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Part of USS Endeavour: Wander Forth the Sons

Wander Forth the Sons – 7

Shuttlebay, USS Endeavour
January 2401
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‘Trust you to get your own pickup and chauffeur,’ Lindgren joked as she and Arys walked with Beckett into the shuttlebay.

‘It’s because I’m very important.’ But it was difficult to stop his smirk from souring, and that wasn’t the note Beckett wanted to leave on. He gave an exaggerated shrug. ‘This way there’s less worry about traffic in and out of Starbase 86.’ They’d arrived at the station that morning, but the local area was busy enough and Endeavour large enough to keep them in a holding pattern at the periphery of the station’s air-space. It was a simple thing for his transport to dock briefly at Endeavour on its way out so he could board.

It was there already, a long passenger shuttle taking up far too much room for Chief Koya to tolerate its presence for too much time. The hatch had already been popped, a petty officer peering at the hubbub of the shuttle bay in search of him already. He waved a hand to be identified, then turned to the other two. ‘I better move fast.’

Arys grunted. ‘So you can rush to your dead-end career move.’

‘Please. Like I cared about success.’ Beckett laughed, because it was that or acknowledge everyone else was right.

‘Do you know where you’re headed?’ Lindgren looked less convinced.

‘Archaeology team down near Starbase 26.’ He paused. ‘Artifact storage and cataloguing, that is.’

‘It’s ridiculous,’ Arys snapped.

‘Oh, hey, look at the time. I gotta go.’ Beckett slung his bag over his shoulder. ‘Warm and supportive of you as always, Tar’lek.’

The Andorian at last looked a little abashed. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said defensively. ‘And I’m not sure you could explain it if you wanted to.’

‘I’m pretty sure I couldn’t.’ Their handshake was brisk. ‘I’ll see you around. Try to unclench at least once a day.’

‘He promises nothing,’ Lindgren said wryly, which of course made a bigger dent in Arys’s irritable austerity. She stepped forward to give Beckett a hug, and kissed him on the cheek. ‘You take care of yourself.’

‘I never do.’ His gaze flickered up to the shuttlebay main doors, but of course nobody else was arriving. Who else would come? He’d said his goodbyes to Rourke and even Airex. It was no time to let farewells linger.

It was, at long last, time to go.

On the wall display in the operations office, the feed updated to confirm the departure of the personnel transport. Thawn leaned against her desk, arms crossed, and wasn’t sure if something had eased inside her or simply gone numb. Either way, it was done.

She wasn’t on duty. She’d told herself she’d stopped by to tidy her office, aware of the risk she’d be shipping off before too long. But that was an excuse, and one on which she didn’t want to linger, even if she was also delaying what came next. Rhade had sounded tense and tired when he’d asked her to stop by his quarters. The list of possible things weighing on his mind was not short.

He didn’t look any more controlled when he let her into his rooms ten minutes later. ‘I know this was a bit short notice,’ he mumbled apologetically, shuffling back towards the sofa.

We’re getting married tomorrow. One would assume we can spend time together. Were they going to move into the same quarters afterwards? It would be nothing to fill in the paperwork. But again, the risk of being transferred to the Triumph loomed.

She decided to be neutral. ‘What’s wrong?’

He wrung his hands together in a gesture she knew she used when anxious. ‘There are things – I think it’s best we talk before it’s too late.’

The apprehension in her gut was not born of heartbreak. It was born of fear of having to lasso him back in-line. ‘Too late,’ she echoed.

‘Tomorrow. The wedding.’ Rhade drew a level breath. ‘I don’t think we should go ahead without you knowing the truth.’

That stopped her short. With a quick wave of the hand, she ushered them both to the comfortable chairs. She sat across from him. ‘Go on.’

‘I should have known it wouldn’t die easily. The Dathan situation.’

Thawn’s lips pursed. ‘The traitor situation.’

‘She wasn’t…’ He stopped himself and stared at his hands. ‘Yes. Kharth tells me that I shouldn’t be shouldering all the blame and responsibility for this.’

‘Kharth is right.’ Thawn didn’t really care if Kharth was right, but Rhade had been round and round in circles about this. He needed an escape vector, one way or another. ‘Are you saying we need to talk because the changes to Endeavour are your fault -’

‘I slept with her,’ he blurted. ‘Dathan, I mean.’

Thawn paused. ‘Well, I didn’t think you’d have slept with Kharth.’ It was easier to be glib, she thought. It meant she didn’t have to spend too much time processing the news. Still she drew a sharp breath. ‘I’m aware that your family don’t necessarily view arrangements like ours as exclusive. And I’ve – I’ve not expected you to live like that while nothing between us has been formalised.’

Rhade shook his head. ‘No.’

‘But this clearly happened while we all served together and you clearly kept it a secret…’ It wasn’t pain that she felt; it was more like the memory of pain, the imagining of pain. Real in its own way, but not the most pressing thing. Another obstacle to kick aside and move past.

‘Rosara.’ He stopped her short, finally meeting her gaze. ‘This happened on the ISS Endeavour.’

The pain vanished. Not because there was no injury, but because everything inside her became a sucking void. ‘When you were dragged off from the cell,’ she said blandly. He nodded. ‘While I had been dragged off from the cell. While I was being -’ Experimented on. Tortured.

His eyes dropped. ‘It’s when she told me the truth.’

‘So you fucked her?’ Thawn wasn’t used to shouting expletives, but now she erupted to her feet. ‘You discovered that she was a traitor, that we were in the hands of her people because she betrayed us, that they wanted to break me in half to use me as a weapon against other telepaths, but then she told you the truth and you just couldn’t resist her any longer?’

He stood, hands raised in cringing placation. ‘It’s not like that. And she didn’t betray us; she’s why we got away -’

‘She got us out of a mess she got us into!’ Thawn snapped. ‘And I’m sorry if I’m not sufficiently grateful to a woman who picked me out for torture!’

Rhade’s shoulders slumped. ‘I thought you should know,’ he rumbled, ‘before tomorrow.’

She had loved Noah Pierce, and denied it so hard it had broken her when he died. She’d kissed Nate Beckett, then threw them both on the rocks when it was inconvenient. Suddenly, Thawn’s betrayals didn’t bring as much guilt any more. ‘You’re damned right I should know!’

‘And I understand,’ he continued, ‘if this means you’ll call it off.’

That stopped her short. There was no way her aunt would accept this without a longer explanation, and she literally didn’t have the clearance level for that longer explanation. Even if she did, it was too wild for the matriarch of the Twelfth House to easily process. The last thing this was was an escape route. Just another knot in the tangled mess.

And Beckett was already long gone.

Rosara Thawn drew a deep, shaking breath, then looked Adamant Rhade in the eye. ‘You were right to tell me,’ she said at last, though her voice held no warmth. ‘Here’s what’s going to happen.’

Her footsteps were heavy as she walked the corridor, and no lighter when the double doors slid open to let her into Main Engineering. Even with Endeavour at rest near Starbase 86, the chamber was a hum of activity, and all Valance could do for long moments was stand there and watch. Watch as Isa Cortez moved through the space in a flurry of activity, watch as she brought the symphony that had been her management of this place to a crashing coda.

Cortez noticed her before she was finished, and a small, sad smile tugged at her lips even as she finished briefing Lieutenant Adupon. They ended with a quick handshake, then Cortez pulled the dour-faced Bolian in for a quick hug that he looked like he accepted on sufferance. She headed over to Valance, only for Valance to nod in the direction of the office.

‘I thought you were packing?’ Cortez said.

‘I’m almost done. I needed to come down here.’ The office was bare now, all packed away, and Valance realised this wasn’t much of an improvement as a space to hold this conversation. It was almost worse, so much more Cortez’s space than hers or theirs, but the die was cast now. ‘You’re ready to go?’

‘I’m packed to go. Adupon’s ready to hold down the fort until my successor gets here.’ Cortez’s lips twisted. ‘I don’t know if I’m glad or not that I’ll be able to stick my head in every once in a while.’

‘The proximity is… unusual.’

‘And it’s gotta be weirder for you.’ Cortez’s gaze softened. ‘Are you okay?’

Valance didn’t point out she’d been asked that several times since Rourke had broken the original news, and on none of those occasions had she been anything approaching okay. She’d spent hours studying the Nighthawk, her commander, her crew, and been left with nothing but guilty disappointment.

She seemed a fine ship. She just wasn’t Endeavour. Just wasn’t one of Starfleet’s mighty explorers. Not by a long margin.

‘Actually,’ she began at last, and raised a PADD, ‘Captain Rourke talked to me this morning.’

Had Cortez been less tired, she might have picked up the apprehension, but instead her eyes lit up. ‘He got Jericho to back down?’

‘No.’ Valance bit her lip and wished the best news of her life didn’t taste of ashes. ‘He got me a promotion.’


‘I’m to report,’ Valance said slowly, barely believing the words herself, ‘to the USS Pathfinder. To assume command.’

Cortez’s eyes widened to dinner-plates. ‘Shut the front door.’

‘She’s a long-range explorer,’ Valance continued in that same, measured voice. ‘I don’t know our orders yet, but it’ll be a ranging scientific mission of some kind.’

‘That’s incredible!’ Cortez flew forward, grabbing her arms and almost whirling her around. ‘That’s everything you deserve, that’s perfect – that’s a brand-new ship, she’s got to be so awesome, she’s…’

It was like Valance could see the other shoe dropping in Cortez’s mind, and her breath caught. We’ll still be in the same unit, they’d said to console themselves after Rourke had broken Jericho’s news. Our ships will be working side-by-side all the time. Even more than if one of us was on Endeavour. Nighthawk and Triumph are together all the time. It won’t be the same, but it’ll be fine.

‘…she’ll be far, far away from the squadron,’ Cortez said at last.

‘I asked,’ Valance said quietly, ‘about picking my own staff. The captain said there’s some leeway, but Jericho really wants you for the SCE, Isa…’

‘So I stay here.’ Cortez’s shoulders were sinking with her expression. ‘And you go off to the next big, exciting thing.’ She stepped away, hands coming to her hips, and let out a deep breath as she stared at the deck. ‘Shit, I knew it was gonna go down this way. I knew it.’


Cortez raised a hand. ‘I – damn it, I don’t expect you to say no to this, I don’t expect you to not just stay but take what’s basically a demotion for me, Kar, but – shit.’ When she lifted her head, her eyes were shining. ‘I thought we were still gonna be together.’

‘I don’t know where Pathfinder will be sent,’ Valance admitted. ‘But there are significant exploratory opportunities in this region, and the captain suggested it’ll be part of the same effort -’

‘On a huge-ass border, and there’s no way a Pathfinder-class hangs around with a squadron like this.’ Cortez’s nose wrinkled. ‘Don’t pretend this ain’t a separation.’ Valance didn’t have anything to say to that, and Cortez glared at the office door. ‘Shit.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘I know. Not sorry enough to turn down the ship.’

Valance bristled. ‘You’d ask me to stay on the Nighthawk –

‘I’m not asking for anything, but don’t expect me to sing a song about this!’ Cortez bit her lip. ‘I’m happy for you,’ she admitted after a moment, begrudgingly making eye contact. ‘I really am. I know you worked so hard for this, that this is an enormous opportunity for you, and it really speaks of how much Rourke cares about and respects you that he made this happen. Of course you have to do this. But let’s not kid ourselves.’

‘I don’t -’

‘Let’s not pretend,’ Cortez surged forward, voice wavering a hint, ‘that this isn’t the end for us.’

Valance opened her mouth to argue, but couldn’t find a single point to raise. She knew them, of course: thousands of Starfleet relationships were maintained over subspace communication. Tens of thousands more weren’t. They were both too career-minded and too pragmatic to assume this relationship would make the jump easily.

‘We don’t know what’s going to happen,’ Valance said weakly at last.

‘Which is why,’ Cortez said, sounding like she was forcing the words out, ‘we draw a line under things here. You and me. You walk away to the next thing. I walk away to the next thing. And then if – if – there’s a way back, a way to make it work, once we know what the hell’s going on with the squadron, the SCE team, the Pathfinder, only then do we screw around with promises and dreams.’

For someone so bubbly and enthusiastic and optimistic, Cortez was, at her heart, very practical. It was that practicality that underpinned her positivity, Valance thought. She believed in things she knew she could do or rely on or build. Not fairy tales.

Valance slumped. ‘I didn’t want it to go this way.’

‘You didn’t,’ Cortez allowed with a sigh, then glanced at the door. ‘I gotta wrap up here.’

‘Isa -’

Cortez didn’t stop as she passed, pausing only once she was at the open door. ‘Maybe you didn’t want it to go this way, Kar. But you sure as hell wanted the Pathfinder more than you wanted me. And I’m not surprised. But don’t act like I’m gonna be happy about being proved right. Again.’

I’m not Aria, Valance wanted to say. I didn’t make you put your heart on your sleeve, take a leap of faith with me, then abandon you because I care less about you than you do about me.

But she didn’t stop Cortez from leaving because, however much she knew the truth deep down, her words couldn’t ring sincerely enough even in her own ears for her to try them.