‘I’ve never heard of the Arretans,’ admitted Lieutenant Callahan, Starbase Bravo Security, as he tapped his stylus against the PADD.
Thawn bit her lip. ‘Are you an historian, Lieutenant? Then I expect that’s why. I assure you, they’re perfectly real.’
‘I wasn’t saying that,’ Callahan pressed quickly. ‘But information on a millennia-dead species seems like a very curious motivation to commit a telepathic assault this visceral.’
‘I’m not saying that was why Doctor T’Sann attacked Commander Airex. I don’t presume to know why T’Sann did anything,’ said Thawn. ‘But our evidence that T’Sann had been secretly digging up data on the Arretans was most probably why Commander Airex confronted him when he did, and might have triggered the attack. That’s all.’ She glanced at Nate Beckett, slumped in the chair next to her by Callahan’s desk down in the Security Department offices. He had been silent for most of the meeting so far. ‘Right?’
Beckett gave a one-shouldered shrug. ‘Probably. I don’t think it helps suggest where T’Sann went next.’
‘Well, we’re not here to provide enlightenment on that.’ Thawn clasped her hands in her lap and tried to not sound annoyed. ‘We’re answering the lieutenant’s questions about Doctor T’Sann because otherwise the only person who knew about our investigation of him was Commander Airex.’
‘And I appreciate it,’ Callahan said with a rush. He was young and had been very keen at the start when they’d come forward, like this secret investigation of his suspect was his lucky day. That eagerness had faded quickly when he’d realised they might have been looking into nothing more than academic politics.
‘But,’ Beckett pressed on, waving a hand, ‘Callahan here is going to prioritise an all-points bulletin on the Romulan borders, because he thinks T’Sann has a copy of the Koderex archives and will be looking to sell it to the Empire or the Free State. Don’t you?’
‘At least some of the archive. That seems most likely, yes.’ Callahan’s jaw tightened at being called out, and he clasped his hands on the desk as he regarded them. ‘Thank you for your help, Lieutenants.’
They slid out of Security and onto the main promenade of Bravo, and were barely through the doors into the hustle and bustle of station life before Thawn snapped, ‘That was a complete waste of time.’
‘You know Security,’ said a disinterested Beckett, hands shove in his pockets. ‘They have to act like they’ve talked to everyone and looked at all the evidence before they act on whatever first idiot thought came into their heads and call it their instincts.’
She gave him a sidelong look. ‘Alright,’ Thawn said at last. ‘You’ve got until we’re back aboard Endeavour to tell me what’s bothering you.’
He frowned but did not meet her gaze. ‘Or what?’
‘Or – or I guess I’ll just annoy you some more!’
‘Is that new? And who says something’s bothering me?’
‘You went mad for this stuff about T’Sann and the Arretans! You dragged me into it, you woke me up in the middle of the night for it, and right after we bring it to Commander Airex, T’Sann attacks him? And now you don’t seem to care that nobody else cares?’
Beckett shrugged. ‘I guess all that means is we were way too late with our warning.’
‘That’s not it.’ She cut in front of him and jabbed a finger at his chest. ‘You’ve been walking around like you sucked on a sour uttaberry since…’ Her voice trailed off, knowing what she wanted to say, aware of how ridiculous it sounded out loud.
He stopped, hands on his hips, glaring at her in the middle of the crowds rushing past them through the Promenade like time stood still for them and accelerated for everyone else. ‘Since? Go on, Thawn, not sharing your thoughts about me isn’t like you.’
She gave a frustrated sigh. ‘Since the award ceremony.’ He shook his head and stalked past her, and she turned to hurry along beside him. ‘I don’t get how you can be publicly lauded for what you did – get not just a medal, but a promotion – and look like you wanted the deck to fold in and crush you. Do you feel like you don’t deserve it?’
‘That’s not it,’ Beckett said gruffly.
‘Because you do – we saved the islands by going out in that storm to fix the weather controls…’
‘You fixed the weather controls.’
‘And you saved Harkon and Forrester, who’d probably be dead if you hadn’t gone down there when you did. This isn’t a contest between you and me, because you’re not mad at me.’
‘If you were mad at me for overshadowing your big day or sharing it or whatever, Great Fire, Beckett, I’d never hear the end of it!’ He didn’t have an answer for that, so she pressed on, the bustle of the crowd like its own shield of privacy. Out here, there was enough noise that nothing about the confrontation felt too close, too intimate, too prying, and everyone around them had too much of their own business to care about this interrogation. ‘And it’s not because the others got awarded, too, you don’t care about that.’
‘Only you’re saying it bugged me,’ Beckett pointed out with a shrug. ‘If it doesn’t make sense, then maybe you’re wrong?’
‘I’m not wrong,’ she said without a shred of guilt or self-doubt. ‘It’s just…’ She bit her lip, hesitating despite that barrier of sound shielding them. ‘Beckett, was it because your father was there?’ A low chuckle escaped his lips and he shook his head. She winced. ‘I don’t know what the situation is with you two, I know you don’t get on…’
‘Oh, we get on fine, don’t we?’ Beckett spat, but his gaze was fixed on the exit some hundred metres down the promenade, and his anger was not for her. ‘He’s delighted at his son being publicly acclaimed for his heroism. Early promotion? A medal? Why wouldn’t we get on, I’m the best son ever?’
There was nowhere for them to go for privacy. But the shield of noise didn’t feel like enough, not with that anger radiating off him like an avalanche, all crumbling mass turning to scree that would drown him as it tumbled. Thawn grabbed him by the sleeve and dragged him to the side of the promenade, this dissection of his anger towards his father condemned to be held directly in front of a sweet shop.
Bright pink cakes leered in uncaring contrast as she held him in an iron grip and met his gaze. ‘Are you upset because being good at your job means he approves of you?’
Beckett made a face. ‘That’d be mental, wouldn’t it?’
‘It would be…’ Thawn hesitated. ‘I’m not going to pretend I understand. I like my parents. But you didn’t do anything you did for him. You didn’t go with me on Whixby to please him, and you didn’t save Harkon and Forrester for him. You did it because that’s who you are.’
His expression slumped. ‘That’s the point, isn’t it? I try to do things my way, and it still ends up with him pleased. The game’s rigged, the house always wins, and on what should have been the best day of my career, all I see is that I’ve completely failed to do things my way. I don’t want him to be proud of me. Because I’m not proud of the things he’s proud of. But whatever I do, he wins.’
‘Nobody aboard thinks that. Your shipmates don’t think you got that medal because you’re an admiral’s son, or think that you did any of this to please your father. We think you’re someone who’ll have our backs.’ But the words felt perfunctory, and she could almost see them slide off him.
Beckett shook his head and looked away. ‘You should go see your fiancé. Try to patch things up after that mess on Whixby.’
He stalked past her, and was almost gone before she found her voice and said, barely daring to be heard above the crowd, ‘He’s not my fiancé any more.’ She felt him stop short mentally as well as physically, and slowly, Thawn turned back to him. ‘I need to talk to my aunt. But I – I’m not marrying Adamant.’
He hadn’t turned to face her, had halted at the edge of the rushing crowds of the promenade. She saw him begin to twist like he might turn back, saw his shoulders rise like he might speak – then Nate Beckett shook his head, and stepped into the mass of people whose closeness was enough to obscure him from her mind as much as her sight.
And despite the helplessness she felt from seeing her reassurance bounce off him, Thawn let out a small sigh of relief.