Part of USS Endeavour: Wander Forth the Sons

Wander Forth the Sons – 5

Gym, USS Endeavour
January 2401
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‘Your breathing’s off.’ The impact of Rhade’s blow against the punching bag was enough to force Kharth to plant her feet anyway. ‘…you still hit like a stampede.’

Rhade pivoted away from the bag with a frustrated huff. ‘My focus is off.’

‘No kidding.’ She let the bag go and cast a wary glance around Endeavour’s gym. It was quiet enough for this. ‘Pre-wedding jitters?’

His grimace suggested she wasn’t a million light-years off, but he shook his head as he adjusted his gloves. ‘The reports. This Captain Jericho business.’

‘You’re worried it’ll be Thawn he poaches for the Triumph? I hear their Ops manager’s pretty good and pretty seasoned. He might be a solid candidate to make XO on Endeavour.’ Someone else might have tried to give reassurance, stop Rhade from worrying about things he couldn’t affect that might not happen. Kharth had instead assessed the possible successors for Valance and was comfortable in her analysis.

‘No, I… this is Starfleet life. If Rosara and I are to be parted, at least it will be after the ceremony. Some day, we’ll have decades to spend together.’ Rhade’s broad features folded into an unhappy frown. ‘I mean all of the rumours about why Captain Rourke’s been passed over.’

Kharth harrumphed. ‘We don’t screw up this bad and get away with it. Dathan wasn’t just a spy, she was a spy with access to some of our most classified information. I bet Admiral Beckett couldn’t wait to throw Endeavour under the thruster exhaust if the alternative was him taking the fall for recruiting her in the first place.’

‘But it’s not our screw-up, is it?’ He was staring at his gloves as he fiddled, the big man suddenly looking almost small, childish in his apprehension. She was silent to let him talk, and he at last carried on. ‘I’m the one who took her in.’

‘Took her…’ Kharth stared at him. ‘Okay, let’s work through this. She was assigned to us by the Director of Fourth Fleet Intelligence during the Archanis Campaign. You were brand-new to Endeavour then. So, the word of Admiral Beckett wasn’t good enough, we were just desperate for this nobody lieutenant from someplace else to vouch before we trusted her?’

He winced. ‘I mean that I helped her integrate, find her place among us…’

‘She was a spy, Rhade. It was her job to integrate. She fooled me and, no offence, who I trust doesn’t have much to do with your say-so.’ Her hand dropped from the punching bag. ‘It’s downright arrogant for you to act like all of this is your fault. You screwed up, sure, but I did too, and I’m Chief of Security. Rourke did, and he’s the captain.’ Despite herself, she softened. ‘This is either nobody’s fault but hers, or it’s everyone’s fault. You can feel like shit because she was your friend, but that doesn’t mean we’re on the political dung-heap because of your kindness.’

At last, Rhade’s lips thinned to something approximating a wry smile. ‘You’re always so reassuring, Commander.’

‘It’s a gift of mine. Now, my turn with the bag.’

She left the gym a half-hour later, Rhade lingering to hit the treadmill. He was a kind man, but a physique like that didn’t come to very interesting people with varied hobbies, she mused as she left him behind. But despite her reassurances, she had bigger fish to fry than Adamant Rhade’s self-absorbed guilt.

Her quarry was in the Round Table, PADDs spread out before him on the bar, a steaming coffee beside him, and Kharth slid onto the next stool to peer at mugshots of identically fresh-faced officers. ‘You’ve been asked to judge the winner of the Academy’s Clean-Cut Award 2400.’

It was a poor joke, but that was what passed for banter between her and Airex these days – desperate to act like something resembled normalcy between them, too self-conscious to properly let loose. He gave a polite grimace of a smile and stacked the PADDs. ‘Shopping for Lieutenant Beckett’s replacement. There aren’t many serious anthropologists with experience with the Romulan diaspora who want to serve on a ship.’ He looked at her. ‘You want something.’

She scowled. ‘What makes you say that?’

‘It’s not an accusation,’ he said quickly. ‘But you’ve come straight from the gym. This isn’t popping in for a chat.’

‘Are you saying I should have hit the shower?’

‘Commander.’ Airex’s tension was shot through with anxiety. ‘I’m really sorry, but -’

‘There’s no way you’re about to be transferred to the Triumph.’ Kharth shrugged at his bemused expression. ‘I’ve been looking at their personnel roster. Their Chief Science Officer is far, far too junior to be bumped up to XO. We’ll get Malhotra, their Operations Chief, and we’ll have to send them Thawn, for sure.’

He let out a slow breath. ‘It wasn’t the first thing on my mind. But I’d be lying if I denied a certain apprehension about coming back to Endeavour only to be forcibly reassigned somewhere else.’

‘You’re worried about Valance leaving.’ At his faint nod, she sighed. ‘Me too.’

Now he squinted. ‘You are?’

‘Not about her.’ Kharth made a face. ‘She’ll be fine wherever she goes. But you get what Jericho’s doing, right, by removing her and putting one of his own in place? Screw this “we’re all now one big family” stuff, he’s putting one of his own right next to the captain.’

Airex let out a slow breath. ‘I’m not going to deny that politics are at play,’ he said slowly, ‘but just because we disagree with and dislike Captain Jericho’s decisions, that doesn’t automatically mean they’re cynical. And – so what, anyway? What are we to do about it?’

‘Soon enough, we’re going to be the only two people left with any seniority the captain knows he can count on.’ Kharth leaned in. ‘We have to make sure he can count on us.’

Another inhale from Airex. ‘I would think that any Starfleet officer can be counted on.’

‘Don’t be naive -’

‘I’m not being naive, I’m simply not jumping to the worst case scenario. I dislike these changes, but I know a lot of my dislike is personal. Fleet Captain Jericho has an astonishing record, as does the Triumph, of keeping the peace in Federation territory these past ten years.’

‘You mean of being a champion of Starfleet’s xenophobia and refusal to help anyone but themselves.’ She couldn’t keep acid from her voice. ‘They gave him an Inquiry and sent him to protect people who vote. Not the people who need help the most.’

Many officers have done that the past ten years,’ he reminded her gently.

‘Then forgive me,’ Kharth said, not sounding or feeling very sorry at all, ‘for being suspicious of a man who seems to champion the so-called realpolitik that abandoned millions of my people and is now our unit commander.’

That stopped him short, and Airex sighed. ‘I’ve got the captain’s back. I’ve got your back. I don’t want you to doubt my loyalty. All I’m saying is that it’s a bit early to start drawing up battle lines, no?’

Loyalty. That was a dodgy word for Airex to throw around. But it wasn’t him she was angry with, not really, and picking a fight was still a dangerous emotional minefield she wasn’t ready to set foot on just yet. She irritably got to her feet instead. ‘I think there’s a reason Captain Jericho ruled out only two members of Endeavour’s senior staff from joining the Triumph. I don’t know what his problem with Rosewood is. But I don’t need to guess why he ruled me out. And that’s fine – I don’t want to leave. But don’t say I’m the one drawing up battle lines.’

Airex winced. ‘That’s a serious accusation.’

She slung her towel over her shoulder and turned away. ‘Not as serious as me being right.’

Matt.’ Vice Admiral Alexander Beckett’s face was like granite as the holographic image appeared above Rourke’s desk. ‘This better be good.

Rourke took a sip of whisky and leaned back in his chair. He’d made sure to take this call in his ready room, and instructed Lindgren he was not to be disturbed. ‘I think you know exactly what this is about, sir.’

Beckett had the good grace to not drag that out further. ‘Jericho. I’m sorry, Matt, but you can’t come running to me every time you face adversity –

‘Adversity in this case is me being screwed by something you’ve got equal shares in.’

Beckett sighed. ‘If you think this is just about Dathan, then you’re more naive than I thought.’ He shrugged. ‘Lionel Jericho is from the school of thought that never wanted the Fourth Fleet going back out there. That never wanted to lift the synth ban, that never wanted Starfleet to reach its hand back out.

‘You mean, nothing like you,’ Rourke mused.

Beckett ignored that. ‘This was an opportunity for those factions to clip the wings on Ms Hale’s mission, because otherwise – they would argue – she’ll run around giving everything to Romulan refugees and ignore our own security, our own people, our own needs. The Dathan situation is just a smoke-screen.’ Then he winced. ‘It is, however, a smoke-screen which means I really can’t help you.

‘Because otherwise you’d get tarred with the same brush. So I get made a scapegoat, not just because it’s politically convenient for Hale’s enemies, but because it’s politically convenient for you.’ He’d meant to make this polite, but already he was snapping and jabbing a finger at the projection.

I have to be realistic. You have to be realistic. You can still do the good you wanted to under Jericho’s nose. As I recall, being under my nose didn’t stop you doing what you pleased.’ For one of the few times ever, Beckett sounded approving. ‘The tide is turning against the likes of Jericho. Wait him out and you’ll be your own master again in no time.

‘And in the meantime he rips apart my crew, rips apart my mission, and turns his back on thousands in need. Your advice is that I wait?’ But he knew Beckett didn’t have much better for him, and scrubbed his face with his hands. ‘What’s his problem with Rosewood?’

That made the admiral pause, surprised by the shift. ‘Commodore Carter Rosewood and Lionel Jericho are old rivals. Jericho’s not a fool; he knows they’re a political family, and that means John Rosewood is probably one of the biggest threats in his immediate circle. I expect Jericho to ship Rosewood off as soon as possible. If you’re smart, you’ll stop him.

Rourke sighed. ‘He’s moving diplomatic operations to the Triumph; I expect I won’t justify keeping a diplomatic detachment aboard Endeavour.’

I can’t teach you how to play politics, Matt, if your only move is to run crying to me. And I cannot help you against Lionel Jericho.

‘I know you and I don’t always see eye to eye, Alex, but I have worked for you for years. Ever since taking on Endeavour, I’ve been your captain in the field. If Jericho calls all of the shots in this squadron, you lose that.’

I’m well aware he’s taken one of my prized chess pieces,’ said Admiral Beckett, because anything else would make it seem like he cared about people. ‘Don’t pretend I’m not displeased by this. And maybe in a few months, in a year, once Jericho’s made some decisions I can wield against him, I can help. But I have no cards now, Matt. I can’t help you.

He’d expected this, and still he closed his eyes. ‘Not against Jericho,’ he said at last. ‘But you can still help me.’

I don’t –

‘I’m not just one of your agents,’ Rourke pressed, leaning forward. ‘You said as much. I saved your life in the war ten times, I saved your ship as your XO twenty times. You and I don’t always agree, but we have always, always had each other’s backs when it matters. So this is it: I’m cashing in every favour you ever owed me. If this means I’m burning all my credit, if this means you and I are done, then so be it.’

Alexander Beckett drew a sharp breath. ‘I am running out of words to explain this –

‘I’m not asking you to do a damn thing about Lionel Jericho.’ Rourke straightened. ‘I want you to find Karana Valance her own ship. Worthy of her talents.’

That made Beckett stop short, his expression shifting. It wasn’t just surprise in there, Rourke thought. It was something bordering on affection. ‘All those favours,’ he said softly after a beat. ‘With an admiral, no less. And you want to use it so your XO doesn’t get a mediocre assignment?’

‘I asked her to stay two years ago. She could be a captain by now, have a serious command by now. This doesn’t have to undermine Jericho, this doesn’t have to impact the squadron leadership one jot. He’s throwing his weight around already by assigning her to the Nighthawk. And it’d be a waste.’

You don’t need to explain this,’ Beckett mused, gaze settling into thoughtfulness. ‘Remember who taught you loyalty in the first place.’ At length he inhaled. ‘It’ll still anger Jericho. It’ll still cost me.

‘It’s one -’

It’s not one small thing. It’s getting your pet a ship. I don’t care how qualified she is, it’s not small.’ Beckett’s expression went guarded. ‘I’m under scrutiny as it is. If I do this now, don’t expect me to be able to help you for a while.

Part of Rourke fizzed with indignation. The rest of him saw the space between the lines. He blew his cheeks out. ‘I hear you.’

The admiral looked away, staring at something unseen in his office. ‘Have you convinced my son to make a less-foolish decision? I know he won’t listen to me.

‘I’ve tried. I’ll keep trying, but -’

This isn’t a quid pro quo, Matt. I know you care about the boy.’ Beckett sighed. ‘I’ll be in touch.

The comm line went dead and Rourke slumped back in his chair, scrubbing his face with his hands. It was more than he’d expected, and much, much less than he’d hoped. He glanced out the window of his ready room, stars streaming beyond. They were not far from Starbase 86, where he expected new crew would come aboard, his daughter would return, departing officers would disembark. Where Sophia Hale would be waiting – but not for him. For the Triumph.

Matt Rourke had never much cared for politics. But there was one lesson Admiral Beckett had taught him that he’d had the decency to not repeat in their conversation.

If you don’t play politics, they’ll play you.


  • I think I’m falling in love with Kharth! I love how blunt, straight to the point and honest she is with EVERYTHING! Though she’s warmed up to more of the crew since her promotion, I adore how much she’s got Jericho to a tea here and knows where things will stand with him. Then Rourke, pushing the boat out for Valance! What a hero! I think bringing the whole Dathan plot line back to the forefront of the Endeavour is such a great spanner to throw into the works here. It is pushing all of the characters out of their comfort zones again and making them realise how bad things got with her betrayal. Adamant definitely had feelings for her!

    January 2, 2023
  • Talk about starting a few fires here! Kharth practically confirming members of the Resistance. I can so see her readying up to fight Jericho! And Airex, just trying to do his job while letting Kharth she can count on him, but come on, it's not going to be that bad, right? Right? And Matt, poor Matt. Everything's going to hell and all those owed favours, instead of saving them to save himself, he's doing the right thing by Valance and burning the bridges he's standing on to ensure she gets something damn decent. That's a sign of loyalty. Now the question is Adm Beckett going to deliver, or watch Matt twist in the wind? Oh I can't wait to see the fallout from either outcome.

    January 4, 2023