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

A Handful of Dust – 28

Sickbay, USS Endeavour
February 2400
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Kharth tried to not look like she’d been waiting outside of Sickbay when she ambushed Carraway on his way out. ‘I know you can’t tell me anything sensitive,’ was what passed for a greeting, ‘but is Templeton alright?’

Slightly startled, it took a moment before Carraway summoned his usual kindly smile. ‘I think you know the question’s more complicated than that. But he’ll be boarding the Colne as soon as Doctor Elvad’s discharged him in just a few minutes. You could… talk to him?’

‘I’m not being evasive,’ Kharth lied. ‘I don’t want to distress him.’

He regarded her a moment, then reached out to clasp her arm. Were he a less reassuring man, she wouldn’t let him get away with that. ‘Saeihr. You reached out to him when he was at his lowest, you saved a lot of lives, and you saved him. You don’t need to feel guilty about that.’ He paused, eyes narrowing a little. ‘Or about what happened to Commander Aquila.’

‘She made her own choices, and I respect those. Save that talk for Valance. What’s going to happen to Rob?’

‘I’ve recommended him for full psychiatric care at Goodrich; I worked there before I came to Endeavour. They’ll help him. But it’ll take time; he underwent a massive trauma and it’s been compounded by what he did after.’ He sighed. ‘If you’re asking about his career, I expect it’s over. For his own good, not as a punishment. Or it’ll at least be years before he puts on a uniform again, and probably nowhere near starship command.’

‘Still trying to not pry, but… Airex didn’t snap like that.’

‘Minds are subtle and different. The mind of a joined Trill is even more different.’ Carraway grimaced. ‘The passage of time alone is a different experience for someone as old as Airex. He’s also had to filter and comprehend the memories of four previous lifetimes. Simply put, his sense of self is more… sophisticated than Templeton’s.’ He tilted his head. ‘I expect you won’t talk to him, either.’

Before she had to answer that, the doors slid open for Templeton and one of Elvad’s assistants to emerge, and Kharth realised she was very glad this meeting was happening in Carraway’s company by the look on Templeton’s face.

He froze at once. ‘Lieutenant.’

For once, she had to soften. ‘Rob. Do I ask how you’re doing, or…?’

‘I’ll stick with “terrible,” if that’s not too vague.’ But he managed a wan smile. ‘Didn’t think I’d see you here.’

‘I see a job through.’ She shifted her weight. ‘I wanted to say goodbye. Or walk with you down to the airlock?’

He gave an awkward nod. ‘Thank you.’

There was not much to the walk, both in duration of ambling to a turbolift and then down a few decks, or in conversation, but she felt the silence was companionable and he seemed to be eased by it, too; likely soothed by the prospect of being near someone without having to explain or justify himself.

They were later to the airlock to board the Colne than most of the crew, Templeton likely beyond facing his former colleagues of the USS Odysseus. Carraway left them there, and she hesitated as she turned to Templeton, trying to ignore the lingering assistant who would help him settle when as he boarded.

‘Can I still write to you?’ she asked awkwardly.

Now his eyes brightened. ‘If you want. I might have only boring things to talk about for a while.’

‘I don’t mind a little boring.’ She hesitated, then stepped forward and pulled him into a hug. ‘Take care of yourself.’

He squeezed tight for just a moment – then let go. ‘You too.’

It was easier, Kharth reflected as she watched him leave, to reach out like this under these circumstances. The stakes were low when all she had to do was be nice to a man soon in hospice care. But the world did seem a little darker with the sparkling wit of Robert Templeton dulled by the ravages of the universe.

When she turned, Davir Airex was paused at the end of the corridor, a bag over his shoulder, frozen halfway through a conversation with a rather stressed-looking Thawn. Even by Thawn’s usual standards. Kharth hesitated as she saw Airex exchange some final, urgent words with the Betazoid, who then did an unusually guilty act of vanishing, before Airex padded down the corridor towards her.

‘Lieutenant.’

Commander.’ This had not been unanticipated. She shifted her feet. ‘Back to Bravo ASAP, I see.’

‘I have to…’ He paused, working his jaw – then  his expression set, and he straightened. ‘It’s my job. I appreciate your assistance this mission -’

‘You mean saving your ass several times,’ she said, but much dryer and less angry than might have been expected. ‘I understand how this goes. You look more like yourself – like how I remember you – under stress, but when the crisis has passed, Airex takes over and you’re a million light-years away. I get it.’

‘There’s no such thing as Airex taking over. I am Airex.’

‘Not all the time.’ Her jaw tightened, then she sighed. ‘I’m not here to fight you. I’m not here for you at all – I came to see Templeton. If you have any power in your new, lofty position, find your damned heart and try to take care of him, will you?’

‘He deserves care and compassion, not judgement.’

‘I don’t think people deserve anything; we just get what we get, and you can influence that.’ 

A slow nod. ‘I’ll do what I can.’

She watched his face, watched his mask stay intact this time, though it hadn’t merely days ago aboard the Odysseus. ‘I wish I believed you, that it was only ever Airex making the decisions. It would be so much easier to hate you.’

His frown deepened, and he went to pass her. ‘I need to board -’

‘Say goodbye to me.’ The words slid from her like blood oozing from a wound she’d thought was stitched shut, and he froze beside her, halfway to the airlock. She turned, eyes rising to his, chest tightening. ‘You never did it before. When you left Endeavour, I was in the brig. When you left the Cavalier, you told me you loved me and you’d see me soon.’

Now he flinched, and that was definitely worse than finding him nothing but ice. He turned slowly, and she felt his eyes rake over her, saw the quaver in the mask, heard the roughness in his voice as it dropped. ‘Goodbye, Saeihr.’

She had to swallow. ‘You were right. You should be a million light-years away. It really is for the best.’ It didn’t come out as angry as she’d wanted, and she met his eyes for the last time, that pale blue that had once been piercing and now was cold. ‘Goodbye, Dav.’

To watch him go was to feel a piece of her heart tidy itself up before locking away in another dark and distant corner of herself; conclusive and solid, but still like something had been ripped apart inside to get there. She did not let her eyes fall from him until the airlock door slid shut again, and then he was gone. Again, and for the last time.

It was time, unequivocally, to find Rhade and a punching bag. And then to go back to work.

Endeavour’s business over Whixby was set to last a while as they helped establish the new refugee shelter. Soon enough, more ships would arrive from Bravo, glut with equipment and facilities and staff to provide these temporary homes, and soon after that would arrive the evacuees from the worlds that could not be sheltered from the Century Storm. It meant that Kharth had several days of getting her hands dirty, making sure the shelters were staffed and ready, because the last thing refugees needed was their neighbours making trouble.

So it took the better part of another week before she took time to have a drink alone at the Round Table, which was where Cortez found her after a shift.

The engineer slid onto the next bar stool, the quiet comfort of the exclusive lounge giving an intimacy that was all but impossible in the busy Safe House. ‘Think it’s time we drank and didn’t talk about what happened?’

‘That’s fine by me,’ said Kharth, watching as Cortez signalled the holographic bartender to bring out one of her good bottles of tequila. ‘But you’re the talky one and you’ve not been through nothing yourself.’

‘Karana gets time,’ Cortez sighed. ‘Love of her life blows herself up to save the ship, save us – maybe save me? She gets time. And Greg.’

‘The thing about emotional recluses,’ said Kharth slowly, ‘is that we shouldn’t be left alone in the dark as much as we pretend.’

‘I know. And I’ll be there when she needs me. Which isn’t the same as when she asks. Truth be told, we’ve both been run ragged with the new projects, and I think that’s for the best. I don’t know if you’re like Karana in this way, but she sometimes needs time just to figure out what she’s feeling and how to express it, so rushing doesn’t do good. Being busy lets her brain do some background processing.’

‘That’s not like me,’ said Kharth as glasses were poured. ‘I never get to the “express it,” part.’

‘Be kind to yourself. You express your feelings by lashing out plenty.’

They laughed, a low, exhausted laugh, and drank. Cortez always took tequila smoother than her, so Kharth was coughing when the engineer said, ‘How’re you really doing?’

‘Out of practice,’ Kharth sputtered, then sighed. ‘Weirdly? I’m okay. Rob’s going to be alright, most of the Odysseus are alright…’

‘Airex is alright…’

She fidgeted with the glass. ‘He’s gone. Gone for good, and that’s… I think that’s good. I’m never going to get what I wanted out of him, even an explanation, so the next-best thing is for him to be far away so I can just… move on.’

Cortez grimaced. ‘That sounds awful, but if he’s not going to pony up the goods…’

‘Yeah. I think I accepted on Teros, the way he acted to manipulate me, that he was really gone, but… a lot happened down there.’

‘At the risk of poking old wounds, what did happen? Not Airex, there was – stuff? You went home after so long – well, not home, but…’

‘If it’s not home, I don’t know where is,’ Kharth sighed. ‘And it’s not home. But I saw people I hadn’t seen in years, I remembered how lucky I was to have gotten out in the first place when so many didn’t.’ She hunched over her drink. ‘I hadn’t been there since I was eighteen. My father died there, and I didn’t come back. And I finally thought I was getting answers about how and why my father was killed, but I’ve not had a chance to think about that, not had a chance to dig deeper into this Myriad guy…’

‘Wait.’ Cortez put has glass down. ‘What guy?’

‘The Myriad – some crime boss who wanted information out of my father, and sent goons to get it. He refused, and was killed. But the Myriad faded off years ago, so I’ve not seen any new leads… what?’

Cortez was frowning with an expression of confused horror. ‘That name came up at T’lhab Station last year. That independent Klingon base we went to looking for the Wild Hunt.’

Kharth sat up. ‘The Brethren used it? Or the Orions, or the Mo’Kai…’

‘No, Sae – shut up a second.’ Cortez turned to face her, expression still folded into a frown. ‘We needed the Orions to help us when the Mo’Kai were trying to blow up Thawn and Drake. They didn’t want to, and then Karana dropped this name, made it sound like a code. She asked them to help on behalf of the Myriad. And they jumped right to it like the bogeyman had told them to act.’

Kharth stared at her. ‘Valance did that.’

‘It gets worse.’ Cortez winced. ‘I asked her about it once. A while ago. She was really evasive, but I don’t think she knew what Myriad was, I think she was just repeating something someone gave her.’

‘I swear, Isa, if you make this twenty questions -’

‘Airex. Airex told her to name-drop the Myriad if she needed to, and told her how to name-drop the Myriad.’

For a moment, it was like Kharth couldn’t breathe. Then acting became easier than reacting, and she turned back to the bar as she pulled out her PADD, dragged up a file to project in front of both of them.

Beside her, Cortez’s jaw dropped. ‘Whatever this is, it does not look healthy.’

‘Do you think,’ Kharth growled, ‘that after Dav got Joined and became a completely different person, I didn’t spend months obsessing about who the hell this “Airex” is, was, everything?’ She was scrolling through collections, past the political records of Obrent Airex, past the Starfleet record of Tabain Airex, past the scientific research of Isady Airex, and there it was, the life history of Lerin Airex, who’d died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2396 at the age of fifty-seven.

Cortez looked like she didn’t want to understand, rather than that she’d failed to put two and two together. ‘You think that a previous host had something to do with the Myriad?’

‘It couldn’t have been Dav; he only got Joined in 2396. Around the same damn time the Myriad stopped operating after a career spanning some fifteen to twenty years.’

‘What was Airex’s last host doing then?’

‘Lerin was a biochemist,’ said Kharth, almost not trusting her own words in case they’d catapult her down a drastic path. ‘But he was a recluse, apparently; he supposedly did a lot of his research in isolation, and out here in the Beta Quadrant. He was brilliant, he won awards, but he didn’t have much of a life beyond his work and…’ She worked her jaw and turned to Cortez. ‘Do you think he worked for the Myriad?’

‘I don’t…’

‘Dav lost his mind over my wanting to know what happened to my father.’ Her voice went detached, horrified as she remembered. ‘He said it was professionalism, I thought it was just… just to hurt me, but that doesn’t make any sense, does it, for him to have done as much as he did to stop me on Teros, to manipulate me as much as he did… he knew.’ Dawning realisation came with a crashing wave of nausea, and she had to grip the edge of the bar, nearly doubling-over. ‘Gods, he knew…’

Cortez’s hand was on her back a moment later, voice low and urgent. ‘None of this proves anything. Don’t let your mind run away with the worst case scenario. There could be a dozen explanations, all of them amplified by Davir Airex simply having no idea what to do with his feelings for you since he got Joined.’ She drew a slow, awkward breath. ‘Only one thing is certain.’

‘Yeah,’ said Kharth, voice thick as she buried her face in her hands. ‘So much for goodbyes. Because I need to talk to him the moment we’re back on Bravo.’