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Part of USS Endeavour: Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice – 1

The Old Neutral Zone, Beta Quadrant
August 2400
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Chief Medical Officer’s Log, stardate 77583.33. I knew I was right to complain about Endeavour going back into the old Neutral Zone so soon after Agarath. The region is more volatile, the independent worlds more numerous, and the whole thing a bigger mess with the collapse of the Star Empire, may it rest in pieces. We’ve taken on new crew, Captain Rourke has – finally – cleared Endeavour for families aboard, which means my wife and children joined me a week ago.

So, obviously, five seconds later, we’ve received a non-urgent distress call from a refugee convoy escorted by, of all people, the Fenris Rangers. While Endeavour gets to focus on a planetary survey in a nearby system Starfleet’s never had access to before, my illustrious captain thought it’d be good experience for me, with the ink on my bridge officer’s qualifications barely dry, to lead a runabout team to help them out.

I must think of a way to thank him.


‘Try that!’ Cortez’s voice echoed up from the deck below of grungy freighter-turned-transport. She even sounded grimier, like their environment changed the quality of sound.

Sadek glanced at Thawn, sat at the main control panel in the engine room. ‘She’s so specific,’ Sadek drawled. ‘It’s so very clear what she means.’ They’d found the warp drive sputtering, barely providing basic power and incapable of sustaining a warp field. Cortez insisted the job was straightforward with the King Arthur’s replicator to provide spare parts, but when Sadek had checked in on them, they’d already been at this for hours.

‘She’s had to replace several sections of the antimatter injectors – we really should have brought along extra hands,’ Thawn sighed as her hands trailed across the oily controls. ‘Forrester could have dealt with this.’

‘None of us wanted to be here,’ Sadek pointed out. ‘We’re all dying to find out if Regier’s fourth planet’s safe so we can try out its beaches.’

Thawn’s expression pinched, as it usually did when someone was being facetious. ‘There’s never been a survey of this magnitude of this region of space, or if there has, any records have likely been lost in the Romulan collapses, and Starfleet never saw them anyway. This might be an untouched planet, and it’s so much more than checking out beaches -’

‘And the Science department can have fun with that,’ Sadek mused. ‘I’m here for beaches. Besides, Lieutenant, don’t be so anthro-centric. I’m sure lots of life has touched it.’

Thawn looked like she was going to protest, but the hum of the warp core rose in intensity, and Sadek braced as if it was going to overload there and then. Instead, the dark cloud of a core before them brightened, the churning returning to what she thought of as a healthy colour.

‘That did it!’ Thawn called, jubilant now they had success and she could ignore Sadek’s jokes. ‘Good work, Commander.’

‘It’s like I trained my entire life for this,’ Cortez drawled from below, and the sound of clanking heralded her slow escape from the belly of the engine room.

‘Is that all we need to do?’ said Sadek, eyebrows raised.

Cortez stuck her head up through the hatch. ‘I’ll want to run some more diagnostics, but the problem was faulty parts they’d just jury-rigged to death and needed replacing. All fine with medical aid?’

Sadek shrugged. ‘Bumps and scrapes I’ve already seen to. They’re refugees of political turmoil; I’ve left them with some more food and medical supplies, but they’ve not been malnourished for months or anything. The Rangers can get them where they need to go.’

‘Isn’t it a bit odd,’ said Thawn anxiously, ‘that the Rangers asked us for help?’

‘It was that or cram everyone already crammed onto this ship, onto one of the other ships,’ said Cortez, hauling herself up onto the deck. ‘Shows they actually do care about these people if they can put their pride aside long enough to send word to a nearby Starfleet ship.’

‘I suppose.’ Thawn bit her lip. ‘I just don’t trust them. Did they say much about their plans?’

Another shrug from Sadek. ‘Just that they were taking them to one of the relief worlds ten light-years out. I’ve left the other two to handle the politics.’ At Thawn’s expression, she raised an eyebrow. ‘What? Rank means I get to delegate this stuff. And this is the whole reason we brought Dathan and Rhade.’

‘We brought Rhade for muscle,’ Cortez pointed out. ‘Possibly for morale, so if the refugees felt sad he could flex and that’d cheer them up.’

‘Ooh,’ said Sadek. ‘I should have sent him down there with some apples to crush with his biceps. You know, for the children.’

‘We could record it for future guidance on refugee support -’

‘I cannot believe,’ said Thawn, Rhade’s fiancée, bright red by now, ‘that the two of you are talking about him like that.’

‘It’s purely professional,’ Cortez protested. ‘We’re both far too gay for this to be personal.’

‘I wonder,’ said Thawn in a quiet but snooty voice, ‘what our new Staff Judge-Advocate would say about that.’

‘I’d hope he’s too busy dealing with the wild backlog of awful things we’ve done to worry about new only slightly-awful things,’ mused Sadek. ‘But anyway, if you’ve got the engine running again, I should check up on our… hosts? Grateful supplicants?’

‘Call them that, for sure,’ said Cortez. ‘That’ll keep the Rangers happy with Starfleet.’

‘I really don’t care,’ Sadek sighed as she headed out. ‘I just want to help people.’


‘That’ll keep us going until we get to Danravel IV,’ said the Ranger who had only given her name as Theron, hauling the next crate of supplies atop the pile in the cargo bay. ‘We can do a further assessment of refugee needs then.’

Their loading work finished, Dathan stepped back. ‘Where do you find enough to support these people?’ At Theron’s guarded look, she lifted her hands. ‘That’s an off-the-record question.’

‘Nothing with Starfleet is off-the-record.’ Theron looked her up and down. ‘You’re not an engineer. You’re in gold. That makes you Security. So you can pretend all you like that you’re here in case things go sideways, but I know you’re scoping us out.’

‘It’s worse than that,’ Dathan drawled. ‘I’m the Chief Intelligence Officer.’ While Sadek, Cortez and Thawn had gone to the freighter hauling refugees that needed repairs and help, she had joined the Fenris Rangers on their own ship, moving supplies to their cargo bay so they could be more easily protected. ‘I’m definitely here to scope you out.’

‘I’m grateful Endeavour answered our call. I’d hoped you would, after we crossed paths months ago. But that doesn’t make us friends, Lieutenant. Not enough for off-the-record questions.’

As a member of Starfleet Intelligence, I’m not quite as fixated as some of my colleagues on doing things in the by-the-book way that makes you clash with them,’ Dathan pointed out. And that’s to put it mildly. ‘But you’re right, I did have an agenda. The situation in the old Neutral Zone is changing fast with the Star Empire’s fall. More warlords, more chaos – more possible friends, more opportunities for mutual support.’

Theron rested a hand atop the stack of crates, the physical evidence of Starfleet’s friendship on this one, specific occasion. ‘If you have a question, ask.’

‘It’s an open question. I came here because I thought that we could be of use to each other in the long-term.’

‘Starfleet and the Rangers?’ Theron scoffed.

Dathan shook her head. ‘You and me. Why do you think I asked Lieutenant Rhade to stay on the runabout?’ She reached into her jacket and pulled out a PADD. ‘I want to start by making it clear I’m not breaking any laws by giving you this. It’s a collation of non-classified information on the state of affairs of worlds and factions across this sector. Consider this a gesture of good faith.’

Theron narrowed her eyes, but she took the PADD. ‘Why are you doing this?’

‘Because Starfleet – my ship – isn’t leaving this region any time soon. We’re back for good, Theron. And there’s a lot we need to do to catch up on goodwill and what we know around here. Maybe Starfleet isn’t ready to extend a hand to the Rangers like this, but we – you and me – can maybe help each other.’

‘And you get to look good to your superiors if I grace you with information the Rangers have picked up that nobody else has?’

Dathan shrugged. ‘I’d do this formally if I thought anyone would listen. They’ll listen to results. Taking this costs you nothing today.’

Theron looked down. She was tall and wiry but projected an aura of confidence and command that had struck Dathan the moment she’d come aboard, but as she stopped and thought she seemed smaller, more vulnerable. Aware, perhaps, of the vulnerability of her situation. At length she tucked the PADD away and pulled a small metal token from a pocket. ‘Take this.’

‘What is it?’

‘A beacon of the Fenris Rangers. Activate it if you need to contact me. Or if you need help. I’ll see how this information goes and we’ll… take it from there.’

It was not, Dathan admitted as they parted ways and she headed for the transporter pad on the Rangers’ ship, wholly about developing intelligence connections. She needed cards up her sleeve that nobody else had, whether it was to curry favour with superiors, distract them from paying her too much attention, or in case she needed to make an escape.

Endeavour had changed in even the past weeks. It wasn’t just Rourke’s clearance for them to take aboard family members, though that had given the ship and crew a sense of permanence she found unsettling. They’d brought on new staff, replacements and additions alike, and it was clear from some of the calibre of officers that Endeavour had earned a lot of attention. The ship was a prospect now, which meant her superiors in Intelligence might lean on her more, or hungry colleagues might have an eye on her position.

The last thing Dathan Tahla, renegade agent of the Terran Empire, needed was for anyone to pay close attention. She’d cut her ties with her former handlers and knew the house of cards she’d delicately built couldn’t last forever. Even as she beamed aboard the King Arthur, she had to wonder why she’d let herself get trapped in this position, stayed on Endeavour for over a year now, when that only raised the chances of someone poking through her cover and finding the holes.

When she materialised to see the welcoming face of Adamant Rhade, she had more of an answer than she wanted to admit.

‘All loaded?’ Rhade asked from the door to the cockpit, arms folded across his chest.

‘It went fine,’ she said, answering the question she knew he’d actually been asking. ‘The Rangers are happy to get help. This one is a win for relations in the Neutral Zone.’

He frowned but nodded. ‘They could do so much more if they worked with us more often. They have contacts and relationships, we have supplies…’

‘Supplies we have a track record of cutting off the moment it suits Starfleet,’ she pointed out. ‘They have to keep the Neutral Zone as self-sufficient as possible, because history has taught them they can’t rely on anyone else.’

Rhade’s mouth set in a hard, unhappy line. ‘I wish they saw the Starfleet I do. We’re not who we were fifteen years ago.’

‘They will.’ She softened despite herself, found the desire to reassure him rising despite herself. ‘Keep doing the right thing, no matter the cost or opposition, and they’ll see. They’ll be inspired.’

He nodded at length. ‘It’s good they met you today, then.’

Dathan had to frown. ‘I’m hardly inspiring. I’m hardly the one to do the right thing no matter the cost.’

‘Of course you are. You have been since I’ve met you.’

That’s because I’ve been lying since I met you. She saw his expression flicker, those piercing black eyes locked on her and doubtless seeing more than he let on. But he couldn’t possibly see it all, because he hadn’t thrown her out the airlock as a spy. Whatever he saw in her he had to misread, because the truth was too horrific to be known.

She should have taken the compliment. Acted the good Starfleet officer. But as-established by staying on Endeavour for so long, Dathan Tahla’s judgement was compromised. ‘If I am,’ she said falteringly, ‘it’s because I met you.’

Of course, that was when there was a clang from below, and the tell-tale sounds of the other three boarding from the freighter with which the King Arthur was docked.

‘If these people had just one proper replicator…’ drifted the sound of Cortez’s complaint from afar, and like that, the moment was broken.

That was the mission. Get the freighter moving, get the Fenris Rangers supplies. Do good and earn good-will. So the five officers tumbled into the cockpit from there and Rhade disengaged the runabout’s docking. As mission commander, it fell to Sadek to have a quick conversation over comms with Theron, confirming they’d helped how they could, that the convoy was free to get underway, and that the King Arthur would stay put in the region for an hour or so – within easy communications range – to make sure the repairs held.

But it was to Dathan that Theron’s eyes flickered over the viewscreen, and she didn’t know if her chest was tightening from relief, or apprehension at how she was allowing herself to be known by even more people.

‘And now the best part of the mission,’ sighed Cortez as the Rangers’s convoy flicked to warp speed on their sensors. ‘Putting our feet up and relaxing.’

‘You say that like you weren’t delighted by crawling round a grimy old engine room,’ Sadek drawled.

‘It’s a novelty, but doesn’t get me up in the morning…’

Sat at an aft console, Dathan tried to ignore their bickering. That became unsettlingly easier as Lieutenant Thawn eventually rose from her console to take the co-pilot’s chair beside Rhade and lean in for a conversation she couldn’t hear over the senior officer’s banter.

They had been closer these past few weeks. Not just since whatever had happened to avert the break-off of their arranged marriage, the chaos that had made Dathan try to keep her distance for her own sanity. Closer since Agarath, closer since Rhade had been shot. And this time, Dathan had been less successful in pulling away, caught as ever in the orbit of a man who represented everything she’d expected to find pathetic – the upright hope and ideals of Starfleet – and instead found, in its way, dangerously addictive.

For a woman from a universe where despair dominated, unswerving hope had turned out to be like water to a desert traveller.

But Thawn was there, speaking in a low voice, occasionally giving an anxious, awkward smile, and his eyes were locked on her, too, on the woman he was supposed to marry some day. So Dathan turned away, looked at the sensors, and tried to focus on anything else.

If she had done a better job, everything might have not gone to hell. Because it took an alert notification blaring twenty minutes later before she jerked upright with a frown. ‘What… we have a ship incoming.’

Sadek looked over, not that concerned. ‘The Rangers have come running back?’

‘No, it’s way too big for that.’ Dathan’s hands danced across the controls. ‘The computer isn’t recognising it, but it’s headed straight for us. I’m running a scan.’

And as the data scrolled in, her heart tried to crawl into her throat and choke her. Which was why she didn’t manage to make a report before the hulking ship dropped out of warp. Because she recognised this vessel, and she wasn’t supposed to, and there was no way she could begin to explain.

The canopy of the King Arthur was filled with the battered, bruised, and broken hull of the ISS Endeavour, the Terran Empire’s warship stranded in this universe for some two years now, forced into hiding and desperation as they sought a way home. So far from her for so long that she’d thought they might forget her – that she might forget them – and that all her betrayals might never come to a reckoning.

But it was here, and however much the ship had suffered from trying to stay off Starfleet’s sensors for all this time, it was a vast warship and they were but a runabout.

‘Oh, no,’ breathed Thawn at the co-pilot’s chair, fingers thudding at her console. ‘That’s not – there’s no way, there’s no way…’

‘What the hell,’ said Rhade, looking around, ‘is going on?’

He hadn’t been aboard Endeavour when they’d tracked down the Wild Hunt and realised these pirates weren’t masquerading as dead officers, but were from another reality entirely. Dathan hadn’t, either, but she didn’t keep her mouth shut to keep her shattering cover – she kept her mouth shut because she didn’t have any possible words.

Thawn continued to work. ‘We have to get out of here.’

‘Agreed,’ said Sadek. ‘Rhade, full impulse, bring us -’

But the deck lurched, and Cortez swore. ‘Nope. That’s a tractor beam. We’re going nowhere.’ Then she swore again. ‘We’re being hailed.’

If Dathan’s words had vanished at the sight of the ISS Endeavour, breath was taken when the viewscreen flared to life and showed the gloom of the imperial warship’s bridge, and the grizzled, hard-set features of her commander.

This is Prefect Leonidas MacCallister of the ISS Endeavour. I recognise your ship. I expect you have some idea who I am. It seems we were due a face-to-face eventually, crew of the USS Endeavour.’ MacCallister leaned forward, and Dathan felt his eyes boring into her for a moment, before they snapped back to Sadek. ‘Power down and prepare to be boarded.

Comments

  • I am so pleased to see that Dathan is finally coming face to face with her real background, though I'm sure it won't be pleasing for her! Also seeing the return of the Fenris Rangers is always enjoyable to read, their purpose (and their own drive) is definitely going to be something worth exploring since the collapse of the RSE. Plus are we going to see some more of the Rhade and Thawn relationship? I hope so!

    August 13, 2022
  • ‘We’re both far too gay for this to be personal.’ This has to be going down in a defence argument somewhere, somewhen! A fantastic start to be sure with something nice and pedestrian leading into dire straights for the immediate crew. With a combination of the proper Endeavour out there somewhere (though the Real Endeavour is elsewhere missing a seat) and a Chekov's Fenris Ranger beacon, looking forward to some high spirited rabblerousing!

    August 18, 2022