Part of USS Endeavour: All the Devils Are Here and Bravo Fleet: Blood Dilithium

All the Devils Are Here – 1

Captain's Ready Room, USS Endeavour
November 2400
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Hurry up and wait.

Across quadrants they had sprinted, through the boundless space between stars, from one crisis-engulfed nexus of light at break-neck speed so they could reach another before it was too late. Those who could not follow were left behind with tearful partings, while everyone else knuckled down, held fast, and made ready for what came next.

Next, it transpired, was for the USS Endeavour to arrive at Starbase 38 with some days left before the Barzan wormhole opened again. So they had rushed and raced; so Captain Rourke had bidden Chief Engineer Cortez to stoke the warp core as hot as it would burn; so he had embraced his daughter and promised her he would be back soon when she and others had taken the transport to Earth; so they had done their utmost to be here in time, and now they stood still and waited. And waited.

Matt Rourke stood at the viewport in his ready room and sighed, knowing this complaint made him sound like a petulant schoolboy. Before him stretched the colossal structure of Starbase 38, the shining city in space that stood an endless watch before the wormhole to the Delta Quadrant. Though he had visited Starbase Bravo several times since its construction, there were still very few stations of this size in the Federation – in the galaxy – and the sight never failed to stop him short. Even after days of staring at it out his window.

Day by day he watched, and day by day the number of ships gathering grew as if they were caught in its web upon arrival. From small prospecting surveyors eager for the riches of the Delta Quadrant’s sudden blooming of dilithium to mighty Starfleet explorers coming to mitigate the chaos left in its wake, they hung together, clustered like schoolchildren poised to chase a football at the blow of a whistle.

The chime at his door broke his reverie, but Rourke first glanced to the timer gleaming on his desk. Seven hours and sixteen minutes until the wormhole opened. He straightened. ‘Come in.’

Hale entered, hands clasped behind her back, casual and practical in a thick jacket and sturdy boots. ‘It’s time,’ she said with a small smile.

He turned and could not mirror her expression. ‘You know I still protest this, right?’

An eyebrow quirked. ‘My area of responsibility is the Romulan Neutral Zone. The Diplomatic Corps is prepared to be flexible and have me respond to crises and situations as they occur, but the Delta Quadrant is a little too far out of my jurisdiction, so to speak. The staff at Markonian don’t need me.’

‘You’re telling me you’re too important for this mission?’ Rourke returned to the desk, at last allowing himself a wry twist of his lips.

‘Too important and yet too underqualified. I’ve no experience or expert knowledge of the Gradin Belt, and I have many esteemed colleagues who do.’

‘They’re not on this ship.’

‘No,’ Hale allowed. ‘No, you have Commander Rosewood for that.’

‘You’re just trying to make me sad, now.’ But Rourke smiled. ‘Use these two months well, Sophia.’

Her brow knotted. ‘One. I’ve made it plain to Starfleet that I expect Endeavour to remain available to support my diplomatic operations. I fully require your ship return when the wormhole opens again in thirty days.’ But no such expectations could be set and met, and at last, Sophia Hale sighed. ‘Be careful.’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Rourke, his voice dropping. ‘Our orders are to proceed through to the Gradin Belt and conduct a long patrol, responding to situations as needed.’

‘You mean go looking for trouble.’

‘I’ve taken this crew through worse scrapes than the Delta Quadrant,’ he said with a jocular confidence that was more facade than fact.

Hale met his gaze. ‘I wasn’t expressing my concern for the crew.’

Rourke straightened slowly, sobering. ‘I won’t make promises or condescend you. But I – if it’s at all in my power, I’ll…’ His voice trailed off, throat tightening. In the silence stretching between them, his desk console gave a distant chirrup. ‘I’ll be careful, and I’ll come back.’

He’d seen many of her smiles. They’d sat together in a score of negotiations, where she’d used every tool available to her: polite expressions, measured frowns, all of them deliberately chosen and deployed, crafted to be sincere and yet precise. This smile had none of that cultivation; was smaller, shyer, more apprehensive, and yet it made his chest tighten more than a hundred of her professionally-aimed moves to tug at heart-strings.

‘Matthew…’

His desk console chirruped again, cutting her off, and Rourke scowled at the sight of an incoming message. He leaned over to stab a command and open a connection. ‘What?’

When Lieutenant Lindgren replied, she sounded apprehensive and a little hurt. ‘Sorry, Captain. But I’ve got Commander Airex up here, and he wants to speak to you.

Rourke made a face. ‘Airex?’ He glanced up at Hale, confused.

But the moment was broken, and she gave a wry shake of the head. ‘You have seven hours. I’ll let you make ready. Stay safe.’ She turned away and he opened his mouth, desperate to reply but unable to quantify whatever it was he felt, let alone do something so simple and clumsy as put it into words.

Then the door slid shut behind her and he scowled at it for a moment before again pressing the comms. ‘Send the commander in.’

He hadn’t seen Airex since Endeavour was last at Starbase Bravo months ago, and they had not particularly talked. He remembered the tall Trill as cutting a tidy figure, always fastidiously neat and well-presented, but the figure who walked in was quite different. It looked like he had not worn his uniform much lately and lost some weight, the jacket a less-comfortable fit, and his sharp jawline was hidden under the new addition of a trimmed beard.

Davir Airex stopped before the desk and clasped his hands behind his back. ‘Captain Rourke, thank you for receiving me.’

Rourke frowned, the encounter with Hale forgotten in the new mystery. ‘Welcome back aboard, Commander,’ he said, gesturing towards a chair as he sat down. ‘What can I do for you?’

‘I know this is rather late notice, Captain, but I have a favour to ask of you.’ Airex’s movements were calm, precise as he sank onto the seat. ‘I see from your orders that Endeavour will proceed indirectly to the Markonian Outpost to learn the latest intelligence from the DEI offices.’

‘Our orders are to patrol,’ said Rourke, ‘but Markonian is where we can get the most up-to-date information on where needs monitoring. So yes, we’ll head there in good order.’

‘In which case, I’d appreciate a ride.’ Airex sat up. ‘I’ve returned on a temporary basis to Admiral Beckett’s office. He wants a representative of Fourth Fleet Intelligence at Markonian, and he wants it to be me.’

Rourke frowned. ‘Surely there are ships heading there directly.’

‘There are,’ Airex allowed. ‘Endeavour will give me more of a chance to see the state of affairs in the Gradin Belt before I’m tied to an office. I only need quarters, Captain; I’m aware that since you lost Dathan you don’t have an Intelligence Officer to keep me appraised…’

‘I didn’t lose Dathan,’ Rourke grumbled. ‘She was a traitor. As you know.’

Airex hesitated. ‘She fooled a lot of people. Including Admiral Beckett.’

Rourke found himself fiddling irritably with a PADD stylus, which he tossed to the desk. ‘Of course you can stay aboard until Markonian, Commander,’ he said, forcing his voice to level out. He had no grounds to be annoyed with Airex. ‘I didn’t know you’re an expert in the Gradin Belt.’

‘There aren’t very many experts in the Gradin Belt. But I’ve been monitoring this situation the last six weeks. That’s about twice as long as anyone else,’ said Airex without arrogance, shrugging.

‘Fair enough. I’ll notify Commander Valance. Make sure you’re aboard with your luggage in the next three hours and she’ll get you quarters. Does…’ Rourke hesitated, then decided he could avoid a certain social problem. ‘Never mind. Welcome back, again.’

If Airex knew what he hadn’t said, he didn’t show it as he stood. ‘I appreciate this, Captain.’

‘Before you go…’ Rourke fiddled with the stylus anew. ‘How bad do you think it’s going to be out there?’

Airex drew a deep breath, bright blue eyes taking on that cold distance Rourke remembered from any time his former science officer was going to hold court on a matter. ‘The Gradin Belt is a volatile area. It’s a smattering of small powers, none of them dynamic enough to challenge each other for dominance – or for any of them to establish anything resembling order, stability, peace. You’ve referred to the Neutral Zone or the Triangle as a wilderness – that’s nothing compared to the Delta Quadrant. And dilithium, perhaps the most precious resource in the galaxy, is manifesting across it, set to disrupt trade, frontiers, borders, security. How bad do I think it’s going to be, Captain? It’s going to be chaos.’

Rourke’s eyes narrowed a hint. ‘That’s what I miss about you, Commander. The optimism.’

Airex’s lips twitched. ‘Nobody comes to a scientist for good news. I’ll bring my luggage aboard, sir.’

Rourke blew out his cheeks as he left then spun around on his chair, gaze going to the ceiling. But he couldn’t rest long, and after a minute he turned back to fire a quick message to Valance – written, so she couldn’t drag him into an argument: Find Airex quarters. Get him set up aboard. Tell Kharth.

Command had some perks. Delegation was one of them. And speaking of delegation…

Rourke bounded to his feet and headed for the bridge.

There were few places less busy than a bridge while a starship was parked up near a starbase, but Commander Valance was on her feet the moment he arrived, eyes flashing. ‘Captain, about your message -’

‘All of it stands,’ said Rourke very quickly. ‘I think the news is best from you, don’t you?’

‘Absolutely not -’

‘Nate!’ Rourke walked briskly to Science, ignoring his XO. ‘Come with me.’

Valance looked pained. ‘Sir –

‘You have my complete trust, Commander!’ he called as he whisked a rather-confused Beckett into the turbolift. ‘Deck sixteen!’

The lift whirring to life was the only sound while Rourke waited and Nate Beckett sputtered in confusion. ‘Why, uh, why sixteen, Captain?’

‘How’s Science, Nate?’ Rourke clapped him on the shoulder. ‘I mean as a department. Not as in, “how’s the systemic gathering and testing of all knowledge?”’

‘Uh, it’d be better if we had an official chief, sir,’ Beckett said guardedly. ‘Or rather, if you forced Veldman to do it at last. Or Turak. Or even Danjuma. But not me. Never me.’

‘You don’t want to run a science department?’ said Rourke with a crooked smile.

‘I don’t want to run one of the biggest departments on this bloody big ship.’

‘So you’re happy running Social Sciences?’

‘There’s barely a dozen of us and a stack of books, so – hang on, you didn’t drag me in here to ask about my career aspirations.’

Rourke made a noise like a buzzer. ‘I did. That’s just not all the story.’ The turbolift slid to a halt and he smirked, ushering Beckett out. ‘I’ve got bad news for you. I know I already stole Chief T’Kalla from Social Sciences, but I need to steal someone else.’

Beckett’s eyebrows raised. ‘I wasn’t even aboard when T’Kalla was last in blue – what, you’re not taking one of my lab techs for the records office, or something?’

‘Nope,’ said Rourke as he led Beckett into Endeavour’s Strategic Operations Centre. ‘I’m stealing you to come and work here.’

The SOC, despite its name, had never been used much to coordinate military matters. In the hands of Lieutenant Dathan, it had served as the beating heart of Endeavour’s strategy – but this was normally diplomatic, political, humanitarian. With missions stretching across the Romulan Neutral Zone, it was essential for Rourke, and often Hale, to keep abreast of everything happening everywhere, lest they be caught out by ripple effects.

But since Dathan’s inauspicious departure the SOC had been barely used, tended to by Chief T’Kalla with Commander Valance’s occasional oversight. Even now the lights were dimmed, most systems inoperative, when once it would have been showing off the webs and echoes of activity in the sector.

Beckett looked around, jaw dropping. ‘Uh. You want me taking over from T’Kalla?’

‘No. I want you taking over from Dathan.’ At Beckett’s shocked look, Rourke gave a tight smirk. ‘Temporarily, while we’re in the Gradin Belt. Nate, I know you – there’s nobody aboard who’s done more study of the region, of the political situation, of the social situation. You’re the best officer to look at activity reports and understand the context, understand what impact it’ll have somewhere else, understand what impact that’ll have on us, in the most alien environment we’ve ever served in. I was talking about this with Valance over breakfast, and we realised that everything we want you to do in anthropology, we think you can do better here. As Acting Chief Intelligence Officer.’

Despite the glowing praise, despite the opportunity landing in his lap, Beckett’s expression clouded and he rounded on him. ‘Don’t say that.’ His jaw was tight. ‘Don’t you dare do something like this, not if my father’s had anything to do with this, not if you…’

Rourke lifted his hands, unsurprised but still bracing at the sudden heat. ‘I have never, and will never, treat you differently to any member of my staff because of your father. That isn’t the reason I want you as one of my main advisers, regardless of your inexperience.’

‘Then why?’

The corners of Rourke’s eyes creased. ‘Because a year ago, when we were in a crisis with the Tkon, you were the only person calling me on my shit. Do you accept?’

Beckett’s eyes fell on the holographic projector that would, when active, show the regional maps giving the context to every report that would come Endeavour’s way. ‘I mean, I have to, don’t I?’ the young lieutenant said softly. ‘It’s way too cool.’

‘Good.’ Rourke beamed and gave him a PADD. ‘Fill out all of these forms to arrange your clearance level. In the next four hours.’

The tablet was given a look of utter betrayal. ‘Okay, so you know you said you want me to call you on your shit, sir…’

‘Only once you’re Chief Intel,’ said Rourke with a smirk. ‘And you’re only Chief Intel when you do the forms.’

‘Tomorrow, we are going to have a hell of a first briefing,’ warned Beckett, but when he left it was with a spring in his step.

Rourke watched him go, smiling and shaking his head, and allowed himself a moment in the silence once he was alone in the dimmed light of the inactive SOC. But he could not rest long; the tension in his chest would not allow it, and he turned to the main display. ‘Computer, give me the latest strategic map of the Gradin Belt.’

Processing.’ A moment later it gleamed to light, centred on the far side of the Barzan wormhole. Blue dots shone in locations where Blood Dilithium had been reported, red lights in conflict points arising since – Hirogen hunting parties spotted, Hazari raiders, Devore invading forces. From the meagre Starfleet presence and their allies and contacts among the Turei and other – too few – friends, Rourke knew it was an incomplete picture, with far, far more hidden in the darkness between.

And God only knew what hell awaited them on the far side.

Comments

  • That was the biggest tease ever! Rourke and Hale almost had their moment then the damn intercom goes off!!! Unbelievable!! The return of Airex is going to be interesting and I am loving the idea of us seeing our favourite himbo become Eneavour's new James Bond!! Seeing Endeavour in new territory, I feel, will certainly test the crew, but I have a sneaky feeling that it will be Rourke who will grow the most.

    November 2, 2022
  • You have this magic trick with your writing, where you make it look effortless. Obviously, I don't pretend to know your writing process. But, like, the way you introduce exposition is wildly impressive. There's no Giles lugging his big books or Data boring the senior staff, you deftly weave the expositional nouns and verbs into your stories with verve and aplomb, and I'm frankly quite jealous. Your opening paragraphs were like a dance. I hardly knew a montage could be so effectively portrayed in the prose and now here you did it. And then I had to clutch my pearls. What is happening in "the silence stretching between them"??

    November 2, 2022
  • Boom! Endeavour is here! And it's the white-knuckle ride of character conflict and, as Brendan has mentioned, effortless setting of the scene that's such a hallmark of your writing. The whole thing is structured like a big sandwich, with two big descriptive slices of scene-setting zooming us in and then out of the action. The filling is just pure meaningful character interaction, with not a moment wasted. It's the little details, the ticks and movements of the crew, that convey the significance of what is unfolding. "The corners of Rourke's eyes creased", Nate's "tight" jaw as he reacts contrary to the reader's expectations; all great moments that lead us into each of their experience. Of course, the darkness of the Delta Quadrant looms over it all, and that foreboding truly gets driven home in those final paragraphs like a gathering storm!

    November 2, 2022
  • If I had popcorn, I would be eating it right now while reading this wonderful post! Now, I am not much experience with the long-standing history of the Endeavor, but reading this makes me want to look at the other missions. It kinda feels like I have been missing 8-seasons of a TV series. The character interactions, the history that is present is so great to read! Now lets see what DQ has in store for them!

    November 2, 2022
  • Nate Beckett - Interstellar Man of Mystery! Science Officer. Science Chief. Intel Chief! Chief Chief? He's going to end up with such a bad complex by the time he hits captain he'll end up as one of those Evil Admirals because he snapped right? But it's nice to see him fighting not to do something he thought his father would want, but agreeing to do it because Rourke told him his father had nothing to do with it. Gonna miss Hale on this one as well. She brings a unique edge to Rourke and the whole crew that I'm really enjoying.

    November 3, 2022
  • I enjoyed this story and how it went from one extreme to the next with Rouke between the goodbye with Hale, the arrival of Airex, and the temporary posting of Nate. It really makes me wonder what will happen once they reach the other side of the wormhole, though I wish Hale was going with it and how that would have played out now my curiosity is on how Nate will handle the intelligence post.

    November 3, 2022