Entering the office that had once belonged to Davir Airex set a tension to Valance’s throat she wished she could banish. He had kept his decorations minimalist, tasteful; the discreet suggestion of class and culture without working too hard to demonstrate his education and interests. All of that had been taken with him, and young Nate Beckett hadn’t brought in more than a novelty coffee cup. Still the archaeologist’s mug sat on the desk, ‘My career lies in ruins,’ stencilled on the side, the only decoration until Petrias Graelin made his mark.
The new science officer sat behind the desk, sipping from a glass cup of green tea. ‘Commander Valance. Glad you could swing by.’ He waved a hand at the seat opposite. ‘Don’t think there’s much need for us to stand on ceremony.’
Valance cautiously drew up the chair. ‘If this is meeting is for the debriefing, Commander Graelin, I’d rather we did this by the book.’
‘It is the debriefing. But I’ve read your reports. Unless there’s anything to add, we don’t need to go over events again.’ He tapped a PADD on the desk. ‘You enforced order on the bridge when Captain Rourke ordered the destruction of the Erem and assumed Tactical when Lieutenant Kharth refused. The rescue mission to Tagrador was your decision and your design. And on Ephrath, you rescued the Kalvath’s away team.’
She felt the silence as he watched her; knew what he was doing. The absence of a question invited her to volunteer whatever was on her mind. At length, she said, ‘I don’t think there’s anything I want to add, no.’
Graelin gave a slow nod. ‘Teros and the Erem must have been difficult for you.’
‘I mean, for the last three years you served under Leo MacCallister. I don’t expect he’d have ordered the destruction of a defenceless ship.’
‘I’m not privy to what classified data informed Captain Rourke’s decisions, so I’m not going to theorise what Captain MacCallister would or would not have done.’
‘They’re still very different men. Very different commanders. I’ve met MacCallister, he was a fine officer and a fine diplomat.’
‘He still is.’
Graelin gave a self-conscious smile. ‘Of course. But Matt Rourke’s a peacekeeper, which is a polite way of saying he hunts down bad guys. You’ve seen him in action against the Wild Hunt, against the D’Ghor. He doesn’t shy away from shooting first, asking questions later. That had to be on your mind when he ordered the Erem’s destruction.’
‘Captain Rourke might not shy away from violence, but he has my full trust. He thinks through his options and doesn’t make his choices lightly. And I know this, because he discusses those decisions with me.’
‘Except for in the recent crisis, with those classified orders. And a snap-second decision to make about the Erem.’ Graelin picked up his PADD and flicked to a new screen she couldn’t see. ‘His decisiveness seems to have rubbed off on you, looking at Tagrador.’
‘The rescue mission to Tagrador was my decision. Not his.’
‘I don’t doubt that. But after reading your personnel record… I must say I’m surprised you did it. Especially without consulting Command.’ He shrugged. ‘Your assessments under MacCallister and as far back as the Paris all highlight your patience, your respect for the chain of command, your sensible caution. Unilaterally taking Endeavour into Romulan territory to assault a prison camp is the sort of brash action that got you in trouble in the past in your career.’
‘You’re talking about Plutark.’
‘You ordered a dangerous rescue there, and things went wrong,’ Graelin said simply. ‘People died. It looks like you changed as a result, learned from that brashness. Then you’re Rourke’s XO and… this happens.’
Valance drew a slow breath. ‘If you’re suggesting he’s a bad influence on me, Commander, then that’s very thoughtful of you. But until I’m reprimanded for Tagrador, I’m not going to consider the rescue mission a bad decision.’
He lifted his hands. ‘I’m not suggesting it was, not at all. I’m curious about who I’m going to be working with, that’s all. Your records and your behaviour paint different pictures. It makes me want to understand you.’ And he was learning more about her with every button he pushed, she knew, with every reaction he provoked. ‘I’m glad you’re satisfied with Rourke’s leadership. Like I said, I bet he was a bit of a shock to the system after MacCallister.’
‘I had to adjust,’ she admitted. ‘But it’s good for an officer to be pushed. Captain Rourke pushes me.’
‘It looks like he’s been pretty supportive,’ Graelin said, gesturing to the PADD. At her curious look, he gave a smile that made her back tense. ‘I mean, not every CO would be happy with their XO being in a relationship with their Chief Engineer, especially since Commander Cortez is so high in the chain of command. It clearly put him in a bind, considering he made a junior lieutenant like Thawn second officer, and not her, after Commander Airex left.’
‘I think he was also in a bind with Lieutenants Kharth and Rhade in the brig.’
‘But Cortez still had seniority.’ Graelin tilted his head. ‘Was he apprehensive of your relationship getting in the way of your duties?’
Valance had to force herself to not shift. ‘I led the away team to Ephrath II, and there was no suggestion from the captain that Commander Cortez wouldn’t be my second there. Before Ephrath, I believe he wanted a bridge officer as second officer.’ But the last came a little weaker. Whatever excuses and apologies Rourke had given for keeping her at arm’s length, the fact remained Thawn’s appointment over Cortez could only have been motivated by their relationship, and protecting himself from the two of them being a united front against him.
Graelin watched her with an infuriatingly calm air, and she knew being taciturn still spoke volumes. If there was a good explanation, she’d have doubtless given it. ‘It’s still a difficult line to walk, professionally. For you, I mean, Commander. Dating a subordinate.’
She’d straightened before she could stop herself. ‘Is this relevant to your debriefing? I wasn’t aware there’d been any reason to make note of my personal relationship with Commander Cortez in our operations at Teros, Tagrador, or Ephrath.’ She was playing into his hands, she knew, but Cortez was a sore enough spot right then that she couldn’t bite down on the resentment that raised its head every time someone suggested she couldn’t keep her feelings and her duty separate.
Once again, he’d lifted his hands in surrender, as if she was jumping to bite off his head while he was merely asking questions. ‘This isn’t a grilling. Endeavour’s been through some heavy things recently. If I’m going to help the crew with what comes next, it’s useful for me to understand the context – your context.’
‘Then if you don’t need anything else for your formal debriefing, Commander Graelin,’ she said coldly, ‘I have work to do. And I should let you get settled in here.’
Graelin gave a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, though she saw no trace of dissatisfaction. ‘Then thanks for your time, Commander Valance. Looking forward to working with you.’
It was hard to keep her body language measured as she left. He’d assessed her for her loyalty to Rourke, tried to rattle it by suggesting his influence was bad for her professionalism and career, then tested the waters on how both she and her captain viewed a personal relationship that could undermine her capacity to do her job properly.
Worse, Valance knew she’d given him plenty of answers.
With the lounge out of action, Thawn had to pop into the officer’s mess for a cup of tea to start her day. Normally she might have stayed her quarters, but many of the crew had disembarked onto Starbase Bravo, leaving Endeavour quieter and calmer, and it was useful for her to start her day in the company of small crowds. She could sit at one of the stark metal tables, sip her tea, and calmly, methodically establish her telepathic barriers against the buzzing of thoughts and feelings around her.
This meant she felt the walking ball of tense apprehension that was Adamant Rhade before he walked in, and her eyes were on him as he arrived at her table. Wordlessly, she pushed out the chair opposite with her foot.
‘I hope you’ve got a moment for me,’ he said quietly. ‘I understand you have a lot on right now.’
‘There’s always a lot on,’ she pointed out as levelly as she could. ‘Is that why you’ve not been around?’
‘I felt you’d made it clear you didn’t want to talk during the crisis.’ He watched as she said nothing but sipped her tea. ‘Rosara, I never meant to hurt you.’
‘I believe you,’ she said, and not only because she could feel the awkward sincerity rolling off him. It reminded her to clamp down more on her own feelings, lest they betray her. ‘That would have taken you considering me at all.’
‘I think that’s a little harsh.’
‘Is it? I don’t expect you to think of me when you’re on the bridge making a stand. But you made a vast decision about your entire future without so much as speaking to me. Then changed your mind again, for reasons which had nothing to do with me.’
His jaw tightened. ‘The mission to Tagrador needed me.’
‘Endeavour needed you at Jhorkesh – Chief Kowalski almost died there – but that didn’t stir you. Nor did the disruption on Teros.’ Her throat tightened with that grief she was so busy packing in a box, because she was exhausted by its bitter familiarity.
He looked confused for a minute – then his expression cleared with dawning horror. ‘Rosara, I cannot imagine how hurt you are about the loss of Connor Drake, but you can’t suggest that he would have lived if Lieutenant Kharth and I weren’t in the brig.’
‘We don’t know that,’ she said, sipping her tea to mask her expression. ‘But none of that – not Connor dying, not Kowalski nearly dying – motivated you. No. It took the captain getting captured. It took Lieutenant Dathan being captured.’
Rhade straightened. ‘Lieutenant Dathan is only a friend -’
‘Great Fire, Adamant, I’m not jealous,’ she snapped. ‘Not like that. You might be able to get away with doing whatever you like until our arrangement is formalised, but what bothers me is -’ Thawn stopped herself, hearing the words she was about to say, hearing how petty they sounded. She took a deep breath. ‘I think it was naive of you to assume you could stay in the brig and nobody would be hurt by your absence. I’m not angry you wanted to save the captain and Lieutenant Dathan from death at the hands of the Romulans. I’m angry you didn’t think ahead, and I’m angry you didn’t listen to me.’
He looked away as his brow furrowed. ‘You’re not the first person to call my behaviour naive here,’ he admitted. ‘I’m not accustomed to that.’
Her gaze dropped, and she fidgeted with the mug. ‘I just – either we’re working out how and what a future together would look like, or we’re not even trying and we’re just waiting out the clock until our families can politely forget the whole arrangement. You’ve been behaving like it’s the latter.’
Now he looked back, the frown still there. ‘I’m not going to defend my behaviour – but what did you mean, I can “get away with doing whatever I like”? I’ve never asked you to hold back or stay celibate or anything like that on my account.’
The fizz of anger that shot through her veins at that was unexpected, and strong enough she saw him sense it at once. Her grip on the teacup tightened. ‘Then I suppose our families aren’t the same, Adamant,’ Thawn said through gritted teeth. Then she slammed the cup down and stood. ‘You know what? Do whatever you like. Carry on as you have been. I don’t know how to explain to you that you should at least pretend to care about me, or my wellbeing, or my future.’
He’d turned to stop her, but she’d spoken too loudly in the quiet officers’ mess, and too many pairs of eyes were watching for him to do anything that might make it more of a scene. She felt his mind reach out to hers, a gentle, pleading touch to stop, listen, communicate through thought where there was no misunderstanding. But she brushed it off as she stalked out the door, not trusting her own self-control.
The Communications Department offices were next door to the Operations Section, and nobody stopped her from busting into Lindgren’s office with barely a tap on the door-chime.
‘Fine,’ Thawn spat once the doors shut behind her. ‘I will go clubbing with you and the rest.’
Lindgren’s eyes widened a little. ‘What on Earth has happened?’
‘Nothing!’ Thawn said unconvincing vitriol. ‘I’ve just… been working. A lot. It might be nice.’
Lindgren tilted back in her chair. ‘Is this the kind of thing where I should wait and let you drink and get weepy or angry, or should I definitely find out first so I can stop you from drinking until you’re weepy or angry?’
‘I don’t -’ Thawn shut her mouth. ‘It’s nothing new. I spoke to Adamant. It was as awful as you’d expect. That’s all.’ Lindgren looked like she didn’t know what she expected, but Thawn waved a dismissive hand. ‘We’ll talk when we’re two bars in. Anyway, who’s this new Chief Science Officer who wants to meet with me?’
‘Oh, Commander Graelin booked in time with you?’ There was an unusual edge to Lindgren’s voice which Thawn might have better understood had she been less furious. ‘When?’
‘Not for a couple of days.’ Thawn frowned as Lindgren looked relieved. ‘What’s going on?’
‘He’s been sent to debrief us. But I think it’s fine; why would Starfleet also assign him as our new second officer? It’s clearly procedural. Anyway, why are you assuming I’d know anything?’
Thawn blinked. ‘Because you always know anything remotely gossipy. It’s not deep, Elsa. Except you’re now being weird about it.’
‘I’m seeing him soon,’ Lindgren said rather too lightly, ‘so I’ll let you know if there’s anything you need to worry about. You shouldn’t worry, though.’
‘That’s easy for you to say,’ Thawn murmured. ‘But fine. You can warn me over drinks. Do we have to bring Beckett?’
‘Nate’s fun,’ Lindgren chided gently. ‘And he’s not here, Rosara, you don’t have to pretend you hate him.’
‘I’m not pretending. Some of us have to work hard for what we have. I don’t need him swanning around while I have to be on my best behaviour.’
‘Then we can complain about that, too, over drinks.’ Lindgren pointed at the door. ‘If you’re not going to gossip yet, then you need to work. Or you won’t do anything when we’re out except for fret about how you’ve not got everything done yet.’
Thawn tilted her nose up as she left. ‘Bold of you to assume I won’t do that anyway.’
‘Oh, this is… cute. Sir.’
Rourke tried to fight a grumpy expression as he looked at his new yeoman. ‘It’s not – this is your desk. Not my desk. You sit out here.’
There were two entrances to his ready room: the one from the bridge he used all the time, and what was technically the ‘main’ door in the small Deck 1 foyer where his yeoman could act as threshold guardian. Arys had booked a staff meeting with his new department at what turned out to be the same time as his successor boarded for her induction, and Rourke was beginning to regret his insistence he could show Petty Officer Nestari around himself.
She was now looking at him like he’d sprouted a second head. ‘I know, sir. It’s smaller than I expected. But it’s fine. I’ll make it work.’ She swept to the desk, which Arys had kept meticulously, somewhat depressingly bare. ‘With a spot of decoration.’
Admiral Beckett had plucked her, he reminded himself, from the administrative pool on Starbase Bravo. She was used to a station and its expansive offices, not the tight confines of a ship like Endeavour. And still he was sure he could hear a sneer in her voice. ‘We’ll be operating beyond Federation territory, receiving local leaders and foreign officials. We should keep it businesslike.’
Nestari looked back with a smile he was sure was patronising. ‘None of the ambassadors visiting SBB complained about how we kept the place, Captain. Don’t you worry.’
Rourke had been in Starfleet a long time. He knew better than to annoy the administrative staff, even when they were young enough to be his daughter. Treat the admin right, he’d learnt, and they’d help you bury the body. So even though Nestari was young and pretty and unassuming in build, don’t you worry still meant leave me alone, sir and he wasn’t going to argue.
Perhaps he would return to find his foyer redecorated. Perhaps he would find her ruling access to his office with an iron fist. Either way, he wasn’t going to linger as she settled in.
A check-in with the computer told him Sadek was in Sickbay, and he made his way there with some confusion; his medical officer was not prone to lingering on board when there was shore leave of any form to be had. He found her there stood before the biobeds, speaking and gesturing as she showed around an officer who had his back to Rourke when he came in. Tall and lean, he wore a blue uniform, and it was only when Rourke drew closer that the other man turned and he was confronted with a Cardassian face.
Rourke stopped short and Sadek side-stepped, her voice going up a pitch he knew meant she was managing him. ‘…and this is our captain. Captain Rourke, meet Doctor Elvad. He’ll be replacing Doctor Awan down here.’
Doctor Awan had ably served as Endeavour’s assistant chief medical officer since before either of them had come aboard, and Sadek had grumbled all the way through recommending her for an advancement that had finally come. But Elvad was news to Rourke, who had to steel his expression as he faced the new arrival. ‘Doctor. Welcome aboard.’
If Elvad noticed Rourke’s discomfort, he didn’t show it. Square-featured and straight-backed, his hair had more of an artful tousle than Rourke expected of a Cardassian, and when he spoke it was with a languid, detached drawl. ‘Captain. Tidy little ship you have here.’
This was the second new arrival in ten minutes who had made his ship sound quaint, and Rourke’s temper was already fraying. ‘We do enough real work that we’ll keep your busy. You’ve got big boots to fill if you’re taking over from Awan.’
‘Worry not, Captain.’ Elvad’s eyes raked across Sickbay, which suddenly felt rather small under his imperious gaze. ‘I have large feet.’ He turned back to Sadek. ‘I thank you for the tour, Doctor Sadek, but I think I’ve rather grasped the measure of the place and space. I’m sure I can take it from here.’
Sadek looked like she was going to say something more – then shut her mouth and shrugged. ‘If you say so. I’ve got lunch with the captain anyway. Enjoy settling in.’
Rourke let her grab his arm and lead her out of Sickbay. ‘We’re doing lunch?’
‘I’ve been with him for ten minutes and I already know I’m going to need every possible excuse to not be around that man. He’s insufferable,’ she hissed. That, she seemed prepared to say when feasibly in earshot of someone, because only now did she check the corridor to make sure the coast was clear. ‘Are you alright with him aboard?’
‘Me?’ He winced. ‘Yeah, yeah, fine. A Cardassian face took me by surprise, that’s all. Can’t say he’s the first thing I want to see after coming to on a biobed, but, modern age and all that. Is he an arse, though? I thought you were getting that shit-hot epidemiologist?’
‘He got headhunted out from under me, went off for a more plum assignment. So instead I get Elvad, cardiothoracic xeno-surgeon someone in Starfleet Medical thinks needs more front-line experience, or some crap like that. Obviously he thinks he’s too good for the likes of us. We’ll see how he feels when the Hazard Team’s day goes wrong.’
‘You’re not supposed to sound eager about that happening,’ he pointed out. ‘But speaking of complete pricks, did you hear who Beckett’s foisted on me in science?’
‘Petey Graelin?’ She rolled her eyes. ‘You weren’t being enough of a good dog to the admiral, so he sent Graelin to teach you how to yap?’
‘To spy on us, I expect. Joke’s on him; I’m not running a den of lies and secrets like he would. I’ll manage Graelin, but expect him to come simpering up to you soon, acting like you were best mates.’
‘He’s not that self-important. Last we spoke, I told him I hope his dick drops off. Don’t forget to hide the young and pretty junior officers.’
Rourke stopped at that, again glancing up and down the corridor. ‘Wait, what?’
She tilted her head at him. ‘He’s a flirt with young women. Regardless of rank disparity. He was never off-off, but he’d use them for attention or information. Did you really not know about that? He was one of those known quantities on the Achilles…’ Her voice trailed off, and she winced as they both heard the unspoken words. Graelin had been a known quantity for the women.
Rourke squared his shoulders. ‘Well. I expect he’s already got my new yeoman – who’s, like, twelve and seems to think I’m an old man put out to pasture – as his spy. Thawn’s too uptight for him to get anywhere, and Elsa’s too smart. But I’ll keep an eye on him.’
‘I’ll keep my ear to the ground,’ Sadek promised. Then she padded to a halt and looked up and down the corridor they’d wandered along. ‘We’re not going anywhere. I made us walk to get away from Elvad. What did you actually come down here for?’
‘Oh.’ Rourke scratched his beard as he contemplated how much of a problem Petrias Graelin would be, then shoved the thoughts to one side. He respected his officers to look after themselves. ‘I saw the arboretum on Bravo’s doing this play in the park thing on evenings. “Open air” performances, book ahead and you get a whole picnic setup. It’s Arsenic and Old Lace tonight; I thought we’d bring something from your stash of real wine and laugh ourselves sick.’
She narrowed her eyes. ‘That’s dangerously normal of you, Matt. What’s going on?’
‘I’m suggesting we spend time together. I didn’t realise that was odd.’
‘Admiral Beckett’s crawling all over your arse and Petrias Graelin’s been assigned to your ship, not to mention the myriad reasons you have for being stressed and upset.’ Sadek poked him suspiciously in the chest. ‘Hm. Probably not a hologram.’
‘I’d still be solid if I were, what, a happy hologram of me?’
‘Happy’s a strong word. It’s still suspicious.’ She looked him up and down. ‘Fine. A play in the park sounds nice. But try to get real wine from somewhere else. My stash is for special occasions. If you’re cheering up, you’ll start inventing more of those, and then where will my emergency supply be?’
‘Drunk, like wine should be?’
‘Not good wine. It’s there to sit on my shelf so I can show off how cultured I am, and only crack it open for people I want to impress. I’ve known you for twenty-five years, Matt, I don’t need to impress you.’ But she sighed, smile turning wry. ‘This looks good on you.’
‘Drinking your wine? I thought so.’ He smirked. ‘We’ve got a break, Aisha. I’m trying to take them when they happen. They’ll be gone before you know it.’
‘Thank you for those reassuring words,’ said Sadek, pretending to sober. ‘That cynicism is much more like you.’