Lindgren was still tackling the buckle on her shoe when her console blatted at her, and she had to hop across her room to see the screen. ‘Oh, come on, Rosara,’ she muttered as she read the message. The plan had been for Thawn to stop by her quarters and for them to head to Bravo together, but the inevitable work-based delay had struck. Lindgren wouldn’t have minded, but she’d been prepared for Thawn to not show at all, and the zig-zagging was frustrating.
Some of the junior officers were heading to a bar ahead of the club, but she’d intended to start with Thawn somewhere else, applying drinks and thumbscrews and finding out what was wrong so it didn’t bring the whole party mood down. Lindgren tapped a quick message of acknowledgement and an instruction for Thawn to catch up, finished checking her shoes and hair, and headed out. She could drink with Harkon and the others for a bit first.
When she turned the corner, she saw the turbolift doors ahead begin to shut. ‘Hold up!’ A hand stuck out to stop the lift, and she hurried in to find Petrias Graelin holding the doors. ‘Thanks, Commander.’
He was out of uniform, too, smart-casual in a blazer and patterned shirt. ‘Date night?’ he asked as he looked her over with a grin.
She gave a light laugh as she hopped in the lift and let it carry on its way, both of them heading for the airlock. ‘I wish. Blowing off steam with the junior officers in the No Lieutenants Allowed Club. You?’
‘Dinner and drinks with some friends whose ship just put in.’
She nodded. ‘It’s easy to forget how many ships come through here.’ At his grin, she laughed again. ‘Give me a break, Endeavour’s been away from civilisation – out of Federation territory – the last few months. You forget how busy the core worlds get.’
‘And Bravo’s hardly the core worlds. Just what kind of yokel crew did I join?’ His eyes danced.
‘We’re highly sophisticated, with our one lounge – currently out of action – and two holodecks – permanently booked for departmental training.’ She tilted her nose up, but couldn’t keep the affect for long before she smiled. ‘Meeting the senior staff’s been that bad?’
The turbolift slowed to a halt, and they stepped out together. ‘Not at all. I had some good meetings with Commander Valance and Lieutenant Kharth.’
‘They’re both very affable women,’ he said with the same grin. ‘Gentle souls, I think.’
She smothered another laugh. ‘You might be the diplomat we need on this ship, Commander.’
‘I’m trying. Tell me the staff gets more mellow from here.’
Lindgren met his gaze, thinking of Cortez and Carraway, but also of Thawn and Arys. ‘I’m not going to lie to you, sir,’ she said, and said nothing more as they reached the airlock, the long corridors of Bravo spilling out beyond.
He was chuckling when they stopped, and jerked his head down one way. ‘My bar’s just off the arboretum, so I’m on the lift up.’
‘We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel on deck forty-five,’ Lindgren said with a smile. ‘Have a good evening, Commander.’
‘You too.’ He took a step back. ‘Drop me a line if you want a night-cap later.’
She made sure to smile and promise nothing as they parted ways, because long nights out tended to have too many twists and turns for anyone to commit to anything after midnight. But it was pleasant to leave the door open and not be left with the hopeful eyes of the young men she usually flirted with, whom she suspected would respond to a prospect like this by going home early and waiting in their quarters with ardent longing for her message that never came.
And she wasn’t going to flirt that hard with the ship’s new second officer.
Lindgren found Harkon and the others in a rather bland lounge on Deck 45, which she suspected they’d ended up in because nobody had made any constructive decisions. There was no bar, just a replicator, and the furnishings shared the same colour and upholstery of the rest of the station. It might as well have been a waiting room for staff between meetings or travellers pausing between shuttles.
Arys brightened up at her arrival more than she wanted to deal with, so it was a relief when Harkon dragged over a young Orion woman. ‘Elsa, this is N’Rana Zherul, Medical Department. I told her we’re the fun gang, so don’t let me down.’
Zherul gave a chirpy grin that filled Lindgren with relief. There were enough sourpusses among the junior officers that she didn’t want another. ‘More fun than the new doctor, who tried to get me to pull an extra shift tonight. When we’re docked and I just got here. As if.’
‘We are the fun gang,’ Lindgren agreed, and looked around. ‘So what are we doing here?’
‘Tar’lek suggested it as a meeting point,’ said Harkon with tired eyes. ‘I say we fix this and the others can catch up.’
Zherul shrugged. ‘There’s a good cocktail bar the next section over. My last ship passed through a few months back.’
This proved a good recommendation, and within ten minutes Lindgren had fired a message to Thawn with the update. Once, she thought wistfully, she’d not felt like the grown-up on outings like this. She’d always been senior staff, always Comms Chief, and it wasn’t as if people stood more on ceremony since she’d made lieutenant. But most of the ensigns who’d arrived on Endeavour with her had moved on, climbing the ranks when she’d already started out a rung up, and Thawn had never been the most sociable of creatures, and now there was a younger generation of new officers to hang out with, even if she was only a couple of years older at most.
But the cocktail bar promised to hide all sins. Dimly-lit but peppered with sparks and dangling threads of neon light, it was a luminescent jungle with low and wide tables that could accommodate them all on short stools. The cocktails had exotic names like a Vorkish Viper and a Black Targ which promised mystery, hangovers, and no insights into what went into them. Athaka fretted about the lack of synthehol, Forrester dragged him because they didn’t have a shift until the following afternoon, and Zherul won extra points by getting the first round in. A wide mix of cocktails balanced on the tray she brought out, which she spun on the table before instructing everyone to grab the first glass in front of them, and this broke most of the anxieties and tensions of young officers who hadn’t been able to relax in far too long.
‘I hear the new doctor’s a bit of a character?’ Lindgren said to Zherul once they were sat down with curved, impractical glasses of brightly-coloured liquids.
‘He’s one of those practitioners who’s clearly got no idea what it’s like to work medical on a front-line ship,’ the Orion officer grumbled. ‘I like Doctor Sadek, though.’
Harkon leaned in from the other side. ‘Sadek’s solid. She acts grumpy but she knows what’s what; she’ll sort him out.’ She looked over to Lindgren. ‘Forget the new doctor, though; isn’t our new science chief supposed to be a complete asshole?’
Lindgren faltered at that, thinking of their perfectly pleasant chat on the lift down. ‘He’s been nice when I’ve talked to him,’ was all she managed to say, wrong-footed by the question. Had she been more prepared, she might have pivoted to get Harkon to explain further, but the pilot seemed to think she’d misstepped and changed the topic.
But the mood was settled, at least, and soon Lindgren finished her drink and headed for the bar. In the gloom she didn’t notice Arys following until he arrived beside her. ‘Did you want another?’ he said a little formally, pointing to her glass.
No, I came to the bar for my health, she didn’t say. Arys was a sweetheart, but he was sometimes hard work. ‘Alright,’ she sighed with a smile. ‘You can get a girl a drink.’
‘I wasn’t – I’m out, too,’ he faltered, gesturing with his glass that he must have downed to join her, because it hadn’t been empty when she’d left the table.
She’d given him an opening, and it had just made him panic. With another sigh, she leaned against the bar. ‘How’s Flight Control treating you, anyway, Tar’lek?’
‘It’s good,’ he said, brightening once he could talk work, which was the last thing she wanted to do. ‘Obviously it’s different to working for the captain, but it’s a small team and I’m enjoying putting in some new drill routines, some new protocols. There’s always a split in these departments between starship pilots and shuttle pilots, in terms of preferences, but I’m trying to get them to mingle…’
She let his words wash over her, smiling politely, but either he was particularly anxious or he noticed she was drifting once he’d ordered the drinks. He straightened. ‘Do you have much of, uh, tips? On being the most junior person in the senior staff?’
It was technically asking for her input. ‘Be ready to be wrong, and don’t take it personally,’ she said levelly. ‘You’ll make suggestions and you’ll get overruled. You’ll learn to avoid the pot holes and they’ll learn to trust your judgement.’
‘That’s good,’ he said with too much of a thoughtful frown and nod. ‘I’m glad we’re on the staff together now. I didn’t see as much of you as I – when I was a yeoman. But now we’ll have meetings and the lot. It’ll be good.’
Just as he drew an awkward breath to press on, she saw a flash of red hair at the door, and her hand shot up with a palpable wave of relief. ‘Oh, Rosara’s caught up!’
The grumpy shape of Rosara Thawn tromped straight to the bar and, with her usual lack of awareness, elbowed in between the two of them. ‘I want whatever cocktail has the most colours in it,’ she said sulkily.
Lindgren gave him a pointed look across her back, and with a rather dissolute wince he handed her drink over and returned with his own to the others. ‘So.’ She drew the word out. ‘The work delay was… annoying?’
‘I don’t want to complain about it near the others, Athaka will fall over himself apologising and this is why I don’t usually drink with your little gang,’ Thawn said in a superior way which Lindgren wasn’t sure she’d earned. ‘Cortez is making me jump through hoops to use her staff. Her refit isn’t superfluous, but we have to get this lounge done.’
When Rosara Thawn was tense about anything, she became tense about everything. Lindgren slid onto the bar stool next to her. ‘Have a brightly-colour cocktail,’ she said soothingly, ‘and then we can chill out.’
‘Yes.’ Thawn frowned at the bar, then at the others, then at Lindgren, who sighed internally. Even if she was oblivious when in a bad mood, sometimes her better judgement caught up. ‘Did I interrupt Tar’lek there?’
‘Was he finally doing something or did he decide to gently pine up close?’
‘Don’t be… we were getting a drink,’ Lindgren sighed. ‘We are friends, you know.’
‘Not if he had his way,’ Thawn muttered, and snatched up her arriving cocktail with relief. ‘He’s so transparent, why don’t you put him out of his misery one way or another?’
‘He’s never said anything,’ Lindgren said with indignation. ‘Why should it be on me to say, “Sorry, Tar’lek, I know you’ve never acted on your desperately obvious feelings, but I’m afraid I don’t return them”? Why do I have to volunteer to be the baddie?’
‘Not that there needs to be any deep and meaningful reason for you to not reciprocate,’ said Thawn, shoving the straw in the corner of her mouth. ‘But what’s wrong with him?’
‘Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with people, you just don’t feel it, too.’ Lindgren sighed again at the level look she received. ‘He’s always been like this. Ever since he came aboard. It’s like he saw me and just decided on me, you know? And that’s never faltered, not as we’ve gotten to know each other better; nothing.’
‘You think he doesn’t like you, but that he’s besotted with an idea of you. Yes, alright, that sounds like how our lives would go.’
‘Your turn. What did Rhade do?’
‘Nothing. Nothing new.’ Thawn shrugged. ‘He chose to come to Endeavour, he chose to get closer to me so we could figure out if we want a life together before we commit, and he doesn’t seem to understand that involves some modicum of commitment now.’
‘Is he still not talking?’
‘No, he came to talk. He said he was sorry, and that he wasn’t going to defend his behaviour.’ Thawn grimaced as Lindgren tilted her head at this baffling lack of offences. She sighed. ‘I don’t… I get the impression he’s not been all along living like someone expecting to get married.’
Lindgren’s brow furrowed. ‘You mean generally, or… hook-ups and relationships, or…’
Thawn looked down at her cocktail and fiddled with the straw. ‘You and I never… we weren’t really close before this year. But I know you see pretty much everything, so you surely saw how… I mean, you had to guess how Noah and I…’
‘Could have gone somewhere, but didn’t?’ Lindgren said gently.
‘Because I didn’t let myself. Because I’m some day going to marry Adamant Rhade, and Betazoid marriages can be open arrangements but that’s not as common in my family, and I didn’t think I should let myself fall wildly in love with someone else,’ Thawn said in a rush, still looking into her cocktail. ‘And I… it made me miserable, and then Noah died and all I have left is regret and guilt and I hated myself for how I felt…’
‘And you think the person you put yourself through that for… isn’t as committed as you? Didn’t make these sacrifices? Might have not even minded?’
‘It’s not about him minding; I held back for me, not for him,’ Thawn spat, brushing a lock of hair back with the artful trick Lindgren knew of making sure no tears were about to escape in the middle of a bar. ‘But yes. Maybe it matters a little that Adamant’s not been going through that.’
‘That sounds difficult,’ Lindgren said, and winced at Thawn’s glance; she sounded more like Counsellor Carraway. ‘Okay, okay, that sucks. And I’m going to tell you that you should try to talk to Adamant about it. But first.’ She grabbed her cocktail. ‘We have a stupid night of no responsibilities. Let’s finish these, then tell the others we need to go dancing.’
Getting everyone to finish their cocktails in good order was difficult, because Forrester had just ordered a particularly exotic one and resented the idea of necking it, but half an hour later the pack of young officers burst into the biggest dance club on Bravo.
Music and dancing had the capacity to push anything, any problem, thought, or crisis, light-years away. Perhaps the next morning they would have duty shifts and personal problems and professional challenges, but for a few hours they could surrender themselves to the thudding beat, the jubilant music, the pulsing lights and the sway of bodies and the rhythm of movement.
Lindgren and Thawn had been on the dance floor for a while before they made it back to the booth the crowd had grabbed. Lindgren’s eyes brightened as she spotted a new figure there. ‘Nate! You made it!’
‘What are you wearing?’ Thawn demanded archly.
Nate Beckett tugged at the collar of his shirt and gave a lopsided, self-effacing grin. ‘What? I came down from dinner, didn’t stop to change. Got away as soon as I could.’
‘Of course,’ Thawn said flatly, her disapproval audible even over the rousing beats of the next song. ‘You must have been desperate to get away from dinner at Vandorin’s.’
‘I was, actually. Would have much rather been here with you lot. Surprised you’re here, Thawn; I thought you were allergic to fun?’
Thawn scoffed and rolled her eyes. ‘If I’m that inconveniencing, Beckett, you’ve just had dinner with your father; I’m sure he can get you a better assignment far away from me.’
These two sniping was something Lindgren had grown used to, but there was an unusual flash in Beckett’s eyes at that gibe, and she stepped forward to grab his arm. ‘Come on, Nate,’ she said with an airy tone. ‘Dance?’
It worked as an interception, but whatever cloud Thawn had summoned didn’t dissipate. Dragging him off to dance made Arys look like he’d sucked on a lemon. And even after dancing, Lindgren found herself running interference on all three with another round of drinks in case any one of them upset the other.
In a quiet moment, she stepped to one side and tapped her wristband to bring up her message display. There was nothing new, which was in itself something of a novelty. For once, it was on her to open communications, and she scrolled through the senior staff roster to find the name she wanted, then tapped the quick message.
What about that night-cap?