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Part of USS Endeavour: Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice – 11

ISS Endeavour
August 2400
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Dathan hammered at the console to no avail. She’d been locked out. Her eyes snapped up to the projected face of MacCallister, and she drew a deep breath. ‘You’ve got a crisis in the shuttlebay and a bigger problem in Engineering,’ she said, trying to sound startled. ‘I’m trying to help, sir -’

Spare me the lies. I should have listened to Thaddeus. I know you let our guests out. They’re trying to kill us all, Tahla.’ He was in his ready room, she could tell from the lighting in the backdrop. In the distance, muffled by the doors to the bridge, came the faint voice of Thaddeus Rourke barking out orders.

While Dathan couldn’t give any more commands on the console, she could see the display of the ship’s systems. The warp core’s matter-antimatter intermix was way off. Cortez’s suggestion to Valance and Kharth was paying off. If someone didn’t restore control of Main Engineering, and soon, the interphasic rift was going to manifest far too soon, right on top of them.

And if she didn’t do something, she and the crew of the King Arthur would go with it.

Her eyes snapped to MacCallister. ‘If you focus on shutting them down rather than telling me off -’

Thaddeus has this under control. I wanted to see you for myself, because I couldn’t believe that it was you going behind my back. Even when I saw my command codes used remotely. When did you get them?’

Years ago. That realisation hit her bones harder than she’d expected – the knowledge that she’d prepared to act against him long before she’d come into this universe. At the time she’d thought of it as protecting herself, even from him. It hadn’t had the same taste of betrayal.

Only now the taste was defiance, and it tasted good. ‘You never protected me, did you, Leonidas?’ she said, her voice going distant. ‘I thought you did, for a long time. I thought you were taking care of me. But you were just a different kind of slaver. You made me do horrific things for you and pretended you were empowering me.’ Her throat tightened. ‘No more.’

MacCallister’s expression went cold. ‘I’ve locked you out, my dear. You’re doing nothing else. I’m going to save this ship, then I’m going to kill your friends, and then I’m going to kill you.

Her hands fell from the console. Any time she tried to release the controls, he’d just lock it again. She had nothing she could access, nothing she could switch on or off, except for the communication system he was using, because Leonidas MacCallister was ultimately too self-obsessed to leave her as a problem for later. Too self-obsessed to have realised that what he thought of as looking after her, had turned her against him.

Dathan reached out for the comms systems and activated a ship-wide channel. ‘To all non-humans aboard the ISS Endeavour. I know none of you are here because you want to be – not really. You’re slaves. By use of force or threats against your worlds and loved ones, you’ve been forced to serve the Terran Empire. Forced to serve these people even so, so far from home. And I know most of you have hoped they’ll never make it home, because if this ship gets back, it’ll just unleash more horrors.

‘I know you’ve watched and you’ve waited, telling yourselves that when the time is right, you’ll act. This is the time. I know this, because I’m like you – a slave who’s turning. This is a moment when we can stop this ship, and all we have to do is fight. Resist. You know something is happening.’ She drew another shuddering breath. ‘Please, please. No matter the cost, fight. Because this is the moment it’ll count.’

MacCallister’s gaze was flat as she finished the transmission. ‘Even if you could convince a pack of spineless, weak-willed xenos to stand against the might of the Empire,’ he said slowly, ‘did you really think I wouldn’t shut down a ship-wide transmission?

Her heart only sank for half a moment as she saw a shape over his shoulder. ‘I didn’t need to send that message to the whole ship,’ she said. ‘Just to your room.’

And as she watched, the slave Tar’lek Arys rose behind Prefect Leonidas MacCallister and drove a bread knife into his shoulder. There was a scream, then sharp motion and the sound of scuffling before the line went dead.

Dathan’s next unlocking of the console was not undone, and her hands flew as they issued commands. Keep the tractor beam off. Lift the lockdown on the shuttlebay. Double-check her route to the nearest escape pod, hop to her feet, move to the door…

But she could see the display showing the troop movements down towards Main Engineering. If they made it there to stop Valance and Kharth, they’d regain control of the ship. Jump in safety. Get away.

From here, Dathan could use these commands to block them. Lock them out from getting anywhere, give Valance and Kharth a clear shot at finishing the job. But she’d have to stay and counter every move from the bridge, from Thaddeus Rourke, and there was no guarantee she could then make it to an escape pod in time.

Dathan swore. Looked at her escape route again. And sat back down at the console.

In the shuttlebay, Sadek and Rhade had been too far away to run for the King Arthur, forced to duck for cover behind equipment crates. Phaser fire flew through the air, the bay workers fled, and Cortez could barely stick her head out from cover enough to keep track of what was going on. Pierce and his soldiers were in position. The shuttlebay workers had long fled.

Go!’ she heard Sadek shout from a distance away. ‘Launch the runabout, Cortez!’

‘We’re still locked down and if I leave anyone else behind this is a really shit escape plan!’ Cortez hollered back.

‘We just need time!’ called Rhade, and her heart hurt at the idea he still trusted Dathan. Whether or not she’d betrayed them was becoming immaterial. She’d still failed.

Cortez dared glance out down the ramp, almost got her head blown off by a phaser blast, and gave a few wild shots that she didn’t think would achieve much. She was only half-right – they struck nothing, but diverted the imperial soldiers long enough for Rhade to shoot one of them.

Then she heard the yell of pain as a retaliatory shot took Rhade, and while it didn’t sound like he was out for the count, the amount of shooting from her side went down significantly.

‘Hold your fire!’ she heard Noah Pierce holler from his covered position. ‘You too, Starfleet! You don’t have a chance of getting out of this!’

Silence met his yelling. At length, Sadek said, ‘Yes, because surrendering rather than being killed here sounds delightful!’

‘I’m authorised to accept your surrender. In exchange, I’ll shoot you here. Clean. Quick. Painless. Dignified. Even to your xenos.’

‘That’s a really terrible offer, Pierce.’

‘It’s better than what you’ll get if we take you alive. I don’t know how you got out of your cells, but you don’t want to live to regret it.’

Sadek gave a bitter laugh. ‘As if you’ll kill us all rather than find out how we slipped through your hands.’

Cortez slowly stepped out from cover, hands raised. ‘You’re offering us this out, which means you don’t have backup, which means your ship is busy dealing with a real problem,’ she said in a level voice, trying to not startle them. It was now she also realised Pierce only had two soldiers left from the firefight, and that Rhade was conscious, hunkered behind cover, a hand pressed to a burnt right shoulder. ‘We just want to run, Pierce. Let us go and you can get back to figuring out what else is going on. Then you jump home and you never have to care about us again.’

There was a beat from Pierce. ‘Tell me what’s going on. Tell me why the alarms are going, how you got out of your cell, and I’ll let you leave. Let me restore order to this ship and you can run.’

Options tumbled out before her, all intoxicating, diverting. They could tell Pierce everything and let him become the hero of the hour in this dog-eat-dog realm. Let him do what his superiors couldn’t and prove himself better than them, and escape before they had to deal with the consequences. And all it would take was betraying Dathan, who’d betrayed them all along, and…

…and a woman with the face of Karana Valance, the cause of all the chaos covering their escape.

‘We can’t do that,’ Rhade keened, obviously struggling with his injury.

Cortez looked at Sadek. ‘Doctor. Commander. This is your mission.’ It was true, and still it felt like cowardice.

Pierce was on his feet by now, rifle ready, gaze cold. ‘This is how we all win.’

Then a phaser blast from the top of the King Arthur took him in the throat.

‘Oh, shit,’ Cortez hissed again, her weapon coming up. Sadek was similarly slow, and it was Rhade who rose to shoot one soldier, then a second blast from above took out the last, and again the shuttlebay fell into silence.

Cortez’s eyes rose to the ceiling. ‘…Thawn?’

‘I thought you needed a hand,’ came the voice of Rosara Thawn from the King Arthur’s top hatch. ‘The lock’s been released. We need to go.’

It was likely, Cortez thought, that Thawn had never killed anyone before. The fact that she’d just killed the doppelganger of her old and dead friend Noah Pierce, a man who just this day had tortured her, sounded like it would keep Carraway’s schedule full for a year.

They tumbled into the cockpit, Sadek shoving Rhade into the comms chair and already pulling out a medkit. ‘Get us out of here, Commander,’ she called to Cortez.

‘On it,’ said Cortez, sliding into the pilot’s chair as Thawn took the co-pilot post.

‘Can you fly?’ Rhade said through gritted teeth.

‘I was on a winning Academy flight team,’ Cortez said with perfect sincerity, omitting that she’d led the deck crew as she powered the King Arthur up.

‘Manoeuvring thrusters are online, two green lights from impulse engines,’ Thawn confirmed. ‘We can go.’

Cortez stared at the sensors, consumed right now by the sense of the ISS Endeavour all around them. ‘I guess we’re not waiting for anyone,’ she said, the words leaden on her tongue, and before Rhade could protest she’d launched.

‘And I guess,’ Thawn said in a small voice, ‘we see if the second part of us getting away can happen.’

Cortez just focused on flying. The shuttlebay rushed away from around them and then they were out, not in the blackness of space but the faintest swirls of a blue-purple nebula. At once she pumped everything into speed, everything into getting as much distance between them and the ISS Endeavour as possible, because there was no way she could dodge a tractor beam if they tried to get a lock. If they didn’t have a clear escape, she had to be fast.

‘The Endeavour’s experiencing massive power surges on all decks,’ Thawn reported in a hushed voice. ‘They’ve got bigger problems than us.’

‘There are also,’ Cortez growled, ‘pretty huge gravimetric distortions around here. I think they’ve been practicing their jump, or trying to create a breach, or something… we need distance before we can go to warp.’

Rhade made a pained noise from behind them. ‘Is there any sign of an escape pod?’

‘Nothing,’ said Thawn. ‘But the sensor readings in this nebula aren’t great –’ She stopped, breath catching. ‘I’m picking up a warp core breach, but there’s also a quantum field growing inside Engineering…’

Sadek clicked her tongue as she pulled away from Rhade to grab the back of Cortez’s chair and look over them. ‘Sounds like successful sabotage.’

‘Can we pick them up? Any of these people?’ asked Cortez.

‘I can’t get a good read of individuals aboard the Endeavour,’ Thawn admitted, ‘let alone try to beam them if the ship’s entering quantum flux…’

‘You beamed Rourke off Epsilon-7!’

‘With a combadge and a tricorder boosting his signal and the transporter systems of a starship!’ Thawn squeaked in indignation. ‘But -’

Then the King Arthur lurched, and their argument stopped being the most important thing. Cortez swore. ‘The core’s breaching – but damn, these gravimetric distortions, that quantum field – this is the same thing that happened at Epsilon-7.’

They’d needed to get Endeavour some three million kilometres away from Epsilon-7 as the station was sucked into an unstable interphasic rift of its own generation. Cortez had been in Main Engineering, but it had taken every ounce of power to stop being caught in the rift and ripped apart – or whatever had happened to the station. Now they were much closer, in a much less-powerful ship. Cortez’s hand slammed on the controls. ‘I need all power to engines, Lieutenant.’

‘On it!’ Thawn said, the panic fading as she focused out of necessity.

Rhade was on his feet, too, even as the deck of the King Arthur shook. ‘If any of them got away, we have to pick them up or there’s no way they can get far enough…’

‘If we delay even a moment we’re all screwed, Lieutenant,’ Cortez snapped. ‘Hitting full impulse.’ Her sensors were going wild, and if she hadn’t seen this before, it would have taken so much time to figure out what was going on that they’d be dead before she knew what to do. In their gambit to go home, the ISS Endeavour had sowed the seeds of their own destruction. Their modified, overloading warp core wasn’t helping them jump through realities, but instead creating the rift across universes inside the ship itself.

It was like she was being sucked up from the inside, gravimetric distortions going wild, the ship crumbling and crumpling, hull shattering and imploding. The King Arthur’s deck shuddered as the runabout tried to get more distance, but they weren’t going fast enough. Then Cortez’s sensors pinged and she didn’t have time to look as she kept punching power to the engines.

Thawn swore. ‘The Endeavour’s gone,’ she gasped. ‘It’s just – it’s gone into the rift. There’s no way they’ve not been ripped apart, wherever they’re ending up…’

‘Let’s not let the same thing happen to us,’ Cortez growled. ‘Screw sensors, just go.’

It was like she was trying to tear the runabout apart with just the tips of her fingers at the flight controls. The bulkheads shuddered, alert sirens flared and she could see the power levels fluctuate, feel the engines sputtering.

‘We’re caught in the gravitic pull,’ Thawn said, voice now detached, professional. ‘We’re not getting enough distance and that distortion field is growing – if we don’t get out now…’

‘I know, I know – we die or we end up in a hellscape!’

But there was no more power to give, no more speed to coax out of the engines. If she’d been in the engine room she might have done something, but leaving the controls for just a second would kill them all, even to swap. ‘Cut power to everything but impulse engines!’ Cortez called.

Thawn did so, hands moving fast. ‘Maybe – maybe if we go to warp…’

‘Gravimetric distortions will rip us apart…’


Slam. The King Arthur rocked, and for half a heartbeat Cortez thought the rift had caught up with them. But that wasn’t how it would work; they’d get pulled back, not instantaneously stop, and it didn’t feel right. It was like they’d lost all of their own inertia, the engines sputtering and dying and still they weren’t being pulled this way and that by the gravimetric distortions.

Thawn’s breath caught in her throat. ‘It’s Endeavour!’

By her tone alone, Cortez knew it was their Endeavour, and as she looked up through the canopy she could see the faint blue glow of a tractor beam, see the hull of the Obena-class explorer as the starship, much mightier than their runabout, took a hold and pulled them away.

The comms panel next to Rhade chirruped. ‘Endeavour to King Arthur. Is everyone alright?’ came Rourke’s voice.

Sadek looked up in the air and swore. ‘Matt, you magnificent bastard, your timing couldn’t be better!’

I’ll take that as a yes. Hold tight, King Arthur; we’re pulling clear of the distortion. We got here just in time to see that arsehole get sucked up by its own bad technology again.

‘Are they gone?’ said Sadek.

No sign of them. Either ripped apart or lost in space-time, and I don’t really care which.’ There was a pause, the hint of low, background voices from Endeavour’s bridge, and when Rourke spoke again his voice was taut. ‘We’re only reading four life-signs, King Arthur.’

Sadek bit her lip. ‘It’s a long story, Endeavour. Lieutenant Dathan isn’t aboard.

Rhade rounded on the comms panel at that. ‘Sir, is Endeavour picking up any signs of anything near that rift – escape pods, shuttles…’

A faint shudder ran through the runabout, and Thawn drew a slow breath as everything went still. ‘The rift’s collapsed. Everything’s gone.’

Another silence filled the cockpit before Rourke spoke, voice thick with realisation. ‘We’re picking up nothing else. You’re the only thing to make it out of that disaster. They’re all gone.

Cortez slumped back at that, head in her hands, and finally she could let the ache of the past days reverberate through her. She expected she’d feel it for a while. ‘Copy that, Endeavour,’ she groaned at length. ‘We’re powered down. You can bring us home.’