Part of USS Endeavour: Soul-and-Body Scars

Soul-and-Body Scars – 2

Operations Offices, USS Endeavour
October 2399
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The Operations offices of Endeavour were not normally where Thawn was found. She was a creature of the bridge, a distant manager running the ship through messages and missives while she kept her thumb on the pulse from the hub of all activity. But they were docked now, and there was little work to be done on the bridge.

Cortez knew she’d guessed right when Ensign Athaka slid out from behind his desk the moment she arrived in the bullpen. ‘Commander! Can I help you?’

‘Okay, so Thawn is in the back.’ She jabbed a finger at the closed door to the Operations Manager’s office. ‘Or you wouldn’t be so quick to intercept.’

Athaka froze, betrayed by his own obsequious protection of his superior. ‘She’s very busy right now. Is this urgent, or can I…’

‘Listen.’ Cortez lifted a hand. ‘I’m not the kind of officer to go on the warpath. So believe me when I say you don’t want any of this today. I’ve got my shit-kicking boots on and they’re about to go up the ass of someone, and if I kick you it’ll be so hard it’ll go through you and into Thawn anyway. You can’t save her from this, so you should try getting out of my way.’

He wilted at that. ‘She said she wasn’t to be disturbed unless it was important.’

‘It’s important.’ Cortez squinted at him. ‘You’re the assistant head of the department, not her yeoman, for God’s sake, Athaka. You know that, right?’ She didn’t wait for Athaka’s inevitable defence as she passed him for Thawn’s office, and barely waited a moment beyond her hammer on the door-chime before she entered.

Thawn had put as few personal touches on the office as Cortez expected of someone this prim and proper, and jumped up with a nervous air as the engineer burst in. ‘Commander! Is this important, I’ve got -’

‘Hell, yeah, it’s important!’ Cortez protested. ‘What’re you doing giving a work order to a team of my engineers without passing it by me?’

‘Oh. The lounge.’ Thawn brushed a springy lock of hair behind her ear with a self-conscious air. ‘We had the opportunity to start work the moment we docked and you were off-duty when we arrived – asleep, I assume – and so I went ahead.’

‘You didn’t even drop me a message to wake up to. I found out from my engineers being sent to a job I didn’t order.’ Cortez folded her arms across her chest. Territorialism wasn’t her usual habit, but this one had stuck in her craw.

‘I thought you’d be more focused on the diagnostics ahead of our maintenance.’

‘I was. But you’ve got my new structural engineer and a bunch of his guys ripping the lounge apart, when I could have used them for checks on our hull integrity. Anyone else you’re going to press-gang into your projects?’

Thawn’s nose wrinkled. ‘No, Commander. And Chief Lann came aboard with a new team from Bravo; I didn’t think you’d have duties allocated for them yet.’

‘No, you just allocated my staff to tasks before I could.’ Cortez stuck her hands on her hips and let out a slow, calming breath. ‘I shouldn’t have found out about this from Forrester, because she stumbled on Chief Lann’s gang.’

‘I’m terribly sorry, Commander.’ Thawn didn’t sound sorry at all. ‘But there are significant refurbishments to Endeavour’s facilities we need to get on with.’

‘There’s more than the lounge?’

‘Some of it is pending authorisation from the captain, but he’s asked me to at least get the project work done so we can start as soon as we have the green light…’

Cortez smothered the small, betrayed fear that Rourke had sanctioned this. She suspected the captain had not expected Thawn to go around her. And she suspected Rourke was not the real source of any of this. ‘Why are the Diplomatic Service interfering with anything aboard, let alone fast-tracking things?’

Thawn hesitated. ‘I’m not sure,’ she said, and Cortez thought she was sincere – anxious because she didn’t know, rather than deceiving. ‘But I’m not in a position to question it.’

Is it that you don’t want to question it, or is it that you want to crawl up the ass of Hale or whoever’s pushing this? Cortez thought with an uncharacteristic lack of charity. She gave an aggravated sigh. ‘I’m going to need to see this planning you’ve had done.’

‘Of course, Commander. But I’d rather there are no hold-ups once the captain gives the go-ahead…’

‘There’ll be hold-ups if you try to requisition staff I need for the maintenance work,’ Cortez warned. ‘I don’t care if Hale or Rourke or Admiral Ramar himself damn well asks for my engineers; if it’s not an emergency, nobody gets pulled off my schedule without warning for no good reason.’

‘There’s very good reason to -’

‘Thawn. Rosara. Come on.’ Cortez’s expression flattened. ‘Don’t pretend you’re not screwing me on this. You realise if you said that Hale had some requests you wanted to move on, and you’re curious about why, but you don’t want to bother her, you could have told me?’

‘I didn’t expect you to be intransigent -’

‘But I could have tried to wriggle gossip out of, I don’t know, our XO?’ Cortez raised her eyebrows pointedly. ‘Figure out why the diplomats are still sniffing around the ship?’

Thawn deflated at that. ‘I don’t need to know the reason -’

‘But you want to know the reason. Now, are you going to work with me on scheduling these further refits, or am I gonna have to take this turf war up with Valance or the captain?’

It was always going to be a cheap move to threaten Rosara Thawn with the disapproval of her superiors. But Thawn’s eyes widened with more apprehension than Cortez had expected, the young officer going ramrod straight. ‘No! No, Commander, that’ll be – it’ll be fine.’

Cortez made a face. ‘I wasn’t going to suggest they tar and feather you.’ She tilted her head. ‘What’s got into you about this, Rosara?’

‘I don’t…’ Thawn wrung her hands together. ‘I don’t need even the slightest bad feedback on my personnel reports right now. Not from the captain, not from Commander Valance, not from the Diplomatic Service. That’s why I tried to fast-track those requisitions.’ At Cortez’s level look, she winced. ‘I’m up for lieutenant at last. It’s all in the consideration and paperwork stages. I don’t want to even breathe wrong or…’

‘You think Rourke’s going to torpedo your advancement because you had a spat with the CEO?’

‘I think if the captain has to note down that I undermined the second officer’s department then that might look bad, yes – look, I’m sorry, Commander…’

‘Okay, okay. Chill out, Rosara, yikes.’ Cortez rolled her eyes. ‘Glad you realised that screwing me was wrong because it might inconvenience you.’ Thawn went to object, and Cortez sighed again. ‘Fine. Whatever. Let’s get this scheduling sorted, and I won’t kick up a stink.’

‘Thank you, Commander.’ Thawn practically shrank with relief, and went to her desk to grab a few PADDs. When she turned, her gaze had gone more coy, and Cortez was reminded of how young she sometimes was, even for her age and experience. ‘I don’t suppose you know why the Diplomatic Service is getting involved?’

‘I don’t,’ said Cortez, a little frosty. Once, she would have happily conspired to dig up gossip. But she wasn’t sure she trusted Thawn when she was hyper-vigilant for new boots to lick. ‘Let’s see if we can do a good job and then someone will reward us by being chatty, huh?’

An hour later, she was leaning over a cramped bar table and had to speak up to be heard over the blaring jazz music that was on a particularly long and virulent saxophone solo. ‘…so now I have to deal with Thawn somehow even more neurotic than usual!’

Kharth didn’t answer as she shoved bar snacks in her mouth. They’d committed to lunch the previous day, but with the lounge suddenly out of action had ventured to Starbase Bravo. Frustrated and unfamiliar with the station, Cortez had urged them off the beaten track, only for them to venture into a jazz bar on the lower decks that seemed to exclusively cater to clientele on a body-clock of late night entertainment. The cocktails were belters, the live music actually pretty good, but all Cortez had been able to order to eat was a bowl of chicken wings and a side of nachos.

‘She’s going to be insufferable if she gets promoted,’ Kharth sighed as the music subsided to a more mellow level. ‘She’s been on the cusp of it since we got here, and it’s at least kept her insecure. Now she’ll be confident. Imagine.’

‘I’d rather not.’ Cortez picked at the nachos. ‘But she’s pretty bad now. I’d avoid her, but she’ll take over my damn department if I let her, and I’ve got a slew of maintenance work.’

‘Get the staff here on Bravo to do it.’ Kharth shrugged. ‘Then take the week off. Help -’ But she stopped herself, making a face. ‘Just have a break.’

Cortez narrowed her eyes. ‘What were you gonna say?’


‘“Help Valance unwind,” or something along those lines?’ She cocked her head. ‘You never held back ragging on Karana for my sake before. Don’t tiptoe, Sae, it’s weird.’

‘I’m not…’ Kharth grimaced and shovelled in a handful of peanuts. ‘Okay.’

Cortez sighed. ‘I’m never going to have ambitions beyond you two peacefully coexisting. But have you had so much as a conversation since Teros?’

‘Sure. In the brig.’

‘What about since the brig? Or did you even talk to the captain?’

Kharth stared at her drink, stirring it needlessly. ‘No. No, not really. Truth be told, I was expecting a transfer order once we got here. Still might be coming.’

‘I get this is a whole awkward thing. But Rourke kept you at Tactical for Ephrath. He let you work with Hale. Nothing there went wrong. He’s not a perfect man, but I don’t think he’d leave you dangling like this. You helped Hale negotiate the deal that saved his ass, even.’

‘Sure. But he also ignored all of my tactical solutions for how to engage the Kalvath and was a hair’s breadth from surrendering to the Star Empire.’

‘How confident were you in those plans?’ Kharth made a face, and Cortez rolled her eyes. ‘He didn’t take those options because the situation sucked. Not because he didn’t believe in you. And if you think I can take a break this week, you can definitely take a break. What’s Security got to do while we’re docked? Talk to Rourke. Maybe even talk to Karana.’

‘I’ll talk to the captain.’ Kharth shifted in her seat. ‘It’s awkward with Valance. I refused to carry out that order, so she had to do it. And I’m pretty sure she blames me for Airex leaving.’

‘Have you talked to him? I’m assuming he’s on board if he’s on Beckett’s staff.’

‘He is,’ Kharth murmured into her drink with the guilty air of someone who’d checked and hated themselves for it. ‘But I can’t convince her that him leaving isn’t my fault because I don’t know why he left.’

‘I’m really,’ Cortez sighed, ‘thinking of kicking that guy’s ass.’

‘Sorry I’m in no rush to make up with your girlfriend,’ Kharth said, not insincerely. ‘Pretty sure she and I will just go on hating each other forever.’ She had an awkward sip of her cocktail and looked at the band as they swung into the next mellow tune. ‘You two alright, though?’

Cortez bit her lip. ‘I think I pissed her off this morning.’

‘Were you being funny?’

‘I was, I’m very funny. Thanks for noticing.’ She picked at the bar snacks. ‘I think she’s afraid – or pissed off – she’s done all this work to commit and improve, and I’ve either not noticed or I’m holding back.’

Kharth gave her a sidelong look. ‘Are you holding back?’

‘Look, you of all people aren’t going to give me hell if I point out Karana Valance is like a locked vault when it comes to emotions. I’ve been trying to not scare her off, that’s all.’ But Kharth didn’t look convinced, and Cortez had a swig of her sickly-sweet cocktail. At least it was synthehol she could will away once they were done. ‘Do you have any idea why Hale’s been sticking her nose into Endeavour even with the mission over? You worked with her, I just had a really awkward dinner. What’s her deal?’ It was an evasion, and Kharth looked like she knew it. But while Cortez was sometimes deeply frustrated by this enmity between the two people aboard she was closest to, right then it played into her hands; a self-conscious Kharth would not dig into her relationship.

Besides. The gossip of why First Secretary Hale was sniffing around the ship, even if it was driving Thawn crazy, was much more fun to focus on over lunchtime cocktails in a Starbase Bravo lower decks jazz bar.

‘You’re still working on that?’

Nate Beckett turned to the door to Endeavour’s archaeology lab and gave Lindgren a lopsided grin. ‘Until I get its secrets or it’s taken away from me.’

Lindgren advanced on the ancient Romulan transponder, hovering within the protective forcefields to keep it in place while scans continued. ‘The captain did promise Doctor T’Sann we’d look into the Koderex. But T’Sann stayed on Arcidava. Maybe he found something there?’

‘I haven’t heard from him,’ Beckett admitted self-consciously. ‘But he wouldn’t leave this behind. He went through hell to get it. Now the crisis is over, surely the captain will make good on his promise?’

‘If we can. I wouldn’t be surprised if Endeavour’s not allowed anywhere near the Neutral Zone after all that.’ He sighed and she pressed on, clearly realising that wasn’t what he’d wanted to hear. ‘Hey, anyway, I came down because we’re going out tomorrow night.’

At once his attention was piqued, and he tilted his head with a lopsided smirk. ‘We? Finally you’ve decided you and me should forget what everyone else thinks and -’

‘Me, Rosara, Tar’lek, Athaka, Tes, Harkon. The usual people who have fun,’ Lindgren said with a wry, self-aware air.

‘Wait. Arys and Thawn have fun?’

‘Well. Rosara’s right now insisting that she’s way too busy for this, but I’m working on her. And you know, it’s possible for you to come clubbing on Bravo with us and not mock everyone.’

‘See, you say that…’ Beckett snapped his fingers. ‘Alright, I’m in. Got to raise the average level of “capable of feeling joy” in that mob.’

Lindgren tilted her chin up, visibly smothering amusement. ‘Harkon and I are very joyful.’

‘Athaka feels joy. I saw it when he got that software upgrade to increase his PADD’s LCARS customisation options.’

‘Then how can this party fail?’

The doors beyond her slid open anew, and Beckett turned with a scowl for whoever was interrupting. But he hesitated at the arrival of the tall man with a commander’s pips he didn’t recognise, and Lindgren’s amusement slid away for polite professionalism, too. ‘Can we help you, sir?’

The commander looked between them with a level gaze. ‘You must be Ensign Beckett. I’m Commander Graelin, your new department head.’

‘Oh. I guess someone was going to get shipped in some time,’ said Beckett, trying to ignore the itching on the back of his neck.

Lindgren stepped forward, smile perfect. ‘Welcome aboard, sir. I’m -’

‘Lieutenant Lindgren, of course.’ Graelin’s serious gaze faded for his own smile, and he extended a hand to shake. ‘Chief Communications Officer. Don’t worry, I did my homework. It’s a pleasure to meet you, and I’m sure it’ll be a pleasure to work with you.’

Beckett didn’t know if he was mollified by or suspicious of the sudden wave of warmth his new boss had turned on Lindgren, and she was much too good at masking her emotions for him to know if her smile was sincere. ‘If you need anything while you’re getting settled in, sir,’ she said, ‘do let me know.’

‘I appreciate that,’ said Graelin. ‘My first point of business is debriefing the staff on the recent operation, to be frank. Don’t worry,’ he pressed on at Beckett’s visible tension. ‘It’s just Starfleet making sure we’ve done our due diligence. If I was here for a witch hunt, they wouldn’t have assigned me aboard. So I’d appreciate your help, Lieutenant, in getting familiarised with the staff and ship?’

‘My schedule’s open, sir. Find some time for me.’

Graelin’s smile broadened. ‘That shouldn’t be hard.’

Oh no, thought Beckett, but Lindgren simply inclined her head. ‘I’ll let you get settled in, sir. See you later, Nate?’

‘Course,’ said Beckett, and resisted the urge to shove his hands in his pockets as Lindgren left and Graelin turned to him. ‘Uh, welcome aboard, sir. Sorry I wasn’t more prepared…’

‘This all happened quickly,’ said Graelin with a dismissive wave of the hand. Then he looked Beckett up and down and tilted his chin. ‘You do look like your father.’

There it is, said the nagging suspicion that had been worming in him all along. ‘If he lived healthily and morally, then maybe he could look this good, yeah.’

Graelin didn’t comment on that, and turned to the stored transponder, gaze raking over the display. ‘I’ve been sent here for some specific reasons, Nate. Obviously, to serve on Endeavour as Chief Science Officer. To make sure she’s fit for the jobs ahead. But your father asked me to take on another duty.’ He looked at the younger man. ‘You graduated the Academy, what, eighteen months ago now?’

‘Slightly less.’ Beckett shrugged.

‘You should be looking to your lieutenancy soon.’

‘I think soon is pushing it.’

‘And by all reports, you did an excellent job stepping in after Commander Airex left. Even over more senior officers.’

Another shrug. ‘I’m the archaeologist. We had an archaeological mission. Did my dad send you hear to give me a pat on the back? If so, top marks, sir. My back’s patted.’

Graelin’s expression flickered. Beckett was used to this reaction in people who had assumed he thought well of his father. ‘I don’t expect this to be a long-term assignment for me, Nate. Get Endeavour in good shape, get back out. What your father also wants me to do is to make sure you’re in a position to properly take the department head job once I go.’

Beckett made a face. ‘Bit of a tall order for someone of my rank and experience, permanently running a Science Department on a ship this size.’

‘It’d be a coup. But it looks like it’s one you’re more than capable of,’ said Graelin.

‘What’re you basing that on? My glowing Academy grades and personnel reports?’

Graelin gave a tight, slightly awkward smile. ‘Okay. I see we’ll be better of picking this up another time. But I’m here to help you, Nate.’

‘I really don’t need my father sending me any more help. In fact, I’d rather he didn’t.’

‘Either way, I’m your new department head. And we’re going to have to work together. ‘But first, I’ve got those debriefings.’ He glanced to the door. ‘By all accounts, Elsa Lindgren’s the one to ask about everything going on aboard. She seems friendly.’

Beckett’s eyes narrowed. ‘She is.’

Graelin gave a thoughtful nod. ‘Then I look forward to working with her closely.’ He turned to the door, waving only a vague hand over his shoulder as he left. ‘Write up the full report on this transponder. I need to know everything about it, not just what you thought Rourke needed to know. If you’re not going to work with me, Nate, you still have to answer to me.’

Then he left, leaving Beckett grinding his teeth together. It seemed no matter where he went, his father was never as far away as he wanted.