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

All the Devils Are Here – 21

Gym, USS Endeavour
November 2400
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‘Is this going to help?’ Kharth eyeballed the punching bag warily.

Carraway didn’t look especially at home in workout gear, but he gamely held the bag in the middle of the empty gym. ‘Seeing how little we know about what does and doesn’t make telepaths susceptible to blood dilithium, who knows?’ he said with a reassuring smile.

‘I’m going to punch the genocided ghosts out of me?’ But she adjusted the gloves and stepped up.

The first blow was deliberately hard, and enough to make an unprepared Carraway stagger. His smile turned wry. ‘You’re the only person aboard who’s recovered from an… attack by blood dilithium. So you’re the only person who can speak to a state of mind when it happened. And you said you were angry.’

Kharth gritted her teeth, trying to focus on her footwork, on the blows. ‘I wasn’t angry because of the mission. And this is just a workout, Counsellor, even if you’ve got me hitting things.’

Carraway set his feet better against the next swing. ‘You were happy, then?’

‘It was a serious mission,’ she huffed. ‘I wasn’t anything.’

‘Not even about working with Dav?’ Her next blow was less solid. ‘I know you two haven’t spoken much.’

‘That’s business as usual.’

‘I don’t think you two have business as usual.’

‘He doesn’t make me angry,’ she said curtly.

‘I can see that.’

Kharth stepped away from the bag. ‘I’m not getting mad because you’re making me think of Dav. I’m irritated because you’re poking at something private but irrelevant. What’s your win condition here, Counsellor? I get furious, blood dilithium takes over, and I beat you?’

Carraway looked like he was considering his words. ‘I’d say your security guards would stop me, but they didn’t keep Brennos safe.’

Her next swing was heavy and made him grunt at the impact. ‘Rhade works closely with my department; he’s known, he’s trusted, he’s respected. Griffin had no reason to question him.’

‘He had no reason to stop an officer who had no business talking to the prisoner? A telepath?’

‘It’s not his fault,’ she snapped. A quick side-step, another blow. ‘I should have put these protocols in sooner.’

‘The captain didn’t want to treat all telepaths as possible criminals.’

‘Then I should have argued with him!’ This came at last bursting from her chest, and as Carraway’s eyes widened a millimetre, she stepped back. Her breathing was ragged for a moment, then her lip curled. ‘You’re trying to piss me off. Seeing if blood dilithium kicks in?’

‘I doubt that’s the link. I thought it might be useful for you to see that getting angry doesn’t make blood dilithium take over, though,’ he admitted. As her shoulders slumped, he stepped around the punching bag. ‘What were you to do, Saeihr? Remove yourself from duty the moment we had the report about the Merevek?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Removing our telepaths from duty would have replaced one problem with another. Not to mention we have so little understanding of what makes telepaths susceptible; it’s not a reasonable response. We know more now by you having a… moment… on the mission, and recovering.’ Carraway’s gaze softened. ‘Why did you regain control?’

Kharth closed her eyes. ‘Does it matter?’

‘For T’Kalla? Turak? Rhade? People on other ships? It really might.’

Her teeth ground together, and she stepped away from the bag. When her eyes opened, her gaze fixed on her gloves, and she began to fidget with them. ‘Dav, of course,’ she said, voice hoarse. ‘He stopped me doing – I’m not sure what I was going to do. Try to leave and blow everything up, I think. But he didn’t just stop me, he talked me down. Maybe it was the environment – we were floating in the vacuum of space, a lot of our systems were down, the only thing I could see or hear was him…’

‘And the Brenari,’ said Carraway softly. ‘He drowned them out.’

Kharth swallowed. ‘I’ve never so much as noticed any latent telepathy; my aptitude is that limited,’ she said at last. ‘That’s probably the only thing that saved me.’

He watched her for a moment, then sighed. ‘Maybe. But I can say two things to you, Saeihr: Nothing that you’ve said in our sessions before this, in this training, makes me comfortable relieving you of duty. You seem sound of mind. I agree entirely with making Lieutenant Song your shadow, but if we run into trouble, if we face the Devore again, I think it’s in the interests of everyone aboard that you stand at Tactical.’

‘Song was at Tactical last time,’ she pointed out, shoulders sinking. ‘But if you say so, Counsellor.’ She pulled off her gloves, then frowned. ‘What’s the second thing?’

‘Maybe I’m being naive,’ said Carraway, ‘but it seems like having people who can reach you is a protection against blood dilithium. Even if timing is everything.’

She watched him. ‘You’re saying I should talk to Airex.’

He gave an apologetic smile. ‘My advice is always that people should talk to each other. I know that’s why you all avoid me. I’ll make you have conversations you don’t want to have.’

Kharth rolled her eyes. ‘Thank you, Counsellor. If that’s all?’

He let her go and she let her body take over so she didn’t have to think, carrying her back to her quarters and getting her in the shower after the long workout Carraway had demanded of her before they’d gone near the punching bag. He was a fan of combining exercise with conversations in her sessions, and she had to begrudgingly accept that it worked. Burning out energy gave her mind and feelings space. It also made her less likely to storm off.

She was washed and in a fresh uniform and staring at a PADD with a blank message open when the door-chime sounded, and Kharth sighed with relief at the interruption. Otherwise she might have done something dangerous, like reach out to Airex.

Then she opened the door to find Airex himself stood there, and couldn’t help but swear.

He winced. ‘I can come back later. Or, ah, not at all.’

No.’ Bitterly she waved him in. ‘Did Carraway send you?’

‘I’m conveniently low on Greg’s priority list,’ Airex mused, stepping in. ‘If nothing else, my long-term well-being isn’t his concern.’

Something twisted in her at the reminder his presence was only temporary. Though they had kept each other at arm’s length when he’d served on the old Endeavour and they’d fallen into much of the same habits, she had so quickly become accustomed to his presence, however distant. ‘You’ll be back in Admiral Beckett’s office when this is over?’

‘I assume so.’ He fidgeted with his sleeve. ‘I came to ask if you’ve spoken to Thawn.’

Thawn? No. Why?’

Airex winced again. ‘I, ah. We used the trumpet.’

Kharth’s jaw dropped. ‘You what?’

Shockingly it seems like what the Brenari telepathic echoes want is mass slaughter of all Devore.’

‘Astonishing. I’m so glad you fried Thawn’s brain to find that out. Is she alright?’

‘I don’t know,’ he admitted. ‘But I know she’s been helping you with meditation. I wondered if she’d reached out. I thought it possible she wouldn’t speak to Carraway.’

‘And he wouldn’t be allowed to report back anyway.’ Her eyes narrowed. ‘Are you hoping I can give you research data?’

‘No!’ He looked horrified. ‘I argued against doing this in the past, but I… the stakes are high. With what happened to Rhade, what happened to – to you.’ It looked like he hadn’t meant to say that, then committed and straightened, looking her in the eye. ‘I couldn’t stand by and do nothing.’

Kharth swallowed as she felt, for the first time in a long time, the warmth in the blue of his gaze. For a long time his eyes had turned to ice. ‘Commander…’

‘I don’t expect you to forgive me, you know,’ he continued, like he’d tumbled off a cliff and had no choice but to keep going. ‘I can’t ever make amends for what’s happened. But I will never stop caring about you.’

Again she hesitated, and when she found her voice she realised she didn’t have words to go with it. So she wasn’t wholly surprised when her mouth opened and she said, ‘The letter.’

Airex blinked. ‘The letter?’

‘I – that letter I sent you. Weeks ago, when I was on shore leave.’ Kharth twisted her fingers together, uncommonly nervous. ‘I’m really sorry if that gave you some sort of impression, but I – I was really drunk when I wrote it. With Isa. And I… I don’t actually remember what it said.’

He stilled. ‘Oh.’ His lips set, and for a moment she thought she’d said something horribly upsetting for which he had to steel himself. Then they twisted and she realised he was trying and failing to not laugh. ‘That explains a lot.’

‘What… did it say?’

With a crooked smile he extended a hand for a PADD. She handed it over mutely and waited, heart thudding in her chest as he accessed his records before handing it back. There it was, the message sent weeks ago, her name at the top with the right time-stamp.

Kharth stared at the text below, which could only generously be called ‘writing’. ‘This is absolutely incomprehensible.’

‘It… is.’ Airex was clearly trying to not laugh. ‘I’m sorry, I honestly thought you’d sat on a PADD or something.’

She tossed the PADD down and pressed her hands against her temples. ‘Oh, hells, I can’t believe I spent time worrying about this while blood dilithium was trying to melt my brain and in the end it looks like I butt-messaged you.’

‘I didn’t think it was fair to draw attention to it. It was obviously a mistake.’

‘Obviously.’ She dragged her hands down. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t be. I assumed that my name had come up for some reason. Even without actual content it was… nice.’ He hesitated. ‘However meaningless, it felt like a small reminder of us.’

Us. ‘I should thank you,’ she rasped. ‘For bringing me back at the Repository.’

His gaze softened again. ‘I think,’ he said at length, ‘we have a long way to go before you’re in my debt.’

Kharth swallowed again, and relief flooded through her when there was a chirrup of the com systems.

Rourke to command staff. We’re one hour out from the Taxtose system.

Reality flooded back with this, and she snapped upright. ‘That reminds me,’ Kharth blurted, suddenly all business. ‘You want to just take the Merlin down with you and Beckett and nobody else?’

‘I thought Harkon could fly us,’ Airex allowed, blinking at the sudden swerve in tone. ‘But we’re talking about an historic site hundreds of years old. I would rather initial examination be done by as few people as possible.’

‘We’re on a wild chase against genocidal Devore; I’m not sure the historic integrity of a location is our priority.’

‘We can disagree there, but we don’t want to destroy what might be, who knows. A data bank holding information on the Regulators. A container holding a Regulator itself.’ His eyebrows raised. ‘We’re both trained A&A officers and are the best people to conduct an initial survey. Especially considering the irradiated conditions on the planet.’

‘Which we think will cut you off from all communication.’

He shrugged. ‘Then send one of the Black Knights with us; we can communicate with them and they can act as a relay to Endeavour in orbit.’

‘That’s…’ Kharth’s voice trailed off. She really, really wanted to argue with this. ‘A reasonable compromise.’

His smile was quietly pleased. ‘If that’s the case, Commander, then I should go and make these final preparations for our landing party.’ At her nod he turned to the doorway, stopping only as he got there and glancing back. ‘By the way, I never said.’

Apprehension tightened her throat. ‘Said what?’

His eyes flickered down to her third pip. ‘Congratulations on your promotion. It’s deserved.’

Then he left, and she stood quietly wishing she’d argued more, argued that she should go with him to the surface. Not out of a sense of safety. But so she could hurl herself into an irradiated atmosphere, because that would be aeons better than whatever this detente between them was.

Comments

  • That was delicious development for Kharth and Airex. There's always been this chasm between them since the Stormbreaker campaign and I really hope this is the moment they will find more and more common ground to resolve historical differences. Furthermore, Greg is such a typical counsellor, but such a great one! He knows when to push.

    November 28, 2022
  • The drunk letter, which had been hanging over Kharth this whole time, this letter she was afraid contained some sort of Drunk Kharth declaration to Airex and it turns out to be incomprehensible garbage?! Are you kidding me? Oh that's just perfect! I was laughing out loud. I was so totally primed for something revelatory and instead got something so, so much better. It set the stage for these two to start that reconnection themselves face-to-face instead and that's so much nicer. Lovely delivery and well done!

    December 3, 2022
  • I'm intrigued by Carraway's little examination here. It's an interesting thought experiment to explore how a telepath's own state of mind could impact the levels and intensity of blood dilithium susceptibility. Exploring the metaphor of blood dilithium in the context of mental wellbeing made space for Carraway to offer some insightful recommendations. Kharth continues to be my favourite character between the discussion of the drunken butt-dial to ‘I’m going to punch the genocided ghosts out of me?’

    December 11, 2022