‘I don’t believe him,’ Valance snapped, practically wearing a hole in her carpet as she paced about her office. ‘How dare he speak to us like that? Speak about the captain like that?’
Airex looked at the sandwich the replicator had given him, and sighed like he realised this was going to be a standing lunch. ‘He was out of line -’
‘Out of line? He dressed you, me, Thawn, Carraway down like we were schoolchildren. He said we were coddled by Captain MacCallister. All to push the fact he’s Starfleet’s thug, brought here to turn this into a weapon of war on the Klingon border.’
Airex grimaced. ‘He was right about that, though. That we’re already a weapon of war; this is a Manticore, Karana. Captain MacCallister was exceptional and he probably was lucky running this like an explorer, and we both know that drove Command spare because, really, a much older ship could have been doing our job.’
Valance stopped and glowered at him. ‘It was an achievement, an example other captains should emulate. Not that this jumped-up… thief-taker… should be shaming.’
‘You did antagonise him,’ he pointed out. ‘What were you trying to achieve, nitpicking his meeting like that? I don’t like Rourke much more than you, but of course we’re going to use all possible force against the Wild Hunt, of course we don’t want to show our hand too soon. You were trying to make him look like an idiot.’
‘I don’t need to try,’ Valance muttered. ‘And that doesn’t justify his reaction – to me, to you.’
‘Oh.’ He sighed. ‘This was the sort of conversation where I leave rationality at the door and just sympathise.’ She glared at him again, and he shrugged. ‘That’s not often your style. Besides. This isn’t what’s wrong.’
‘Of course it’s what’s wrong -’
‘You suggested lunch this morning, before the briefing. About five minutes before shift.’
‘Is that not allowed?’
Airex sighed, and stared at a point on the wall for a moment. ‘It suggests something was bothering you before you went into that meeting. Which perhaps influenced your behaviour.’
‘I can control my anger.’
‘That’s generally true,’ he allowed, ‘in that you don’t normally let it out. When it does get out, it’s… intense.’ She hesitated, and he sighed again. ‘Karana. What’s wrong?’
She stopped, hands on her hips, and now glared at the carpet. ‘I don’t know why I’m angry.’
‘But something did happen.’
Now she looked at the wall, the door, the ceiling; anything but him before she said, voice taut, ‘Cortez asked me on a date.’
‘Okay? That’s not okay.’
Airex hesitated. ‘Was this a surprise? What did you say?’
‘Of course I turned her down. I’m the XO, she’s the Chief Engineer. And don’t you give me that crap about it not being against regulations.’
‘I mean, it’s not.’ Airex picked up his sandwich. ‘I understand drawing professional boundaries. But why did that rattle you?’
‘She -’ Valance had to stop and think before she could try again. ‘I may have expressed myself poorly. I hesitated, she took that as a soft rejection and backed off, but I wanted to explain that I – that it wasn’t about her, that I wouldn’t date any member of this crew…’
‘Explaining rejections,’ he said delicately, ‘usually isn’t much comfort to the person being rejected. But I ask again. Why did that bother you?’
‘She said…’ Another hesitation. ‘She said it was an excuse.’
Airex looked at her. ‘Is it? I’m not saying you should have done anything. You don’t know Cortez very well, and it is risky for senior officers to date. You also might have no interest in dating her. I…’ He sighed and shook his head. ‘Truth be told, Karana, you’ve not had the slightest romantic entanglement all the time we’ve known each other. I have no idea what you’re thinking.’
‘I don’t… it’s been a while,’ she admitted. Sort of. ‘I don’t know. You’re right, it shouldn’t bother me.’
‘I didn’t say that…’
She picked up a PADD. ‘You’re due a bridge shift, aren’t you? I need to prepare those battle drills Rourke asked for, so I’ll have to pull the latest intel out of the CIC.’
Airex sighed as he stood. ‘My least favourite thing about the changes aboard,’ he said, ‘is that they seem to demand more and more honest conversations.’
‘We’re good at those,’ Valance agreed. ‘We’ll catch up later, Dav.’
‘No,’ he pointed out. ‘We’ll just pretend we did.’
Then he was gone, she was due in the CIC, and she’d not even had lunch. Her appetite would have to wait, she told herself as she gathered the PADDs with her notes for the battle drills, and headed down.
It turned out to be just as well, because all she found in the CIC was Rourke on his own and a fresh wave of nausea. ‘Commander.’
He was stood at the circular holo-display at the centre, and turned to her with a flat expression. ‘I made a grievous error telling you not to call me “Captain” when I boarded, didn’t I.’
Her throat tightened as she descended the stairway. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘I notice you call me “sir” as little as possible,’ said Rourke, watching her. ‘So we call each other “Commander.” Implies we’re equal, no?’
‘Commander -’ She stopped herself. ‘Sir, I’m just here to consult our latest intel for those battle drills you asked for.’
He drew a deep breath, looked at the controls, then stepped away. ‘I’m aware that I lost my temper in this morning’s meeting,’ he said at length.
She didn’t look at him as she went to the display and started to bring up the latest intel reports. ‘I think that you owe an apology to Commander Airex and the lieutenants.’
‘Perhaps.’ He didn’t sound like he was much listening. ‘I was going to add that your behaviour was also thoroughly out of line. Lieutenant Commander.’
She stopped and turned. Airex’s words echoed in her, that she’d antagonised him, needlessly nitpicked. But here he was, trying to lay down the law after his unacceptable reaction. ‘I don’t question your credentials in pirate hunting. Sir.’ It took effort to not sound sardonic; saying the word deliberately always came across as insincere. ‘But I maintain that even with the threat the Wild Hunt present, we cannot forget our fundamental duty -’
‘Again, Commander, you assume that because I am preparing a tactical response, I have no interest in non-violent alternatives,’ he snapped. ‘If you think I need lecturing on that fundamental duty, please. Give me your suggestions.’
‘I did.’ She jabbed a finger at the holodisplay of the most up-to-date strategic map Starfleet had of the Triangle. ‘It included extensive reconnaissance so we could make a plan which would minimise loss of life, not charging in phasers blazing.’
‘And I explained the risks of discovery before the task group is assembled.’
‘Anything but going in and blowing up all potential threats with extreme prejudice, anywhere in the galaxy, is a risk. It’s our duty as Starfleet officers to take on those risks ourselves to reduce violence.’ She hesitated. ‘We had this conversation before.’
‘About my approach at Lockstowe. I hadn’t realised you were still this opposed to my methods.’ Rourke’s shoulders tensed. ‘But if you don’t question my credentials, Commander, trust me when I say this: there are times you cannot talk your way out. Not with these kinds of people.’
There was a virulence to his voice she’d not heard before, not even in the morning’s argument. That wasn’t what stopped her short, but the question she had to ask herself: was she still this opposed to his methods? After fighting Korta, after seeing what the Wild Hunt could do, after his assurances in the debrief at Lockstowe? Or was she just so determined to not let MacCallister down that she’d over-corrected, and so rattled by Cortez that morning she’d been like a live wire?
But before she could answer these questions, for herself or for Rourke, the power cut to lights and holo-display and control panels alike, and they and the whole CIC were pitched into darkness.
‘So we’ve rearranged the lockers,’ Otero explained as he gestured to points on the holo-display of the ship’s deck layouts. ‘Previously it was small arms only in sections civilians might have access to. We can’t remove all of those – regs – but I’ve done a new risk assessment and emptied some. Rifles and larger munitions can only be accessed from more restricted areas.’
Kharth sighed. She couldn’t argue with the logic, but she felt in her gut that the Wild Hunt wouldn’t pull the same trick twice. Still, it’d be egg on her face if they did and she took no precautions, and it at least let Otero feel safer. ‘Good job, Petty Officer. Make sure everyone is briefed on these. Also work with Chief Kowalski on a few anti-boarding readiness drills.’
It was the kind of minutiae she hated ahead of a possible engagement. Being ready was important, and small details mattered. But some crews fretted over those, and she had to balance between what mattered, what just made them feel better, and what helped them stew. The Wild Hunt hadn’t crawled under her skin like they had most everyone else, so for her, this was just another combat scenario looming.
But she had to sign off on their work, which was why she was nose-deep in a PADD when she hopped on the turbolift for a bridge shift, and clipped Thawn’s shoulder. ‘Oh, sorry, Lieutenant.’
The operations officer looked surprised. ‘Um. That’s okay.’
Did she expect me to shove her and not apologise? Kharth looked up and took in her rather pale face. ‘You alright?’
‘Rourke went pretty hard for you this morning.’
‘He went hard for all of us.’
‘No. He went hard for all the original crew. Some of them deserved it. You didn’t.’
She shrugged. ‘I don’t think he sees the difference between us.’
Kharth thought she’d leave that alone, and looked at her PADD. But it niggled. ‘It might help if you didn’t treat him like an interloper. And the new staff.’
Thawn straightened. ‘I don’t -’
‘Not just you,’ Kharth allowed, ‘though you’ve given Drake a hell of a time.’
‘Lieutenant Drake and I have reached… an accord. And I’m not responsible for what Commanders Valance and Airex do. What should I do, tell them to behave?’
Kharth hesitated, then remembered she started this by expressing sympathy. ‘It’d just be worth accepting that some of us might be around for a while. Even the Commander.’
‘Captain MacCallister -’
‘Is going to need months of recovery time and physical therapy and will probably be discouraged from commanding a Manticore, even if he returns to starship command. I wouldn’t bank on him coming back.’ Kharth squinted. ‘Was he everyone’s favourite grandfather or something?’
Thawn looked away, a bit abashed. ‘My grandfather would prefer I weren’t in Starfleet and kept to a socialite life on Betazed. So he’s an improvement. I don’t know about yours -’
‘Well, my family’s standing wasn’t the best fifteen years ago so they had a really low evacuation priority, and by the time the Federation pulled out of helping they weren’t going to be shipped off Romulus… so they’re very, very dead.’ It was petty. She felt petty as she said it. But Kharth was tired, intensely tired, of Endeavour’s factionalism when she had far more complicated loyalties.
She opened her mouth to apologise, but then the lights went dead.
Airex opened his eyes, and for a heartbeat thought he was still unconscious because all he could see was black. Then he craned his neck and saw the faint gleam of the bridge’s emergency lighting. The low hum of the alert siren reached his ears at last, and the disorientation of sensory deprivation faded.
He pushed up off the deck of the bridge. ‘Report?’
A shadow moved at Engineering – Cortez. ‘We dropped out of warp. Lost power, whole ship. Trying to bring it back on; doesn’t seem to be a systems problem…’
‘That’s a pleasant surprise,’ he groaned, and moved back to the command chair. ‘What happened?’ Airex liked bridge shifts. He’d only taken to them after being Joined, when the symbiont’s influence and experience had made him more interested in starship command and operations. So while most officers of his experience had clocked hundreds of hours by now, he’d only been doing this regularly since his assignment to Endeavour three years ago. The novelty factor remained.
Until now, when they’d been yanked out of warp in the dangerous territory of the Triangle.
Lights flooded back on after a moment of Cortez’s work. ‘Restoring power to all decks…’
‘Sensors back on,’ confirmed Drake. ‘No sign of anyone out there.’
‘Running internal and external scans to see what hit us…’
‘Sir.’ Lindgren looked up from Comms. ‘I’m getting reports from all over the ship; minor damage and injuries only, but there’s nothing coming in from anything below Deck 15.’
Cortez frowned at that. ‘Power isn’t coming back on those decks. I’m -’ She paused.
Airex sat up. ‘Lieutenant?’
‘I’m getting massive gravimetric distortions near us. Around us.’ She took a moment, checked sensors again. ‘I think we’re caught in some kind of anomaly. Sensors didn’t give the automated alert because it’s not matching any profile. But the decks without power look like they’re submerged in this gravimetric distortion.’
‘That’s still very vague, Lieutenant.’ He stood from the command chair and went to his post at Science, ushering the reserve officer away to examine his sensors. Then he blinked. ‘That’s crazy.’
‘Right?’ said Cortez.
‘It’s not a black hole,’ he said, ‘but it looks similar. We wouldn’t be in one piece still if we’d been caught in one like this, and we’d have detected it sooner. This is an interphasic rift.’
Lindgren looked blank. ‘Sir?’
‘A literal tear in the fabric of space,’ he explained. ‘No, I don’t know what that yet means.’
‘Power’s fluctuating across all decks,’ Cortez reported. ‘It’s like the anomaly is draining us.’
‘Do we have shields, sensors?’
‘For now.’ She sucked her teeth. ‘Commander, I think we might be – slowly – sinking further into this interphasic rift. We don’t have power on those decks, and they’re…’
Again she stopped, and he looked over at her. ‘Lieutenant. You have to say, even if it sounds crazy.’
‘It’s pretty crazy. The quantum signature on those decks is… fluctuating.’
Lindgren sat up as Airex stared. ‘Sirs, I’m going to have to be the linguist in the room and ask for a translation…’
‘All matter in the universe resonates on a unique quantum signature,’ he explained. ‘This can’t be changed. It’s… it’s fundamental.’
Cortez turned to him. ‘Except…’
‘Except for the possibility of -’ He snapped his fingers. ‘Computer, send Starfleet’s major reports on quantum and parallel universes to my PADD.’ Airex tried to not sound too excited as he looked at the bridge crew. ‘I suspect this is a quantum fissure – it would mean we’re on some level intersecting with other quantum realities. I’ll need to check records before I can advise Commander Rourke…’
‘Ah,’ said Lindgren in a new tone. ‘So I’ve still not heard anything back from anything below Deck 15.’
‘Oh no,’ groaned Cortez. ‘CIC?’
‘Which is the last known location of Commander Rourke and Commander Valance,’ said Lingren with a wince, and looked at Airex, who only now raised his head from his PADD, scientific excitement fading from the earlier fizz in his veins. ‘Sir, you’re in command.’