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Part of USS Endeavour: The Road Not Taken

Drop All That

USS Endeavour
April 2399
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The kitchen was old-fashioned, any modern equipment stark against the wooden counter-tops. Dawn light came blinding through the tall windows on the far side, enough to cast the woman sat at the table in silhouette. But that wasn’t a problem for him. He’d know her anywhere.

Rourke moved through the room like he’d been here a hundred times; mug from the cupboard, coffee from the pot. He turned to the replicator.

‘We’re out of eggs,’ she said.

‘How does a replicator run out of eggs?’

She put down her mug and stood, still a silhouette even though the window was now at his back. ‘I’ll go get some.’

‘There’s no need.’

But she moved around the table, kissed him on the cheek, and headed for the door. ‘I’ll be back soon.’

‘Lily…’

She shut the kitchen door behind her, and that was when he woke up.

Endeavour’s CIC didn’t need constant staffing. Lieutenant Thawn had finished integrating and programming it, so now it was Chief T’Kalla’s domain, and her domain did not stretch to 0400 ship’s time. As such, Rourke was surprised when he got down there with a mug of tea, dressed down in his Academy sweater, to find he wasn’t alone.

‘Doctor Logan.’

Josephine Logan had been sat at the central holographic display, engrossed even with the low lighting, and jumped at his voice. ‘Captain Rourke!’

He winced wearily. ‘Didn’t we agree to drop all that, actually? Josie. Sorry for disturbing you.’

‘I didn’t – what time is it?’ Josie scrambled for her nearest PADD. ‘Oh. Oh, I really lost track of time.’

‘Factoring the CIC’s integration into your research?’ He took a chair by a console at the periphery of the CIC’s inner ring, spinning to face her.

‘That’s how it started.’ She rubbed her eyes. ‘This is actually your side-project, C- Matt.’ He cocked his head, and she gave an awkward smile. ‘You’ve reported Commander Valance’s intel to sector command. That should lead to a full assessment by sector intelligence and orders on how to proceed. I’ve been looking at those responses.’ She twirled a stylus for her PADD. ‘If information has been suppressed or compartmentalised, there might be a sign of it here.’

He blinked. ‘I didn’t think of that. I’ve turned you into a regular conspiracy theorist.’

She smiled bashfully. ‘It’s, ah, a pretty good break from analysing comparative processing speeds. I love my work, but there are days it’s just numbers which don’t yet mean anything. But from down here I can compare intelligence packages from different sources and see if there are any gaps in what they have or should have and… why are you here if it’s 0400?’

Rourke found a smile despite himself. ‘I couldn’t sleep.’

‘I’m a hypocrite,’ she said, pointing at his mug, ‘but I don’t think a caffeinated drink will help with that.’

‘I’m a man of bad habits.’

She twirled the stylus. ‘I guess you’ve got a lot on your mind.’

‘And you don’t? Do you normally pull all-nighters?’

‘I… this is interesting.’ She waved a hand at the display. ‘This matters. A lot more than my research. I think you are onto something, by the way; most of the low-level, local intelligence outposts aren’t even mentioning Halvard in their intel reports and assessments. Even though it’d be standard procedure to integrate knowledge of a cell leader into any regional analysis? I think it’s been classified higher than their clearance, even if they have clearance on a whole lot of things.’

‘But it’s not classified for us,’ sighed Rourke, ‘because he showed his face at us directly. I guess you don’t have clearance to see the details on the restrictions?’

‘No, no idea. I can see what Endeavour knows of him, or some of his personnel files. Loads of security and intelligence units can’t, I think. In fact, the most thorough one was from Lieutenant Dathan, who’s in Admiral Beckett’s office; even Security Investigations Special Branch aren’t giving me much on Halvard? It’s like if you’re not in a position where someone will tell you, face to face, that Halvard’s involved, he’s being kept off the records.’

Rourke rubbed his eyes. ‘I don’t get it. Is this just PR? Keep it quiet that an officer’s back from the dead and committing crimes?’

‘You’d know better than me.’

‘Starfleet’s grown more paranoid over the years,’ he mused. ‘Border colonies are a lot more independent and a lot less happy with the Federation, like we’re seeing on Bismarck.’

‘But that doesn’t explain why intelligence offices don’t have clearance.’

He sighed. ‘Yeah. Yeah, I don’t know. It’s like half a cover-up.’ He swigged his tea. ‘Did you hear back from Slater?’

She shook her head. ‘No. No, nothing. But I did…’ Josie winced. ‘I talked to Doctor Agenaw.’

His old CMO on the Firebrand. ‘Yeah? We’ve not spoken in… since, I think.’

‘That’s what he said.’ She again shifted. ‘He asked how you were. He seemed very sincere. I had to be clear I don’t… you might hear from him. I didn’t say anything.’

‘I didn’t realise my state of mind was secret.’

I don’t know anything secret.’ She swallowed. ‘Didn’t. Because Doctor Agenaw, he…’ She stopped, gathered herself, tried again. ‘I knew you and Erik Halvard were friends, and this situation sounds really awful – to watch him die like you did, I mean, if he was a friend. And to lose officers under your command like that. But I hadn’t realised you lost… Doctor Agenaw mentioned you and Lily Winters were involved…’

He shot to his feet. ‘That’s not relevant to this situation.’

If she’d been apprehensive before, being admonished made her shut down. ‘Right. You’re right. I’m sorry.’

‘Stop – they’re not – how they died isn’t relevant to this. I’m not asking you to look into that, I’m asking you to find out why Starfleet’s suppressing information now about Halvard.’

Josie squinted. ‘You don’t think it’s relevant that Lieutenant Commander Slater’s statement on how Halvard died has been classified? Or that apparently Halvard and the others died because of a leak in Starfleet security and that leak was never found?’

‘Finding that leak,’ Rourke snapped, ‘won’t explain what’s happening here. It won’t change what happened.’ His eyes swept over the CIC holodisplay of everything they’d learnt about the Wild Hunt, about the man with Erik Halvard’s face. ‘Perhaps this was a mistake.’

‘Commander – Matt – something’s wrong here,’ said Josie, firm for the first time. ‘I wasn’t sure when you asked, but the more I’ve looked -’

‘You’re not an investigator, not an intelligence officer or a security officer. You’re a computer programmer.’

‘I’m a galactic expert on Starfleet standards of information analysis and distribution,’ Josie said hotly. ‘And that might not be a very sexy sort of title but it means that if Starfleet’s handling data and reports in a weird way, I’ll notice!’

‘Then stick,’ Rourke snapped, ‘to that. Not something that happened two years ago.’ He snatched his mug up. ‘I’ll leave you to your work, Doctor.’

She was too stunned and cowed now to protest, but the sound in his head when the CIC doors swished shut behind him as he left was the same as the sound of the kitchen door slamming shut behind Lily Winters in his dream of a life they’d never had together.

* *

‘Morning, Commander.’

Valance had needed something from her office before her bridge shift, so she was taking breakfast in the officers’ mess as the midway point. At a small table against a wall, she hadn’t expected an interruption. Certainly not from Isa Cortez sitting herself opposite. ‘Lieutenant…’

Cortez’s eyebrows raised. ‘Not interrupting, am I? Just figured you were…’ She gestured to the space around her, previously empty.

‘I was just -’ Valance stabbed at her breakfast with her fork. ‘You’re not interrupting. I was thinking, that’s all.’

Cortez waved her coffee vaguely. ‘I got morning briefing with my team in, like, ten, so the last thing I want is to stare at another PADD right now.’

‘So you’re staring at me instead?’ Valance said, sardonic by instinct before she could think.

Cortez coughed on her coffee. ‘I don’t – I didn’t -’

‘I was joking,’ Valance rushed, flushing.

‘Sure! Sure.’ Cortez thudded her chest. ‘Just took me by surprise.’

‘So, I…’ Valance put her fork down, flustered. ‘What’s on the agenda for your staff meeting?’

Cortez coughed again. ‘Nothing exciting,’ she said, a little hoarse. ‘We gotta recalibrate the Bussard collectors because if we’re moving through the stellar phenomena of the Triangle, I want our filtration systems operating at maximum efficiency.’

‘Of course,’ said Valance, settling at the concept of work. ‘I’d be surprised if the Wild Hunt don’t have resources in the nebulae, and we may need to use them for a discreet approach. I assume you’ve looked at any research we have on them?’

‘Meja’s can play havoc with integrated power systems, but the calibrations to avoid that are simple and well-established,’ Cortez said, nodding.

‘Good. The Triangle’s never been the most-studied area, and we haven’t seen much of what its phenomena do to our most modern systems,’ said Valance. ‘I read reports of the Philadelphia struggling with an ion storm in proximity to Pergamon because the Mark X impulse engines’ power arrays were like a lightning… what?’

Cortez was frowning, and Valance realised her gaze had gone unseeing, focused on something beyond the conversation. At the question, the engineer blinked, straightened, and frowned again, like she was wrestling with something. She took a deep breath. ‘I was wondering if you wanted to have dinner with me.’

‘Dinner.’ Valance’s mind went utterly blank. ‘We’re having coffee right now.’

‘We are. Or, you were having breakfast, and then I came over to join you.’ Cortez’s face settled. ‘I mean, dinner, dinner.’

Valance opened and then shut her mouth. ‘Like a date, dinner.’

Cortez’s shoulders slumped. ‘It’s okay,’ she said, lifting her hands. ‘Forget I said anything.’

‘No, no,’ Valance said in a rush. ‘I was just surprised.’

Cortez squinted. ‘What, exactly, about my behaviour the last four weeks has got you surprised by this?’

‘I’m really not used to…’ Valance put her hands on the table so she didn’t fidget. ‘I accept my surprise is more about me.’

‘Okay.’ Cortez let out a slow breath. ‘Is that a… so…?’

‘But I’m the first officer,’ Valance pressed on. ‘You’re a member of the senior staff.’

Cortez frowned. ‘That’s not against regulations. Not even best practice on Endeavour; Lindgren said she dated one of my engineers and she’s senior staff…’

‘She’s not the XO.’

‘That’s still not against regulations, and I don’t think Rourke would care -’ Cortez stopped, and lifted her hands. ‘You could have just dropped it when I said “forget it,” you know.’

‘It’s not -’ Valance winced. ‘It’s entirely that I think it’d be inappropriate.’

That’s an excuse,’ said Cortez, standing. ‘And I’d love to handle this gracefully, but I gave you the out and you instead dangled me on the line a bit, so… I’m gonna take my hurt pride, Commander, and nurse it someplace else.’

‘Lieutenant -’

‘You have a good morning.’

Valance hadn’t seen Cortez angry before. Wrong-footed, yes, but this was a sudden enough shift in the engineer’s temperament that Valance didn’t try again to stop Cortez from grabbing her coffee and leaving. They drew glances from nearby officers, the tension of their exchange clear.

Shit,’ Valance hissed, stabbing her breakfast again. She grabbed her PADD, checking for Airex’s location. Science Lab A. But she was on the bridge in five minutes, so all she could do was bring up the messaging system. It took her three tries to compose a suggestion to meet; three tries before she came up with the masterfully succinct: ‘Lunch?

And now she was going to have to keep this out of her head through a long shift preparing for Endeavour’s next mission – a mission she knew could bring them into a final battle with the Wild Hunt.