‘Assessing threat -’
‘No – damn it – we’re going to have to reset the software again.’
‘Oh, no, no. I’m sure there’s just one line of code in this that’s responsible, I’m certain I can figure it out…’
Rourke tried to not grin as he descended the steps to the centre of Endeavour’s new Information Centre. ‘Did we just designate Lockstowe an enemy encampment?’
The room had once been an anthropology lab, now reverted in accordance with the original Manticore designs to a Combat Information Centre – despite the austere disapproval of Science Chief Airex. This had been a time and resource consuming process even without the modifications necessary to turn the room from a hub of strategic information to prepare for military action, to a hub of evidence from which to conduct an in-depth investigation.
Lieutenants Kharth and Thawn were up to their elbows in the latest reprogramming efforts, and both looked up ruefully at his arrival. ‘If it’s any consolation, sir,’ said Kharth, ‘the CIC is pretty confident we can take them.’
‘It’s the nature of the software’s categorisation,’ sighed Thawn, still jabbing at the panel. ‘It considers assets in the database as allies, enemies, or strategic concerns. Or irrelevant. It doesn’t know what to do with Lockstowe, which we can’t designate as “safe”, but isn’t actually enemy territory.’
‘We’ve created a new category for major investigation locations,’ Kharth said, ‘but when we set it to run the full analysis, that makes it flag Lockstowe as a threat.’
‘So what you’re saying,’ said Rourke, folding his arms across his chest, ‘is that the ship’s computer is endorsing a scorched earth policy in uprooting the Wild Hunt?’
‘Maybe that’ll make them come up with a less stupid name,’ agreed Kharth.
‘Or.’ Thawn pursed her lips at the levity with which they discussed mass slaughter based on aesthetic choices. ‘I can program in a new analysis routine which doesn’t include the hostile flagging.’
‘So at this rate,’ said Kharth, ‘we’ll be done by the time we’ve arrested every last member of the gang.’
‘Sounds about right.’ Rourke pulled out a PADD. ‘We’ll need a CIC Officer once it’s up and running. I have a few proposals. I’d like your opinions.’
They checked their own PADDs as he transferred the files over. Kharth was the first one to grimace. ‘I need Kowalski where he is.’
‘Athaka’s a competent programmer,’ Thawn chimed in. ‘He’d make sure the CIC runs smoothly. But does he have the strategic skills?’
Kharth looked at her. ‘What about this anthropologist? Chief T’Kalla?’
‘She caught my eye, too,’ said Rourke. ‘She’s got a lot of field experience and experience running research projects with a practical bent. I’d put her higher on the list, but…’
‘But Commander Airex is going to have kittens if you take another one of his staff?’ said Kharth testily.
‘Something like that.’
‘I can’t imagine,’ said Thawn anxiously, ‘we’re going to have that much need for personnel in his anthropology division, considering the mission.’
‘We’ve just taken one of his labs anyway,’ added Kharth. ‘So I think it’s logical.’
Rourke gave her a look, and Kharth lifted her hands and turned back to the console. ‘Chief T’Kalla it is, then. I’ll notify her and Commander Airex.’
‘Commander Valance will want to know about the personnel reassignment,’ Thawn pointed out.
‘Good catch, thanks for saving me from the grumpiest morning briefing.’
‘Yeah,’ grumbled Kharth, ‘those are just for us.’
‘It’s her responsibility,’ Thawn said, voice going a pitch higher. ‘She has to maintain a coherent duty roster, which will include the reallocation of personnel to the CIC, and filling the gaps they leave behind, and – and we’ve been participating in the setup of the CIC, Lieutenant, so you know she’ll blame us, too!’
Rourke tried to not grin. ‘There it is, the real fear.’ He looked at Kharth. ‘But speaking of the Commander, have you made much progress with a Hazard Team?’
‘Various candidates, sir,’ said Kharth. ‘Including, ironically, Chief T’Kalla – she can do both duties. But we’re struggling on a team leader. There aren’t many appropriately trained junior officers. But we’re working on it.’
‘Good. CIC’s still the priority, I really want it up and running by Lockstowe. So you have two days.’
The two women exchanged tired glances, and Kharth shrugged. ‘Then it’ll have to be ready, won’t it?’
Thawn sighed. ‘I’ll get Ensign Athaka in to help me with the reprogramming. We’ll keep you posted, sir.’
‘Good luck,’ said Rourke, and nodded at the holographic display of the gently spinning world of Lockstowe. ‘Try to not declare war on a Federation settlement.’
He would have gone to his ready room, but his yeoman had started to wield paperwork as a tool of social warfare against him, and besides, he’d been putting off one more meeting for too long now. Perhaps because he knew, on some level, it was insanity. So instead of the bridge, he went to the beating heart of the Operations computing division, the place where beleaguered Ensign Athaka would have to sit and fix the bugs in the repurposing of the war room technology. Walking through the bullpen of desks and consoles without addressing any officers won him a few confused looks which only intensified when they saw the room he was heading for.
He had to check the panel by the door before he hit the chime, but ducked in at the summons to find a small, tidy office with an exterior window, which despite the size spoke of the prestige of the holder. She was a frizzy-haired young woman, her walls stacked with shelves stacked with PADDs, except for the couple of blank spots boasting the holographic shimmer of academic certificates, and she looked utterly bewildered at the sight of him.
Rourke gave an awkward smile. ‘Doctor Logan?’
‘Oh! You’re – Captain Rourke.’ The woman his records told him was Doctor Josephine Logan stood so fast her chair rocked, and at once embarked on a losing battle to restore order to the chaos of her desk. ‘You don’t have to worry, Captain, I’m definitely hard at work down here, I’m earning my keep, my way -’
‘It’s not “Captain,”’ Rourke said. Normally those words came out faintly pained, but it was hard to fight amusement.
‘Mister? Mister Rourke? I suppose you’re not my boss, really, except – like, you are my boss, you run this ship – do you want a drink?’
‘Bit early in the morning, isn’t it?’
‘I – I meant coffee, but the replicator – oh!’ Dr Logan snapped her fingers before opening a bottom drawer of her desk and beginning to rummage. ‘I know I have that whisky which was a celebration gift for getting the project -’
‘Doctor!’ Rourke lifted his hands, by now grinning openly. ‘Coffee from the replicator is fine. And I don’t – my rank is Commander, and I’m not a big fan of the tradition of getting called “captain” just because I run the ship.’
‘An anti-traditionalist in Starfleet? What will they think of next?’ To his confusion, she pulled a small box out of the drawer before she scuttled to the replicator. ‘I’ve found this great Nicaraguan blend in the – well, I programmed this great Nicaraguan blend a few years ago which I bring with me to every ship, if you want to -’
‘That sounds great, Doctor.’ Despite himself, he put his hands in his pockets and wandered to the shelves. ‘Any reason you’ve got files all in separate PADDs?’
‘Oh, I -’ Dr Logan paused to open the box and put two rough-hewn, glazed ceramic mugs on the replicator before she tapped in commands for steaming coffee to materialise inside them. ‘I like things being physical. There’s no point in real hard copy for computing literature, anything I had made last year would be out of date and useless, but it’s much easier for me to sift from topic to topic if I have separate PADDs.’ She offered him the coffee.
‘Thanks. These are nice,’ he commented on the mug.
‘They were a gift from one of my students, I didn’t really want to point out that the replicators give us mugs all the time and I think he expected me to paint them. But if I did that then they’d look like a toddler did, so I just had them glazed and now I bring them out for special occasions.’
‘I’m a special occasion?’
‘I – Captain – Mister – Commander Rourke -’
‘Relax, Doctor. I didn’t come down here to drill you, though my first question is going to sound like it.’ He tried the coffee. It was very good. ‘Could you explain your role on the ship? We don’t have many civilian staff; that’s normally researchers on a science ship.’
‘Well, I am researching,’ said Dr Logan. ‘I was put on Endeavour as part of a joint undertaking by Starfleet and the Daystrom Institute to continue research into the latest developments in integrated bio-neural circuitry; the Manticore-class starships aren’t the most obvious examples but they have some of the more varied and robust uses of these systems. So of course it’s necessary to observe and assess these computerised systems in the field. Uh, but, primarily, I provide teaching to your Operations and Engineering divisions to keep them on the cutting edge of computer systems developments.’
‘Part of the Daystrom Institute’s cooperation with Starfleet Academy? I worked with a few of your colleagues in San Francisco, but I keep forgetting certain professions in Starfleet require regular, ongoing training.’
‘We like to think of our Starfleet Operations personnel as experts in their field but they always have a perspective of applied computing when the theory and technology underpinning it can sometimes move on without them -’ She paused, looking horrified. ‘Not that they’re not experts in their field Captain – Commander -’
‘How about,’ said Rourke gently, ‘seeing as you’re a civilian and far more qualified than me, Doctor, we drop this ridiculous idea of my seniority and you just call me Matt?’
She fish-mouthed a moment. ‘Josephine. Josie.’
He reached out, and it took her a moment to shift her grip on her mug to shake his hand. ‘A pleasure to meet you, Josie. Thanks for explaining your role aboard. But I didn’t actually come here to make you justify your existence to me.’
‘I didn’t think – you’d have kicked me off at Starbase 157 if that were -’ Josie stopped herself. ‘What can I do for you, C- Matt?’
‘It’s a bit delicate.’ He took the seat next to her desk, finding himself encouraging her to sit even in her own office. ‘But I’d like your help with something and I don’t want to ask a fellow officer.’
‘You were on board during the Wild Hunt’s attack?’ She nodded and he sat up, wrapping his hands around the comforting warmth of the coffee cup. ‘The man responsible claimed to be Erik Halvard. I don’t think that’s possible because Erik Halvard was a friend, and because Erik Halvard is dead. I watched him die. However, Rear Admiral Beckett is under the impression that the reports of Commander Halvard’s involvement in the attack on Endeavour have been stifled by someone in Starfleet Command.’
Josie’s brow knotted. ‘They don’t want to spread panic?’
‘It’d spread confusion for Erik Halvard to be back from the dead and now attacking Starfleet. Not panic. But I…’ Rourke paused, and glared down at his mug. ‘I don’t know what anyone stands to gain from pretending Halvard is alive. But something’s not right here, and I mean inside Starfleet rather than just the Wild Hunt.’
She’d grabbed a PADD while he was talking, already tapping away with a stylus. ‘Reports from Endeavour go to Task Force Command before they make it to San Francisco; there are multiple stages where paperwork could have gone lost.’
‘That’s what I want you to look into. This is all legal,’ Rourke stressed. ‘I’ve got the authority to uncover the truth of the Wild Hunt situation by what means I deem necessary. But I don’t want to put the onus on Starfleet officers when…’
Josie’s eyebrows shot up. ‘When you don’t know who to trust?’
‘Or who I’m putting in an awkward situation,’ he lied, because she’d been right the first time.
‘Okay.’ She chewed her lip. ‘I’ve got access to most of the ship’s records I’m going to need; I’ve needed really big security clearance to do my research, and so long as I can say I’m acting on your instructions as the CO then I can really justify pretty much anything.’
‘And if you need more, come to me. And if you find anything, come to me.’ He let out a deep breath. It had been a surprising release to talk about this, even distantly, with an unrelated civilian. He drained the mug and put it on the table with a tight smile. ‘Thanks for the coffee, Josie. And, well. The help.’
‘I – it’s what I’m here for, Commander. Matt. I mean, it’s not, because I’m really here for research, but I know I’m lucky to get to do my research on a ship like Endeavour so really I want to be more useful than I am doing lectures for officers who already know most of what I need to say, so -’ Josie stopped herself, bashful. ‘I’ll try to help.’
‘And that,’ said Rourke, getting to his feet, ‘is all I can ask for. Is all anyone can ask for.’
‘You’ve been quiet.’
Airex didn’t look up from his PADD as he chewed on toast. ‘I have a lot of resource reallocations in my department to manage.’
‘You lost one lab. This is hardly an inconvenience.’ Valance stirred her coffee. At 0830, most of Alpha Shift was making ready to go on duty, so the officers’ mess was a comfortable buzz of activity. That didn’t mean she’d wanted to race through breakfast with her companion completely disengaged. ‘We’ll need you far more focused on analysis of the pirate band’s ships and resources.’
‘Surely that’s more Engineering’s concern.’
‘I’d feel better if you were involved.’
Airex paused at that, setting down his PADD. His hair was still rumpled, bright eyes still tired. ‘What’s wrong with Cortez? She seems to know what she’s doing.’
‘It’s not her competence I’m doubting.’ Valance sipped coffee.
‘You don’t like her?’
‘I wouldn’t question her suitability for this mission if it were that personal.’
Why did he have to pay attention to this? Valance set down her mug, thin-lipped. ‘Truthfully? I would be more comfortable working with you to understand our opponents.’
Airex finished his toast and pushed the plate to one side, suddenly attentive. ‘Is there something I need to know?’
‘You sound like you’re not going to drop it.’
‘You brought it up.’
Valance clicked her tongue and looked away. ‘I’m not uncomfortable with her. Some officers are uncomfortable with me, and she’s one of them.’
He frowned, taking a moment to mull this one over. Someone who knew her less well would have taken longer to reach a conclusion. ‘You think she doesn’t like Klingons?’
Her gaze snapped back. ‘It was her expression when she first saw me. She was surprised, and then guarded.’
‘That could mean several things.’
‘It could, except I know what “Oh, no, a Klingon,” looks like, Dav.’
He inclined his head at that. ‘You would. Sorry.’
‘She’s been awkward around me ever since.’
‘I have noticed that.’
‘So I would rather have you reporting to the command staff about findings and developments analysing the Wild Hunt’s ships and so forth, then her.’ She put her elbows on the table. ‘You don’t need anthropology labs or staff for that.’
‘And don’t think I didn’t notice you deflected my question. You’re not just bothered about your lab. That’s an irritation, not a problem.’
Airex tilted his chin up in a mock-haughty manner. ‘You assume I don’t take an irritation very seriously when it comes to my research projects.’ But he wilted quickly. ‘It’s Saeihr.’
‘She’s been avoiding you, I’ve noticed.’
‘I would like,’ he said delicately, ‘for us to talk.’
Valance winced. ‘What do you expect to say? Correct me if I’m wrong, Dav, we’ve only talked about the two of you in passing over the years. You were together, then you were Joined, and the relationship didn’t survive it because you were different. Then you came here.’
‘That’s more or less it,’ said Airex, in a tone she knew meant ‘less’ rather than ‘more.’
‘Which sounds very emotionally stressful, and I don’t know how a conversation reconciles that. There’s a lot to overcome there – you don’t know each other any more, she’s doubtless hurt and betrayed, and you have to feel quite confused about the whole thing.’ Her eyes narrowed at his expression. ‘Don’t look at me like that. I’m perfectly capable of assessing other people’s feelings.’
‘Just not your own?’
‘We’re not talking about me. You have to set an achievable goal. You want to be able to work together? I’ve yet to see her making that a problem.’ Valance winced. ‘You want her to not hate you? That’s a taller order.’
‘We just…’ Airex sighed and slumped. ‘We used to be close. She knew me better than anyone.’
‘She knew the old you. She knew Davir Hargan. You’re always the one to say we can’t spend our lives looking backwards. Why is she so different?’
Airex visibly chewed on that for a moment, before accepting, ‘She’s not. She’s just here. You’re right.’
‘Carry on being civil and professional. I don’t have a very high opinion of her so far, but her failings haven’t been how she’s behaved around you. Otherwise, she has more black spots on her disciplinary record than I really appreciate for senior staff on this ship, and I can’t help but feel she’s here because some admiral wants it.’
‘I don’t know about her and admirals,’ Airex admitted. ‘And she does have a temper, she does like things being done her way. But I’ve never known a safer pair of hands. She’ll fight for this ship tooth and nail now she’s here.’
‘I don’t want fighters. Rourke might, but Rourke thinks we’ll get to the bottom of this situation with phasers drawn. The last thing I need is for him to have a gun-toting right hand.’
‘There are,’ Airex said a little stiffly, ‘a lot of ways to fight.’
Valance’s expression went flat. It was bad enough to have Airex, always her first point of support, distracted by his strained departmental resources and the presence of a former partner. The last thing she needed was for him to also be defensive when said partner was shoring up the command decisions of Matthew Rourke.
She finished her coffee. ‘Maybe. I’ll let you get back to balancing your duty rosters in your remaining laboratories.’ He had no retort for her, or not one which stopped her from leaving. She was due on the bridge soon anyway.
Ensign Lindgren was already in the turbolift that stopped for her, altogether too bright-eyed for this time of morning. ‘Hello, Commander!’
Were it anyone else, Valance would have found the perkiness annoying. ‘You’re in a good mood this morning, Ensign.’
‘I like that we’re doing something again, sir,’ Lindgren said with honest self-awareness. ‘Even before everything went wrong, mineral prospecting wasn’t that exciting.’
‘I know what you mean. At least now we have a chance of helping people,’ Valance accepted.
‘Exactly, sir.’ Then the turbolift arrived at the bridge, and Valance had to watch Lindgren emerge and give Commander Rourke just as cheerful a greeting. It was just the Comms Officer’s way. She was unscrupulously fair to everyone and saw the best in them.
‘Good morning, Commander,’ she said as she took the seat to Rourke’s right.
‘Commander.’ He handed her his PADD. ‘Arrival at Lockstowe is expected at 1100 hours tomorrow. Lieutenants Kharth and Thawn have some updated analysis from the Information Centre I want us to start actioning, though.’
She read it. ‘Tactical assessments of the Blackbirds?’
‘Now we’ve been able to go through the full scans of their load-outs. Even just three of them could give Endeavour a fight, and it’s realistic to believe they have at least that many available.’
‘They won’t win.’
‘No. And they probably won’t fight to the death. But they can do us a lot of damage.’ Rourke sighed, dropping his voice. ‘This isn’t quite an insurgency, but I’d expect them to use similar tactics. They know the lay of the land better than us, and they have locals on their side – even if it’s through fear. They will either try to avoid us entirely, or they will harry and harass us as we move through the Minos Sector.’
Valance frowned at the PADD. He was right, of course, but a part of her balked at the militarised perspective he was taking. She had usually taken that stance with Captain MacCallister, highlighting tactical concerns to complement his diplomatic mind. She didn’t much like the shoe being on the other foot. ‘We don’t have much experience of fighting multiple fast-moving ships,’ she accepted at last. ‘I’ll schedule drills over the next 26 hours based on this analysis.’
‘Good. Most crews don’t have experience against these enemies.’ Rourke settled back into his chair and watched the bridge continue about its daily business. ‘Whatever they throw at us next. We have to be ready.’