Part of USS Endeavour: There is Another Sky

There is Another Sky – 3

Runabout Uther Pendragon
December 2399
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That night, for the first time in a long time, she dreamed of home.

In Dathan’s universe, Bajor had never known the oppression of the Cardassian people. Instead it had been the Terrans, their empire’s borders swelling to dominate the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, who had landed their troops and built their garrisons and set the Bajoran people to labour unto death. From what she had read of the Cardassian Occupation, the only notable difference had been which species held the whip.

As a girl, she had learnt how to keep her head down and how, when that wouldn’t work, to say the right thing. She’d been picked out as a capable and loyal worker, which was why she’d been elevated to personally attend on the Prefect governing the planet. He’d moved off-world when she was nineteen, taken her with him, and she had not looked back.

The dream was of a Bajor she’d never seen; of rolling fields and achingly high snow-capped mountains. Even asleep, she knew this was a lie born of her imagination and the images she’d seen of this universe’s Bajor, liberated from occupation thirty years ago and thriving ever since. Even as she dreamed, she knew this was her home in a way she’d never see it, could never see it. She dragged her gaze from the gentle slopes to the peerless blue skies, and saw the dark dots of warships hovering overhead like vultures. Then she woke up.

The Uther Pendragon had two cabins, so at least she was alone. Waking up was the most dangerous time as a slave and as a spy alike, the time her wits were dullest, her subconscious rising to the forefront, and still often she had to put on the mask. But here, alone, Dathan lay in the darkened cabin, staring at the ceiling, and told herself this was the last morning she’d have to wake up an impostor. Within hours they’d be at Theta Curry IV, and this would be over.

She splashed water on her face at the sink, and did not look her reflection in the eye. MacCallister wants you back. He needs you back.

The thought reinforced her a little. Leonidas MacCallister – her Leonidas MacCallister – had plucked her from drudgery, elevated her to his right hand, and given her opportunities and comforts she’d never have known otherwise. She had worked hard and he, in turn, had rewarded her for her loyalty, and now he needed her to return to his side. It didn’t have to be more complicated than that.

Then she entered the main corridor to see Adamant Rhade sat in the cockpit, remembered the most sensible thing to do would be to kill him before she fled, and the reinforcement faded.

He found her in the crew space at the aft of the runabout twenty minutes later, sat at the table with a cup of coffee. Hovering in the doorway, Rhade folded his arms across his chest and frowned. ‘Have I offended you?’

Dathan blinked and looked up. ‘What do you mean?’

He nodded at the table. ‘You’re welcome to sit up front with your drink.’ She didn’t know how to answer that – how to possibly lie around the truth that this would be easier if she kept her distance from him for the next hours – but to her relief, if his telepathy picked up anything, it was a simple apprehension. He grimaced more. ‘I’m not here to be an intrusion.’

‘And yet,’ she pointed out lightly, ‘you came back here.’

‘I’ll ask nothing of this mission,’ he said again. ‘And I’ll have your back. So there’s no need to start warding me off. We’re still friends, Tahla.’

No, Dathan thought. That’s a lie I told you from the start. Only she hadn’t told it from the start; she’d thought to keep their relationship professional and he, with his kindness and decency, had continued to stand by her and build a rapport such that it would have been more suspicious for her to pull away. Like she was pulling away now, when she needed him most compliant.

If you don’t want to kill him, then make sure he lets you off this runabout without any questions, and doesn’t follow. You can be long gone before he knows any better.

Dathan swallowed and got to her feet. ‘You’re right,’ she said, and met his gaze. ‘This away mission’s getting to me, but that’s not on you.’

He gave a small smile. ‘Then I’ll get another drink.’

She followed him to the cockpit and eased into the co-pilot’s seat, hands still wrapped around the mug. Was this the last time she’d drink Starfleet replicated fare? Far better than anything she’d be allowed at home, unless MacCallister was in a benevolent mood, had leftovers, and nobody was around to look down on him for favouring a slave.

A glance at the display told her they were four hours out, and her heartbeat started to feel like the ticking of a countdown. No more Lieutenant Dathan, trusted colleague, respected analyst. No more of this uniform, this symbol of peace and hope. No more afternoon tea with Greg, training with the Hazard Team, drinks with Kharth.

Lies, all of them. You’ll be well-rid of them.

No more of Adamant Rhade’s easy smiles, and the way he could look at anyone as if they were the most important person in the universe, and convince them it was so. Like he was doing now. Like he was making her feel now.

‘I know we have a location,’ he said quietly. ‘I know you have a meeting. What do you need me to do? Stay in orbit and keep a transporter lock on you?’

She shook her head. ‘We’ll set down a few kilometres from the meeting location. Records suggest it’s an abandoned old relief shelter from the days of the Federation refugee evacuation. I want you to wait.’

‘Are you expecting trouble?’

‘My contact wouldn’t have reached out otherwise.’ Dathan hesitated, considering extraction protocols and the best way to stop Rhade from falling foul of them. ‘Keep sensors checking ships coming into the system. Look for ones of a Romulan military design. I’ll comm if I meet opposition.’

‘Do you know if you’re bringing your contact back aboard?’

‘That’s the hope. Which means I might be out there a while if I have to convince him. I earned his trust a long time ago.’ She frowned. ‘If you can wait, even for a whole day, it would help. I know that’s a lot to ask, but this is why I didn’t want to drag someone else…’

‘Stay put for a day. Scan the system for any possible troublemakers. Alert you if someone catches my eye.’ Rhade nodded.

‘Alert me only if you’re really sure. My contact might get spooked if he thinks he’s being watched.’

‘Is there any way for us to keep a comm-line open that he won’t know?’

Dathan shook her head quickly. ‘He’s come to me, and not Starfleet Intelligence, for a reason. I want him to be able to talk freely.’

‘You’re right,’ Rhade sighed. ‘This is a lot to ask. I’ll do it, but please understand my reluctance here is born from concern. I’ve no right to your secrets.’

You wouldn’t be so kind if you had even half a clue. ‘Thank you,’ she said instead.

Then he smiled again. ‘So you’re going hiking with Greg when this is over.’

That made her heart twist in an unexpected way, and she thought she saw his expression give the faintest flicker at her feelings. That wouldn’t do. ‘We’d invite you,’ she said coyly, ‘but you keep spending time with Thawn.’

Nothing distracted a man more than letting him talk about himself. Even if Rhade now looked uncomfortable, he sighed. ‘She hardly demands all of my time.’

‘How’s that going? If you’ll forgive me, an arranged marriage feels awfully… formal. I understand the logic of making a match of two people you think are well-suited, but it must have been decided when you were very young.’ She did not say what she thought, what she’d always thought: that neurotic, highly-strung Rosara Thawn would either be calmed by Adamant Rhade’s thoughtful patience, or irritated when she pushed and he didn’t push back. For her money it would be the latter, and she could not see an end that was not disastrous. But now she would see no end of it at all.

‘It was. But of course it’s not binding.’

Dathan hesitated. Then she remembered she was about to never see him again. ‘Is it what you want?’

‘I see no reason to not…’

‘That’s different.’ What someone wants is irrelevant, she reminded herself, but then a treacherous voice rumbled, Not in this universe. ‘I’m sure it’s sensible, and non-binding, and you trust your family. But do you want her?’

He watched her for a moment, head tilting, dark eyes piercing. ‘This mission has you very rattled.’

She faltered. ‘We’re not talking about that.’

‘I agree. And yet, you’re pressing me on my affairs as if you need to keep me at bay; distract me or make me irritated with the conversation.’

‘No,’ she said, and found a surprising dose of honesty in her voice. ‘It’s just something I never asked before.’

He watched her for another moment, and she felt his question: then why do you feel you have to ask it now? But he sighed. ‘I could grow to want it.’

‘It. The match. Grow to want her?’ He gave a small, guilty nod. ‘What if you don’t?’

‘Then I’ll find out, but it is my responsibility to find out. Not walk away simply because she is… pleasant, and intelligent, and driven, and has many attributes that I respect immediately, and yet she…’ For one of the first times in her memory, Rhade looked at a loss for words. He gave a faint, awkward gesture. ‘And yet I’m not sure I feel it.’

‘It,’ Dathan echoed again.

He met her gaze. ‘That spark at the thought of her. That exciting tension when she enters a room. Or even that warmth in her company, as if I could sit with her until time loses meaning and be perfectly content, even in silence.’

Dathan said nothing for a long moment, sipping her coffee and contemplating this. ‘I hope you find it,’ she said at last, terribly sadder than she’d expected.

Rhade’s expression fell to a thoughtful, distant frown. ‘Have you?’

‘Ever?’ Dathan thought of the people who’d drifted in and out of her periphery, of how a physical connection could never stretch to an emotional one in her world, where her life could not afford something so fundamental to true feelings as trust. It was her turn to look away, and she felt his eyes back on her. ‘No.’

When she met his gaze, his smile was soft, but sad. ‘There’s always time. And until then – we have our duty. We have a fine ship, with a fine crew. We have our friends.’

Dathan swallowed. ‘Yes.’ Then she said, without even thinking, ‘We should do something when we’re back. You and I.’

‘We’re doing something now,’ Rhade pointed out dryly.

‘I mean – it’s been a while since we had a drink together, but something more. Sparring? Training?’ She didn’t know why she was saying this, making plans she’d never see, but there was something intoxicating about building a future she didn’t have to make good on. Unburdened from apprehension, guilt, or betrayal, she could plan anything with him. ‘No,’ she said at last, brightening despite herself. ‘Dinners. You keep talking about cuisine I’ve never had.’

Rhade lifted his head, smiling faintly. ‘Is this a ploy to make me cook?’

‘You have room to cook on the new Endeavour,’ Dathan pointed out. ‘You might not be ready to start cooking for Thawn, but you can cook for me. For me, that has no subtext. There wasn’t much fine dining on Bajor while I was growing up. You can catch me up on what I’ve missed.’

Now his smile was wider, whiter, and he nodded. ‘That would be delightful, Tahla.’

They’d never do it, and still the thought made her warm inside as they sank into a comfortable silence to watch their instruments and wait out the journey. It was much easier, Dathan thought, to spend time with someone when you didn’t have to follow through on anything you said.

Yet still their ETA loomed on her console, and still her heart kept thudding like a ticking clock running out of time. The hours somehow stretched to an eternity and raced past in the blink of an eye, like she was sitting with Rhade forever and yet like the journey took no time at all.

But however many eternities they sat there, it was still too soon when an alert went off at the pilot’s controls and Rhade said, ‘Coming up on Theta Curry IV now. Dropping out of warp.’

Her throat tightened as the stars stopped streaming and the dull, barely-habitable rock that was their destination raced up to fill the canopy. The world was a failed home for a refugee hub, the inhabitants fleeing as soon as they could from this unwelcoming, rugged, grey landscape and leaving nothing but a ghost town behind. Mining ships passed through, giving them enough cover to arrive discreetly, but it was a well-selected location for both Dathan’s real and false purpose. Isolated enough to do what she needed to do, busy enough to provide a little shelter.

She swallowed a lump in her throat as she regarded the dull, grey planet ahead, where her life was about to come to an end. ‘There it is,’ she breathed. ‘Bring us in.’

And let’s end this.