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

All the Devils Are Here – 2

Bridge, USS Endeavour
November 2400
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‘Neutrino levels elevating.’ Lieutenant Danjuma’s excitement was near-palpable as her voice went up a pitch.

‘Three minutes,’ came Thawn’s brisk reminder.

‘Starbase 38 are at yellow alert and have instructed all expedition ships to be on standby,’ said Lindgren at comms.

‘I have our flight route,’ confirmed Arys. ‘We’ll be ninth through.’

‘Take a deep breath, everyone.’ Rourke’s voice rumbled across the bridge. ‘It’s a thirty-minute window and the expeditionary force is all ready. We don’t need to rush the queue.’

Airex stood near the turbolift and watched in silence as Endeavour’s bridge buzzed with anticipation. It had been some time not only since he’d been among these people under such circumstances, but on any starship bridge. Gait light, he approached the trio of command chairs, and leaned towards Rourke. ‘Permission to observe with you, Captain?’

For a heartbeat, Rourke’s gaze flickered over to the Science console. Airex didn’t know much about Lieutenant Danjuma, Head of Stellar Sciences, but from her comportment and the captain’s attitude, he suspected Rourke would prefer someone more experienced in her position. But then Rourke gestured to the chair beside him. ‘Have a seat, Commander. It’s not every day we throw ourselves across the galaxy.’

‘Thank you.’ Airex had been both trying to not look towards the tactical arch where Kharth stood, and studiously attempting to not look like he was blanking her. Coming aboard at such short notice meant he’d had no time to reach out, no time to talk, and this was not the moment for a reunion. But the Chief Tactical Officer’s eyes were locked on her station, and if she harboured any resentment at his presence or behaviour, he couldn’t feel it.

‘Just think,’ came Valance’s quiet voice across from Rourke. ‘We will almost certainly reach systems and phenomena Starfleet’s never visited before.’

‘That’s true,’ Rourke said with a twist of the lips, ‘but we also do that every once in a while in the old Neutral Zone.’

The look she threw him held more good humour than was common when Airex last served with them both. ‘Politics kept us from those places. This is different.’

‘It is.’ Rourke finally smiled. ‘I’m glad I can give you this mission of exploration, Commander. It’s been a while.’

‘Proceeding through the wormhole, sir,’ called Arys.

Airex could not help but to move from the command chairs and approach Danjuma at Science. ‘Do you mind, Lieutenant?’ he asked quietly, politely. ‘It’s quite something else to see it for yourself as it happens.’

For many aboard, travelling through the wormhole would feel like nothing, as if being catapulted thousands of light-years in a second wasn’t even happening. He expected that anyone near a viewport would be glued to it, watching as the wormhole blossomed open and then engulfed them. If he looked up, he could see the same through the viewscreen; see the swirling maelstrom that, once it dissipated, would leave before them different stars.

But he was a scientist, and he wanted to see the data.

Reports hummed across the bridge as Engineering confirmed all systems were operating smoothly, as Helm confirmed their flight pattern, as Danjuma beside him confirmed the readings were as they expected. The deck shuddered with an almost imperceptible change at the pressures on the hull, on their energy systems, and when Airex finally looked up it was to see the swirling blues and purples of the wormhole collapse to show them a whole new oblivion of space.

‘Verifying location,’ said Lieutenant Arys, even though sensors made it plain they had stayed as part of the massive convoy of ships moving through. ‘Confirmed – we’re in the Epatha system, sir.’

Rourke leaned back with satisfaction. ‘Excellent. Set a course for the Markonian Outpost via the Perinos system, Lieutenant, and take us to warp. Elsa, give our regards and farewells to the rest of the expeditionary force. I want additional diagnostics and a double-check of all departmental readiness, and I’ll see senior staff in the conference room in two hours.’

‘Sir,’ said Danjuma awkwardly. ‘Do you want me to send for Lieutenant Veldman or Lieutenant Turak…’

Arys looked at Thawn, and though he dropped his voice, Airex heard him say, ‘Does that count?’ and just get a shake of the head in response.

‘You can do it; Lieutenant Rhade will have the bridge,’ Rourke said with a pinch of irritation, but his gaze cleared when he turned Airex. ‘I’d welcome your presence, too.’

Valance stood. ‘Let me get you properly situated aboard, Commander. We didn’t have a chance for orientation beyond showing you your quarters.’

He followed her to the lift, and waited until the doors were shut and they were on their way before speaking. ‘It’s a nice ship. I didn’t really take the time to enjoy it during the Century Storm.’

‘You were hardly in a state to do so,’ she allowed, hands clasped tightly behind her back. For a moment there was only the hum of the turbolift, then she turned to him. ‘How did it go with the Symbiosis Committee?’

Airex winced. ‘They were… displeased that I had withheld information from them. But ultimately, it reflects very poorly on them that Lerin was such a monster and that they didn’t know before pairing Airex for Joining.’

‘I hadn’t thought about it that way. That some of this is a failure of their duty of care to you.’

‘Precisely.’ He clicked his tongue. ‘I’m on thin ice and they’ve asked me to make regular reports – practical and reflexive – to the Guardians. But if there were to be any consequences, the fact that as Davir Airex I’ve been a perfectly stable and productive member of society whose activities are well-documented thanks to Starfleet service… well, that’s reassured them.’

‘Good.’ Valance’s face folded into a frown. ‘You don’t deserve to face the consequences for what Lerin did.’

‘Perhaps not with the Committee. But someone has to be responsible for him.’ The turbolift slowed, and he shook his head. ‘So. Where first? You know I can consult the computer to see where the on-board facilities are.’

‘There’s only really one place the computer can’t guide you to,’ said Valance as the lift stopped and the doors opened to admit them to deck seven. ‘The Round Table.’

The lounge on this deck was small and cosy, exquisitely furnished in blacks, golds, and greens of an art deco style. Clearly more suited to intimate gatherings than the hustle and bustle of a ship’s main lounge, the room would strain at the presence of more than twenty people at a time.

‘Access is traditionally restricted to senior staff and crewmembers at the rank of lieutenant or above,’ Valance explained, ‘but Captain Rourke has welcomed Ms Hale and her chief of staff, and you’re welcome here so long as you’re aboard.’

Airex regarded her with a faintly amused air. ‘Was this final stage of orientation simply an excuse to get to the bar?’

She frowned. ‘We have days before we reach Markonian and you disembark, it’s only appropriate to -’

He lifted a hand. ‘I was joking. It’s nice to catch up. I get the feeling I’ve missed… quite a lot.’

They slid onto the bar stools, and Valance sighed. ‘If you wanted shipboard gossip, then you should have gone to Isa.’

‘Please. Cortez is far too nice. I’ve missed us discussing our colleagues with just a hint of superiority,’ he drawled.

She worked her jaw, a little embarrassed. ‘There’s only so much to tell. The captain successfully lobbied for us to bring families aboard, and that’s been the case for a few months – though they disembarked before we came to Starbase 38.’

‘Reasonable. If you have to abandon ship, or disembark civilians ahead of action, they’ll be very much alone out there.’

‘Quite. Doctor Sadek did point out that several starships have brought families with them to the Delta Quadrant – the Odyssey, for example.’

‘She’s a bigger ship than Endeavour.’

‘Actually, the captain’s argument was that last time we crossed paths with the Odyssey, they’d had the hell so beaten out of them that the third officer was in command.’

Airex smirked. ‘Did Doctor Sadek point out this happened in Federation space? Where is safe?’

‘I think,’ Valance said carefully, ‘the captain isn’t ready to deal with his daughter being in peril.’

‘I wouldn’t be,’ he replied, thinking of the families of his past hosts. ‘I heard Doctor Sadek took the bridge officers’ exam.’

Valance made a face. ‘She is. She’s qualified to take bridge shifts and lead away missions and act in every way as a line officer. I’m deeply uncomfortable with it because it means she now has superiority over, for instance, Lieutenant Rhade, even though he has far more leadership experience.’

‘I’m sure the good doctor will be happy for other people to pick up responsibility for her outside of sickbay.’

‘Everyone else,’ Valance said slowly, ‘is much as they were. But I make a habit of knowing nothing about the personal lives of most of them, especially Rhade and Thawn.’

‘Ah. Wise.’

‘And we’re giving Lieutenant Beckett a chance to prove himself in the SOC this mission.’ She sounded a little guarded at that. ‘I think it’s why the captain would like you there for this briefing. We can see if he leaves gaps, and you’d be welcome to fill them.’

‘I’ve no intention of stepping on toes. He’s a bright young man, and it seems you have other back-stops with this new diplomatic officer. And yet, no new science officer?’

‘Because we have three experienced candidates, personnel hasn’t been racing to get us anyone new. But Veldman doesn’t seem to want it, and Danjuma and Turak are both reticent and unsuitable for their own reasons,’ Valance grumbled. ‘She’s too nervy and he rides roughshod over others. Can you talk to Veldman while you’re here?’

‘I can try,’ he said. ‘But she rather proved her worth to me by disagreeing an awful lot. She’s an excellent scientist and I think she somewhat prefers being second fiddle so someone else does shipboard politics while she does the real work. And I know she and Kowalski had talked about a family, and now that they could both stay aboard if they do start one…’

Valance sighed. ‘I hadn’t thought of that. She can get everything she wants by not moving up, can’t she.’

‘It’s utterly alien to me, too,’ he drawled, then he frowned as a fresh recollection hit. ‘Dathan, though… what a bloody mess.’

This brought a fresh scowl. ‘I was expecting someone to breathe down our necks over that. It’s unforgivable that we had a spy in our ranks for so long without anyone suspecting anything.’

‘There’s a very simple reason nobody’s come to Endeavour to find someone to blame: she was on Admiral Beckett’s staff before she was ever under Rourke’s command.’

Her expression cleared. ‘If anyone’s to blame for her getting where she did, it’s the admiral,’ she sighed. ‘I see then why we’re treating this as an inevitable, natural disaster.’

‘I don’t have a full understanding of the internal investigation; I know Commander Lockhart oversaw it herself and she took over from Dathan, had no relationship with her. I think we were subject to a professional-level infiltration, and the feeling is also that Dathan exploited the gaps in our oversight processes left by Commodore Oh. Everyone was and remains far more interested in finding Tal Shiar spies and then covering their own backs.’ Airex shook his head. ‘Don’t feel guilty, Valance. People whose job it was to know, didn’t know. How could you?’

‘Perhaps. She is, at least, dead now.’ Valance drummed her fingers on the bar, then looked levelly at him. ‘Commander Kharth has been a perfectly able second officer and has, in my opinion, improved considerably in matters of focus and discipline.’

They stared at each other for a moment, but Airex broke first and shook his head. ‘How merciless of you,’ he sighed, and winced. ‘How is she, though?’

‘She and I have… an accord these days. But not that much of an accord. Isa seems to think she’s doing well enough, though. I did ask. Have you two talked?’

‘Not since Bravo. She was a little less forgiving than you.’

‘I’d point out your betrayal of her was greater.’

‘Saying Saeihr Kharth might have been right?’ Airex’s eyebrows raised. ‘You’re getting soft. I did write to her, but…’

‘But?’

He shook his head and pulled out a PADD. ‘If you want to be on top of the departments ahead of the meeting, I should let you go.’

Valance watched him a moment, then stood. ‘Alright. We’re not done here, though.’ She tucked her PADD under her arm and hesitated. ‘I’m glad you’re back with us. Even if only for a little. You’ll still see some of the patrol and, whatever’s going on out here, I think we’ll do better facing it with your help.’

‘It is only for a little,’ he reminded her lightly. ‘But I’m glad to be back here with you all. Whatever’s at the root of blood dilithium, we can make people’s lives better through, first and foremost, scientific understanding.’

Comments

  • I've always enjoyed the whole Valance and Airex dynamic. It sort of reminds me of the Kira/Dax one from DS9, where they come from two different perspectives but it works for them. Cute mention about the Odyssey too! And when will the CSO be finally picked?

    November 2, 2022
  • You really struck me with a wistful feeling, when Airex was watching over the bridge, drifting from station to station, like the son returning home after college. You captured that in-between state of belonging and being other. He really took all my favourite moments in the story, between his desire to observe the wormhole through the lens of data, and the perpetual anticipation of his delayed reunion with Kharth. My favourite favourite was his true measure of a science officer: "proved her worth to me by disagreeing an awful lot." Hahaha!

    November 4, 2022
  • I do enjoy the dynamics when Airex is on board, at least this has a different air to it compared to the last time he was on the ship. I think he is at least trying to make amends for the hurt that he caused. He almost looked like a kid in a candy store once they were traveling through the wormhole which brings out the science officer in him. Though I wish Airex would come back permanently that would be a whole different can of worms, would he even be accepted back, especially from Kharth. Looking forward to seeing more of him on this mission.

    November 5, 2022
  • I do have to say that I enjoyed the dynamic of the crew on this ship. It feels so natural and you can read that there are years of friendship and trust build up. The transition to Delta Quadrant is also something I can appreciate, I totally forgot to add it to my story experience. But the scientific aspect would have been wonderful to experience. Great post!

    November 15, 2022