Part of USS Endeavour: A Handful of Dust and Bravo Fleet: The Stormbreaker Campaign

A Handful of Dust – 3

Sickbay, USS Endeavour
January 2400
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Sickbay was a swirling hive of activity. Perhaps storms were supposed to have calms before them and nobody had told Endeavour’s medical staff; perhaps because the storm was already raging, it only seemed fair to gather on the horizon in turn.

Doctor Elvad stepped out from beside a biobed as Rourke entered, gaze level. ‘Captain, is this matter urgent? We’re very busy here.’

Rourke tried to not glare. It’s my ship, you bloody… Cardassian. But that was not a sentiment befitting a Starfleet officer, and he tried to shove it to one side, tried to tell himself he was indignant because a junior medical officer was trying to tell him what to do on his own ship. Not because a Cardassian was. ‘None of your concern, Lieutenant. I’m seeing Doctor Sadek,’ he said, and didn’t break stride as he made for the CMO’s office.

Sadek stood before her desk, a holographic projection above it blazing with a map of the network of settled islands of Whixby. She glanced over her shoulder as he came in, eyebrow raised. ‘Checking up on me?’

‘You’ve got a rough job,’ he said, looking at the display. Along the side he could see tags for multiple projects. ‘You have to prepare for pretty much every eventuality, from everything being fine to the whole planet immediately requiring an emergency response.’

‘I do. It’s just as well I’m a rock star at my job, huh?’ Sadek shrugged.

‘You are.’ He hesitated. This was not going to be easy. ‘We need to talk who’ll be running point on Whixby.’

She cocked her head. ‘I assume, you know. Me.’

‘Running the medical response, for sure. Whether that’s emergency aid or preparing for incoming refugees. But we’re prepping SAR and infrastructure repairs if Whixby’s been badly hit, and shelter construction for them or any incoming refugees, not to mention modifications to the weather control matrix.’

Sadek gave a slow blink. ‘You don’t want to pull Valance off the Odysseus mission. But you don’t want to let her run it, either.’ She sounded like she was working this one through, and her lips pursed. ‘If something’s happened to the Odysseus, especially if it’s some of the Weird Shit from the Century Storm or nebula, you want Cortez to hand. Probably to handle Valance, too. And probably to handle Kharth, too. And if Weird Shit is going on, you want Graelin on the bridge, and you’re sending Thawn to do diplomacy -’

‘In short, my life would be a hell of a lot easier if you actually took the bridge officer’s exam and let your career move beyond Sickbay,’ Rourke said tersely.

She stiffened. ‘My career did move beyond Sickbay. Into medical research. Which I left, along with my family, to come and make your lifeeasier here. Did I not jump through enough hoops for you, Matt?’

‘That’s not what I meant,’ he sighed. ‘I want to give you operational command of the Whixby situation. Everything outside the diplomacy and government liaising.’

‘So you opened by telling me I’ve shoved myself in a small box and that’s a problem for you, personally?’ Sadek drawled.

‘You’re the most experienced officer I have, Aisha.’ He squinted at her. ‘I notice you’ve not said no. You’ve just got at me for how I’m saying it.’

‘I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that,’ she admitted. ‘It helped me buy time to consider. This is a state of emergency, so you can do all sorts of unorthodox things.’

‘I have Athaka ready to supervise logistics and shelter construction, Forrester to supervise the weather control, Lann to supervise infrastructure repairs, Adupon to run point on all those operational matters as your second -’

‘Then make Lieutenant Adupon run it, Cortez trusts him.’

‘He’s not ready to make the hard choices and you know it. But these hard choices are in your wheelhouse. I’ll give you Rhade as a staff officer to help assist and liaise with locals.’

‘Let Rhade run it! You give him the bridge, why is this different.’

Rourke put his hands on his hips. ‘I’m convinced this is the best way forward for the people of Whixby. Even if I didn’t have staff I’m sidelining for the Odysseus situation, if you’d taken that bridge officer’s exam I’d put this whole planet in your care and not think twice about it.’

Sadek made a face. ‘If this goes really well and you try to twist my arm into taking that exam when this is over, I’m letting Elvad take over all your medical care.’

If it goes really well, you might realise how damn good at it you are. But he lifted his hands. ‘This is a once-in-a-century solution, for a once-in-a-century storm.’

‘You’re a lousy liar, Matt.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘There’s going to be a quid pro quo once this is over.’

‘We can discuss that once we’ve saved hundreds of thousands of lives,’ Rourke said with a falsely sweet smile, and left.

While he’d technically gotten what he wanted, his heart still hummed in his chest as he reached the turbolift, and on an impulse he shifted his destination from his original heading of his ready room.

The diminutive shape of Cyrod Brigan looked even smaller in the bullpen of the diplomatic offices on Endeavour, alone now the rest of the staff had departed with the Salachan. The man who normally played both watchdog and threshold guardian, straight-laced and disciplined and running a tight ship on these offices, was sat back in his chair with his boots up, holographic displays hovering above him, and he did not look guilty to be interrupted by the captain.

Rourke frowned at him. ‘You didn’t disembark, Cy?’

‘If I leave, who’ll tell you to not bother Ms Hale when she’s busy?’ Brigan mused, sweeping a couple of displays to the side to look up.

Rourke paused, gaze flickering over the maelstrom of news and data about the Paulson Nebula Brigan was trying to consume in seconds. ‘If you need to, tell Lieutenant Dathan you have my permission to join her in the CIC. We’re in this together, even more so this time than usual.’

Their relationship wasn’t tense, but Brigan had made it crystal clear who’s side he was on, and that it wasn’t Rourke. Now he gave a brusque nod. ‘She’s not busy right now. At least, not too busy for you.’

‘Thanks, Cy.’

Rourke did not just step into Hale’s office, but into a tree. A holographic projection filled the room, light blue limbs and boughs shining not just over him, but through him. Faces peeked out, and he turned around, lost the moment he’d arrived. ‘Sophia?’

‘Oh.’ A surprised voice sounded out, and the projection faded to show Sophia Hale at her desk at the heart of the tree. ‘Betazoid families are… complex.’

He stepped forward, eyebrows raised. ‘The Twelfth House?’

‘And its many junior branches, of which the Nyders are one.’ She sighed. ‘I have a meeting with Lieutenant Thawn soon, and had hoped to be more informed. Instead, all I know is that I know nothing.’

‘Some call that wisdom.’

‘I call it maddening.’ But she stood with a tired smile. ‘What can I do for you, Matthew?’

‘I was…’ Hiding? ‘If you’re busy, this isn’t very official.’

‘Please. I could use the break.’ She gestured to the comfortable seating by the window, away from her desk, and switched off the tree.

With a sigh he slumped onto a sofa, and took the coffee she brought over with a grateful groan. ‘I have a missing ship whose crew I like and owe, and a missing former senior staffer I respect. The missing ship is making my XO go nuts. The missing staffer is making my XO and my Chief of Security go nuts. My chain of command includes the only person I can really count on to keep them in check who is still personally compromised, and a man I don’t particularly trust to be given a long leash. And I just had to strong-arm Aisha into taking on more responsibility beyond her role as Chief Medical Officer, and the fact I succeeded is how you know this is really bad.’

Hale tilted her head. ‘Are you worried about the Odysseus, or Whixby? When it comes to your staff?’

‘What happens at Whixby could determine the fate of thousands. But I have to keep a tight leash on my staff with the Odysseus situation. It’s simply not fair for me to expect Valance to walk away from saving Aquila and Airex, nor for me to expect her to do it with a perfectly cool and level head.’ He sighed. ‘I wish like hell they’d sent another ship.’

‘You don’t trust Aisha?’

‘I do. But I’m also formally taking a bit of a gamble. It’s hard to forget that. She’s not a line officer.’ He scrubbed his face with his hands. ‘Both situations are technically under control. I just… there’s not a lot of give. No contingencies or backstops if something or someone falls through.’

Hale nodded. ‘My priority will be getting Falyn Nyder to accept refugees from other worlds, if Whixby is in a fit state. But I have help there – Cy, Lieutenant Thawn.’ She leaned forward, catching his gaze as he dragged his hands down. ‘Keep your eye on the Odysseus. Your crew need you taking care of them, so they can all find that ship. Let me be your contingency on Whixby.’

He’d come because they were friends, because Sophia Hale was the only person aboard he was allowed to voice these fears to without risking undermining his authority. He’d hoped that speaking his mind would release the tension within him, and it did, at least a little. But that was nothing compared to the relief flooding through him at the reminder he couldn’t just talk to her. He could rely on her.

‘Thank you,’ Rourke sighed. ‘I feel like I’m flying blind here.’

‘That’s what storms do,’ Hale said softly. ‘But a little tap and a little help, and our compasses still point north. That’s enough.’

‘Yeah.’ He took a deep, strengthening breath, and straightened. ‘North. That’s enough.’