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Part of USS Endeavour: Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice – 9

Security Office, USS Endeavour
August 2400
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Lieutenant Song was Kharth’s new deputy, and so far he had been a man of few words. After over a year of the ebullience of the late Elias Juarez, she found this stoicism to be both welcome and slightly off-putting.

‘I’ve reviewed the after action reports from Lockstowe and Epsilon-7.’ Song sat before Kharth’s desk and set a stack of PADDs before her. ‘I believe the latter has more valuable lessons for us.’

‘Agreed.’ She pulled out her own PADD. ‘I’ve been comparing these to historic Starfleet engagements with the more elite Cardassian Union forces.’ His confused look was met with a tight smile. ‘They’re the most militarised and disciplined enemy Starfleet has fought enough to have developed engagement protocols for.’

Song nodded, expression clearing. ‘You think this will be comparable?’

‘I think these are scenarios we should be ready for.’ She reached out to take the PADDs and met his gaze. ‘But you should be ready to serve on the bridge.’

He tilted his head. ‘I expected that, in the absence of Lieutenant Rhade, I would lead the Hazard Team.’

‘You’re too new and they don’t know you. I’ll be leading them.’ If we even get far enough for boarding action. It was an excuse, Kharth knew. ‘If we need to deploy more security teams, Lieutenant Jain can run point there.’

‘You’re also more familiar with Endeavour’s combat capabilities than me. And we anticipate getting the enemy ship to a state where we can even deploy the Hazard Team will be difficult.’

But he was testing her, pushing her justification to see how she thought, and she could tell. He was a curious figure, Song – older than her, but had come to Starfleet service later in life after a career as a military historian and civilian consultant at Command. She wasn’t sure why he’d left that to train for front-line service and settle to be an assistant department head, but she suspected his wife, Lieutenant Danjuma, had something to do with it.

‘We’re not sure what we’ll be up against in any space combat. I want your breadth of knowledge on this.’

Song’s expression didn’t shift, but he nodded. ‘We’ll be ready, Commander.’ Now he paused. ‘How likely do we think this scenario is? Invaders from another universe?’

‘It’s possible,’ Kharth allowed. ‘It could be anything. We might not even know when we reach the rendezvous point. But this is an enemy we have to be prepared for.’

She didn’t say, as the meeting ended and they both left the security offices, that she thought Rourke and Valance both were jumping at shadows. The universe was a big place with all manner of secrets behind every star, and the odds of their running into an enemy they’d not heard from in over a year were phenomenal.

But the universe also had a bleak sense of humour.

If she wasn’t going to sow doubt with Lieutenant Song, she could at least push back elsewhere. Or so she thought until she entered Commander Valance’s office to find the XO in full swing.

‘You’ve redecorated,’ Kharth said drily, gaze raking over the holographic displays hovering before every bulkhead and above the desk.

‘There’s still limited data on encounters with forces from alternate universes,’ complained Valance as she stalked between and sometimes through displays. ‘We’re not even sure this incursion is from the so-called Mirror Universe or merely something comparable. But this is all we have to go on, so yes, I’m reviewing all past Starfleet encounters with these people.’

Kharth set her hands on her hips. ‘You know all we have is that near where the team last was is a nebula with some comparable local phenomena? And we’ve put the ship on a war footing.’

‘I would rather be ready for this and find they instead suffered a malfunction than not be ready and have a pitched battle.’

‘Sure. But I’d also rather be ready to not be sucked into a black hole that manifested in the middle of a nebula and is giving weird sensor readings.’ Kharth shrugged. ‘It could be that. It’s probably not, but my point is that we don’t know.’

‘We’ll cross these bridges as we come to them.’ Valance met her gaze steadily. ‘Are you ready?’

I’ve been drawing up battle and boarding plans with Lieutenant Song for the past six hours. Don’t suggest I’m not committed. If there’s a boarding and rescue mission, I’ll be leading the Hazard Team myself with Rhade gone.’ But anger wouldn’t help, because for all Valance frustrated Kharth to her very core – self-righteous and judgemental that she was – she knew what was really driving the XO. Kharth’s shoulders slumped. ‘Your place is on the bridge, Commander. I’ll get them back. I’ll get Isa back.’

Valance looked away at that, gaze going through the hovering holo-displays helping her be ready for anything. ‘I’m the XO. Leading away missions is one of my duties.’

‘Perhaps, but…’ Kharth hesitated. ‘Don’t, though. Not this.’

Valance glanced back at her. ‘You don’t trust my judgement in the field?’

‘I think you don’t need to be tested like this. The Hazard Team are good.’

‘I’m a better fighter than most of them.’

That was almost humble of her, Kharth thought. She knew Valance could take her hand-to-hand. She wouldn’t bet against her in a fight with Kowalski or T’Kalla. And the junior officers were all of them well-trained and increasingly disciplined after a year of working and training together, but had nothing on Valance’s skill and experience.

‘That’s not what’s on my mind,’ Kharth said to pivot away from that. ‘And you know you trust me to do this.’

A muscle worked in the corner of Valance’s jaw, her gaze again going distant. ‘I do,’ she said at length. As if it took a significant effort, she met her eye. ‘Bring them home, Commander.’

Families had been aboard less than a fortnight, and already he had to have this conversation. Rourke drew a raking breath, then hit the door-chime.

A beat. Maybe two. Enough to feel like a lifetime. Then the doors slid open and he steeled his expression: polite but not indifferent, serious but not foreboding. ‘Yasmin.’

Yasmin Zaman, wife of Doctor Aisha Sadek, smiled even though her eyes were guarded. ‘Matt. Come in.’

Sadek had moved to family quarters when her wife and children had boarded, and already Yasmin had wasted no time making herself at home. Furnishings were colourful and comfortable, reflecting her elegant, understated taste.

‘This is not a social call,’ Yasmin said the moment the doors slid shut behind him.

They’d known each other the better part of twenty years. He’d been best man at their wedding. Rourke gave himself a moment to look about the room and confirm what the schedule told him: Aamir and Haya were at school. He turned back. ‘Aisha’s away team is running late. We can’t pick up their runabout on sensors. You’ve felt we’ve gone to warp, because we’re going looking for them.’

He watched as feelings battled on Yasmin’s face, and the dull lack of surprise twisted his gut. ‘This is the fun part of living with my wife,’ she said slowly. ‘I get to live and breathe every risk she takes, even if this turns out to be absolutely nothing. But if it were nothing, you wouldn’t be sending the entire ship.’

‘There’s a nebula nearby our sensors are struggling to pierce. It’s possible they’re in there. If I sent another runabout, I’d just lose track of that, too; it’s only reasonable to send the ship.’

Yasmin tilted her chin up an inch. ‘There’s more.’

There was no way, under any sun, that Rourke was going to tell her about the potential threat of the mirror universe, even as he had his senior staff prepare for the worst. ‘I promise you,’ he said in a low, firm voice, ‘that’s all we know. I’m making ready for all sorts of scenarios, but those just mean I don’t want to get caught out if something really bad’s happened. Odds are good they suffered some malfunction and we’ll find them drifting.’

She gave a slow blink. ‘Odds are good.’ Then she shook her head. ‘You don’t need to use your command voice on me, Matt. I’m not Starfleet.’

This isn’t my ‘command voice.’ This is me managing you. ‘Do you want me to stay to explain things to Aamir and Haya?’

‘So you can use the voice on them?’ Yasmin sounded grimly amused rather than judgemental. ‘I’ll handle it. After all, it’s just an away mission being a little late.’

He left it at that. With Endeavour thundering between the stars to see what crisis had befallen their people, Rourke knew he’d be pulling long hours. Partly to take advantage of a quiet moment between briefings from Kharth and Danjuma, partly to clear his head, he made for his quarters to grab a quick shower.

It wasn’t that Ellie and Lawal Danjuma were looking particularly guilty when he stepped in. Nor did they seem to have grounds for guilt, sat as they were at the dining table with PADDs strewn out between them. But Ellie gave him a suspicious and apprehensive look that had him pausing in the doorway.

‘Hey, Dad, didn’t expect you…’

‘Shouldn’t you be at school?’ he countered suspiciously.

She glanced at Lawal, who gave Rourke the sort of nervous smile he felt befit a father and the ship’s captain coming home suddenly. ‘We’ve got a group project. We needed to talk and the study rooms were being used,’ said Ellie. ‘We were just finishing up anyway.’

Rourke tried to not scowl. This did seem above-board. He looked at Lawal. ‘You’re Lieutenant Danjuma’s brother, right?’

‘That’s, uh, that’s right, sir.’

‘How’re you settling in?’ It was meant to be small-talk but came out more like an interrogation.

‘I like it, sir.’ Lawal tried to brighten. ‘Is it true we’re going to hit up Qualor soon? There’s so much out here I’ve not had a chance to see, and Ky said they’ve got some great museums.’

But his enthusiasm twisted in Rourke’s gut, and he just gave a sullen shrug. ‘Not any time soon. You kids carry on, I’m grabbing a shower.’ Ellie looked pained as he stomped to his quarters, but he didn’t meet her eye.

The sonic shower scrubbed away the sweat of the day, but it did much less to scrub away the tension. He’d be heading back to the bridge once he was done, so he grabbed a fresh uniform and re-emerged in the main room, jacket undone. And found Lawal gone.

Rourke looked around. ‘He didn’t have to leave.’

‘I know,’ said Ellie. She’d moved to the sofa, arms folded across her chest. ‘But even he picked up on something bring wrong. What’s up, Dad?’

‘Nothing’s wrong -’

‘You’re never home this time of day and we’ve suddenly left Regier. We were meant to be here for ages and now we’re at warp. Something’s happening.’

He considered lying to her completely, but realised that would be easily found out later. Rourke sighed. ‘Aisha’s away team’s not back, and we can’t pick up the runabout on sensors. We’re going looking. I’ve told Yasmin, she’s going to talk to Aamir and Haya. Let her.’

Ellie bit her lip. ‘You think this is really bad?’

Only then did the worst case scenario really hit him. Not just that these enemies from another universe might be out there, not just that they might have his crew captive. But that if this became a battle, it would be the first battle Endeavour charged into with this many civilians – this many children aboard.

By the book, he was nowhere near the circumstances to evacuate civilians either to auxiliary craft or for hull separation. All they had was some strange readings, historic records, and bad feelings. But that, in its way, made it worse.

He ground his teeth together, and went to join her on the sofa. ‘I know you wanted to be here mostly for something different,’ he began awkwardly. ‘But are you really sure this is the best place for you?’

However he’d meant it to come out, it came out in a way that made Ellie’s expression crumple at once. ‘Oh, wow, Dad. Way to backhandedly shove me off,’ she said, with fragmented teen-aged bravado.

‘That’s not what I meant,’ he sighed, and scrubbed his face with his hands. ‘My lifestyle can be dangerous. Being on a starship, being on the kind of starships I serve on, can be dangerous.’

Oh.’ Realisation dawned on his daughter’s face. She rolled her eyes. ‘Don’t kids go live on dangerous frontier colonies all the time?’

‘That’s not the same as my professional level of looking for trouble.’

‘Okay. In the times people have died on your ship, Dad, how often was it something you didn’t see coming?’

He paused, thinking. He’d have evacuated civilians before charging into the Azure Nebula after the Wild Hunt; that had been a purely tactical mission. The same for the campaign against the Hunters of D’Ghor. He’d have hoped Valance would have removed civilians before her rescue mission to Tagrador breaching the border. And again, he wouldn’t have brought his family to Velorum. Some of those evacuations would have been for barely a day, some would have been for weeks. Otherwise, the biggest loss of life Endeavour had seen had come from a saboteur who’d hurt them from Starbase Bravo itself.

He scrubbed his face again. ‘That’s not the only times things are dangerous.’

‘Sure, but also on Earth I could die in a shuttle crash or something. I…’ Ellie hesitated. ‘You told me once that growing up on Earth didn’t help you understand the galaxy. That it made you sheltered. You only really understood other people, other ways of life, by going out there.’

Rourke made a face. ‘I was an adult when I moved away from Earth.’ Barely. Still too young for the Dominion War he’d been thrust into. Not that he thought anyone of any age was truly ready. He shook his head. ‘It’s really rude of you to use my own lessons against me.’

‘I know I’m only sixteen. But that’s not nothing, Dad. Besides, who actually thinks they’re gonna die out here? I bet everyone thinks they’ll be fine until they’re not fine.’

He reached out to wrap an arm around her. There were a lot of responses he could give to that, but he knew anything he’d say could be argued with, too. This was why he’d never wanted to clear the ship for families to begin with – but it had been those families who’d wanted this, Aisha who’d wanted this, even though it now put her own family through stress and possible danger.

‘You’re too smart for your own good,’ he grumbled, and kissed the top of his daughter’s head, and silently prayed he was wrong about the enemy at hand. Not simply for the fear they stoked in him, or the danger they presented to his crew and his best friend. But Matthew Rourke knew he was not ready to lead his ship into battle if his daughter was aboard, her life hanging in the balance.

It was a bridge he expected he’d cross some day. But he needed more time. Even just a little.


  • I am loving this new side of Rourke so much. The interaction between him and Ellie about whether or not it's safe for her to be with him was enjoyable to read as you can really see the dilemma that is going on in his mind about this whole new chapter in his life. I'm starting to feel that Rourke is starting to be a bit more chilled with things, but is still maintaining his alert system to ensure he protects not only just his ship and crew but more importantly his daughter. Pure gold to read!

    September 5, 2022