mission isn’t over until we’re back on Endeavour. When we know our next move, we can assess the disruption from taking further measures.’

‘The disruption?’ Beckett put his hands on his hips, chin tilting up an indignant half-inch, and for the first time she could see something of her father in him. But there was a righteousness to the imperious air that was all his own as he pressed on. ‘Surely the scope of this goes far beyond that?’

Airex’s gaze flickered from him to Kharth, who wasn’t bothering to be subtle as she got her own coffee from the replicator. ‘That’ll be all, Ensign.’

‘But, sir -’

‘That means he heard you,’ Kharth butted in at last. ‘And get out.’ Beckett’s indignant gaze turned to her, before with a rather stroppy huff he turned for the ladder to the lower decks. She barely gave him a second look as she sipped her coffee and sighed. ‘He wants to go after the transponder? He’s right.’

‘Actually, he thinks Endeavour should come to orbit and spend a week on relief work helping the Sanctuary Districts.’ Airex’s expression was studied as she turned to him, eyebrow raised. ‘Obviously that’s rather above his grade.’

‘He’s young and from Earth. I expect Teros makes him startled and guilty.’ It doesn’t make him wrong, she thought, but pushed that argument aside. It didn’t suit her needs.

‘I’ve no doubt the captain will want the first-hand accounts of everyone if the idea is put to him.’

‘He has a track record of helping in these situations. Rourke, I mean.’ She padded over to the briefing table. ‘About six years ago, the Achilles dispensed emergency supplies to an illegal Romulan refugee settlement on Trifex. Rourke was then-Captain Beckett’s XO. Scuttlebutt is Rourke went around him to get it done. Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.’

Airex snorted gently. ‘Of course he did. Act first, think later?’ He waved a slightly guilty hand. ‘I’m not dismissing the captain’s decision there. Just his methods.’

Kharth opened her mouth, then decided she didn’t need to argue in defence of Matt Rourke. ‘Have you made a decision about T’Sann’s transponder?’

He glanced up at her. ‘I expect you have an opinion.’

Once, Davir wouldn’t have thought twice about going after the device. Once, he wouldn’t have sounded like asking her opinion was a tiresome formality. She reminded herself it was easier if he were compliant, and drew a deep breath. ‘I think T’Sann is right. I think we should try to acquire the transponder before we leave.’

Airex sipped his drink. ‘Do you have a suggestion as to how?’

‘I do, actually.’ It was her turn to straighten with an edge of defiance. ‘Vortiss has it. Vortiss spends time in the refectory-turned-bar that’s marked “Romulans Only.” I go in and negotiate with Vortiss for its return.’

He stared. ‘You go. Alone. Into the territory of the Romulan Rebirth movement, who have already captured a professor and probably killed his associates?’

‘Who let him go the moment Starfleet muscle showed up, because they didn’t want trouble on their door,’ she pointed out. ‘T’Sann wasn’t returned with his personal belongings; possibly they didn’t even think to toss him back with the device. Sure, if they didn’t know it’s important before, they will when I turn up and ask for it. But we can get it off them with a pay-out.’

‘There is no way we can justify giving resources to a supremacist movement like this. Either by ethics or optics.’

‘First, let’s be light on words like supremacist.’ Kharth rolled her eyes. ‘Romulans in these sectors are the lowest of the low, the dispossessed and the desperate. This isn’t citizens of a Romulan Empire demanding they retain their privilege and position against those they see as outsiders or lesser. This is people who’ve lost their homes rallying under a sense of togetherness. It’s xenophobic and exclusionary and it’s being used to keep people divided, to stop refugees from reaching out for or accepting help from anyone but these gangs. It feeds desperation with an empty sense of identity that only fuels more desperation.’ She kept her stance against him firm. ‘I hate it, and I hate signs like “Romulans Only,” but let’s not pretend it’s heroic for Federation citizens to come to this world and lecture abandoned refugees about how the problem is their xenophobia. These people are right to be angry.’

Airex chewed on words for a moment, and she met his gaze with a quiet, furious resilience. At last he said, rather neutrally, ‘This doesn’t change my point.’

Cold had settled into her gut when Rourke’s briefing told them they were coming to Teros. That ice had sunk deeper with every light-year, deeper with every step taken on Teros’s surface, deeper with the news of her father. But at his neutrality, for the first time in what felt like an eon, thoughts of Teros and her past and her people clashed like flint on steel. For the moment she tried to cover the sparks, not give them fuel, and her voice remained level as she said, ‘I’m not suggesting we give them resources. There’s something they’ll want more: for Starfleet to leave and stay gone.’

He frowned. ‘They give us the transponder, and in return we leave Teros, doing nothing for these people?’

‘You were just telling Beckett -’

‘I was making it clear to Beckett that him righteously campaigning at me doesn’t change a thing, and doesn’t make him the hero in the face of reluctant superior officers. That has nothing to do with my opinion. I’m surprised that this is yours.’

Kharth shrugged. ‘The transponder is important.’

‘More important than the people of Teros?’ Airex cocked his head. ‘This isn’t a refusal, Lieutenant. I want to know where you’re coming from with this.’

She straightened. ‘Why does that matter?’

‘Because you’re recommending we ignore an opportunity to help a refugee world where you grew up, in order to secure some artifact of Romulan society. Is T’Sann’s argument about the fate of Romulan culture that compelling to you?’

‘You know I care about the people of Teros,’ Kharth insisted. ‘You also know I don’t only care about the people of Teros.’

He hesitated, and her stomach lurched as she spotted him reading her. ‘You want to ask Vortiss about your father. That’ll be the deal, won’t it: we leave Teros, which secures his hold on the sanctuary as Starfleet ignores them, and in return he gives you the transponder and information.’

She stood her ground. ‘I was going to ask him, yes.’

Airex looked bewildered. ‘If we made the recommendation to the captain, he’d spend a week here putting up a relief station that would help the people get back on their feet, see to their worst medical needs, and take the legs of Vortiss out from under him. It wouldn’t be everything, but it would be a lot. And you want to deny them that for personal matters?’

Don’t be dismissive.’ Her finger came up accusingly. ‘Don’t use our history to guess my motivations and then twist it to make me look petty.’

‘I’m not,’ he insisted. ‘I’m trying to understand, and I’m not trying to make it personal. But you’re the local expert with a stake in this world, and you’re making a recommendation to me, the team leader. I’m not criticising you for your history or feelings on Teros influencing your judgement; that’s normal. But I need to know where your head is.’

She drew a slow breath. ‘It’s one thing to send the Hazard Team in against the Rebirth to rescue Doctor T’Sann. It’s another thing to send them in to take an object they stole from him – whose actual ownership is contentious at best. That leaves subterfuge or negotiation. What I’m suggesting makes things no worse than if we hadn’t come here at all.’

‘I’m not sure that’s true,’ he said carefully. ‘People know Starfleet is here. What you’d offer Vortiss would be a victory over us, the chance to demonstrate Starfleet doesn’t care and he had the power to send us packing. That empowers him.’

‘If you think Endeavour spending a week here, or even two, will fundamentally change the future of the people of Teros, you’re being wilfully ignorant,’ she countered. ‘And don’t pretend you can’t imagine how massive recovering the Koderex will be for the Romulan people.’ She jabbed a finger at the briefing table. ‘My people are scattered and splintered. They’re running to the Tal Shiar or the Navy for protection with no dignity, or they’re plucky underdogs whose dalliance with democracy is wholly dependent on Federation support, or they’ve been abandoned and left behind. The Koderex, in the right hands? That could spark a cultural renaissance for a people without a home, without unity, without pride. That could get Romulans cooperating again, remembering what we stand for -’

‘I understand,’ Airex said, voice tensing. ‘But that’s about fifty moves away. I’m surprised that you’re lapping up T’Sann’s story.’

Kharth straightened. ‘Lapping up?

If T’Sann finds the Koderex… who owns her? This ancient repository of Romulan knowledge?’ He cocked his head. ‘The Daystrom Institute, a Federation institution? I have no doubt they’ll try to share – with the Romulan Republic. So all of a sudden, access to this essential Romulan artifact is dictated by a foreign government. And it’ll have to be, because the Free State and the New Empire won’t share. Copies of information alone won’t suffice; the object has value. What you’re saying is going to usher in a sudden Golden Age for a dispossessed people might instead launch a whole new set of problems.’

Her jaw tightened. ‘That’s not a reason to not go looking.’

‘It’s a reason to be careful. And what about T’Sann himself?’ Airex’s voice dropped a pitch in volume, but lost nothing in intensity as he pointed to the deck below. ‘What happened to his team? Why did he only insist they were dead when we said we had to leave to rescue them? He seems awfully happy to abandon them if it means he can keep chasing his prize. Doesn’t that seem suspicious to you?’

‘I didn’t say it wasn’t suspicious. But you’re really bothered I’m listening to him and not to you. And you’re not the only one who can read people, Commander; if you really wanted to help the people of Teros, you’d have told Beckett that. You’re only standing on the humanitarian high ground to disagree with me. Why?’

‘Because your plan is rash,’ he said flatly. ‘Your plan requires you to go alone into the den of the Rebirth, whose release of T’Sann might be the only bargain they’ll give us. What if their reaction to us not leaving, but sending a Starfleet officer back for more is to take you captive, or use you to send a message?’

‘Then call in Endeavour and send in the Hazard Team, and we’re no worse off than we were at the start. I’ll keep an open comlink to the runabout the entire time.’ She shrugged. ‘I don’t think they’ll take the risk of murdering a Starfleet officer.’

‘If T’Sann is right, this movement has murdered at least three Daystrom Institute staffers. Stop acting like they’re here to talk.’ His shoulders sank despite his frustration, gaze more open than she had expected. ‘I understand and agree that we’ll need a different way to find the transponder. But the Rebirth have lost the upper hand by giving up T’Sann. Why can’t we try to win the people of Teros over with a hearts and minds campaign, and negotiate the handover of the transponder that way? Or if you really must, get your old friend to bloody well rob them.’

‘Those are all terribly long shots, especially if the Rebirth know the transponder’s important.’

‘And putting yourself in the jaws of the beast is even more dangerous if they do. But that’s not the point.’ He stepped sharply around the briefing table towards her. ‘You’re not doing it to get the transponder back. You’re doing it to talk to Vortiss about your father.’

‘What if I am? That’s my choice that I’m prepared to make, my own safety -’

‘And the safety of officers who are duty-bound to rescue you if you’re captured, duty-bound to save you if you get into trouble!’ He drew a deep, raking breath. ‘Knowing more isn’t going to bring him back.’

Her eyes flashed as they locked on him. ‘For ten years, I thought my father was murdered for a debt he owed getting me off this rock. You know this. But it turns out there might be more to his death?’

‘There must be other ways for you to find out, other people on this world to ask -’

‘Like who? Caleste didn’t know the full story. It was ten years ago; who’s going to know except for Vortiss himself?’

Airex’s jaw tightened. ‘You’d abandon Teros for this?’

She drew a tight, frustrated breath. ‘I can double-cross Vortiss if I have to, you know this. He can’t stop us from going back on our agreement and launching a relief mission once we get what we want. So the only downside is a personal risk, and that’s a risk I’m willing to take, a risk I want to take.’

‘Your safety isn’t your personal and private affair on a mission like this!’

‘I’m the only person who can do this, the only person who can go there and the only person who can negotiate for the transponder and the information. You’re being over-cautious on how likely it is Vortiss will immediately turn violent, and you know it!’

‘And I think you’re bring reckless.’

‘Vor’s sake; if you ever understood me at all, Dav, you’d know I can’t let this go.’

It had gone exactly as she’d hoped it wouldn’t. Exactly down the line of old scars and wounds, exactly as she’d expected when arguing her deepest hurt to someone who wore his face but didn’t listen like he would, didn’t answer like he would. Pain was compounded by pain, shock of the revelations from Caleste intensified by what, try as she might, she couldn’t stop from feeling like a betrayal as Davir tried to stop her.

But then he said, ‘And if you ever understood me, Cara Sai, you’d know I have to ask you to stop,’ and the sparks she’d tried to cover turned into an inferno.

For a moment, all she could do was stare at him and flatly say, ‘How dare you.’ Then the flames roared into her throat and she’d shoved him back. ‘How dare you? I told my true name to Davir Hargan, and you have made it abundantly clear that Davir Hargan is dead and that you killed him.’

He’d taken a step back, but now he rallied, standing firm. ‘You know it is more complex than that -’

‘What I know is that Airex has taken every personal thing I told Dav and used it here to demand my compliance,’ she snapped. ‘What I know is – shit, you told Rourke I was from Teros, didn’t you.’ Realisation came like a hot flash, and the clarity brought only more fury. ‘You’ve tried to have me benched and sidelined throughout this mission. You insist that we’re nothing but colleagues, that the past is dead, and then you use our personal history to get under my skin and force me to see things your way. It’s not enough for you to just give orders, is it?’

‘I’m not going to apologise for having the memories and life of a man who cared deeply about you, even if I’m not Davir Hargan any more,’ Airex said firmly. ‘I know I’m the only one on Endeavour who has any understanding of what you’ve been through, and I know you won’t tell anyone. So, yes, I tried to look out for you. I told Rourke because I knew you wouldn’t talk to me, and I came looking for you last night because I know that losing your father destroyed you. I know you’re blinded by that pain so yes, I’ve tried to show you that you’re wrong rather than just brute force this!’ He visibly forced himself to calm down, chest heaving. ‘But if that’s how you see it, then fine: I order you to remain aboard the King Arthur. We’ll take Doctor T’Sann back to the ship and see what Captain Rourke has to say.’

Finally, something approaching triumph surged in her. ‘That’s a shame. Doctor T’Sann left with Drake thirty minutes ago. I asked them to scout out if Vortiss is in the refectory, which he is, and notify me if he left. You can call Drake back, but you’re going to have a hell of a time convincing T’Sann to leave.’ A vicious smile tugged at her lips. ‘He’s the mission, after all. We should get down there.’

Airex sputtered. ‘You -’

‘This conversation’s made it clear I owe you nothing, Commander. So let me make a few more things crystal: I don’t want you to so much as pretend you have a personal stake in my wellbeing any more. I don’t want to hear you blurring the lines between us to get your own way. And if you ever call me anything but “Lieutenant” again, I am going to get myself into Starfleet’s biggest court martial.’

‘Oh, there’ll be conversations with the captain before this is over, Lieutenant.’ He tapped his combadge. ‘Airex to Beckett. Get armed and equipped, we’re heading into the sanctuary district.’

She’d turned away as he started making ready, headed for the hatchway leading to the surface, and even though he called after her, she did not wait. If he wanted to get Beckett and get armed, he’d be too many steps behind her to stop her, and she had no intention of being delayed any further. There would be consequences. She’d not just defied the away team’s leader; not just had a blazing personal row with him, but transparently manipulated circumstances so he couldn’t stop her getting her own way.

But first, there would be a reckoning.