Rourke was halfway through breakfast when the door-chime to his quarters went, so he had to shovel in the rest of his scrambled eggs. ‘Come in!’
‘Oh, Matt – I didn’t mean to interrupt…’ Dr Josie Logan hesitated in the doorway when she saw him.
He wiped his mouth with a napkin. ‘Come in, you’re alright. Coffee?’
‘I shouldn’t.’ She paused near his dining table. ‘Alright.’
‘Twisted your arm there,’ he observed wryly, and replicated a mug for her and fresh cafetiere for them both. ‘I’m on the bridge in twenty minutes, but we’re still waiting for the rendezvous so if you need a lot of time I can send up word.’
‘Oh, no. This won’t even take the cup of coffee. Probably.’ She sipped the mug anyway, as if she’d be dismissed without being allowed to finish if her business were quick. ‘I’ve been still working on the Starfleet suppression of Erik Halvard’s presence – alleged presence – here in the Minos Sector.’
‘I’m increasingly confident it isn’t him,’ said Rourke, grimacing at his coffee. ‘Though Commander Airex and Counsellor Carraway seeing him in the flesh on Lockstowe raises more questions.’
‘I’m, um, leaving that down to you, Matt. But I’ve hit a few… no, not brick walls. Road bumps.’
She frowned, pulling out a PADD and flicking her holodisplay bigger. ‘Specifically I’ve been trying to pull all of the findings of the inquest into the deaths of Commanders Halvard and Winters,’ she said, paying too much attention to her notes to notice him flinch. ‘I hoped you could explain why half of it’s classified.’
Rourke stared. ‘It is?’
‘I – yes. The conclusions of course clear you and the staff of the Firebrand of any wrongdoing or error, and I can access most of the statements given, but no all. I’m sorry, I didn’t know this was news.’
‘I didn’t…’ He stopped himself and drew a deep breath. ‘Investigators talked to me, and I was informed that there’d be no escalation once the inquiry was over. I wasn’t in a position to watch the proceedings and I didn’t read the findings.’
He’d been a wreck. At ‘home’ on Earth, on medical leave at his counsellors’ advice, about to take a job at Starfleet Academy. The last thing he’d needed was to immerse himself in the detailed analysis of every single incident leading to the deaths of two people so important to him.
‘Well.’ She bit her lip. ‘Lieutenant Slater’s account is heavily redacted. That’s all I can say for sure. There are other accounts which have been obscured, and best I can tell it’s from the intelligence teams in sector strategic operations. Which suggests there was something in the initial leads for your mission that someone thought might be relevant, and were too sensitive to be revealed.’
‘That doesn’t make any sense.’ Rourke scowled. ‘We were on the trail of a drugs cartel, it wasn’t anything sensitive. They would have warned me so I could contain any findings which weren’t for general circulation. Even if I didn’t get the full picture. And what did Slater have to do with it? He was my Chief Engineer, he had nothing to do with the undercover operation.’
‘Okay. I thought you might know something before I went digging further, but that’s okay, Matt.’ She finished her coffee quickly. ‘I’ll just get on it myself -’
‘No, no.’ He stood, the rest of his breakfast forgotten. ‘I’ll reach out to Slater.’
‘Um, I thought you wanted me to look into this because I’m less suspicious?’ Her eyebrows raised. ‘If you contact Slater, it’ll be obvious you’re digging into this.’
‘What possible reason do you have to reach out to him?’
‘I can…’ She looked away, thinking. ‘I can say that I’m trying to gather information on Erik Halvard for analysis of his appearance out here in the Minos Sector. If I say it, it’ll seem like this is some very low-priority work so it won’t get much suspicion.’
‘This still makes no sense,’ said Rourke, glaring at his coffee cup.
‘Maybe not.’ She stood, putting her PADDs away and abandoning her unfinished drink. ‘But I’ll find out what I can. I can be discreet, Commander, you really don’t have to worry; I’ll make it sound as officious and routine as possible. I’m good at burying important things in information requests -’
‘I have to get to the bridge. Thank you, Doctor.’ He turned away, heading for the doors and barely noticing her hurt expression, or considering how he was kicking her out of his quarters because it was that or leave her there.
He hardly heard her farewells, lost in his own thoughts and then heading the bridge. Kharth relinquished the command chair at his arrival. ‘Anything?’ he asked.
‘All quiet, sir,’ she said, moving to assume her position at tactical.
‘They’re not very late,’ said Thawn unhappily.
‘Late enough,’ grumbled Rourke, sitting in the big chair and only now wishing he’d brought his coffee with him as it became time to wait.
He’d expected a delay. What he’d not expected was, after a rather dull two hours on the bridge, Kharth to break the silence with a snap of, ‘Klingon Bird-of-Prey decloaking off our bow!’
‘Easy,’ said Rourke, lifting a hand. ‘Bit dramatic for Torkath but -’
‘They’re raising shields and charging weapons.’
That was even less expected. ‘What the hell, Torkath – red alert! ID that ship!’
‘She’s the IKS Roghtak, sir,’ reported Thawn. ‘Not the Vor’nak..’
Lindgren turned at her console. ‘We’re being hailed, sir.’
‘Maybe we can get some answers. On screen.’
Rourke did not recognise the burly Klingon whose face, silhouetted against the gloom of a Bird-of-Prey’s bridge, appeared on the screen. ‘This is Commander Rourke, USS Endeavour. State your business.’
Deep-set eyes in a face that was square even by Klingon standards met his. ‘I am Dakor. You, Rourke, are the one who has been waiting at our border for the past twelve hours.’
‘At,’ Rourke emphasised. ‘We have not crossed, nor do we intend to, and this is neutral territory. You have no grounds for aggression.’
‘A sudden decloaking followed by arming yourselves.’ Rourke shrugged. ‘What is that?’
‘The investigation of a possible threat.’
‘If you intended to attack, you would have done so. If you were innocently examining us, you could have hailed us from much further away. But instead you’ve given up the element of surprise, which suggests you’ve no intention of starting trouble, and every intention of sabre-rattling. I don’t scare so easy. So how about we both down-power our weapons, and have a civilised conversation like the friends the Federation and Klingon Empire are?’
‘Not all the Empire,’ Dakor said in a low growl, and Rourke’s stomach twisted until he spoke on. ‘I am sure there are many of your Starfleet who would be so eager for retribution against the House of Mo’Kai that they may wish trouble against all Klingons.’
‘That is hardly the Starfleet way, Dakor. But you are right to be mindful of the tensions the House of Mo’Kai have caused. Which is why I and my ship are not threatening your border.’
‘You may conduct your meeting in many places, Rourke. Further from our border.’
‘You have no authority to move us along.’
‘The protection of this border is the responsibility of me and my house. You may proclaim you have the right to linger. I proclaim the right to force you back.’ Dakor leaned forward. ‘Who shall win, I wonder?’
‘The B’rel-class against the Manticore-class? That hardly seems a question.’ Rourke set his jaw. It was a bluff; he was hardly about to underestimate a Bird-of-Prey in the hands of a skilled commander, who could make the Manticore slow and lumbering in comparison.
‘Sir!’ Kharth looked up from her console. ‘Second Bird-of-Prey on approach!’
But Rourke saw Dakor’s smile was more a tense baring of teeth. ‘Friends of yours?’
‘Perhaps,’ growled Dakor, ‘you should reconsider your position.’
Rourke glanced down at the display on his armrest. Then he looked up at Dakor and grinned. ‘I don’t think so. My appointment is here. Ensign Lindgren, patch the Vor’nak through to this communication.’
Torkath was a lean Klingon, hawk-like in look, and Rourke knew him to be far more precise and measured than most of his kind. He sat back on his bridge, gaze languid. ‘Brother, you have picked trouble.’
Rourke was frowning – they weren’t that close – but Dakor gave a snarl. ‘This matter is mine to resolve -’
‘I was summoned to the meeting. Matthew Rourke is an honourable warrior and has earned the right to my time,’ Torkath returned. ‘He waits here for me, and you try to challenge and dismiss him? Off with you.’
Dakor shifted in his seat. ‘He made it unclear for whom he waited.’
‘And owed you nothing,’ said Torkath. ‘Return to your patrols.’
Dakor’s gaze landed back on Rourke, who kept his wry smile. ‘This will be remembered, Rourke.’
‘Oh, the feeling’s mutual.’ Rourke sat back as Dakor’s face disappeared from the viewscreen, and the reports came of his Roghtak going to warp. Only then did he turn his smirk on Torkath. ‘You’re late.’
‘My timing feels flawless,’ Torkath pointed out. ‘I apologise for my brother. Our proximity to the iniquities of the Mo’Kai and the Hunters of D’Ghor mean many think of us as weak enough to prey upon. It has made him… territorial.’
‘Nothing like a crisis to bring family together. I’m glad we waited; your advice to not cross the border was sound. Would have done it five years ago to visit you without a thought.’
‘Times are not what they were. It is good to see you on a bridge again; your place is out here, not at a desk.’ Torkath gave a toothy grin, which Rourke tried to emulate without feeling too guilty. ‘What do you need of me?’
‘A crime gang’s marauding the Minos Sector. We’ve tracked them since our last run-in, and their warp signature suggests they crossed the border into Klingon space. It’s our intention to pursue.’
Torkath grimaced. ‘With the correct information, I can dispatch ships to chase -’
‘A nice promise, Torkath, but be realistic. You’re stretched as it is, you can’t give much to this pursuit. And, sorry, but your sensor technology isn’t as sophisticated as ours for work like this.’
‘No.’ Torkath drew a deep breath. ‘But I suspect I know their destination if they have crossed the border here. T’lhab Station answers not to my House, guised as a centre of commerce, but in recent years it has become a breeding ground for criminals to shelter, find supplies, jobs, crew. I imagine no other destination for a gang of this ilk.’
‘We know these people, Torkath. I can’t send you after them; they’re wily, you’re not equipped or trained for this -’
‘That insult to my talents aside,’ said Torkath, blunt but, Rourke knew, not truly offended, ‘I will not allow your warship to cross the border.’
Rourke opened his mouth to argue that Endeavour was not a warship. But the Klingons would hardly distinguish between a vessel of her design, ready to defend Federation interests against all-comers, and one intended to inflict violence. And with the high tensions between the two powers, he could not fault Torkath’s caution. ‘Then let’s compromise,’ he said at length. ‘If I dispatch a team on our runabout for this T’lhab Station, that can hardly be seen as a threat.’
‘So little threat that I cannot expect them to bring these enemies to justice,’ Torkath pointed out. ‘For their safety, they will have my protection and the escort of my ship. And the assistance of the House of K’Var.’
Rourke inclined his head, deeply relieved. ‘Thank you, old friend. You’re more decent than you need to be.’
‘As you say. We are friends. The Federation and the Empire. Torkath and Matthew. How soon do you need to depart?’
‘As quickly as possible; I know you hurried, but waiting here lengthened their head start -’
‘I understand. I had hoped we might have an evening to drink and reminisce. But on our return. Gather your team, prepare your ship, and I will see them safely to their mission and back. Vor’nak out.’
Rourke clicked his tongue as the viewscreen went dead, and looked to the bridge crew. ‘Better than nothing,’ he drawled. ‘Mister Drake, get the King Arthur prepped for a long-range mission. I’ll want her sensors for this hunt.’
‘No,’ said Kharth even as Drake set to work, and all eyes turned to the Security Chief, leaning on her console as she looked at Rourke. The Romulan shrugged. ‘Sorry, sir, just pre-empting this before you get it from Valance, Airex, probably Sadek, too. That’s “I” in the general sense? You can’t leave the ship for this away mission.’
‘I understand the facts of the case. Torkath is an old friend, and I have a lot of experience with Klingons,’ Rourke said defensively. He knew he shouldn’t have tolerated this on the bridge, but Kharth’s brusque approach had taken the wind out of his sails.
‘Others know the facts of the case,’ Kharth said. ‘Not me, because I don’t fancy taking my pointy-eared ass to a Klingon crime hotspot. But I can’t imagine Commander Valance has any experience of Klingons.’
His lips set. ‘Sarcasm doesn’t become you, Lieutenant.’ But he sighed, and looked to Ops. ‘Thawn, you’re up. You know the most of the ins and outs after working on the CIC and someone will need to man those sensors.’ The Betazoid gave him a wide-eyed nod, but he ignored her as he turned his gaze to the ceiling and, after suppressing a groan, tapped his combadge.
‘Rourke to Valance. You’ve got a mission, Commander.’