Rhade blew his cheeks out as he watched the target glow and go dead at the phaser blast. The alarm confirmed what he already knew: that was every target hit, and the exercise still had five seconds left. ‘Very well,’ he said, trying to sound casual. ‘That’s Level Twelve.’
Dathan, stood in the middle of the shooting range, looked across at the hovering targets she’d struck and lowered her phaser. ‘Let’s run that again.’
‘Again? You don’t want to move on to Level Thirteen?’
‘I want to get it one hundred percent.’
‘Fourteen shots, fourteen hits registered.’ He double-checked on his PADD’s display. ‘That’s perfect.’
‘Target Fox was a little off-centre.’ But she hesitated, then nodded. ‘As you say.’
He tried for a kindly smile. ‘Lieutenant Kharth won’t know, or hold it against you. The computer records say it’s good enough. Good enough for deployment in a security team, at that. Let’s call it a day.’
She looked like she might argue, but again nodded and holstered her phaser. ‘Thank you, Lieutenant. If this is what’s needed for me to see fieldwork…’
‘I dare say you’ve seen enough fieldwork. But I’m happy to help make sure your tests reflect your skill, if you let the official grading fall by the wayside while you worked.’ He killed his PADD’s display and led them out of the training yard into the Hazard Team’s empty locker room. ‘If you want more, I would also be happy to help soften some of the rough edges.’
Rhade looked back at her and smile reassuringly. ‘You’re perfectly effective, Lieutenant. I’d work on some points in your posture. It would make you more accurate and help keep you balanced for changing targets or evading. It’s quite normal for the more self-trained.’
‘Oh.’ Dathan went to the locker for the training weapons, returning the phaser and holster and letting him seal it back up. ‘Thank you, but you’ve spared more than enough time for me these few days.’
‘It was my pleasure,’ he assured her. ‘I have the time, and in practice all I had to do was administer tests you flew through.’ He met her gaze. ‘If the time comes, you will be ready.’
‘It’s not over with the D’Ghor,’ she reminded him. ‘When the time comes.’
She left to let him shut down the training yard, left more empty than he would like in their time at Haydorian. Rhade knew it was essential the Hazard Team get back to work, but more precious was the chance for them to have a breather and blow off some steam before they were back in the line of fire. As she said, that was a question of timing, not possibility.
Timing gave him a small favour as he left the Hazard Team facilities for the Security Offices, and spotted an unexpected figure at a desk, talking to Lieutenant Juarez. He frowned and approached, seeing the stacks of PADDs both of them carried. ‘I expect you’re both departing soon?’
Juarez glanced up with a lopsided smile. ‘Yeah, I’m on the Galahad in ten. Was just helping Lieutenant Thawn out with some copies of our tactical assessments.’
She looked up at Rhade, dark eyes cautious. ‘I’m on the Aquarius with Lieutenant Kharth, ah – I just need to grab these and then I’ve got to meet her at the transporter room.’
‘I’ll walk you,’ he offered, and though he tried to make it sound like a gentle suggestion, her nod was tense enough that he suspected she just didn’t know how to say no.
She was silent as they entered the corridor, and he grimaced as he fished for how to begin. ‘You’ll be working with Lieutenant Kharth for a few days?’ Her nod was, again, silent. ‘We spoke a few days ago, she mentioned… that I should speak with you.’
‘You’ve seemed worn the past few days. Stressed.’
‘There are lots of reasons to be a little worn out right now,’ she pointed out rather primly. ‘There’s this search operation, and I’ve had to jump in on plenty of the repair work which has needed my support as sysadmin…’
‘Then what was Kharth talking about?’ He hesitated as she didn’t answer. ‘I’m not here to pry.’
‘But here you are. Prying.’ Thawn stopped and turned in the corridor to face him, pale but still tense. ‘We’re not – we’re not friends, Adamant, we don’t know each other, and me giving you a chance for us to get to know each other doesn’t give you an access permit to my thoughts and feelings.’
He straightened. ‘I know. I wouldn’t impose. But Lieutenant Kharth -’
‘Is also not my friend.’ Thawn finally fixed her gaze on him, nervous though she looked. ‘I’m busy. I’m tired. And she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.’ She gestured down the corridor. ‘I have a mission.’
He swallowed, and nodded. ‘Then I apologise. My concern was well-meant. I misunderstood and thought a friend – thought someone who knew you better – believed you might benefit from my aid. Please accept that this was all I presumed.’
She sighed, but nodded. ‘Of course. It’s fine between Kharth and me. Thank you for your concern.’
But her body language made it clear she didn’t want him to follow her further and, far from convinced, far from understanding, and far from believing the crew of Endeavour had the slightest inkling of how to engage with these emotional challenges, Adamant Rhade did as he was bidden, and left.
‘I passed on word,’ said Rourke, not looking up from his desk at Valance. ‘Of your intelligence report, I mean. Lieutenant Dathan knows, Admiral Beckett’s office knows. Without specifics, and from such a dubious source, it’s hard to be sure…’
‘This was always the interrogation of a low-level unit leader,’ Valance pointed out. She was still in her field gear, still drawn and weary, but had insisted on reporting to his ready room the moment the Percival was back on Endeavour. ‘Aside from intelligence on the Kut’luch itself, this is as good as we might have expected.’
‘Better,’ mused Rourke, ‘with the Kut’luch now destroyed.’
‘Yes, sir.’ She paused. ‘Did Admiral Beckett have any comment to pass on that?’
‘We demonstrated a most appropriate local asset was hired and empowered to take action against the D’Ghor. No formal breach of the Imperial border was committed, and I doubt the Empire has grounds to complain when they’ve barely lifted a finger to help.’ But the implied criticism still stung, and Rourke looked up, gaze level. ‘Was the ritual enlightening, Commander?’
She didn’t react. ‘I was there to interrogate Atal, at your insistence that my experience of Klingon culture would make that possible. I believe it was as successful as possible.’
He grimaced. ‘I know I pushed you.’
‘You gave me an assignment, sir.’
Was that all it had taken, he wondered? One incident of him pushing her hard on such apparently delicate ground as her Klingon heritage for all of their hard work building a rapport these past few months to come tumbling down? But if her brusqueness wasn’t just a result of exhaustion from her days of work, that exhaustion wouldn’t help them work through this. With irritation turned to guilt, he nodded. ‘And you did an exceptional job, Commander. I’m grateful for the personal effort you made.’
That made her mask shift, though not fade, and her shoulders reacted one iota. ‘Thank you, Captain.’
‘I wouldn’t presume to lecture on matters of Klingon honour. But know that trusting you with this assignment was nothing less than a mark of the great faith I have in you, and the regard I have for your abilities. And that you have nothing to prove of your worthiness to me, or this ship.’
Valance’s eyes went skyward for a moment. ‘I appreciate that, sir. The D’Ghor – fighting them hasn’t been easy, sir.’
He sensed that wasn’t what she’d originally intended to say, but knew he’d not earned the right to push after what he’d done. ‘This is one more blow against them. And one step closer to the end. We’ll finish this, Commander.’
She nodded. ‘We’ll finish this.’
‘Go sleep for the next twenty-four hours. Commander Cortez suggests we’re within thirty-six hours of being technically ship-shape, but no doubt she’ll want longer. That’ll be up to Starfleet and the D’Ghor. If this operation with the Odyssey throws up trouble…’
‘I’ll sleep, sir. But if we make contact, raise me. I’ll be ready.’
‘You’ve gone four days with minimal food or sleep. I appreciate you may have enjoyed a solid hour and a ration bar on the shuttle, but I’ll use my judgement,’ he said, tone at last wry. ‘Now, off with you, Commander.’
Perhaps one badly-judged argument about the D’Ghor and Klingons with his first officer hadn’t undone all of his good work. But Rourke had little chance to reflect on that as a message pinged on his desk console within ten minutes of Valance’s departure, and it was with an irritated sigh that he checked the duty roster.
Would that he could summon officers out of thin air. But until then, he needed to head down to the Operations Departmental Offices, which were quiet with a decent chunk of staff either on shore leave, light duties, or assisting Engineering. The absence of both Thawn and Athaka on the sweeping operation kept it even quieter, and he did not press Petty Officer Bekk in the corner, bright-eyed with some diabolical deed of quartermasters that he knew better than to ask about.
‘I didn’t think you’d be here,’ he said when he stuck his head inside Josephine Logan’s office.
Sat at her desk, she jumped and turned with a bashful smile. ‘Matt. Sorry, it’s a state in here…’
‘It’s a state everywhere,’ he said, and ducked in. ‘But seriously, why aren’t you planetside?’
She wrinkled her nose. ‘Honestly, the ship being docked for a few days is the best time for me to work. Do you know how many projects I’ve had to suspend or have been interrupted when we’re in the field the past few weeks?’
Rourke folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the closed door. ‘I’d understand if you want to head for Starbase 27 until we’re done in the sector.’
‘It’s… you need to work, it’s dangerous here…’
‘This isn’t the first time Endeavour was in danger,’ she pointed out. ‘My work is all about monitoring the usage of bio-neural circuitry in the ship’s computer systems, and if I could do that from simulations alone, I suppose I would still be at the Daystrom Institute. But live, immediate data from a volatile and changing scenario is essential. And the D’Ghor crisis has caused all sorts of new findings in data…’ Josie reached for a PADD, then hesitated. ‘I suppose you didn’t come down here to ask about that.’
He suppressed a smile. ‘I didn’t. But I’m glad your work’s getting on alright. And I’m glad you’re alright. I’m not used to commanding ships with civilians aboard.’
‘I’m not – well, I am a civilian, but I’m trained and rated to be on a starship. I’m not like someone’s family member.’ But Josie got to her feet and waved a hand at her stack of PADDs. ‘Sorry, I didn’t offer you a drink…’
‘I’m fine. I’ve drunk enough tea to last a lifetime here.’
‘What an awful thought, to be all tea’d out.’
He looked down and smothered a smile again. ‘You’re right that I should treat you as part of Starfleet service. Especially as that’s sort of what I wanted to talk to you about. I don’t – here.’ He handed her the PADD with his message from Cortez.
Frowning, she took it, biting her lip as she read. ‘Oh,’ she said at last. ‘That’ll take purging the automated repair systems and then updating them with the latest software, then running the backed up data from Elgatis through it. A lot of the systems were shut down mid-battle with the explosion, and I’d assume a lot of the connections were lost…’
‘Can you do it?’ He winced as she looked up. ‘Lieutenant Thawn and Ensign Athaka are on deployment.’
‘Oh! You need me to help with the repairs? You should have opened with that.’ She gave a sunny smile. ‘I’d be happy to assist Commander Cortez. I can’t imagine how difficult she’s had it…’
‘Yeah, I owe her about a month’s leave when this is over.’ He scrubbed his face with a weary hand, then found her watching him.
‘You’re going to take a month’s leave when this is over, right?’
‘I’m fine,’ he said reflexively.
‘Matt…’ Josie fiddled with the PADD. ‘I know I just spent five minutes convincing you to treat me like a member of your crew, but also I’m not part of your chain of command or – or anything like that. I can’t imagine how horrifically difficult it’s been for you these past few weeks. And I can’t imagine you’ve been rushing to talk to your staff about it.’
The surge of emotion was unexpected, and he looked away to her shelves of PADDs full of downloaded software, a physical library of digital material she said was like a manifestation of how her brain ordered her thoughts and plans. It had sounded needlessly complicated, but with the mental balls he’d been juggling these past weeks, it was now seeming more and more sensible. Maybe if he could put just one thought down he’d be less exhausted.
But if he stopped, he didn’t know what he’d do. ‘It’s not easy,’ Rourke said at last. ‘But I’ll rest when the mission’s over.’
‘I get that. But isn’t this a break?’ Josie pointed out. ‘It can’t be good for you to go back into the fight still wound up.’
‘There’s no good way to go back into the fight. But I’ll be fine.’ He forced a confident smile. ‘I appreciate your concern, I really do…’
Her face sank, but she nodded. ‘Okay. Well, if you need anything – if you need an escape away from people who don’t call you “sir” or “captain,” and don’t have to… then you know where to find me.’
‘In Engineering, now pulling eighteen hour-days to help Cortez,’ he pointed out wryly.
‘I like to be useful,’ she said, sunny smile returning slowly.
‘That’s one good thing about Endeavour,’ sighed Rourke, straightening up. ‘Useful people always find a place.’