Part of USS Pathfinder (Archive): Go Your Own Way

Go Your Own Way – 5

Captain's Ready Room, USS Pathfinder
February 2401
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Valance thought she might come to like and respect Commander Dashell, as he left her ready room as quickly as he politely could once he realised who Gov’taj was. But that speed gave her little chance to rally, so she stood with the captain’s desk like a physical shield between her and a man she’d not seen in five years, scrambling for words.

Gov’taj’s hands dropped, his smile tensing. ‘Is that all the greeting I am to get?’

She worked her jaw. ‘You are my Chief Tactical Officer?’

‘That is not a “hello.” I thought Starfleet stressed the importance of courtesy.’

And you’re in a Starfleet uniform.’

Now he straightened with a flourish of indignation. ‘I am a lieutenant in Starfleet.’

‘You’re a -’

‘I was commissioned three months ago. After some training.’ At last, Gov’taj inclined his head, all ebullience evaporated in the face of sheer bafflement. ‘Did Father tell you nothing?’

‘We haven’t spoken. Not in some time.’ And we didn’t talk about the rest of the family. At last, she gave a lame gesture to the seat across the desk. ‘You will have to explain.’

If anything, Gov’taj looked hurt. He didn’t move, planting his hands upon his hips and straightening like if he puffed up, he would be shielded from the injury of her ignorance. ‘There is little to explain,’ he blustered. ‘I heard you were in need of a tactical officer. I inquired. It happened. You may have not followed my career, Sister, but I have followed yours.’

This wasn’t going to go like a regular meeting. Rubbing her temple, Valance turned to the cabinets behind her. Matt Rourke would have had a bottle of whisky stashed already, and two crystal glasses to serve it in. She’d thought that an indulgence, but she’d been in this office mere days and it was already feeling imperative.

Abruptly she moved to the replicator. ‘Raktajino,’ she instructed. ‘Two mugs.’

This made Gov’taj give a small, not especially amused snicker. As if taking pity on her, he took the seat that Dashell had vacated. ‘I expect the last thing you knew is that I was on a Starfleet exchange mission to the USS Mannheim when you left the qa’chaQ. You understand that was more than a gesture of goodwill? From me or Father?’

‘I understand you wanted to continue to work against the Mo’Kai, when the Klingon Defence Force has not always been sufficiently motivated.’ Valance took the two mugs as they materialised, and tried to not grimace as she brought them to the desk.

Gov’taj shook his head. ‘I can hunt Mo’Kai from either side of the border. Starfleet was where I could continue my work.’ At her blank look, he shifted his weight. ‘That we cannot simply hunt them. We must destroy their ideas. And to destroy them, we must assess them, know them. That… engagement was not always popular in the KDF.’

Her mind was spinning and at last, spitting out useful recollections. ‘With Starfleet, you could engage with Mo’Kai teachings. Develop measures to counter extremist ideology. You had the knowledge of Klingon culture, we had the frameworks.’ Her gaze turned apologetic. ‘I didn’t know you were still with Starfleet.’

‘I know you were busy rebuilding your career,’ he grumbled, but most of the complaint was hidden behind a gulp of piping hot coffee. ‘But yes. Five years on exchange programs and joint operations. We can learn a lot from each other as organisations and cultures. So when I was offered a training programme that would end in a commission of my own, I accepted.’

‘Now you’re in Starfleet. A lieutenant.’

Gov’taj shrugged. ‘If the Federation maintains the honour it has shown these past two years, returning to its spirit of understanding, and if the Empire remains its best self, a beacon of strength and stability in the galaxy rather than heeding the hunger of youthful bloodlust, then I see no tension here. ‘

You always were oathbound to the ideologies, not the structures, Valance thought, drumming her fingers on the mug of coffee. ‘Pathfinder cannot have been your first choice once you had a commission. Surely somewhere else, somewhere looking to the Mo’Kai -’

‘The Romulan Empire has fallen and you are heading for those territories it once held in an iron grip.’ Gov’taj leaned forwards, eyes lighting. ‘Many of the Empire cannot be trusted to set foot there lest they take the simplest understanding of strength and weakness, and stamp something out simply because it will fit under their boot. I wish to see.’ He saw her expression and harrumphed. ‘You think that is philosophical for a warrior.’

‘I remember you being more driven to know things so you could beat them.’

‘The Mo’Kai have made it clear we must know ourselves, know the rot in our society so we may dredge it out. Identity is as forged on knowing what we are not as knowing what we are. So yes, I want to see this unknown, Sister. Both what the Romulans touched mere inches from our border, and what they did not.’ He hesitated. ‘But you are right. Pathfinder was not my first choice.’

One thing people forgot in their consideration of Klingons, Valance thought, was that they could be uncomfortably emotionally open. Gov’taj met her gaze without hesitation, his point plain enough, and she had to have her own swig of coffee to hide her expression. It was not his willingness to be so honest about his emotions that lay at the heart of her discomfort. Far more powerful was guilt.

‘I have… struggled,’ Valance said at length, chin tilting up an inch, ‘to find good officers for this ship. This is my first command, and my last captain demonstrated enormous faith to put me forward for her. That’s been a point of discontent among some of his political enemies.’

Gov’taj’s eyes narrowed a hint. ‘Are his enemies our enemies?’

Our. She swallowed. ‘Yes.’

‘Then I am all the happier to thwart them by putting myself at your side.’ He gave a smile that was all sharp teeth. ‘I expect someone in personnel thought, “give the Klingon to the Klingon.” Let them underestimate us both, Karana.’

That made her sit up straighter. ‘I’m not here to “prove anyone wrong.” I’m here to be captain of this ship. I appreciate you volunteering for the assignment, Gov’taj, but there is no grand conspiracy or battle of politics here. Not now I have a crew. Our challenge will come across the border.’

He watched her for a moment, going quiet in that way she knew meant he was thinking. He placed his hands calmly on the desk. ‘You served on Endeavour for some years.’ She gave a stiff nod, apprehensive of what he was driving at. ‘And have left it all behind for Pathfinder. Left them.’

Left her, came the treacherous thought. ‘It was time to move on.’

‘Hm.’ Gov’taj gave a small nod, the faintest scoff in the sound he made. Then he stood. ‘You want to tell me to focus on my work and not think too much of our bond as a House. As family. As siblings.’

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘Karana, you have kept the family at arm’s length all your life,’ Gov’taj sighed. ‘You did so even when you came to Qo’noS as a teenager, you did so when we served on the qa’chaQ together. You forget that I do know you. And I know that you would prefer it if the House of A’trok disappeared, or at least forgot you existed.’ The corner of his lip curled, the hint of a fang showing. ‘I did not come here to swear blood-oaths and drink blood-wine with you and make your heart sing like a warrior’s, or whatever it is you fear. I am here because I can help you. Whether you need the brother, the warrior… or the lieutenant.’

She was silent there, lost in the woods of figuring out how she even wanted to respond, let alone what would get her through this conversation quicker. And then his quiet sobriety faded, and Gov’taj gave a short bark of a laugh.

‘But my staff! Them, I shall put through their paces. I delight in watching young Starfleet officers confounded when I am not half so stupid as they fear.’ He clapped his hands together. ‘I am ready to serve, my captain. Everything else may wait. Shall I meet my team and begin reviewing tactical reports of beyond the border?’

He had injected himself into her life and work, chastised her for spending her life running, and then given a nod and wink and said it didn’t matter. The worst thing was that she thought he was painfully sincere about all of it, and would, at least for now, let her maintain the mask of uniform and rank.

Mouth dry, Valance gave a stiff nod. She wasn’t sure what she’d say as she fought for her voice, but she spoke without thinking once it returned.

‘Do so. Dismissed, Lieutenant.’

And her brother merely inclined his head with deep, formal respect. ‘By your command, Captain.’