‘If we can detect them,’ said MacCallister, leaning back on the command chair, ‘we can communicate with them.’
Commander Templeton folded his arms. ‘And then what, sir? Say “Hey?”’
‘We can pool knowledge. Maybe resources,’ said MacCallister. ‘I know this crew can think their way out of any problem. How brilliant do you think seventeen hundred versions of us might be?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Kharth. ‘Some of them might be the shit Endeavour.’ Maybe I’m from the shit Endeavour.
‘There’s no universe I’ll believe that of,’ said MacCallister with a smile, sitting up. ‘And Rosara, I bet in all universes nobody knows the ship’s systems better than you?’
Thawn stepped up meekly. ‘I can’t promise – I mean, I’ll do my best.’
‘I know. Work with Elsa and Noah, see about isolating our sensor readings of other ships and trying to get them on comms.’ He turned to Kharth and beckoned her to the third chair, next to him and across from Templeton. ‘Your man Rourke. What’s he like?’
She bit her lip. ‘I bet he won’t be trying to hail everyone else, that’s for sure. I’ve only known him a few weeks, same as the rest of the crew.’
‘I’m assuming that every idea I’ve had is being attempted by a Captain MacCallister out there. But I don’t command every Endeavour. If we’re going to band together, until we can talk I have to do my best to anticipate what they’ll do. Bright ideas?’ His smile returned. ‘You might not have been there long, but I know you, Saeihr. You make it your business as Chief of Security to anticipate your CO.’
She tried to not flush, uncomfortable at what felt like presumption, and yet she could understand why he had earned such loyalties with his easy warmth and camaraderie. ‘He’s an investigator. He’s cautious and he’ll look for all the facts, but when he’s made a decision he goes hard for it. He tries to anticipate people, but he doesn’t rely on them doing things. He won’t be trusting other ships to act like you are, for instance, sir.’
‘Hm.’ MacCallister glanced around his bridge, then back to her. ‘How’re your crew doing? All of these losses. A new CO. You know, I know Karana Valance, she’s a real spitfire…’
‘Spitfire? Ice queen, more like.’ Kharth shrugged. ‘Different universe.’
‘That can’t make adapting to a change of situations after severe trauma easier.’
She frowned. ‘Captain, your ship’s stuck in a quantum anomaly. Is this time to worry about the wellbeing of the crew from another reality?’
‘My crew from another reality. And all I have to do for now is wait for the Comms team to finish’
Templeton’s head popped into view past MacCallister. ‘Yeah, he’s like this. You get used to it.’
‘I wasn’t planning on sticking around.’
‘If we break free,’ said Templeton, ‘do you get stuck here? Have we swapped you for our Kharth?’
‘Sorry, am I a downgrade?’
‘More sarcastic. I think you’d keep things real around here,’ said Templeton wryly.
‘I’m expecting,’ came Davir’s voice from Science over her shoulder, and it was enough to make her jump, ‘that the presence of Lieutenants Kharth and Thawn is a part of the overlap between Endeavours. I would expect that once we leave or close the singularity, their quantum frequency will be the determiner of which reality they end up in – not their place in space-time.’
‘Cheerful, Dav,’ said Kharth despite herself.
He flushed. ‘Sorry. That’s my best guess.’
At Ops, Thawn was in a similar situation of trying to ignore what felt like a wall of presence emanating off Noah Pierce. To the extent that when Elsa Lindgren said, ‘What do you think?’ she had to scrabble to catch up.
Only she would know if she’d slipped on decorum and quickly read Lindgren’s mind to know what the topic was. She cleared her throat. ‘I think part of the challenge is going to be any ship receiving our signal. So what if we don’t try to hail them, but instead try to contact them through the ship’s internal systems?’
Lindgren looked nonplussed, but Pierce moved from Helm to Ops, eyes bright. ‘You mean synchronising our internal communication systems with your Endeavour’s? Rely on the fact we’re kind of phased together, instead of trying to transmit and maybe nobody being able to receive?’
Of course he had finished her thoughts and plans. He always did. She didn’t quite meet his gaze as she nodded. ‘Exactly.’
‘Huh,’ said Lindgren. ‘That could work. Probably only with your ship; I’ll need you to tag it with your modulation code. The way those are generated, we can’t assume every Endeavour’s is going to match. Patch it to my station?’
Thawn nodded as she left for the Communications console, and yet again was left with Pierce. Now she had to look at him. ‘We’ll be out of your hair soon,’ she said, not sure why apologetic was the sentiment she found easiest to express.
He gave a surprised, kind smile. ‘You’re never in my hair. It’s so weird, for me we had breakfast this morning and you seem, like – you seem tired, but you seem completely normal.’ He hesitated. ‘But for you…’
She didn’t say, I last saw you when we put you in a casket. Or that she’d hit the deck in a fight and when she’d opened her eyes, it had been to see his corpse in front of her. She cleared her throat. ‘It’s very odd.’
‘I get this is difficult. I don’t want to make it weirder.’ He grimaced and shrugged. ‘I don’t know what helps. I get you can’t look at me, I should -’
‘No – no, Noah, I’m sorry.’ Her shoulders slumped. ‘This is difficult. But it’s not your fault. It’s…’ Thawn hesitated. ‘It’s good to see you again,’ she said at last, and looked at him. There was no word in any language, she thought, for what it felt like to see his face again. A perfectly exquisite agony.
Noah Pierce hesitated, then reached to squeeze her hand. ‘I don’t want to jump to conclusions. But in case the other me was a jackass and didn’t say it, you’re my best friend, you know?’
Her breath caught in her throat – and then was free, and with it came a sudden rush of something Thawn still didn’t have words for. ‘If the other me is… well, me,’ she began. ‘Then -’
And, just as had happened last time she’d sat on the bridge with Noah Pierce, Endeavour rocked and sent them both crashing to the deck. The emergency klaxon wasn’t blaring, her arm wasn’t broken, and this time, as Thawn groaned and pushed herself back up, Noah was there to help her.
‘Status!’ Captain MacCallister shouted. ‘Did something hit us?’
Thawn realised it was on her to find out, and she dragged herself back into Ops. ‘That was definitely an impact,’ she said. ‘Trying to tell… from what…’
‘Okay, holograms only work in three dimensions, so just… bear with me,’ said Logan, using the Science console’s projector to explain her next move. Two Endeavours hovered above. ‘This is us. The other is… seventeen hundred us-es. But we’re like this.’ She dragged the two holoships to overlay. ‘Somewhere around here -’ She slashed a finger around the lower decks of both ships, which turned red, ‘We’re engulfed in an anomaly, and sinking. All of our power systems -’ Another gesture, and these lit up like bright gold veins across the ship, ‘Are sharing energy. So we can’t pull ourselves out of the anomaly’s gravimetric pull with our propulsion systems drained like that.’
‘I like this being dumbed down,’ said Drake. ‘Really useful.’
‘I’m a teacher sometimes,’ said Logan. She paused. ‘I don’t really like teaching.’
‘Can we just redirect all power to impulse engines?’ said Airex.
Cortez shrugged. ‘Ain’t worked so far.’
‘Because the power regulation is too unstable, with multiple Endeavours drawing on that power in different ways,’ said Logan. ‘Maybe, if every Endeavour did that at once, at least some of them would be able to break free? That might do it. But we can’t make them do that.’ She tapped a stylus on her PADD, looking between it and the display. ‘So forget propulsion engines.’
Lindgren winced. ‘Can we contact other Endeavours? But I’ve been trying with our distress call and there’s no indication they’re picking it up. Even trying to transmit down to Deck 15 and below, or the possible region of the anomaly; I don’t think they’re capable of detecting our transmission.’
‘I have a different idea anyway,’ said Logan. ‘The tractor beam.’
Drake worked his jaw. ‘We’re going to… pull another ship more into us?’
‘We can reverse the graviton flow to repel instead, right?’ said Logan, and got a nod from Cortez. ‘So we direct it towards the anomaly and do that. It’s highly likely that if it’s capable of passing through the anomaly it’ll contact something there, and it’ll move us.’
Cortez sucked her teeth. ‘If we don’t have enough power for our impulse engines to move us out of the gravitational pull of this anomaly, then the tractor beam won’t be powerful enough to do that. I expect we wouldn’t be able to get more than a few dozen metres shift on these power levels.’
‘A few metres,’ said Logan, ‘is all we need.’
Airex straightened. ‘The gravitational pull isn’t that severe. It’s just that we can’t fire our impulse engines at full power. But if enough of our systems aren’t overlapping with other Endeavours…’
‘Even if just for a few seconds,’ said Logan. ‘Then we’re not pooling our power and can fire our impulse engines and pull away.’
He nodded. ‘Alright. Let’s do it. Brace for a rocky ride.’ He had to force himself to take the command chair, letting Logan keep his usual station. ‘Drake, get ready to fire engines the moment they’re responsive; Lindgren, monitor the other us-es. Doctor Logan, if you could watch and help out with our power fluctuations, make sure helm’s responsive? And Lieutenant Cortez… you have tractor beam control.’
‘You bet,’ sighed Cortez. ‘I’ll just try to not rip us in half. On your mark.’
Airex brought up the diagnostic display from his armrest’s holo projector. Endeavour was losing power, losing communication with multiple decks still, and sinking into this anomaly. He took a deep breath. ‘Mark.’
‘Activating,’ said Cortez. ‘Hang onto your butts.’ The ship shuddered around them, and it felt like Endeavour was being dragged through a too-narrow passageway of granite. Airex gripped the armrest and gritted his teeth.
‘No movement,’ Cortez said after a heartbeat. ‘Elevating power levels.’
‘Power fluctuations across all systems,’ said Logan, and squinted. ‘I think the other Endeavours are all doing something.’
Drake tapped his console. ‘We’re still dead here. Are we affecting them?’
‘All power to the tractor beam,’ Airex snapped, and the shuddering intensified.
‘Got it!’ said Cortez after a heartbeat. ‘Incremental movement, but it’s happening…’
‘Sir!’ Lindgren’s head snapped up. ‘We’ve got an internal transmission coming through to the bridge…’
Airex looked at her. ‘Someone on the lower decks?’
‘No, it’s…’ She hesitated. ‘It’s coming from the bridge. I have visual.’
‘On screen.’ Airex stood, and he knew he shouldn’t have been surprised to see the bridge of Endeavour displayed in front of him like a mirror. A mirror in which stood Leonidas MacCallister, flanked by Saeihr Kharth and an officer he didn’t know.
‘Dav,’ said MacCallister, voice urgent. ‘I know what you’re doing, but you have to stop now. It’s ripping us and, so far as we can tell, multiple other Endeavours apart.’
Airex’s head snapped around to Cortez, who gave a hapless shrug. ‘We are repelling them while they’re trapped in place,’ she said.
‘It might break you free,’ pressed MacCallister, ‘but I have no idea what the damage is going to be.’
‘There are seventeen hundred USS Endeavours across at least as many realities trapped in this anomaly,’ said Airex, returning his gaze to a man who looked like his old captain. ‘Probability dictates that whatever outcome there is, some of these ships won’t survive this crisis.’
‘I understand your reasoning,’ said MacCallister in that calm, collected voice, even as alert klaxons raged around his chaotic bridge. ‘But we can maximise everyone’s chances if we work together.’
‘Do you have a better plan? If you activate your tractor beams, we can both break free.’
‘Maybe,’ said MacCallister. ‘Or more of us die than have to.’
‘My responsibility is to this ship, not the countless possibilities -’
‘Oh, for Vor’s sake.’ Kharth stepped over. ‘Commander, it’s me. Your universe’s Kharth. I’m stuck here with Lieutenant Thawn; we were in a turbolift when it all went down and I think we crossed realities. How about you don’t kill your own crew?’
Airex’s gaze shot to Lindgren. ‘Ensign, confirm this.’
‘I’ll try,’ she said. ‘I can confirm that they’re not on this ship anywhere I can detect them.’
He jabbed a hand across in Cortez’s direction. ‘Cut the tractor beam.’ The shuddering subsided, and Airex let out a deep breath as he looked back at MacCallister. ‘Very well, sir. I don’t think we’ll be able to save everybody.’
‘Perhaps not,’ said Leonidas MacCallister. ‘But we can try, and we can come up with a solution which doesn’t scuttle them to save us. Don’t worry.’ And he gave that smile that was always so encouraging. ‘I have faith in all our crews.’
‘So that explains that,’ said Rourke. They were back in the gloom of the CIC, and Valance sat on the metal steps down to the central pit, head in her hands.
‘Explains what. Sir.’
‘Since we met I’ve only known you to be strictly by the book. Unusually so. I wondered if that was Captain MacCallister’s influence, but everyone else seems much more likely to be in touch with their feelings.’ He fiddled with a power-dead PADD. ‘So I thought some other mentor.’
‘No,’ said Valance stiffly, and looked at him. ‘It’s because your sort of guts-and-glory methods of command get people killed, sir.’
‘Sometimes.’ His chest tightened. ‘And sometimes, so does an overabundance of caution. You took the wrong lesson from what happened on the Derby, Commander.’
She stood, shoulders tense. ‘I don’t think you’re qualified -’
‘The lesson wasn’t “hold back,”’ he pressed on. ‘The lesson wasn’t “be cautious to the point of inaction.” And it certainly wasn’t “doubt yourself, now and forever.”’
‘I don’t doubt myself.’
‘You do. A Starfleet officer, especially a command officer, needs to trust their instincts. But you wander the hills, trying to find proof before you listen to yours.’
Her jaw worked. ‘What do you think the lesson was, then, sir?’
‘And even now, when I’m crawling right under your skin, you’re holding back.’ He stood, tossing the PADD from hand to hand. ‘You didn’t listen to Doctor Minnow.’
‘I thought I knew best.’
‘You and every young officer with command aspirations. That doesn’t make you abnormal or pathological, Commander. It means you were a young lieutenant in way over your head.’
‘Maybe. I still had to deal with the situation in front of me, like any officer. And I choked.’
‘Of course you choked. Any young officer would choke; the ones who wouldn’t are the kid geniuses who make it into the history books. Not being them doesn’t mean you’re nothing. It means you’re human. Well. Half-human. Figure-of-speech human.’ He saw her flinch at that. ‘Your mistake wasn’t having the guts to make a hard decision under hard circumstances. Most officers wouldn’t have done that. They’d have made the worse decision than a bad decision.’
She frowned. ‘Which is?’
‘Making no decision at all.’ He shook his head. ‘Your mistake is one you’re still making. You didn’t trust the people around you.’
Valance straightened like she’d been hit. ‘What?’
‘You didn’t trust Doctor Minnow. You didn’t listen to her, or it looks like anyone else on that bridge. And it was pride, yes, but not the pride you think. It’s not that you didn’t listen to them because you thought they were wrong. You didn’t listen to them because you thought that you shouldn’t need anyone else.’ Rourke tossed his PADD onto the CIC control panel. ‘Think that you shouldn’t need anyone else.’
‘I work hard with this crew -’
‘And you let exactly none of them in, except for Davir Airex, literally the only member of the senior staff more emotionally cut off than you.’ Rourke shrugged. ‘That’s what’s held you back, Valance. You. Not one black mark.’
She took a sudden step forward, and for a heartbeat he thought she was going for him. Good, he thought briefly. Let it out. But at once she looked away, and took a sharp breath. ‘We need to get out of here.’
He watched her a moment, then nodded. ‘Yeah. This magic fun ride through the dark night of the soul can wait. Any bright ideas?’
‘We might be trapped in another reality,’ she said, ‘but there should be someone here. If we can’t pop the doors, then we have the Jefferies Tubes.’ She headed over to one. ‘Find this Endeavour’s crew. Get some answers.’
But when she yanked the Jefferies Tube open, the darkness within loomed – then grew – then swept over them again, and almost as if it was too oppressive, too impenetrable, Rourke shut his eyes.
The chirrup of LCARS systems hit his ears, the particular metallic scent of consoles and a starship interior less luxurious than Endeavour. From just that, he knew what he was going to see before he opened his eyes, and his throat closed up.
Valance squinted as she looked around the small bridge of a frigate, red alert lights flashing but the klaxon killed, officers at their stations. Her gaze fell on the modern uniforms. ‘This isn’t that long ago.’ Then she spotted the man in the command chair, and her brow furrowed even more at the sight of Rourke – leaner, perhaps, less salt in his beard, but still in a red uniform, still with a commander’s pips.
Rourke of Endeavour only managed to speak after a long moment, and only when he tore his gaze from himself to the meaty Orion on the viewscreen. ‘No,’ he croaked. ‘This is the USS Firebrand. Three years ago.’
‘Oh.’ Valance’s antagonism was gone, clearly wrong-footed. ‘What did you do?’
Rourke of Endeavour watched as Rourke of the Firebrand stood, eyes hard as he looked to the viewscreen, and still his voice came out raw. ‘Not enough. Not nearly enough.’