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

All the Devils Are Here – 9

Counselling Offices, USS Endeavour
November 2400
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‘Thanks for coming, everyone. Help yourselves.’ The counselling department didn’t normally host meetings with a dozen or so crewmembers, so Carraway had taken over one of the wellness suites and laid it out with tea, coffee, and snacks. Without proper seating he’d dragged in extra meditation benches, so officers were stooped on low stools, clutching pastries and steaming mugs. The bulkheads were painted colours presumably intended to be soothing, but the mellow ambient music had been quickly muted on their arrival.

Thawn did not take a hot drink or a pastry, nor did she sit down. She stood at the rear, arms folded across her chest, and tried to slow her breathing as if it would slow the thudding of her heart. It was difficult to not find this farcical. Rhade had given her a pleasant smile upon arrival only to go straight for Carraway, shaking his hand, chatting in an amiable manner. It would set everyone else at-ease to see him so comfortable in the meeting. Everyone but her.

‘We should get started,’ Sadek prompted Carraway, eyebrows raised. ‘There’s a lot to get through.’

‘Okay.’ Carraway clapped his hands together and turned to the gathered officers. ‘You know why you’re all here. Every one of you is a telepath, and we have aboard a sample of blood dilithium, here to be studied by Commander Airex.’ He gestured to the Trill, stood to one side of the front, who straightened.

‘It’s my belief Starfleet needs to understand more about this aberrant substance,’ Airex said. He sounded to Thawn a lot softer than she remembered, with almost an apologetic air, except without apprehension or guilt. ‘I also believe that however this mission goes, there’ll come a point we can’t avoid this dilithium any more. But that doesn’t mean we have to go looking for trouble. This affects all of you in particular. I want to hear your opinions.’

Chief Petty Officer T’Kalla stuck her hand up. ‘Are you asking if we want you to throw it out an airlock?’

‘More or less,’ Airex allowed.

T’Kalla looked back at the gathered officers. ‘Anyone here not seen the Merevek footage?’ There was silence, and she nodded. ‘Anyone want to wuss out?’

‘Chief…’ Carraway winced. ‘That’s not really productive. We’re endangering all of you by having this aboard -’

‘We were endangered by coming to the Delta Quadrant.’ T’Kalla shrugged. ‘I don’t see the difference.’

‘It’s different.’ Thawn hadn’t realised she was speaking until everyone turned to look at her. She straightened, and the cold inside felt comfortable. It was quiet, after all. ‘The man we found on the freighter had lost all sense of himself. All I could feel was his fear and his rage, and it wasn’t wholly his own. We don’t know who he was or who the crew were, but he lived and worked aboard and he killed them. All of them. This isn’t a threat to life and limb. This is a threat to who we are.’ In the silence that followed, she looked Airex in the eye. ‘Which is why we need to know what it is, Commander. We’re Starfleet. This is why we’re here.’

Airex nodded, and his shoulders sank with either relief or a fresh apprehension. ‘Then the moment any of you feels anything, I would like to know. Counsellor Carraway’s about to talk well-being, but remember that any symptom of the influences of blood dilithium is evidence. Is data.’

‘That might stop you all being stoic,’ said Carraway with a good-humoured smile. ‘But he’s right, I care about you. I don’t just want you to report if you feel anything. From now, you’re going to journal daily.’

T’Kalla groaned. ‘Aw, here we go.’

‘It’ll be a record of your thoughts and feelings, a reflection on your emotional responses throughout the day,’ Carraway continued with only a gentle note of chiding. ‘This makes you more likely to notice if something changes.’

Doctor Sadek gave a grimace of a smile. ‘And if you go axe-crazy and kick off, we have a record of your emotional decline.’

T’Kalla snapped her fingers. ‘Okay, that I can reason with.’

Lieutenant Turak’s hand snapped up like he was a cadet at the front of a lecture with a pressing comment. ‘At what I now know was the same time we brought aboard the sample, I experienced a sensation. Intense, irrational apprehension. It was acutely curious,’ he volunteered, sounding almost bright about the fresh experience.

Airex gave a pained smile. ‘Thank you, Lieutenant. That is exactly the sort of data I’d hoped – that I’d want to record.’

Carraway’s look was finally tired. ‘Talk to each other,’ he urged. ‘Share if it becomes hard. You can talk to me if you’re worried, and I’m not going to immediately suggest you get suspended from duty or confined to quarters just because you’re struggling. I recognise it may be difficult to tell between actually being affected and just the natural stresses of this situation, so embrace and acknowledge all your feelings. We’re all in this together.’

Turak again lifted his hand. ‘If we are to cooperate,’ he said in a quick, clipped voice, ‘then I have meditative methods. Processes. Means by which individuals can improve their mental discipline in the face of this psionic assault.’

‘Vulcan meditative techniques?’ T’Kalla’s nose wrinkled. ‘I guess this is as good a time as any.’

‘I can recommend them,’ Turak said, turning to her with what looked almost like eagerness. ‘They will help you focus. Beyond merely the challenges ahead – in your everyday life, to reduce your emotional outbursts.’

T’Kalla looked like this might precipitate its own emotional outburst, but Carraway raised his hands. ‘That’s very kind of you, Lieutenant. Talk with me maybe after and I can figure out ways of using this knowledge for everyone?’

‘Is this all we need to cover?’ Thawn couldn’t help but sound impatient, but it was difficult to feel like this wasn’t redundant for her. ‘I have a staff meeting.’

She was out in the corridor before heavy footsteps thumped in her wake, and she tried to not sigh as Rhade jogged up to fall into step beside her. ‘Greg means well.’

‘There’s nothing wrong with the counsellor’s recommendations,’ she said lightly. ‘And I’ll cooperate fully. But I’ve already done my emotional hand-wringing about what blood dilithium might do to me – I did it on a freighter where a crazed telepath tried to kill us. I don’t need to do it in a group therapy session.’

His shoulders sank as she reached the turbolift and she tried to not sigh when she realised she was a captive audience at least until her ride arrived. ‘He also encouraged us,’ Rhade said gently, ‘to talk to each other.’

‘If you think you’re hearing voices, you can reach out,’ she said, clipped despite herself.

His honest brow furrowed. ‘Rosara…’

‘You don’t want us to talk, Adamant. Because then we might say something.’ Exhaustion bred honesty. Or perhaps being on the far side of the galaxy with her very sense of being made their personal dynamics seem very distant and very small. ‘Then I might explain everything I experienced aboard the other Endeavour.’

A deeper frown. ‘And if you did, I would listen.’

‘And then you might explain why you trusted Dathan Tahla for over a year, which is why she was able to put us in that position.’ His stunned silence was broken by the turbolift’s arrival, and Thawn gave a tight, mirthless smile. ‘Yes, I thought you perhaps didn’t want to talk after all,’ she said, and stepped into the lift.

He did not follow, and when the doors slid shut she hit her combadge. ‘Thawn to Kharth. You skipped the meeting.’ For once she had no deference to the niceties of rank.

Kharth took a moment to respond. ‘I read the protocols Carraway wants to put in place. I’m not gonna journal.’

‘Then I expect we’re meeting to practice meditating tonight. Or, again, Turak offered,’ Thawn said, still rather snippy.

Fine,’ came the reply at length. ‘1900 hours. If there’s any woo-woo, I’m gone.

Thawn was too tired, she thought, to feel her usual apprehension at the idea any senior officer might not welcome her help. Or perhaps the fact that it was Kharth alleviated that pressure. She respected the Romulan as an officer and as a professional. She just didn’t need her to like her. ‘1900 hours,’ she agreed, and ended the link.

The staff meeting had not been a pretext, but still Athaka looked surprised to see her. He hadn’t been so presumptuous as to sit at the head of the office table, but with the PADDs before him and the manner he’d been looking at the rest of the operations management team, he’d plainly expected to chair the discussion. In true Athaka manner he didn’t say anything, though, and Thawn couldn’t help but preside over the meeting with an iron fist and nitpick his every point.

By the end he was quiet and miserable, and only once it was over and her staff were heading off did she take pity and linger in the meeting room. ‘Thank you for preparing these agenda items, Lieutenant.’ She had to bite her tongue to not point out she’d done so herself, and he’d only duplicated her work.

Athaka still looked crestfallen. ‘I thought you might need time after the counsellor’s meeting.’

She tried to not grind her teeth. ‘It was a chance for telepaths to discuss the challenges of having blood dilithium aboard. It wasn’t a conversation about how we’re all made of glass.’

He cringed. ‘You know I have the utmost respect for you, and faith in your willpower. I was trying to help.’

Guilt and sympathy curled up and died as Thawn stood sharply. ‘You can help by being my assistant chief, Athaka. Not by trying to do my job for me.’

She seethed through the rest of her shift, and at the end of it slunk to her office to write the most resentful of reflexive journal entries. If blood dilithium did make her snap and kill everyone, Thawn mused, this record would show the origin point came from people refusing to treat her as an adult. Or, possibly, it wouldn’t take the blood dilithium’s influence to make it happen.

‘Knock knock,’ said Nate Beckett when he stuck his head through her opening doors.

Thawn almost jumped, dropping her PADD stylus to send it skittering across the desk. ‘What – Beckett, there’s a door-chime.’

‘I thought you might ignore me,’ he said, swaggering in without further invitation. ‘I saw Athaka on deck 11, looking like he was going to cry.’

She made a face. ‘He was being condescending, so don’t you come up here to fret at me about a problem that hasn’t even happened yet.’

‘According to the records on the Merevek and your own away team report, it most definitely has happened yet.’ He pulled up the opposite seat. ‘But that’s not why I’m here.’

With a sigh, she tossed down the PADD. ‘Why, then?’

‘You don’t need to sound so long-suffering. I’m the intelligence officer now; I could have you locked up in a black-site for that.’

‘One, you most certainly can’t, and two, for what, being slightly mean to you?’

‘For being dismissive of important, top-secret, highest-level Starfleet business.’

Thawn paused. ‘There’s no way you’ve come here to discuss important, top-secret, highest-level Starfleet business.’

‘No,’ he allowed at last, ‘but I might have.’

‘Beckett, I have a lot of work -’

‘No, you don’t, because I told Athaka that if he really wanted to help you, he should take all of the ongoing resource allocation assessments off your plate.’ The problem with being in the Delta Quadrant for potentially months at a time meant monitoring their supplies was a case of drawing up constantly-shifting plans, usage rates, and crisis scenarios.

Thawn’s eyes flashed. ‘I swear, if you tried to take work away from me because you think I’m a delicate little flower being driven mad by the nasty blood dilithium – are you doing this to Adamant? Turak? T’Kalla?’

‘Well, no, because I have no authority over Rhade, I don’t yet know how to manipulate Turak, and T’Kalla scares me,’ Beckett admitted. ‘But don’t worry, Thawn, I don’t think of you as anything resembling a delicate little flower.’ He slid his PADD across the desk. ‘I asked Athaka to take the mundane things off your desk so you could do something more interesting.’

Suspicious, she picked it up. Then blinked. ‘Modifications to the SOC software on this scale is extensive work.’

‘But it’d make the package a lot more useful for starships which aren’t command hubs for other ships. It’d streamline a lot of the back-end so teams could monitor their areas of operation. And it’d also make it much easier to incorporate reports and feeds from non-Starfleet sources which don’t match our input format.’ Beckett leaned forward with a languid smile. ‘And I’m a mediocre coder at best.’

She bit her lip, even as she felt her veins fizz with the prospect of a new project. ‘You didn’t need to bring this to the Chief Operations Officer.’

‘I brought it to the best software engineer aboard,’ said Beckett. ‘The one who understands the uses and needs of the SOC. Who helped build the programmes we use in the first place. But, sure, I could have punted this to Athaka and let you do all of the redundancy planning. Consider this my gift to you.’

Her eyes narrowed. ‘Why.’

‘Because you’re not a delicate flower. You’re a goddamn thunderstorm, and if you’re stressed you need something to chew up and spit out. Better for it to be a project that keeps you focused and happy. And one where if your judgement’s impaired, you’ll notice, because you’ll do things like make coding mistakes or not do your work well enough to meet your standards, so there’s no way you’ll cover it up.’ He stood, the languid smile turning superior. ‘Because you don’t need stuff taking off your plate, you need things to keep you engaged. Otherwise, if you go nuts? I’m definitely top of your list of people to hunt down and beat to death.’

The urge to meet his banter, to double-down with a joke about how that’s not how she’d kill him, died unexpectedly in her throat, and for a moment Thawn felt very, very tired. Her shoulders sagged as she looked up at him. ‘Thank you, Beckett.’

He shifted, wrong-footed by this sudden wave of sincerity. ‘Yeah, well. I figure everyone else is busy being too awkward about wanting to help to stop and think about how to help.’ At last he summoned a fresh crooked grin. ‘See you in the SOC tomorrow?’

She nodded and watched him go, and only once the doors were shut behind him did she pull the PADD to her chest and wrap her arms around herself. Perhaps the journal entry could be slightly less bitter after all.

Comments

  • Nate Becketts's helping, not-helping, actually really helping is sweet. And he was prepared to explain his thinking, unlike so many others who would have said 'I was just trying to be helpful'. He's a damn good friend who knows what his friends need and delivers. Made more important by him being an annoying ass from time to time! Honestly, you're just showing he's that friend everyone needs, but not necessarily wants all the time and I'm loving it! I also love his reasons for not 'helping' the others being no authority, 'no idea' and 'want to keep breathing'. Also, Carraway's counselling via food program - man oh man, sign me up! I can smell it, taste it, and luxuriate in it. Don't change Carraway!

    November 11, 2022
  • Our favourite himbo is like the best gift that keeps giving! Are we truly seeing a newer, better version of Nate Beckett since he became an Intelligence Officer? Is he the type of guy that works better in this area of expertise instead of in what he was doing before? I feel this new chapter in his life is such a positive one for his own development and his own standing in the crew. And again, more great interaction between him and Thawn. I feel like we're seeing a great sort of brother-sister relationship here, I just wish Thawn would eventually come off her high horse and accept the many hands of friendship he has shown her recently. Plus it's not just Nate doing a great job here, more Rhade-Thawn interaction - why oh why oh why won't they finally give each other the time and day so they could sort out this mess and find the much-needed middle ground here? More teasing here, but I love it! Finally, Sadek's one-liner had me cracking up! I love her remarks! More please!

    November 13, 2022