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Part of USS Endeavour: Things Fall Apart and Bravo Fleet: Phase 1: Omega

All These Promises

Brig, USS Endeavour
September 2399
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‘I understand perfectly,’ said Adamant Rhade with a calmness that on any other day would have made Matt Rourke want to put him through a wall. ‘I just cannot accept.’

But today, Matt Rourke was treating every emotional blow as a dull buzz, and so he stared across the brig cell at his Officer of the Watch without expression. ‘You may not understand what motivated my decisions, Lieutenant, but they were legal. A court martial will find you disobeyed the orders of your commanding officer in a crisis, and the consequences will come accordingly.’

Rhade sat on the brig bunk, hands in his lap, but his gaze met Rourke’s without hesitation. ‘If Starfleet wishes to stand by those orders and wants to say I was wrong – insubordinate, mutinous, treasonous, whatever it may be – then Starfleet may say so loudly and publicly.’

The first real feeling to hit Rourke since he’d ordered the destruction of the Erem sank in, and only because it was familiar: the same sinking helplessness. ‘If I court martial you, I have to court martial Lieutenant Kharth.’

‘And I’m saddened if Lieutenant Kharth regrets her choices and would take your offer for this entire appalling situation to be swept away. But I believe what I did was right, and that she was right to oppose you, Captain. Suggesting the consequences are my fault is low and manipulative. A lot of things led us here.’

Somewhere inside the emptiness within him, Rourke could hear a small voice raging: You stupid man, you’ll get both of you ruined for nothing. You have no idea what was at stake. But the only response that came was Beckett’s words echoing in him: Being more confident in that big stick might have made your crew obey you and the Romulans fear you.

‘I don’t have to press charges yet,’ he said instead, and stepped towards the forcefield as Lieutenant Vakkis approached to escort him out. ‘I’ll let you reflect.’

The second real feeling to hit Rourke since he’d ordered the destruction of the Erem came twenty seconds later, as he emerged from the brig and into the bowels of the ship, and Commander Valance’s voice came over the comms to summon him to Sickbay.

His first thought was of Airex and Cortez; perhaps Sadek had been wrong in her diagnosis, perhaps they had succumbed to the high dosages of theta radiation their bodies still battled. He used an emergency override to summon the turbolift, and raced to Sickbay to find he had an entirely new disaster on his hands.

Half a dozen of his engineers sat on biobeds, medical personnel attending to their wounds. He saw vicious cuts and broken bones and more superficial signs of a fight beside, but it was past them he walked, towards the biobed Valance stood beside. ‘What happened?’ Then he saw Thawn sat before them, covered in blood. ‘Lieutenant…’

She was pale, her dark eyes fixed on a point beyond him, but still she spoke in a low, distant voice. ‘I’m fine. It’s not mine.’

Valance turned to him, tense. ‘The locals protested our withdrawal and tried to blockade the engineering team from pulling out. I’m still piecing together what happened, but it turned violent.’ She hesitated, but pressed on before he could speak. ‘Lieutenant Drake arrived on the scene when the fighting was ongoing. It seems the locals were mostly unarmed – it seems this wasn’t planned, but a confrontation that escalated – but he took a blow to the head with something.’

Rourke’s eyes raced across the Sickbay, and his heart sank as he didn’t spot Drake or Sadek. ‘Where is he?’

Valance nodded to the operating room, but Thawn piped up again, still staring at nothing. ‘I think he’s dead. I know head wounds bleed a lot. But I think he’s dead. I think he was dead when I got there.’

‘It’s not good,’ Valance confirmed quietly. ‘Lieutenant Juarez was able to restore control and we’ve withdrawn everyone and our gear from the surface, now.’

What might have been a flame of anger in Rourke, once, was now like a match trying to spark. He still scowled. ‘We need to find who did this.’

‘Sir, I don’t know -’

‘We did,’ came Thawn’s numb voice. ‘We said we’d help them again. Then we stopped. Again. I was there when Security arrived. People ran. People stared. They were scared. Horrified. But of course they hate us. We made all these promises, then we abandoned them again.’ At last she looked up at Rourke, and he couldn’t see much behind those dark eyes. ‘We did this.’

Horror stirred in his gut. ‘There is every reason to hold me accountable for the withdrawal from Teros,’ Rourke accepted slowly. ‘But we didn’t cause a riot.’

The door to the operating room slid open, and Sadek walked out wearing scrubs and a blank expression. Rourke felt Valance and Thawn tense beside him, hope and fear alike twisting them in the wind, but he’d known Aisha Sadek too long to do anything but give a pained sigh. ‘He’s gone.’

Strength was fading from Sadek’s posture as she nodded. ‘He took a serious blow to the head, causing brain damage, internal bleeding, and cerebral edema. That very quickly restricted his blood flow. I expect it was too late by the time anyone got to him. He was brain-dead already when he was beamed up.’ She shook her head as she stepped towards Thawn, reaching a hand for her shoulder. ‘I’m sorry. Lieutenant Drake is dead.’

Thawn jerked up at once, hands up. ‘No – he’s not -’

Valance winced. ‘I’m sorry, Lieutenant, but this is the -’

‘That’s not what I mean – of course he’s dead.’ Thawn’s voice went up a frantic pitch. ‘And I got to him first and I got him beamed out and I’m covered in his blood, but please, all of you, stop acting like he’s my loss.’

Again, came the final unspoken word Rourke heard as he exchanged a glance with Valance. ‘You’re still off-duty for the day, at least, Lieutenant,’ he said. ‘Let Athaka handle the final stages of the relief op.’

‘There is no relief op,’ she said quietly. ‘Just unpacking everything we’ve brought back. Athaka can manage it.’ She paused a moment, then blinked, and while her eyes fell on him, he wasn’t really sure she was seeing him. ‘I expect Lieutenant Rhade is still in the brig?’

‘Yes.’ Rourke hesitated. Then he remembered Admiral Beckett’s words, and he straightened. ‘Due to the nature of the mission, he can still avoid a court martial. These were extreme circumstances. But that will require him to accept disciplinary action from me and not contest it – to accept fault and not push for a public tribunal. He’s being stubborn.’ Normally, he might have waited, might not have pushed Rhade’s betrothed while she navigated a fresh grief. But his normal behaviour had seen his crew turn on him once.

‘Oh,’ said Thawn, then she nodded. ‘I guess I’ll clean up and then tell him to pull himself together.’

She left, and Rourke turned back to see Valance studying the bulkhead as Sadek stared at him. ‘What the hell, Matt?’ snapped the doctor. ‘Her friend all but died in her arms and you’re telling her to -’

‘Time is not on our side here, Doctor,’ Rourke said sharply. ‘If there’s a way through without ruining the lives and careers of Kharth and Rhade, so much the better.’

Sadek watched him a moment. Then she nodded. ‘As you say, Captain. I’ll get back to patching up your engineers.’

He didn’t hide his scowl as she left, and turned to Valance. ‘Make sure we pulled everything from the surface – or if there’s anything we left we have a prayer of getting back.’

‘The withdrawal was quick,’ she said, ‘but I think we have everything important. Anything else will be into the district by now. Sir, we’re not going to find who did this.’

‘I know,’ Rourke grumbled. ‘I’ll inform Command, and prepare a letter for his next of kin. A brother, I think?’

‘And his father,’ said Valance, the two exchanging an awkward glance at how little they knew one of their own. ‘I’ll have Carraway keep an eye on Thawn. But, sir – are you really going to release Kharth and Rhade?’

‘If they see sense and let me, I’m authorised to.’ He shook his head. ‘Commander, I knew the crew will be tense. Our mission was unpopular, unclear, and Lieutenant Drake was well-liked. But that’s no excuse for things to slip, and this crisis isn’t over. I want discipline aboard tight, do you hear? No more quiet sit-downs and understanding looks for screw-ups. We barely got through this.’

‘The lieutenants made the choice to disobey. That’s not on you.’

‘Everything that happens on this ship is on me. Inform Get Harkon running Drake’s shifts, but I expect that to be temporary, Endeavour needs a pilot with more experience. As soon as we’re done on the surface, we’re returning to Starbase 23. Report to the bridge and get us underway.’

Valance left, and Rourke looked to Sadek, tending rather deliberately to the battered and bruised engineers. On another day, another time, he would have stopped to speak with them. But he had a more pressing matter to attend to, and departed for the crew quarters on Deck 2.

Davir Airex looked pale, tired, and suspicious when he let Rourke into his quarters. ‘Captain. What can I do for you?’

Airex had lived in these rooms for almost four years, Rourke mused as he looked around. They were tastefully decorated, reflecting the Trill’s long life, his training as an anthropologist, a stylish demonstration of an interest in a thousand worlds and peoples. ‘Once you’re feeling better,’ said Rourke, gaze trailing about the decor, ‘you should pack.’

‘Sir?’

‘Admiral Beckett wants you on his advisory staff for the Omega Crisis. Probably in large part because you already have clearance to know about the Directive.’ Rourke turned to him. ‘Endeavour is headed for Starbase 23. You’ll leave us there.’

Airex’s expression folded to a slow, thoughtful frown, then he nodded. ‘Thank you, sir. That suits me very well.’

‘Thank the admiral. And yourself; he read about your role in destroying Omega in my report.’ Rourke shifted his weight. ‘You did very well.’

‘Cortez deserves recognition,’ Airex said quickly. ‘She was level-headed, decisive, and logical despite having incomplete knowledge. I expect I’d be dead without her.’

I do need a new second officer, thought Rourke, before immediately rejecting that option as he considered the risks of letting Valance and Cortez team up against him in command decisions. ‘Your assessment of Lieutenant Veldman has been that she’s fit to replace you?’ he said instead, moving on.

‘She’s a capable scientist,’ Airex confirmed. ‘Smart, organised, a good team leader. She’s never been afraid to speak up when she disagrees with me.’ That made him hesitate, and his shoulders straightened. ‘Sir, what’s to happen to Kharth and Rhade?’

‘Nobody wants a court martial for attempted mutiny drawing attention to the irregularities of the Omega Directive. If they accept that, then they’ll return to duty with no more than a misdemeanour on their records.’ Rourke hesitated. Airex was leaving anyway. ‘I don’t want Kharth drummed out of the service any more than you do.’

‘She’s stubborn,’ he said moodily. ‘I would appreciate it if you could make sure she doesn’t self-sabotage. She excels at that.’

Rourke frowned as he regarded him, this man who had been a thorn in his side throughout their time together, who had always thought he’d known best. Until Omega. ‘I’ll look after her,’ he said at length. ‘If I can. If she lets me.’

‘And Karana,’ Airex pressed on, honest now the flood-gates had opened. ‘You won her respect and that’s not easy. Especially when she took against you in the first instance.’

‘Of course I will. They’re my crew,’ said Rourke, and swallowed bitterness as he thought of them on his bridge, defying him.

But when control returned to Airex’s gaze, he said, ‘You were right to destroy the Erem, sir, from Commander Valance’s retelling. If the Romulan Empire is bold enough to want Omega but not in their own borders, who knows what might have happened? And where? They left you no choice.’

Rourke’s lips twisted, and he glared at the spinning shape of Teros IV beyond Airex’s window, a world stained with the life-blood of Connor Drake, and soon to be abandoned so they could all look after a greater good. ‘No,’ he said at length. ‘No, I reckon there’s always a choice.’

Airex shifted at that. ‘Then yours was correct. Just because people can’t see the whole picture, understand even when you’re protecting them, protecting everyone… that doesn’t make you wrong.’

‘Is that for me?’ Rourke looked at him. ‘Or for yourself, and all those choices none of us understand?’

But the Trill’s expression remained level, even as regret creased the corners of his eyes. ‘There are more important things than being able to live with ourselves, Captain. It’s selfish to put our own peace of mind first. You killed fifty people to save hundreds of thousands. Perhaps it will haunt you, yes. But what are more ghosts of our past compared to securing the future and happiness of those we care about?’

They regarded one another, the two men at odds until the galaxy tried to tear itself asunder, parting ways before any true accord could be found. At last, Rourke stuck his hand out. ‘You’ve served Endeavour with distinction for years, Commander. It’s been an honour all these months. And I couldn’t have got through this crisis without you.’

Airex sighed. ‘Then my latest regret is leaving you to shoulder it all yourself. After all, Captain.’ He reached out to shake Rourke’s hand. ‘This isn’t over.’