Part of USS Endeavour: Wander Forth the Sons

Wander Forth the Sons – 2

Strategic Operations Centre, USS Endeavour
January 2401
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‘It’s all pirate activity,’ sighed Kharth as she waved a hand at the holographic map display at the heart of Endeavour’s Strategic Operations Centre. ‘But of course pirate activity’s on the rise on that border. The Romulan Star Empire’s collapse has been catastrophic for regional stability. Every raider’s come out of the Triangle like it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.’

Valance tried to not grind her teeth together, forcing her expression to remain inscrutable as she turned from the chief of security to Captain Rourke. ‘That’s only one aspect. The real disruption has been in places like the Korwenna Sector.’

Rourke’s expression folded at that. ‘The worlds the Sovereignty occupied.’

‘That was ten years ago now,’ grumbled Kharth.

‘On worlds which have historically been heavily contested. Which have a not-insignificantly mixed population,’ Valance continued levelly. ‘The D’Ghor did the Mo’Kai no favours by stirring trouble on the border two years ago; Starfleet defences are considerably stronger against direct attack. Instead, reports are coming in of dissident political factions among the Klingon residents of these worlds.’

Rourke nodded. ‘Dissident how?’

‘Protests, social disruption. Some signs of armed militia. There was a serious accident in the power systems of a starport on Vaelor III last month that Starfleet Intelligence thinks might have been sabotage. All very likely funded and supported by the Mo’Kai.’ She drew a deep breath. ‘They’ve been very effective as the enemy within for the Empire. Less effective as the enemy without for the Federation. This is a place they can foment unrest and platform their views.’

‘I’ve not seen any reports,’ Kharth jumped in, ‘confirming links between this disruption and the Mo’Kai.’

‘I don’t think Starfleet Intelligence were sharing their more tightly-guarded opinions with you personally, Commander, while we were all the way off in the Delta Quadrant,’ Valance snapped at last.

Kharth lifted her hands. ‘All I’m saying is that we don’t need to borrow trouble. We’ll find out once we get to 86, surely, if Command want us rushing over there in all this fuss?’

Rourke chewed the inside of his lip for a moment, then glanced at Airex. ‘Commander?’

He raised his eyebrows. ‘I think Commander Valance’s points have merit, but Commander Kharth is right: we’ll know for sure soon.’

‘You’re the one with your ear to the ground on Fourth Fleet Intelligence.’

Airex grimaced. ‘I was a scientific advisor to the admiral. And he’s none too pleased I’m returning to front-line service.’

‘At least this is something more significant than baby-sitting the Delta Quadrant, whatever it is,’ Kharth said.

‘You mean helping people who’d never even heard of Starfleet with something only we could fix?’ Valance butted in. After missing their window to the wormhole, Endeavour had spent weeks hunting down pockets of blood dilithium to be dissipated. They’d moved to fresh territories Starfleet had never reached before, relieved burdens from whole civilisations, and not needed to fire a single shot in all that time.

Rourke sighed. ‘I asked you here for this analysis because I don’t want to come in half-cocked when we get to Starbase 86. We’ve missed a lot these past two months in the Delta Quadrant. I’d been looking to our border defences and not the formerly occupied sectors, so, good thinking on that front, Commander Valance.’ He gave his XO a nod. ‘We’ll get our marching orders soon enough. And see what the fuss is all about.’

‘So we’re done here?’ Kharth grumbled.

‘We’re done,’ said Rourke. ‘We hit 86 in about two days. I have been told to prepare for some personnel turnover, but so far I’m only seeing transfer orders for junior officers and below – Mister Beckett notwithstanding – unless there’s anything else I need to know about?’

‘I’m hunting a new Head of Social Sciences,’ Airex said. ‘Someone with a speciality in this region. But I’m comfortable taking point on that until we get the right candidate.’

Valance felt Rourke’s eyes not leave her, even as he nodded at Airex’s departmental assessment. Her shrug was tense. ‘I’m not aware of anything else.’ She met his gaze. ‘Unless you are.’

‘You know everything I do, Commander. But it’s early days yet.’

Early days on his gentle scouting of career opportunities for her, of command opportunities for her. She sensed the captain’s reticence in letting her go, and hadn’t pushed against it because she didn’t know what she wanted anyway. She’d already turned down one ship, albeit two years ago now, and knew the last thing her record needed was for her reject another.

‘It’s time,’ Airex said gently as they left the SOC.

That jerked her from her reverie. ‘What?’

‘These offers don’t always have expiration dates, but if Isa’s taking that transfer to the SCE, reaching Starbase 86 is when she should do it. Which means you need to have a conversation with her.’

‘How do you know we’ve not been talking about it?’ Airex gave her a look that reminded her how easy she’d had it this past year of keeping her cards close to her chest with nobody around to challenge her. Valance sighed. ‘I don’t know what I want.’

‘Then say that. You do know it’s alright to have a conversation without knowing how it ends, right?’

Valance gritted her teeth as they reached the junction where they’d split off. ‘I think I liked you better when you were repressing a whole lifetime.’

She was a grown-up about it. Checked her schedule. Checked Cortez’s. Dropped her partner a quick message saying it would be nice if they could have dinner together. Valance wondered if that was cruel, giving Cortez an inkling that they would have a Conversation and letting her stew on it for the rest of her shift, but then she remembered: she’d been expected to stew on Cortez’s indecision for the better part of two months.

The compromise was to have one of Cortez’s favourite meals on the table when she made it home from her shift, even if the engineer was convinced the replicator wasn’t quite good enough at empanadas.

‘Oh, you got the good guac!’ Cortez exclaimed with guarded delight the moment she saw the spread, and immediately loosened her uniform jacket. ‘Did you know today was real annoying, or is this some reward for good behaviour?’

Valance bit her lip at the latter comment, and poured them both some wine. ‘What was annoying? I thought we’re on-schedule for reaching 86.’

‘Faster than I’d like after the repairs we needed,’ grumbled Cortez, pulling up a chair. ‘But that’s not the problem. Forrester wants to transfer.’

‘She’s very good. She could head up an engine room, or at least be a deputy.’

‘I know, that’s why I’m pissed. I like her where she is. Kid’s stone cold in the face of danger.’

Even Karana Valance thought Tes Forrester might be stone cold in the face of drowning kittens, but there were more implications to Cortez’s mood than she wanted to consider. She sat down at the table. ‘There’s nothing I can say to that which doesn’t get us straight to business. So let’s go straight to business.’

‘Oh, this is a business dinner.’ Cortez mimed doing her jacket back up with the air of jest Valance by now knew was deflection. ‘Sorry, XO, thought I was having a night in with my girlfriend. My mistake.’

Valance clasped her hands together hard. ‘Please don’t do that.’

Cortez faltered. ‘What’s up?’

‘I don’t… do I have to say it?’

‘Until I’m a Betazoid, uh, yeah, kinda.’

‘Your transfer. The SCE. Are you taking it?’ Valance had hoped they could at least eat first. Maybe enjoy each other’s company enough to remember what was at stake. But if Cortez was fretting about losing an engineer, then either she was irritated at running her department without Forrester, or she was anxious about taking even more staff from Endeavour’s engine room. The uncertainty was painful.

Cortez set down her fork and muttered something in Spanish. ‘I guess this was overdue,’ she allowed. ‘I haven’t given them an answer yet.’

‘You probably should in the next forty-eight hours.’

‘I know.’ She looked away. ‘What about you?’

‘What about me?’

‘I know the captain’s been putting out feelers for you for another ship.’ Cortez winced at Valance’s suspicious look. ‘He told Sadek. So. Everyone knows. Sorry.’

Not for the first time, Valance wished the captain’s best friend was less of a gossip. ‘Nothing’s shown up yet. By the time I’d have to make any decision, I’d know if you were gone or not.’

‘And that would make a difference?’

‘What?’

‘If I were still here,’ Cortez pressed carefully, ‘and you were offered a command. Would that make you stay?’

‘I don’t…’ Valance slugged a mouthful of wine. ‘Can we talk about the actual choice in front of you, instead of discussing a complete hypothetical for me?’

‘It’s not a hypothetical.’ Cortez pushed away her untouched plate. ‘When we got together you’d just turned down a ship. You’re gonna have your own command, cariño, it’s just a question of when.’

‘I’m trying to ask you what you want.’ Normally it wasn’t this hard. Normally Cortez wore her heart on her sleeve, and the challenge for Valance was meeting openness with openness. But nothing about this was normal, and the worst thing was Valance knew exactly why. Or, rather, the worst thing was that Valance understood she was going to have to do the leg-work this time. She drew a deep breath. ‘I’m trying to give you space to make your choice. I’m not trying to push you.’

Cortez bit her lip and didn’t meet her gaze. ‘What if I wanted you to push me?’

‘I can’t make this decision for you -’

‘You could.’ Now she looked back. ‘You’re the first officer of an Obena-class. It doesn’t get much better than this in the second chair. You could be here another five years without anyone thinking twice about it.’

Valance’s heart lurched. ‘And you’d stay?’

‘I don’t…’ Cortez’s voice caught. ‘I can’t do this for you,’ she continued in a sudden, emotional rush. ‘I can’t fix this for you, I can’t decide this for you, I can’t do the work for you –

She was crying. Valance stared in horror for a moment, then lurched from her seat to kneel beside her, one hand on hers, the other coming to her face to thumb away a tear. ‘I’m sorry, I’m – I don’t know what you want…’

‘I can’t do this again.’ Control was returning to Cortez’s voice, but there was still a waver. ‘I can’t put my heart on the line and find out you’re not into this as much as I am. That you’re not committed as much as I am. I did it with Aria and she fucked me up, and I’ve given you space and time, so much, but I can’t decide to stay for you and then find out in six months you’re running off to be a starship captain because you won’t stay for me -’

‘I’m not Aria.’ Valance pressed her forehead against hers, voice hushed, comforting. ‘I’m not going to do that.’

Cortez closed her eyes, chest heaving. ‘You get offered the right ship,’ she breathed, ‘and you’d be an idiot to turn it down.’

‘I get offered the right ship and I’m bringing you with me.’

She hadn’t meant to say it. She hadn’t even thought it, because that required more clarity than she’d been able to muster these past months. But the words hummed through her, and when Valance looked Cortez in the eye, she knew she meant it. ‘And in the meantime, we have Endeavour. If that’s what you want.’

The relief flooding through Cortez was almost palpable, and she slumped to bury her face in Valance’s shoulder. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ she groaned, muffled. ‘SCE would be very cool. I’ve not been tempted for nothing. But.’ She lifted her head, clearer-eyed now. ‘Careers and relationships. You gotta make compromises if you want both.’

Valance allowed herself a smile, allowed her own wave of relief to slip past the barriers she put up against any and all compromising feelings. ‘Then I’ll compromise by leaving only for another ship worthy of your talents.’

Cortez’s grin was like the sun coming up on the overcast days that had been the last two months of their relationship. ‘If I’m confident of one thing, cariño, it’s that hitching myself to your star is gonna be no compromise.’

Valance’s heart lurched at the shining joy of finding their way through this – and then lurched again as the lights changed amber, and the klaxon sounded.

Yellow alert,’ came Rourke’s voice over comms. ‘All hands to stations.

‘Son of a…’ Cortez rose with a baleful look at their set table. ‘I’m glad you didn’t break into the good wine.’

‘Maybe once this is done,’ Valance grumbled, and hit her combadge. ‘Valance to bridge. I’m on my way – what’s the situation?’

We got a distress call from a mining station; they’re under attack by raiders. We’re the nearest vessel, about ten minutes out.’ Rourke sounded serious but not overly concerned. It was unlikely, even as close to the border as they were, that any raider would stick around if a ship of Endeavour’s size showed up.

‘Save the day here, save the day there,’ Cortez grumbled. ‘Maybe if we’re exciting enough I can convince Forrester to stay. You be careful.’

‘You too.’ They kissed quickly and parted. At the time, despite the looming risk, all Valance could think was how lucky they were. It would have been so easy for the alert to have interrupted them even moments sooner, cut them off before they could finish their conversation, finish deciding their future. As it was, Valance headed for the bridge feeling like she could send these raiders packing just by spitting at them.

In the long run, she’d wish they had been interrupted.

Comments

  • Very happy to see that Davir is staying on the Endeavour! Valance and Kharth being a bit snappy at each other - very much enjoyed that exchange between them with what they knew and didn't know while they had been away. Then bang, you hit us with the emotional stuff between Valance and Cortez. I am all for them kissing and making up, but I sense there's a bigger BUT here! I still get the feeling that Cortez really wants to leave and take up that offer - is she truly happy with Valance? Or is Valance really going to wait for the right command? I kinda feel they're not being truly honest with each other still...crack open the good wine and get them talking a bit more!!!

    December 27, 2022
  • I'm absolutely eating up the talk of the return of the Mo'Kai and D'Ghor. Those pockets of Bravo Fleet continuity pre-date me, but from everything I've read, these sound like some new tactics on display. I'm intrigued by what hostilities would look like with social disruption as much as outright attacks. But the disruption that stole my heart was the Conversation between Cortez and Valance. I'm inclined to quote every beat of their tug of war as my favourite lines. The highs and lows and moments of influence are clear, but you really took my breath away with ‘What if I wanted you to push me?’ The naked honesty of that sheer brilliance. I'm so glad they're still together!

    December 28, 2022
  • "In the long run, she’d wish they had been interrupted." Just what are you hinting at here? An honest-to-goodness heart-to-heart, even if true feelings had to accidentally slip forth, to give these two forward direction, and you finish it all with this? This is ominous and I will not stand for it! Don't you dare do something Valance and Cortez! I'm so happy, giddy even, that you managed to sort out these characters in this natural seeming scene, their awkwardness and then bam, the truth is out between then. It felt so real and was just a fantastic read all throughout.

    December 29, 2022