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Part of USS Endeavour: Promises to Keep

With the Proper Adjustments

CIC, USS Endeavour
April 2399
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‘This wasn’t designed for presentations,’ Airex grumbled as he transferred his briefing files from his PADD to the CIC’s holo-projector.

‘It is if you use it right,’ said Rourke. ‘Now hurry up, Hargreaves and Aquila’s people will be here any minute.’

Valance was sat at the periphery of the lower circle of the CIC, and had mostly been ignoring the two men as they bickered over the display. Only now did she look up, expression pinched. ‘Sir, you should probably know -’

But of course that was when the doors slid open and in walked Kharth ahead of four officers. ‘Sir, let me introduce Captain Hargreaves and Commander Vorin of the USS Caliburn, and Commander Aquila and Lieutenant Commander Templeton of the Odysseus.’

Kehinde Hargreaves was a craggy-faced human whose every move was measured and deliberate. He advanced on Rourke with hand extended. ‘Good to meet you at last, Rourke.’

Rourke’s back tensed. ‘Sir. Welcome aboard Endeavour.’ He stepped back and gestured to the others. ‘May I introduce my XO, Commander Valance, and Chief Science Officer, Lieutenant Commander Airex.’

‘Kar!’ That was Commander Aquila, approaching Valance with open arms. ‘Been a while, huh?’

That, Rourke realised as Valance’s stance grew more awkward in the face of the Odysseus’s CO. That’s what she thought I should probably know. ‘You’ve met, then.’

Every inch of Cassia Aquila was the perfect picture of the ideal young Starfleet officer; crisp uniform, blond hair a tidy but not-severe bun, with piercing blue eyes and features that could be slapped on any recruitment poster. Somehow, Valance was rendered ungainly next to her, too long-limbed, taut rather than presented. They did not hug, but Valance seemed to permit a clasp of arms before her gaze turned to Rourke, somehow abashed. ‘We were at the Academy together.’

Rourke looked to Airex, expecting his read on Valance to be more telling, but the science officer was looking from the lofty figure of the Odysseus’s XO to Kharth. ‘Commander Templeton, huh,’ said Airex thoughtfully.

Templeton scratched his beard. ‘I’m feeling real popular on this ship.’ But he nodded at the central display. ‘This is a beauty of a system. We don’t have anything like this on the Odysseus.’

Aquila gave an easy grin. ‘Perhaps we’ll install one after this.’

‘Sure, Skipper. We can shove it in my quarters and I’ll just sleep on a blanket in the corner.’

Rourke stepped towards the central display. ‘It’s a space and resource hog, sure. We’ve sacrificed some of our lab facilities to set this up. But you’ll find it’s been worth it for information gathering and analysis.’ He nodded to Kharth, who took the dismissal and left the seven officers in the CIC.

‘Quite,’ said Hargreaves, moving to the other side of the projector. ‘Shall we get down to business?’ This came with a pointed look to Airex.

Airex did give Rourke the briefest glance, but lifted his PADD to bring the projections to life. ‘Of course. Let me give you the latest situation analysis we have on the Wild Hunt. We’ve done minor reconnaissance by runabout and long-range scans while we waited, though we’ve prioritised caution to avoid notice.’

Hargreaves folded his arms across his chest. ‘So do you have anything?’

Airex’s jaw tightened. ‘From the power signatures we’ve noted, I anticipate the Wild Hunt is operating out of a station. Examination of historic records of the local area make me suspect they – or someone – seized and relocated Mining Station Epsilon-7.’ He thumbed his PADD and the holo-display showed the mining station in question, a hulking and ugly shape. ‘It’s approximately sixty years old and was abandoned by its builders not long after following intense pirate activity raiding their shipments. But it was built and designed to defend itself while operating as a gas harvester of the Azure Nebula.’

Commander Aquila leaned forward. ‘With the proper adjustments, that could fuel some serious firepower.’

‘And let Epsilon-7 punch above its weight as a weapons emplacement,’ Airex agreed. ‘This is a hypothesis, but backed up by our sensor records, examination of the local area, and information gathered by Commander Valance on weapons and equipment acquired by the Wild Hunt at T’lhab Station.’

Commander Vorin, Hargreaves’s XO, pointed at the display. ‘That doesn’t account for other power readings.’

‘We know the Wild Hunt have acquired several Blackbird-class escorts they’ve been used for raiding. Reports of their activity suggest they possess a minimum of seven of these ships, but there could be more. I believe there are presently five operating from Epsilon-7.’

Hargreaves raised an eyebrow. ‘Is that all?’

‘Five Blackbirds and a heavily armed -’

‘I mean, is that all you’ve found out?’

Rourke folded his arms across his chest. ‘The Azure Nebula plays havoc enough with our sensors that this is the best we could get without bringing us or our runabout closer, and we’ve prioritised remaining hidden.’

‘The Caliburn could sift through the interference much better, and the Odyssey could easily do a closer fly-by without being picked up,’ mused Hargreaves. ‘But seeing as you’ve been squatting here several days, we can’t afford to push our luck.’

Rourke scowled. ‘Captain, you’re the one who’s late for the rendezvous -’

‘Admiral Beckett wanted to be sure we had enough firepower going into this situation. I waited until he sent me Commander Aquila.’

The use of the first person was not lost on Rourke. He drew a sharp breath, and nodded Airiex back before stepping forward and bringing up the next display. ‘Tactically, the best approach is hard and fast. They have a static, defensible position and outnumber us with small, fast and well-armed ships. They also don’t have to stand their ground; if enough of them get away, all we do is hamstring the Wild Hunt, not end them.’

A press of a button brought up the tactical map. ‘Endeavour and the Odysseus will go in directly. The Odysseus will focus on the Blackbirds; hunt them down one by one while Endeavour supports with mid-range suppressive phaser fire. At the same time, we’ll strike the station with torpedoes and evade its attacks. Meanwhile, the Caliburn will separate her saucer section and hang back at long range to hit the station with torpedoes. Both sections can be ready to move to intercept any ships which try to flee, backed up by support craft of all three runabouts, including ours.’ The display flashed up to show the unit distribution. ‘The Odysseus thus hunts the Blackbirds and the Caliburn stops them from fleeing and hits the station. Endeavour is there to present enough of a threat to the station to keep the Blackbirds close, and cover the Odysseus’s back so she doesn’t just get swarmed.’

Aquila sucked her teeth. ‘That’s a lot of heavy lifting for Endeavour.’

‘We’re a Manticore-class Heavy Escort; unless one of your ships is secretly a Prometheus, this is one of the most combat ready starships in the fleet. Tying up enemy ships and taking fire is what we’re designed to do,’ said Rourke without pride.

Hargreaves shook his head. ‘It’s a mistake to bench the Caliburn like this.’

‘I’m not benching her -’

‘Our biggest tactical benefit is our phaser banks,’ he said, reaching for the holodisplay to rearrange the icons. ‘We can only bring four torpedo launchers to bear, and the Blackbirds are faster than us; they won’t try to run away in our direction, even if we’re spread out by our saucer separation. No, swap Endeavour and the Caliburn.’

Rourke stared. ‘What?’

‘With the tactical pod, Endeavour has five torpedo launchers, and you’re fast enough to hunt down the Blackbirds if they try to flee. The Caliburn can approach the station and get into a slugging match, while the Odysseus guns the Blackbirds down.’

Airex cleared his throat. ‘Sir, if my scans are accurate on the level of firepower on that station, I’m not convinced our ships should be trying to go toe-to-toe with it. Endeavour can stay within their weapons range and evade their attacks.’

‘Not to mention,’ Rourke pushed, ‘you’re painting the biggest target on the Caliburn, asking her to take the full force of the station and get swarmed by the Blackbirds. You don’t have the point defences to take on all of them or the manoeuvrability to control the shape of that engagement, not while under heavy direct fire from the station. That is, if the Blackbirds don’t all pile on the Odysseus first while evading your fire and move onto you as dessert.’

‘You seem to have assumed these pirates have created some vast weapons emplacement, Commanders,’ said Hargreaves. ‘The concern here is not if we have the firepower to beat them, the concern is keeping them penned in so we can disable them before they run. This requires a hammer-and-anvil approach, and the Caliburn is the anvil at the centre. It’s foolish to put Endeavour in such a central and volatile role with a crew that’s been together five minutes.’

Rourke shifted his feet. ‘Sir, the plan -’

‘Is now this.’ Hargreaves finished rearranging the display. ‘Do you have a problem with that, Commander?’

At no point had Beckett formally given him command of this operation, Rourke recalled bitterly. Hargreaves mentioning him earlier had not, he further reasoned, been a coincidence. He looked at Aquila, expecting the CO of the frigate who could now get swarmed by enemy escorts to have an opinion, but she remained impassive.

‘If these are your orders,’ Rourke said, picking his words carefully, ‘I would like my objections noted.’

Hargreaves raised his eyebrows. ‘If that’s what you want.’ He straightened. ‘It’s four hours to the target location. My senior staff will have a new tactical plan laid out in two. Another two for final drills, and then we depart.’

Valance cleared her throat. ‘Captain, our crew has been involved in the pursuit of the Wild Hunt for several months -’

His gaze snapped to her. ‘I’m sorry, Commander; did you think this topic was open for debate? Commander Rourke?’

Rourke bristled. ‘My XO makes a valid point; Endeavour is the only ship to have engaged them in battle -’

‘Twice. The first time, half your bridge crew died. The second time they gave you the runaround and then slipped away.’ Hargreaves scoffed. ‘I don’t think you understand why I’ve been sent here, Commanders. This mission shouldn’t have taken this long, it shouldn’t have involved indulging dissident attitudes on Bismarck, it shouldn’t have included letting a farming settlement get attacked while you were distracted. It shouldn’t have included getting boarded and sabotaged. It shouldn’t have included a highly dubious deal with a Klingon warlord and Orion pirates, or getting yourselves embroiled in the internal politics of the House of K’Var. Not to mention… whatever this catastrophe with an anomaly was last week.’ He jerked a hand dismissively. ‘Commander Rourke, you were sent here to hunt down Erik Halvard, but your personal feelings have clearly clouded your judgement. That’s the only reasonable explanation for why you couldn’t bring Captain MacCallister’s schoolchildren under control.’

Rourke opened his mouth, but it was Valance who spoke again, eyes narrowing. ‘Schoolchildren?

Hargreaves sighed. ‘Leo MacCallister was given Endeavour, which Commander Rourke has so bluntly described as a weapon, and instead of using it to keep the borders safer he ran around playing diplomat in a gunboat. The first time you came up against a real threat, it ended disastrously. This crew was kept together because you were still the nearest answer to a problem. You’re not any more. And the problem’s about to go away. You do the maths.’ His gaze swept the gathered. ‘That’ll be all.’

Rourke was going to object to being dismissed in his own CIC, but then Hargreaves turned on his heel and left, Commander Vorin in his wake. The silence after hung heavy, until Airex clicked his tongue and turned off the holodisplay.

Templeton peeled himself off the railing he’d been leaning again and sucked his teeth. ‘Okay, so, that got tense.’

‘Rob.’ Aquila threw him a quick look. Her gaze went to Valance, before landing on Rourke. ‘We’d be grateful for any tactical sensor telemetry you have on the Blackbirds, Commander.’

‘I’ll have Lieutenant Kharth package it for you,’ Rourke said, jaw still tight. ‘Enjoy it while we sit on the sidelines.’

* *

‘Kar!’

Valance had left the CIC first, desperate to walk off the thudding in her heart, the humming in her veins. Anger was like a drug, she knew. Do anything but fight it, and its siren call would try to drag her into its heady embrace, where reason and sense were abandoned for thoughtless passion.

It made her hesitate to stop when she heard Aquila behind her, but she knew she had no choice, and turned to see the Odysseus’s CO jogging up. ‘Cassia.’

‘Don’t look too pleased to see me.’ Aquila squinted. ‘I’m sorry that got tense in there. I expected Hargreaves to throw his weight around, but I didn’t think he’d get unpleasant.’

Valance just nodded. ‘Has he even been given operational command?’

‘No,’ Aquila allowed. ‘He has seniority of rank. Rourke could pull that Endeavour is tactically superior. To keep control, he didn’t have to just push Rourke, he had to push down your ship. That’s pretty rough.’

‘If it wasn’t that formally established,’ said Valance, a bitter taste in her mouth, ‘then you could have argued with him.’

‘My ship got pulled into this about two hours before we set off to join you. I’m in no position to weigh in.’

‘There’s a situation you don’t want to give your opinion?’ Valance rolled her eyes. ‘You just picked the way you can’t be blamed if it all goes wrong.’

‘Hey, I want to stop pirates. I don’t care who’s in charge.’

‘But you care who gets credit.’

Aquila looked away, and sighed. ‘I didn’t come to argue. I wanted to check in. It’s been a while, and you’re… well. Stuck here.’ She gestured around.

‘Stuck here?’

‘Hargreaves was right about one thing; Endeavour’s a bit of a joke.’

‘A joke?’ Valance bristled. ‘Thanks for the faith in my abilities.’

‘It’s not your abilities I question – you’ve changed half your senior staff only weeks ago.’

‘I have absolute faith in the people I’ve worked with for three years,’ Valance said hotly, ‘and the new arrivals include one of the best Chief Engineers I’ve ever met.’ The knee-jerk defensiveness of Cortez came from nowhere, but that wasn’t something she wanted to get into now. Especially not with Aquila.

‘It’s more than that,’ Aquila said. ‘MacCallister made you soft, Rourke’s let you stumble from one bad decision to another.’

‘Captain MacCallister made sure we remembered what Starfleet is all about. Commander Rourke’s pursued the Wild Hunt as well as anyone could have done.’

Aquila hesitated. ‘Alright. But you’re still stuck just as his XO.’

Valance’s gaze turned to the ceiling. ‘I can’t believe you’re here to crow about the bet -’

‘I’m not! But I’m still winning so far.’ She tried a small, teasing smile, which softened. ‘But we made that bet because we both want to make captain. That’s not going to happen if you’re trapped as first officer to second-rate commanders with no political backing. Beckett might have appointed Rourke, but he’s still sent in Hargreaves to clean up.’

‘If that’s so, he’d have given Hargreaves operational command,’ she pointed out. ‘Are you sure he’s not just making his pets fight to see who’s stronger?’

‘Okay. Hargreaves is still winning that. You could be with the winning team instead of pushing back at him.’

‘Hargreaves isn’t my commanding officer.’

Aquila lifted her hand. ‘Damn it, I didn’t want to get sucked into this. I’m not debating the right and wrong of what happened back there. I’m just saying, this is a chance for you to get through this little dip.’

Valance stuck her hands on her hips. ‘Is this how it is? I’ve not seen you in two years, and now you storm aboard to tell me I’m handling my career all wrong?’

Inexplicably, Aquila smiled. ‘I’ve been worried about you, Kar. You’ve been wound up so tight the last while, it’s been ages since you bit my head off. I kind of missed it.’ She reached for Valance’s arm and gave a squeeze. ‘I’ll let you cool off, but we’ll do drinks and dinner once this is all over, before we split? I can show off my captain’s quarters?’ The teasing look returned. ‘It’s about time we caught up.’

Valance had a long history of being angry with Cassia Aquila. But that included not being angry with her for very long, and she found her shoulders sagging even as aggravation peeled away. ‘Sure. We can look at the garbage scows I’ll be assigned to next when Beckett rips apart my crew.’

‘It won’t be that bad for you. Let Rourke take the heat. But in the meantime we’ve got bad guys to take down.’

Valance sighed. ‘That easy, huh?’

‘With you and me, total badasses, on the case?’ Aquila stepped forward to give her a quick kiss on the cheek before breaking away and going to spring down the corridor. ‘Easy as pie.’