‘Folks! We got company!’
O’Dare had not looked like a woman easily stirred to action, reluctant to even descend from her threshing equipment to have a conversation. So her barrelling down the path to the village green towards them, waving her sun hat, was enough to catch their attention.
Which was just as well, because Kharth had been dangerously close to ripping Airex’s throat out with her bare hands.
‘I’ve covered the door-to-door about the village green,’ Airex had said when they’d met up at the First Landing statue. ‘People aren’t that inclined to talk.’
‘Of course they’re not,’ Kharth sighed before she could stop herself. ‘You’re the very bloody model of Starfleet.’
‘You’ve been talking to them, Lieutenant.’
‘And we are both trained in these sorts of interviews and, frankly, more approachable.’ She gestured between her and Carraway. She wasn’t much used to being ‘approachable’, but her irregular demeanour was better suited to the fringe. ‘Now they’re on their guard and won’t want to open up any more, so if they know something then that’s useless.’
He bristled. ‘I didn’t come in and say I’m here to do a survey of their pain; I knocked and asked if I could help them with anything and then tried to take their temperature -’
‘It’s alright,’ said Carraway, lifting his hands as if he could make it alright. ‘I can have a wander and double-check now the Commander’s opened the door -’
‘He didn’t open the door, he bloody slammed the door!’ She rounded back on Airex. ‘We didn’t need you for this job.’
‘I’m needed to run the away team, Lieutenant.’
‘We didn’t need running -’
So O’Dare’s interruption was timely. The weather-worn farmer skidded to a halt before them. Whatever had spooked her seemed to be making its way around the village; a few heads were sticking out windows, and Kharth could see Alderman Reikan emerging from the town hall where Cortez’s engineers had been getting to work.
‘Came on the communicators from orbit,’ O’Dare huffed, bracing her hands on her knees. ‘I make sure I get all that piped through; you never know when -’
‘Wild Hunt,’ said Reikan as she arrived, expression set. ‘Blackbird in orbit. While Endeavour’s gone. They’ll beam down any moment.’
Kharth’s back stiffened and her hand came to her phaser. ‘Right. We need to find a defensible -’
‘You need to not be here.’ A muscle was tense in the corner of Reikan’s jaw. ‘You can’t possibly fight, and if you’re found here…’
‘This is an opportunity to take them by surprise,’ said Kharth. ‘Set up a -’
‘She’s right,’ Airex interrupted. ‘We have no idea how many they’ll send down, and our being here puts you at risk.’
Kharth glared up at him. ‘We can’t exactly run off into the wilderness and expect to be not found.’
‘Then we need to hide somewhere.’
‘Where? Who the hell here is going to hide us under their couch?’ Kharth swept a hand about the gathering villagers. She knew little of them but that they were stubborn fringe farmers, and that they had already sold out their own to stay safe.
‘I’ll keep you hidden,’ came a new voice, and all heads turned with a mumble of village drama, even in a time like this, as they saw Jonie Palmer, dusty and stood at the path towards her silos and house. The gaunt woman shrugged. ‘Saw ‘em off before. Don’t see no reason to give in to them now.’
Kharth winced. ‘They have leverage over you.’
‘I’m also the person who stood between them and my silos with a rifle. More ‘n any of this lot did.’ She jerked her head at the crowd, and even Alderman Reikan had the grace to look ashamed. ‘You want to trust any of them to not stand aside the moment it gets rough? Or run into the wilderness? Or reckon maybe I hate them enough to lie to them.’
Alderman Reikan let out a tense breath. ‘Go,’ she said. ‘They could beam down any moment. We’ll say you left with Endeavour.’
Despite their blazing row, Kharth found her gaze automatically going to Davir Airex. This time she recognised the eyes that looked back, the two of them in a heartbeat falling into the unspoken communication born of years of intimacy, and she knew they were thinking the same thing.
This is never going to work.
‘My head still hurts,’ the young woman complained, and Dr Sadek tried to not roll her eyes as she reached for the medical tricorder.
‘The painkillers should be kicking in,’ said Sadek. ‘And I’ve healed up the head wound. I would expect it’s stress. Try to rest.’
The biggest danger of the Wild Hunt hitting Lockstowe and dragging them away from the Lady Luck was that Sadek might just murder the passengers left aboard. They had very little wrong with them, and if she’d had more than a minute to make her case to Rourke she’d have shipped them all back to the liner – except the crewmember who’d had a relay blow up in his face. He was proving her favourite kind of patient: quiet.
But the young woman flopped back onto the biobed, and Sadek turned to the nurse on duty. ‘I’ve got a boring job for you.’
Nurse Voothe tilted his head. ‘More boring than babysitting these whiners with their cuts and scrapes?’
‘It’s best I don’t leave them,’ she sighed. ‘I may need to invoke my supreme authority as master of sickbay to tell them what to do. I don’t trust these entitled brats to not try to push you around as a nurse. But get on the database and see if you can pull our wounded crewmember’s medical records; the Luck didn’t have them but perhaps the company will supply them? He’s stable for now but I’m not happy not having his medical history.’
‘You just don’t want to try to sweet-talk corporates.’
‘I don’t. But you don’t want to be here, either. Take my office.’
‘No, you keep the temperature far too cold. I’ll use the medical lab next door.’
‘You’re that desperate to be away from their whining?’
Voothe just laughed as he left, and Sadek turned back to her patients, trying to hide her satisfied smile. Adapting to a new department as the head could be difficult, especially under Endeavour’s circumstances. But the medical team seemed relaxed and sympathetic, and the fact she was an old friend of Doctor Zelensky had not hurt.
The young woman who’d been complaining of a headache was lying down now, eyes shut. That was for the best. Sadek took a quick tour of the other five, who were all more subdued and assured her they didn’t need much supervision, but still she noticed that first patient shift on the biobed.
She sighed and reached again for the tricorder as she headed over. ‘Still can’t rest?’ She tried to not sound too irritated. ‘If you really want, I can give you a sed-’
Which was when she reached the biobed and the woman sat up sharply. Which was when a thin blade slid out of the woman’s sleeve and into her hand. Which was when the knife was rammed in one smooth, sharp motion into Sadek’s throat.
‘Still only the one Blackbird,’ Thawn confirmed as she consulted the long-distance sensors.
‘They have to know we’re close.’ Valance’s voice was low, taut. ‘What can they possibly expect to do in this time?’
‘Nothing good,’ said Rourke, also keeping his voice down. ‘They drew us away for a reason. This has to be bad for the people of Lockstowe.’ He made a small noise of frustration. ‘We shouldn’t have left the away team there.’
She shook her head. ‘If anyone can help them, it’s Airex.’
It would do no good to wonder what the science officer could possibly achieve against a gang of marauding pirates who likely intended to wreak havoc on a settlement for the mere sin of talking to Starfleet. But he filed away Valance’s faith in the Trill regardless.
‘Five minutes out,’ reported Drake.
Rourke turned to Valance. ‘Commander, ready a security team to take to the surface. We’ll beam you down the moment we drop out of warp before we raise shields. Oh, and include Chief T’Kalla, and Petty Officers Baranel and Palacio.’ None of them served in the security department; all of them had flagged up as potentials for the Hazard Team.
Valance’s expression pinched only an iota before she nodded and stood. Then the ship shuddered, and an alert went off on Thawn’s console.
‘Report!’ barked Rourke.
‘Sir -’ Thawn sounded as confused as she did concerned. ‘That’s an alert from Engineering; someone’s trying to manually change the alignment on the anti-matter injectors – what…’
‘Cortez to Bridge!’ the Chief Engineer’s voice rattled through the comms in a low, frantic hiss. ‘Some civvies have just bust in here with phasers and started shooting up the place; I’m taking cover in my office but they’re getting to the controls – shit -’
Then the line went dead.
‘All stop.’ Rourke shot to his feet and bolted for Thawn’s console. ‘Lock out Main Engineering from the computer systems, Lieutenant, on my command codes.’ Within a heartbeat Thawn had input the lock, and he reached over to tap in his authorisation. The ship stopped shuddering – but also gone was the low hum of warp speed. ‘Chief Kowalski, initiate full lockdown of the ship. I want command level codes before anyone can go through any door!’
Drake swivelled around on his chair. ‘Who the hell broke into Engineering? Where did they come from?’
Rourke’s blood went cold. ‘Bridge to Sickbay. Come in.’ Silence. ‘Aisha!’
Valance was already on her feet. ‘Chief Kowalski, you’re with me. We’ll collect a team, pass by Sickbay and proceed to Main Engineering.’
He swallowed. ‘Negative, Commander. Take the Chief, assemble a team, and proceed with all haste to Engineering; if we don’t control that situation, we could lose the ship.’ His gaze turned to his depleting bridge crew. If he was going to maintain control of Endeavour, he needed Thawn on the bridge; if this was a prelude to another ambush from the Wild Hunt, he wanted Drake still at the helm.
Valance’s eyes were on him, and it was his instinct to assume she was judging him for his apprehension. But she must have read his look between the senior staff and stepped in, looking the last place he would have. ‘Ensign Lindgren; take Ensign Arys and anyone who can be spared who can carry a phaser, and get to Sickbay.’ She gave Rourke a sidelong glance, and he knew this was a moment where he needed to shut up and trust his XO’s judgement.
He stepped closer to her as Kowalski surrendered tactical to the relief officer. ‘You know the layout and the security teams, you don’t need me to tell you how to do your job,’ he murmured to Valance, and something in his tone must have struck her, her gaze shooting to meet his with an unspoken tension. ‘Go save our ship.’
The red alert lighting was a low pulse that felt entirely at odds with Aisha Sadek’s, as hers was going a mile a minute. And she knew this because her heart was trying to pump all blood out of her gushing neck-wound.
‘Security alert,’ droned the ship’s computer from somewhere above her. It might as well have been the moon for all she cared, on her back, gasping aimlessly with her hands clamped around her throat. ‘Ship-wide lock down has been initiated.’
But if she could hear it, she was alive. Conscious. And, by the warm thump on her slick palms, wouldn’t be for long if she didn’t act.
Her vision swam in front of her, the lights of sickbay blurry. It was empty. She’d been stabbed, then all six of the conscious patients had shot to their feet, moved with planned efficiency to loot sickbay of what makeshift weapons they could before climbing into the Jefferies Tubes.
Leaving her there. Bleeding.
Even though her hands were clamped around her own throat in an iron, instinctive grip; even though her heart was thudding in an adrenaline-fuelled reaction, even though it hurt, the encroaching darkness was almost peaceful.
She’d seen death countless times from the other side. It wasn’t so bad.
‘Bridge to Sickbay. Come in.’ A distant voice. Too far. Too meaningless. Her grip loosened.
Matt’s voice. Tense, afraid. He’d already lost so many people. Wouldn’t want to lose her, too. Well, that was his problem. She closed her eyes.
He’d have to write more sad letters. Maybe speak at her funeral. Stand there with Yasmin and the kids –
Fuck. Yasmin was never going to let her live it down if she died.
Sadek opened her eyes, felt warm blood continue to escape her grip around her neck, and tried to concentrate through the pinprick blackness in her vision. A weak kick knocked the trolley of medical equipment to the floor beside her. Writhing around to get closer hurt, spattered blood across the sickbay carpet.
This carpet had to have seen a lot of blood. Wasn’t that bad.
Her right hand shook as she reached for the equipment. That was bad. Her hand never shook.
Dermal regenerator. Inadequate. Sadek blinked, jaw clamping as she tried to concentrate, tried to grab the autosuture with her unsteady grip.
Physician, heal thyself. Despite it all, she let out a low, wry chuckle, though the autosuture quivered as she brought it up to her neck. Even if she could have seen the wound, it would have been impossible to make out clearly by the amount of blood. Flat on her back, she had to go by feel, centimetre by agonising centimetre as she drew the autosuture imprecisely across her own slit throat.
The slick, sick sense of air and agony didn’t go away, but it did change when she was done. A sharp gasp for air didn’t bring rattling or more blood. She had no idea how much blood she’d lost, but she wasn’t losing any more.
And as a reward for saving her own life, Aisha Sadek let herself promptly pass out.