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

Rise Like Lions – 7

Shuttle Lancelot, Agarath System
June 2400
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A&A officer’s log, stardate 77441.59. Normally, this wouldn’t be a top mission for the boys in blue – we’ve got to prepare defences on every inch of this damn system before the strike force gets here, put all these mining facilities back together so they don’t blow up if left unattended or something – oh, and stop the oppressors and the oppressed now living together from killing each other. I think someone in planetology is poking the Husk and how it got blown up and how it’s still in a few coherent pieces? But this isn’t really our deal.

Except that whole “oppressors and oppressed now living together” is going to make for the greatest, if shortest, anthropological study.

‘Is this the most important thing you could be doing?’ said Arys as he guided the shuttle Lancelot down towards the shuttleport tower jutting out from the Husk’s habitation dome. ‘An ethnography in the middle of a crisis?’

‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ Beckett wasn’t sorry at all, and did not take his feet off the co-pilot’s deactivated control panel. ‘Should I only be building things with my own two hands? Can only hard sciences provide a solution when we have to protect a really messed-up population in an unprecedented situation? Studies like this can help us plan future projects, and also this is more access to Remans than I think we’ve ever had…’

Arys shook his head. ‘Fine. Fine.’

‘What’re you going to do, Helmsman? Fly this shuttle overhead inspiringly…’

‘I am here to assist Lieutenant Thawn,’ came the terse response, ‘overseeing the needs, support, and population management of the Husk in general and the habitat dome in particular.’

Beckett lowered his feet. ‘I thought Graelin was running point down here. With Doctor Sadek.’

‘Commander Graelin’s needed at the zenite mines on the outer rim,’ Arys sighed. ‘So Thawn has operational command, because Doctor Sadek is…’ He paused and frowned out the canopy, thinking. ‘I guess she’s doing the opposite of pulling rank. Exploiting the fact she hasn’t yet got her results from the bridge officer’s exam, so she can justify sticking with the medical station’s expansion and oversight.’

‘I have to admire Sadek’s skill when it comes to dodging responsibility,’ Beckett mused. ‘But wouldn’t she be the most-qualified person for this still?’

‘Lieutenant Thawn can manage perfectly well,’ said Arys, with a dogged loyalty for Endeavour’s Chief of Operations born of being the bridge officer stationed physically closest to her. ‘Besides, if you want to get your hands dirty and look people in the eye and all of that, you’ll probably be with Rhade or Kowalski on the streets.’

‘Rhade and Thawn working together on a planet fraught with local politics. That was fun last time,’ Beckett grumbled.

‘Months ago!’ Arys reminded him. ‘They’re getting on much better now, I see them…’

His voice trailed off, and Beckett leaned over. ‘Go on, Tar’lek. Use your words. You won’t catch fire if you gossip.’

Arys squirmed and tried to avoid answering by focusing on the landing protocol, but Beckett’s unwavering gaze bore into him. He sighed. ‘They do lunch most days in the Round Table. I know you complained about them fighting all the time on Whixby, but this is different.’

Beckett at last shifted his gaze out of the shuttle canopy as the Lancelot sank into one of the landing bays, the habitat dome disappearing from view as they sacrificed tumbling rock, open void, and a hint of green for the continuous brown-grey hues of the hulking structures on this shard of a planet. ‘Yeah,’ he mumbled. ‘This is different.’

The habitat dome was split into two parts. The centre had been built and developed for the houses and families of the leaders of Agarath, with the quality to match – a holographic matrix over the dome to emulate blue skies, green stretches along the wide streets, buildings made to evoke the glory of Romulus.

But that was not where Arys and Beckett headed. The outer half of the habitat had been built originally for the workers on the Husk itself, but over the centuries the population had only grown. Labourers and their families crowded into tight rooms in viciously functionalist buildings, with no green in their streets and nothing but a criss-cross of metal overhead to show a perpetual dark sky of the void beyond the habitat.

While the boundaries between leaders and workers had been formally crushed by the uprising, the physical distance between them was not so easy to overcome. Acting-Governor Hiran had reportedly refused to forcibly strip the Upper District of their homes and resources, and though the sight of the shining jewel on the curving horizon of the habitat dome wound a tight knot in Beckett’s chest, he understood. It would have become a battlefield soaked with the blood of civilians.

Instead, the Lower Streets had flooded with the labourers from beyond the Husk who had overthrown their supervisors, come rushing to the heart of the system to remove the leadership, and not yet returned to the facilities from which they had come. Mostly Remans, they benefited from the one mercy of a habitat dome like this, which was that rough living did not at least mean suffering through cold temperatures or vicious weather. The streets had become more like a shanty town, with Starfleet deliveries of supplies and equipment dispatched on hover-sleds capable of shuttling storage crates metres over the heads of those pressed to live in these crowded walkways.

‘So what’s your plan?’ Arys asked as they shouldered through the crowd of hollow-faced Remans and Romulans, their uniforms giving them some buffer. ‘Walk the streets and ask people questions?’

‘Kind of,’ Beckett admitted. ‘I’ll come to base camp and figure out what’s what, but then I want to immerse myself a bit in the situation here. If I can get time with some participants in the uprising, get their stories, that’ll be great, but I need to understand the now first.’

Arys nodded, then gave him an awkward glance. ‘Hey. Sorry I sounded dismissive earlier. I didn’t think about a project like this, that’s all.’

Beckett made himself give the airy, toothy smile that helped people think there was nothing but sawdust in his head. ‘It’s okay. I don’t expect you meathead redshirts to think, Tar’lek.’ Arys rolled his eyes good-naturedly and led on.

The base for support from Starfleet in the habitat dome was a large building that looked much like the others, but with lights strapped to its exterior to make it a blinding beacon. The lack of any attempt at emulating natural sunlight meant the streets were perpetually night-clad, and Beckett had noticed that these well-lit hubs seemed more populated by Romulans than Remans, who stuck to the darker corners and roadways. A part of him wondered if the lack of a false sky, while doubtless a cost-cutting measure for Romulan overseers, had been an inadvertent kindness to the nocturnal Reman workforce.

Arys had to lead him by the elbow through this last part of the crowd, because he was too busy scribbling notes into his journal.

‘You know PADDs exist,’ the Andorian growled.

‘Using a pen contributes to the reflexivity of -’

‘What are you doing here?’

The building had once, Beckett realised, been a guard hub. The main room stretched from floor to ceiling, several levels up, with walkways on the upper storeys so guards could look down on the lobby. But instead of armed guards as the faceless force of the Romulan Star Empire, it was Lieutenant Thawn looking down with a horrified expression.

‘I’m like a bad penny,’ he said cheerfully. Despite the throng of officers and civilians on the ground floor, she had still from the next level up spotted him and become instantly affronted. ‘I just show up places. You get me instead of Graelin.’

Thawn’s lips set to a thin line and she swept to the stairs to join them on the dingy ground floor. Storage crates and tables for officers had been set up, the place turned a combination planning hub and distribution venue for essential goods. ‘Commander Graelin was supposed to be running this operation.’

‘I’m running it instead. You answer to me now.’

‘He’s doing an anthropological study of the situation here on the Husk,’ Arys sighed.

‘You ruin all my fun, Tar’lek.’

‘An anthropological study.’ Thawn arched an eyebrow. ‘Just don’t get in the way.’

‘Oh no, I’ll be here to watch. Silent as a shadow. You’re the centre of operations here, you’re the perfect place for me to start and learn the situation on the ground, get the pulse of the beating heart of this whole support operation…’

‘It’s a Starfleet relief mission, Beckett, you know perfectly bloody well what it looks like. And I will not have you getting underfoot, undermining me by… asking questions.’

Beckett tapped his pen against his chin. ‘That’s very insecure of you, Lieutenant. Questions are an excellent vehicle for learning -’

‘Where are we at, Lieutenant?’ Arys interrupted.

Thawn gave Beckett one last glare before turning. ‘A whole swathe of the labourers who used to live and work on the other facilities came here for, and after, the fighting. Because this place might be rotten but it’s better than an over-crowded mining platform. We’re trying to assess if we have space for them, get their basic needs seen to, and I’ve got Lieutenant Athaka assessing those other facilities to see which are in the best condition to become additional residential platforms.’

‘How can I help?’ said Arys.

Four PADDs were at once shoved into his hands. ‘Supply allocation. We’ve got people assessing the needs of those here in the Lower Streets. Make sure it’s going out. I’d like to get food and basic medical support to those in the slums, and for the people congregating around the Guardhouse here to realise they don’t need to gather if they want things.’

He nodded, then turned to Beckett. ‘Remember that people who’ve just been traumatised don’t always need you to be funny.’

‘I don’t understand,’ Beckett drawled, then staggered as Arys clapped him hard on the shoulder before heading off. He turned back to Thawn. ‘What crawled up your arse?’

Her expression pinched. ‘I have a lot to get on with here. Commander Graelin was supposed to -’

‘You can do supply allocation on a project like this in your sleep.’ He tapped his pen on the journal. ‘Is it that different here?’

Her gaze flickered down. ‘Are you researching me?’

He lifted his hand innocently. ‘You’ve got a big project on, this is an unprecedented situation, and I’m just asking! Or have you decided we’re not friends today?’

That guarded look entered her eye, but before she could respond there was a flurry of movement at the door, and they turned to see Rhade head in with Chief Kowalski. He spotted them at once and approached with his usual bright, politely cheerful expression.

‘Lieutenant, glad you could join us.’ Beckett got a slightly-less passive-aggressively hard clap on the shoulder from Rhade, but it didn’t rock him any less than Arys’s had. ‘Have you come down to bolster patrols?’

Beckett blinked. ‘Patrols?’

‘Lieutenant Rhade is supervising local safety and security. Which includes a little first-response support if they find any problems,’ Thawn said. Then she brightened. ‘You wanted to study what it’s like on the Husk right now, Beckett.’

Rhade looked him up and down, and brightened. ‘Oh, you’re here as A&A, not one of my Hazard Team?’

‘Take him with you,’ Thawn said before Beckett could comment. ‘It’s just logistical affairs here, I’m trying to stop too many of the locals flooding in. The streets don’t have the infrastructure for everyone to come here; I need to get things out to them.’

‘Then we’ll carry on with door-to-door, assessments, checkups,’ said Rhade with a firm nod. His hand returned to Beckett’s shoulder. ‘It’ll be the best way for you to see what’s going on here, Lieutenant.’

Beckett blinked at Thawn. ‘You got rid of me fast.’

But Rhade was pressing on, looking to her. ‘I left Bekk at the residential block on grid Gamma-4; he should have a full report coming your way. Four hundred people, full needs assessment, and we’re clearing routes that way. We also cleared out the main roads to the hospital facility so people who really need help can get there. Ensign Zherul is on standby for rapid medical response if we can’t move someone.’

Beckett watched as the faint knot in Thawn’s brow faded. ‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘Those walkways to the road have been giving me a headache all afternoon.’ She turned back to Beckett, and it was perhaps worse that she no longer had that condescending edge she used whenever he’d particularly wound her up when she said, ‘Go with Rhade and ask your questions, Lieutenant.’

‘It’s an anthropological study.’ It was hard to not sound like he was whining, and harder still when Thawn simply left and all he could do was follow Rhade back out the door and into the humming crowds of the dispossessed former labourers and inhabitants of the Lower Streets, lurking below the shining jewel of the Upper District.

A&A officer’s log, supplemental: There may, of course, be downsides to sitting around taking notes while other people save the bloody day.

Comments

  • Love the dynamics at play here; the characters all so very clearly want specific things and have duties to perform, and the good-natured conflict that arises from points where those goals awkwardly intersect is fun. Beckett's focus on research during all this is a nice foil to everyone else's concentration on getting the immediate work done. But the overall portrait painted here is great, too. I felt like I was able to look down on the problems Starfleet faces with this colony and get a feel for the sheer complexity of the effort. Little touches in description of the space were great and filled in the details smoothly, and I liked how the background information was marbled throughout. A really great read!

    June 6, 2022
  • I love all the little reversals in this post. I was truly chilled by the line, "perpetual dark sky of the void beyond the habitat", but then Nate made an astute observation about how that would suit the Remans. A nice little ah ha moment, that. This post was full of them to the point I'm questioning if Nate is even still a himbo, amid his anthropological study? You started the scene beautifully with Nate's feet up on the controls. That alone said everything. And then I loved Nate's clever burn about "fly this shuttle overhead INSPIRINGLY", because it's funny and also a good point too. I'm all for self-indulgent science projects, because every job is Starfleet ultimately proves to be more than the sum of its parts. Speaking of double meanings, Thrawn's "are you researching me?" cut deeeeeeep. One last random thought: Arys being loyal to Thrown because they're bridge buddies sounded like such a funny little throwaway at first, until I remembered those looks between Disco's Detmer and Owosekun. That OPS/CONN bond is SERIOUS.

    June 8, 2022