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

A Handful of Dust – 13

Sanditor Island, Whixby
January 2400
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‘The family’s been here for fifty years,’ said Falyn, stirring sugar into her Jestral tea, the gentle breeze off the coast bringing only strands of warmth to tease at hair as they sat on her apartment balcony. ‘That brings with it a certain amount of prestige, but you know how things are.’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Rhade before Thawn could project kicking him into his head, ‘but I don’t.’

Auntie picked him for his looks, I take it? Falyn hummed gently into Thawn’s mind, before smiling and sipping her tea. ‘Because Whixby is a resort settlement, it is owned and led by the Whixby Tourism Office, meaning the Board of Tourism acts as the governing body. The Nyders – the Twelfth House – are the primary shareholders in the Tourism Office, but that hardly means our rule is absolute.’

‘The permanent population of Whixby is quite low,’ Thawn explained to Rhade as he shifted his weight. ‘Below the threshold of necessitating a civic government by Federation law. It’s the same principle as if Whixby were, say, a space station.’

‘Of course we have local councils for each island and they have a voice on the board,’ said Falyn rather defensively. ‘Which only adds to the pressures to which I must listen, you understand.’

‘You’re saying,’ rumbled Rhade, ‘that you would love to open up Whixby’s doors to refugees, but the board won’t let you?’

She sighed. ‘I thought we were going to have breakfast, my dear?’

‘We are,’ said Rhade levelly. ‘And Whixby is an important asset of the Twelfth House. One I’m seeking to understand.’

Falyn gave him an unimpressed look, which she then turned on Thawn. ‘There are many families of influence on Whixby. Three of our islands have been hit by a hurricane of unprecedented force. I know you will remind me immediately of the work your ship is doing to help, but it is, regardless, keeping a significant proportion of our service staff away from their jobs. I don’t begrudge them that, but it means matters here on Sanditor and other resort islands are considerably more difficult. With the festival due to start in a mere fortnight, after all.’

‘We don’t -’

But Falyn pressed on as Rhade tried to speak. ‘I am more than sympathetic to the situation, Adamant. But everyone is already scrambling on the Board. If I put to them a suggestion we take on more, I would get nowhere.’

‘We -’

‘Adamant.’ Thawn gave him an airy smile she didn’t feel, which would have made him suspicious if he’d known her better, she thought. Somehow, being around her family made it easier to put on the airs and graces she normally didn’t have time for, didn’t see the point of; it was like ancient programming kicking in to take over. ‘I want to catch up and gossip with Falyn; how about you take a walk down to the water front?’

Rhade narrowed his eyes, looking like he had no idea what possible benefit that could be, before standing at Falyn’s encouraging nod. ‘It would be a delight to see more of Sanditor,’ he said at last. ‘Good morning, ladies.’

Falyn watched him go, then exaggeratedly fanned herself with her hand once the door shut. ‘Honestly, Rosara. The arms on that man.’

‘I know,’ lied Thawn. ‘I’m sorry about him, he’s a little… stiff.’

‘I should hope so.’

‘I mean,’ Thawn pressed on, going bright red, ‘he’s very dutiful and focused on his work, and I don’t think he has as many family obligations to understand the difficult position you’re in.’

‘Rosara.’ Falyn sobered. ‘You’re not in front of your diplomat or your betrothed. You don’t have to pretend you agree with or like anything I’m saying or doing.’

Thawn hesitated. ‘The difference is that I don’t think it matters if I agree with or like it. My opinion doesn’t change your mind.’

That elicited a faint, perhaps even sincere smile from Falyn. ‘That is how family works, no?’ She sighed. ‘I am not in a position to be crass to Starfleet or the Federation. But does anyone honestly trust either of you if you say refugee relocation is temporary? We bring in our neighbours, whose planet is wrecked beyond repair, and in a year’s time they’re still here, with no indication anyone’s going to come back and give them a new home.’

‘I understand that,’ said Thawn, ‘I do.’

‘And I’m not trying to be petty and selfish by saying that the resort matters more than their lives, but – people don’t understand how important Whixby is.’ Falyn lifted a hand and gestured across the peerless view of Sanditor’s shoreline. ‘It’s not just a place important people fritter away a few weeks a year.’

‘I know. We have here now, not Betazed. The Tanhaxan Shores are a graveyard now. The Fordavian Isles a monument.’ Thawn did not remember such golden lands of her homeworld from before the war; she had been too young to know them untouched by the Dominion invasion.

‘You can’t go there without spending half your time reflecting on the mass murder of our people,’ said Falyn, pouring more tea. ‘Whixby is an escape, a haven, a place we can heal and grow instead of resting atop our scars. I will not see it ruined.’

‘I understand,’ Thawn sighed. ‘I don’t know how to explain to you that you can trust First Secretary Hale.’

‘I trust you. But I know you are quite young and quite junior. I’m sure Hale herself would promise you that refugees won’t be on our islands for long -’

‘Islands,’ Thawn muttered, then straightened. ‘Have we been going about this all wrong? We looked to Whixby because we knew you had the infrastructure to take on thousands more people, because we’re not in season yet, not every room’s been filled. But you’re also close to other worlds and you have space.’ At Falyn’s bemused look, she whipped out a PADD and dragged up a projection of a planetary map. ‘But there are other islands. Unsettled islands, hundreds, thousands of kilometres away.’

Falyn tilted her head. ‘You’re speaking of building a refugee shelter on, say, the Spirelight Isles?’

‘They’re a thousand kilometres to the north, their climate was deemed too cool for the resort’s purpose, they’re a little rugged. It’s not ideal, but that makes it even more certain that any shelter would be temporary. Instead of moving refugees into your island paradise nobody would be in a rush to leave.’

Falyn bit her lip. ‘If your First Secretary Hale puts together a proposal on this, a detailed proposal, and if you put your name to it as a daughter of the Twelfth House, I will give Hale an opportunity to make her pitch to the Board of Tourism.’

‘With your backing?’

She gave a light, tinkling laugh. ‘Promise me the votes of other key board members, and sure.’

Thawn abandoned breakfast not long after, proceeding at pace from Falyn’s apartment back to the Seashine Hotel. She had expected Sanditor’s resplendent opulence to feel like a thin veneer, a sheen of luxury stretched over tension and fear. But to walk through the sun-baked streets and shaded alleyways, past the coloured window shutters and vibrant market stalls promising to only swell in size and number as tourism season marched on was to feel nothing but sincerity and joy. Terrors of the Paulson Nebula were light-years away, suffering of the storm was hundreds of kilometres away, and Falyn and her fellows on the Board had done a fine job of making sure Sanditor did not feel the slightest pinch of disaster.

Hale took a little hunting down, Thawn eventually tracking her to a café near the water-front. She had changed out of her business wear, looking for all the world like a tourist sat at a small round outdoor table in a big hat with a tiny cup of coffee. Thawn did not wait before sliding into the seat across from her. ‘Ma’am, I’ve had an idea.’

Hale looked not at all vexed by the interruption, and her expression only brightened as Thawn explained. ‘Compromise. Now you’re thinking like a diplomat, Lieutenant. It’s perfect, it’ll leave absolutely nobody completely happy.’ She sipped her coffee. ‘Can you liaise with Endeavour and the relief team to get better data on these Spirelight Isles and whip together a logistical proposal for a shelter there?’

‘Of course, ma’am.’ The prospect of work, real work, swelled in her. ‘Have you been making any progress yourself?’

‘Meeting people,’ Hale said, setting her coffee down. ‘It’s awfully unsubtle work to identify every major business-owner or community leader and go introduce myself, but they all know why I’m here, I can’t pretend to be innocent. But I can put faces to names and disabuse them of any assumptions they’ve made about me. People are considerably more inclined to give you and your words the time of day if you’re sympathetic to their plight. How can we ask them to care about us, if we don’t take time to care about them?’

Easily, Thawn thought, because for me this is about family, and family doesn’t need to be reciprocal. ‘That’ll be essential if we’re to get the board on-side with this proposal.’

‘Of course. If we let this go to a vote without having a damned good idea of the outcome, then we’ve not done our due diligence. I’ll start putting the idea in people’s heads.’ She raised an eyebrow. ‘How’s Lieutenant Rhade?’

‘I… he…’ Thawn hesitated. This was a professional question, but she couldn’t ignore the look in Hale’s eye. ‘I’m not sure he was much use with Falyn. Adamant comes from a very different tradition of our people.’

‘Let him be the iron fist if he must be,’ Hale said gently. ‘So long as you’re the velvet glove. Everyone here knows the Federation could potentially do all sorts of things under emergency powers. If Lieutenant Rhade won’t be soft, then use the ways in which he is stern.’ She paused. ‘I appreciate your involving him.’

‘This is about family. He is to be family,’ Thawn said in a stilted voice. ‘It’s only sensible.’

‘Then I appreciate you using your knowledge of family to achieve our goals.’ Hale drained her coffee. ‘We should get to work.’

Thawn left with relief, heading quickly back to the Seashine. Her suite was not a sanctum, not with the rather haphazard arrangement of Rhade sleeping on the sofa only to tidy up all signs of such in the morning, and her mussing both sides of the bed, lest a gossipy housekeeper let on the truth of what was quickly becoming a not-very-worthwhile charade. But she could drag her PADDs out of her bedroom and take them to the seat on the balcony, trying to ignore the distraction of the heart-stopping view.

Patching a call up to Endeavour took longer than she wanted, though, and the tightening in her chest did not ease when she was connected only on audio. ‘Sorry for the disruption, Lieutenant,’ came Elsa Lindgren’s voice, officious and formal. ‘We’re still not in orbit so we’re piping this through a buoy.

Thawn wrinkled her nose. ‘What are you doing up there?’

Rescue mission of the Odysseus.’ Briskly, Lindgren filled her in. ‘It’s been eight hours now and still no word, so things are getting… tense up here.

‘Great,’ Thawn muttered. ‘I’d hoped you could run some scans for me.’ It was her turn to elaborate. ‘The Spirelight Isles might make a good site for a refugee shelter, but we’ve not done an assessment.’

I’ll let the captain know. Try Doctor Sadek in the meantime. She has to have a shuttle team spare.

Her jaw tightened. ‘I know this isn’t your call, Elsa, but we do remember that the refugee shelter is our primary mission?’

You’re right,’ came Lindgren’s neutral voice. ‘It’s not my call.’ Then she brightened a hint. ‘How is it down there?

‘Delightful,’ Thawn drawled. ‘I’ll fill you in later, though.’ The PADD screen went black as she cancelled the connection, and she sorely considered ordering room service before pressing on. But that felt like too much of an indulgence, too much of Sanditor’s seductive luxury while people were dying.

Instead, she just patched a call through to the disaster shelter three hundred kilometres away while sat on a sun-soaked balcony overlooking an island paradise. The display patched through to show the recognisable interior of one of the pop-up shelters Starfleet deployed for situations like this, the command hubs that could be dropped in almost any terrain. To her surprise, the faces on the other side, looking like they were mid-meeting, were Lieutenant Adupon and Doctor Sadek.

‘I… sorry to interrupt, Doctor,’ Thawn said with hesitation. ‘I just spoke to Endeavour -’

Fat lot of good they are right now,’ drawled Sadek. ‘At least to us.

She winced. ‘How’s progress?’

We’ve got this in hand. It’s not my first disaster rodeo. Set up a whole response protocol only via shuttle and with a time delay on anything from the mothership? I was doing this when you were still in elementary school, Lieutenant,’ Sadek said nonchalantly.

Weather control systems upgrades are going well, too,’ said Adupon, and it was with a light dose of shock that Thawn realised they were reporting in, thought she was demanding an update. By the chain of command, she was the ranking senior staffer on the planet, even if that situation was more tenuous with Sadek’s current circumstances. ‘We’re increasing the capabilities of the current setup, and erecting more pylons for redundancy and coverage; that way if weather phenomena start up, we can diffuse them sooner. Lieutenant Forrester’s taking a shuttle team to a few of the smaller islands on the periphery of the resort to set that up.

‘Good,’ said Thawn. ‘Speaking of shuttle teams, if you can spare anyone, I have a survey job I need doing.’ She outlined the situation with the Spirelight yet again, and saw Sadek and Adupon exchange looks.

I’ll send Harkon out for a jaunt,’ Sadek said like losing one of her best pilots was no big deal.

‘You don’t need her for a supply run?’

I do. She doesn’t need sleep. This is important.

Thawn exhaled with relief. ‘You’re a life-saver, Doctor.’

That was a tautology, Lieutenant.’ But Sadek gave a gentle smirk. ‘Make sure you have a fruity cocktail on me while you rub shoulders with the great and the good.

‘I – this is a diplomatic -’

Nobody who’s ever met you, Thawn, would think you’re sunning yourself while we all work hard. Pull this off, and you get a shelter on Whixby. That cuts down on travel time for evacuation ships, which means they can head back into the nebula for more people, which means more lives saved. Who cares how it happens?’ Sadek spoke in a quick, matter-of-fact manner. ‘So have a goddamn cocktail.

‘It’s ten in the morning here.’

So?’

Thawn suppressed a snicker. ‘Thank you, Doctor. Have Harkon patch her findings through. And, Lieutenant? Tell me if you need anything for the weather control team.’

The conversation did, at least, assuage one iota of her guilt: she’d feared taking Rhade from Sadek’s team would undermine them, but she was realising she should give the doctor’s decades of experience a little more credit.

So she did order room service, a fresh bout of hot drinks brought up to the balcony while she thudded at her PADD to begin a planning proposal for a shelter on the Spirelight Isles. At last she had something she could do, something she was good at, instead of feeling like she was trapped in her family’s complexities where the primary goal wasn’t getting anything done, but making sure nobody was upset.

It took her a while before she thought she should probably tell Rhade. He would likely have some ideas, was a good planner, and could help, even if the idea of having to explain her thought process to him sounded tiresome instead of enthusing. But when she brought up her her local comms system, the PADD yet again spat out an update from whatever feed Beckett was using to stay in touch with locals.

It was yet more pictures, these ones stretching late into the previous night, and almost all of them showing Nate Beckett the worse for wear at increasingly exotic scenes with a series of locals whose faces she only dimly recognised from her research. They were, she thought, exclusively the prettiest people of Sanditor, or at least in the pictures where he had anyone on his arm. There was no sign he had made it back to life that morning.

Then room service knocked on the door to interrupt her ire, and Thawn tossed the PADD on the table with a sigh of irritation. ‘What an idiot.