Captain’s log, stardate 77441.93. My officers are seeing to not just the defence of the Agarath System, but its rebuilding. I envy them, frankly, because for all the challenges before us, these are straightforward tasks. Meanwhile, my duty is to help First Secretary Hale with something altogether more messy: the politics and future of Agarath.
It was a peculiar false sun that shone down on the Upper District of the Husk’s habitat ring. Rourke only had to turn slightly to the left for the balcony’s view of sun-soaked streets and comfortable housing to be broken at the edge, like night was a blanket thrown over the horizon. And under that night, the rough stretches of the Lower Streets.
‘This place is a bit sick,’ he mumbled, turning back to where Hale sat at the table overlooking the view. ‘And what’re we doing here, waiting like she’s trying to make a statement?’
‘Because she is making a statement. Our time is her time,’ said Hale, rather more relaxed. ‘We’ve come unannounced to the most senior member of Romulan society in the city. She won’t drop everything for us.’
Rourke tried to not bristle. It had been his idea to head as directly as possible to see this Zaviss, the wife of the former governor, in her comfortable home in the opulent district of the Husk. Instead they had been shown inside, offered refreshments by Romulan serving staff, and waited for fifteen minutes now.
‘I didn’t expect her to,’ he said, attempting to smother indignation. ‘But it’s still a point about her control.’
Their eyes met, and he could see her assembling a response. By now he knew what it looked like when she didn’t want to be rude, when she wanted to manage someone, and he knew he was about to be managed.
So it was doubly a relief for the doors to the balcony to swing open at the arrival of the mysterious Zaviss – and the sight of her knocked any apprehensions about his working relationship with Sophia Hale from his head.
‘I’m sorry about making you wait, Captain, First Secretary.’ Her voice was gruff as she padded over, grimy in a jumpsuit, wiping her hands on a fresh cloth from one of her staff. Crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes made her age even more fathomless than Rourke normally found Romulans. ‘I was helping down at the air filtration systems.’
‘Helping…’ Rourke worked his jaw.
‘Parys, get us more drinks.’ Zaviss’s instructions were brisk but polite, and her staff hurried back into the building. ‘And yes. I’m a qualified engineer, Captain. Not a lady of leisure.’ Her gaze swept around the balcony, at all of the luxury before her of the Upper District. ‘Not any more.’
Hale was rather more studied as she stood, at once approaching for a cordial handshake with a calculated assumption the Romulan would accept the gesture as intended. ‘Governor Hiran didn’t mention you were involved in the recovery work here.’
‘So you assumed I was sitting on my balcony sunning myself while the people of Agarath put everything back together around me?’ Zaviss’s eyebrows raised, then she shook her head. ‘There is a reason I did not depart with my husband, First Secretary.’
Rourke frowned. ‘Can I ask the reason?’
She gave a gentle scoff. ‘Do not mistake me. I am hardly thrilled that it has come to this, for Agarath to have to strike out on its own, for the labourers to have to overthrow the overseers. But the Star Empire is dead, and my husband too narrow-minded to see there can be a place for him in the future of this system. He fled rather than risk judgement be something he disliked.’ Her lip curled. ‘But I’ve lived here for fifteen years. I gave up one home, and I will not be driven from another.’
Her staff arrived then with a tray of fresh, cold drinks, and Rourke could not quite place the flavour when he accepted a glass; somewhere between mint and vanilla, and refreshing with the fizz of it. He smacked his lips. ‘So you’re helping out in spite of the new government.’
‘Is that what Korsk said?’ Zaviss rolled her eyes. ‘He thinks I’m waiting to invite the Star Empire back. I can’t blame him for his suspicion, but all I can do about that is keep working. And without me, neither he nor Hiran can count on the other families of the Upper District to cooperate. They don’t want to leave, but they’re not about to submit to Hiran stripping everyone of their belongings.’
‘He hasn’t shown any inclination to do that,’ said Hale carefully.
‘Korsk and the other labourers want him to. But Hiran’s military service has given him a better understanding of the bigger picture, of politics. It is best you make sure he remains on top of the pile that is Agarath once this is over.’ Zaviss sipped her drink. ‘He’s probably the only one who can bridge the gaps.’
Rourke drew a slow breath, rather feeling like this woman and everything about her were shifting the foundations on which he stood. ‘Agarath can hardly have a future if the Upper District remains the home of those old families, while the people who labour here and keep its resources flowing are still pushed into slums.’
‘I agree,’ said Zaviss, ‘but if people don’t want to give up their homes here, what will you do? Send in Hiran’s commandos? Korsk’s rebel force? And when those families here with private guards resist, how many people will die just so you can tear down a symbol? Don’t we have slightly more important things to worry about in the meantime – like functioning air filtration systems, and this incoming strike force?’
As Rourke hesitated, Hale gave one of her enigmatic smiles. ‘I agree nobody is going to be forced into anything,’ she said. ‘It’s our intention to help Hiran put together a new ruling council to determine the future of Agarath – as well as ensure that future is possible. We know that would involve you, which is why we’re here.’
‘Give me a plan,’ said Zaviss, ‘or a meeting, and I’ll be there.’ She dismissively clunked her glass down on her staffer’s tray. ‘Otherwise I will work and help, whether Korsk wants me to or not.’
‘Then may I suggest,’ Hale pressed on, ‘you help me speak with the other families of the Upper District, and we can see how they can all help? Make sure everyone has a role and a stake in building this future for Agarath?’
‘And,’ Zaviss drawled, ‘see if there are any now-empty houses or buildings that maybe we can expand the slums into? Break down some boundaries? I see how this works, First Secretary.’
Hale’s smile didn’t fade. ‘One step at a time. Let’s start with a conversation. I’m delighted to see that you’re as invested in the future of Agarath as any, though. I agree that it’s best if we can make sure this is a future for everyone.’
Rourke shifted his feet. ‘Can my staff help you if you’re dealing with maintenance duties?’
‘On the contrary,’ said Zaviss. ‘Can I help your staff? I have access to most of the records and systems information about the habitat dome. I’ve focused my personal efforts on the Upper District mostly to not provoke a response, but there’s doubtless others who need the help more.’
His eyebrows raised. ‘I’ll send my operations manager to see you. Especially if you and Ms Hale are going to see what other families can help.’
Hale pursed her lips. ‘How was the uprising here? In the Upper District?’
Zaviss shook her head. ‘The uprising started in the mines. As word of it got out, the refineries and facilities on the other shards of the Husk broke into resistance. What kept the habitation safe was Hiran – when we stood on the knife-edge of whether the people living in the Lower Streets would start their own uprising, Hiran chose to take his soldiers and side with the rebellion. At that point, the families of the Upper District locked down with their guards – and made themselves less of a target. From there, the fighting fled to the spire and the industrial command centres.’
‘People went for the actual physical spaces – and figures – of power,’ Rourke finished, ‘and left their houses alone. That’s a little surprising, if you’ll forgive me.’
‘Hiran managed to focus their anger. Either out of some softness or some practicality – tearing us out of our homes would not help Agarath make a future for everyone.’ Zaviss shrugged.
‘You mentioned guards,’ Rourke added pointedly.
‘The military either sided with Hiran, like young Centurion – sorry, Commander – Relekor, or they were driven away. Otherwise, safety and protection for Agarath was from hired security. The line between them and military was thin, I grant you, but they manned the mines, guarded the overseers – and provided protection for the houses of the Upper Districts. The first two sets of guards fled. The latter?’ Zaviss grimaced. ‘Some of these compounds still have armed guards. As I warned you, seizing these houses would be bloody indeed.’
‘And what’s the chance,’ said Rourke, ‘that some of these families don’t want Hiran to win, would really like the Star Empire back, and would love to deploy their guards to help a Star Navy strike force when it arrives.’
There was a long pause. At length, Zaviss inclined her head. ‘There is a chance.’
Hale drew a slow breath. ‘Then it sounds as if we have a lot to talk about.’
When they left Zaviss’s compound later and walked the sun-soaked streets of the Upper District, heading for the Lower Streets and Lieutenant Thawn’s setup in the old guardhouse, Hale said, ‘I don’t want you to put Security up here.’
He scowled. ‘Sending Security teams to these streets sounds like exactly what I should do.’
‘Let me at least talk to these families first,’ Hale pressed. ‘Before Starfleet show up outside their houses to make them feel like criminals.’
‘Starfleet are already outside the houses of the labourers and their families in the Lower Streets,’ Rourke pointed out. ‘We’re not here to make them feel like criminals, either, but it might be what happens. Does that not count?’
‘Communities like these are delicate,’ said Hale. ‘They -’
‘It’s not really a community if the labourers were basically slaves – some of them literally here on penal service, none of them really free to live and work as they chose – and the inhabitants of the Upper District profited from that. I don’t much care about their feelings.’
‘Do you care,’ said Hale carefully, ‘if they try to overthrow Hiran, or use their guards to drive your officers off, or decide that there is no future for them in Agarath?’
‘If they ultimately leave? Not really.’ He stopped in the street, aware that though the roads were empty there were houses and windows and possible eyes and ears, and not caring. ‘I’m not here for the rich Romulans who don’t want to give up their comfy way of life. They’ll end up on top; they did when Starfleet pulled out of the evacuation, and they will now. I care about the people in the margins who are going to get squeezed. Right now we could give forty Remans more comfortable living conditions, but we’re not doing it because we don’t want to piss off five rich Romulans.’
‘And as Zaviss asked,’ Hale replied levelly, ‘how many people do you want to shoot to make that happen?’ As he hesitated, she shook her head. ‘I know you see this as a chance for us to make right what we did wrong fifteen years ago…’
‘As should you,’ Rourke snapped. ‘You were here, you were in the Diplomatic Service when the Federation turned their backs on -’
‘A decision I and my superiors opposed vehemently.’ Hale had gone rather tight. ‘And our careers suffered for it, and I’ve spent all of my work since on these frontiers. If we’re going to wield our pasts against each other to justify our anger, Captain, you were running a security team on a different border at the time. You didn’t see and turn your back on the Romulan people.’
‘No. I just spent years seeing how everyone who fell through the cracks was abused and exploited and left behind,’ he sneered.
Hale hesitated. ‘We don’t disagree, Matthew,’ she said at length. ‘Let me talk to the families. If we’re not forcing them out, they have to be a part of Agarath. Let me try to make them a part of Agarath before we treat them as a potential threat.’
‘And if they are a potential threat? One company of private guards…’
He ground his teeth together. ‘If you won’t accept Starfleet on the streets, will you at least accept a personal guard?’
‘So long as they have a hand-phaser and not a rifle. And only if it will make you feel better,’ she said, not without a certain sweetness.
Rourke drew a slow, rumbling breath. ‘Nothing about this situation,’ he complained, ‘is about to feel any better.’
Captain’s log, supplemental: As ever, you can’t look to the future without overcoming the past.