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Part of USS Endeavour: I Burn and Bravo Fleet: The Archanis Campaign

Except for That

Relief Centre, Venjest, Talmiru II
June 2399
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At the outskirts of Venjest, Talmiru II’s heaviest-hit settlement, the Calder had set up a relief station of prefabricated structures and canvas canopies which had only grown over the ten hours since Endeavour’s arrival. When they’d arrived, they’d found a modest camp nestled in the lowlands of the green hills to the north of the racked and ruined town. Now it was a bustling village in its own right, sprawling down into the devastated settlement from which pockets of smoke still drifted into the clear skies. Valance’s body told her it was late afternoon, but it was sunset in summertime locally, so she’d made her hot drink a cup of tea.

The meeting with the Calder’s XO, a rather dour and unimaginative officer in her estimation, had been held outside. Dying rays of the setting sun bathed them in golden light, dazzling enough to obscure the reality of the devastated nearby town. She had not been able to give him what he wanted, and so ducked back inside the main prefab cabin that had become Endeavour’s de facto base camp to make it clear the conversation was over.

Lieutenant Juarez, Kharth’s deputy, raised an eyebrow at her expression. ‘Went as well as all that, huh?’ he drawled.

Juarez had been on Endeavour a few years, and a part of Valance had hoped she could make him Security Chief after Commander T’Sari’s death. But he’d been punching above his weight to make deputy on a Manticore at his age, and for all of her misgivings about Lieutenant Kharth, she had to recognise Juarez was not good enough at shutting up to run a Security department.

She put her steaming mug on the metal table that was the closest thing they had to a command and control centre. ‘The commander understandably would like us to allocate more resources to the housing rebuilding.’

‘Emergency shelters are in place,’ said Juarez, frowning. ‘Nobody’s gonna be sleeping rough tonight.’

‘But basic power is restored, so he thinks we should prioritise getting people back into their homes.’ She rubbed her temples. ‘I reminded him we want to repair the shield grid.’

Juarez looked like he was going to complain, but hopped to his feet and rolled his sleeves back down. ‘How about I bring my team down to some evening shifts patrolling the housing district? Make sure the homes are safe and nobody’s looting? Think that’ll get him off your back?’

That sounded like an excellent idea to Valance, and the burly Juarez left with a spring in his step even if he was committing his security team to long hours for very little purpose. Looting and chaos were always problems after a crisis, but the Calder’s arrival had restored basic order. Juarez’s officers could provide a deterrent for those tempted by abandoned housing, but Valance was much more concerned about threats to life and limb, present and future, than threats to property.

She sat at the table, head in her hands, and knew nothing until the door creaked open at a new arrival. When she looked up, blinking wearily, it was a lot darker outside and a rather worn Cortez was giving her a wry look. ‘Oh, you can snooze on the job?’

‘I didn’t…’ Valance straightened. ‘How long ago did Juarez leave?’

‘Juarez? Saw him in town three hours ago.’ But Cortez smirked a heartbeat later. ‘Nah, I passed him on my way up. Sunset’s just real fast round here. You okay? Where’s Thawn?’

‘Back aboard, checking our supplies for what we can allocate to help the Calder’s relief efforts until the main aid arrives in about three days.’ Valance rubbed her eyes. ‘The power plant?’

‘That’s why I’m up here. We’re going to need some major parts from Endeavour if we’re going to restore the output to a high enough level for the shield grid.’ Cortez pulled a PADD out of her jacket, set it down on the table, and brought up its projected display. ‘That’ll still leave planetary industrial replication operating at forty percent, which means there’s no way the afflicted regions can be fed without external supply shipments anyway.’

‘You’re saying that if Talmiru wants to protect itself from a second attack, it has to starve because of the infrastructural damage from the first raid?’

‘Either way, outside help has to come in. But it’s easier to send freighters with food than starships with phasers.’

‘Except then those freighters become targets,’ Valance groaned.

‘Which is why,’ said Cortez, flicking across files on her display, ‘I’m going to try to not just repair the reactor core, but upgrade it. If I can reinforce the exhaust plasma ports, then I can increase deuterium flow into the reaction chamber without overheating and forcing a shutdown. That’ll call for major work on the reaction chamber in ten to fourteen weeks, but that’s ten to fourteen weeks of Talmiru maybe protecting and feeding itself.’

Her gaze was intense, eyes dark as she brought up what Valance now saw were schematics for the fusion reactor in Talmiru’s main power plant. And now, a bit more awake, Valance could hear the edge in her voice, and think about the plans she was making. Valance stood. ‘That’s a week’s work, surely. We won’t be here that long.’

‘If I can get the process started,’ Cortez insisted, ‘and with enough tritanium supplies left behind, then the Calder or whoever takes over can pick it up.’

‘We’re ten hours into a project scheduled to last forty-eight, max. You still have to finish the basic repairs on the power plant and the array to get the shield working at all.’

‘Nineteen hours on one, nineteen hours on the other -’

‘And how much sleep?’

‘You think these people are getting sleep?’ Cortez slammed her palm on the table, and Valance straightened with surprise. ‘You’ve been sat in this damned cabin all day, while I’ve been working with people who got their families gunned down in the street and still showed up to walk me through their systems! I and my team can pull a few double shifts!’

Valance swallowed, a bitter taste in her mouth, but her voice came out as measured as she’d hoped when all she said was a firm, reprimanding, ‘Commander.’

As sudden as her anger had sparked, it faded. Cortez stepped back, scrubbing her face with her hands. ‘I’m sorry – ma’am. These people need more help than we can give them. I don’t like having to choose.’

‘Talmiru is not our primary mission,’ Valance reminded her, tone terse. ‘Repair the power plant and the array, and restore the shield grid. Provide the Calder and the civilian engineers with your proposal of the upgrades. We’re here to hunt the people who did this, and help Talmiru protect itself if any D’Ghor come back for more.’

Cortez sighed. ‘Deuterium supplies were depleted from the raid anyway, it was what the bastards targeted.’ She met her gaze, anger not yet depleted and so at risk of smothering any regret for the outburst. ‘We both know that if a Bird-of-Prey is smart and drops on the Calder from cloak, a California-class with its resources spread across the system is probably gonna get smeared anyway.’

It was true, and Valance suspected the Calder’s crew knew this. It helped explain their burning tension and resentment at Endeavour’s fleeting commitment to the planet. She considered pointing out that a second strike here was less likely than the Kut’luch moving on to fresh hunting grounds, but decided that she’d already pulled rank and didn’t need to justify mission priorities any further. ‘You have your orders.’

Now Cortez’s expression shut down. ‘Yeah. Yes, ma’am. I’ll confirm the requisition with Endeavour and get an ETA on that.’ She went to the door to the rear of the cabin and its mobile control systems, manned by Quartermaster Bekk, a Ferengi whom Valance hoped had not with his superior hearing heard their spat.

Valance decided it was time to swap from tea to coffee, and had just drained a too-hot, steaming mug by the time Cortez re-emerged. Valance barely looked up from her PADD, reports streaming in from Endeavour’s various deployed teams. ‘Requisition made, Commander?’

‘She’ll let me know.’ Cortez hesitated by the table. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘You said.’ Valance kept her voice professional.

‘Come on, Karana -’

‘We’re at work.’ Even though they were alone, Valance remained cold and crisp as she finally looked up.

‘Are you trying to pretend there was nothing personal in that chat?’

‘Not from me.’

Cortez tossed her PADD onto the table. ‘Okay. It’s embarrassing the captain talked to you about us, it’s embarrassing our relationship has to go in our personal records, it’s embarrassing we’ve got to have sit-downs with Carraway. But, like, this?’ She gestured between them. ‘Navigating this is the exact thing we’re supposed to be doing. I wouldn’t have snapped at you like that if you were, say, the captain, or Airex. And that’s my bad, but surely we gotta work on this together?’

‘We can save it,’ said Valance, not liking how her own voice was growing tense, ‘for when this is over. You snapped at me. We returned to business. A discussion here and now isn’t professionally responsible, it’s us further derailing work with our personal affairs.’

There was a moment’s hesitation, then Cortez retrieved her PADD and straightened. ‘As you say, Commander. I’ll grab a supply pack and head down to the power station. We’ll likely string up some hammocks for a few hours’ rest between double shifts.’

Valance didn’t stop her as she moved about the supply containers, focus on the updates. Cortez found and stuffed a pack with what she needed, and was halfway to the door before the tightness in Valance’s chest was too much and, not looking up, she spoke. ‘I’ve stayed in here,’ she said, voice coming out with a grate she didn’t care for, ‘because I don’t think these people need to see a Klingon walking their streets.’

Cortez stopped at that, and out of the corner of Valance’s eye she saw her shoulders sag. After a heartbeat, Cortez dropped the pack to the floor and approached. ‘It was a crappy thing for me to say,’ she admitted with audible remorse. ‘We are making a difference out there. My team helped get the emergency shelter expanded. People are going to have hot meals and somewhere warm to sleep tonight. This time tomorrow they might be in their own homes.’ Cautiously she reached out, but Valance didn’t stop her, and she squeezed her shoulder. ‘We’ll talk back on the ship?’

Valance mused that this was probably something she’d need to discuss with Carraway later. How easy a professional dispute had taken a personal tinge under pressure. How viciously that had undermined her mood. And how greatly even a little reassurance and apology from Cortez went to soothing all that agitation, despite the matter being unresolved. ‘Try to make sure you get some sleep,’ she said, voice softer.

‘I’ve got a hammock. It’ll be fine.’ Cortez hesitated again, gaze flickering to the sealed door to Bekk’s control room. Deeming the coast clear, she leaned in for a quick, positively daring by their standards, peck on the temple, then dropped her voice to a mockery of a self-important growl. ‘See you tomorrow, Commander Valance.’

Valance rolled her eyes and Cortez laughed as she left, but the mood brightened. It was just as well. She’d have to go make herself miserable within a half-hour.

Doctor Sadek was found sat outside the additional medical relief tent her team from Endeavour had erected upon arrival. With dusk settled around the outskirts of the town, Valance had seen little of either the nearby rugged hills or the shattered remains of the settlement itself on her walk from their command centre. The medical section was between the base camp and town, just further out than the emergency housing, and looked set to be another part of the relief effort that would not stop for nightfall.

Only medical staff bustled around, and Valance – honest on her reason for being reclusive – was glad there were few civilians in sight. She expected most of them were in the tent. Sadek was perched on a supply crate, collar loosened, sleeves rolled up, smoking from a flashpipe, which earned a frown from Valance as she approached.

‘Unclench, Commander,’ said the doctor. ‘This is my break and when you’ve pulled a ten-hour shift setting up and conducting a disaster trauma operation, you’d smoke, too.’ She tapped the flashpipe’s cylinder. ‘Don’t worry, everything in here’s boring and harmless.’

Valance didn’t fancy picking another fight, let alone arguing with Doctor Sadek how to do her job, so stopped to lean against the next crate over. ‘How is it in there?’

‘The good news is that by arriving second, and several days after the attack, triage wasn’t the “choose who lives or who dies” kind,’ said Sadek with a fresh puff. ‘But a house collapsed on the north side, a district that hadn’t been cleared out or checked yet, so we did have emergencies come in. Lost two kids. Maybe twelve years old?’

Valance frowned. ‘I’m sorry.’

Sadek waved a hand. ‘Secondary incidents are a serious medical concern non-experts don’t often think about. Infrastructural failures, consequences of limited medical or food supplies… it’s not all immediate combat-based wounds.’

‘I imagine there’s been lots of those, though.’

‘Survivors from the fighting have a lot of injuries from bladed weapons. Limited medical supplies meant a few wounds had festered over the last few days. A few lost limbs.’ They were illuminated by a large lighting rig from high above, casting this beating heart of the medical setup in a bright ring. Sadek frowned at the edges of darkness. ‘Many of these blows were intentionally to wound, not kill. The only reason I won’t say “torture” is that conjures up the idea of something more systematic, more long-term. But make no mistake, Commander: the D’Ghor chased down innocents and when they were caught, if they lived or if they died, they suffered.’

Valance kept her expression schooled. ‘We’ll find them.’

‘That’s not really my concern. There’s never an end to people in the galaxy who want to hurt others. I spend my life alleviating that suffering. One patient at a time.’ Sadek twirled the flashpipe in her fingers and offered it. ‘Want some?’

‘Not my vice.’

‘I recommend one, you’ll live longer. Any idea how the hunt is going?’ Valance shook her head, and Sadek took a fresh puff. ‘Like I say. Not my concern, but I’d like as much notice as possible before we go. Matt will go spare if I tell him we have to delay because I’ve got to finish someone’s medical treatment. But I will.’

‘I would say I envy you, Doctor. There’s a simplicity to your approach.’

‘Except,’ said Sadek, voice still full of that wry, sing-song manner she brought to everything, ‘there’s all that suffering and death right in front of me I’m often powerless to stop?’

Valance let out a deep breath and looked up to the moons and stars gathering in the night-clad skies of Talmiru, the one thing in sight not smeared with the chaos the D’Ghor had sown. ‘Yes. Except for that.’