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Part of USS Triumph: Valley of Dying Stars and USS Endeavour: Valley of Dying Stars

Valley of Dying Stars – 9

Ready Room, USS Triumph
February 2401
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‘I’m not trying to be an asshole here.’ Jericho paused, bottle of beer halfway to his lips, and raised a finger. ‘I know. Folks who’re being assholes are the ones who say that.’

Dimitri Isakov grinned toothily and shrugged. ‘I was not going to say a word.’

‘People died. The Rangers have been going completely off the rails the past few months. You can say “oh, only some of them,” all you like, but when they sneer at Starfleet, get on their high horses and tell us they’ve been helping everyone out here while we’ve supposedly been sitting with our thumbs up our asses, how am I supposed to tell the difference? What, am I supposed to let them police themselves? How’s that been going?’

‘I assume not well.’

‘I assume “ask the families of those who died in the Mirabiel attack.”’ Jericho sighed and put the beer down on his ready room desk with a thunk. ‘I do get it. Rourke’s looking out for his buddy.’

‘For certain,’ Isakov deadpanned, ‘the worst of men.’

‘They were in the Dominion War together, did you know?’ Jericho grumbled this as he picked at the label on the bottle. ‘Enlisted security officers. You know the things I’d do for the guys I was in the engine room with in those days?’

‘I cannot tell,’ said Isakov, ‘if you respect him for this loyalty or if you think he is blinded by it.’

Jericho grimaced. ‘Me neither. I do know I ain’t happy at what he pulled back there. It was like he assumed what I was gonna do before I had the chance to even think, and came at me for it.’

Isakov was silent for a moment, thoughtful in the gloom of the ready room. ‘Do you want what I think, Lionel?’

‘I don’t invite you up here for beers so you can stand on ceremony.’ Jericho harrumphed and waved a hand. ‘Alright, tell me why I’m wrong.’

‘You act like he is one of us. Like he has known you for ten years.’

Jericho’s brow furrowed. ‘I surely don’t. I don’t know Matt Rourke.’

‘I mean that you can be heavy-handed. Decisive. You see a bigger picture and you act on it. And you do not explain yourself.’ Isakov leaned forward, grimacing apologetically. ‘For a long time, you have acted like that and been surrounded by people who have served with you for a decade, Leo. You took his XO. You took his CHENG.’

‘I know which of those you think is worse,’ Jericho mumbled. ‘I needed to spread experience around the squadron. Put a seasoned XO like Valance with a green CO like Kosst. Put a green XO like Shep with a seasoned CO like Rourke.’

‘I think it is clear,’ said Isakov with a wince, ‘that you favoured Triumph in these dealings.’

‘That’s not true,’ Jericho said indignantly. ‘You think I wouldn’t have kept Shep if I could? I had to sacrifice someone from the team, send them off someplace else.’

‘A demotion for Valance, a promotion for Shep. Because if you had to break up this family, it had to be for something better. So you broke up his.’

Jericho worked his jaw before he said, reluctantly, ‘His family included a spy. I don’t know if I can trust his family. And he shouldn’t neither.’

‘You know that is not how this works,’ Isakov pointed out gently.

There was a pause as Jericho narrowed his eyes at him and considered how to reply. Eventually he settled for draining his beer and putting the bottle down hard. ‘We’re gonna be late.’

‘Late?’ Isakov’s eyes moved to the screen on the wall. ‘Ah. Late.’

They had to move at a brisk pace to the turbolift, down the corridors as they headed for their destination. It was never easy on this ship, not if all was well. In a crisis, everyone moved like a well-oiled machine. Otherwise, Jericho couldn’t stop himself from pausing as he passed a crewmember, checking on their day, asking after them. Three hundred and fifty souls and he made a point to know them all by name. Those who had been aboard more than a few weeks, he knew a little something about – family they’d left behind, a project they were working on.

The more stoic Isakov sighed at every stop, and when Jericho finally parted ways with Chief Petty Officer Transinger, lab technician, he gave Jericho a pat on the back that was almost a push. ‘As you said. We are late.’

But when they got into the lounge, the eager eyes of the senior staff landed on them, and Jericho did not see one face in particular. He smirked at Isakov. ‘If we’re before her, then we’re not late.’

‘No,’ Isakov allowed, ‘because I asked her to check for a phase variance in plasma conduit seven. Because I knew you would be late.’

Doctor Namiya, leaning against the bar with a whiskey, gave a sharp laugh. ‘He’s got you there, Boss.’

‘Alright, alright, settle down,’ Jericho chastised good-naturedly. ‘We’re here to play nice, remember?’

‘We must be warm and welcoming,’ rumbled the huge, icy figure of Lieutenant Sterlah. ‘Greet her as a new comrade.’

‘I was just going to get her a drink, jeez.’ Krish Malhotra blew his cheeks out, but moved to the captain’s side, cheerful smile fading in a moment. ‘Quick word, Captain?’

Jericho glanced at the doors. ‘It’ll have to be.’

They couldn’t go anywhere private, but they could step just out of earshot of the others. Malhotra shifted his feet. ‘I want to talk to you at some point, sir.’

‘We’re talking now, aren’t we?’

‘Properly, sir.’ Another hesitation. ‘About my future.’

Jericho watched him and tried to disguise his heart lurching. ‘Krish, you know it wasn’t anything against you that Shep made XO on Endeavour…’

‘She was second officer; she had seniority,’ Malhotra said in a rush, ‘but I’ve got longer in service, I’m qualified…’

‘I know, and the next opportunity that comes up we can talk about. But you know I don’t want to lose everyone, right? That we’ve got to stick together on Triumph, right?’ Jericho jerked his head back to the crowd. ‘Don’t pretend there ain’t fewer smiles aboard with Shep gone. I need someone in the senior staff who can crack a joke. That new kid from Endeavour’s too damn earnest.’

Malhotra wilted. ‘I wouldn’t want to hurt the ship, sir.’

Jericho sighed and clasped his shoulder. ‘You gotta look out for yourself. I would hate for anything else to come between us all, though. You know I count on each and every one of you.’ Then the doors slid open to the lounge, and he had to make the clasp a quick clap. ‘We’ll talk. I’ll book you in. We’ll sort this out, Krish.’

He could not afford to lose anyone else.

But now he had to welcome someone new, and returned to the crowd of senior staff just as Commander Cortez approached with a bewildered look. ‘Someone order a party?’ she asked suspiciously. ‘I thought this was just Dimitri and me.’

‘I was lying,’ Dimitri said in a dry voice.

‘Commander Cortez.’ Jericho beamed at her. ‘You got dragged aboard. No two ways to say it. You didn’t have much of a choice, I absolutely stole you for the team here on Triumph. Because I want the best, and you’re the best. But that might do something for your ego – it don’t necessarily do much for your happiness.’

Cortez watched them all, and he saw her expression creak with guilt. ‘Oh, no, Captain – I’ve not meant to be ungrateful or unhappy to be here or anything…’

‘Change is hard, and I’ve taken you from folks you were with for years. But let me tell you – you come on board Triumph, and you’re my family. So I gotta make you feel welcome, which this -’ He gestured to the gathered. ‘Is all about. A proper welcome for you.’

‘He likes,’ said Commander Ranicus in a low drawl, ‘to figure out what everyone wants to drink. So it may be easier if you tell him rather than watch him try to ask without actually asking.’

Jericho clicked his tongue. ‘None of that. I know what the commander wants.’ He pointed at Cortez. ‘Tequila, right? Neat?’

Cortez worked her jaw. Then she grinned and this smile, he thought, was not so guilty. ‘Maybe you do know how to do a proper welcome, sir.’

Jericho barked with laughter and ushered her forward. ‘Alright, alright. Then unwind, Commander. Tonight, we make you part of the family.’