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Part of USS Endeavour: Rise Like Lions and Bravo Fleet: Sundered Wings

Rise Like Lions – 2

The Round Table, USS Endeavour
May 2400
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For two days the main display in the Round Table, Endeavour’s senior officer’s lounge, had been showing the Federation News Network’s feed on the Romulan Star Empire’s crisis round-the-clock. Thawn thought she would be tired of it by now – stories developed, but all along the same lines.

A catastrophe at Aballava as the local naval commander took over control, reportedly killing the entire civilian government. Another declaration of independence as the Olicana system decided they were better off going their own way. Uprisings in the Velorum Sector, the workers seizing power. The Vertis system swapping sides, pledging allegiance to the Romulan Free State. Everywhere in the falling Romulan Star Empire it was the same: brutal oppression, or slipping between the fingers of a tightening iron grip. 

For two days, Endeavour had stood on the sidelines near the border and waited. But neither the continuous onslaught of miserable news, nor the sense of helplessness her Betazoid senses could feel seeping through the crew, were her biggest problems right then. No, her biggest problem was that she’d not managed to wriggle out from something Elsa Lindgren had, with forced cheer, described as a double-date.

‘At a time like this?’ Thawn had asked as they clocked off their shift.

‘Do you have anything better to do?’ had been Lindgren’s deliberate counter. ‘Petrias has been wound up so tight, and I’m sure Adamant doesn’t like any of this.’

This didn’t convince Thawn to want to be in a booth with Petrias Graelin, Endeavour’s notoriously self-absorbed Chief Science Officer, and the courteous Adamant Rhade, Hazard Team Leader and the man her family expected her to marry regardless of her wishes. But Thawn hadn’t managed to conjure up a good excuse fast enough.

‘The governor of Olicana is a fool,’ Graelin drawled as he sipped his wine and watched the FNN feed. ‘His worlds will be strip-mined by the spinward warlords by the end of the month.’

Thawn could feel Rhade not just shift his weight, but glance at her before he replied. ‘Our intelligence on the region is dated,’ he said at last, deep voice polite and thoughtful regardless of disagreement. ‘We can’t assume things are so obvious from the ground.’

‘Idealism and ideology are powerful blinders,’ said Graelin, leaning back on the booth. Beside him, Lindgren didn’t look away from the feed, a distant look in her eyes. ‘They make us choose what we hope is better, rather than what we know will be better.’

‘We can never know the future,’ Rhade pointed out, leaning into his argument at last. ‘And it’s arrogant of us to believe we know better than the governor in the system itself, making what decision is best for his people.’

Thawn glanced anxiously at Graelin, but if he’d taken Rhade’s words as an accusation, he didn’t show it, instead giving an indulgent smile. ‘Lieutenant, if you think the governor is doing what’s best for his people rather than giving himself the authority to take every scrap of wealth in the system and go on the run, then you’re being terribly naive.’

That’s not what you argued a moment ago, Thawn thought, and felt a similar sentiment slide off Rhade. So she sat forward before either could descend further into the jabs, and looked to Lindgren. ‘Are you alright?’ she asked gently.

‘Hm?’ Lindgren bit her lip as she came back to them. ‘Oh. Yeah, it’s just…’ She sighed. ‘I hope we get orders soon.’

‘We have orders,’ said Graelin in a tone thought pompous even by Thawn, a master of pomposity in her own right. ‘We’re watching the border. Making sure the chaos doesn’t fall onto those for which we’re responsible.’

‘Any intervention,’ Rhade said rather more carefully, ‘will need managing to make sure we do more good than harm. I trust and believe that avenues are being considered.’

‘I hope you’re right,’ Lindgren said with a wan smile. ‘Because standing on the side-lines and waiting while people – while this happens… it’s not good.’ She shook her head. ‘I remember what it did to my parents when the evacuation of Romulus was aborted, watching the people try to get out and not being able to do… anything.’

‘It was a difficult time,’ said Graelin, leaning in. ‘But you were eleven. Those of us in the service understood that we had to put the Federation first for once.’

Thank you, Thawn thought dryly, for reminding us you’re sixteen years older than her. I needed that.

‘Of course everyone will do their duty,’ Lindgren said lightly. ‘But I hope our duty doesn’t include standing by again. That’s all. It changed a lot of people, and often not for the better.’

‘We’re not that Starfleet any more.’ Rhade caught her gaze. ‘I truly believe that.’

It took another day before they knew if this faith would pay off. Thawn was this time in the Safe House, Endeavour’s main lounge, because when Lindgren was stressed she wanted to be around people, and had perhaps realised that putting the idealism of Rhade and the cynicism of Graelin in the same place was a bad idea.

‘He just doesn’t seem very… understanding,’ Thawn was saying over coffee, trying as delicately as possible to broach the subject of her best friend’s relationship. She had expected it to burn out quickly, be nothing more than a light and breezy dalliance. Months on, the Chief Science Officer and his interest seemed to be going nowhere.

‘He has certain experiences which give him his own perspective,’ Lindgren said, in a voice Thawn knew full-well meant she was justifying things to herself. ‘I appreciate that perspective. There’s a maturity to it.’

I’m not sure cynicism is automatically more grown-up. Thawn chewed on words, but before she could find something sufficiently diplomatic, Lindgren was pressing on.

‘Besides, I know you find Adamant’s idealism sometimes a bit naive. Should I be cross-examining you on that?’

It wasn’t fair. But then, Thawn hadn’t admitted to Lindgren that it was not strictly her choice to stay committed to the arranged betrothal. From the outside, their stumbling efforts to find and make common ground must have looked just as ill-fitted as she thought Lindgren and Graelin to be. The only person to know the truth was Nate Beckett, illuminated in Thawn’s sobbing moment of immediate weakness.

He was in the Safe House too, over by the bar, stood laughing with Lieutenant Whitaker and a half-smirking, indulgent Lieutenant Arys. For the flicker of a heartbeat she caught his eye, then snapped her gaze back to Lindgren as she felt his attention zone in on the pilots.

‘So long,’ Thawn said distractedly, ‘as you find his perspective comforting.’

‘Well,’ said Lingren, and gave a coy smile. ‘His presence, at least.’

Thawn made herself laugh, because that was what Lindgren wanted, and tried to not pay too much attention as she spotted out of the corner of her eye a new arrival reach the knot of junior officers at the bar.

But Lindgren looked more openly that way, and raised an eyebrow. ‘Athaka looks agitated.’

‘Athaka always looked agitated.’ Despite herself, Thawn glanced over at her deputy, a dutiful and consistently nervous Coridanite. As if perpetually aware of her presence, or keeping an eye out for whatever he could do to please her, the young lieutenant frantically waved them over.

Trying to not visibly brace, Thawn had no choice but to follow when a curious Lindgren grabbed her drink and approached. ‘What’s going on?’

‘I don’t know,’ Athaka said breathlessly, and Thawn resisted the urge to roll her eyes just as Beckett visibly failed such a temptation. ‘But we just got a priority one communication from Starbase Bravo. Captain Rourke’s taken it in his ready room and asked Commander Valance to join him.’

Whitaker, Endeavour’s lead fighter pilot, gave a short laugh. ‘Perhaps we’re done sitting on the side-lines after all, hm?’

Lieutenant Arys’s lips thinned. ‘There’s no point in speculating. If the captain knew something was coming, he would have told us, so asking Commander Valance to join him is meaningless. It’s probably a situation update.’

‘Bloody nothing has happened on this border since we got here,’ Beckett pointed out. ‘What’re we guarding against? No, we’re waiting for a next move, for sure.’

But Athaka’s eyes were still on Thawn, which within moments drew everyone else’s gaze to her – even Lindgren’s – as the ranking and most seasoned among them. Thawn pursed her lips. ‘I’d recommend against gossip,’ she said at length, and watched Athaka deflate. ‘No good comes of thinking we’re going to take action, only to be disappointed.’

‘So you’d be disappointed,’ Whitaker drawled, ‘if our response to the calamity of a generation is to play watchdog?’

‘I want to help people,’ Thawn said. ‘And I don’t help people by assuming I know better than Command, just because my personal sense of futility is stressful.’

‘Yeah,’ murmured Beckett. ‘Command – any authority figure – automatically knows what’s best, right?’

She met his gaze again, and was spared disentangling herself too pointedly by the chirping of the comm system overhead.

All senior staff, report to the conference room.

Lindgren brightened. ‘That’s a good sign. Right?’

‘Unless the captain wants to make everyone feel better about sitting with our thumbs up our arses,’ sighed Beckett.

‘Come on, Nate,’ Lindgren said gently. ‘Hope a little.’

But it was clear even her own hope was somewhat forced, and she, Arys, and Thawn proceeded to the turbolift in a dour, apprehensive silence which followed them all the way to the conference room.

The other eight senior staff members and First Secretary Hale were already there. For the past three months, staff briefings had usually seen hot drinks and pastries laid out, nothing happening too suddenly or too tragically to stop Rourke or a thoughtful Counsellor Carraway from laying out treats. Now the table was barren of anything but Commander Cortez’s mug of ink-black, rocket-fuel coffee, the Chief Engineer clearly fresh off a shift pattern that made the timing of the meeting inauspicious.

‘I’ve news,’ Captain Rourke said as everyone sat down. Thawn had never found him easy to read; if he wasn’t wearing his masks of smiles and laughs, everyone’s friend over a pint and absolutely nothing of substance, he tended to dourness and sarcasm so much that a report of doom on the horizon would be given with the same rumbling wryness as news of a litter of kittens born in his office. ‘Direct from Fourth Fleet Command.’

‘Is it for me to clean out our bussard collectors because we’re not gonna need ‘em as we sit on the border and watch?’ asked a bleary-eyed Cortez.

‘If we’re to stay,’ said Graelin crisply, ‘we expect all systems ready in case of trouble.’

Cortez opened her mouth for a rebuttal, but a glance from Valance silenced her, and all eyes fell back on the captain. Sombre-faced, he gave a stiff nod. ‘By now you’ll have heard the news from the Velorum Sector. Workers’ uprising, provisional government in place. Some systems there are still in turmoil – nobody knows whose side they’ll fall down on. Most of the ones where the power struggle’s over have aligned themselves with this Resak’s government. And he’s just done the smartest thing he possibly could: ask for the Federation’s help.’

Thawn swallowed what she feared would be a stupid question, and was guiltily relieved when an apprehensive Arys leaned forward. ‘Can we still help anyway? The Prime Directive -’

‘Is nothing but words when the Star Navy, the Free State – any damn pirate or warlord or maybe even the Klingon bloody Empire if they choose to stir themselves – could swoop in and intervene. There’s no way we can call this an internal issue without being rank cowards,’ Rourke interrupted. Over the past days, the captain had kept his counsel on interventionism despite the mumblings and discontent of his crew. Now he spoke with open relish, let off the leash in the changing winds.

First Secretary Hale leaned forward, ever the diplomat, even in this conference room with Rourke’s rough words. ‘The Fourth Fleet is being dispatched to assist the Velorum Sector – keep the region safe from outside interference, help the provisional government establish itself. In systems that have pledged themselves to Resak’s government, that is.’

‘We’re going to the Agarath system.’ Rourke nodded across the table to Dathan. ‘Lieutenant.’

The Bajoran intelligence officer stood, thumbing her PADD to bring up a strategic map of the Velorum Sector. Their destination lit up with a bright blue ring surrounding the dot of the Agarath star, on the Rator side of the region. ‘Velorum was one of the industrial heartlands of the Romulan Star Empire,’ Dathan said smoothly, belying the likelihood she had put this information package together in literal minutes. ‘Even by the standards of the sector, Agarath is a major industrial hub. It has an extensive network of mining, refining, and metalworking facilities on moons and in its asteroid system.

‘Centuries ago, the Empire shattered the fourth planet to plunder its arcybite deposits.’ The screen changed for an image of the broken wreck of half a world barely clinging to its core, shattered remnants of surface in a loose and bewildering orbit. The star of Agarath was visible beyond, and upon the remains of the world were the silhouettes of structures and the shining lights of settlement. ‘They’ve built whole facilities in the remains and on the remains,’ Dathan continued. ‘Nothing on Agarath has a naturally habitable atmosphere. We’re talking surface facilities, orbital platforms, and all that. And with it has come a massive worker population, largely Reman but with some Romulans – it was a popular penal colony for a time. They’ve overthrown the local rulership and pledged to support Resak’s government.’

‘Their supply lines are delicate,’ said Rourke, clasping his hands before him on the desk. ‘They were heavily reliant on food from the sector’s agri-worlds and it’s unclear if they can count on them any more. It’s likely to be chaotic in the system, with the population largely scattered across different facilities. And most important of all, everyone – its new leadership, Resak, and Fourth Fleet Intelligence – agree there’s no way the Star Navy lets Agarath in particular go without a fight.’

Thawn drew a careful breath. ‘Are we to help them? Or protect them?’

Rourke’s lips twisted. ‘Yes.’ He sat up, gaze sweeping up and down the table. ‘Most of you weren’t in service when Starfleet abandoned the evacuation. That was, and remains, a stain on Federation history, and that was so even before we knew the truth about Mars. I promise you, we’re not going to make the same mistake twice.’

But Graelin straightened. ‘Which mistake?’ he asked, tension visible around his eyes. ‘Turning our backs on the Romulan people when they needed help? Or leaving our backs exposed to the Tal Shiar?’

Thawn didn’t need to be a telepath for her gaze to snap immediately to Kharth. The Romulan Chief of Security’s jaw was iron tight as she said, ‘The Tal Shiar are not the Romulan people.’

Graelin gave an incline of the head that implied an acceptance of her point without actually conceding ground. ‘I just mean we better remember: these people might need our help. But we shouldn’t assume they’ll accept it with open arms.’

‘They have a lot to blame us for, after all,’ said Rourke, expression unimpressed. ‘Let’s show them we’ve changed.’

But Graelin didn’t need to do more than tilt his chin up half an inch to convey his response, one simple question: Have they?

Comments

  • I love all the interaction you have going on between characters in this chapter, especially Graelin who comes across as arrogant to some degree, and how Lindgrin is smitten with him. Also makes me wonder are Thawn and Rhade still together despite not wanting to? Is her family still dead set on them marrying? So many questions, but I am enjoying the story between those two and can't wait to see what else is in store. I also liked how there were so many questions and concerns about going into the RSE and can't wait to see what happens next.

    May 30, 2022
  • These are a few of my favourite things: the brazen awkwardness of that double date. I think I’ve been on that double date and it involved shouting in front of a subway station. Even so, the eternal debate of intervention and armchair politics was a compelling one, if not for all the trouble it meant for the couples’ respective relationships. My heart was warmed by the sense of hope —that we’ve seen through Picard seasons one and two— that Starfleet is truly shifting its modus operandi. It shone through so effectively from Rhade. A shattered planet is such an evocative visual, better than any CGI I’m sure. And oh my, I loved the scathing “I’m not sure cynicism is automatically more grown up.” She should have said that one out loud. Get the knives in, darling.

    June 2, 2022
  • My lord, your writing is like silk at times. I haven’t read anything like this in a long time. Not since my Paranormal Romance genre phase a long time ago. Keep up this work and I am going to find it hard to write anything. That being said I must say that once again you have used words to captivate me into a world of your own making, thank you. The drama felt by Graelin at the end of the story has me wondering just how much the fleet has changed. Your story in general has given me some things to consider when it comes to my own writings, once again thank you for the inspiration. Keep up the great work and I look forward to the third chapter.

    June 10, 2022