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

All the Devils Are Here – 3

Conference Room, USS Endeavour
November 2400
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Airex made it to the conference room at the same time as the bridge crew, sitting at a bare table that had Lindgren inexplicably muttering a complaint. He watched as she, Thawn, and Arys looked at each other before sitting down at near-opposite ends, eliciting a stern but confused look by Valance.

‘We’re not here to play musical chairs, Lieutenants,’ Valance chastised, sitting to Rourke’s right and gesturing for Airex to take the seat across from her.

He obeyed, but not before he heard a low murmur from Kharth, last in of the bridge officers, as she complained, ‘It’s too early without enough coffee for this,’ and sat next to him. The three junior officers hissed something to each other, and Kharth swore.

Valance again glared. ‘What on Earth…’

But then the others were arriving, Cortez bouncing with a spring in her step, and she stopped by Airex’s seat on her way. ‘Good to see you again, Commander, but let’s not get irradiated or dragged through space-time again, huh?’

‘We’ll have to do our best,’ Airex drawled.

‘Sit down, everyone,’ said a somewhat impatient Rourke, ushering the ebbs and flows of officers to the table. ‘For those who haven’t heard, Commander Airex has rejoined Vice Admiral Beckett’s staff. We’re just giving him a lift to the Markonian Outpost, but he’s come to the Gradin Belt to help coordinate activities, so it seems useful to have him in these meetings.’

There were polite nods, even though Airex knew most of the faces. While Arys and Beckett sitting in the senior staff was new and some officers sported fresh pips, the only stranger to him was Commander John Rosewood, who gave an openly warm smile in greeting.

‘Before we get started properly,’ Rourke pressed on without leaving space for pleasantries, ‘I want department heads to confirm you’ve got no problems with operations, staff, or resources.’

Cortez leaned back in her seat. ‘It’s not as if we’re about to be lacking in dilithium.’

‘Medical supplies are fully-stocked from SB38,’ added Sadek, ‘and I’ve taken to letting my staff get a whole five hours’ sleep a night, so maybe we’ll even be able to patch you up.’

Rourke shook his head with quiet affection as he listened, but a sober glint remained in his gaze. ‘Make no mistake, people. This is the biggest deployment Starfleet has ever made to the Delta Quadrant, but we are very much on our own out here. The wormhole won’t open for another thirty days. Our only permanent base is an office on the Markonian Outpost, which is more like a consulate. If we get in trouble, we’ll be at the whims of our friendships and fortune to get backup. At the best of times, we are in a dangerous and lonely part of space. And these aren’t the best of times.’ He looked down the table. ‘Nate?’

Young Nate Beckett blinked, pointing at himself – then sat up. ‘Oh! Yeah, I help brief people. You want the blood dilithium bit or the general bit?’ At the captain’s level look, he cleared his throat. ‘So there are three sorts of problems. First is that dilithium is sprouting – yeah, that’s a deliberate choice of words – all over the place. So far, only in proximity to subspace anomalies, but if there’s one thing the Gradin Belt has lots of, it’s subspace anomalies.’

Cortez chewed on her stylus. ‘I keep reading reports saying this, like it arrives suddenly – what are we talking about?’

‘Uh…’ Beckett flicked through a PADD.

‘More or less overnight,’ Airex offered in a low voice, and found all eyes on him. ‘It is geologically improbable, if not impossible. Whole deposits have bloomed on moons, asteroids – even inhabited worlds. Yes, with all the catastrophic effects you’re imagining, Commander.’

Cortez blinked. ‘That’s… terrifying.’

‘So, uh, everyone and their dog wants a piece,’ said Beckett, keen to recover some purpose. ‘Reports of these manifestations made it back to the Alpha Quadrant before the last wormhole cycle, and before Starfleet really knew the magnitude of the problem, a whole bunch of prospectors jumped through to make their fortune. And like the captain said, the Gradin Belt is dangerous and lonely and even Starfleet doesn’t know much about it – let alone the average Ferengi trader. We’re expecting a lot of distress calls from Alpha Quadrant natives who’ve found themselves in trouble.’

‘Not to mention,’ added Valance tersely, ‘the disruption they might bring. If they’re not helpless, they’re whole new elements introduced to a volatile region.’

‘Well…’ Beckett tilted his head this way and that. ‘It’s not that volatile. I mean – it wasn’t. The Gradin Belt is home to a bunch of minor and what Starfleet designates mid-level powers. There’s been enough room for everyone and no significant expansionist forces, so the balance has been kind of calm. Until now.’ He reached for his PADD and flicked the Gradin Belt’s map onto everyone else’s devices and the central projector.

‘Obviously everyone wants a piece of the dilithium,’ Beckett pressed on. ‘So anyone and everyone now has an excuse to start trouble with their neighbour. But the big kid on the block is the Devore Imperium, a bunch of authoritarian xenophobes – so sayeth Voyager’s records, not my words – who fortunately have been pretty isolationist. Until now.’

‘Now,’ ventured Kharth, ‘they want the dilithium?’

‘Oh yeah. They’re expanding, sending their warships and annexing territories in order to get it. Apparently this is the most militaristic and aggressive they’ve been in decades, maybe centuries.’

‘It doesn’t help,’ chimed in Commander Rosewood, lounging back in his chair, ‘that our friends and allies are thin on the ground out there. We’ve treaties with the Turei and agreements at Markonian, but otherwise the powers tolerate us, hate us, are pretty tiny, or are too fractured for us to know if a run-in with, say, a Shivolian, will go any way in particular. And this whole balance of power’s been kicked in the face by this stuff.’

Beckett glanced down the table and winced. ‘That brings us to the other thing. I’m not going to show you all the recording from the USS Merevek when they first picked up some of this blood dilithium, but it’s in your files. Fact is, this stuff is different to regular dilithium.’

‘Yeah, why do they call it “blood dilithium?”’ said Cortez.

‘I mean, it’s red,’ said Beckett. ‘But also it screws with telepaths.’

There was a pause as all eyes fell on Thawn. The Betazoid raised her eyebrows and looked at Beckett. ‘Please elaborate on “screw with,” Lieutenant?’

‘Uh, reports mix. Also how much is unclear. From powerful to latent alike, it seems like the effect ranges from feeling a bit peaky and nervous to, uh, trying to kill people around you or falling into a fugue state.’

‘Oh,’ said Cortez. ‘So just a little thing.’

‘Fourth Fleet Intelligence has been looking at the reports from the Merevek,’ Airex ventured, leaning forward, ‘and we have some very preliminary suggestions of modifications to deflector systems that might protect crewmembers from this psionic energy-based influence.’

Rourke frowned. ‘That wasn’t in my marching orders.’

‘It is, as I said, preliminary.’ Airex winced. ‘And untested. I can’t guarantee anything, sir, but if you want I can forward the notes to Commander Cortez.’ He lifted a PADD.

She clicked her tongue as she read. ‘I could do these modifications.’

‘How long?’ said Rourke.

Airex frowned as half the table grew very still and stared at Cortez with an unusual degree of severity. The engineer looked back at them and squirmed. ‘Um. I’m not sure.’

‘You’re not sure?’ Rourke pressed.

‘Uh.’ Cortez hesitated again. ‘Twelve hours? That’s twelve working hours.’ She turned down the table and stared the other officers dead in the eye.

Valance tossed her PADD on the table with a heavy impact. ‘Alright,’ snapped the XO. ‘What the hell is wrong with everyone today?’ The last thing Airex expected was for half the table to squirm in seeming delight at this chastisement, while Cortez swore quietly. That only drew Valance’s attention. ‘Commander?’

‘I…’ Cortez looked caught, working her jaw and looking between Rourke and Valance. ‘Uh, it’s nothing, we’re all just really excited to go to the Gradin Belt and it’s nothing -’

‘We’ve got a new game,’ Sadek said at last in a wry voice. ‘It’s Briefing Bingo.’

Rourke and Valance exchanged looks. ‘Briefing Bingo,’ the XO repeated, and looked only more put out as Rourke put a hand over his mouth and began to snicker.

‘For the most part, our operations have been quiet the past four months,’ said Kharth, with the briefest look at Cortez, Thawn, and Sadek. ‘So we – well. Isa… came up with some rules.’

‘Thanks, Sae,’ squeaked Cortez, leaning away from Valance. ‘Throwing me under the thruster fire there.’

Rourke ran a finger across his lips like he was trying to better disguise a smirk. ‘What’s on the cards?’

‘Uh.’ Cortez pulled out her PADD sheepishly. ‘The junior officers sit together.’

‘That’s why we’re like this,’ said Lindgren, unapologetic as she gestured to how there was at least one space between her and Thawn, Arys, or Beckett.

‘Kharth complains about not having enough coffee,’ Cortez continued, to an eye-roll from Kharth. ‘Carraway puts out pastries before the meeting begins.’

‘I’m sorry,’ the counsellor said. ‘I couldn’t get up here before we started today.’

‘Sadek tries to wriggle out of being given a job,’ Cortez continued. ‘Whoever’s repping science makes it clear they’re only here on protest. I lie about how long a job will take.’

‘Oh,’ sighed Valance, eyes going skyward. ‘That’s what set it off at the end?’

Sure,’ Cortez transparently lied.

Rourke raised his hands. ‘So long as you focus,’ he said, ‘you can do whatever you want. But I’m not kidding – we’re not on survey missions or ferrying people to diplomatic summits or even doing relief work in well-trodden parts of space. This is the real deal. Play like you’re in the final innings.’

Yes,’ hissed Sadek, eyes gleaming, and she remained unapologetic as the captain stared at her. She lifted her PADD. ‘I just got bingo with “Rourke uses a sports metaphor.”’

‘Hang on!’ protested Cortez, leaning forward. ‘I wasn’t lying about the modifications -’

Valance had tilted over to read her PADD. ‘Does this say “Valance shouts at us”?’

Rourke buried his head in his hands. ‘You’re all dismissed,’ he groaned. ‘Possibly out the airlock. Nate, keep monitoring incoming reports; I want to know exactly what the rest of the expeditionary force is finding.’

‘Oh,’ said Beckett as the senior staff looked set to disperse. ‘There’s one more thing about the Devore and maybe part of why they want blood dilithium: they hate telepaths. Really hate telepaths. We think maybe they’re weaponising it against them.’

‘Charming people,’ mused Thawn. ‘I’m sure we’ll give them a wide berth.’

‘Let’s be fair, Nate,’ chimed in Rosewood. ‘They hate everyone who’s not them.’

‘Even better,’ groaned Kharth as she stood up, and Airex rose quickly, too, before the senior staff could disperse.

He dropped his voice. ‘Can we talk?’

Normally, she’d looked apprehensive and angry when he’d gone near her these past three years. But then his history had come out, the truth about his past lives and his behaviour, and they hadn’t really spoken since. He’d expected her to be angrier, or more tired, or even, hopefully, happier to see him. He hadn’t expected her to look embarrassed.

Kharth shifted her feet. ‘I’ve got – there’s a lot I need to get on top of. Later, Commander?’

‘I don’t -’

Commander.’ Everyone who knew them, knew better than to interrupt. But Commander Rosewood didn’t know them, and appeared at Kharth’s elbow with a toothy smile and an extended hand towards Airex. ‘John Rosewood; it’s a pleasure.’

‘I – Davir Airex.’ He shook the hand and tried to not let his expression pinch. ‘Thank you.’

‘Your reputation really precedes you,’ Rosewood continued, stepping in obliviously and leaving Kharth an escape route she quickly seized. ‘I’d welcome your thoughts on the diplomatic briefings I’ve had; I’m sure with your access to Admiral Beckett’s office, there’s more you know that I don’t…’

Extricating himself happened too late. And then there was Greg Carraway insisting they get tea together, and once Kharth was definitely long gone, Cortez stepped in to discuss with sympathetic eyes the possible deflector grid modifications.

A week had seemed sufficiently little time to be trapped on a ship with half of his ghosts. But with the frenetic pace aboard Endeavour, perhaps it was far, far too much.

Comments

  • Briefing Bingo? Sounds like shipboard murders aren't far around the corner. The question is who snaps first, the CO or the XO? And Cortez being at the root of it all likely won't sit well with Valance. Can't wait to see that! Nice and concise setting exposition, Nate getting his chance to shine in his new role and Airex getting to spotlight for Science. A possible return to form and eventual return in the future?

    November 3, 2022
  • You've written such kind things about my captain's logs, but this senior staff briefing was a masterclass. I was really impressed with the way you broke down the scientific and political intrigue of Gradin Belt into bite-sized chunks. None of it was too much information and you were able to include the entire landscape of pitfalls around them. Even with the humour in Beckett's delivery (Oh! Yeah I help brief people), you maintained a satisfying undercurrent of dread, given the crews are pretty much alone in the Delta Quadrant. And I can't believe, to date, I haven't read anyone else seriously questioning WHY it's called blood dilithium. Hilarious. I truly laughed out loud when Sadek called out bingo RIGHT when Rourke was telling the lot of them to take this mission more seriously!

    November 5, 2022
  • This has to be the funniest briefing story I've read in such a long time, it's pure genius and the fact that Rourke doesn't seemed phased by it at all. Pure classic moment. I'm starting to feel that Davir's return, though it maybe brief will cause some tension for some of our favourites. And Nate is a natural first born briefer!!!

    November 5, 2022
  • I enjoyed this whole chapter from when Airex entered, the shifting of officers, and the complaining of others. What really had me laughing was the Briefing Bingo, which was a good tie in, was even funnier when Sadex called out Bingo, though Cortez had said she wasn't lying about the modifications, Valance had mentioned her yelling that was funny and Rourke's reactions were priceless.

    November 6, 2022
  • I loved the briefing bingo haha. The whole chapter felt great to read and again very natural to see them interact with each other. The concerns are placed onto the table and everyone knew what was on the line. I love how Rourke plays the seasoned captain that I just want to hug.

    November 15, 2022