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

All the Devils Are Here – 16

Senior Officer Quarters, USS Endeavour
November 2400
1 likes 599 views

It was hard enough to confront an elephant in the room when one could sense it but not identify it, and doing so first thing in the morning was all but impossible. So Airex waited until he’d poured the second cup of coffee before he set the cafetiere down, steepling his fingers in front of him, and said, ‘Not that I mind hosting, but is there a reason you changed plans so we’re having breakfast at my quarters and not yours?’

Valance stabbed the yolk of her poached egg with a hint of vitriol. ‘I have shared rooms,’ she said a little tonelessly. ‘You don’t.’

‘I’ve also barely moved in, and I didn’t realise Isa was an intrusion. She’s astute enough to know if she should leave us alone.’

He watched her face as he mentioned Cortez and saw the shield of ice slide down. When the only discernible sign of change was the steeling of control, he knew things were really wrong.

‘She’s been pulling long shifts,’ Valance said at length. ‘So I’m not kicking her out just so we can have breakfast.’

‘So you do want to talk about something while she’s not here.’

She glanced up with a flash of frustration. ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

Once, that would have been enough. But those days he’d been hiding too much from himself to not let her obfuscate. Approaching head-on rarely worked, though, and Airex dug into his toast as he thought. ‘You seemed tense on Markonian.’

That only made Valance look more tense. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’

Airex sighed and resisted the urge to roll his eyes. ‘I’ve been gone a while,’ he allowed, ‘and I appreciate I don’t have much right to your thoughts or confidence any more. But it’s apparent something’s wrong, Karana. You’re a scientist and you’re a diplomat and you demonstrated none of that in your behaviour with Goravin. You practically bullied him into compliance.’

For a moment she looked indignant, then her gaze went distant. ‘A scientist. Am I?’

He frowned. ‘You’ve a record of long service on multiple explorers. We conducted all manner of survey and research missions together under Captain MacCallister. I don’t care that you’ve been a pilot, or an officer on a Klingon ship, and I don’t care about what happened on the Derby.’ He considered arguing his point, but knew he’d just have to push. ‘What’s on your mind?’

Valance wiped her mouth with a napkin before tossing it down. ‘We’re here to make sense of blood dilithium, manifesting after a subspace pulse. Endeavour has some of the most sophisticated sensors in the quadrant; we could be hunting down subspace anomalies and running scans, trying to make sense of blood dilithium where it originates, trying to understand with far more data than one sample in a lab.’

‘Instead,’ Airex said delicately, ‘we’re hunting down something the Devore might use blood dilithium to turn into a weapon of mass destruction.’

She worked her jaw. ‘You know I understand the importance. But it’s been like this for… so long.’ With a sigh, Valance shook her head. ‘Endeavour’s work is hugely important. I truly believe we’ve made a difference in the Neutral Zone. But we’ve also faced down Romulan attack forces, rescued ships and worlds from phenomena threatening the lives of thousands, hunted ancient Tkon sites to stop their technology wreaking havoc on the galaxy. And that’s just since you left.’

He reached for his mug and wrapped his hands around its warmth. ‘Are you regretting staying on with Rourke?’

‘It’s not like he looks for trouble -’

‘He’s a captain with significant combat experience who thrives under pressures like these. His superiors will thus send him into pressures like these, and as his XO you’re a strong right hand to help steer through unsteady waters. This isn’t about his fault or his choice, but the nature of this assignment.’ He tapped his thumbs on the rim of the mug. ‘Is this why you’re avoiding Isa?’

Valance looked guarded. ‘I don’t see the connection.’

‘You don’t?’ Airex blinked with honest confusion. ‘If you’re growing tired of the work this ship does, the natural choice is to move on. But you have ties here.’

She looked down. ‘I spoke to the captain the other day. I’m not in any rush, but it’s been a while since the prospect of command came up. Maybe it would be different on my own ship. Maybe it’s time to think about it.’

‘And Isa?’ he pressed again.

‘Is considering an assignment with the SCE.’ Valance met his gaze and spoke so tonelessly he knew something was really wrong. ‘And doesn’t seem to want to discuss it with me.’

Airex considered this a moment. ‘Isa Cortez is a brilliant engineer,’ he said slowly, ‘and it does not surprise me that opportunities have come her way. But I expect she has had many such opportunities these past two years. Was she considering this one before, or after you were considering pursuing your own ship?’

‘Before,’ Valance said defensively.

‘Which is part of why you’re now open to leaving,’ he pointed out. ‘Without her to tether you here.’

‘It’s not like we’re married.’

‘You live together. You’ve been involved for almost two years now, on a posting many officers would be happy to settle down on long-term. There’s a significant motivation to stay on Endeavour and build your lives here. Or have you not spoken about the future?’

Valance’s next look was a little baleful. ‘She’s the one who considered this transfer, and immediately turned it on me and my ambitions even though I’d not even thought about command.’

‘Yes, but Karana…’ Airex’s breath caught in his throat. ‘She and I both know you too well to pretend that your turn in the captain’s chair is a question of if rather than when.’

‘You were a captain,’ she said after a moment’s thought. ‘Or, Tabain was. How did you balance relationships and your command?’

‘Tabain’s wife wasn’t in Starfleet. But it was difficult. And there are reasons Tabain never commanded more than a light explorer. But that was a century ago.’ He leaned forwards. ‘Don’t tell me it’s never occurred to you to find your own ship and then bring her with you.’

‘Isa’s a brilliant engineer and I was last offered command of a Reliant; she would be slumming it professionally if she followed me.’

‘Yes, that’s how careers and relationships work together,’ Airex pressed. ‘You can rarely have it all in life. You compromise something. Whether it’s the career of one of you, or the relationship.’

Valance looked away again. ‘Why would I compromise my career,’ she breathed, ‘if she’s got one foot out the door?’

‘I think,’ he said, a little more delicate, ‘that it’s easy to forget that Isa has her own emotional weak points.’

‘What do you mean?’

He met her gaze and forced her to hold it. ‘I mean that she’s compromised her career for a relationship before, and she ended up burnt on both ends.’

Valance looked stricken at that, but a glance at the clock reminded Airex their duty shifts loomed, and he did not press the matter further for now.

Endeavour arrived at Abaddon’s Repository of Lost Treasures, as Airex begrudgingly reminded everyone Starfleet records listed it, before 1500 hours that day. Airex stood at his post at Science and watched his sensors come to life with a slew of readings, pings piling up on top of each other before they had even dropped out of warp.

He was a seasoned enough science officer to work with numbers and sensor readings better than anything else, but even he found it bewildering without the sight rushing up on the viewscreen. There was a reason Abaddon’s was referred to as a junkyard; if Markonian had been a hive of new ships and sights and objects he’d never witnessed the likes of before, this was a cemetery.

‘Detecting somewhere in the region of seventy-six ships, Captain,’ he read off his sensors. ‘And several hundred parts. The space station in the centre looks like it’s been built out of other ships, as well.’

‘This must be it,’ mused Rourke, pushing to his feet. ‘Any chance of identifying Goravin’s ship in all this mess?’

‘Not without a more long-term scan.’

‘Alright.’ Rourke straightened his uniform. ‘Elsa, let’s hail the owner.’

Airex had studied the records and knew what to expect of Abaddon himself, but the figure who appeared on the viewscreen in response to the hail was not Abaddon. An alien woman with ridges running across the side of her head and sharp, pale, rat-like features, peered at them with a suspicious air.

This is the Repository of Lost Treasures. We don’t have any deuterium for sale; stop asking.’

Rourke’s eyebrows raised a half-inch. ‘We’re not here for deuterium. I’m Captain Rourke of the Federation starship Endeavour, and I’m looking to do business with Abaddon.’

I am Levellir. I work for Abaddon. You can do business with me.’ She leaned forward, eyes narrowing. ‘Starfleet don’t visit often.

‘Then I hope this can be a pleasant change. I’m looking for a ship.’

We have lots of ships.

‘A specific ship. Brenari in design. Its former owner believes it fell into your hands.’

Everything we have has been acquired legally –

Rourke lifted a hand. ‘I’m not questioning that. We recognise the ship fell out of its former owner’s hands fairly, and we’re of course happy to compensate you. I’m sending you data on the ship now; is it in your collection?’

At the push of a button Lindgren sent the records on Goravin’s ship over, and Levellir looked off-screen for a time as she read, hit some buttons, appeared to check her records. At length she nodded. ‘That ship is in our collection, and has been for some weeks.

‘It’s the computer database we’re interested in,’ said Rourke, ‘so we’d want to be sure its records are intact before we can make any arrangement.’

The warp and fusion drives have been stripped as a security precaution,’ said Levellir in a haughty manner, ‘but the ship’s undergone a quality check. If you want something in its computer, it’s there.

Rourke’s shoulders relaxed an iota. ‘Is it for sale?’

It is.’ Levellir tapped her chin. ‘Transmitting you a price now.

There was a chirrup at Lindgren’s panel, and the communications officer took a sharp breath. At everyone’s looks, she grimaced and projected a display above her panel, twisting it to show the rest of the bridge the Repository’s requested price: A significant quantity of dilithium.

Blood dilithium.

Rourke sucked his teeth. ‘We don’t trade in blood dilithium.’

Everyone trades in it right now,’ Levellir said with a shrug.

‘I can provide you with a respectable quantity of normal dilithium -’

That isn’t what I’m interested in.’ She leaned forwards. ‘It’s plentiful, Rourke. I don’t know why you’re quibbling.

‘If it’s so plentiful, I don’t know why you want it?’

That part isn’t your business.

Rourke grimaced. ‘The Devore have been expanding beyond their historic borders; we’re seeking to -’

The Devore haven’t dared come near me; they won’t start that trouble. You have a large ship with huge cargo space, Rourke. I see no reason you can’t acquire and transport me the blood dilithium I’ve asked for. Otherwise…’ Levellir shrugged. ‘I don’t see a way forward in this trade. I’ll let you think about it. Repository out.

The viewscreen went dead, and Rourke swore quietly. In the silence that followed, Airex drew a slow breath. ‘Under no circumstances,’ he said softly, ‘can we distribute blood dilithium to one of the most prolific traders in the region. It’ll leave the sector in days.’

Valance nodded. ‘We’ll have to think of something else in payment.’

‘I’ll start checking our inventory,’ Thawn offered.

‘Do that,’ Rourke said, then scratched his cheek. ‘But in the meantime. We’re going to have to come up with a different plan.’

Valance looked at him. ‘What do you mean?’

Airex gave a soft groan. ‘Sir, I cannot under any circumstances recommend that. It would be chaos if Starfleet robbed Abaddon’s Repository.’

‘You mean to say,’ said Rourke with a wry, crooked grin, ‘it would be chaos if Starfleet were caught robbing Abaddon’s Repository.’

Comments

  • This was the sit-down and talk that Valance has needed to have for a long time and boy did it tug on the heartstrings. And of course, just foreshadows even more. I'm rooting for Valance and Isa, I really am! This is a wonderful exploration of those questions and doubts relationships go through. As for Rourke, has Sidda been a bad influence? I knew piracy was on the books with 'a different plan' and grinned like an idiot with 'if Starfleet were caught robbing'. I'm looking forward to the caper!

    November 23, 2022