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

All the Devils Are Here – 22

Bridge, USS Endeavour
November 2400
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‘Radiation in the atmosphere is at a Level 4,’ Thawn reported from Ops. ‘Long-range scans were right; nobody wants to go go anywhere near this planet without significant protection.’

Rourke frowned at the brown-grey clouds of the upper atmosphere that were all the naked eye could see of Taxtose IV. The untrained might have even thought it a gas giant at a glance, not a class-M so devastated by a nuclear firestorm that life had no chance of thriving for a thousand years. ‘Will the away team manage?’

‘We brought out the highest-rated EV suits,’ Kharth confirmed from behind him. ‘They don’t want to be outside of the runabout for more than six hours, but they’ll be protected.’

Merlin is away,’ Arys confirmed from Helm. ‘Black Knight One is away.’

On Rourke’s armrest display, two small dots appeared next to Endeavour as the small craft broke for the surface. ‘Put me through,’ he told Lindgren, and cleared his throat at the chirrup of comm systems coming to life. ‘Endeavour to away team. You have your instructions; start with a flyover, and only land if you’re confident you have something.’

Already Airex’s voice was crackly on the response, even though the Merlin had barely penetrated the upper atmosphere. ‘We’ll be cautious in our assessment, Captain. If sensors don’t tell us anything, we’re not going to scour the entire continent. Goravin’s records have given us a good starting point, though.

‘Remember that you’re on your own down there,’ said Valance crisply. ‘It won’t take long before the atmosphere blocks all comms.’

That’s why I’m here, Commander,’ came Lieutenant Whitaker’s voice from the Valkyrie-class fighter swooping for the planet alongside the Merlin. ‘Happy to play go-between and watch their backs.

‘If you land, I want Whitaker telling us,’ Rourke reminded them. ‘And then hourly updates from there. It’ll be hard flying back and forth, Lieutenant.’

After flying against the Romulan Navy? I can handle some stormy weather, Captain.’

Valance had to visibly fight to not roll her eyes at the young pilot’s confidence, and Rourke gave her a placating smile as he lifted a hand. ‘Then on a scientific basis: good hunting, Merlin, Black Knight One. Come back with a fortune in knowledge.’ Any reply was swallowed by the atmosphere of Taxtose, and Rourke sank back on his chair.

‘I don’t like this,’ Kharth said bluntly. ‘We’re out on a limb in an under-explored region of the Belt. Anything could be down there.’

‘According to our scans,’ Rourke mused, ‘I expect very little is down there. Our away team are responsible officers.’ He pursed his lips. ‘Well. Airex is.’

Valance gave him a look. ‘That’s a little harsh,’ she said. ‘To Lieutenant Harkon.’

Lindgren giggled. ‘I’ll tell Nate about your vote of confidence, sir.’

‘Don’t worry,’ mused Kharth. ‘Thawn’s always happy to put the boot in on him.’

‘What?’ Seemingly startled, Thawn twisted in her chair. ‘I wouldn’t – I would never -’

Rourke considered making a gentle joke about his Operations Chief’s fastidiousness, but thought better of it from the trapped look in her eyes. She had been through too much these past weeks, particularly with Lieutenant Rhade’s circumstances, for it to be received in good humour. ‘Easy, everyone,’ he said at last. ‘It’s all in jest. Our officers are professionals and the best ones for the job. They’ve got this.’


‘…is that it?’ Beckett rotated his head as he peered at the Merlin’s sensor display. Their systems were struggling with the interference, and through the canopy they could only see the brown-grey clouds of Taxtose’s atmosphere. It was just as well navigational sensors were working, he thought, because otherwise they’d struggle to identify the ground, let alone Whitaker’s fighter out there somewhere.

Airex leaned over his shoulder, lips thin. ‘It matches the coordinates. Looks like a bunker. That’s promising. Can you get us there, Lieutenant?’ He looked to Harkon.

‘That’s my job!’ she said cheerfully. ‘Even if I can’t see five feet in front of us. Are you sure a flyover’s going to be much use?’

‘Sensor readings are getting clearer on the approach,’ Beckett said, but had to give a hapless shrug. ‘I’m not sure if we’ll know what any of this is until we’re in front of it.’

‘One step at a time,’ assured Airex.

‘You might want to strap yourselves in,’ Harkon called as the deck rumbled under them. ‘Conditions are going to get worse before they get better.’

‘Oh, hell,’ muttered Beckett, grabbing the safety restraints and tightening them.

For a time, it did get worse. Not just in conditions as the Merlin was buffeted by the irradiated clouds and the tug of gravity alike, and Beckett winced as they shook, as he heard Harkon consult with Whitaker over comms on conditions, as the fighter pilot went lower to check ahead in his lighter, more manoeuvrable craft.

Then Whitaker’s voice came, clear and loud and swearing violently. ‘Pull up Merlin, break break break!’

Beckett was slammed back in his seat as the Merlin surged upwards, and heard Harkon hiss at the effort and tension. His sensors flooded back to life a heartbeat later, the swirling clouds parted, and he had to give a low whistle as he saw what was before them. And how close both crafts had come to crashing into the ground. ‘I didn’t know we were this low!’

‘Flying conditions,’ said Harkon with a groan, ‘suck. I guess it’s more like a fly-on than over.’

Airex was checking sensors, nodding. ‘If there’s still any kind of a compound here, we’re right on top of it.’

‘Yeah,’ said Beckett, leaning forward at his console. ‘I’m picking up high levels of tritanium unlike anywhere else in this region; it looks like construction work. Just off our port side. Stretching underground, too.’

‘A bunker?’ Airex mused.

‘Let’s see,’ said Harkon, manoeuvring the Merlin around. She tapped her comms as she went. ‘You alright, Whitaker?’

Right as rain, Merlin. Glad I could guide your lumbering mass out of being smeared.

‘Oh, we’ll see who’s dancing at the next turbulence. See if your tin can doesn’t get flattened.’ But Harkon sounded cheerful and relieved, though she stopped the banter as the clouds shifted again at her manoeuvres for a new silhouette to break the faint, distant shape of land before them. ‘Is that it?’

Beckett, ignoring the safety guidelines, unbuckled his webbing and moved towards the canopy. ‘It is a bunker. It’s really hard to tell if that’s Vaadwaur…’

‘This is an industrial site some centuries old after massive bombardment,’ mused Airex. ‘It’s not like we have a lot of architectural cues to go off.’

‘Wow. The Vaadwaur’s enemies really did a number on them. On all of them. This was a city full of people who never did anyone any wrong…’

‘And full of people who thrived on a system built on slavery and oppression,’ Airex reminded him. ‘We’re not here to think about guilt or innocence, but the people the Vaadwaur conquered were victims, too.’

‘It looks like other ruins of old structures nearby.’ Harkon was reading off her sensors. ‘You say this is matching Goravin’s records? Guess I’m gonna have to set down so you can see what’s in there.’

Airex looked at her. ‘I didn’t say I was landing. The captain said we should only do it if absolutely necessary.’

‘Sure,’ she said. ‘But you were gonna look at your scans, Commander, and come up with a reason why it’s necessary. Weren’t you?’ She smiled sweetly.

Beckett laughed. ‘Thanks for saving us some work, Har. She’s right, sir. We should suit up?’

Airex shook his head, but he looked both pleased and a little excited. ‘As you say, Lieutenant. Let’s see the ruins of a research site for a fallen empire. I dare say nobody’s set foot here in six hundred years.’

‘I’ll even,’ said Beckett as they headed for the back, ‘let you go first.’


Commander Airex has confirmed this is the Vaadwaur facility,’ crackled Whitaker’s voice over the comms, filling Endeavour’s bridge. ‘He and Lieutenant Beckett are assessing where to go next – cracking into containment sections, or getting the databanks up and running so they can download records.’

Rourke nodded, though he could not swallow the unease at the young pilot’s report. ‘Do they need additional personnel? Commander Cortez could bring engineers to help them get the systems operational.’

The commander said he’d report back if that was necessary,’ said Whitaker. ‘They’re hoping to get a bit of systems access, or to establish if that’s just impossible. He says getting into the containment facilities will be a lot harder if they can’t unseal the doors, don’t know what’s in them, and don’t want to break the entire place.

Danjuma, at Science, shook her head as she read the scans and data from the Merlin and Valkyrie that Whitaker had transmitted back to them. ‘It’s a miracle we could find the place with all this interference. Even knowing where we’re looking, interference is really, really heavy.’

‘Starfleet sensors and engineering,’ Rourke said with an easy, selfless pride. ‘Not to mention, I’m sure, excellent flying. Return to the away team, Mr Whitaker. Stay safe down there.’

I’ll report back in an hour, Endeavour.’

The comm line died with a click, and Rourke sank back onto the command chair again as on his sensors the tiny dot of the fighter broke away back for the upper atmosphere of Taxtose. ‘If they can’t find anything by the next report,’ he told Valance, ‘I think we need to send a full expedition down there. Get Commander Cortez ready for a team; I know A&A want everything preserved, but Chief Lann and his structural engineers know what they’re doing.’ In the distance there was a faint beep from a console.

Valance nodded. ‘I’ll review what Whitaker sent us,’ she said, and stood. ‘Maybe -’

‘Captain.’ Kharth’s voice was flat, uncertain. ‘I’ve lost Whitaker on sensors.’

Rourke tilted his head back. ‘We’ve been losing him every time.’

‘I know that,’ his tactical officer replied impatiently. ‘He didn’t fade out. He was there, then he was gone.’

‘Captain!’ Fear was at the edge of Danjuma’s voice. ‘There’s a disturbance in the upper atmosphere – not a storm, something’s moving in there -’

Rourke was on his feet before she’d finished, heart lunging into his throat. ‘Red alert; shields up -’

But the words were barely past his lips when he saw the shadow of the Devore warship rise from the clouded atmosphere of Taxtose IV, and the flashing lights as their torpedoes and disruptors hit them.


For the second time in one week, Airex found himself conducting delicate technical work in an EV suit. While the HUD scrolling sensor feeds and the universal translator before his eyes allowed a certain amount more precision, the heavy suit masking sound, limiting his peripheral vision, and wrapping his hands in the thick gloves made him feel clumsy, imprecise.

‘There’s a little emergency power here.’ His voice echoed inside his own helmet, with only the faintest hiss of his comm system letting him know he wasn’t alone in the irradiated dark. ‘Seeing what systems I can access.’

They’d set the Merlin down in a dust-storm of brown and ash, settling in the shadow of the hulking bunker that had turned out to be their destination. Airex had seen it in the archives off Goravin’s ship, images of a bustling industrial district near a blossoming city. Now, all that was left standing were the buildings constructed to protect nearby populaces from internal industrial accidents, by cruel irony withstanding the bombs of the Vaadwaur’s enemies.

Without Goravin’s archives, he wouldn’t have breached the doors so easily. Near-dead systems had responded to access codes buried in records, but all he and Beckett now had to show for it was a darkened command chamber. They’d walked through shrouded corridors, boots echoing off the concrete floor, to the main room. Further walkways led to storage rooms, construction chambers, but it was cavernous enough to occupy a team of archaeologists for a decade, drinking on these secrets.

They only wanted one secret, and did not have a decade.

Beckett had been walking the perimeter of the chamber, but clomped over at that. ‘I’ve got the emergency power,’ he offered, reaching for his pack.

‘Try it,’ said Airex, and stepped back so he could connect the battery to the Vaadwaur console.

A moment later, the cracked screen gleamed to life, green lettering scrawling to cast the industrial control room in shadowed emerald. Airex approached.

‘Good thing about having official records,’ he mused as he read. ‘I have the file references for the Regulator construction and storage protocols.’

‘The real secret weapon of archaeologists,’ came the crackle of Beckett’s amused voice. ‘Insight into referencing systems.’

Airex gave a low chuckle, but shook his head. ‘I’ve got storage records, construction orders, and development archives here. On this power I’ll have to dance between them.’ His eyes flicked up to his HUD’s sensor readings. ‘We only have another two hours in this radiation, though.’

Beckett nodded, and sank into silence as they worked. Airex was perhaps ten minutes into hunting through the development archives, the ancient and battered Vaadwaur systems slow to respond, before the young officer spoke again.

‘So you and Thawn tried the trumpet.’

Airex tensed. ‘She told you.’

‘Our telepaths are on the edge and there’s little indication of what we get from it -’

‘Lieutenant Thawn is a talented, disciplined, and sensible scientist, who knows her own mind,’ Airex replied crisply. ‘And there is always value in attempting communication. You’re our intelligence officer, Lieutenant; surely you understand how one line of inquiry may not show an answer, but once weaved in with the findings of other ships -’

‘Did she tell you she’s been having dreams?’ Beckett said, undeterred. ‘Before we got to Abaddon’s? She’s not been untouched.’

‘And you and I, Lieutenant, are stood on an irradiated world of the slaughtered people of an oppressive empire, in a building bombarded centuries ago whose structural integrity we have not affirmed. Do you wish to address this risk, too?’ Beckett was silent, but Airex wasn’t done. ‘I worked with Lieutenant Thawn for over two years. She is one of the most diligent and brilliant officers I’ve ever met. She doesn’t need you to condescend and protect her, Lieutenant, and if you respect her, you most certainly won’t.’

‘I -’

‘I appreciate you’ve raised this down here, where nobody will overhear us. But I will make these risk assessments. Not you.’ The console gave a tortured chirrup, slow and beaten, and Airex looked back at it. His eyes widened an iota. ‘I have a location for the storage facilities for the Regulators.’

Beckett snapped back to business. ‘In here?’

‘Two levels down.’ Airex gestured him forward. ‘Record this. Then get down there.’

‘Me?’

‘We only have two hours. Do some recon, see if it’s accessible. I’m going to shunt power over so I can download the design records.’

‘Got it.’

Unlike in the junkyard, here Airex could hear Beckett’s footsteps receding towards one of the doors. Even though this was the oppressive, irradiated, dead world of a once-great and vibrant empire, it was still not the cold vacuum of space.

But it was a lot harder working through old Vaadwaur record systems than looting a Brenari database. Only by the chronometer on his display could he tell how long he was working, but the fresh crackle of his comm systems after twenty minutes was enough to make him jump.

Though not as much as the urgency in Harkon’s voice. ‘Merlin to away team – we got company! Devore landing craft heading our way!

Airex looked up, though his suit’s sensors were not powerful enough to give him anything through the thick bunker walls and the heavy radiation. ‘I hear you, Merlin. Beckett, are you reading us?’ Silence met his words, and he inhaled in a sharp hiss. ‘Merlin, do they have escorts, and have they seen you?’

Two escort light crafts, they’re not flying like they’ve seen us in this interference – but sir, there’s no sign of Whitaker…

‘Assume there’s trouble in orbit. Get yourself out of danger, Lieutenant; our sensors are better than theirs, see if you can slip away.’

Sir –

‘If they’ve got this far, we’re on the back foot. Shelter and avoid trouble. This place is big, and we’ll try to evade them. You have your orders.’ Airex cut the comms, and took a step back from the control panel. Before him were the archives, secrets of the Vaadwaur and their whole mission hidden within. Somewhere in the facility was Beckett, short-wave comms struggling to break through the shielding and radiation.

And not only were the Devore incoming, but his radiation meter continued to flicker, reminding him that no matter what happened, he couldn’t stay here forever.

Comments

  • The Devore always seemed to be slightly ahead of the Endeavour, as if they were the ones who accessed the Brenari's ships systems before the Endeavour did. Hopefully, they can get what they came for before the Devore does and get out of there. Things are really starting to heat up, can't wait to see how they get out of this mess.

    November 30, 2022