Lilitia: Okay, change of plans, I'm going to host the whole fiction on here.

However, due to the awkward way in which I have to upload chapters to FictionPress it is unlikely to be the most up-to-date version. The most up-to-date version can be found on Royal Road (/fiction/36579/endeavour)

Book 1: Breaking Cover. Introduction - What kind of problem?

Ali stopped, with a barely audible surprised gasp and threw herself back against the wall to hide herself from view. This was risky enough already, and she didn't need to get caught. Not yet. She waited until the two voices had died down before she moved again. It was dark, but her eyes had long since adjusted. She crept forward again, staying close to the wall and checking the pistol on her belt.

She just needed access to one room, one room which had the information she wanted. She reached out with her telepathic senses. She used them sparingly because of the effort and energy it required, but these senses allowed her to determine if there were other minds around her. It was kind of like being able to judge where something was by hearing it, but more like a nebulous, tactile sensation.

There was nothing but the two guards who'd just passed her. She continued forward slowly and came to the door she wanted. It appeared the same as everything else, cold grey metal against cold grey metal. She looked at the small number pad next to it, input a number, and the door slid open. She grinned. So predictable, she thought.

She hurried into the even darker room, and the door gracefully slid shut behind her. This room had no windows and one console in the middle. She approached it and pressed a button. "Remember me?" She asked quietly, thankful for her gloves - she didn't need her DNA being left behind.

"Voice, recognised."

"Quietly," Ali scolded the computer.

"Query, unrecognised."

"It's simple, just be quiet," Ali replied, muting the voice assistant. "Now, computer, what is the location of Rear Admiral Grey?" The screen flickered and it simply said; the Endeavour.

Ali rolled her eyes in frustration with herself. Had it been so long that she'd forgotten something as basic as knowing to make queries specific? "Where is the Endeavour?" This time the reply just said; restricted.

"Don't you trust me any more?" She asked rhetorically, as she started pressing buttons to override the usual protocols. It didn't take her long to bypass the restrictions, and she got the required coordinates. "Thank you," she said, and as the screen told her she was welcome she shut it all down again, and unmuted the computer. She didn't care if they traced her eventually, but she might as well prolong the chase.

She crept back to the door and cast her senses out, wondering where the guards had gotten to. Sensing nothing, she pressed the release for the door, and it slid open for her. She glanced around, and then hurried back the way she had come. She was almost worried how easy it was for her to get out of the complex, and back to her small ship, the Hotpot. "C'mon, girl, we've got to get out of here," she said to it, as she slid into her chair and initiated the launch sequence. It was really a two man craft, but it was easy enough for one pilot to manage, especially one as good as Ali. She got it airborne and then travelled slowly across the surface, barely above it, until she was out of range of the complex before taking off for outer space.

She grinned as she blasted her way through space at speeds which had been thought impossible centuries ago. She ran a hand through her blonde hair, haphazardly retying it out of her face, and relaxed deeper into her chair. The Hotpot might have been a small vessel, but that gave it speed, allowing her to catch up with the Endeavour faster than she would have in a cruiser. Luckily for her the Endeavour was in orbit, which made it all the easier for her to try and break in. She thought about just using the comm, but she imagined by now USEP would have figured out she was the one who had broken in and therefore she'd be back on the wanted list.

Historically NASA had become Earth's sole space program, responsible for both research and the fleet of exploratory and defensive ships, rebranding as the International Aeronautics and Space Administration (IASA), and eventually - through the negotiation and creation of several treaties with other species - merged into the United Space Exploration Program (USEP).

As she dropped into the solar system she engaged the Hotpot's stealth mode, which wasn't quite a cloak, but it would mean that they wouldn't notice her unless they had a good set of eyes or she fired on them. She got in close, then used her beamer to transport herself into their lower personnel decks. She waited for a moment, seeing if the alarms had gone off, but they didn't so she set off towards the engineering ducts to try and get to the bridge.

She had almost reached an access point when she spotted a pair of crew members walking in the opposite direction, deep in conversation with each other. She considered pausing at a console and pretending to be doing maintenance, but as she wasn't in uniform it would look suspicious. She decided instead to continue walking as if it were perfectly normal for her to be there, that she was just an off-duty crewman on her way to something. When they noticed her, she nodded as if greeting them and kept going. She could loop back or find another way in.

They were, however, more observant than she had hoped for and one stepped into her path to prevent her making a break for it as the other demanded, "who are you?"

Ali knew security personnel when she saw them. "I could ask you the same question," she replied, as the first quickly confiscated her pistol. "It's on the lowest setting and I'm not about to try and shoot you."

The second one activated the communicator woven into his uniform. "Commander Wood, we have a problem on deck 21."

"What kind of problem?"

"Intruder." That got his attention, and the commander was soon on his way down. Ali was vaguely amused by the whole thing, and just leant against the wall next to her.

By her calculations it took him longer than necessary to reach them. It was probably some kind of power play designed to make an intruder as uncomfortable as possible, Ali figured when he finally arrived. He had the height to be intimidating - a good half a foot on Ali, who was just over average height - but it was all rather ruined by his immaculately neat appearance. Ali wasn't sure she'd ever seen the purple shade off-white top and black trousers of the USEP uniform worn that neatly. Even his dark brown hair was combed to perfection. She briefly wondered if he'd even tolerate a five o'clock shadow besmirching his pale chin.

What a picture she must present to by contrast, all second hand gear that had seen better days, her trusty green jacket covering the scraggy remains of her old uniform top. Her hands resting on the sturdy belt that had been home to her equipment - scanner, pistol, communicator, and assorted other tools - before she'd just had them confiscated, an expression of curious defiance on her face. "Who are you?" He demanded.

"Does it matter? I mean, you're going to throw me in the brig either way," Ali countered, amusement in her voice.

If anything he managed to frown at her more. "Damn straight." Ali actually smiled at that, and his astonishment almost showed on his face.

"But, before you do, I would like to speak with Rear Admiral Grey," Ali asked sweetly.


"I have information I believe he'd be interested in."

"And how do I know you're not just here to assassinate him?"

"If that were true, why would I have let you find me?"

Wood - who by now Ali was assuming was their head of security - glared at her, but she was unfazed. Compared to some of the characters she'd met on her travels, this man was pretty tame. "Take her to the brig," he decided.

Ali shrugged. "Just tell him the name Bert Barker, and see if he isn't interested in what I know," she said, allowing herself to be frogmarched to the brig by the two officers.


Meanwhile, on the bridge of the Endeavour, Rear Admiral Robert Grey was waiting for news from the surface. Years of experience had taught him that he should be thankful for diplomatic missions, meaning that his crew and himself were in relative safety, but he couldn't help but find them tediously boring at times. He had been pacing the bridge, his long stride hindering the attempt to dispel his nervous energy before forcing himself to sink back into his command chair. Even then one hand was resisting tapping his impatience on the chair arm as the other subconsciously rubbed his temple, just in front of where the grey was showing in his short blonde hair.

"Any news, Lartyne?" He asked, glancing at the relatively new ensign manning the communication station nearby. He found it fascinating how the ship's interfaces were practical for species with such different hands as humans and yertans. Yertans had a pincer where a human thumb, fore and middle fingers would be, though they had two additional, webbed digits.

The light glinted off her polished, pale carapace as she turned to reply "no, sir." Her fuchsia eyes - set in a light pink chelonian face - held his gaze as she waited to see if there were any further questions or orders. He thanked her and she turned back to monitor the frequencies again.

Grey resisted sighing out loud and instead forced himself to relax into his chair. He was grateful that a few moments later his second in command reappeared. "Report?"

Commander Benjamin Wood had spent his entire return journey trying to think of the best way to summarise the strange woman who'd broken onto their ship to his commanding officer. He wasn't sure he had gotten anywhere. "I'm running her through our databases now, but she wouldn't tell me who she is. I think she's ex-USEP. She did tell me to give you a message though," Wood reported, and Grey raised an eyebrow as if to prompt him. "Bert Barker."

Up until then Grey had been curious but not overly concerned by the incident, but that name changed everything. Confusion settled onto Grey's features as he tried to make sense of it all, but any answer he thought of just created a whole host of new questions. "Are you sure?" He asked and Wood nodded. "Frost, you have the bridge," Grey decided, not even looking at his helmswoman, who had turned sharply at the mention of the name.

"Aye, sir," Lieutenant Claire Frost replied, trying to ascertain what was going on. She might have been young - though not as young as Lartyne - yet she had been in Grey's core crew since she had first been assigned to a ship, therefore he trusted her judgement and had made her defacto third in command of his bridge staff. Her short, natural ringlets bounced slightly as she tilted her head as she scrutinised the two men and her russet skin crinkled around her nose and eyes as she concentrated on them as they left the bridge.

When Grey and Wood arrived at the brig some of Grey's suspicions were confirmed and he actually let out a laugh - a mix of relief and amusement - as he recognised the woman patiently waiting there. "Commander Wood, meet ex-captain Alice Turner," Grey introduced.

"Since when were you a Rear Admiral?" Ali teased, as Grey had them release her. Though he noticed her grin didn't reach her eyes.

Grey almost nodded to himself as the light look from his face disappeared. Of course it wasn't so easy to go back to the way things used to be, she hadn't forgiven him yet. "Not very long," Grey replied civilly, as Ali stepped out of her cell. "How's ex-USEP life?"

"Dreadful," Ali replied. "But a damn sight better than USEP life," she quipped. Grey knew that wasn't true. She'd enjoyed her time when she'd been there, but she hadn't left on good terms, and he couldn't say he blamed her bitterness after their treatment of her. He watched as she retrieved her equipment from the two men who'd captured her.

"Seeing as you hot footed it across the sector to talk to me, I'm guessing it's urgent?" Grey checked. Ali nodded and Grey indicated for her and Wood to follow him. This was not a conversation for the brig.

As they walked Wood caught him up to whisper in his ear. "Why are you trusting her?"

"Because I know her," Grey replied calmly, but his tone brooked no room for argument.

Even if it was his prerogative as commanding officer to use any of the ships facilities as whim dictated, they were well enough supplied with conference and meeting rooms that they were able to find an empty one. Once the door slid shut behind them Grey indicated for them to sit down and they naturally took opposite sides allowing him to take the head of the table as he joined them.

A smile threatened to crack his façade as he caught the way they were warily watching each other, Wood sat upright and Ali slouched opposite. He quickly pressed a few buttons on the computer built into the table to bring up some files. "To catch you both up, Ali is on record as the youngest USEP captain. Two years ago she was dismissed - officially for disobedience and mutiny - but despite her reputation and actions since then she can be trusted," Grey explained, "Wood is one of the best tactical officers USEP has managed to train, already a gold moon under his belt and service on a number of high importance - and classified - missions."

"You do realise I could just hack into the computer, right?" Ali teased. Grey was unsurprised she knew full well that the 'classified' had been added to prevent her from asking questions they wouldn't answer.

"This is the disobedience charge, isn't it?" Wood countered causing Ali to turn her most innocent expression on him and he frowned in response.

"Ali, Bert Barker, from the start," Grey prompted, trying not to let his amusement side track them all from the important matters.

Ali sat up so that she could take control of the computer from Grey, bringing up the relevant files. "Bert Barker, former lieutenant commander of the Endeavour, jailed for life in a kentarian prison for trying to blow up an entire planet," she explained, "we thought we'd dismantled his terrorist network - though it wasn't a formal association - but he was more cunning than we initially thought. He managed to make a lot of powerful friends, and was smart enough to have a backup plan in case he failed."

"We would know if he had escaped," Grey added when Ali paused.

She nodded unhappily. "It's a work in progress," She admitted, "I've managed to uncover communications between Barker and the leader of Taurr. They have an arrangement in place for if Barker ever ended up incarcerated. They're going to break him out."

"How can you know that?" Wood asked.

"I socialise in… odd circles now," Ali replied honestly, "I pick up gossip from every corner of the sector and sometimes beyond." She paused before adding, "but this isn't just gossip. Due to longstanding history between the planets Kentar and Taurr they keep close tabs on each other, and Kentar have become increasingly concerned about a significant increase in activity. The taurrans are on the move."

"If Bert Barker does get free then we're in for one hell of a ride," Grey said, more to himself than anyone.