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

A Handful of Dust – 22

Main Engineering, USS Odysseus
January 2400
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The Odysseus had been split through time, her crew experiencing days in mere heartbeats, aeons in hours. Kharth had seen the effect of it, the turmoil of Davir Airex, the collapse of Robert Templeton; had seen it in action to thwart the attempted rescue mission of Valance and Airex. But she knew it took no subspace rift, no surge of tachyon radiation, to make the seconds she stared into Templeton’s eyes feel like they lasted til the heat death of the universe.

She could almost feel Cortez behind her, soaking in from display panels every inch of what was happening to the ship. She could hear the others on the far side of the forcefield, Valance’s phaser rifle trained on Templeton as Airex frantically tried to access the systems in Engineering enough to get them access.

But none of that could matter. Even time would be a distraction. So she pushed away their efforts, the roaring tension as the deck hummed under them and the warp core beside her began to churn from its imbalance, the thudding of her heartbeat, and focused on Robert Templeton.

‘I’m not trying to stop you. I’m not going to fight you, Rob. So you’ve nothing to lose by listening.’

He did not lower his phaser, his jaw tight, eyes bright behind the messy beard grown from fathomless isolation. ‘I’m not stopping this. I’ve been through this too many times before; you can’t convince me to give up…’

‘I don’t want you to give up.’ Kharth swallowed. ‘I want the same thing you do, Rob. I want you to rest.’ She forced herself to not look at the phaser as she took the smallest step forward. ‘You’ve been fighting to survive, you’ve been fighting to keep your mind, and now you’re fighting to bring everything to an end. I’m here to tell you it’s even simpler than that. To get out, all you have to do… is stop. Not stop the imbalance in the warp core, not do a damn thing. Just… stop.’

His phaser twitched, and her heart tried to choke her with surging panic. ‘I can’t. I can’t just lie down…’

‘Why not?’ She kept her voice soft. ‘If you’re right, and we’re all nothing, if we’re just a trick… what harm can we do? I’m not asking you to fix the warp core. I’m asking you to do… absolutely nothing.’

‘I don’t…’

‘I know that’s the second hardest thing in the universe when everything’s gone wrong. To lay down your burdens. To accept that you can’t make things right, and just… exist. To accept your helplessness.’ Another slight step forward. ‘It takes trust.’

His lip curled. ‘I can’t trust you -’

‘Maybe not. But I trust you.’ She swallowed. ‘So many of us trust you. Aquila trusted you when she sent you to join our mission against Halvard. trusted you when we split the team, I trusted you with my captain – that’s my job, my life, I trusted you with that. You proved me right. You were everything I needed you to be then, and I know you’re everything I need you to be now.’

Templeton wavered, but then Cortez, behind her, piped up. ‘I don’t want to worry you, Sae, but we have about a minute before the point of no return -’

‘Shut up, Isa,’ Kharth snapped with more venom she’d ever turned on her friend, Templeton wincing at Cortez’s interruption, his white-knuckle grip on the phaser not wavering. She could hear the distant voices of Airex and Valance, see Templeton begin to look in their direction, and had to take another step just to get his attention. ‘You don’t have to trust me, Rob. I trust you. You should trust you, the man you know you are.’

He took a step back, which she hadn’t expected, and it didn’t feel like a tactical move to get out of her reach but an emotional withdrawal. ‘If I just wait and keep you here,’ he said in a hurry, his voice going detached again like he was speaking more to himself, ‘I get the same thing, and then it’s over…’

This tactic wasn’t working. But he was at least listening, countering her reasoning, and Kharth drew another breath. ‘You know what’s the hardest thing to do in the universe when everything’s gone wrong?’ He cocked his head, listening, engaging, and she swallowed. ‘Carrying on.’

He flinched. ‘I’ve done enough of that; you’ve no idea...’

There was no time. So she took the plunge, straightened, and snapped, ‘My world was destroyed, Rob. Billions of people, my culture, my whole life. And I carried on.’ He stared at that, and didn’t shoot her, which was all she could ask for at this point. ‘I was dumped on a craphole refugee shelter abandoned by the Federation after five minutes, and I carried on. I left my father to be murdered there, and I carried on. I’m not going to tell you it’s worse than what you’ve been through. But don’t tell me I have no idea.’

He was hesitating, and she took another step, a bigger step. ‘So maybe you’re done carrying on. But I’m not. Which means that if you want to stop me, you’re going to have to shoot me.’

His grip on the phaser shifted. ‘I’ll do it -’

‘Like you did a hundred times before, you said, like you shot Aquila and Airex and Kimathi a hundred times, except one of those times, you really did kill Kimathi, Rob.’ She only had one more card to play, and if that didn’t work, she was going to have to rush him. Let him shoot her, and pray, pray that Cortez could do something with the distraction.

She wouldn’t be around to see it.

‘But you don’t want to do that now. That’s why you dragged us down here with you. That’s why you Stunned us. Because you know you really killed Kimathi, and you’re not sure, you’re not absolutely sure that I’m not real.’ He was frozen in place, and with her next step, she slowly lifted her hand to put it atop his phaser. ‘You killed Kimathi,’ she repeated, because that made his gaze waver. ‘And if you don’t give me this gun, you’re going to have to kill me, too. So you better be sure, Rob Templeton.’

His voice came out strained, warped. ‘I… I don’t know…’

‘I do. I know you’re not that man. I know who you are.’ She wrapped her fingers around the phaser, and when she gave the gentlest tug, he didn’t stop her from taking it. ‘I know I can trust you.’

The moment the phaser was out of his hands, he collapsed onto her, sobbing.

‘Oh, God, oh God – Kima…’

She managed to toss the phaser to one side and wrap her arms around him. The most ridiculous thing in the world was to feel a little awkward at this outburst, but she held him, let him sob, and turned her head desperately to the side. ‘Isa, get the forcefield -’

‘On it -’ Cortez raced to the forcefield controls, dropping the barrier to let Valance and Airex in, then she was rounding on the main warp core console, hands already dancing across the commands – only to get another blat of access denied. ‘Oh, now is not the time!’

Kharth could guide Templeton to one of the alcoves, set him down into a collapsed mess she could worry about later. Behind her, Valance was turning away, tapping her combadge.

‘Valance to bridge – we’ve secured Engineering, give us systems access!’

‘I refuse,’ said Cortez, still hammering controls, ‘to be blown up because your ex isn’t a fast enough systems admin.’

Airex had rushed to her side, watching readouts, eyes wide. ‘If you can restore warp field integrity in the next fifteen seconds, we have a chance of riding this out -’

‘I know, I know!’

Valance rounded back on them. ‘You should have access now.’

Kharth stormed over, grabbing the railing around the warp core, and tried to not even look at Airex as she turned to Cortez. ‘Isa, can you do this?’

The console flashed green before her, and Cortez lifted her hands sharply to everyone around her. ‘I can do this if everyone except for maybe Airex shuts the hell up.’ Her eyes landed on the controls, and Kharth watched her draw a deep, shuddering breath. ‘Sure. Stabilise a warp field to stop a subspace rift ripping us apart or unleashing hell on a whole planet and starship.

‘Piece of cake.’