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Part of USS Endeavour: To the Dark House

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Runabout King Arthur
March 2399
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‘We’re still about ten hours out,’ said Drake at the sound of boots on the ladder up. ‘All going fine.’

‘Excellent.’ He’d expected Valance, so scowled when he heard Thawn’s voice. ‘I need access to the navigational sensors.’

He kept his gaze on the controls. ‘You know where they are.’

‘I mean I’m going to have to take some control of them,’ she said, slipping into the co-pilot’s chair.

‘Why?’

‘Commander’s orders.’

He rolled his eyes. ‘So it can’t possibly be explained to me. I should just fly the ship and be quiet.’

‘I think that’s what you’re here for.’

At last he spun in his chair to face her. ‘Seriously. What’s your problem with me?’

Thawn pursed her lips, but he could tell she was only pretending to focus on her work instead of him. ‘Where should I start?’

‘Maybe with an answer? Just because you’ve worked with Valance longer doesn’t mean she’s going to cut you any slack for being snooty.’

‘I’m not being snooty. Rourke might find you charming, but to everyone else you’re unprofessional.’

He bristled. ‘What’ve I done that’s unprofessional? And don’t say “started this fight,” because you get chewed out for this bickering just as much as me.’

‘You were late -’

‘On my first day because my transport was running late; hell. Get new material.’

He saw her eyes dart from side to side. ‘You shouldn’t have a drink on your console.’

Drake looked at his steaming latte. ‘That’s – we’re not about to hit trouble -’

‘You never know when trouble will hit.’

‘And if that’s the case, you’re not buckled in for turbulence,’ he snapped. ‘Nobody cares.’

I care.’

‘No, you’re nitpicking.’

She shifted in her chair. ‘I have work to do.’

Fine. Then tell me why you need to manipulate the navigational sensors while we’re in potentially hostile territory.’

She looked like she knew she didn’t have a good answer to that after calling him out on his drink. ‘Commander Valance wants me to run further traces on the Wild Hunt warp signatures as we enter space lanes with more traffic. I’m running on extrapolations only by now.’

‘Oh, well. That sounds important,’ Drake said, though wondered why they were bothering when they had a destination. ‘I’ll let you work.’ So he of course turned on his music. It wasn’t loud, but he picked the tunes with a thumping and irregular beat.

She lasted longer than he expected. It took almost a hundred seconds before she turned, glowering. ‘Could you let me work, please, for just five minutes.’

‘I don’t know,’ mused Drake. ‘Can you stop giving me shit for five minutes?’

‘I know you think you’re just retaliating,’ she snapped. ‘But you realise you’re proving my point?’

‘If you don’t expect anything better of me, why should I try?’

‘This is a whole new level of childish!’

Drake turned off the music, not because he thought she was right, but because he knew she could easily spin this to their superiors with him being the bad guy. ‘There. Maybe next time you won’t come in giving me attitude from the start. Now, what do you need?’

‘I don’t need your help, I’ve been handling this data for weeks -’

‘But you don’t know the navigational sensors on this runabout as well as I do,’ he said, reaching to refine her modulations. ‘That should cut down the background signatures from stellar radiation.’ He glanced at her. ‘Yeah, I’m not just a flyboy, try to not have an aneurysm.’

She didn’t answer that for a moment, merely looked at her console and made an annoyed noise. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ Thawn sighed. ‘I’m still not picking up anything new. We’ve been on extrapolations for the last twelve hours and I’ve not picked up the trail.’

‘Is that a problem? We’re more than halfway to T’lhab.’

‘If they’re not there, then I’ve lost the signal and we’ve come all this way for nothing.’

Drake cast her a sidelong glance, and found at last an expression which was not irritation at him, but troubled frustration with her work. ‘We knew we might lose them,’ he said, still not understanding. ‘It’s why we’re headed to the station. You’ve confirmed they’ve been in this area; if anyone knows where they were, it’ll be these guys.’

‘Will it? There’s no reason for them to stop off, or even be noticed -’

‘T’lhab is a spacer port, right? Civilians and scum.’ He turned his chair to face her. ‘Most spacers don’t live on giant Starfleet ships. They live in cramped, shared spaces, where any opportunity to stretch their legs and see different faces and maybe get some privacy is essential. Wild Hunt use Blackbirds; no way the crew don’t want a break if they can have one. That’s ignoring if they don’t have business at T’lhab, which looks like the only reason they’d come this way. They’re Federation-built ships, so any paranoid spacer in the area who’s docked at T’lhab is going to take notice. Ignoring if they’ve done anything that gets their attention.’ He’d found himself speaking in a slower, more calming voice and watched it have an affect, watched her shoulders relax an iota.

‘Well,’ said Thawn at last, and brushed a lock of red hair behind an ear. ‘Maybe.’

‘Maybe,’ he repeated, lip curling. ‘I’ll take that as, “You’re right, Connor, you’re so wise but I couldn’t possibly say.’”

She scoffed and stood. ‘I couldn’t possibly say. Go play your awful music, I’ll tell the Commander our ETA.’

‘How’s Cortez?’

‘She might be dead.’

‘So, lesson learnt. Don’t go drinking with Valance. She’ll get you wrecked then deny you medical attention.’ Lieutenant Cortez’s hangover was threatening to last several days. Drake felt this confirmed his suspicions Valance was wild beneath the surface, and no assurances from Lindgren had corrected his preferred belief that the Vor’nak had hosted a crazed party.

On long-distance assignments, he had to make up his own fun.

* *

‘Dropping out of warp,’ said Drake, and Valance leaned back in the command chair of the King Arthur’s cockpit, watching data stream onto her panels as they ended their faster-than-light defiance of space-time. ‘Lot of traffic here.’

‘That’s to be expected,’ said Valance, and looked to the front as the hulking shape of T’lhab Station rose to, if not fill, then certainly claim more of the view than anything else. It was still a speck no bigger than her thumb, but the ships milling about its space-lanes were ants in comparison. From here, sensors showed that while most of the ships in the area were Klingon in design, some were not, and none already here were KDF. Armed, likely. But their affiliation was more unclear.

‘We’re being hailed,’ said Lindgren. ‘It’s a comm to us and the Vor’nak, from the station.’

‘Put it through.’

Only Valance’s display panel changed, giving a split-screen image of Torkath and a heavy-set, older Klingon warrior. ‘I am Bak’tan, son of Ch’vog, of the Jajvam Brethren. T’lhab Station stands under my protection. The armed forces of the House of K’Var and the Federation are not needed here.’

Valance sat up, keen to intervene before Klingon politics deepened. ‘I’m Commander Valance of the USS Endeavour. My team and I simply wish to visit T’lhab Station. We’re on Starfleet business and looking for someone. We only want to talk.’

Bak’tan looked at her steadily. ‘Commander Valance. Indeed.’ It was difficult to tell on a screen if he looked at her ridges, but she felt he did. Then his gaze was on Torkath. ‘And you, son of K’Var.’

‘My reputation precedes me,’ Torkath drawled. ‘Commander Valance and her team are under my protection.’

‘Unacceptable,’ said Bak’tan. ‘If your ship draws closer, if your people board, too many here will take this as a sign of your House, of the KDF, asserting its power where it is not welcome. Your involvement is a challenge, Lord Torkath.’

‘I come not to challenge, unless you and yours would make me a liar by endangering Commander Valance where I could not aid them.’

‘My quarrel, and the quarrel of any here, is not with Starfleet. But we will not let you place soldiers on our decks for your agreements with the Federation. We care nothing for those. Bring your ship no closer, Lord Torkath, or the Brethren will take this as a sign of aggression.’

‘I am sworn -’

‘We’re all people of our word,’ Valance butted in. ‘Lord Torkath has indeed promised my commander he shall keep us safe. My commander has been obligated to trust this, and cede his responsibility towards us to Lord Torkath. And so, Commander Bak’tan, are you prepared to swear to our safety on your station, so Lord Torkath can cede his responsibility in turn?’

Torkath scowled. ‘To set foot on that station without our aid -’

‘Is to accept the hospitality of Commander Bak’tan,’ Valance said smoothly. ‘And trust in the honour of the Jajvam Brethren.’

Bak’tan watched a moment. Then laughed. ‘Wily, Commander. Many would assume only the Great Houses and their vassals have honour worth recognising. You have my word, Lord Torkath, that the Starfleet visitors will have the protection of the Brethren while they are on this station. We do not hold with reckless violence or outside conflicts here. Here, many are welcome.’

Torkath grunted. ‘Many, even the lowliest.’

‘And yet the House of K’Var must keep their ship at their current distance,’ Bak’tan retorted. ‘Your ship is free to dock, Commander Valance. Station control transmitting instructions. We shall speak soon, I have no doubt.’

His display went dead, and Valance was left with the accusing eyes of Torkath. She shrugged. ‘Thank you for bringing us this far, Lord Torkath. From here we -’

‘We will wait for you,’ Torkath said bluntly. ‘Sound an alert if you need assistance. Whatever the Brethren want, we will answer if called.’

‘I’ll do my best to not cause you upset in your own sector,’ said Valance. ‘I know you have to do business with the Brethren.’

‘They are a glorified title for a band of warriors with no House that will claim them,’ Torkath said. ‘Be cautious of trusting in their honour. We will wait. Vor’nak out.’

Valance slumped back in her chair and rubbed her temples. ‘I hate Klingon politics.’

Drake looked back at her. ‘I guess I missed subtext.’

‘Nothing too complicated. A Great House like K’Var has a very low opinion of a gathering like the Brethren. Klingon honour is ostensibly about the individual, but then it extends to those closest to the individual, usually their family. And when you have disparity in the power and image of different families, that’s how you get a class system wherein those with the least power and lowest birth are considered literally less Klingon because they can’t call on the honour of those around them to improve their standing and image.’

‘And I bet every member of every Great House is just a stand-up sort of guy,’ Drake drawled.

‘Quite.’ She stood and looked at her team. ‘But we’ll see what we find. Lieutenant Drake, bring us in to dock at T’lhab Station. You know your way around places like this?’

He brightened. ‘Not normally this Klingon. But these kinds of hubs are all the same.’ He pointed out the canopy at the gathered vessels. ‘See, you’ve got more than just Klingons – that’s a Ferengi ship, some Talarians, couple of Orion ships -’

But he stopped, and Valance looked down. ‘What is it?’

For a moment it looked like Drake was going to obfuscate. ‘I, uh. I should stay aboard.’

‘Recognised someone?’

He sighed. ‘See that little skimmer there? That’s an Orion scout ship, the Celebrant. There’s a small chance her crew will try to shoot me in the head if they see me.’

Thawn’s eyebrows hit her hairline. ‘What did you do?’

‘Hey, having a bunch of Orion pirates who want to shoot me on sight isn’t a badge of dishonour, but…’ Drake winced. ‘I don’t think this is trouble you need.’

‘No,’ said Valance, impressed despite herself at how forthcoming he was. ‘I appreciate the warning, Lieutenant. We’ll keep you benched; stay on the ship with Lieutenant Thawn.’ She caught their flinches and sighed. ‘Lieutenant Thawn, keep on analysing the data, and pipe it to us as we search. I want us able to ask the most up-to-date questions.’

‘Us?’ said Cortez, slumped in a corner. ‘I hope you mean “you and Elsa,” while I go find a small hole to die in?’

‘No such luck, Lieutenant. Both of you are with me.’ She paused. ‘Go get yourself a detoxicant from the medkit. I want you sharp.’

‘I’m sure there’ll be a lot of engines to deal with,’ Cortez groaned, staggering to her feet.

‘I’d have left you here to help Thawn, but Drake needs to keep his head down. Besides, we may have to make some trades for information, but we’re in sketchy territory giving out equipment, so you might be useful.’

‘To be sold into slavery?’

Valance sighed. ‘Some people will give a lot to have a Starfleet Engineer look at their engines. Just stay off the Bloodwine.’

‘That’s already gonna be written on my tombstone, don’t worry.’

Valance looked at Lindgren as Cortez left. ‘I expect a diverse crowd on this station. We’re close enough to the border, and this is where the unwanted will go to ground.’

Lindgren gave a small smile. ‘I’ll bring my tongue, I suppose,’ then at once lifted a hand to Drake. ‘Yes, I know how that sounded.’

He smirked. ‘I wasn’t gonna say a thing.’

Thawn rolled her eyes. ‘Commander, permission to -’

‘Denied,’ said Valance. ‘Whatever it is.’ She looked at Lindgren, Thawn too shocked to respond, and nodded to the ladder. ‘We should change. Away team attire.’

Lindgren looked keen to leave the cockpit. ‘Do you think we’ll have a ship to come back to with those two left alone?’ she murmured as they reached the ladder.

‘I’m hoping only one of them is left,’ said Valance. ‘Then the winner might give us some peace and quiet. We’re in Klingon space. I can afford to dabble a little in Klingon conflict resolution.’