Sickbay had moved from controlled chaos to the dull hum of steady activity, as Doctor Sadek and her team rotated through the dying and critical to the wounded unlikely to suffer long-term consequences, however unpleasant their circumstances. It was only now that Kharth dared venture in, and not just because she’d spent the past hours with Drake on the bridge trying to hammer out a likely heading and destination for the damaged Kut’luch. She knew better than to be another body taking up space.
And still Sadek clocked her the moment she arrived, the CMO stopping on her whirlwind tour of biobeds stacked with bloodied, beaten officers. ‘He’s at the back,’ she said without missing a beat. ‘Don’t get in anyone’s way.’ Had Sadek been anyone else or the crisis any lesser, Kharth might have been defensive. Instead, she just nodded and shrugged past the medical staff further into Sickbay.
She only stopped because she almost walked into Ensign Arys, stood at the foot of a biobed and not moving when she’d expected him to. ‘Ensign, what’re you…’ But her voice trailed off as she looked to the bed, and her gaze brightened. ‘Lindgren.’
Elsa Lindgren was a rather pale bundle, her shoulder strapped up in a case-like isotropic restraint. ‘Hey, Lieutenant. I hear we won.’
Kharth pasted a tight smile as she remembered scrubbing Dav’s blood off her hands in the bridge’s bathrooms. ‘Kicked the Klingons off the ship and sent the Kut’luch packing. We’ll run them down and finish the job. How’re you?’ Her gaze flickered to her shoulder.
‘Uh, drugged up, so everything seems pretty good.’ Her smile was thin but sincere. ‘Doctor Sadek says they managed to save my arm. Apparently it was almost carved off, but the really good news is that I don’t remember any of it.’
Arys shifted his feet. ‘That’s for the best,’ he rumbled.
Lindgren sighed. ‘Lieutenant, will you tell Tar’lek to stop fussing?’
Kharth looked between them, eyebrow quirked, before settling on Arys. ‘Does she know you saved her life?’ Arys froze, and had she been in a better mood, she might have teased him more. She turned back to Lindgren. ‘You were set upon pretty quickly, but Arys was right there. Stopped them from finishing you off.’
Arys flushed again, his voice low. ‘I wasn’t there for the captain, though.’
‘I reviewed the bridge assault footage.’ In an obsessive, compulsive manner where her only conclusion was that she should have recovered from the explosion sooner. ‘Captain Rourke had his fight under control. Lieutenant Lindgren was about to be murdered in front of you. And then that warrior would have moved on anyway. Even ignoring that you had a split-second to decide – your decision was right.’ She clapped him on the shoulder and stepped back. ‘Enjoy being the hero.’
She had no idea what the situation was between the two of them, and didn’t much care. That was now their problem.
Her problem lay on a biobed near the private rooms for serious treatment, and Kharth’s breath caught as she took in the pale sight of the wounded Davir Airex. He looked smaller than she thought she’d ever seen him, reduced without his height and his presence. Still. Silent. But not alone.
Kharth’s gait was ginger as she stepped up to the biobed. ‘Is there a prognosis?’
Valance looked like she’d been through hell and hadn’t had much time to scrub up. She was still in the under-layers of her combat gear, patches of skin paler from where her wounds had been treated, barely cleaned and tidied. She did not look at Kharth, merely giving a stiff nod. ‘He was stabbed twice. Once in the stomach. The other punctured his lung, which collapsed. He lost a lot of blood. Sadek was working on him herself for a while -’
‘Prognosis,’ Kharth pressed, hearing the detached tone in Valance’s voice.
She faltered. ‘He’ll be alright,’ she said at length. ‘He’s sedated and they want to keep him in for a few days. Then time off-duty to rest.’
‘Time to rest. Are we allowed that?’ Kharth sighed. ‘Do you know when he last spoke to his mother?’
‘His mother? Why?’
Kharth frowned. ‘They talk weekly. She’ll worry if he misses a call; she should probably be told what’s happened and that he’s going to be alright if he’s going to be in here for another few days.’
Valance turned to her, gaze quizzical at last. ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about. He’s not close to his parents.’
‘That’s ridiculous, he’s always… You’re saying he dropped out of contact with them?’ Her gaze snapped back to Davir Airex, silent and still on the biobed, before her focus fell to his abdomen. ‘What did that damn worm do to you, Dav?’ Valance didn’t say anything, folding her arms across her chest, and again Kharth sighed, glancing at her. ‘If Doctor Sadek says he’s going to be fine,’ she said at length, ‘then he’ll be fine.’
Valance shifted her weight. ‘I know. He’s strong.’
‘He’s a stringy nerd, I mean Sadek knows what she’s talking about.’ But that seemed to kill whatever companionable cooperation had snuck up on the two women, and they fell into silences of their separate contemplation, their separate fears.
This was how Cortez found them some time later, sliding up in between. She took Valance’s hand, but still reached up to squeeze Kharth’s shoulder, a bridge in the rift. A quick glance showed the bags under her eyes, the exhaustion tumbling off her in waves, but still she asked, ‘How is he?’
‘He’ll be alright,’ said Kharth. Valance was still watching Airex, jaw tight. ‘How’s the ship?’
‘I want a week in drydock,’ Cortez sighed. ‘More realistically? Three or four days somewhere safe. I need to at least forty-eight hours on low power to rebuild those plasma conduits. I’m going to get some rack time, but I thought I’d find you here.’
That last was obviously more to Valance, who didn’t reply. Kharth grimaced. ‘That’s a smart move,’ she said. ‘I’ll leave you to it.’
She didn’t particularly want to be here, at Airex’s bedside. She wanted to be here even less with the brooding spectre of Valance, who somehow radiated a territorial air over the man he now was, a physical representation and reminder that her history with him, or at least with Davir Hargan, was over. Work still pressed, but at least it gave her focus, and a few hours to roll back the blazing exhaustion would get her back fit enough.
But she heard Cortez say something quiet to Valance as she left, and the engineer caught up at the Sickbay doors, following her into the corridor. ‘Alright,’ said Cortez, ‘so I don’t want to drag Karana into this because God knows I want her to get five seconds of winding down after whatever the hell happened on that refinery. But you gotta help me, Sae.’
‘I have no idea what I’m supposed to help you with if you won’t go to her.’
‘The captain’s gone mad,’ Cortez said flatly. ‘He didn’t listen to me, and I’m not going to ask Karana to sing the same song unless I absolutely gotta. But he trusts you, he listens to you, especially as a tactical officer. We should talk to him.’
Kharth stopped, turning to squint at her. ‘About what?’
Cortez stared. ‘We can’t go after the Kut’luch. Are you kidding? Right now if we run across so much as a stellar road-bump we could blow another plasma array. That on its own could sink us, let alone if we’ve got a goddamn battlecruiser on top of us.’
‘The Kut’luch is nearly dead in the water, she’s limping. We may not get another chance like this to finish her off.’
‘Or get finished off. If she gets one good shot in, if we make one mistake, we could be toast.’
‘First, I disagree with that tactical appraisal. Second – we won’t make a mistake.’
‘Yeah, ‘cos everyone’s so bright-eyed and bushy tailed!’ Cortez waved her hands up and down the corridors. ‘Or what if they pick up a friend? Are you kidding me, Sae?’
Kharth straightened. ‘The captain said that we keep hunting. So I hunt.’
‘You can’t…’ Cortez shut her mouth, lips thinning, before she tried again. ‘Sae, I don’t know what happened between you and Airex, I don’t know what your history is, I don’t understand why it seems to have screwed you up this badly. But you can’t let him being hurt override your judgement -’
‘This isn’t about Dav,’ said Kharth, and was surprised to find she didn’t think she was lying. ‘And don’t imply I’m being that unprofessional. Captain Rourke gave us our orders.’
Cortez’s shoulders slumped. ‘They’re not reasonable orders.’
‘That’s not your judgement to make, and it’s not my judgement to make. And if they were as outrageous as you claim, why the hell has Valance not done anything? If the Kut’luch gets away, we have to live with it. Others won’t get that luxury, and we’ll never know them, and we’ll never see them.’
‘Since when were you this stickler for orders? Since when were you giving Rourke the benefit of the doubt?’
‘Since when weren’t you? And I can be mad at the captain for Rhade and for Dathan, but that’s small stuff. That’s everyday stuff. This? This is a hard, hard choice he’s making, to finish our duty in the face of overwhelming odds. We’re his senior staff. What are we to do except make the whole damn galaxy bend if our captain asks us?’ Kharth shook her head. ‘This isn’t your research lab, and I know you know your stuff better than that, Isa, but it’s time for you to buckle up and be a miracle worker again.’
‘I don’t -’ Cortez hesitated. ‘What if I’m all out of miracles, Sae? We can’t willpower our way through impossible situations.’
‘You did.’ Kharth watched her a moment, and tilted her head. ‘Rerouting a plasma conduit when it could have killed you. You might have died anyway, passed out in those temperatures. Shouldn’t have been done, nobody thought it would be done, and instead you saved half the ship. The universe doesn’t have a finite amount of luck, Isa. We make that luck.’
Her gaze was guarded. ‘Everyone has limits. Captain Rourke knows it.’
‘Captain Rourke,’ Kharth said as she stepped away, ‘won’t ask what we can’t give. So it’s on us to deliver.’
‘That’s not how that works!’ Cortez called as Kharth left, heading down the corridor. But she didn’t push it, and she didn’t argue more, and Kharth knew she’d got her. Just for a little bit more.
And all they needed was a little bit more.
If Sickbay smelled of sterile victory, the main Security Office smelled of exhaustion and blood. It was down here that some of the heaviest fighting had happened, the D’Ghor boarders descending on where they must have detected the biggest gatherings of life signs across several decks and sections as the offices became a lockdown point for dozens of crewmembers, guarded by her team.
While approximately half of Endeavour’s losses had occurred when the uridium explosion had rocked the ship, most of the rest had been Security officers, her officers, giving their lives to protect their shipmates. Blood still stained the carpets outside, the barricades pressed against bulkheads, but the offices themselves were now quiet. After all, now was time for them to stand down and rest or get patched up.
None of the few officers still on duty were unscathed. But if they were still here, double-checking the headcounts and the munitions use and the deck clearances, their injuries were minor. Kharth entered an office of people with small cuts and bruises, scuffed uniforms, and exhausted eyes, but it was not time yet to rest. That came when the Kut’luch was down.
Crewman Mytrik looked up from the display of the multiple ship decks she was studying with a tired expression. ‘Lieutenant; all decks clear, all boarders rounded up and Lieutenant Juarez is getting them stowed away in the Brig.’ She paused. ‘And, uh, you should probably stick your head in the Armoury locker room.’
Shit, thought Kharth distantly. I’ll need a new Armoury Quartermaster. But she could fret about Otero later; those were feelings she didn’t have time for. Mytrik’s rather awkward tone meant she didn’t ask questions, instead heading as directed through to the Main Armoury and the locker room beyond where security officers could suit up in gear ahead of contact. It was empty now, everyone either settled in to stay geared up or already signed off.
Almost empty. Kharth had to walk the rows of lockers before she found what Mytrik was talking about. Or, rather, who, as she reached a distant corner of the cold, metal, dark chamber, in this beating heart of ship’s security still far from the hubbub and aftermath of battle, to see the small shape of Rosara Thawn folded up on a bench beside a dumped pile of her gear.
She had her knees up on the bench, her head in her hands, and Kharth made sure her footsteps rang out as she approached. She reached the pile of gear and leaned down to pick up the armoured vest. ‘Someone will have to tidy this up after you,’ she said, uncertain how else to start.
Thawn dragged her hands down her face. Flyaway locks had escaped the tight bun she’d worn her hair in for the mission, and the grime and dust on her pale features were streaked with tear-stains. She didn’t look at her. ‘I’m sorry, Lieutenant; I’ll tidy in a minute.’
Kharth sank onto the bench opposite with an ache she hadn’t realised had made it to her bones. ‘How long have you been here? King Arthur was back hours ago.’
‘Oh.’ Thawn went still. ‘I didn’t mean to get underfoot. It was quiet in here. I had to return the gear and I sat down and…’ Her numb voice trailed off, then the unseeing eyes focused as they locked on Kharth. Her voice wavered. ‘Show me how to be angry again?’
Kharth’s brow knotted. ‘I didn’t show you how to be angry. I showed you how to channel it. Use it.’
‘Oh,’ she said again. Then, ‘I should be angry, though.’
‘What happened? I know the fighting on the refinery was vicious…’
Thawn shook her head softly. ‘They just came for us. They had to know most of them would get shot, but they didn’t care so long as they broke through to fight us, to get up close, to get in our faces…’
Kharth saw her gaze threatened to go back there, to whatever horrific sights on the Elgatis Refinery still called her away, and leaned forward. ‘Lieutenant. It’s over, you got through it. You fought them and you won.’
‘I didn’t…’ The faintness faded, and again Thawn looked at her. Detached horror became all more present in those dark eyes. ‘I shot at them as they charged. Stuns. That wasn’t enough too many times – why wasn’t that enough -’
Kharth’s gut tightened in recollection, and she shook her head. ‘I don’t know. It should have been.’ She scootched to the edge of the bench, and reached to put a hand on Thawn’s knee. ‘You don’t need to be choked up because you didn’t crank up your phaser settings to kill them, Lieutenant. That’s not something you’re trained for, and especially not if you risked shooting into melee -’
But Thawn shook her head wildly, legs drawing up in a move that pulled her away from her touch. ‘I didn’t… I was with the commander, but then she went in and the fighting started to spill over into a melee, and I…’ Her hands came to her face, not for more crying but as if she could push back the surging memories, shove them to some absent and distant place. ‘Great Fire, I just ducked behind cover as they were coming, and I clutched my rifle, and I – and I hid…’
‘You…’ Kharth straightened. ‘The D’Ghor overran the Hazard Team’s front lines. Some of them could have got past to the civilians fighting. To the civilians hiding.’ Her voice shook. ‘Otero and Palacio died. Baranel and Rhade are in Sickbay, and so many others are in Sickbay, and you, Lieutenant, you hid?’
Thawn shrank back. ‘I froze,’ she stammered. ‘I didn’t know what to do -’
‘Shoot them!’ Kharth was on her feet before she’d thought, her fury now enough to fill the locker room and seep into every dark corner Thawn had thought to hide in. ‘You’re a Starfleet officer with a damned phaser rifle and you’re trained to use it! You weren’t sent there on a scientific field trip! You weren’t there to be babysat by these officers – by my people – so you could crawl under a desk and hide and wait as they fought and bled and died!’
‘I’m not a combat officer,’ Thawn gasped, the edge of her voice nearly hysterical by now.
‘And what if you’d been on the bridge?’ Kharth thundered. ‘When the captain was attacked, when Lindgren got hurt, when Dav got impaled; would you have hidden then? Or would we have been lucky enough that your station overloading would have spared us your useless hide?’
If anger did one thing, it spurred whatever instincts that had made Thawn come here to hide now tell her to flee. She crawled to her feet, and bent down to grab her gear. ‘I’ll – I’ll stow this and go -’
‘I’ll do it,’ Kharth snarled. ‘You just get the hell out of my sight, Lieutenant.’
That sent her fleeing, doubtless a total state before the whole security office, but Kharth didn’t care, couldn’t care as her foot lashed out to kick the pile of combat gear Thawn had left behind. Body armour, empty holster, forearm brace; pieces all went skidding across the locke rroom floor, and as they flew away Kharth’s next kick was at the solid metal bench. That was a terrible idea, pain at once lancing up her foot, and with spat Romulan oaths she collapsed back on the bench, clutching her leg.
So now it was her turn to surrender to a dark corner of the ship, and hide away until her rage and terror and powerlessness faded enough that she might master them.