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Part of USS Endeavour: Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice – 10

ISS Endeavour
August 2400
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‘I’ll explain later,’ said Rhade as he ushered the three of them out of the cell. Cortez kept her arm wrapped around Thawn, who was still unsteady on her feet even if colour had returned to her cheeks. But the lighting shifted as they entered the corridor, and her eyes fell on the opposite cell.

‘What about them?’

The other Saeihr Kharth met her gaze. ‘If you’ve got a way out of here, Human, you should take it. Take it and run.’

Rhade looked at them, then back up towards the prison block’s main doors, shrouded in darkness. ‘Can you open more cells?’

Cortez’s heart lunged into her throat as she realised another figure stood there: Dathan. ‘I could open all of them,’ said the Bajoran from her position at the control panel. ‘That’ll draw attention. And I warn you, a lot of the people down here… you won’t get them to the shuttlebay quietly.’

The other Karana Valance was on her feet, too, next to Kharth. ‘If you let us out of here, we’re not running away. You said this ship is on the verge of jumping back. We have to stop it.’

Sadek stiffened. ‘We don’t exactly want this thing here, either.’

‘No, you don’t understand,’ said Valance. ‘I mean blow it up.

‘I like that.’ Cortez looked at Dathan. ‘I’ve no idea what’s going on with you. But you’re helping us, so? Let them out.’

The figure of Dathan shifted, but she couldn’t see her expression. A moment later the other forcefield went dead anyway. ‘This is going to complicate things.’

‘And I thought this was simple,’ drawled Cortez as they all hurried down to join Dathan at the control panel.

Sadek planted her hands on the console. ‘What’s our route out of here?’

Dathan glanced at her, then brought up an interior map of the Imperial starship Endeavour. Cortez’s throat tightened as she recognised the deck layout, the hull shape. Even across universes, certain things remained the same.

‘We’re here,’ said Dathan, pointing. ‘Four decks up from the shuttlebay where the King Arthur is. If we can get to the hatchway and climb, you’ll be home free before you know it.’

Sadek frowned. ‘Even assuming we get there, what lets us fly the ship out? What stops them from getting us with a tractor beam?’

Dathan drew a slow breath. ‘The moment you’re underway, I’m going to use my codes to start locking down computer systems. That won’t last forever, but should last long enough for you to get some distance. We’re so close to Endeavour making the jump that the smart thing is to let you go; it’s not like you can summon reinforcements in time to stop them.’

The other Valance, stood near the door with her ear to the metal, tensed. ‘How close to making the jump?’

‘Less than two hours.’

Cortez bit her lip. ‘They’re using the warp drive, right? They’ve made modifications?’ Her eyes went to the ceiling, thinking hard. ‘It’s theoretically possible, using a subspace compression pulse inside the warp reactor, to make the warp field fluctuate on a quantum level. Theoretically. That’s astonishingly complicated and delicate.’

‘What I’m hearing,’ said Kharth, ‘is that it’s really easy to make that go wrong.’

Valance looked at Kharth. ‘We can get to Main Engineering. Mess that up.’

Cortez looked at the display. ‘I know the route. I was an engineer on our Odyssey for three years. If I get you down there, help you install something on a timer to disrupt the jump, then get back up to the shuttlebay…’

‘No.’ Sadek’s voice was low, tense. ‘Commander, we’re not splitting up.’

‘She’s right,’ said Valance. ‘I appreciate the help, Human, but we can handle this. There’s also no way we get down there and fight our way back out.’

Cortez stared. ‘You’re planning on a suicide run down to Engineering -’

‘To stop this massive weapon from unleashing hell on either of our realities.’

Dathan sucked her teeth. ‘We don’t have time to have this argument -’

‘I’m not talking to you,’ Cortez snapped. Her eyes locked on Valance, the person with the face, voice, and eyes of the woman she loved. ‘I won’t let you throw your life away.’

But the other Valance shrugged. ‘My life was lost the moment they took us prisoner aboard. I’m just ending it on our terms. There’s no other way out for me, for us.’

Sadek reached for Cortez’s arm. ‘Dathan is right. We don’t have time for this. Let them do this.’

Cortez swore under her breath, then moved for the panel. ‘Fine. Fine. Then let me show you what you need to do…’

‘Good,’ said Sadek as Cortez ran through an explanation of sophisticated sabotage. ‘Then the five of us head for the runabout.’

‘I hate to repeat conversations,’ Dathan said tautly, ‘but I’m not going with you either. I need to be at a command module to use the codes. They’re Prefect MacCallister’s, and he doesn’t know I have them.’

Rhade, stood by the door next to the two from the other universe, scowled. ‘You’re staying behind?’

Her eyes didn’t quite meet his. ‘I’ll jump on an escape pod. Pick me up.’ Then she looked at Sadek. ‘The lieutenant can explain once you’re out of here, if I don’t get a chance to. I didn’t sell you out here, I didn’t know the ship was here. I’m going to help you how I can. Anything else is for the future.’

Sadek swore quietly. ‘Sorting this total mess can definitely wait for the future.’

Dathan looked at Valance and Kharth. ‘Come with me a ways and I’ll get you weapons and to a hatch. I managed to clear this section, but that won’t last long. We need to be off the corridors before the patrol patterns revert. Then someone will probably realise none of you are in here.’

They piled into the corridor, suspiciously empty as Dathan had promised. Cortez helped the stumbling Thawn as they hurried down some twenty metres, where Dathan gestured the Starfleet officers to the hatch and the ladders down beyond.

‘Four decks,’ she reminded them.

‘Don’t have to tell me twice,’ said Sadek, swinging onto a ladder and urging Thawn in her wake. Both Cortez and Rhade hesitated, her eyes on the other two, his on Dathan.

‘You know,’ Cortez said to Valance, then her voice trailed off. There were no words she could summon which didn’t sound at the very least patronising. She sighed and shook her head. ‘I wish things were different. In this reality, they’re different. But not so different – I mean – I know you’ll give them hell.’

Valance gave a gentle, surprised huff. ‘You might be the first human who ever helped us.’

‘I hope I’m not the last.’

Dathan glanced between them. ‘We should go.’

‘Wait.’ Rhade grabbed her arm. ‘You’re getting into that escape pod.’

‘I think we’ve established,’ she said with a certain sweet sadness, ‘that you can’t tell when I’m lying.’ But the bitter amusement faded, and she squeezed his hand. ‘Just know that this is real, Adamant. Pretty much nothing in my life has been, but Endeavour. You.’

They looked like they might say more, then Rhade made a low, frustrated sound and turned. At his gesturing, Cortez hopped into the hatch and he followed, and they began to descend, leaving the other three far behind.

‘This blows,’ Cortez said in the gloom.

‘I’m trying,’ Rhade admitted from above her as they clambered down, ‘to not even think about what I’m feeling.’

So they descended four decks in silence and gloom, and as they reached the flat space before the final hatch, Rhade reached to his belt and pulled out a trio of small, hold-out phasers for the others.

‘These don’t have a stun setting,’ he warned. ‘I don’t think they know the meaning of that in their reality.’

Sadek had her hand to the hatch. ‘I’m going to pop it a little,’ she said, ‘and listen -’

‘It’s right onto the shuttlebay,’ Thawn said in a low, tired voice. ‘There’s three people in there. They’re focusing on the maintenance of one of their worker bees. I think they’re non-human.’

Rhade looked at her, brow furrowing. ‘Are you alright?’

Her eyes flicked up, and Cortez could read her expression without being a telepath. Now you ask. Thawn drew a ragged breath. ‘It’s… difficult for me to suppress my senses right now. So we might as well use them to get out of here. I’ll discuss the ethics of this with Greg later.’

‘If they’re non-human,’ said Cortez, ‘maybe we can threaten them without killing them. They can’t have much love for their slavers.’

‘I’ll handle it,’ said Rhade.

‘I’ll unfortunately help you,’ sighed Sadek. ‘Cortez, Thawn, you two get to the ship and make sure we can leave. And see if you can tell if and when Dathan’s cleared our path. We’ll need to keep this three cowed until then.’

‘Then we have to go loud and firm,’ Rhade warned. ‘Please follow my lead, Doctor.’

He was so polite, Cortez thought, about assuming command. Even if she absolutely preferred to follow the word of Endeavour’s seasoned combat leader, so she did as she was bidden when Rhade burst out into the shuttlebay.

There was shouting. The jabbing of phasers at two Tellarites and an Andorian. But Cortez just grabbed Thawn’s hand tight and strode with purpose towards the grounded shape of the King Arthur.

‘Dathan better have started unlocking things,’ she growled as they approached the landing ramp, and her heart nearly exploded with relief when poking the console brought the hatch up and the ramp swinging down.

‘Can we trust her?’ Thawn said in a low, hushed voice. ‘She betrayed us…’

‘I don’t have a damn clue what she did or didn’t do, so I’m going on, “what will get us the hell out of here faster,”’ Cortez admitted. ‘Anything else can come later.’

They bounded aboard the runabout, mercifully found as they had left it, and hurried to the cockpit. Cortez could hear the shouted commands of Rhade fade into the background, the three alien workers sufficiently cowed by a big man with a gun.

‘This doesn’t look too bad,’ said Thawn, sliding behind the co-pilot’s seat with what Cortez thought was a mechanical ease. If the young Betazoid stopped, she’d probably collapse. Instinct and training had taken over. ‘They just powered the ship down and kept its systems overridden by the shipboard docking protocols.’

‘Have those been unlocked?’

Thawn’s expression pinched. ‘Not yet.’

‘We’re going nowhere without it.’ Cortez sighed and turned to the door out. ‘Try to override it from here.’

‘Where are you going?’

‘To see if I can help by breaking something out there.’

But she wasn’t even at the hatch when she heard, from out in the shuttlebay, the low drone of a red alert klaxon. Shit. Cortez grabbed the ladder she’d clambered down and looked up to the cockpit. ‘Can we launch?’

No!’ came Thawn’s somewhat panicked call. ‘No, a whole new security lock has come on! Something’s warned them!’

For a moment, Cortez wondered if this was Dathan’s gambit. Then she decided that didn’t make enough sense for her to want to figure this out now. ‘Keep trying!’ she called back up. ‘No need to be subtle now! I’ll try out here!’

When she bounded down the ramp into the shuttlebay, it was to find Sadek and Rhade stood with their pistols still levelled at the three workers. Just as the main doors slid open and in marched four imperial soldiers with rifles, Noah Pierce at the head of them.

‘Ah, shit,’ swore Cortez, and dove behind cover as the shooting started.

She shouldn’t have let Valance and Kharth go. That was all Dathan could think as she felt the ship shudder beneath her and heard the klaxon go off. The two resistance fighters had followed her instructions on where to go and what to do, which meant the emergency alert was likely in response to them making it to Engineering and unleashing hell.

If they’d stuck with the plan, she could have got to this small office with a command console and helped the King Arthur get away with nobody any the wiser. Instead, here she was, using Prefect MacCallister’s command codes during a crisis, which was almost certainly going to draw attention. The Prefect couldn’t be in two places at once, after all.

She didn’t have much time. No more could she use Endeavour’s own command systems to make patrols take different routes, no more could she use it to clear the shuttlebay of armed guards, and now she was going to draw even more attention trying to lift the lock on the shuttlebay’s launch protocols and kill the ship’s tractor beam.

Tractor beam first. That would, in a way, be easier if something was going wrong in Engineering. She could slip through the back door of the systems, change the power allocation so nobody would realise the tractor beam wasn’t working until it failed to activate. It would take mere minutes to fix, but that was minutes where the King Arthur could go to warp and escape.

This office was like a cocoon. Dark, warm, cut off from the rest of the world. Here, she didn’t have to think about her choices. Here, she didn’t have to look at those she’d betrayed on either side or contemplate her future. Here, there was just the problem, and that was something she could solve.

Until a small window on her display opened up with an internal comm-link, and up popped a holographic projection of the face of Leonidas MacCallister.

I know you’re out there, Tahla,’ he said, voice colder than she’d ever heard it directed at her. ‘How could you do this to me?’ And her controls went dead.