One Week After the Accident
‘…and there’s no telling what happens next,’ Rourke grumbled as he tried to pace a hole in the office carpet on Starbase Bravo.
Valance pursed her lips as she watched. ‘Hale hasn’t been forthcoming?’
‘She’s back at the Qualor offices. Meetings we were supposed to host, or at least transport her to, still need attending.’ He knew he didn’t have to explain what else was on his mind; that if Hale proved she could conduct her mission without a Starfleet escort, the whole operation would be further undermined. ‘She’s in no position to help us.’
‘It’s early days yet.’
That was, Rourke thought bitterly, the sort of thing people said when they couldn’t summon anything more reassuring. ‘If Endeavour can’t be repaired…’
‘That’s not a possibility you should dwell on, Captain…’
He gave a bitter laugh. ‘If she’s decommissioned, I’m not your captain, Valance.’
She stood, the movement enough to make him stop pacing. ‘The admiral wouldn’t ask us here if the only thing to say was that the engineers are writing her off. That would have been a report sent to you directly. There’ll be more.’
‘Sure,’ said Rourke. ‘Autopsy reports tend to include cause of death. That’s the bit everyone gets really excited about.’ But the doors slid open, cutting off his maudlin ruminations – only for his stomach to tighten at the sight of Commander Lockhart, Admiral Beckett’s senior intelligence advisor, with no sign of the admiral.
‘That’s not a good sign,’ he said before he could stop himself.
Commander Lockhart had the self-respect to look only moderately insulted. ‘Vice Admiral Beckett asked me to handle this meeting, for reasons which will become apparent. Please, have a seat.’
Valance settled back down, but Rourke took a moment to stomp before he sat next to her, arms folded across his chest. ‘How’s my damn ship?’
Lockhart slid behind the desk, expression neutral in a studied way. She was more analyst, he supposed, than field operative. ‘I’m sorry, sir. We’ve received the final assessment from the repair team. The damage of the initial detonation, in conjunction with the damage from the Endeavour’s proximity to the ejected warp core when it overloaded, has been too severe. Their recommendation is that the ship be decommissioned.’
It was just a ship. That was what he’d told himself for days; just metal and engines, not the flesh and blood of the vast, vast majority of crew he’d successfully evacuated, whose escape pods he’d successfully protected by delaying the warp core’s detonation as long as he had. It was just a thing.
The news still clattered against the edges as it fell down the hollow space inside of himself he’d prepared for just this occasion.
Valance rallied before him, leaning forward as she noticed the things he’d missed as he kept a grip on himself. ‘You didn’t ask us here only for that news, Commander.’
‘No,’ Lockhart admitted. ‘They’ve confirmed the cause: as was suspected, an explosive device was planted aboard Endeavour, at a plasma manifold on Deck 6, Section 11. Its explosion ruptured the manifold, which caused the hull breach and further overloads. The only reason this didn’t cause a series of cascading failures and overloads along the EPS grid is because the manifolds on Sections 9 through 10 had been taken offline.’
‘Offline?’ Valance leaned forward. ‘Why were they taken offline?’
‘What we’ve recovered of the computer records, damaged as they are, is that one Petty Officer 2nd Class Baranel, an engineering specialist, was conducting maintenance at that time. It looks like it was scheduled last-minute, but it’s incredibly lucky.’ Lockhart shrugged. ‘It saved the ship.’
‘Commander Cortez didn’t say anything about Baranel doing maintenance that night,’ Valance pressed.
‘If you’ll forgive me, Commander Cortez might have been the Chief Engineer, but she’s not been part of the repair team,’ Lockhart pointed out. ‘And Petty Officer Baranel was killed in the detonation, so he can’t explain for a last-minute scheduling.’
‘Who the hell planted a bomb on my ship?’ said Rourke, trying to not sound too brusque in the face of Valance’s questions or the discussion of Baranel, but the question had begun to burn in him. ‘And how?’
‘I have some answers there, sir,’ Lockhart said, brightening at the prospect of providing more than questions. She reached for the console to bring up a holo-projection of an intelligence report. ‘Last night, our field office on Qualor picked up a transmission from somewhere in the RNZ. The origin point was obscured, but it was intended for Starfleet to intercept it.’ At the tap of a finger, the recording played.
A vice had settled around Rourke’s throat the moment the bomb went off, and now he felt it tighten. On the display before them appeared a Romulan face he didn’t recognise in non-descript clothing. And by the time the message finished, the vice’s grip was unyielding. ‘The Rebirth Movement,’ he croaked. ‘For Teros.’
‘We’re still trying to verify this claim,’ said Lockhart. ‘And we’re investigating how they got an agent into the refit team here on Bravo to plant the device in the first place. There are several leads, but my people will be looking into this.’
‘You’re confident, though,’ said Valance. ‘Or you wouldn’t tell us this.’
‘I’m confident.’ Lockhart’s gaze flickered between them. ‘Their rhetoric is blaming your actions on Teros, sir, but if they had the assets to plant this bomb, they may have had the assets to learn of Endeavour’s assignment to First Secretary Hale’s diplomatic mission. They claim responsibility as an act of propaganda, which makes it better for them to assert they acted on behalf of the people of the RNZ. But it’s very likely this was an attack on the diplomatic mission to stop further Federation involvement.’
Rourke tried to not look baleful as he regarded Lockhart. ‘And here I am, sat on Bravo with no ship, no command, and the diplomatic mission relocated to Qualor instead of moving onto the RNZ. Tell me, Commander; you work with Admiral Beckett directly, and he’s conveniently decided to not be here to break the news. If this was an attack to stop further Federation involvement in RNZ, has it worked?’
Seven Weeks After the Accident
While most of the crew could unwind, eat, drink, and socialise at the various small messes or the Safe House itself, the officers’ mess on Deck 7 named the Round Table was more exclusive. Only senior staff or those with at least the rank of lieutenant could enjoy its close, intimate feel; the comfy booths, wide bar, and art deco style that was a lot cosier than the ebullient Safe House. Thawn didn’t think she’d be pestered by subordinates if she went for a drink with Lindgren anywhere else, but it was a lot safer to go to the Round Table if they didn’t want to be disturbed.
‘Okay,’ said Lindgren, sliding onto the opposite bench of the booth. ‘We have a lot of catching up to do.’
‘Well, Cortez has been a delight in our efforts to install a planetary shield system that Nerillian’s existing infrastructure can actually power,’ Thawn grumbled at once. ‘I know she took the accident hard, but does she have to take it out on me? Why does she have to either be unbearably perky or unbearably angry?’
‘Cortez is the sort of person who, uh, feels things very intensely,’ said Lindgren in that diplomatic way of hers. ‘I thought you were making good progress, though?’
‘Oh, we are. But she’s not making it pleasant.’ Thawn picked at the straw for her cocktail. ‘You weren’t asking about the shield installation if you’ve read the report, are you.’
‘Of course not.’ Lindgren leaned forward, voice dropping to a conspiratorial level. ‘You’ve not said a thing about you and Rhade.’
Thawn felt heat rise to her cheeks. ‘There’s not much to say.’
‘Are you kidding me? You looked like you were getting cosy at the party.’
‘Yes. Before the bomb went off.’ Thawn sighed. ‘He was… okay, he was very charming when I came down from the podium. He congratulated me on the promotion, of course, and my work, but…’ A self-conscious hand came up to fidget with her hair. ‘It wasn’t all work. He said I looked nice.’
Something flickered through Lindgren’s gaze. ‘Did he, now.’
Normally, Thawn exercised exceptional discipline and courtesy in the use of her telepathy, but this time she’d not so much as thought before she’d extended her senses to feel the thread of suspicion. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Nothing.’ Lindgren faltered as she realised this wouldn’t fly. ‘I think he’s been getting advice from people. It’s not a bad thing, it doesn’t make the compliments any less sincere or heartfelt. I think it means he’s been actively trying to work out how behave better around you, or with you. It’s a good sign.’
Thawn made a face. ‘Who’s he getting advice from on how to talk to me? You?’
‘He could have done worse.’ A pointed look rose. ‘Come on, Rosara. Who else said you looked nice that night?’
‘Beckett? You think he asked Beckett for advice on how to talk to me? That’s ridiculous.’
‘Nate can be very charming.’
‘He’s sleazy; there’s a difference.’
‘And yet you turned beet-red when he said you looked great.’
‘Are you -’ Thawn stopped, faltering. ‘Are you trying to stir things up? I am not interested in Nate Beckett.’
‘I didn’t think you were,’ said Lindgren.
‘I am trying to develop this relationship with Adamant, not continue to…’ Her voice trailed off, and she fidgeted with the straw and looked away, across the very quiet buzz of the Round Table. The place was dead enough for her to safely ask this question. ‘Did Connor have a crush on me?’
That sent Lindgren rocking back. ‘Wow. What? Maybe.’ She frowned. ‘I think so. He got into an awful sulk when Rhade came aboard.’
‘I was afraid he did,’ Thawn admitted. ‘And I didn’t know what to do about it.’ Despite how the subject made the cocktail sit heavy on her stomach, she felt the slightest glint of satisfaction at wrong-footing Lindgren, of all people.
‘Why are you bringing this up?’
‘I’m saying that I don’t need a third round of unsuitable feelings on anyone’s behalf while I’m trying to work things out with Adamant.’
‘How are you trying to work things out with him? You’ve not talked to him.’ Lindgren leaned forward. ‘So although Betazoid arrangements aren’t often monogamous, you’d prefer to be.’
Thawn winced. ‘Yes. It’s – my family has often been more strict about such things, though I don’t know what they’d do about it. But at the same time it’s also not… I don’t think I’m particularly…’
‘I’m establishing our baseline here, Rosara, not asking you to justify anything. You’re not in the slightest bit wired for casual relationships, are you?’
‘I’m not very good at them,’ she admitted, picking at her sleeve.
‘So I don’t see how you and Rhade figure out how to be in a relationship without going ahead and being in a relationship.’ Lindgren shrugged. ‘Spend time together. Go on dates. Give it a try. Exclusively and as something real in your life now. Instead of doing an odd dance of existing in the same space but being apart. Especially if you’ve been holding back any other serious or potentially serious romantic or emotional commitments because you’re… saving yourself for him?’
Thawn wrinkled her nose. ‘You make it sound so old-fashioned. I just – even if it weren’t for Adamant, I wouldn’t be interested in anyone if I didn’t see a future there. But he’s my future.’
‘It is old-fashioned,’ Lindgren pointed out. ‘But you’re allowed to be. For the sake of asking questions I worry you’ll explode if you contemplate unsupervised, what would happen if you wanted to break the betrothal?’
It was like Thawn had inhaled the ice in her drink, such was the chill running into her chest. ‘That’s not going to happen.’
‘It’s a hypothetical.’
‘My aunt would never let me forget it. My mother would never forgive me. It’s not – nobody can force me to do anything – but it…’ She pushed the drink away and drew a slow, shaking breath. ‘It’s a bad idea. Speaking of those, why are you fucking Graelin?’
It was the second-time Lindgren had been blind-sided this conversation, and Thawn knew it was as much for the transparently nasty blunt question as the topic itself. Lindgren turned pink in an instant. ‘I’m…’
‘Don’t try to deny it. I didn’t need to be a telepath to tell.’ Thawn leaned forward, keen to keep her teeth in now she’d found purchase. ‘The captain hates him.’
‘They have a history and Petrias has explained that to me,’ Lindgren said faintly. ‘Captain Rourke isn’t infallible, you know.’
Thawn gave her a somewhat scandalised look. ‘How can it be a good idea to get involved with the second officer that our captain hates? That’s twin barrels of awful, Elsa.’
‘I like him! He’s clever and he’s charming and he – he actually does things instead of mooning around forever or waiting for me to make the first move or be the bad guy or…’ Lindgren sunk in on herself. ‘It’s not serious.’
‘No,’ said Thawn levelly. ‘I expect that a senior officer almost old enough to be your father on an assignment which he clearly thinks is a hoop to jump through on his way up the ranks isn’t looking for anything serious with the young, pretty comms officer.’
‘You make it sound sordid. He’s not that much older than me.’
Thawn reached for her PADD and dragged both personnel files up. ‘Lieutenant Junior Grade Elsa Lindgren, born 2374; Commander Petrias Graelin, born 2357. I’d say sixteen years is solidly “almost old enough to be your father.” I’m being downright courteous on a biological basis.’
‘What’s your point?’ Lindgren stiffened. ‘Don’t act like this wasn’t a deflection from whatever damage your family did to you.’
It was Thawn’s turn to straighten. Normally she was happy to lock swords with anyone who tried to get under her skin, but the thought of doing so with Elsa Lindgren curved her away from the flash of anger. She didn’t know if it was fear of confronting someone insightful enough to really land hurtful blows, or simple friendship. She bit her lip. ‘I’m worried about you.’
That made Lindgren soften, the frustration sizzling off her within moments. ‘It’s just a casual hook-up. It’s not serious, he’s not using me or anything.’
‘If these things go wrong, they never go wrong for the seasoned officer with the ear of an admiral,’ Thawn pointed out. ‘They go wrong for the junior lieutenant. All it takes is for some indication of it affecting your work, or him favouring you unduly, and you’re the one who’ll be shipped off to some second-rate assignment while he goes on to his first command, or whatever.’
‘I understand that. I know how to take care of myself,’ said Elsa Lindgren, with all the quiet confidence of a seasoned twenty-five year-old.
Thawn gave a slow nod. ‘And I’m not… nothing really bad would happen if I ended the betrothal. My family would complain, that’s all.’ It was technically true, but it went nowhere near encapsulating the ice that had settled in her belly at the prospect, and she was glad that she remained the only telepath in the conversation.
‘Okay.’ Lindgren didn’t look convinced, but she didn’t press the point. She nodded at the PADD. ‘So now you’re going to use that.’
‘For finding where Adamant Rhade is now, or when he gets off his next shift. So you can go and see him and explain that if he’s serious about using your time together on this ship to build your relationship, you two need to actually build a relationship. And then…’ Lindgren lifted her chin and gave an airy smile. ‘Then you’re going to ask him to dinner.’
Thawn managed to find a smile in there somewhere. ‘Oh,’ she said, and forced it a little harder. ‘Yes. That’s definitely what I should do.’
‘This is what we’re prepared to offer,’ said Kharth, pushing the PADD across First Minister Asare’s desk, ‘to fund the project.’
The First Minister arched an eyebrow, but she read it anyway. ‘If by “project,” you mean “bounty.”’
‘I do. Obviously we can’t offer anything by way of munitions, but we’re prepared to offer enough dilithium and engine parts to keep any operation in business for six months. I’d call that a fair exchange for someone hunting down Vokden and his ship.’
Asare glanced over at Hale. ‘And the Diplomatic Service stands by this exchange, Ms Hale?’
‘I wouldn’t be here otherwise. I understand this is unorthodox, but I hope it shows that the Federation is prepared to adapt to the needs of the region. This allows Nerillian to enlist help on your own terms for your own security, rather than being beholden to anyone. It gives you the bargaining power.’
Asare hesitated. ‘And what do we owe you?’
‘Nothing. Just as you owe us nothing for the planetary shield system our engineers are making installation plans for as we speak.’
Kharth leaned forward, clearing her throat. ‘I understand your apprehensions, First Minister, but sometimes the Federation does just want to help. Of course we benefit from empowering regional powers to stand on their own two feet, but that’s not a nefarious goal if both Nerillian and Starfleet benefit from local stability and prosperity. It means our interests are aligned.’
Asare tapped the PADD to her chest and inclined her head. ‘Very well. We will send word of the bounty, on behalf of the Nerillian government. Thank you, Ms Hale, Lieutenant Kharth.’
The two were back in the corridor of the executive offices of Nerillian’s deep underground facilities, a good way away from Asare’s rooms or any potentially eavesdropping officials, before Hale spoke. ‘That was good work, Lieutenant.’
‘To be honest, I got the idea from the Star Empire,’ Kharth admitted. ‘When they put a bounty on the captain to try to get their hands on him without causing political upset. It seems like it’s a good way of doing business in the region.’
‘Speaking the language of your locale is essential to getting by.’
‘It’s not over yet. If nobody takes Nerillian up on this offer, we’ll need a new plan.’
‘At the least, it’s painted us in a good light. I expect the Star Empire won’t be pleased now they can’t swoop in as the heroes, but they have no grounds to complain and they don’t get what they want. That’s the definition of a political victory.’ They were almost at the lobby chamber they used for beaming out, but Hale stopped and turned to face her. ‘I’m sorry about the situation with Doctor T’Sann.’
Kharth grimaced. ‘Ma’am, I know there’s nothing you can or will do about this -’
‘Not right now, but I do take this situation seriously. I take seriously how important it is for the Romulan people. Nothing about you pursuing this has been a professional inconvenience. It’s my job to navigate these matters.’ Hale tilted her head to make sure she caught Kharth’s eye. ‘Nobody is inconvenienced by you pursuing and rediscovering a connection to your people’s roots.’
There was an edge of warmth for which Kharth was entirely unprepared. Her expression snapped shut. ‘I don’t need you to make me feel better about this, ma’am. I understand where the mission priorities lie.’
Hale tilted her chin up. ‘That doesn’t mean everything but the top priority is irrelevant.’
‘Ma’am, I am a Starfleet officer and I will do my job. I think you’ll find nothing in my conduct to question my commitment to Starfleet principles.’ Even in her most cynical moments, Kharth knew she had disobeyed orders above Teros because killing fifty-three helpless people of any species was wrong. That they were her own people had just made it hurt more. ‘But despite what I said to the First Minister, I’m under no illusions of how the Federation prioritises Romulan interests.’
The diplomat’s expression sank. ‘History is on your side, Lieutenant. I only hope I can prove things have changed.’
Kharth grimaced. ‘I hope so, too, Ma’am.’
They said no more as they beamed up to Endeavour. Kharth still needed to file a report with the captain before the end of her shift, but she found herself hopping off a turbolift several decks too early, heading down for the archaeology lab instead of the security section.
T’Sann had not been forbidden access to the Koderex’s archives. Graelin had made the rules on possession crystal clear, with T’Sann permitted to study – and help to restore – what they had found as much as he liked, so long as nothing of it ever left Endeavour. She found him there now, the lights dimmed as he scrolled through fragmented archival records, some of which needed stitching together piece by piece from other data shards.
He looked up from his seat and gave a tired smile. ‘I thought you were avoiding this place.’
‘This is hardly where I come to work,’ she pointed out, eyes on the pixellated image on the screen, ancient footage from Vulcan before her people’s exodus. Even incomplete, grainy – even though she suspected all she’d see was landscape little changed today or of which archival images were in Endeavour’s own databases, something ached in her heart at the thought of seeing the former Romulan homeworld through Romulan eyes.
‘Fair enough. I’ll rephrase: I thought you were avoiding me.’
Now she looked at him, frowning. ‘Why would I do that?’
‘I’m leading you astray.’ T’Sann wore a soft, saddened smile. ‘I’ve not meant to push you into trouble with your captain, with Federation protocol. You don’t have to fight for me.’
‘I fight so that nobody can ignore the Romulan perspective.’ Her lips thinned. ‘I’m not in trouble with the captain for fighting, I’m in trouble because I have the audacity to keep reminding him I’m Romulan.’
‘He doesn’t trust you,’ T’Sann said gently. ‘He thinks that deep down, when your back’s against a wall, you’ll side with our people. Because if his back’s against a wall, he’ll side against us. Like he has before. Like the Federation has before.’
‘I’m not making it us or them,’ she said quickly. ‘And if I were, which us? The Romulans of the diaspora? The Empire? The Republic? Pick an average resident of any and you’ll find different opinions.’
‘And that’s what’s killing us.’ He pushed his chair back and stood, turning away from the ancient archives of lost knowledge to watch her be bathed in their glow. ‘You have some concept of what us is, even if you know it’s not universal.’ He hesitated. ‘Why did you join Starfleet, if you think Starfleet left us?’
‘Starfleet left refugees. Last I checked, that’s not you,’ she pointed out, tensing. ‘It was a ticket off Teros. To a better way of life than any Romulan power offered.’
‘Considering you wouldn’t have been kicked out of the Federation once you got to San Francisco, sticking with Starfleet just because it’s better than Teros is a hell of a commitment. People don’t take challenges like the Academy because they have nothing better to do.’
She dropped her gaze, self-consciousness making her shoulders heavy. ‘Maybe I was naive enough to eat all of that rhetoric about what Starfleet – the Federation – should be, rather than what they are.’
T’Sann gave a gentle chuckle. ‘I never thought of you as a dreamer, Saeihr.’
‘I’m not very good at it. I usually need…’ She stopped herself, and sighed as she could feel his eyes on her. Only slowly did she lift her gaze back to his, defensive tension creeping into her voice. ‘I usually need someone to show me how.’ It had been Dav, once. But Dav was long gone; years gone, for her.
Karlan T’Sann, who had reminded her that she could still fight for her people and had shown her a way, and still seemed undefeated in the face of opposition, gave a slow smile. ‘I hope I haven’t brought you crashing back to reality yet.’
‘I’m sorry about all of this, Karlan,’ she sighed, gesturing away to the consoles. ‘I’m sorry about the politics, I’m sorry about Graelin -’
‘Did you do this?’
‘No, but -’
‘Then stop apologising,’ he said simply. ‘They might stand against us, Rourke and Graelin and Hale. But we’ll still find a way. We can do this.’
She heard the us and them in his voice, the slipperiness of the we and the our people; the way he put Rourke and Graelin together, or lumped their opposition in with Hale’s patience and thoughtfulness. She heard him take their crisis, put a circle just around the two of them, and make it plain that nobody understood this cause like they did. That nobody understood this pain like he did.
And still she let him kiss her, because Saeihr Kharth was not very good at thinking straight when anyone drew sides and put themselves on hers.