The bridge was such a bustling hive of activity that Connor Drake almost crashed into someone the moment he exited the turbolift. Only with a neat side-step did he avoid collision, throwing up his hands. ‘Woah, sorry. Sorry. ‘Scuse me.’ Less than twenty minutes from launch, he’d expected the bridge crew to be more ready. Then again, he wasn’t.
He shouldered his way to the centre of the bridge and the tall, red-shirted woman. ‘Commander, uh, Commander Valance? Lieutenant Drake, Chief Flight Control Officer, reporting.’
Valance was all but juggling the PADDs full of reports being passed to her by furtive staff, and barely took a moment to arch an eyebrow at him. ‘You were expected at 2000 hours last night.’
‘Yeah, well. Shuttle delays. Did have to get all the way from Capella, didn’t I.’ Drake winced when he saw her unimpressed eyebrow not move. ‘I mean, sorry, ma’am. Reported as quick as I could.’
‘You have a lot to acquaint yourself with in very short order, Lieutenant. Report to your post.’
‘Yes, ma’am.’ Helm was unattended; doubtless he’d been on the roster and so should have been here fifteen minutes ago. But even hemorrhaging time didn’t stop him from taking a moment as he reached his console, hand running across the back of the seat. It wasn’t every day he took the helm of a Manticore-class starship.
‘Stop gawking,’ came a sharp voice from his left. ‘I assume you’ve seen a conn before.’
His head snapped over to see the young redhead at Ops. Despite the tension in her eyes and tone, he grinned. That usually smoothed things over. ‘More than my fair share. Just wanted to savour the moment.’ Despite it, he sat down and stuck a hand out. ‘Lieutenant Drake. You can call me Connor. New fly-boy in town.’
She looked at the hand, almost as unimpressed as Commander Valance but with a worse poker-face. Her eventual shake was reluctant and brisk. ‘Lieutenant Thawn. Chief Operations Officer. Welcome to Endeavour, Lieutenant.’
Drake blew out his cheeks as he turned back to his console. ‘Tough ship,’ he muttered.
But he was clearly not as quiet as he’d hoped, Thawn rounding back on him. ‘You’re late for your first duty shift and for reporting in. You’re gawking at your console instead of catching up, and posturing when you should be familiarising yourself with your post.’
‘Hey, I was being friendly, alright?’ His smile had gone. ‘This is a Manticore-class starship; I’m trained to fly her, and her controls are the same as they are on every damn starship because this is Starfleet. It’s not my fault my shuttle was delayed, I jumped on board quick as I could, I’ve not even made it to my quarters where my luggage hopefully got transported, so literally none of this is my fault. Except, yeah. Maybe being friendly. Clearly a mistake.’
Her black eyes narrowed. ‘Clearly.’
‘And you don’t outrank me, so don’t get sharp like you can dress me down.’
‘Lieutenants.’ Commander Valance’s voice reached sub-zero levels. ‘Are you both quite done?’
Drake looked back at the XO, aware his first impression was so shot there wasn’t much point in excessive remorse, but Thawn snapped back to her console, cheeks flushed. Following her lead seemed judicious.
If Valance had anything more to say, it was lost by the ready room doors swishing open to let out the man Drake recognised from personnel records as Commander Rourke. Valance stepped aside from the central chair, and he took it with a nod Drake didn’t think was particularly comfortable.
At least that made two of them.
‘All stations, report.’ The whip-round from the officers at their posts was, even Drake could tell after being here five minutes, perfunctory, before a tense silence fell on the bridge, all eyes on their commanding officer. Drake watched as Rourke worked his jaw, then gave a tired sigh and stood. He glanced to his right, his look to Valance a little defensive or self-effacing, then touched a control on his armrest. ‘All hands. This is Commander Rourke. I know none of you expected to be here,’ he began, low voice a rumble like it had been dragged through gravel and sounding about as begrudging as Thawn’s eyes. ‘Either you didn’t expect to be suddenly transferred, or you should have about now been finishing a survey mission a sector away. A week ago, everything was normal. Now it’s upside-down, and here we are.
‘Normal, because normally a ship this mighty isn’t brought this low. Normal, because normally this part of space is safe. And when we lose our normal, even if we come out uninjured, we don’t come out unscathed.’ His bright eyes swept across the bridge, the commander turning as he spoke, and finally Drake felt something other than the begrudging knot in his gut. ‘We’re marked by what’s happened. Some more than others. And that’s a lot to abide when we’re asked to carry on – not just carry on, but restore the normal.
‘This is not going to be easy. We’re going to what should be a safe heart of Federation space and uprooting a corruption we didn’t even know was there. We’re going to confront the dark side of this galaxy, and one that’s hurt many of you personally. But if we’re to succeed, we can’t let that hurt drive a wedge between us.’
Ah, thought Drake. This is the bit where he tells us all to pull together, like an inspiring Starfleet captain.
Then Rourke said, ‘So I don’t care if you don’t like me,’ in a much more blunt tone. ‘Or if you don’t like the officer next to you. You’re professionals and we’ve got a job to do. If you have a problem, speak to the counsellors. Otherwise, we have dangerous pirates to pursue and this is no time for tribalism or petty in-fighting. I expect nothing less than the best from the lot of you. We can be friends when it’s over.’ He reached back for the comms control on the command chair. ‘Rourke out.’ Then he sat, crossing his legs as a fresh silence fell on the bridge. ‘Mr Drake, is it? Take us out.’
Drake tried, and failed, to hide the broad grin which was only encouraged by Lieutenant Thawn looking like she’d just sucked on a lemon. ‘Aye, Skipper.’ It was a litmus test of his own to see how Rourke responded to respectful informality. And, with a nod of brusque indifference, Rourke passed.
Maybe this assignment wouldn’t stink so bad after all.
She should have recognised the ship name. Sure, Endeavour was faintly known about the fleet; Manticore-classes were not uncommon, but Captain MacCallister’s name carried weight on its own. But her transfer from Starbase 371 was so sudden and with so little choice that Saeihr Kharth barely had time to do more than pack and jump on a shuttle to fill some dead Vulcan’s boots on the other side of the quadrant.
So it had taken the day after departure, with Endeavour already returning to the Minos Sector, before she’d crawled out of her bed in the quarters she’d had no time to pay attention to the night before and looked at the crew manifest. Only then had she noticed His name.
After a starbase assignment, the rooms were small. Endeavour was large enough that senior staff enjoyed quarters with a separate bedroom, but everything was still the smooth lines of brushed steel and occasionally cold imperial blues on carpets and upholstery. Starfleet said they didn’t build warships, but the Manticore made it look like they crossed their fingers behind their backs. For every dose of comfort – her dining table, her cushioned chairs – there was the office space next to her everyday life, the cool austerity in the decorations reminding her she was here to work as much as live.
But it still came with the replicator which still came with breakfast. So it was there, sat on one of those cushioned chairs, halfway through a pastry, that she read the crew manifest properly.
Kharth hadn’t meant to be late to the senior staff morning briefing with the XO. But she slithered into Lieutenant Commander Valance’s office four minutes late anyway, and met the seven pairs of curious eyes with blank indifference. ‘Sorry,’ she said, and tried to sound like she meant it. ‘Arrived late last night. Still trying to orientate myself.’ It was easier than she’d thought to focus on the disapproving XO, because then she didn’t have to look at Him.
‘Lieutenant Kharth, I assume.’ Valance’s voice was like cold silk. ‘By all means, join us.’
‘Sure. But you’ll get more out of me if I get a coffee.’ Kharth didn’t much like the location of the one empty chair before the desk, so shuffled past the small gap between officers and the bulkhead to get to the replicator. ‘Hey, how’s the espresso on this thing? I’ve been on small ships that didn’t do great -’
‘Lieutenant.’ The chill in Valance’s silk went up.
‘Yeah, I’m sorry,’ said the gold-shirted woman who had to be Chief Engineer Cortez. ‘Fine-tuning the replicators isn’t exactly top of the priority list, so don’t order nothing with subtle flavours.’
‘Oh?’ Kharth turned to her, spotting someone else at the receiving end of the XO’s tension. ‘I usually just go coffee, strong, black as my soul, that sort of thing, but I like it nutty and if this is going to come out fruity…’
‘Nah,’ said Lieutenant Drake, leaning forward and waggling his mug. ‘It’s more like engine fuel, so if that’s your taste…’
‘It’s not not my taste.’
‘You sell yourself short,’ Doctor Sadek said to Lieutenant Cortez. ‘The teas are absolutely splendid -’
‘Officers.’ Commander Valance set down her PADDs with a click. ‘If you could get refreshed and then sit down.’
Kharth looked back at the empty chair, now on the far end of the room from her, and gestured at Lieutenant Thawn. ‘Maybe if you all shuffle down one…’
Valance was glaring daggers at her by the time all officers had budged one seat and were, at last, sat before her. ‘Thank you,’ she said, like she might thank a waiter who had brought her a burnt steak after an hour’s wait. ‘We of course departed yesterday from Starbase 157 and are en route to the Minos Sector. We have a brief stop at Bismarck II, where Commander Rourke will be meeting with local politicians ahead of their upcoming election. We have no ceremonial duties yet, but the presence of Endeavour is intended to assure citizens of a border world that Starfleet has not forgotten about them.’
Cortez snapped her fingers. ‘Don’t let the hull plating fall off while in orbit. Got it.’
But Valance just stared at her, and the engineer shrank down in her chair until the XO carried on coolly. ‘Our next stop is the Calcyon Mining Facility, at the outskirts of the Minos Sector, one of the few places to respond directly to Command’s enquiries as to pirate activity in the region – likely because it also acts as a hub for local law enforcement. The trip is an opportunity for departments to settle, for kinks to be worked out amongst personnel and systems, and for you to acquaint yourselves with one another. This region is more volatile than we’ve anticipated, so I expect Endeavour to respond to all manner of unexpected problems.’
The meeting carried on from there, all the usual things Kharth expected from a ship with new arrivals. She was more interested, really, in people-watching. She knew she wasn’t the only new member of the senior staff, but judging who was an old hand was easiest done by watching Valance. The XO was either brusque or a little awkward with the officers she didn’t know, shutting down casual comments from Drake and Cortez, not reacting to the higher-ranked Sadek’s idle indifference to the protocols of the meeting. Meanwhile, Thawn’s tension was brushed aside more gently, Lindgren calmly listened to, and Airex – well. She clearly knew Airex.
Kharth had once said to a captain that she didn’t care about shipboard politics. She’d been told that politics happened whether she cared about it or not, so she could either work it to her advantage or get exploited. Her compromise was to keep an eye out enough to see trouble coming.
‘Lieutenant, could you stay a moment?’ said Valance once the meeting was finished, and Kharth made sure to take her time finishing her coffee before agreeing as all other officers filtered out. Only once the door was shut behind Thawn, the last, did Valance speak more. ‘I appreciate you may have worked late last night, but I expect senior staff to be at the daily briefings on time. Especially as this was your first.’
Kharth gave the half-Klingon a flat look. ‘You don’t have to coddle, Commander. Appreciate means “get your butt here on time.”’
Valance tapped a PADD against the desk. ‘Appreciate can mean appreciate. Or I can say something firmer. Whatever I say, I get my way, Lieutenant. The only choice you get is how easy or hard you want to make this.’
‘Look at me, Commander.’ Saeihr Kharth, Romulan former refugee, leaned forward. ‘I didn’t join Starfleet to make things easy.’
Valance looked at her PADD, and Kharth’s throat tightened when she realised it was her personnel file. ‘No,’ said Valance. ‘I do rather get that impression.’
It was a comment Kharth couldn’t retaliate against without pushing things, and it was a dismissal, so her fists were tight by her side as she stormed out of the XO’s office.
And ran right into Endeavour’s tall Trill science officer.
Damn it –
‘Sofei.’ Davir Airex stepped back, shoulders tense, gaze apologetic. ‘I’m sorry, I thought you’d be in there longer -’
Kharth bit her lip and looked up at him. Tall and wiry, his blond hair usually, to her recollection, started the day tidy and got mussed the more thoughtful or the more stressed he became. It was already something of an unruly mop, so she assumed he’d been hard-pressed by all the work needed aboard Endeavour. Or he’d realised he was going to see her. It had been years since she’d looked into his eyes, ever bright, ever piercing, and yet not for the first time she found herself gazing at them and not knowing them. Not knowing him.
So she straightened her shoulders and shifted to a professional stance. ‘Commander Airex.’ Her emphasis on his name was subtle, but there. ‘You needed something from the security department?’
Maybe she did know him enough to know when he was hurt. He took another step back. ‘I don’t. I thought perhaps we should talk -’
‘If it’s not work, sir, I’ve got a lot of catch-up to play.’ Kharth side-stepped into the open corridor. ‘Maybe once we’ve settled in, or something like that.’ Then she fled.
Redecorating the captain’s ready room was not the top of Rourke’s priority list, but after long days of Captain MacCallister’s art judging him, he’d decided to at least take the pictures down. It rendered his office bare and unwelcoming, but putting up anything new would have felt even more presumptuous. Despite his curt words in his speech to the crew, he didn’t feel like kicking that hornet’s nest. He wouldn’t be here long enough for it to be worth it.
But his speech had been a kick, so he wasn’t very surprised to get a visit from Lieutenant Carraway the morning after Endeavour’s departure, the counsellor opening his arrival by getting them both drinks from the replicator with a program in his own name. Rourke was even less surprised when the replicator spat out a tray of a Japanese tea set that Carraway set between them.
‘Is this supposed to be soothing?’ Rourke grumbled, not admitting the tea smelled excellent as a ceramic cup was pressed into his hands.
‘I find it soothing,’ said Carraway, settling into the chair across from him.
‘Let me guess. This is something you used to do with MacCallister.’
‘The Captain and I met once a week to talk about the crew, yeah. Actually he used to pick the tea, I’d pick the biscuits.’ Carraway wrapped his hands around his cup. ‘Thought I’d be bold.’
Rourke had worked with a lot of officers over the years. But most of them were front-line staff, and Carraway looked like he belonged far behind. His reddish beard and hair were streaked with premature grey, he was thickening around the middle, and the corners of his eyes creased when he smiled. He smiled a lot, Rourke had already noticed, either kindly or with amusement.
Rourke was not fooled. ‘What can I do for you, Counsellor? And don’t say this is about what you can do for me.’
‘Well, it is. Isn’t that how things are with captains and crews?’ Carraway sipped his tea. ‘Do we call you “captain”, by the way? I thought that was tradition.’
‘Commander is fine.’
‘Did they call you that on the Firebrand?’
‘My tea’s still too hot for me to drink, and you’re trying to figure out if I have an inferiority complex about my rank and posting?’
‘Your words,’ said Carraway mildly. ‘Not mine.’ But he put the tea down, and gave the smile that crinkled. ‘Sorry. I didn’t come here to get under your skin. I’ve had a lot of captains who didn’t know what to do with a counsellor, and this ship really needs her counsellor.’
‘I won’t disagree there.’
‘It was some speech you gave before we departed.’
Oh, there it is. ‘You’re going to tell me it was too harsh. I don’t intend to be here very long. The crew don’t have to like me.’
‘That’s the sort of thing usually said by someone who thinks being liked is too much work. You know, people tend to work better with people they like? It’s only normal.’
Rourke sat up. ‘I’m an interloper. I know Captain MacCallister was wildly popular. Commander Valance seems well-liked enough they might have accepted her. But I’m a nobody dragging them back to the place that hurt them. They’ll like me when we do the job.’
‘You’re right,’ said Carraway to his surprise. ‘You shouldn’t waste time trying to butter them up. They won’t react well to it. Cracking on with the job is the best idea, because that’ll lead to routine, and building a new routine together gives comfort.’
Rourke tried the tea. It was very good. ‘If you agree, why are you here?’
‘Actually,’ said Carraway, ‘I wanted to ask about how you’re running your ship. See, Captain MacCallister and I had a bit of an agreement that I didn’t have to be in uniform all the time when on-duty, so long as I looked smart – sometimes uniforms really don’t help break down barriers with people. Counsellors get discretion like that if their captain agrees -’
‘I really don’t care.’
‘See, you do,’ said Carraway amiably. ‘You want to come in and get the job done with the minimal disruption necessary to the status quo. Choosing to not change things is still a choice, right?’
Rourke met his gaze, and found only kindliness there. It was unnerving. ‘You can carry on doing your job in the way you think is best, then, Counsellor.’
‘Thank you. Sir. If you don’t want to be called “captain,” do you prefer “sir?” “Commander?” “Matt?”’ For the first time, Carraway seemed a little nervous as he picked his tea back up. ‘I’m not great with hierarchies.’
Rourke’s eyes narrowed. ‘Commander will do, then.’
‘Okay. Commander. Then in doing my job the way I think is best, it’d be remiss of me to not ask you about Erik Halvard.’
Rourke sipped his tea. ‘Of course you got my records.’
‘It’s sort of what we do, us counsellors. We exchange psych records. We read them. If this is Erik Halvard who attacked this ship, then you’ve got a crew who are very angry at an old friend of yours who’s faked his death and betrayed Starfleet. That’s… that’s a lot.’
‘A lot. Psychology qualifications going to good use there.’
‘And Erik Halvard wasn’t the only officer killed in the incident two years ago,’ said Carraway, not missing a beat.
Rourke narrowed his eyes. ‘Do you want to cut to the chase?’
‘You lost two members of your senior staff, people you were close to. A good friend. A partner.’ Carraway opened his hands, deflecting aggression. ‘I know your counselling records suggest you’ve done a good job of handling this and putting it to bed. It’s got out of bed. And not just Erik Halvard. Lily Winters, too.’
‘I don’t want to talk about Commander Winters,’ Rourke snapped. ‘The evidence that Erik Halvard isn’t dead is fleeting. The evidence Lily Winters isn’t dead is non-existent. Was that all, Counsellor?’
Carraway wore a frown suggesting this wasn’t the reaction he’d hoped for, but he sighed and subsided. ‘I didn’t just get your psych records, Commander, I got your service records. This might not be your first command, but the Firebrand was a different ship. Your past service has been different. Endeavour is hunting down some so-called bad guys, and she’s a ship built for that. Except Captain MacCallister rebelled against that throughout his command, and tried to turn her into an explorer. The man could be a case study in Starfleet ideology. You’ve made your career on chasing threats in the dark corners of the galaxy. That’s a lot to adjust to.’
Had Carraway’s gaze been any less kind, Rourke would have assumed he was having his poor suitability for this posting thrown in his face. Instead, he had to confront the perhaps less-welcome idea that the counsellor actually wanted to help. ‘I said that people didn’t have to like it here. They just have to do the job. That applies to me, too.’
‘And I say again, Commander, people do a better job when they like the people around them. When they’re – big word here – happy.’ Carraway lifted his hands. ‘I’m not going to push. But for as long as you’re here, you’re my responsibility as much as anyone else on this ship. Maybe moreso. We can’t do the job if our captain’s not doing his.’
Rourke sighed and drained his tea. ‘I appreciate you coming up here, Counsellor. Really. It’s been a while since I spoke with the Counselling Department, and if I’m standoffish I’m… out of the habit and still finding my feet with the senior staff. I’m not blocking off my feelings,’ he lied, a little.
Carraway’s smile again crinkled the corners of his eyes as he finished his own drink. ‘Sure, Commander,’ he said, obviously not believing him. ‘But I’m here if you need me.’