Almost overnight, the Sanctuary District A had grown a new neighbourhood on its southern periphery. Even though Thawn was now prone to squeaking and hiding at the sight of her, Kharth had to acknowledge Endeavour’s Chief of Operations was damned good at her job to deploy a relief centre on the surface in a matter of hours.
For the moment, the only prefabs were to shelter the industrial replicator, medical centre, refectory, and to shield the staff from the elements. Perhaps, if they had more time, replacement housing could make it into the district itself. In the meantime, anyone and everyone was welcome to queue patiently, have their needs reported to and checked by operations staff, while medical saw to injuries and illnesses and a quick calculation of necessity made sure supplies were replicated as swiftly as possible.
The last day had focused on emergency needs. In forty-eight hours, Thawn said they might move onto more long-term sustainability, like ration packs and clothing. Anything but the most desperately-damaged shelters would probably not be maintained or replaced in less than a week. And all along, Thawn calculated how much she could resupply the industrial replicator already on the surface, while Cortez and a team worked with locals to conduct maintenance and see how much life they could get out of the aged and weathered equipment.
All under the watchful eye of the Security Department, just in case someone decided to make matters difficult. Kharth had kept a light touch with her team; resentment against Starfleet might mean people would stay away, but she didn’t expect troublemakers. She had also kept them out of the district, except for a couple of officers with Cortez and her people. Without word of violence, sending Starfleet officers down the streets of the district was a presumption she couldn’t justify.
Trust had to be earned. And nothing, at least, had gone wrong yet.
But her first long shift on the surface was finishing, and she’d just ducked out of the prefab shelter for her team after briefing Juarez on the takeover to see Drake crossing the yard of the relief camp. He’d spotted her first, and given only a stiff wave.
With an unsteady breath, she approached him. ‘Connor!’
His jaw was tight. ‘What do you want?’
That was worse than she’d expected. ‘I guess I don’t get to just say “hi” until I give you an apology, huh?’
He folded his arms across his chest. ‘I try to not give a shit about whatever the situation is between you and Airex. But that needs you to not drag it all over the yard at me. Or use me in your stupid power-plays against him.’
She winced. ‘I knew he’d never agree with my plan.’
‘Can’t imagine why he’d want to stop you walking onto the turf of a probably-murderous gang to offer them this world on a platter.’
‘I’m not proud of what I did -’
‘Hey.’ He lifted his hands. ‘You don’t have to justify selling out your home to me. I’d probably let New Sydney burn if we were in orbit. But I think you care more about this place than I do there. You can’t come crying to me about your guilt so the other hard-up kid makes you feel better about it.’
Her shoulders slumped. ‘Not much I can say to that.’
Drake shrugged. ‘Cut out the personal crap while pretending it doesn’t exist next time. Either deal with it, or stop kidding yourself.’ He shifted his weight. ‘Drinks tomorrow night in the lounge. Relief team’s going to need to blow off steam after feeding a hundred malnourished kids. I’m making Adrienne sing.’
It almost sounded like a friend trying to move on without giving forgiveness. But Kharth could see the change in him, see the masks shift, and she realised it was more than that. She and Drake hadn’t exactly been close, but they’d been friends, the outsiders and newcomers to Endeavour who’d had to fight for their place and bonding over the experience. He wouldn’t have discussed their shared ground struggling to fit in with Starfleet otherwise. Now he would drink and party and laugh with her, play the jocular fool he’d acted from the start, but she didn’t think he’d share like that with her again.
She gave him only a tenuous commitment, and he went to no pains to force more from her, the two parting ways with the light, casual air of passing acquaintances. With a sigh, Kharth turned away to head to the pop-up transporter pad that made travel from the surface easier, and almost ran into the slight figure of one of the Teros refugees who’d become separated from the main crowd.
Caleste backed off at once, and though Kharth could see this was no accident, that she’d sought her out, she already looked like she was having second thoughts. ‘You’re still here.’
Kharth straightened, throat tight. ‘Me? Or the ship?’
The sullen shrug was fitting for the teenager Caleste had become. But then, she had good reason to be sullen. ‘Vortiss is gone. Cleared out his servers and the gang’s out of the old comms tower. He expected you were going to come for him after the double-cross.’
There was little hope of an outfit like Vortiss’s having data backups, even if she went after him. And he’d certainly have wiped what she was after. Kharth rubbed the back of her neck. ‘If we do this right, I expect he’ll stay gone. We can outfit your industrial replicator with material to last you… I don’t know, that’s not my department. A while.’
A guarded glint entered Caleste’s gaze. ‘Someone else will come along.’
‘Maybe. But not today. We can give you today.’
The girl kicked at the dirt. ‘I thought you were going to stick to the deal. Take what you wanted, get data from Vortiss. Let everyone see him kick you off the planet. Nobody would have stood up to him after that.’
Kharth swallowed bile and guilt. ‘I needed to be sure he had the transponder and wouldn’t hold it over me.’ The lie tasted even more bitter, but she didn’t think she could tell Caleste the truth without throwing up. I would have abandoned you. Again.
Caleste gave a nod that was more a duck of the head. ‘Mum’s still around. We just got kicked out to a smaller shelter. Tion moved on, got taken on as a deckhand on some freighter, said he’d get us passage away eventually… that was three years ago. Not heard anything since. So we’re somewhere smaller. She’d… I bet she’d like to see you. Some time.’
‘I’ll be here a few days. I can bring…’ Kharth’s head spun at the options. Years? Atonement? Wine? ‘I’ll bring something.’
Another nod, but the gangly youth seemed a little brighter for it. ‘Yeah. Yeah, I’ll see you.’ She hesitated. ‘Thanks. For doing this. For not leaving us.’
When Kharth left, she knew she had a new secret that she would tear up before she whispered it into the fire.
The return to Endeavour was relieving for more than the temperature regulation, the cool corridors welcome after the dusty heat of Teros. The decisions of the past few days, the way the world and the memories it evoked had moulded her feelings and her choices, sloughed away within bright, clean Starfleet halls. She was not Saeihr, refugee of Teros. She was Lieutenant Kharth.
Her arrival in the A&A lab was cautious, and she only stepped inside once she’d checked Airex was still in his office the next section down. Beckett had installed the transponder in the main archaeology lab so it could be cleaned and examined with all due care, and T’Sann had installed himself not long after his conversations with Rourke.
Days after his captivity, he had less the look of a desperate vagrant. His hair was tied up in rounded knot, beard trimmed, and in clean new clothes with the worst of the experience behind him, he had more the look of a spry academic in his element than a recently abducted adventurer. The transponder was for now elevated in a containment field in the centre, a sterile environment where it could be scanned and assessed ahead of maintenance, a projection of the results scrawling next to it before T’Sann.
But despite the feast of details and discoveries ahead of him, he turned away from the display at her arrival with a small, pleased smile. ‘Saeihr. I’m glad you came by, after all.’
She wasn’t sure what she wanted to say, so advanced on the containment field to study the transponder properly for the first time. She was no engineer or historian, however, and could think nothing of the device other than that it looked old. ‘How’s it going here?’
‘Still scanning and making sure it can even be rendered functional. This is delicate work for something that’s been kicked around a lot. The surface?’
‘There’s a lot of work to do.’ She didn’t look away from the transponder. ‘I expect we won’t be able to follow any leads of yours for a week or more.’
‘That’s fine, I have plenty to do. Your captain hasn’t made any commitments, but he’s said he’ll consider my findings at the end of the relief project. I’m speaking with the Daystrom Institute and hoping they’ll support Starfleet rendering assistance. I might be here for a while.’ His smile softened. ‘I’m sorry for how much you had to give up.’
She glanced at him at last. Of course, he would have been in earshot as her conversation with Vortiss came across the open comms. ‘Don’t be,’ she said at length. ‘I’ll find the Myriad by other means. He’s probably dead anyway.’
‘I still appreciate you securing the transponder. You’ve gone above and beyond for the Romulan people, Saeihr.’
‘I didn’t do this for the Romulan people,’ she snapped. ‘I used the transponder to get in the door with Vortiss and to justify my choices.’ She swallowed the rising bitterness. ‘For the first time in ten years, I thought I had a chance to do something about my father’s death. And it was like everything else faded away and stopped being important. Everything I’d learnt, everything I’d become…’ She shook her head. ‘I almost sold out an entire world, what was once my home, for some half-baked shot at a path to vengeance. All it took was twenty-four hours for me to forget who I was.’
T’Sann gave a deep sigh, brow furrowed in quiet thought. Eventually he said, ‘I don’t presume to know you, Saeihr. But I know how pain blinds us. How trauma scours away the edges of who we are. How, when our raw nerves are exposed, we don’t think, we just feel. And I think you sell yourself and your choices short.’
She gave a bitter laugh. ‘I would have promised Vortiss Teros itself if he’d given me what I wanted.’
‘You didn’t argue for keeping the deal with Captain Rourke. I saw how you outfoxed and defied Commander Airex on the surface; if you’d wanted to, you could have defended leaving Teros. The moment you could breathe, you realised. And that’s not all.’ T’Sann reached for the controls on the containment field, and adjusted the display to show both the carbon and quantum dating of the transponder. ‘Look at that and tell me you didn’t do what you did for our people.’
Kharth’s eyes dragged over the dates and analysis, read of this ancient piece of her people’s birth turned to numbers even as its solid mass hovered in front of her. ‘I don’t…’
But T’Sann pressed on, voice going urgent. ‘So many of the Romulan people, of us, have lost everything. You didn’t just lose your father, Saeihr, you lost your world and your home and your people. That’s not a wound that heals. I saw the look in your eyes when I told you of the Koderex, when I told you what it would mean for our people. You weren’t just trying to avenge your father’s death, you were seeking comprehension of all your losses.’
She dropped her gaze, staring at the metal rim of the control panel. ‘He’d be so ashamed of me.’
‘I can’t tell you what he’d think,’ T’Sann accepted. ‘What I think is that you stumbled, and people around you dragged you through – Airex may have been furious, but he didn’t stop you in the end, and he didn’t report you for insubordination. He got you over the finish line. And now you’re here with clarity.’ Before she could contemplate his assessment of Airex too hard, he’d pressed on, and she let her mind banish the ramifications. ‘I cannot give you answers about your father. I can give you comprehension of your loss.’
Bile went down easier when she swallowed this time, and she looked up to meet his gaze. ‘Find the Koderex.’
‘Help me persuade Captain Rourke to assist, help me learn all I can of the transponder and the Vomal and the old star charts, help me uncover untold secrets of the birth of our people. Help me make the lost a little less lost.’
She glanced back at the transponder. ‘I’m not sure I have the best skills to help you.’
‘You have an upbringing in Romulan society; you’ve internalised more of the culture than I could ever learn,’ T’Sann said simply. ‘No, you may not be an historian or a linguist or a technician, but don’t worry. This can be a team effort.’
As if summoned, the doors hissed open and T’Sann straightened with the ghost of a satisfied smile. ‘Ensign Beckett, glad you could join us. And you must be Lieutenant Lindgren.’
Beckett and Lindgren approached the containment field and display readout, the lieutenant looking wryly amused. ‘What can I say, Doctor? You made a compelling case.’
Beckett looked at her, affronted. ‘I recruited your help.’
‘Obviously using the doctor’s arguments.’ Lindgren glanced at Kharth with, she thought, an unwelcome air of astuteness, before returning her gaze to the transponder. ‘If I can be of assistance getting this to talk to any ship like it still out there, I’d love to help.’
T’Sann clapped his hands together. ‘Grand! We have a lot of work ahead of us, but a lot of time to fill until I have to persuade your Captain Rourke. Shall we be about it, then? Uncovering the birth of a culture?’
Beckett cast Kharth a sidelong look. ‘Joining us on a once in a lifetime treasure hunt, then, Lieutenant?’
Kharth gave a gentle snort, feeling a little more like her old self, feeling guilt skitter to dark corners. Somewhere inside her rumbled Airex’s warnings about T’Sann, but louder were T’Sann’s words only moments ago. Perhaps she had lost herself in a quest for answers or vengeance, perhaps her pain had blinded her. But there was a pain here she could do something about, and for more than herself. ‘You’re joining us, Ensign. In reigniting the heart of a people.’