USS Endeavour



  • LadyBlueLadyBlue Member, Administrator, Moderator, Admiralty

    After ten minutes in a bathroom, five minutes with a medical kit, and two minutes sat in the King Arthur’s briefing room with a steaming mug of tea, Doctor Karl T’Sann looked a little more half-human. He’d tied his hair back, cleaned up, and a vicious cut over one pointed eyebrow had been sutured enough to start fading already.

    ‘Despite how it looks, I’m indebted to you for coming at all.’ He blew gently on the tea, before setting it down on the low table with a wince. ‘The moment the Rebirth realised Starfleet was in town and looking for me, they got cold feet over the whole affair.’

    Airex folded his arms across his chest. ‘What about the rest of your team, Doctor? Are they here on Teros?’

    T’Sann shook his head. ‘No. No, we were all jumped on Behram by the Rebirth there and were separated. I haven’t heard from any of them since, but then, it was only about a week later that I got here and was collared.’

    ‘The Rebirth tried to get you,’ Drake repeated, ‘and you still carried on trawling the old Neutral Zone?’

    ‘I learnt on Behram that what I needed was here.’ T’Sann raised his eyebrows at them. ‘My whole team was dedicated to this. We weren’t going to turn around and go home in the face of opposition.’

    Opposition is a fine way to describe your people being abducted or murdered,’ said Airex wryly. ‘But we can return to Endeavour and reach out to contacts on Behram, chase up these leads. We’ll find them, Doctor.’

    T’Sann winced. ‘No. No, not yet, Commander.’

    Airex stared. ‘What?’

    Beckett advanced on the briefing table at that, eyes bright. ‘Did you find whatever you were looking for from the salvage dealer? Is that why we can’t leave yet?’

    ‘You found out I went to Korskiv? I expect you talked to Nevantar. That’s good work, he’s a sneaky old sausage.’

    Beckett beamed at T’Sann’s impressed voice. ‘I have contacts of my own. He wasn’t so hard.’

    ‘Gentlemen.’ Airex lifted a hand. ‘What is so important it’s worth delaying an already tardy rescue mission for your team?’

    ‘My team,’ said T’Sann bitterly, ‘will already be dead. The Rebirth said as much. That’s why they knew to find me here, grabbed me here. I did get what I wanted off Korskiv first, but while the Rebirth were kind enough to ditch me at the first sign of Starfleet trouble, they did not leave me with my things. Including the transponder.’

    Beckett raised an eyebrow. ‘Transponder?’

    T’Sann sipped his tea. ‘A lot of old ships and old artifacts left Romulus under inauspicious circumstances during the evacuation. Korskiv didn’t know what she had when she picked up a wreck that was actually the old wing of the Vomal, once a living museum in orbit dedicated to the technology and artifacts of the Romulan exodus. It included the transponder of the Vomal itself - the original Vomal, one of the transport ships that made the journey.’

    Airex cast a frustrated look at Kharth, who stood near the door with her arms folded across her chest, expression unreadable. Without support from her, he returned his gaze to T’Sann. ‘All of this is for an artifact that’s been in Romulan hands for centuries?’

    Slowly, T’Sann put his tea back down, and when he spoke his voice was low, deliberate. ‘The Romulan people have suffered untold loss after untold loss. The destruction of their homeworld, the shattering of their empire, the scattering of their people. The erosion of their politics, of their culture. Nothing which could provide insight into and security of who they are and what they stand for should be considered an acceptable loss.’ His gaze turned up to Airex, just as cold. ‘But no, Commander. I am not simply seeking to retrieve the Vomal’s transponder. I want what it will lead me to.’ At last he looked to Kharth. ‘I’m after the Koderex.’

    Kharth did straighten at that, and Airex exchanged a cautious glance with Beckett, but it was Drake who cleared his throat and spoke. ‘So, for the not-a-Romulan-or-a-history-buff here, what’s that?’

    Beckett spoke cautiously. ‘The Koderex was one of the other transport ships from the Romulan exodus. But it was lost en route.’

    ‘It was more than a transport ship,’ Kharth butted in, brow furrowing deeper. ‘It held the whole library archives for those who marched beneath the raptor’s wings. Much of it was duplicated on other ships, but untold knowledge and records of my people’s earliest years, of their reformation away from Surak’s restrictions, was lost. It’s almost mythical.’ She advanced on T’Sann, put her hands on the edge of the briefing table. ‘You can find it?’

    ‘Tracing the Koderex was difficult,’ T’Sann said. ‘The earliest centuries of the Romulan people were dedicated to settlement, after all, and much was lost by the time they had the resources and technology to retrace their footsteps. And space is… very big.’ He clicked his tongue. ‘Nobody had any idea where the Koderex might have been lost until the Romulans and Vulcans reestablished contact, and back-channels gave Romulan historians access to records on Vulcan outlying the original expected flight route. Romulan historians compared this to what records existed of communication during the exodus between the Koderex and other ships, and narrowed down the region it had been lost to a sector. There was just one problem.’

    ‘The Neutral Zone,’ breathed Beckett, transfixed.

    ‘Exactly.’ T’Sann snapped his fingers. ‘Then the Neutral Zone collapses over a decade ago, except everyone is a little busy. But I bought the Vomal’s transponder from Korskiv, and I think that with it, I can locate wherever the Koderex crashed or is drifting. Even the slightest remains of it…’

    ‘Could have vast detail of the origins of the Romulan people,’ said Kharth, voice more neutral, but her eyes equally locked on T’Sann.

    ‘The Romulan people, who are in desperate need of unity and cultural pride.’ T’Sann looked up at Airex. ‘That’s why, Commander, I’m not leaving without the transponder. If you want to go, then go - but I’m not coming with you.’

    Airex’s lips thinned. ‘Did the Rebirth know about this?’

    ‘They know I’m after Romulan artifacts, because I thought I’d need to buy the transponder off the black market. They’d like to say I’m a threat to keeping Romulan history in Romulan hands, but in truth, they think I’m a threat to their cash flow.’ T’Sann shrugged. ‘I don’t think they expected a Starfleet response. From what they said, they’d hoped to ransom me to the Institute.’

    Airex looked for a moment like he might press the point - then he sighed, and put his hands on his hips. ‘It’s late,’ he said at last. ‘And you’ve been through a lot, Doctor. If the Rebirth gave you back because they don’t want trouble, I dare say we have a little time - and some options. I suggest we all rest, first, and discuss our next move in the morning.’

    Nods greeted what was clearly not a suggestion, and Kharth stepped forward as T’Sann stood. ‘You can have my bunkroom, Doctor. I’ll clear out.’

    He gave her a tired look. ‘There are multiple beds per bunkroom on a New Atlantic-class, Lieutenant. I expect I’ll be unconscious the moment my head hits the pillow; no need to inconvenience yourself for my sense of privacy.’

    T’Sann needed help back down the ladder to the lower deck, patched up but still aching from the tender mercies of the Rebirth. In the confined space of the bunkroom, he sank onto the bottom bed with a relieved sigh, and Kharth was prepared to clamber up and make her own, troubled attempt at resting, but he spoke as she had a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder.

    ‘Your commander doesn’t think this is important, does he?’

    Kharth hesitated. In truth, she’d expected Airex to be more excited by the Koderex. But perhaps that was because Dav would have been delighted. The parasite was different. ‘Our mission was to get you back. Not you and your research.’

    T’Sann put his hands behind his head and propped himself up against the bunk’s head. His lips curled. ‘That’s a very diplomatic answer, Lieutenant. He knows he can’t just abduct me off this planet, right?’

    ‘You’d stay here?’ She cocked her head. ‘Even though the Rebirth would probably pick you up again if we left?’

    ‘I know how to keep a low profile. It wouldn’t be easy. But I can’t risk the Rebirth scrapping the transponder, or selling it to who-knows-where - or, worse, realising what I want it for.’ His eyes raked over her. ‘You understand how high these stakes are.’

    Her foot dropped down from the ladder. ‘You’re not half-Vulcan, are you.’

    The smirk broadened. ‘I am. I’m not half-human.’ T’Sann sat up, sobering. ‘My parents were among the earliest members of Ambassador’s Spock’s reunification movement. But growing up in the Federation, it was a lot easier and safer to pretend to have a human father. That’s why I understand how high these stakes are.’

    A troubled frown tugged at her brow. ‘Our people’s problems go far deeper than losing mementos or records of our history. Three splintered governments, untold numbers of scattered refugees… without infrastructure or homes, stability or safety, what good is a fifteen hundred year-old library archive?’

    ‘I think you know better than that, Lieutenant Kharth,’ he said softly. ‘I think you know the battle for survival is about more than individual lives or individual safety. It’s about more than the state of our governments.’

    She bit her lip. ‘Maybe.’

    ‘The apocalypse didn’t happen when our homeworld was destroyed; we’ve given up a homeworld before. That’s just when it started. It’s still happening as our culture, our history, our way of life are all being lost, eroded, and destroyed, just a little bit, every single day.’ He drew a slow breath. ‘The apocalypse is happening to our people as we speak. We can turn the tide.’

    Troubled brow still furrowed, Kharth gave an awkward nod. ‘I’ll talk to the commander in the morning.’

    ‘It can’t be easy for you,’ T’Sann pushed as she turned away. ‘A Romulan far from your own people all the time, or exposed to this, the most desperate reduction of our people.’

    She forced a shrug. ‘I’ve lived more of my life without Romulus than with it.’

    ‘So you’re afraid you’ll forget. Forget what it meant to be Romulan, forget what it means to have a connection to your people.’ He swung his legs over the side of the bunk, less exhausted now, bright-eyed in his intent. ‘I’ve spent my life not knowing if I truly understood my father’s culture. If I could truly understand it.’

    Her hand curled around a rung of the ladder. ‘What happened to him?’

    ‘He never made it off Romulus. He was a known suspected collaborator by the end, and the authorities were not…’

    ‘…political dissidents were bottom of the evacuation priority lists.’ Her family had been, once. Only by Admiral Beckett had she been saved, again and again. ‘I’m sorry.’

    ‘I didn’t know him as well as I wished.’ T’Sann shrugged. ‘But we have to keep more than memories. We have to live in a way that honours and remembers those who came before. Actions, not just thoughts. He wanted to unite the Romulans with the Vulcans. But before that can happen, now… I have to try to reunite the Romulans.’ He gave a self-conscious smile. ‘I’m sorry, I’m tired and a bit light-headed and probably over-sharing. It’s been a while since I spoke to one of my people who’s on my side.’

    ‘I understand. Likewise.’ She swallowed. ‘The Rebirth who got you, who have the transponder - is it Vortiss’s lot?’

    His eyebrows raised. ‘Vortiss was the one calling the shots. I didn’t see a lot of him - he likes to hold court in the bar in the District centre; he’s put up this obnoxious Romulans Only sign to seem like a more valid supremacist. But he’s the one in charge. You know him?’

    She stared at the bulkhead for a moment. ‘I have my own business with him.’

    ‘Then maybe,’ said T’Sann gently, ‘we can both get what we want by sticking around.’

    The cocktail in Kharth’s gut turned noxious; a blend of warmth towards someone who understood, grief at her father, fury at Airex, and guilt at herself for every one of her choices. Instead of answering, she at last swung into the top bunk, putting him out of sight. ‘We’ll work on this in the morning. Good night, Doctor.’

    ‘Karlan,’ he said softly as the lights died. ‘Call me Karlan.’

    She hesitated in the dark, and when she spoke, dared no more than a whisper. ‘Saeihr.’

    ‘Saeihr,’ T’Sann repeated, just as quietly. ‘Jolan tru, Saeihr.’

    She did not reply out loud this time, eyes locked on the ceiling she couldn’t see, infinite memories and possibilities spilling out before her vision in the dark. But her lips did form the words for the first time in maybe a decade, feeling clumsy and as if she’d forgotten how, only daring mouth them in silence.

    Jolan tru.

  • LadyBlueLadyBlue Member, Administrator, Moderator, Admiralty

    When Kharth clambered up the ladder into the King Arthur’s briefing room the next morning, she found Airex and Beckett already in full swing.

    ‘This is an opportunity to change countless lives,’ the young ensign was insisting, hands on the display table, while Airex stood impassive, steaming mug of coffee in hand. She tried to not smirk; one thing she had noticed the Joining had not changed was that Davir preferred a morning of quiet contemplation and caffeine before anyone came at him.

    ‘There are always opportunities to do that, Ensign. But our mission is to rescue the doctor.’

    ‘And we’ve done that. Surely while we’re here -’

    ‘Our mission isn’t over until we’re back on Endeavour. When we know our next move, we can assess the disruption from taking further measures.’

    ‘The disruption?’ Beckett put his hands on his hips, chin tilting up an indignant half-inch, and for the first time she could see something of her father in him. But there was a righteousness to the imperious air that was all his own as he pressed on. ‘Surely the scope of this goes far beyond that?’

    Airex’s gaze flickered from him to Kharth, who wasn’t bothering to be subtle as she got her own coffee from the replicator. ‘That’ll be all, Ensign.’

    ‘But, sir -’

    ‘That means he heard you,’ Kharth butted in at last. ‘And get out.’ Beckett’s indignant gaze turned to her, before with a rather stroppy huff he turned for the ladder to the lower decks. She barely gave him a second look as she sipped her coffee and sighed. ‘He wants to go after the transponder? He’s right.’

    ‘Actually, he thinks Endeavour should come to orbit and spend a week on relief work helping the Sanctuary Districts.’ Airex’s expression was studied as she turned to him, eyebrow raised. ‘Obviously that’s rather above his grade.’

    ‘He’s young and from Earth. I expect Teros makes him startled and guilty.’ It doesn’t make him wrong, she thought, but pushed that argument aside. It didn’t suit her needs.

    ‘I’ve no doubt the captain will want the first-hand accounts of everyone if the idea is put to him.’

    ‘He has a track record of helping in these situations. Rourke, I mean.’ She padded over to the briefing table. ‘About six years ago, the Achilles dispensed emergency supplies to an illegal Romulan refugee settlement on Trifex. Rourke was then-Captain Beckett’s XO. Scuttlebutt is Rourke went around him to get it done. Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.’

    Airex snorted gently. ‘Of course he did. Act first, think later?’ He waved a slightly guilty hand. ‘I’m not dismissing the captain’s decision there. Just his methods.’

    Kharth opened her mouth, then decided she didn’t need to argue in defence of Matt Rourke. ‘Have you made a decision about T’Sann’s transponder?’

    He glanced up at her. ‘I expect you have an opinion.’

    Once, Davir wouldn’t have thought twice about going after the device. Once, he wouldn’t have sounded like asking her opinion was a tiresome formality. She reminded herself it was easier if he were compliant, and drew a deep breath. ‘I think T’Sann is right. I think we should try to acquire the transponder before we leave.’

    Airex sipped his drink. ‘Do you have a suggestion as to how?’

    ‘I do, actually.’ It was her turn to straighten with an edge of defiance. ‘Vortiss has it. Vortiss spends time in the refectory-turned-bar that’s marked “Romulans Only.” I go in and negotiate with Vortiss for its return.’

    He stared. ‘You go. Alone. Into the territory of the Romulan Rebirth movement, who have already captured a professor and probably killed his associates?’

    ‘Who let him go the moment Starfleet muscle showed up, because they didn’t want trouble on their door,’ she pointed out. ‘T’Sann wasn’t returned with his personal belongings; possibly they didn’t even think to toss him back with the device. Sure, if they didn’t know it’s important before, they will when I turn up and ask for it. But we can get it off them with a pay-out.’

    ‘There is no way we can justify giving resources to a supremacist movement like this. Either by ethics or optics.’

    ‘First, let’s be light on words like supremacist.’ Kharth rolled her eyes. ‘Romulans in these sectors are the lowest of the low, the dispossessed and the desperate. This isn’t citizens of a Romulan Empire demanding they retain their privilege and position against those they see as outsiders or lesser. This is people who’ve lost their homes rallying under a sense of togetherness. It’s xenophobic and exclusionary and it’s being used to keep people divided, to stop refugees from reaching out for or accepting help from anyone but these gangs. It feeds desperation with an empty sense of identity that only fuels more desperation.’ She kept her stance against him firm. ‘I hate it, and I hate signs like “Romulans Only,” but let’s not pretend it’s heroic for Federation citizens to come to this world and lecture abandoned refugees about how the problem is their xenophobia. These people are right to be angry.’

    Airex chewed on words for a moment, and she met his gaze with a quiet, furious resilience. At last he said, rather neutrally, ‘This doesn’t change my point.’

    Cold had settled into her gut when Rourke’s briefing told them they were coming to Teros. That ice had sunk deeper with every light-year, deeper with every step taken on Teros’s surface, deeper with the news of her father. But at his neutrality, for the first time in what felt like an eon, thoughts of Teros and her past and her people clashed like flint on steel. For the moment she tried to cover the sparks, not give them fuel, and her voice remained level as she said, ‘I’m not suggesting we give them resources. There’s something they’ll want more: for Starfleet to leave and stay gone.’

    He frowned. ‘They give us the transponder, and in return we leave Teros, doing nothing for these people?’

    ‘You were just telling Beckett -’

    ‘I was making it clear to Beckett that him righteously campaigning at me doesn’t change a thing, and doesn’t make him the hero in the face of reluctant superior officers. That has nothing to do with my opinion. I’m surprised that this is yours.’

    Kharth shrugged. ‘The transponder is important.’

    ‘More important than the people of Teros?’ Airex cocked his head. ‘This isn’t a refusal, Lieutenant. I want to know where you’re coming from with this.’

    She straightened. ‘Why does that matter?’

    ‘Because you’re recommending we ignore an opportunity to help a refugee world where you grew up, in order to secure some artifact of Romulan society. Is T’Sann’s argument about the fate of Romulan culture that compelling to you?’

    ‘You know I care about the people of Teros,’ Kharth insisted. ‘You also know I don’t only care about the people of Teros.’

    He hesitated, and her stomach lurched as she spotted him reading her. ‘You want to ask Vortiss about your father. That’ll be the deal, won’t it: we leave Teros, which secures his hold on the sanctuary as Starfleet ignores them, and in return he gives you the transponder and information.’

    She stood her ground. ‘I was going to ask him, yes.’

    Airex looked bewildered. ‘If we made the recommendation to the captain, he’d spend a week here putting up a relief station that would help the people get back on their feet, see to their worst medical needs, and take the legs of Vortiss out from under him. It wouldn’t be everything, but it would be a lot. And you want to deny them that for personal matters?’

    Don’t be dismissive.’ Her finger came up accusingly. ‘Don’t use our history to guess my motivations and then twist it to make me look petty.’

    ‘I’m not,’ he insisted. ‘I’m trying to understand, and I’m not trying to make it personal. But you’re the local expert with a stake in this world, and you’re making a recommendation to me, the team leader. I’m not criticising you for your history or feelings on Teros influencing your judgement; that’s normal. But I need to know where your head is.’

    She drew a slow breath. ‘It’s one thing to send the Hazard Team in against the Rebirth to rescue Doctor T’Sann. It’s another thing to send them in to take an object they stole from him - whose actual ownership is contentious at best. That leaves subterfuge or negotiation. What I’m suggesting makes things no worse than if we hadn’t come here at all.’

    ‘I’m not sure that’s true,’ he said carefully. ‘People know Starfleet is here. What you’d offer Vortiss would be a victory over us, the chance to demonstrate Starfleet doesn’t care and he had the power to send us packing. That empowers him.’

    ‘If you think Endeavour spending a week here, or even two, will fundamentally change the future of the people of Teros, you’re being wilfully ignorant,’ she countered. ‘And don’t pretend you can’t imagine how massive recovering the Koderex will be for the Romulan people.’ She jabbed a finger at the briefing table. ‘My people are scattered and splintered. They’re running to the Tal Shiar or the Navy for protection with no dignity, or they’re plucky underdogs whose dalliance with democracy is wholly dependent on Federation support, or they’ve been abandoned and left behind. The Koderex, in the right hands? That could spark a cultural renaissance for a people without a home, without unity, without pride. That could get Romulans cooperating again, remembering what we stand for -’

    ‘I understand,’ Airex said, voice tensing. ‘But that’s about fifty moves away. I’m surprised that you’re lapping up T’Sann’s story.’

    Kharth straightened. ‘Lapping up?

    If T’Sann finds the Koderex… who owns her? This ancient repository of Romulan knowledge?’ He cocked his head. ‘The Daystrom Institute, a Federation institution? I have no doubt they’ll try to share - with the Romulan Republic. So all of a sudden, access to this essential Romulan artifact is dictated by a foreign government. And it’ll have to be, because the Free State and the New Empire won’t share. Copies of information alone won’t suffice; the object has value. What you’re saying is going to usher in a sudden Golden Age for a dispossessed people might instead launch a whole new set of problems.’

    Her jaw tightened. ‘That’s not a reason to not go looking.’

    ‘It’s a reason to be careful. And what about T’Sann himself?’ Airex’s voice dropped a pitch in volume, but lost nothing in intensity as he pointed to the deck below. ‘What happened to his team? Why did he only insist they were dead when we said we had to leave to rescue them? He seems awfully happy to abandon them if it means he can keep chasing his prize. Doesn’t that seem suspicious to you?’

    ‘I didn’t say it wasn’t suspicious. But you’re really bothered I’m listening to him and not to you. And you’re not the only one who can read people, Commander; if you really wanted to help the people of Teros, you’d have told Beckett that. You’re only standing on the humanitarian high ground to disagree with me. Why?’

    ‘Because your plan is rash,’ he said flatly. ‘Your plan requires you to go alone into the den of the Rebirth, whose release of T’Sann might be the only bargain they’ll give us. What if their reaction to us not leaving, but sending a Starfleet officer back for more is to take you captive, or use you to send a message?’

    ‘Then call in Endeavour and send in the Hazard Team, and we’re no worse off than we were at the start. I’ll keep an open comlink to the runabout the entire time.’ She shrugged. ‘I don’t think they’ll take the risk of murdering a Starfleet officer.’

    ‘If T’Sann is right, this movement has murdered at least three Daystrom Institute staffers. Stop acting like they’re here to talk.’ His shoulders sank despite his frustration, gaze more open than she had expected. ‘I understand and agree that we’ll need a different way to find the transponder. But the Rebirth have lost the upper hand by giving up T’Sann. Why can’t we try to win the people of Teros over with a hearts and minds campaign, and negotiate the handover of the transponder that way? Or if you really must, get your old friend to bloody well rob them.’

    ‘Those are all terribly long shots, especially if the Rebirth know the transponder’s important.’

    ‘And putting yourself in the jaws of the beast is even more dangerous if they do. But that’s not the point.’ He stepped sharply around the briefing table towards her. ‘You’re not doing it to get the transponder back. You’re doing it to talk to Vortiss about your father.’

    ‘What if I am? That’s my choice that I’m prepared to make, my own safety -’

    ‘And the safety of officers who are duty-bound to rescue you if you’re captured, duty-bound to save you if you get into trouble!’ He drew a deep, raking breath. ‘Knowing more isn’t going to bring him back.’

    Her eyes flashed as they locked on him. ‘For ten years, I thought my father was murdered for a debt he owed getting me off this rock. You know this. But it turns out there might be more to his death?’

    ‘There must be other ways for you to find out, other people on this world to ask -’

    ‘Like who? Caleste didn’t know the full story. It was ten years ago; who’s going to know except for Vortiss himself?’

    Airex’s jaw tightened. ‘You’d abandon Teros for this?’

    She drew a tight, frustrated breath. ‘I can double-cross Vortiss if I have to, you know this. He can’t stop us from going back on our agreement and launching a relief mission once we get what we want. So the only downside is a personal risk, and that’s a risk I’m willing to take, a risk I want to take.’

    ‘Your safety isn’t your personal and private affair on a mission like this!’

    ‘I’m the only person who can do this, the only person who can go there and the only person who can negotiate for the transponder and the information. You’re being over-cautious on how likely it is Vortiss will immediately turn violent, and you know it!’

    ‘And I think you’re bring reckless.’

    ‘Vor’s sake; if you ever understood me at all, Dav, you’d know I can’t let this go.’

    It had gone exactly as she’d hoped it wouldn’t. Exactly down the line of old scars and wounds, exactly as she’d expected when arguing her deepest hurt to someone who wore his face but didn’t listen like he would, didn’t answer like he would. Pain was compounded by pain, shock of the revelations from Caleste intensified by what, try as she might, she couldn’t stop from feeling like a betrayal as Davir tried to stop her.

    But then he said, ‘And if you ever understood me, Cara Sai, you’d know I have to ask you to stop,’ and the sparks she’d tried to cover turned into an inferno.

    For a moment, all she could do was stare at him and flatly say, ‘How dare you.’ Then the flames roared into her throat and she’d shoved him back. ‘How dare you? I told my true name to Davir Hargan, and you have made it abundantly clear that Davir Hargan is dead and that you killed him.’

    He’d taken a step back, but now he rallied, standing firm. ‘You know it is more complex than that -’

    ‘What I know is that Airex has taken every personal thing I told Dav and used it here to demand my compliance,’ she snapped. ‘What I know is - shit, you told Rourke I was from Teros, didn’t you.’ Realisation came like a hot flash, and the clarity brought only more fury. ‘You’ve tried to have me benched and sidelined throughout this mission. You insist that we’re nothing but colleagues, that the past is dead, and then you use our personal history to get under my skin and force me to see things your way. It’s not enough for you to just give orders, is it?’

    ‘I’m not going to apologise for having the memories and life of a man who cared deeply about you, even if I’m not Davir Hargan any more,’ Airex said firmly. ‘I know I’m the only one on Endeavour who has any understanding of what you’ve been through, and I know you won’t tell anyone. So, yes, I tried to look out for you. I told Rourke because I knew you wouldn’t talk to me, and I came looking for you last night because I know that losing your father destroyed you. I know you’re blinded by that pain so yes, I’ve tried to show you that you’re wrong rather than just brute force this!’ He visibly forced himself to calm down, chest heaving. ‘But if that’s how you see it, then fine: I order you to remain aboard the King Arthur. We’ll take Doctor T’Sann back to the ship and see what Captain Rourke has to say.’

    Finally, something approaching triumph surged in her. ‘That’s a shame. Doctor T’Sann left with Drake thirty minutes ago. I asked them to scout out if Vortiss is in the refectory, which he is, and notify me if he left. You can call Drake back, but you’re going to have a hell of a time convincing T’Sann to leave.’ A vicious smile tugged at her lips. ‘He’s the mission, after all. We should get down there.’

    Airex sputtered. ‘You -’

    ‘This conversation’s made it clear I owe you nothing, Commander. So let me make a few more things crystal: I don’t want you to so much as pretend you have a personal stake in my wellbeing any more. I don’t want to hear you blurring the lines between us to get your own way. And if you ever call me anything but “Lieutenant” again, I am going to get myself into Starfleet’s biggest court martial.’

    ‘Oh, there’ll be conversations with the captain before this is over, Lieutenant.’ He tapped his combadge. ‘Airex to Beckett. Get armed and equipped, we’re heading into the sanctuary district.’

    She’d turned away as he started making ready, headed for the hatchway leading to the surface, and even though he called after her, she did not wait. If he wanted to get Beckett and get armed, he’d be too many steps behind her to stop her, and she had no intention of being delayed any further. There would be consequences. She’d not just defied the away team’s leader; not just had a blazing personal row with him, but transparently manipulated circumstances so he couldn’t stop her getting her own way.

    But first, there would be a reckoning.

  • LadyBlueLadyBlue Member, Administrator, Moderator, Admiralty

    Kharth had a head start on Airex, and a Romulan in plain clothes could move through the crowds of Sanctuary District Alpha with far more freedom than a pair of armed Starfleet officers. So she got to the square first and spotted Drake, his red shoulders making him stand out like a sore thumb, the figure of T’Sann beside him much subtler.

    She didn’t want a delay, but he made a bee-line for her, scowling. ‘The commander says I should stop you. I have no idea what’s going on.’

    Kharth pointed at the refectory, with its Romulans Only signpost. ‘I’m going in there. Try to stop me and I’ll make this a public shoving match between a Romulan and a Starfleet officer. How do you think that’ll go?’

    T’Sann looked between them, brighter-eyed now he was getting what he wanted. ‘I’ll help,’ he told Drake cheerfully.

    Drake looked between them, even more sour-faced. ‘You better damn well tell Airex you slipped past me, and you better not get me or anyone shot over whatever this is.’

    She might have thanked him, but he looked too angry. She had, after all, strong-armed him into an impossible position, and Connor Drake was not a man to let her pretend otherwise. Instead she just nodded to T’Sann. ‘I’ll come back with the device.’

    ‘Thank you,’ he said earnestly. ‘If this gets you in trouble, I’m not without influence. I’ll do what I can.’ He pointed to the refectory. ‘Vortiss is inside.’

    Her confrontation with Airex had wilted the fig leaf that she was doing this for T’Sann. But if she’d started using him, now was not the time to stop, and she gave him a firm nod as she shouldered past them into the crowd.

    As before, everyone knew she wasn’t a local. Not any more. She was too well-dressed, too well-fed, and this time she had not shied away from carrying a phaser openly on her hip. Anyone who’d paid any attention - and she knew the Rebirth had paid attention to her - knew by now that she was Starfleet, and the eyes on her as she walked through the open gate of the refectory’s outdoor seating area, past its exclusionary sign, were warnings as much as observations.

    There are more of us than you.

    A subtle tap inside her jacket opened the comline between her and the runabout that could filter back to the whole team. Then she looked around the seated Romulans, all of them open in their staring, and raised her voice. ‘I want to speak to Vortiss.’

    When she turned to the front door, he was there. Big and broad, head shaved, more haggard in bearing and clothing than she remembered. He carried a sword on his hip now, as well as the armband of the Rebirth, but all she could remember was the brute who’d ruled the streets with an iron fist. The only change were the years piled on, and fresh illusions of grandeur.

    ‘Little Saeihr, isn’t it? Back after all these years,’ he rumbled. ‘I wondered why you didn’t take T’Sann and go, like I offered.’

    She opened her hands, tried to keep her body language unthreatening, and hoped he didn’t hear her heart pounding in her chest. ‘I want to talk.’

    He looked her over - then stepped back from the door and extended a hand. ‘Then let me be a host.’

    This would not be the main centre of operations for the Rebirth, she’d been told. It was too open a space; too many windows, too many lines of approach. Any Romulan would be allowed entrance, she suspected, but the Rebirth would fill it with their numbers, parade their strength, make themselves seem like the heart of Teros.

    And they did have the numbers. She counted twenty at a glance, just of those inside. More would be at the doors and back rooms, and more still elsewhere in the district. She was, as Airex had said, placing herself in the jaws of the beast.

    The beast himself offered a seat at a long table that had all the grandeur of a cafeteria in a prefab emergency relief shelter, but she took the bench without comment. ‘I was generous,’ said Vortiss. ‘Gave you T’Sann for nothing. And now you want more?’

    ‘I appreciate you saving both sides heartache and bloodshed,’ she said, forcing herself to keep her voice light. ‘That was a smart move.’

    ‘Don’t butter me up, Starfleet. You come back for the first time in ten years, you talk to your girl Caleste, you go weep at your daddy’s grave. Then you come to me. You got business. Let’s talk business.’

    That made it easier, at least. Dancing around with words did not suit the boiling in her veins. Kharth sat forward. ‘T’Sann had something on him he wants back. A technological device.’

    Vortiss grunted. ‘The old transponder. Junk. I guess not, if he wants it. What is it?’

    She shook her head. ‘That doesn’t matter. He’s an archaeologist, they like junk. He wants it back.’

    ‘Why does Starfleet want him to want it back? Bundle him into your runabout and go.’

    ‘Does it matter? I can offer you a good price.’

    ‘How do I know if it’s a good price if I don’t know what it’s worth?’ Vortiss pointed out, laying his meaty arms on the table.

    She swallowed. ‘Hand over the transponder, and Starfleet leaves.’

    ‘That’s what I wanted you to do when I gave you T’Sann. He wasn’t worth the trouble. But you’re still here, so I’ve still got trouble.’

    ‘We could be out there, dropping a relief centre at the edge of the district, feeding and supporting the people of Teros you need weak and desperate to turn to you for strength and protection. Instead, everyone’s seen me - who they know’s Starfleet, or will know soon enough - coming to negotiate. With you. They see us talking, and then they see Starfleet leaving. Not lifting a finger to help anyone. They see Starfleet recognising that Teros is yours.’

    Vortiss’s eyes narrowed. ‘All this for some measly junk.’

    ‘There’s more.’ The words almost caught in her throat from nerves. ‘Do you have the transponder here? If not, get it brought here. And I’ll explain the rest while we wait.’

    She had him, she could tell from the glint in his eye, and he brought out an old hand-held communicator. He flicked it open with a chirrup. ‘Caleste. Get that old bag of Doctor T’Sann’s and bring it down to the refectory. On the double.’

    Kharth watched as the affirmation came back, guilt pinching. ‘She works for you now?’

    ‘She’s a smart kid. You did a good job teaching her how to survive.’ Vortiss looked like he might say more, then shrugged. ‘I’m not saying we have a deal yet. Talk.’

    ‘I was told you killed my father,’ she blurted.

    His bark of laughter almost made her shoot him at once. ‘Is that what this is about? You want my neck? You think that’s a deal I’ll take?’

    ‘Except I know now he wasn’t killed on your say-so.’ He sobered at that, and she sat up. ‘That’s the other half of the deal. Tell me who killed him and why.’

    ‘And for that - for information about a man ten years dead - you’ll make Starfleet pull out of Teros?’ Vortiss’s lip curled. ‘And people wonder why we don’t have faith in Starfleet.’

    ‘Do you want me to set my personal feelings aside and tell my captain a different story?’

    He settled at that, scratching his stubbled cheek, then shrugged. ‘What the hell. Yeah, someone wanted Trenik. I do business with a lot of people, and I used to do business with some of the big fish running all sorts of arms and everything along this sector. So when one of them came to me, saying he wanted to talk to a local who might not be cooperative, I named my price and I walked him over to your old shelter and I let him and his team talk.’

    She frowned. ‘What did they want?’

    He shrugged again. ‘Apparently, after the Shinzon coup, the new Senate set up a bunch of caches about the empire of arms and equipment and ships, independent of the Navy and the Tal Shiar. That’d let loyalists arm and equip themselves if either went rogue again. Seems your father was involved in the setting up of these caches. They wanted what he knew about them, the location of them.’

    That made some sense. Her father had been a mathematician at a university since her birth, but he had for years before worked as a logistics officer with the Senate. Out of public service during the Shinzon event, he would have been seen as a trustworthy civilian figure who had the experience and expertise to assist in such an undertaking. Her throat tightened. ‘He didn’t give up that information.’

    ‘He did not,’ Vortiss sighed. ‘And he died for it. I’ll spare you the details.’

    Her hand twitched. She didn’t know if it wanted her phaser or his throat. ‘Who was this big fish?’

    ‘’The one who came here was a fella called Drage. Long-dead now, your Starfleet’s probably got files on him.’ Vortiss shook his head. ‘But he was just the agent. The one he was working for - the one who wanted me to help, who paid me to help - was the Myriad.’

    ‘Who the hell’s the Myriad?’

    ‘You really were gone from this neck of the woods a while.’ He clicked his tongue. ‘Time was, no drug deal went anywhere in the Neutral Zone, the Triangle, or the Borderlands without the Myriad’s involvement or blessing. He went quiet a few years back, been assumed dead, though I heard a rumour he had his fingers in some business down the Klingons’ way this year. No saying if it’s true.’

    ‘The Myriad wanted these weapons caches, and my father wouldn’t give up information on them. And he had him killed for it,’ Kharth said, voice low and tense.

    ‘That’s about it. Look, I’d be sorry, but business is business. You want more on the Myriad, I bet your Starfleet records have plenty. So you and I have no more issue over Trenik’s death.’ He gestured between them. ‘The Myriad wasn’t a man you say no to.’

    ‘Maybe not.’ She clenched and unclenched her hand. ‘I want everything you’ve got on him, though. Records of comms, transactions, however far back, however minor.’

    Vortiss leaned forward. ‘That’ll take me some time. So here’s my offer: you take the transponder when it arrives, leave me with means of getting in touch, and get the fuck off my world. And so I know you won’t screw me over, I send you everything I’ve got on the Myriad in two weeks, when you’re long gone and not about to turn back to cry over some refugees.’

    Her jaw tightened. ‘How can I trust you to do that?’

    ‘How can I trust you? And I’m the one who’s already given you a freebie letting T’Sann go.’

    Kharth looked at the table, at her white-knuckled grip on the edge she forced herself to loosen. ‘Alright. That’s a deal. Everything you have on him.’

    ‘Can’t promise it’ll help. But I bet Starfleet doesn’t have this kind of direct records of his dealings.’ Vortiss looked her over. ‘There’s one more thing I’ll need from you.’

    Her throat got tighter as she listened.

    * *

    Beckett dropped down from the roof of the nearest prefab, landing in the dust next to Drake. ‘They’re still in there, sir,’ he said to Airex as he was helped back up. ‘No sign of any trouble. They’re just talking. Someone else approached the table, but it looks like they might be handing over the transponder?’

    T’Sann let out a sigh of relief. ‘Good.’

    Airex could have throttled him. ‘Then why did she turn off her com?’ It wasn’t as if Kharth was being particularly cooperative today. But her one grace had been to share their conversation, so while he waited outside he could hear every excruciating detail of the exchange, and feel sicker and sicker with every moment.

    Beckett dusted off his hands and shrugged. ‘It doesn’t look like she’s in trouble.’

    Less than a minute later, Kharth was hurled through the refectory doors and back into the square. The officers had had to jostle through the crowd, the masses unsure if they wanted the spectacle or to be far from violence, and Airex found himself shoving through the throng of people ahead of the others.

    As he watched, Vortiss emerged from the doors, as big and solid as solid as he expected. Kharth had landed in the dirt and he advanced on her, hand on the hilt of his sheathed sword. Blood caked her nose and chin. When Vortiss spoke, his voice was loud enough to boom into the crowd. ‘I don’t expect Starfleet back, you hear?’

    Airex sent a woman flying as he burst to the front of the crowd, phaser snapping to his hand. ‘Back off.’

    Vortiss looked up from Kharth to him, gaze unimpressed. ‘This isn’t your world. You left it. We don’t need you.’

    But there was a laboriousness to his voice, Airex thought, and while she looked scuffed and bloodied, Kharth got to her feet without much difficulty, raising a placating her hand. The other held a bundle against her. ‘We’ll go,’ she said, and when he realised he’d never heard her so amenable in her life, he understood.

    This is for show.

    Kharth still stumbled as she made it to the crowd, and despite his frustration and churning insides, he grasped her shoulder to keep her steady as they backed off.

    ‘You didn’t need to turn off the comms, you know,’ he hissed.

    ‘I thought you might make it difficult if you knew he intended to rough me up a bit,’ she replied, and jerked out of his grasp. ‘Sir.’

    He should have been furious at her, but guilt was making him too sick to his stomach to conjure either the feeling or his part of the show. The locals parted before them now, happy to let them get out of the way, and they reached the team.

    T’Sann advanced on Kharth without shame. ‘You have it?’

    Airex could have punched him, but she handed him the bundle. ‘Here, Karlan.’

    ‘This had better be worth it,’ Airex said through gritted teeth. He turned to Drake before more protests could come. ‘Back to the runabout. We’re returning to Endeavour.’

    Beckett blew out his cheeks. ‘So soon? Just as this place was looking like a great holiday spot.’

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