Part of USS Endeavour: A Handful of Dust and Bravo Fleet: The Stormbreaker Campaign

A Handful of Dust – 10

Seashine Hotel, Whixby
January 2400
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Golden sunlight seared through the Seashine’s best rooms, as if the island idyll beyond could not contain all this brightness. Thawn looked from the breathtaking view of Sanditor’s sweeping resort buildings, the gently buzzing crowds of genteel tourism, and the sparkling ocean, to turn to the bedroom door.

Rhade stood there, apprehensive. He’d changed out of uniform only grudgingly, choosing a light linen suit that kept his appearance respectable, professional. ‘Are you settled?’

She looked at her bag, sat at the foot of the king-sized bed, cracked open only for her to pull out her PADDs. She had not yet changed. ‘I’m not sure what that looks like.’

‘I see that now. I, ah. We should talk.’

Because what this catastrophe of the century needs, Thawn thought, mindful of guarding her thoughts on a planet of Betazoids, is another boundary for you and me to awkwardly navigate. ‘I – yes. I don’t -’

‘We have more than one room,’ said Rhade, gesturing to the rest of the suite behind him.

‘We have a lounge, a bedroom, and a bathroom. That’s not exactly a spare room.’

‘I can ask for a futon to be brought up, surely. Or bring something from the Prydwen.’

‘You’re here so we can present a united front, and so it’s not just me who has a foot in the door with the Twelfth House. If people know I’ve got you sleeping on the couch, that makes us look like liars,’ said Thawn, and winced when she realised that was exactly what they were right now.

‘You want us to share a bed?’

It was her turn to pause. ‘The sofa looks comfortable,’ she said at last. She had dragged them into a trap, she realised; either their arrangement was purely formal, something for the distant future, in which case Rhade had no influence with the Nyders anyone would particularly care about. Or they were sincerely committed to the match, in which case they had to act like it.

‘That’s perfectly fine, Rosara.’ Even on a Betazoid world, they kept their communication verbal. It was not that Betazoids eschewed speech, but intimates could communicate much more quickly and subtly telepathically, unafraid of what implications or feelings might shine through the process, baring themselves to one another. This was not yet how Rosara Thawn and Admant Rhade worked, however.

She drew a deep breath. ‘Have we heard from Hale?’

‘She’s said she’s walking the resort, likely to scope out the influentials. I’d say we should do the same, but it occurs that you and I are something of a novelty at a time when the people of Sanditor are desperate to pretend a calamity is not a mere three hundred kilometres away.’

‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ Thawn mused, then she stiffened. ‘You’re saying we should look like the latest noble couple to grace Sanditor with our presence, so anyone who wants anything out of the Nyders – or just to brush up against us – comes to us?’

‘Quite. I thought afternoon drinks in the hotel bar. It’s one of the higher-profile establishments of the island, I think. I’m sure we’ll be spotted.’

She turned away, shaking her head with irritation rather than rejection. ‘This is stupid.’ At his surprised look, she sighed. ‘I mean – you’re right. This is stupid that Falyn won’t even talk to us about opening a refugee shelter, so right now the best way to help the Paulson Nebula is to have a delightful cocktail on an island paradise.’

‘I did not want to speak out of turn in front of Ms Hale; the task ahead of her is significant,’ he said gently, ‘but I agree. I think this is preposterous. Falyn is acting like a disgrace.’

It was one thing for her to think that, Thawn pondered, and another thing entirely for someone else to say it. Then her PADD chimed, another saviour in the long line of convenient interruptions, but her relief did not last long when she grabbed it.

‘That idiot,’ she snarled.

Rhade advanced, cautious and confused. ‘Who?’

‘Beckett!’ She turned the PADD around. The alert had been him connecting her to whatever social feed he’d found around Sanditor. Already he’d flooded it with status updates making it perfectly clear the son of Vice Admiral Beckett was on Sanditor and ready to party.

Rhade peered at the photograph Nate Beckett had taken of himself in front of the view from his hotel window, already changed out of uniform. ‘“Sun’s out, guns out”?’ he read dubiously.

‘This isn’t a holiday –

‘It looks like he’s already getting responses. He’ll network with people we might not reach?’ Rhade ventured.

She stared at him, then tossed the PADD on the bed. ‘Head down to the bar. I’ll get changed and meet you there.’

But she stared at the PADD even when he’d gone. A part of her considered sending a message to Lindgren, up in orbit, but she knew Endeavour had too much on its plate for her to distract the communications officer with her personal life and her ongoing vendetta against Nate Beckett’s face.

Lips thin, she connected the PADD to Sanditor’s networks and straightened. ‘Patch me through to Falyn Nyder’s office.’ Falyn had insisted she was busy, but that had been in front of Hale, and indeed, the line went through after only a few seconds’ waiting, her cousin’s face hovering through the holographic display above the PADD.

Rosara, I hope everything’s alright, the room’s fine and all that? It’s been so splendid for you to make time to visit…

‘Falyn, let’s not beat about the bush,’ Thawn said, because diplomacy had never been her strong point. ‘You know why I’m here.’

Hesitation flashed across the projection of Falyn’s face. ‘You’re a member of the Twelfth House and my guest. But the Thawns don’t have the right to dictate the Nyder’s business and cultural activities.’

For a heartbeat, Thawn thought about getting Aunt Anatras involved, and then remembered communication systems would make that impossible. That was possibly for the best; involving Aunt Anatras would certainly have a cost. ‘I don’t want to dictate anything. But I’d like to think I could make the situation clearer for you. Obviously I have the family’s best interests at heart, I’m not here to hurt your situation here on Sanditor.’

I don’t know if you understand my situation on Sanditor.’ Falyn looked away. ‘I wasn’t lying earlier. I have a lot of meetings this afternoon, especially if we’re to coordinate relief efforts with your lovely team. The situation on this world is… complicated.

‘Then explain it to me.’

I can’t right now.’ Then she brightened. ‘I know! You should take the day to see Sanditor, meet some of the people, I’m sure everyone’s keen to know you. And then we’ll do breakfast tomorrow morning?

Tomorrow morning. A whole evening of nothing but indulgent socialising and leisure while families across the Paulson Nebula lost their homes and had nowhere to go. But Thawn could not think of a counter to Falyn’s reasoning, and could hardly force her. She nodded. ‘Alright. Breakfast.’

Splendid, darling. Bring that Adamant with you; isn’t he so handsome and polite?’

Thawn fought a grimace. ‘I will. Goodbye, Falyn.’

It took her a while to make it down to the hotel bar. She had not packed perhaps as she should, had not prepared for the apparent life of leisure Sanditor demanded. So it took a little digging and a little fighting with the hotel replicator before she could find a sun dress that was lower cut than she was happy with but followed the latest fashions, and join Rhade.

The hotel bar had a low hum of activity, the Seashine’s guests returning after a day of the diversion and leisure of the island. She recognised some faces from her research en route to Whixby, scouring the networks for any hint of which influential figures might have arrived before the Century Storm. Rhade had taken a table on the terrace, like most of the guests, and sat with an undeniable air of tension despite the relaxed atmosphere, the drink in front of him.

‘You look lovely,’ he said as she arrived, and Thawn had to fight the impression that while he was sincere in his courtesies, they were still obligatory. Before she’d barely sat, he was continuing. ‘I’ve been recognised by two guests already saying how grateful they are that Endeavour is helping the Azure Chain.’

‘That’s not a good thing?’ she said, feeling a little underwhelmed by his reaction considering how much time she’d spent fighting with the concept of a sun dress, and then guilty because people were dying everywhere.

‘It’s the tone,’ said Rhade stiffly. ‘Like it’s happening a million light-years away, and that now Endeavour’s here, they don’t have to worry about it.’ He sipped his drink, and she recognised it as a light, non-alcoholic cordial.

‘We’re having breakfast with Falyn tomorrow. That might be a chance to get the lay of the land. But we have to deal with these people, the guests, the board members. Falyn can’t unilaterally tell them to do anything.’

‘She’s their leader. She should lead by example,’ he said simply.

Before she could counter that, there was a cry of delight from the open doorways to the bar, and a middle-aged Betazoid couple in summer finery swept out towards them, accompanied by a straight-backed waiter rolling a bottle in an ice bucket.

‘Mistress Thawn! Mister Rhade!’ The woman had, if possible, hair even taller than Falyn’s and a more matriarchal air, and Thawn recognised the couple at once from her research as Cosbar and Evertine Lillarties, owners of the Seashine and members of the Board of Tourism. ‘We’re so delighted to have representatives of the Houses here with us.’

The ice-cold bottle was placed beside the table, flutes appearing as if from nowhere, and with an imperious wave of Madam Lillarties’s hand, the waiter had poured sparkling emerald for them both.

Rhade stood at once, all fine-drilled courtesies. ‘We are grateful for your hospitality, Madam.’

‘It’s our pleasure,’ she said with an imperious tilt of the chin. ‘I’m afraid Cosbar and I cannot join you for a drink as we’d like – we must attend the Board of Tourism – but I wanted to make personally certain that you have everything you need.’

‘And make sure,’ chortled Cosbar, ‘you’ve tasted some of the best fare of Whixby. We won’t skimp on your comfort here.’

Thawn saw the pained look enter Rhade’s eyes, and forced a smile she didn’t know she had in her. ‘You’re very generous.’

But still Rhade pressed on. ‘We don’t need all of this,’ he said, blunter than she’d like. ‘All we’d ask of you is to take to the Board of Tourism the requests of First Secretary Hale. I’m sure you’ll be discussing the Federation’s need for Whixby to be made the shelter for the whole region.’

The Lillarties exchanged looks as Thawn tried to not bore holes in him with a glare, until Evertine Lillarties gave a faint click of the tongue and a sad shake of the head. ‘It’s dreadful, all that’s happening in the nebula. But we have our own problems along the Azure Chain. Those people live and work here on Whixby; we must look to our own first.’

‘I’m sure you -’

‘Must be going,’ Thawn interrupted. ‘With such busy work as speaking to the Board. Thank you for the welcome.’ She waited until the Lillarties had stopped fussing and left before she turned back to Rhade, jaw tight. ‘Do you think shaming them will help?’

He frowned. ‘I’m not shaming them. We need them to understand how much more they can do.’

‘Is that what you think the problem is? That the people of Sanditor legitimately do not understand?’

‘I would rather assume them ignorant than callous.’

Thawn had never thought of herself as a diplomat. But she was starting to suspect that her pragmatism was making her a much more useful asset to this mission than Adamant Rhade and his blazing idealism. Normally she would be frustrated by people ignoring facts she understood implicitly, but normally she was arguing quantifiable matters of science and technology about which she was almost always correct. She did not deal with problems about people, not if she could help it. They tended to dig their heels in rather than admit they were wrong. But this was different. This was family. And Rosara Thawn had long ago accepted that reason and logic would never win over the intricacies of family.

The problem was, she wasn’t particularly sure what did work.

She took one of the sparkling glasses of emerald wine, and noticed Rhade give it an apprehensive look, as if the whole operation might fall apart if he sipped alcohol under circumstances he clearly considered to be on-duty. ‘Perhaps,’ she said at last, ‘we can at least find out more about the Lillarties, and the other members of the board, and report this information to Hale.’

Rhade paused at that, and gave a slow nod. ‘I’m sure she’ll know what to do with the knowledge.’

I’m not, Thawn thought as she drank. But she didn’t have a better plan.