Part of USS Endeavour: Bloody, but Unbowed

Bloody, but Unbowed – 4

Main Engineering, USS Endeavour
December 2399
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October 2399
Nine Minutes After the Accident

‘Core temperatures are still rising.’ Adupon braced his hands against the main console before the warp core, the intermix chamber no longer the peaceful cloud of blues but a swirling vortex threatening the faintest hints of purples and blacks as the delicate process within began to come undone.

‘We’ve vented thirty-six percent of the plasma from the conduits on this section,’ protested Forrester, who cut an almost comical figure, stood amid a crisis in her cocktail dress. ‘That should cool it down.’

Cortez stood at the centre of the maelstrom, reports hammering in from her engineers as she watched the data on the pool table console tumble in. To most people’s eyes it was raw numbers, but for her, the digits came together like pieces of mosaic. She did not care for the picture. ‘We’re missing something.’

‘Boss!’ Chief Lann’s head stuck out over the railing to the upper level. ‘Magnetic interlocks are damaged. We’re leaking way more coolant than we thought.’

‘That’s not possible,’ said Forrester sharply. ‘If the detonation was big enough to damage the magnetic interlocks, it should have overloaded the power conduits across four decks -’

‘And blown half the ship to hell in about ten seconds,’ Cortez finished, lifting a hand. ‘Worry about that part later. Can you compensate, Chief?’

‘I’ll try.’ Lann didn’t sound too optimistic, moving from the upper level to slide down the ladder to join them.

‘Commander.’ Adupon’s eyes were on her. ‘If we’re going to evacuate, we need to go now.’

‘That’s only if we can’t stop this,’ Cortez said sharply. She did not add that maybe they could delay a breach, or jettison the warp core far away enough that the ship and escape pods weren’t caught in the blast radius. Those all accepted a different level of failure, and she wasn’t there yet. ‘If any of you want to go, then go.’ Her eyes were on the console, but she felt the exchanged glances between the three engineers, and heard them stand firm.

‘I’m cranking down the flow on the antimatter and deuterium injectors,’ came Forrester’s voice a moment later. ‘It might not be the source of the problem, but if we slow the reaction rate, it can buy us time.’

Lann came up beside Cortez at the pool table. ‘It might sound counter-intuitive, boss, but we should increase the coolant flow.’

‘You’re right,’ she said, hammering the controls. ‘If Forrester can slow the reaction levels, even we lose a percentage of the coolant through the leak it might be able to handle -’


Adupon’s shout was lost in the thundering cascade of shrieking metal, in the roaring sound from deep beneath them, beneath the intermix chamber, as something within the guts and belly of Endeavour sundered.

‘Oh shit!’ Forrester had to grip her console tight to stay upright. ‘We’ve lost a section of magnetic fields on the antimatter injector coils. The intermix is destabilising.’

Adupon had been thrown back from his console at the shuddering of the deck, and now he staggered towards Cortez. ‘Commander, we have to eject.

Cortez’s heart crawled into her throat, choking any response. A thudding second later came the chirp of the comm systems, and Rourke’s voice echoing around them as if the captain had melded with the ship itself, his presence emanating from the smoke and steam in the smouldering engine room.

Engineering, report!’

Cortez tasted blood as she spoke. ‘We’ve lost antimatter containment, which is further destabilising the intermix chamber.’

There was only the faintest hesitation in Rourke’s voice. ‘Is it time?’

‘I don’t understand,’ Cortez said instead. ‘The magnetic interlocks shouldn’t have ruptured, and I built in redundancies in the power grid to stop exactly this, to stop our magnetic fields failing like this –

She could feel the eyes of her engineers on her as she rattled not to an answer but through why the now shouldn’t have been, why it defied what she knew of her ship. But it was not Adupon, her trusty right hand who cut her off; nor was it Rourke, the commander who needed to know his next move. The voice over the comms was softer, unusually softer, and it stopped Cortez in her tracks to hear Valance speak like that in public, on duty, in a crisis.

Isa. It’s time, isn’t it?’

Cortez swallowed her heart, and looked up at the battered, bloody figure of Adupon. ‘Lieutenant. Eject the warp core.’ He gave a stern nod and turned away, and she found her eyes turning to the ceiling, as if she could look at the bridge dead-on. ‘You should set us on a course further away from the escape pods and evacuate yourselves, sir; there’s nothing more for you to do from the bridge and I can’t guarantee the warp core will be far enough away when it does go.’

There’s not much for you to do from down there, Commander,’ Rourke pointed out.

‘We’ll make sure the core’s underway. Go, sir. We’ve got this.’ Go, and take her with you, Cortez didn’t add.

The line went dead, and she barely needed to give her engineers further instructions as they swung into action. This was the sort of disaster every engineer prayed they’d never face, and so it was the sort of disaster they trained for. Though none of this should have happened – the damage shouldn’t have dispersed like this, the power grid shouldn’t have failed like that – this last part, at least, ran like clockwork.

‘Ejection systems ready!’ Adupon shouted over the hissing of steam from below.

‘Computer!’ Cortez planted her hands on the pool table console to brace herself, and not against the surging of the deck. ‘Prepare to eject the warp core; authorisation Cortez-Sigma-478.’ The warning flashed up on her display, demanding her final confirmation.

‘You got this, Boss,’ Lann rumbled across from her.

She hadn’t even realised she’d hesitated. ‘Get out. All of you,’ said Cortez, voice low but urgent enough to carry, and only as they raced past her to the doors did she hammer the command and run.

And Endeavour lurched under her, writhing in rebellion as she ordered her ship to tear out its own heart.

December 2399
Six Weeks After the Accident

Light spilled from the screen as the data scrolled by, but it brought no true illumination. Curled up on a comfy chair in a corner of the expansive XO’s quarters, Cortez’s iron-grip on the PADD hadn’t loosened in hours. Diagnostic records and accident reports flew before her gaze, both with their raw data and the following analysis, but shadows remained.

They were not dispersed when Valance appeared at the bedroom door and gave a quiet, ‘Computer, low lighting. How long have you been up?’

Cortez blinked at even the faint glow from the ceiling. ‘What time is it?’

‘Just before 0600. You need sleep, not to obsess.’

‘An accident killed four people and decommissioned our ship. No, an attack. That sounds like something I should obsess about.’ Cortez did not look up.

Valance scrubbed her weary face with a hand. ‘We’ll find the people responsible. You’re fixating on the technical part of the attack itself; that’s different. It’s their fault, not yours.’

‘The detonation was on Deck 6, Section 11, immediately adjacent to an EPS junction on Section 10.’ Cortez launched herself to her feet even as Valance walked past, heading for the replicator. ‘That should have overloaded an entire network of EPS conduits, at best disabling the power grid of the entire ship but more likely causing critical breaches across half the hull. We would have lost the ship in seconds.’

Valance stopped before the replicator, keeping her back to her. ‘I know,’ she said at length. ‘I read the reports.’

‘So why,’ Cortez pressed on, ‘had plasma flow been rerouted away from that junction?’

Raktajino,’ Valance mumbled to the replicator, but she didn’t pick up the materialising mug right away, still not turning back. ‘We know why. Baranel was running maintenance.’

‘I gave Baranel the night off for the party, and he wasn’t scheduled to tweak that section anyway -’

‘Computer records showed his authorisation on the plasma rerouting before the detonation -’

Minutes before -’

‘Are you actually suggesting the reason our ship didn’t immediately blow up is foul play -’

‘…and if I were covering my tracks, then who better to pin this oh so convenient unscheduled maintenance activity on than the dead engineer?’

‘Isa!’ The mug steamed on the replicator pad beside Valance. Perhaps a dose of caffeine waking her up more would have softened the snap, but now her voice rang out across the gloomy quarters, enough to jerk Cortez upright. ‘I don’t know why you’re fixated with finding a further conspiracy or a reason for you to blame yourself, but you need to let this go.’

Cortez bit her lip. ‘A reason to blame myself,’ she echoed.

‘I don’t…’ Valance’s shoulders slumped with guilt. ‘I don’t think you’re being conspiratorial. I think you spent weeks – months – bleeding into the problems with the ship’s power distribution network to fix it. To stop an accident like the original one from happening again. And then this happened. You understand that they’re not the same thing, right?’

‘Yes,’ Cortez said tersely. ‘I get how a terrorist attack by the Rebirth isn’t the same as fight that went badly, or a mistake by the engineering team. That’s not what this about.’

The weight of guilt increased, and Valance softened. ‘Then explain it to me.’

Cortez blew out her cheeks. ‘You can blame this on the Rebirth. Let responsibility fall with them and the security on Starbase Bravo. You’re the XO; your responsibility is the crew and the mission. Your responsibility is moving forward.’ She brandished the PADD. ‘But I’m the Chief Engineer. My responsibility is the ship; the literal ship. They killed our ship, and I still don’t understand how that happened, or why it happened the way it did. I’m supposed to let that go?’

‘You’re not supposed to stay up all night reading reports and studying data you’ve clocked a few hundred hours on already.’

‘You’re right.’ Cortez looked down at herself, at the crumpled uniform she was still wearing. ‘I’m supposed to do my job. So I’ll go do that. Right now.’

‘Isa, come on; your shift doesn’t start for a few hours…’

But Cortez didn’t wait, stomping out of the rooms and into the brighter light of the corridors of the officers’ quarters section. It was indeed before the crossover of shifts, with only the morning larks up and about. Looking like she’d slept as little as she had, Cortez ignored the glances as she shuffled between them for a turbolift.

Main Engineering was winding down in the back end of the gamma shift. The new engine room was cavernous compared to its predecessor, though Cortez had served on the Odyssey and at San Francisco Fleet Yards and was accustomed to big ships; the new Endeavour was large, but far from the biggest ship in the fleet. Multiple levels still looked down on her, and with them the eyes of her team, wary at their chief’s arrival at this hour.

‘Carry on.’ She waved a hand at the distant, apprehensive shape of Forrester, who awkwardly returned to her duties. Thus left alone, she found an unattended alcove, seat, and console far from the entrance, and huddled down to work. If she’d gone to her office, people might have thought they could talk to her. Here, she could be overlooked.

It took another hour before anyone approached, and at the sound of footsteps, Cortez braced herself to dismiss Forrester. But then she heard the gait was heavier, and the low, rumbling voice of the new arrival made her hesitate.

‘Lita for your thought, boss, or whatever the human saying is.’ Chief Lann eased into the swivel chair beside her.

Cortez didn’t look up. ‘Just getting an early start, Chief.’

‘Nah. You look like you’ve been here all night. But I know you haven’t, and the whole rest of the team’s being squirrelly, so…’

She gave him a sidelong look. ‘So you drew the short straw in checking up on me?’

‘Short straw? Just the perks of rank and experience, boss. I’ve pestered scarier and more uptight Chief Engineers than you. And by the way Forrester’s studying you like a bomb that’s about to go off, and the general way Adupon looks like he’s going to have an aneurysm if you give him even the slightest amount more stress, I don’t see who else is gonna do it.’ He put his elbow on the console, head on his hand. ‘You’re not sleeping.’

Cortez leaned back in the chair with a sigh, returning her gaze to the same scrolling data she’d studied all night. ‘Come the start of the shift, I’ve got to look at the most efficient way of laying down a whole planetary defence shield on Nerillian. Something they can maintain and power themselves.’

His eyes flickered to the screen. ‘That’s not what you’re working on.’

‘Because my shift hasn’t started yet. So I’m getting on with other things first.’

‘The accident.’

‘The attack. We need to stop acting like it wasn’t people trying to kill us. Actually killing us.’ But he didn’t say anything, and her jaw tightened as the silence stretched out between them. ‘We stood there and watched it happen.’

‘We stood there and stopped the warp core from going critical until the evacuation was complete and the pods were out of the blast radius,’ Lann pointed out. ‘We weren’t helpless bystanders. Is this the bit where you need telling you did everything right, everything in your power?’

‘And we still lost people. Baranel and the others. But it’s not just that; something’s missing here, and nobody else seems to want to think about it.’

Lann sat forward, hands on his knees, big shoulders hunching up. ‘I don’t think that’s it, boss.’ At her uncertain look, he grimaced. ‘I told you a few weeks ago how engineers are the most spiritual people in Starfleet. How we bleed and sweat into the ship and make ourselves a part of it.’

‘I know, I know; so we think we have control over things we don’t,’ she sighed. ‘This isn’t about control -’

‘No, it’s simpler than that. Bastards got your ship.’ At her startled look, he ran a hand along the metal rim of the console. ‘Everyone else views what happened as a lucky escape; an attack that was so much less than it could have been. One system back online and we’d have maybe lost the whole ship in the blink of an eye, everyone dead. They’re busy thanking their stars it wasn’t worse, and picking themselves back up again with the new mission, the new Endeavour. Guess I can, too; I never really served on the old one.’

She squinted at him. ‘What are you saying?’

‘To them, the ship means the crew as much as, or more than, the deck, the bulkheads, the system. To them, the things which really matter got out in one piece, or near enough.’

‘Of course I’m happy the worst was averted -’

‘Course you are, boss.’ Lann gave a lopsided grimace of a smile. ‘But what you need isn’t to understand the attack, or find some hidden piece of the puzzle. You just think so because that gives some rationality what you feel.’

Cortez made a face. ‘What do you think that is?’

‘We lost people, and we had a service for them, and a drink in their memory; we left space to mourn them, and we’re going to keep missing them and giving that sad nod or maybe a little wistful smile when we remember them. That’s allowed. Normal. Healthy, even.’ He shrugged. ‘But like I said: bastards got your ship. You need to mourn your ship.’

She stared at him. ‘That’s…’ But her voice trailed off. ‘That sounds crazy.’

He got to his feet. ‘Maybe. Engineers are a bit crazy. But if it’s what you need, let yourself be crazy, boss.’

Cortez looked from him to the scrolling data feed. Then stood. ‘I’m going to shower. Get some breakfast. You clocking off with alpha shift?’

Lann straightened with a smirk. ‘No way, boss. Got to present you my proposals for how we can best plant a whole damn planetary shield on a rock like Nerillian so you can take credit for my bright ideas with the diplomats, right?’ He jerked his head to the door. ‘First things first, though. You definitely gotta shower.’

‘…security sweeps of the system seem to be proceeding well.’ Were it not for the occasional flickers, the holographic projection of Representative Kerok of the Romulan Star Empire was high-enough quality that Rourke might have believed he was sat across the table. Endeavour’s diplomatic facilities included a conference room with state-of-the-art communications systems, allowing Hale to host all manner of meetings without anyone needing to set foot aboard.

‘We’ll know if it’s going well,’ said Rourke slowly, ‘if the D’varian makes another appearance and is detected. They might be dancing in front of us right now, and if they’ve fixed their cloak, then we’d never know.’

They aren’t,’ Kerok said coolly. ‘The cloak is too old for the ship to remain hidden from the sustained search patterns of our most advanced sensor systems.

Your sensor systems,’ Rourke pointed out. ‘I understand your reticence in sharing knowledge on cloaking devices, but it hardly leaves me confident that Endeavour and our smallcraft are doing anything but going for prolonged walks.’

Then perhaps you should leave the protection of Nerillian to the Tesore, Captain.’

Hale lifted a hand. ‘We’re getting ahead of ourselves,’ she said gently. ‘If Vokden intends to correct the error in his cloaking device and return, that will take some time, surely? You warned, Representative Kerok, that he would struggle to acquire the necessary components.’ At Kerok’s nod, she pressed on. ‘That makes our security measures right now a precaution in case Vokden does something rash, and a demonstration of our commitment to Nerillian. Captain Rourke?’

He leaned forward. ‘My staff are drawing up proposals for installing a planetary shield. It looks promising, if they can crack the issue of powering it with Nerillian’s current infrastructure.’

‘This would take care of the safety of Nerillian itself,’ said Hale, ‘but not its mineral shipments. An aggressor could still choke off the world. Does the Star Empire have any proposals of how to help here?’

I’ve been reflecting on this,’ said Kerok. ‘The Star Empire is prepared to negotiate new trade agreements with Nerillian, for itself and on behalf of some of our protectorates. Bring the world back into the fold of the Romulan people, economically. It would thus be in everyone’s interests, including the navy’s, to see the shipments protected. This would require, of course, for the Federation to help with the industrial expansion discussed on our last meeting planetside.’

Rourke frowned. ‘So we hand over a planetary shield and equipment to improve Nerillian’s mineral refining processes and the Star Empire invests by… benefiting from that industrial expansion?’

Kerok tilted his head. ‘Trade with Nerillian is not the most efficient prospect for the Star Empire,’ he pointed out. ‘Its benefits are more cultural than economic. Would you suggest an alternative to these displaced Romulans forging closer bonds with the rightful Romulan government?

Hale gave Rourke a warning look, and he stayed silent as she pressed on. ‘This would be an investment from everyone in Nerillian’s development. It also defangs the Rebirth Movement if Nerillian becomes more independent. So I would like to see Vokden truly dealt with before we leave.’

I have a compromise, then, on the matter of detection.’ Kerok’s projection leaned forward. ‘We establish a comms buoy in the system. You and your craft route all sensor readings to the buoy, to be forwarded to the Tesore. We can study your findings for any sign of the D’varian.’ It was his turn to lift a hand as Rourke bristled. ‘Strip your readings down of all non-essential data; give us navigational feeds only. We will take on the computational burden while you can scale back the intensity of your scans. I know this is not ideal…’

‘I’ll take it,’ Rourke said unhappily. ‘If only because I know you’ll never help us pierce a cloak.’

We must all bow to protocol at the end of the day, Captain,’ said Kerok, and Rourke softened at this faint but bold suggestion the diplomat was acting as freely as he could within constraints he did not necessarily agree with. ‘But if we have an accord, this brings me to one last question.’ He straightened at the nods. ‘This will sound impertinent, but I will be direct: What is Doctor Karlan T’Sann doing aboard?

Rourke raised his eyebrows. ‘You’re right. That is impertinent.’

T’Sann is a known collaborator with the Republic and Reunification movements, at best. At worst he has plundered Romulan territory, new and old, for our property and whisked it back to the Daystrom Institute, regardless of any claim my people would have to their own heritage.

‘And you’ve just… innocently come across evidence of his presence?’ said Rourke.

He’s a person of interest to naval intelligence,’ Kerok said simply. ‘And we know he was operating in the region on your newly-returned runabout. In the spirit of cooperation, we would be reassured to know he does not intend further assaults on Romulan history.

‘You won’t tell us how to find a pirate,’ Rourke rumbled, ‘and you’re going to get resources at a bargain price from Nerillian while the Federation gives hand-outs for nothing in return, but we still have to account for the behaviour of a Federation citizen you’ve been spying on -’

‘Captain.’ Hale’s voice was sharp. ‘Indignation on matters of principle does us little good here. Representative Kerok has a right to reassurance on this matter. It would be deeply inappropriate if Endeavour’s mission was being used for expeditions the Star Empire considers theft.’ Rourke stiffened, and she turned to Kerok. ‘Doctor T’Sann has a lot of contacts in the region. He has helped us negotiate for up-to-date starcharts from the Friskal Group.’

Kerok at least seemed mollified by this, but Rourke’s scowl remained for the rest of the conversation, and didn’t fade when the holographic communication ended. He looked across the table at Hale. ‘You lied to him.’

‘Evasion would have been either ineffective, or if Kerok found out he wouldn’t see the distinction,’ she mused, jaw tight. ‘But this does put us in a bit of a pickle, yes.’ Her gaze came to his. ‘T’Sann will need to sit on his findings for a while.’

‘Until we’re done here?’

‘I was thinking months. Long enough to obscure exactly when he found the Koderex.’

Rourke put his hands on the table. ‘He’s talked about getting assistance from DI experts. I’ll get him to hold off; if the Romulans know he’s here, who knows how they’re monitoring him. We have to contain knowledge of its existence.’

She nodded as he stood. ‘I’ll start to move through back channels at the Institute. Get them ready to clamp down on this. Don’t worry,’ she added at his look. ‘I won’t tell them what it’s for. There’ll be enough degrees of separation it won’t tip off the Empire. But we do have one further problem: we can’t stop T’Sann.’

‘He owes us,’ Rourke pointed out.

‘This is his life’s work. Sometimes that overrides personal debts.’

It was with a scowl that he left her, heading straight for a turbolift and the archaeology laboratory. The facility had been given almost entirely over to the scanning and restoration of the files from the Koderex’s database, and he found Ensign Beckett at his post with T’Sann himself sat across at the main computer control bank.

Beckett straightened with an oblivious shine of enthusiasm, so obviously enamoured was he with his work. ‘Captain! What can we do for you?’

Rourke kept his expression guarded. ‘Give us a minute, Nate? I need to talk to the doctor.’

T’Sann’s eyebrows raised as a suspicious Beckett left, but the archaeologist pushed back on his chair. ‘That’s not a good sign, Captain.’

‘What are your plans with this data, Doctor? Once you’re done with all this, I mean.’

‘Dispatch it to the DI,’ said T’Sann, eyebrows still raised. ‘Begin publishing.’

‘And the diplomatic implications?’

‘Are problems for diplomats. The Federation doesn’t recognise any Romulan government as the legitimate successor to the institutions that built the Koderex and wrote the knowledge in her archives.’ T’Sann shrugged. ‘You could argue that Vulcan has a greater claim, seeing as the Koderex never made it to the old Star Empire’s birth anyway.’

‘I don’t think that’s a distinction any Romulan government is going to care about.’

‘Then we’re truly entering the realm of politics rather than legitimacy, aren’t we?’ He stabbed a finger at the console, the holographic display above still trawling through the countless files to check and, where possible, restore integrity. ‘But I don’t think you came here to argue about this.’

‘No,’ Rourke admitted. ‘Kerok knows you’re aboard and up to something. You can’t let on to the Star Empire that you’ve found the Koderex here and now, as part of Endeavour’s mission.’

T’Sann blinked. ‘That sounds like a problem you should have seen coming. Or did you expect us not to find anything when you gave the mission your blessing?’

‘I didn’t think you’d return to us directly under the nose of a Romulan warbird actively scanning every inch of its immediate surroundings. It hasn’t given us a shred of deniability,’ Rourke countered. ‘If the Empire finds the truth, it’s going to undermine everything Endeavour is trying to achieve out here.’

Now T’Sann’s expression folded into a frown, and he sat up. ‘That’s awfully bold of you, Captain, considering mere months ago you were prepared to wildly antagonise the Star Empire for what you deemed a worthy cause. You killed Imperial citizens and violated their space. Now we’re supposed to keep the Empire happy?’

‘Now we have to move forward and build bridges.’

‘Or it was worth it when it suited Starfleet, but trying to restore foundational knowledge of an entire culture is something I need to sit on until it doesn’t make you and Hale look bad?’ T’Sann pushed himself to his feet. Rourke had always thought of him as a mild-mannered academic type, but the movement reminded him of the sinewy strength, the quiet presence of his Vulcan frame.

Rourke drew a calming breath. ‘That’s an over-simplification,’ he said, realising the situation needed diffusing. ‘All we ask is that you sit with this for a while.’

‘For how long? Six months? A year? When will it be convenient for Starfleet?’

‘When Starfleet says so.’

Rourke turned sharply at the new voice to see Graelin stood at the main doors, a sheepish Beckett next to him. The Chief Science Officer advanced, adjusting his cuffs before he pressed on. ‘These datachips and thus their contents are, after all, Starfleet property.’

T’Sann stopped short. ‘The arrangement was that Starfleet would assist my research, which is sanctioned by the Daystrom Institute.’

‘Was it?’ Graelin’s eyebrows innocently hit his hairline, and he moved to the main display. With the sweep of a hand, the analysis from the Koderex disappeared for a fresh set of documents. ‘I think you’ll find that tracing the ship itself began with the acquisition of the transponder – by Lieutenant Kharth, a Starfleet officer.’

T’Sann’s chin tilted up. ‘My transponder -’

‘It was then stored and studied on the former USS Endeavour, Starfleet property. You’ll find our records list it as such. Your expedition on the King Arthur these past weeks, likewise, has been a Starfleet expedition following up such a Starfleet lead, with your civilian expert advice deeply appreciated, Doctor.’ Graelin flicked his fingers to expand one document in particular that Rourke recognised as research authorisation from Starfleet Science. ‘Meaning everything acquired on that mission is Starfleet property.’

‘That’s…’ T’Sann worked his jaw. ‘If the origin point of your legitimacy is the transponder, I purchased it on Teros before it was stolen from me by the Rebirth Movement. Lieutenant Kharth’s acquisition doesn’t transfer ownership.’

‘I’m sorry, Doctor, I don’t understand.’ Graelin frowned with fake confusion. ‘You have records confirming you acquired the transponder of a vessel of the exodus fleet on Teros?’

‘I… it was acquired as junk from a trader who didn’t know what they had; it wasn’t fully authenticated until…’

‘…until it was on Endeavour,’ Graelin finished. ‘You have no right to do anything with this data, Doctor T’Sann.’

T’Sann rounded on Rourke. ‘This wasn’t our agreement. I helped you on your little Tkon wild goose chase, and in return, you were going to help me with this.’

Rourke steeled his expression as he folded his arms across his chest. ‘I didn’t agree to let you throw chaos at our diplomatic operation. Be reasonable.’

T’Sann again tried to speak but failed to find the words. Instead, he turned on his heel and stormed out the door.

In his wake, Beckett shrank in on himself. ‘This isn’t right.’

‘That’ll be all, Ensign,’ Rourke said firmly. But as the ensign left, too, his eyes landed on Graelin, and he waited until they were alone before he spoke. ‘That definitely wasn’t in the agreement I made with T’Sann.’

‘It wasn’t,’ Graelin allowed with an exaggerated shrug. ‘Your agreement was lacking. I suppose because of the nature of the crisis. And Commander Airex didn’t properly take the transponder into Starfleet custody after Teros – but he didn’t not do that.’

‘You altered our records?’

‘No.’ Graelin now looked indignant. ‘When this Endeavour launched and it became clear you were going to honour your agreement with T’Sann, I contacted Commander Airex and asked him to clarify the status of the transponder. With recommendations, yes, for Starfleet to better protect itself. And I made sure the documentation and planning for the King Arthur’s mission was robust.’

‘You didn’t tell me.’

‘I thought you’d complain,’ he said simply. ‘T’Sann was taking you at your word and didn’t double-check anything. If all went well, he didn’t need to know. If we needed to contain something as obviously volatile as the discovery of the Koderex, this gave us options.’ He met Rourke’s gaze levelly. ‘You might not like it, Captain, but I acted to protect the mission. With or without your permission. Circumstances have just proven me right, that’s all.’

Rourke bit his lip. He wanted to call Graelin a snake, not for turning on T’Sann now so much as preparing to do so all along. But Graelin had indeed just been vindicated, and frustration in his belly made an unpleasant cocktail with the guilt at his own hypocrisy.

‘If he’ll cooperate once he calms down,’ Rourke rumbled at last, ‘let him have access to the data. If he wants to spend the next year studying this in secret, I won’t stop him.’

‘Of course,’ said Graelin simply. ‘This is, after all, the find of the century.’ But when Rourke turned for the door, he pressed on in that superior tone which had always made Rourke’s teeth itch. ‘Oh, and, Captain? You’re welcome.’