Everything was going perfectly to plan.
It had taken no small effort to make Admiral Beckett think assigning her temporarily to Endeavour was his idea. For all the man was an arrogant blowhard he was still an astute intelligence officer, and manipulating a manipulator was a dangerous game. But Dathan Tahla’s whole life was a dangerous game, and spending the last few months under his nose was already risky enough. After all, if he found out who she really was, it’d be her head.
But now she had a few weeks of breathing room, a few weeks away from his beady eyes, and a few weeks to ascertain exactly how much of a threat to her people was presented by the crew of the USS Endeavour.
Of course, the real Dathan Tahla – this universe’s Dathan Tahla – would be very put-out at losing her comfortable position at the right-hand of a major figure in Starfleet to slum it on an escort ship, even on a temporary basis. So not only did she now have to pretend to be an upstanding, serious-minded Starfleet officer who cared about the Federation, but she had to pretend she wasn’t exactly where she wanted to be.
There were ways of making that more convincing, and it included taking herself down to the Security Department within an hour of Endeavour’s departure from Starbase 27. She won the looks she’d expected once in the offices: the side-long glances from staff set to view her as an interloper, and only grudgingly did they direct her to the facilities at the edge of the department’s section.
Dathan entered the control section outside the training room, a wide chamber visible through a window panel equipped with drones and holo-projectors to provide the officers within with a wide range of challenges. Nine officers inside were embroiled in melee training, and she recognised the combat gear reserved only for serious away missions or the Hazard Teams.
At the controls stood Lieutenant Kharth, who had to have heard Dathan’s arrival but didn’t turn. Instead she leaned over the panel, hit a few commands, and spoke into the communicator. ‘Second wave commencing.’
Dathan watched as the projections of Klingon warriors descending on the team were joined by a half-dozen more, and moved to the window. ‘They were already evenly matched.’
‘Which is why I turned up the difficulty.’ Lieutenant Kharth scowled as she looked over. ‘It’s Hazard Team training, it’s supposed to be hard. Can I help you?’
‘I’m Lieutenant Da-’
‘You’re Beckett’s latest cast-off. Feel free to tell him I said that; it might earn you back in his good graces if you keep spying on us. I assume you know who I am.’
It was odd to get this rudeness from Starfleet officers. Dathan had become accustomed to their unfailing courtesies. But that was on assignment deep within safe, protected space. Maybe front-line Starfleet did have a little more teeth. Or this was just what she got from a Romulan. She forced a fixed smile. ‘Lieutenant Kharth, Chief of Security. I’d hoped to speak with you.’
‘I figured you weren’t here for your health.’ Kharth leaned over the controls again and hit a button. An alert siren blared briefly, and she spoke again into comms. ‘You’re down, Palacio. Stay down.’
‘I’ve barely unpacked and only had a brief turn about the CIC,’ Dathan pressed. ‘I see you’re using a modified software to the usual package.’
‘That package was designed solely for strategic concerns. It wasn’t great for what the captain liked to call “investigative” operations but I’d just call anti-insurrectionist. More shades of grey. Recent Starfleet developers weren’t told to help analyse complex issues, they were just told to point us in the direction of who we should shoot.’ Kharth didn’t look away from the fighting, sounding disinterested.
‘Except that we’re now back in a purely military operation,’ said Dathan. ‘And you’re operating on modified software.’
‘If you roll it back, I think Chief T’Kalla will come right out of that training room and stab you,’ said Kharth, nodding at the Hazard Team.
‘I wasn’t suggesting -’
‘Look, they’ll be dead in a few minutes. This is the Chief’s job now, and yours. The captain’s made it abundantly clear it’s not my problem.’ Kharth arched a long eyebrow at her. ‘Analysing and anticipating the D’Ghor’s strategy was apparently determined so important it needed taking off my plate and giving to you, so don’t come crawling to me if you can’t hack it.’
It wasn’t hard to pretend to be put-off by this attitude. ‘I’ve no concern for my analytical skills. Only concern for how much you’ve broken the software.’
‘I guess you could go cry to Lieutenant Thawn about that instead of me.’ But Kharth looked back to the training and pressed the comms. ‘And you’re all dead. Terrible job! Pick yourselves up, cool down, and we’ll move to debrief in ten.’ The holographic displays in the training room faded, leaving nine rather battered and, Dathan thought, unimpressed-looking officers.
‘Is that your standard motivational method?’ she asked Kharth.
‘We just discussed what’s not my job. This? Isn’t yours. But if your work’s so hard, you can hang around until T’Kalla’s free to hand-hold you through our changes.’
Before Dathan could summon a retort, the door slid open and the Hazard Team trudged out. She hadn’t studied their records, only immediately recognising Chief Petty Officer T’Kalla, whose responsibility it was to manage the CIC, and it took her a second longer than she’d have liked to place the last man out, the tall and broad figure in an officer’s pips. Adamant Rhade was a last-second assignment to Endeavour and she hadn’t had much chance to study his file.
‘Good work,’ Rhade was saying to his team as he emerged, clapping the particularly battered figure she suspected was Palacio on the shoulder. ‘You kept cohesion right to the end even as we were dropping; that was a hell of a test of discipline.’
Kharth’s eyes narrowed at him as the other Hazard Team headed for the locker room. ‘That’s a bit premature as praise, considering you were all beaten.’
Rhade blinked and loosened his combat harness at the neck. ‘We were supposed to win that? I thought that was a disciplinary attrition drill.’
‘It was winnable.’
‘Then it’s just as well this was training, where making mistakes is as important to learning as success.’ His expression and deep, mellifluous voice were unfailingly polite, even though he looked worn and tired. Dathan rather admired his poise. ‘And brow-beating officers doesn’t reinforce best practice even in the face of errors.’
Watching someone else have no patience for Kharth was somewhat gratifying. Dathan took a step back. ‘I’d best leave you to the debrief.’
‘No,’ said Kharth roughly. ‘I’d best get ready for it, if Lieutenant Rhade just wants to give his team a cuddle and tell them everything’s going to be alright while Klingons cut them apart. I’ll send Chief T’Kalla to tell you how to turn the CIC on when we’re done.’ Dathan kept her expression flat as the security chief left for the briefing room, but found Rhade’s gaze to be one of polite apology when she looked at him.
‘I’m assured,’ he said slowly, ‘that she’s not usually like this.’ He advanced, extending a hand. ‘Lieutenant Rhade, Hazard Team leader. You must be our new Strategic Operations Officer.’
‘Dathan,’ she said, and shook the rather sweaty hand.
He noticed and winced, pulling back. ‘My apologies. It was hard work in there, and I should certainly shower before the debrief. But I hope the lieutenant didn’t make you feel too unwelcome.’
‘I’m not expecting to be popular here, sent by an admiral to look over your shoulders.’
Rhade shook his head. ‘Tribal nonsense. We’re on the same side, here to stop these raiders and protect citizens. I’m sure we’ll benefit from your expertise in our hunt for these hunters.’
‘I would rather do my job without the crew treating me as an interloper.’
‘By all accounts, they’ve been through a lot; it seems to have made them wary of anyone who might disrupt the status quo. But I’m still finding my feet with them, myself.’ He gave a smile of pearly-white teeth, the corners of his dark eyes crinkling. ‘If I can be of any assistance as you acclimatise, please, let me know. Even if it’s for as little as being a friendly face that respects you’re here to do essential and difficult work.’
In the Terran Empire, nobody was that nice to her unless they wanted something, hiding their lies and agenda between smiles and courtesies. Even in Starfleet, officers had only been this polite when they were trying to ingratiate themselves with the admiral or wanted her to do them a favour. So while Dathan’s instinct was to balk at such open kindness from Rhade, she couldn’t fathom what a bridge officer and Hazard Team leader, whose personal and political prospects seemed perfectly stable already, might want from here.
It was her first spark of personal curiosity after so long in this turgid dimension. But she kept her smile in return polite. ‘Thank you, Lieutenant. I won’t keep you from your briefing.’
‘Or shower. I appreciate your tolerance there.’ The smile turned more jocular before he left.
Dathan Tahla, officer of the Terran Navy unit accidentally stranded in this dimension, assigned to espionage duties within Starfleet to comprehend and control their predicament, was perfectly prepared to be Mildly Disliked in her cover identity. But there was, she reflected as she watched Lieutenant Rhade leave, something to be said for encouraging kindness.
It was so much easier to exploit.