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Part of USS Endeavour: Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice – 12

Sickbay, USS Endeavour
August 2400
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Lieutenant Rhade hissed as Sadek ran the dermal regenerator over his shoulder. ‘Doctor, you can let Nurse Li see to me…’

She ignored him as she worked, half her attention on Captain Rourke. ‘…so they’re just gone?’

Rourke had come down to Sickbay as soon as the away team returned, only to find Doctor Sadek immediately swinging into action not as mission leader, but chief medical officer. Roughed up and mussed herself, she had insisted on seeing to the injury to Rhade’s shoulder even as she spoke to the captain. For his part, Rourke looked like he didn’t know how to argue with this.

The captain shrugged. ‘No sign of debris. No sign of the ship itself. Their engines created the singularity as it seems they were modified to, but prematurely and right on top of them, and not in a stable way. We saw the ISS Endeavour disappear on our sensors. It’s much like Epsilon-7 – they’re just gone.’

Rhade looked up at Captain Rourke, jaw tight. ‘Destroyed? Or back in their universe?’

Rourke shook his head. ‘Danjuma thinks it’s impossible for the ship to have stayed in one piece with a singularity like that. Maybe they ended up in their universe, maybe they ended up somewhere else, but there’s no way they weren’t ripped apart in the process.’

‘And auxiliary craft, escape pods,’ Rhade pushed. ‘You’re sure there’s nothing, Captain?’

Rourke and Sadek exchanged looks, two old friends who could communicate with mere glances. Rourke spoke slowly, regretfully. ‘Like I said, we picked nothing up.’

‘But the nebula’s disruption to sensors…’

‘If an escape pod was launched, it would have needed to be even further from the singularity than the King Arthur to not be caught in the gravitic pull and ripped apart. Maybe its presence would be muffled on sensors by the nebula, but we should be picking up an emergency beacon.’ Rourke lifted a hand to cut Rhade off as he opened his mouth. ‘Which should be automatic, even if the escape pod was bounced about and someone inside was incapacitated.’

‘We don’t know how the empire designs its emergency equipment,’ Rhade pointed out.

Rourke’s expression creased. ‘I’m sorry, Lieutenant. There’s no indication Dathan got off that ship. And the ship’s gone.’ He drew a slow breath, and glanced at Sadek. ‘If you’re done patching the lieutenant up, can you wait for me in your office, Commander?’

Sadek glanced between them, then at the burns on Rhade’s arm. She tutted. ‘Rest up, Lieutenant, and report back to Sickbay at 0900 tomorrow.’ But she squeezed his good shoulder before she left. ‘And thank you for getting us out of there.’

He could not feel comforted by this as she left and he felt Captain Rourke’s apprehensive gaze on him. ‘I know what you’re thinking, sir…’

‘Funny,’ said Rourke, ‘because I don’t know.’ He sighed. ‘I’m going to need a full report from you about Lieutenant Dathan’s actions. Not just this mission, but this past year. Especially about the operation the two of you undertook on the Uther Pendragon in January.’

Rhade’s mouth went dry, and he straightened. ‘This is going straight to Starfleet Intelligence, isn’t it.’

‘One of their people being replaced by an agent from another reality? You bet. And you’re going to be right in the firing line, Lieutenant, I’m afraid.’ Rourke shook his head. ‘Don’t feel bad; she fooled us all, and I will back you all the way. It’s not like I’ll be clear of suspicion, myself. Expect us all to be investigated, and expect your personal to become thoroughly professional.’

‘She saved us,’ Rhade said weakly, shoulders slumping. ‘I don’t understand any of it.’

‘You don’t need to. Not yet. There’ll be plenty of time for picking this apart, whether you like it or not. You should rest up, and, Lieutenant?’ The corners of Rourke’s eyes creased. ‘It’s very apparent the away team wouldn’t be alive right now if it weren’t for you. Or that we’d be stuck in a battle against a massive enemy ship at this exact moment. Good work.’

It didn’t feel like good work, Rhade reflected as the captain left. But then his gaze swept across Sickbay, and all thought of Dathan fled as he saw Doctor Elrad walking away from Thawn’s biobed. It had been judicious of Sadek, he thought, to see to his shoulder injury so she couldn’t see to her.

Rhade stood and approached, gait stiff after the exertions of the day caught up. ‘Rosara.’ His voice was low, rough.

It was like she had to drag her eyes up to meet his, and only after some effort did she speak. ‘Adamant…’

‘How are you feeling?’ Awkward, he sank onto the biobed beside her, and neither of them reached out.

She shook her head. ‘I don’t know. I don’t have the words. She…’ Thawn reached up to rub her temples. ‘Whatever she did, it was forcing me to reach out telepathically. Not just to the ship, but… they were experimenting with singularities aboard, there were things I felt, people I felt, presences I’d never sensed anything like aboard…’ There was a remarkable calm to her voice, but Rhade could feel without reaching out that it wasn’t about peace or control. It was about experiencing something she couldn’t begin to process.

But then Thawn shook her head and properly met his gaze. ‘I’m sorry about Dathan. I know you were close.’

That was the first real, clear, stab in his chest, though it was like it was from a needle rather than a knife. Or perhaps a stiletto. ‘She was lying to me. Lying to us all,’ he said, because those words came out more easily than anything more complicated. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t see through her. If I hadn’t, maybe this wouldn’t have happened to you…’

When he took her hand, it felt obligatory. When she squeezed back, it didn’t feel any less forced. And still they sat there in silence, and he did not dare reach out for her more – not with his arms, not with his mind. Not just because he didn’t want to overwhelm her after what she’d been through, but the idea of her feeling him was more daunting than he dared acknowledge.

At length, she bit her lip. ‘I should rest. Doctor Elvad’s going to monitor me overnight. He thinks I’m physically unharmed, and he says Counsellor Carraway has a new Betazoid therapist on staff he wants me to see, but… he wants to be sure.’

‘I’ll go,’ Rhade agreed, hopping to his feet and trying to not look or feel like he was escaping. But he was, and he knew it as he left. Most of him wanted to go back to his quarters and crawl into a dark hole and do absolutely nothing.

Instead, when he got to his deck, he found himself walking straight past his quarters and heading to a different door. His codes were enough to unlock it, and while Rhade knew he’d have to explain this later, he didn’t care enough in the moments he walked into Dathan Tahla’s rooms.

He’d been here before. Not much, because she’d always kept him at arm’s length, a thought which was even more maddening in hindsight. Just as maddening as everything he could see and not see before him – the pictures and mementos of the life of Dathan Tahla, the real Dathan Tahla, as much as the signs of the life led by the woman who’d lived here, the woman he’d known.

Rhade didn’t know how long he stood there, in the debris of shattered lies, before the door slid open and there was a soft clearing of the throat.

‘So Captain Rourke had a chat with me,’ said Greg Carraway gently, ‘and by the time I’d checked what was going on, I saw you’d let yourself in. This must be incredibly hard for you, Adamant.’

Rhade said nothing, jaw tight, eyes still roving around the room. At length he advanced on a shelf and picked up the framed holopic, the image of the celebrations held in the Round Table on New Year’s Eve. ‘Why did she keep this?’

‘We… can’t possibly know,’ Carraway sighed. ‘And for you to try to figure out what was going on in the head of a spy – a spy who’s probably dead – is a doomed cause, Adamant.’

‘Maybe it was to keep up appearances.’ Rhade found his voice dropping to a growl. ‘But maybe because she cared. If she didn’t care, why did she save us?’ His eyes lifted. ‘I have this terrible feeling I’m about to be credited for our escape, and she’s about to be condemned as nothing more than a traitor. But she was home free on that other Endeavour, and she threw away everything to save us and to stop them. Why?’

Carraway worked his jaw, then shook his head. ‘I don’t know. And you can’t know.’

‘I read her mind. She let me, she invited me in – so maybe that was all a trick, too, a lie.’ It had felt real at the time. Felt sincere and true, seeing into her mind and life and finding a wretched amount of suffering, loss, and doubt. Except for about him, there’d been no doubt. Just a thwarted sense of want – want beyond the physical, want of a different way of life, and he’d been helpless to do anything but answer with his own aching need for escape, too.

Rhade gave a frustrated noise and pressed the heel of his palm to his forehead. ‘Maybe it was a gambit, maybe it was all a gambit; she fooled me for over a year and I only got in her head because she let me, if she’s this good, she could have controlled it…’

‘That is getting a bit too wild, Adamant. I’m not sure what happened, but if this was a trick, we’re talking fourth-dimensional chess of a level that can’t be understood.’ Carraway advanced, body language open, not reaching for him but emitting an aura of understanding and reassurance. ‘This is going to take some time to make peace with. But I’m here, you know?’

‘You’re right.’ Rhade’s shoulders sunk. ‘Thinking it was a trick is madness. But people can be… can be sincere and still be wrong. She can have believed she was one of us, especially in the moment, and still have betrayed us. That’s how people do horrid things; they justify it to themselves, they create narratives that mean they’re not the villain, that they had no choice…’ He dragged his hands down his face. ‘Great Fire, I was a fool. She played the victim even in her own head, and I lapped it up.’

‘Maybe,’ Carraway allowed. ‘But what’s important is that you and the team walked away from this. And you’ve got time to work through this. Like I said, I’m going to help you. Besides.’ His expression creased, and for the first time Rhade saw the unflappable counsellor shrink. ‘She lied to me, too.’

Rhade had felt that when he’d gone into Dathan’s head. Felt the warmth and affection she’d projected towards Greg Carraway, with all of his gentle kindness. In her eyes, he’d been the first of Starfleet soft weakness she’d met, only to find it intoxicating and reassuring. ‘She really did believe that you were friends,’ he said, because it was much easier to give someone else that comfort than dare to look it in the eye himself.

‘I’m glad,’ said Carraway softly. ‘Because it sounds like, no matter what, Dathan Tahla was an incredibly troubled young woman. I think no matter what, from all we know of that universe, she was certainly a victim of horrific exploitation and abuse. And even if that doesn’t excuse everything – anything – she did as a result, I don’t really have a problem giving my compassion to someone if it helped them.’ He met Rhade’s gaze. ‘Because it sounds like that’s what saved the day, Adamant. Or rather, that’s what empowered her to save you all: our compassion. Our kindness. Even if that was only one moment, one light, amongst all manner of betrayals and horrific deeds. They don’t blot each other out.’

‘That’s… a very you way to look at this, Greg,’ Rhade said with a slow, sad smile. ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to know if she was using me or not, though. And I don’t know if I’m ever going to make peace with that question.’

Carraway didn’t answer that. But he did step forward, and reach to put a comforting hand on Rhade’s good shoulder, and the two men stood in silence there, in the rooms of Dathan Tahla, amidst the remains of truths and untruths with no idea which was which.


Light blazed through the crack in the escape pod hatch, and by instinct she shrank back, heart thudding in her throat. She’d had to kill all power very early, so there had been no understanding of what was happening once the pod had stopped shuddering around her, creaking. Just the darkness, recycled air, a ration pack, and drifting.

How long had it been? Hours? Days? And there was no telling who’d found her. Friends. Enemies. Did she have any friends?

But the figure in the open hatchway was not in a uniform – not Terran and not Starfleet. The landing bay she’d been brought into was neither, but the run-down, battered metal she recognised from days that felt like years ago.

The Fenris Ranger called Theron raised an eyebrow showing all bewildered curiosity, but still her voice was warm when she said, ‘Need a ride, Lieutenant?’

For the first time since she’d activated it, Dathan Tahla loosened her iron grip on the communications beacon to the Fenris Rangers that had been her only hope of getting off the ISS Endeavour and not being picked up by either side. She let out a slow, shuddering breath, and sagged back, closing her eyes in relief.

‘Please,’ she croaked. ‘But it’s not “lieutenant.” Not any more.’

‘Sure,’ said Theron, guarded but not cold. ‘Not the first time we’ve heard that. Welcome aboard.’

Comments

  • OMG, Cath that was such a delicious way to wrap this storyline up. The internal conflict that has now infected Rhade over his relationship with Dathan is so wonderfully deep and one I feel that is going to plague him for some time. I really don't feel he will ever truly be over this experience! And that final twist with Dathan and the Fenris Rangers...pure perfection and gorgeous!!!

    September 5, 2022
  • I read the last 2 stories actually wondering what you had in mind for Dathan the whole time. I knew she couldn't just simply be 'dead by space anomaly' but I just couldn't figure out what you had in mind. And what we the readers got is just perfect! It lends itself so well for future appearances all the delicious drama that will entail and I for one can't wait for Dathan's reappearance down the line, just when it will be the most unhelpful for folks like Rhade. Nicely done and beautifully executed!

    October 5, 2022