Part of USS Endeavour: Drink the Wild Air

Drink the Wild Air – 2

Starbase 414
September 2400
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‘You look tired, Captain.’

Rourke had to force a polite smile as he walked the Starbase 414 corridor towards the conference room, though he knew Hale wouldn’t be fooled by his mask. Sometimes the courtesies were more about being seen to try than about succeeding. ‘I don’t much enjoy sleeping on Endeavour when she’s docked. It’s too quiet aboard.’

They were the first there, bright and early this first morning of the meetings that had summoned them to the sector and kept them in orbit while most of Endeavour’s crew and residents enjoyed the pleasures of Aeriaumi III’s surface. Sophia Hale, of course, looked collected and dignified while he felt like he’d been turned inside-out by a restless night.

Her smile was more convincing. ‘You could easily stay on the surface. We do have transporters.’

‘I think that’d just depress me more that I’m not getting shore leave,’ Rourke said wryly, and took a sip of steaming coffee from the travel mug he’d filled at the replimat.

‘If we can broker an arrangement between Colonial Affairs and the new Romulan Republic Outreach Program,’ Hale reminded gently, ‘then we’ll be due a lot more shore leave.’

‘Why, First Secretary,’ he mused. ‘Are you trying to put yourself out of a job?’

Her laugh was gentle. ‘Unfortunately it’ll take a little more than a week’s worth of meetings for us to become redundant on the Romulan border.’

‘You’re probably right.’ He looked up and down the well-furnished corridor, and squinted with suspicion. ‘Did you get that briefing package from Rosewood last night?’

At last the mask suggested something approximating dissatisfaction. ‘Yes. It was brief.’

‘I know. Not really what I’d expected from him.’

Rourke was about to ask where Endeavour’s new diplomatic officer was, just as the doors to the conference room slid open and the bright-eyed figure of young John Rosewood emerged with a sunlit smile. ‘Captain, First Secretary – I was worried you’d be waiting out there. Come on in, I got a head start on setting things up.’

Rourke’s back tensed as they entered, and only grew more taut as he took in the pre-loaded display, the briefing documents carefully positioned at each seat, the cultivated refreshments on offer he noted included several Romulan pastries. ‘When did you get here, Commander?’

If John Rosewood had sacrificed sleep for an early start, it did not show in his manner. ‘An hour ago. Caught some waves down on the surface, beamed up, got to work. Half the diplomatic battle’s won in the prep, right?’

‘Cy said he offered assistance,’ said Sophia Hale, veteran diplomat, as she moved to take the seat at the head of the table with no visible disapproval of Rosewood seizing command of logistics.

‘He did.’ Rosewood poured himself a fresh coffee from the refreshment table. ‘I didn’t need it. Starfleet base, Starfleet staff – just easier.’

Rourke took the chair at Hale’s right, and looked down at the briefing document placed at his spot. ‘This is more than you sent us last night.’

‘I did a bit more prep after I sent the file over.’ At last Rosewood sounded apologetic. ‘But it was pretty late when I finished. You have the essentials.’

Rourke opened his mouth to protest the suggestion he wouldn’t have risen early or stayed up late to do more reading, but then the doors slid open for the officer from Federation Colonial Affairs to arrive, and they were out of time. Soon after would arrive the representatives from the Romulan Republic. The business of the day – of the week – had begun.

The morning became an exercise in swift reading and keeping a strict poker face, and it was not until lunchtime, when he caught up with Hale on a turbolift heading for 414’s promenade, that he felt he could speak his mind.

‘Was it me,’ Rourke started roughly once the turbolift doors slid shut to grant them privacy, ‘or did Rosewood screw up and send us in there half-cocked?’

‘I don’t think Commander Rosewood put a foot wrong,’ said Hale, and for a moment Rourke worried he’d horribly misjudged the situation. Then she said, ‘I think he thoroughly intended to put you and me on the back foot.’

Rourke frowned and quickly replayed the morning’s meeting in his mind. Then he scowled more. ‘He gave us half of the information so he could take charge of the meeting.’

‘That’s an extreme way of putting it,’ she said, in that light voice he knew by now masked a searing analysis. ‘He’d done research on the delegates he didn’t pass on, which is entirely deniable as personal knowledge not fit for formal briefing documents. He made routine amendments to the agenda that left everyone on an even footing so nobody could accuse us as intermediaries of steering the discussion, but it meant he could steer the discussion.’

‘What’s he bloody playing at?’ Rourke grumbled. ‘Does he want Starfleet and the Diplomatic Corps to come across as toothless in this? Does he have friends in Colonial Affairs he’s trying to massage this negotiation for?’

She arched an eyebrow at him. ‘I think, Captain, that Commander Rosewood has done exactly what Starfleet sent him to Endeavour to do.’

The turbolift stopped then, and the two of them were no longer in the habit of thoughtlessly spending time together. He let her get her own lunch, condemning himself to an uninspiring sandwich from one of the replicator lounges, and spent the hour desperately scrabbling through Rosewood’s expanded notes to not feel like his own diplomatic officer was leaving him half a step behind.

It did not make a material difference on the afternoon. Rourke knew there was nothing bad about the negotiations; while he was not the most seasoned diplomat, he knew people, and he knew Hale was keeping up with everything with a relative ease. But he could feel Rosewood being half a step ahead – quicker to anticipate people’s needs and wants, quicker to feel and redirect the pulse of the conversation. That he, a professional diplomatic officer, could run rings around Rourke didn’t worry him. That he was pushing Hale to her limit did.

‘Can I help you, Captain?’ was all he said with an easy cheer when the day was done, everyone else had left the conference room, and Rourke lingered as his new officer packed up from this first session. ‘I thought that went well.’

Rourke pursed his lips, considering his options. Then he decided that if Rosewood was going to try to make him look like an idiot, he didn’t have to pretend to be polite. ‘What’re you playing at, Commander?’

Rosewood blinked. ‘I don’t follow.’

‘Half-arsed briefing papers sent unfinished the night before, full documents given to us without enough prep time, alterations to the agenda, personal knowledge of the delegates you didn’t share…’

‘I met Representative Grivak last year at Qualor,’ Rosewood protested. ‘I’m a diplomatic officer, sir. It’s pretty normal for me to notice things like his drink preferences. That’s the kind of stuff I should be keeping off your plate, not dumping on it.’

‘I guess the agenda’s not my business, neither?’

‘Again,’ said Rosewood, unapologetic, ‘I keep things off your desk. Colonial Affairs wanted some more things discussed, so did the Republic, I made the decisions on what to talk about in what order.’ He shrugged. ‘It upsets people. This way I’m the bad guy, not you.’

‘So you’re both here to please them with small, personal details, and take the heat off me by being the gatekeeper and bureaucrat.’ Rourke folded his arms across his chest. ‘You get why I’m not convinced.’

‘I don’t -’

I don’t know why you were assigned here, Commander,’ Rourke pressed on. ‘Not when First Secretary Hale’s here, and her whole staff.’

‘I’m here to brief you, sir, and support you and Starfleet’s interests.’ Commander Rosewood tensed at last, shoulders squaring. ‘I don’t answer to the Diplomatic Corps.’

‘Maybe not. But so long as you serve on Endeavour, you’re here for the crew of Endeavour. And that includes Ms Hale.’ Rourke set his jaw. ‘I don’t give a damn for turf wars between services. Understood?’

Rosewood made an exasperated noise. ‘This is the first diplomatic summit since I’ve come aboard, and I’m committed to it going well -’

Understood?’

In the silence, the holographic display chirruped. At length, John Rosewood shifted his feet. ‘Understood, sir.’

There was a curious exhaustion to a long meeting, where running the marathon happened in his mind rather than with his feet. It left him more worn than he’d realised once he was back in his quarters, staring at an open wardrobe, his next move determining what he’d change into.

Collar undone, Rourke made a frustrated noise and stepped to the wall display. With a surly hint of guilt he checked Sophia Hale’s location, no secret on 414’s computer system.

Moonbright Lounge. The closest thing to fine eating on the station; hardly a place someone would go alone. It was no real surprise; Hale had friends in a dozen sectors and contacts in a score more. There was hardly a major station in the quadrant where she couldn’t find company, he suspected. She was perfectly fine without his.

Besides, Rourke thought to himself as he pulled off his uniform jacket and reached for a summer shirt. It was a much better use of his time for him to get down to the surface and embarrass his daughter over a late supper.

Comments

  • Ah man I genuinely thought we were going to see a glimpse of a Rourke/Hale happening there at the end!!! Rosewood is an interesting fella, though I believe his interests are genuine for the greater good, I feel they maybe a hint of self-serving in there. May the reading continue!

    October 24, 2022