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

All the Devils Are Here – 11

Bridge, USS Endeavour
November 2400
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If the ships surrounding Starbase 38 before the Barzan Wormhole had looked like flies caught in the mighty starbase’s web, then the hustle around the Markonian Outpost was more like a hive. Beyond the other Starfleet ships at the periphery of the action, try as Beckett might he could barely identify the vessels lurking around this sprawling mass of a station. More sections of hull, from constructed extensions to simply hulks of old freighters, had been stapled to it over the decades to increase space, and given it the approximate design integrity of a coffee stain.

‘I think that’s Pendari,’ he mused, nodding to one scout buzzing around the periphery. ‘That could be Shivolian? That…’

‘We all believe you did your homework, Nate,’ said Rourke with soft amusement. They and Valance stood before the command chairs on Endeavour’s bridge, watching through the viewscreen as they approached the outpost. The captain looked to his right. ‘Anything interesting on sensors, Commander?’

Although Davir Airex had never been Chief Science Officer aboard this USS Endeavour, he still looked as if he’d always belonged at his bridge station. ‘Many interesting things, Captain, but nothing out of the ordinary for our purposes,’ the Trill drawled. ‘I cannot recommend we bring blood dilithium any closer, however.’

‘Absolutely not,’ Rourke agreed. ‘Which is why we’ll be sending an away team on the Merlin to find this Goravin or his trail. Valance, Airex, Rosewood, Nate, you’re up. Harkon will fly you over. I’ll liaise with the DEI from here in the meantime, see if we have any more pressing business than chasing some Devores’ tails.’

Valance glanced at the three men. ‘I don’t anticipate trouble aboard Markonian. They have tight security. The four of us will do.’

‘And also,’ said Beckett as they headed for the turbolift, ‘you can probably break anyone who starts something over your knee, Commander.’

Rosewood clapped him on the back once they were on the lift. ‘Let’s call that Plan B, Nate. After all, look at us. We’ve got the silver-tongued team here.’

 


 

‘I don’t know who that is, I don’t care who that is, I don’t care who you are, so go away.’

Two hours into the mission, John Rosewood looked a lot less perky as he stepped away from the traders’ stall. ‘I didn’t even get around to trying to bribe him!’ he protested upon rejoining the others at the edge of the traffic through this corridor-turned-market.

Markonian Outpost was a swarm of activity, and for his part Beckett was happy to soak in the sights and sounds of a hundred aliens he’d never seen before in his life and a thousand languages that without the universal translator he’d never have a hope of comprehending. The sprawling nature of the base meant it had proven harder than they’d anticipated to find a main hub or nexus to start hunting down one person who might not even be aboard, and a not insignificant chunk of their time so far had been spent walking.

Valance rubbed her forehead wearily. ‘Fine. Asking wherever we see people and hoping for luck isn’t getting us anywhere. We need a change of plans.’

‘I expect everyone,’ mused Airex, also looking thoroughly distracted by the sights and sounds of the outpost, ‘is on-edge considering how blood dilithium’s turning everything upside-down.’

‘Maybe if we find some Brenari?’ said Rosewood. ‘This Goravin is a scholar of their history, they’ll possibly know him.’

‘Sure,’ said Beckett with a wince. ‘We’ll just wander over to the Brenari quarter. Look around, Commander; everyone’s tossed in with everyone here.’

‘This is ridiculous,’ Valance groaned. ‘We don’t know anything about this Vizan Regulator, and all we have is a name of someone who may or may not be here. We should check in with the ship and if the captain’s received fresh orders from the DEI, we can leave this whole thing alone.’

Airex cocked his head as he listened, brow furrowing an iota. ‘The Devore believe in reports of this device enough to send a ship to follow leads and hunt it down.’

‘I agree,’ said Beckett with a wince. ‘Anything the Devore want, I reckon they shouldn’t get.’

Rosewood was stroking his chin as he took in the sights. ‘Prospectors,’ he said at last.

Valance scowled. ‘What?’

‘Prospectors!’ He grinned. ‘Vekans said they knew Goravin because they were mining engineers. Goravin clearly deals in excavation, and sure, we might not easily find where the archaeologists just hang out on a place like this. But if Goravin pays prospectors to notify him if they come across what he can turn into a dig-site… they might know him.’

‘That’s sound reasoning,’ Airex agreed, ‘and it’ll be considerably easier to find miners than scholars.’

It was not quite as easy as that. Offices and shop-fronts were grouped as people had rented space, rather than by industry, and establishments ranged from peddlers of what Airex suggested was bemonite mixed with simple basalt dust, to slick front offices of expansive mining industries.

Goravin?’ Eventually a Shivolian responded with recognition. ‘Old Death-to-Profit himself?’

Rosewood gave the polite chuckle of one getting in on the joke without presuming to understand it. ‘Why do you call him that?’

The Shivolian shrugged. ‘He’s a nuisance. Promises fortune and glory if you come across some old remains, convinces you to stop your work so he can study it and it’ll definitely bring you fame once he’s written his book about it… he’s well-connected but a good company only falls for his hot air once.’

Beckett popped up at Rosewood’s shoulder. ‘He finds interesting sites, then?’

Rosewood all but shoved Beckett back. ‘I get you,’ he said to the Shivolian in a conspiratorial manner. ‘But we’re researchers with much better facilities than him. We’re hoping to buy some leads off him – and we’re in a position to make sure any mining operations are well-compensated.’ His toothy grin widened as the Shivolian hesitated. ‘Haven’t you seen all the shiny Starfleet ships near Markonian? We’re on a mission of science, and we can pay.’

The Shivolian’s narrow reptilian nostrils flared. ‘He’s got an office two decks up, Section Pliftah. And you’re in luck. He’s in town.’

‘People here,’ Rosewood hissed at Beckett as the four of them left the stand, ‘don’t care about the scientific curiosity of our work. You gotta meet them on their own terms.’

‘Then why did you tell them we are scientists?’ Beckett asked.

‘Because I want them to think we’re rich idiots.’

Valance made a slashing action with her palm. ‘We’ve got what we want. Let’s see if there’s anything to this.’

Beckett stepped up alongside her as they proceeded through the thick mess of cultural soup that was Markonian. ‘You don’t seem to think much is going to come of this, Commander.’

‘I don’t know what’s going to come of this, and neither do you, Lieutenant.’ She was terse even by Valance’s usual standards. ‘Without a solid lead or indication of what this device is – and if it exists – this is just a fishing expedition.’

‘The Devore are taking this so seriously they’re deploying hunting parties, by their logs,’ Beckett insisted.

‘The Devore might be wrong.’

‘Sure,’ said Beckett, ‘but they look ready to tear people apart over this, so we should know what they’re after even if it is an urban legend, right?’ Valance didn’t have a good answer for that, and Beckett took it as a win and allowed himself to enjoy the rest of the hike.

For once, he found himself pleasantly surprised by their destination. He’d expected little of the offices of an itinerant archaeologist, but what they found was a shop with the front display full of curios he was sure were copies of actual artifacts. Inside was shelves and dust, books and objects of interest from a thousand cultures, all piled up on top of each other, and his heart spun at how little he recognised any of it. In the Alpha Quadrant, he might have seen something from an unknown culture that still had echoes and influences of something he knew. This was a whole new world.

A wild-haired Brenari male stuck his head up from behind a stack at their arrival, his eyes narrowing. ‘Starfleet! I was wondering how long it’d take you to slither your way in here.’ He advanced, waggling a finger. ‘I’ve heard of your exploits, launching your ways across galaxies and now rushing here, the frontier of discovery. Don’t tell me, you’ve heard of my expedition to the Trubidean Wastes and you want the star-charts to get you there…’

Beckett had almost lost his nose in a pile of curiosities and Rosewood looked like he was charging up on slick charm, so it was Valance who stepped forward and said, ‘Stop trying to read my mind. Are you Goravin? We’re here on serious business.’

The Brenari paused. ‘I am,’ he said at length. ‘And I assure you that if I had the facilities to sweep for sapient microscopic life ahead of a dig, I’d be taking every precaution, no matter what the Imhotep said…’

‘Your friend Vekans and her ship were captured by Devore. Some of them were killed. We’ve rescued them, but they reported the Devore were looking for a Vaadwaur object.’ Valance spoke in a quick, clipped tone. ‘The Vizan Regulator.’

An object.’ Goravin rolled his eyes. ‘As if there’s just one lurking around – that is to say, there may be none left, it’s an ancient Vaadwaur design for slave control. But the Vaadwaur Supremacy lasted centuries and ended centuries ago; they had all manner of designs…’

‘The Devore want it,’ Valance snapped. ‘So we need to know about it. Because they’re prepared to arrest and kill your people over it.’

‘The Devore are prepared to arrest and kill my people for breathing,’ Goravin pointed out. ‘So you can give up now, Starfleet, expecting me to give you information for free out of self-interest.’

Valance hesitated, seemingly realising she’d pushed too hard, and Airex stepped in with a placating raising of the hands. ‘My apologies, Mister Goravin,’ he said smoothly. ‘We’re officers from the starship Endeavour. We’re explorers first and foremost, but we also have the means of protecting people from the Devore while we’re out here. And the Devore are a problem right now.’

Goravin curled his lip. ‘You don’t know much, do you.’ But then he scratched a straggly beard and harrumphed. ‘The Devore have been more trouble lately. Pushing right beyond their usual space. I travel light and they don’t trouble me much, but you said they got Vekans and her crew?’ He hesitated. ‘And her husband Forian?’

Valance’s eyes softened. ‘He was killed by the Devore. Who were asking them about the Vizan Regulator.’

‘We’re not looking,’ piped up Rosewood, ‘to get information from you for free, sir. We can come to an arrangement. As Commander Airex said, we’re explorers like you.’

Goravin clicked his tongue. ‘You mean rivals. A score of Starfleet ships sweeping in, all of you scientists, with way bigger facilities than I have… the only advantage I have over you is my decades of experience out here, my knowledge of the region, of local history.’

‘We weren’t brought here on a mission of scientific research,’ Valance said. ‘We were brought here by the blood dilithium, to respond to the chaos it’s been causing. You must have felt it.’

‘Felt it? It’s ruined three possible leads. People either won’t give up information or – you know there was a lost Qomar colony I was hunting down, and when I found it? Red dilithium. Everywhere. It ruined the site of a settlement a thousand years old. And my assistant tried to stab me.’ Goravin rolled his eyes like this last threat to life and limb was an annoyance compared to the blow to history. ‘I outlasted the Aksani-Chessu War, the Hirogen Overreach, the Borg. I’ll be operating long after this latest problem’s over. But not if Starfleet eats up everything I, a lone businessman, is after.’

‘What about,’ tried Airex, ‘we buy information off you that comes with no locational tags. Just data you have on the Vizan Regulator, no indication of which old Vaadwaur colony it came from, nothing like that. Just more information on what it is, so we can do a tactical assessment of the Devore’s interest.’

Goravin’s nose wrinkled. ‘What do I get?’

‘Access for two artifacts of your choice,’ said Rosewood quickly, sliding up beside Airex, ‘to our multi-spectrum scientific scanner aboard Endeavour, which can provide the most sophisticated analysis in two quadrants in ten minutes.’ Airex glared at him, but the diplomatic officer didn’t waver.

A pause. ‘Four.’

‘Three.’

‘Done.’ Goravin grunted. ‘I’ll sift through my files and anonymise them. Wait here. Don’t touch things.’ He turned for a narrow door to a back room.

Valance turned to Rosewood. ‘We’re going to give him access to our facilities in exchange for nothing?’

‘At the very worst, Commander, we help a local gain further understanding of the history of his locale,’ said Rosewood, not sounding like he believed it. ‘But this way we can get him aboard Endeavour, let Commander Airex and Lieutenant Beckett impress him with the archaeological facilities we have aboard, get him swept along in the spirit of science…’

Airex exhaled through his nose. ‘I’ve been back five seconds,’ he groaned, ‘and I’m already feeling protective of my toys. It’s a reasonable notion, Commander. We’ll see what comes of it. What do you think, Beckett?’ A pause. ‘Beckett?’

Beckett eventually snapped upright, realising he was emerging from behind a stack of books. ‘Here! Sorry, he’s got some fascinating stuff… uh, I agree with John. Commander Rosewood.’

Valance harrumphed. ‘Let’s see how this goes, then. But if he comes up with nothing, this deal will go badly for him.’

‘We could spend,’ mused Beckett, disappearing back behind the stacks in the shop, ‘a decade here and still not have enough cultural context to understand…’

It was because he was hunkered down that the new arrivals bursting through the front door didn’t spot him. Which was why he wasn’t shot at when the four Devore opened fire.

Comments

  • Design integrity of a coffee stain - so pretty solid if it's an important shirt, washes out of the ragged t-shirt just fine. Sounds absolutely perfect for the Markonian Outpost. I love this marketplace trawling expedition, Rosewood getting to a slick salesman to boot. Something I don't think we'd have seen Hale doing, but Rosewood was keen. It was after all a grand adventure for him. And I love Beckett's disappearing in the curio shop. That vibe of someone disappearing into a library not to be seen again for ages. Very Henry Jones Sr. Can see him smashing a Devore with a vase and being heartbroken before spotting the obvious fake. Science Nerd Beckett is just as much a delight as Himbo Beckett.

    November 14, 2022