Part of USS Endeavour: Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice – 4

Science Offices, USS Endeavour
August 2400
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‘I understand entirely why you want Endeavour here,’ said Lieutenant Danjuma, audibly putting herself on the back foot before she’d even started her argument, ‘but that should mean you don’t get any auxiliary craft, Lieutenant.’

Lieutenant Turak gave a slow blink. ‘Planetary Sciences has been allocated one single fighter for detailed surface mapping. Waiting for the Endeavour to survey it all would take considerable micro-manoeuvres and-or waiting for our orbital pattern to align.’

‘I see that,’ said Danjuma, already conceding ground. ‘But I need all the craft I can get, and even a fighter can run basic scans to be followed up later, and the captain said…’

‘Flight Control said…’

‘Oh, for pity’s sake.’ Beckett slumped face-down on the desk in the Science Department’s main office. The three of them sat at a round table with two empty seats, and if the absence of Veldman was cavernous, the absence of a department head was abyssal. ‘Kharth is going to be here any second and if you two can’t get on, she’s going to flay you both.’

Danjuma looked stricken while Turak merely raised an eyebrow. ‘That would be a egregious breach of Starfleet -’

Figure of speech.’ He sat up to drag his hands down his face. ‘Why am I here?’

‘I requested all Science team heads to be here,’ Danjuma squeaked. ‘Lieutenant Veldman sent apologies.’

‘Why didn’t I think of that,’ he growled.

‘We have already acquired several fascinating botanical samples from the surface,’ said Turak obliviously, ‘and Lieutenant Veldman expressed intent in studying them at once.’

‘You don’t have to be here,’ said Danjuma, sounding like she’d make an impression of a drowning puppy if he abandoned her. ‘But I thought, seeing as we still don’t have a department head, the team leaders could hammer this out.’

‘There is nothing to “hammer out,”’ said Turak with a tilt of the chin. ‘Lieutenant Arys allocated my team one pilot and one fighter. You have the rest of the Endeavour’s auxiliary craft at your disposal.’

‘Okay.’ Beckett hopped to his feet with a decisive push off the desk. ‘This has nothing to do with social sciences, and Kharth is on her way, so may God have mercy on your souls and all that.’

Danjuma hesitated. ‘Is she really that mean? Ji-Hun said she was very professional, but he didn’t deny the rumours.’

For a moment, Beckett wondered if he should reassure her. Then he reasoned that if her husband, Kharth’s new deputy, wasn’t going to make her feel any better, he wasn’t going to overstep. He nodded sombrely. ‘She’s really, really mean,’ he said, and left.

Only to almost run into Kharth in the corridor the moment the doors slid shut behind him. ‘Lieutenant! Ah… Commander!’

Kharth arched an eyebrow, holding a stack of PADDs and with her usual air of supreme disapproval. ‘You could have just pivoted to the full rank and drawn less attention to it. Where are you going, Beckett? This is a science staff meeting.’

‘And Veldman’s got work to do and there’s no indication of actual societies here in Regier so… I don’t want to be underfoot?’

Kharth’s eyes flickered to the door. ‘Are they still failing to work together?’

‘They are, I assure you, all yours, Commander.’ And with a pivot that had him on the far side of her and escaping down the corridor before she could rally, he was home free.

I should have pretended I had Hazard Team training, he thought as he padded down the corridor. Danjuma and Turak weren’t to know there would be likely very little training during Lieutenant Rhade’s absence, and he could exploit that. Until or unless there was a new science chief – and it didn’t look like any of the current department staff were about to step up or be elevated – he needed to do everything he could to avoid being sucked into things that were Not His Problem.

It was a feather in his cap to be given Social Sciences, lacking in seniority as he was. But this was always the smallest of the science divisions, and many of his staff were greener officers than him, or NCOs with degrees and a purely research focus rather than the leadership aspirations and talent that marked graduates of Starfleet Academy, or lab assistants. Had it not been for Captain Rourke, Beckett would have suspected the hand of his father in securing such a role for him, a junior lieutenant a mere two years out of San Francisco.

But while he was dodging some responsibility, he was not dodging all responsibility. This was perhaps not that clear to outsiders when Beckett’s next stop was the Safe House, and his target the bar itself.

It was late afternoon in ship time, enough for the alpha shift to be over and for many major players aboard to be unwinding and considering their next step. With this meeting, he’d warned Arys he might be late, so the Andorian looked suspicious when he slid onto the bar stool beside him.

‘I fobbed them off,’ Beckett explained cheerfully.

Arys frowned. ‘You shouldn’t be trying to get out of responsibility.’

‘I’m not, I’m curating my responsibility.’ A gesture at the holographic bartender saw them scuttle off to get him a synthahol. There was too much to get on with to drink anything harder. He nudged Arys with his elbow. ‘How’d it go?’

Earnest features creased with distress. ‘She didn’t talk to me. She never talks to me.’

‘You tried too hard again, didn’t you.’

‘I just said that if she ever wants to talk, I’m there.’

Beckett was relieved that his drink arrived in timely distraction, so he didn’t have to sigh despairingly. ‘That’s telling her you see her grief, you see her pain, and you want to draw attention to it. Elsa’s a smart girl, and she’s seeing Carraway. She’ll talk about it to others when she’s good and ready.’

‘So what am I -’ Arys stopped himself. ‘What are we supposed to do in the meantime?’

‘Be her friends.’ Beckett shrugged. ‘Give her a space to be herself and just… live, without everything being about losing that complete shithead of a man.’

Again Arys looked pained. ‘Commander Graelin died a hero.’

‘And he lived like a shithead. Both things can be true.’ Beckett swigged his beer. ‘He broke her heart and then he got himself irradiated to death and that’s a whole mess I’m not gonna unpack, and you shouldn’t either, pal. So let’s just be her buds and remind her what living’s like and leave the rest to the professionals.’

‘I suppose you’re right.’ Arys stared at his glass of synthahol. ‘She’s never going to look at me the way I look at her, is she.’

Beckett hesitated. Even making the observation was more progress than he’d ever expected Arys to make, besotted as he had been with Elsa Lindgren since long before Beckett had met either of them. ‘Never say never,’ he said first, his instincts stirring to protect Arys or, at least, to stay out of it.

Then he winced and had a swig of his drink before shaking his head. ‘No. And that’s a good thing. Tell me, pal – what do you like about her?’

Arys frowned. ‘What’s not to like? She’s kind, she’s patient. She’s thoughtful.’

‘Okay. What don’t you like about her?’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Are you saying she’s perfect?’

‘Nobody’s perfect.’ Arys paused. ‘I don’t see anything I don’t like.’

‘There’s always something not to like. It doesn’t mean your feelings are invalid – hell, seeing things you don’t like and caring about someone anyway is real. If they can drive you crazy and you’re still committed…’

But Arys had been straightening as Beckett spoke, his expression folding like a gathering storm. ‘Not everyone’s like you, Beckett. We don’t all see the worst in people.’

Beckett blinked. ‘That’s not what I -’

‘You go looking for people’s flaws so you can say everyone’s as bad as you.’ Arys pushed back from the bar, suddenly looking all of his height and build in his defensive anger. ‘Don’t act like you know Elsa better than me; we’ve served together for years.’

‘And you still only see the fantasy version of her,’ Beckett spat before he could stop himself. He’d been ready to work through these feelings, but Arys’s words had been a scalpel under his skin. ‘No wonder she opens up to me, but not you.’

Arys was wrong. Beckett didn’t look for everyone’s flaws so he knew they were no better than him. He looked for everyone’s flaws so he knew how to hurt them when backed into a corner. But with these words, Arys slumped as if all of the fight had gone out of him, fixing Beckett with a look that shone with nothing more than pure hurt – and walked away.

‘Tar’lek…’ Arys didn’t turn back, and with a groan Beckett slumped face-down on the bar.

‘Tough day, huh,’ said the holographic bartender, polishing a glass with a practiced air.

‘Just give me another.’

‘You know,’ continued the bartender, in that slightly detached tone which belied its limited programming, ‘synthehol isn’t the solution to your stress. There are other ways to -’

‘Well, now, this won’t do,’ drawled a familiar voice, and Beckett’s back tensed as a shadow fell over him. ‘Come on, barkeep; I know you’ve got the good bourbon down there. How about a glass for the lieutenant and me?’

It took all of Beckett’s shattering patience to turn a wan smile to the new arrival. ‘You don’t have to do that, Commander.’

Lieutenant Commander John Rosewood pulled up the stool Arys had vacated and leaned on the bar with a smile that shone with messianic glory and no self-awareness. ‘I know I don’t. You look like you’re having a day, is all, Nate. Least I can do is get you a good drink at the end of it.’

Beckett opened his mouth to make excuses, before the bartender slid the two glasses of bourbon – real bourbon – across the bar towards them. The claw-marks inside where Arys had mauled him felt like they’d be soothed by good liquor. ‘I could do a good drink.’

‘There you go.’ Rosewood took up the glass and tilted it to him. ‘To your health, Nate.’

John Rosewood was the latest new member of Endeavour’s senior staff. A lot of people had been confused when this ship, with its civilian contingent of diplomatic staff under Sophia Hale, had been sent a small detachment of Starfleet diplomatic officers. While ostensibly it made sense for Hale and Rourke’s cooperation to be supported by trained Starfleet diplomats, Rosewood’s presence as Chief Diplomatic Officer seemed likely to undermine one or both of them, provide Command with a direct line to any negotiations the ship became embroiled in.

But to Beckett, Rosewood’s presence made perfect sense. The young commander’s career had taken off like the hottest new fighter craft, intricately shaped to maximise his experience, visibility, and impact. On Endeavour, Rosewood could make his mark on the fraught Beta Quadrant frontier, and ditch any mistakes onto Hale or even onto Rourke. Despite himself, Beckett knew Starfleet families, and the Rosewoods were one such lineage of service – and politics. And despite himself, he knew men like John Rosewood. He’d been to school with too many of them, individuals who mistook their privilege for talent and nepotism for hard-earned success.

There was just one other problem with John Rosewood. For all he was a political animal, for all he was a dangerous and disruptive presence if he chose to be, for all he was using Endeavour as a stepping stone to future command, Nate Beckett couldn’t help but somewhat like him. And Rosewood, for his part, had been eager to buddy up with the other son of an admiral aboard.

‘To my disgustingly good health,’ Beckett agreed, and swigged the bourbon. ‘Your timing for this couldn’t be better, sir.’

‘Aw, c’mon, Nate. We’re in the Safe House. It’s John.’ Rosewood set his glass down. ‘I saw Lieutenant Arys leaving in a fair old state. Trouble in paradise?’

‘Oh, we’re not…’ Beckett laughed. ‘No. He’s too uptight for me. We’re friends, he’s just in a mood.’

‘Gotcha. How’s it going in science?’

Was he being pumped for information, or was this small-talk? Beckett shrugged. ‘It’d be better if we had a chief. Turak’s got seniority and he thinks that makes him the big cheese.’

Rosewood made a face. ‘Lieutenant Turak’s records don’t say he throws his weight around. They say he’s real focused on his work, sometimes at the expense of other needs or factors. I’d reckon he’s used to having someone hold him in check, or keep him on-track, or he can’t see the wood for trees.’

‘Do you know Turak?’

‘Nope.’ Rosewood had another sip. ‘Not really. Read about him. Chatted with him on the flight over. Interesting fella, even if I didn’t understand half of what he was talking about.’ He gave a smile like sunlight on a knife. ‘Still, that’s how you keep him in check. Use him as an asset, remind him of the bigger picture.’

‘I’m not keeping anyone in check.’ Beckett raised his hands. ‘I get what you’re doing. I appreciate the help, but I don’t want to leapfrog Turak, or Veldman, or even Danjuma. I’m happy where I am.’

Rosewood laughed. ‘Okay, okay. Still, might make your life easier working alongside them.’

‘It’ll be easier once the away team’s back.’

‘How come?’

‘Thawn.’ Beckett shrugged. ‘If anyone other than a science chief’s going to keep them in-line, it’ll be Thawn running up some strict protocols on resource allocation. Then Science has got to make some hard decisions. And I don’t…’

It wasn’t the bourbon. Bourbon would have made the deck feel like it was rushing away from under him. This was the bulkheads, the crowds; everything tumbling away for a heartbeat. He wasn’t falling, he was exposed, his senses feeling like they were stretching beyond the bar, beyond the ship, beyond Regier. Out, further out, somewhere. Somewhere.

‘You okay?’ Rosewood’s hand on his shoulder brought him crashing back. ‘You went pale there a moment.’

Beckett blinked. His mind felt gummy. ‘Something’s wrong,’ he mumbled.

Rosewood frowned. ‘Do we need to get you to sickbay?’

‘No, not with me.’ He was surprised his legs cooperated when he shot to his feet. ‘Something wrong. Somewhere.’

‘Somewhere.’

‘Don’t look at me like that.’ Beckett raised a finger. ‘It’s like a – like a thought at the tip of my brain.’

‘Did you just leave your console on or something?’

‘No, it’s…’ But the sense was fading away, the absolute wrongness he could feel in his bones now dissipating. And all he had was a crowded bar, some good company, a glass of bourbon, and the thought of apologising to Tar’lek Arys if he left.

Slowly, Beckett sank back onto the bar stool with a frown. ‘Okay. That was weird. Maybe I do need a drink.’

‘You had one drink,’ said Rosewood. But then he turned to the bartender, and lifted two fingers. ‘But, hell. Work hard, play hard, right?’