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

Rise Like Lions – 10

Shuttle Agravain, Agarath System
June 2400
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Chief Communications Officer’s Log, stardate 77444.33. With the depth of the Agarath system’s needs, it makes sense for the senior staff to be dispersed widely. We have the skills to supervise all manner of phenomena, including those outside our personal areas of expertise. Normally, I would chafe – as Endeavour’s expert on protocol and linguistics in a volatile scenario – at being sent to a zenite mine; there’s a lot more I can do.

But it sounds like these people are in need of help. And even if I can’t help them myself, I can make sure Commander Graelin gives them the help they need. And gets the help he needs.

Stepping out from the rear compartment of the shuttle, Lindgren adjusted her thick, padded jumpsuit. ‘I’m ready,’ she said, and wished her voice didn’t sound so small in the cockpit.

Graelin didn’t look around as he monitored the shuttle’s autopilot bringing the Agravain in towards the facility on the surface of one of the seventh planet’s moons. ‘Triple-check the seal on your mask.’

‘I did.’ She tried to sound gentle. ‘It’s more than within parameters for a zenite mine; contact isn’t a -’

Lieutenant.’

She straightened an inch. ‘Don’t give me that, like you have to pull rank.’ She spoke with a determination she didn’t quite feel, unsure how he’d react to the challenge, unable to accept his simple dismissal. ‘I understand what’s going on.’

Now he cast a glance over his shoulder. ‘Don’t make presumptions.’

That twisted a blade in her, and she advanced to take the co-pilot’s chair, swinging it to face him. ‘Petrias, I’ve read your record. I know where you grew up, I know the Ardanan history with zenite mining and the impact it had on your people. You don’t have to pretend this isn’t personal.’

Graelin turned his eyes back to his controls and drew a slow breath. ‘It is personal in that I am familiar with the vast measures necessary to mine zenite safely.’

‘All we need,’ said Lindgren carefully, ‘are gas filters, surely -’

‘Which must be acquired in sufficient quantities, which must be made to and maintain a certain standard of functionality. That requires resources, and that necessitates staff trained to check and repair these masks. Ideally, every worker should be trained to a level where they can perform a safety check on their own equipment…’ Graelin stopped and shook his head as if to banish the rest of his reel of a report. ‘It is not as simple as everyone pretends.’

She bit her lip as she watched him, and said nothing while the Agravain sank into the landing bay of the mine’s surface facilities. The moon beyond was nothing more than a barren rock. Those extracting the ores from the depths of the mine shafts would be in full containment suits with the lack of atmosphere, but even within the structures built around them, equipped with life support, anywhere near unprocessed zenite everyone needed filtration masks.

‘Petrias,’ she tried again as their shuttle gently landed. ‘You can talk to me.’

He gave her a look like she’d sprouted a second head. ‘I know. That’s why you’re here. But don’t mistake my observation of the challenges here as personal. Personal means I understand what’s at stake.’ He finished the post-flight sequence and stood. ‘Let’s meet the foreman.’

Lindgren wasn’t the most experienced when it came to mining systems. She’d agreed to come partly because these workers, who couldn’t abandon their facilities without leaving volatile material and dangerous equipment unattended, were the most likely people to be overlooked in the system. She couldn’t help them with matters of industry, but she could make sure their other needs were seen to – including reminding them they were not forgotten.

Graelin checked twice to make sure both their masks were secure before lowering the landing ramp on the shuttle. His tricorder was in-hand to check the air filtration systems, and by the time they met one of the Reman miners who’d been spared to greet them, his nose was deeper in his sensor readings than any conversation.

While she’d come for several reasons, Lindgren knew this was one of them. She could greet the burly miner in his own language, explain that they were there to assess what resources were needed, get him to talk about what he felt they needed.

‘More workers,’ the miner grunted. ‘Two score left to fight. We’re barely keeping systems functioning. You shut these down, it’ll take a month to restart it again. Then where’s Agarath if we can’t ship this stuff out?’

Graelin looked at him, looked at his bare mouth, and took a step forward. ‘Where’s Agarath if you’re a drooling vegetable?’ He ran his tricorder over the Reman.

‘I -’

‘Even in these sections, you should be wearing a mask,’ Graelin all but snapped. ‘Your life support systems aren’t calibrated properly to filter out the zenite.’

The miner shifted his stance. ‘We’re Reman. We’re a bit more resilient than you humans.’

Graelin snapped his tricorder shut. ‘I’m not human.’

Lindgren slid sideways between them. ‘The Commander is here to assess your facilities. If we can’t bring in more labourers, we’ll support making what you do have more efficient.’

‘It’ll be inefficient if you’re all poisoned,’ Graelin complained, but followed them as the miner led the two officers deeper into the facility.

They did not go down the mine shaft. It was not offered, and Graelin did not ask. Lindgren assumed that if miners could survive in the vacuum beyond the surface structures, they were hardly at risk of exposure to zenite. But they walked the administrative offices, through the dingy metal corridors of this facility built by the lowest bidder, past corridors leading to habitation wings and through gloomy, stained, acrid-smelling chambers where most of these miners lived, worked, and died.

The main ore processing centre was a chamber filled with the cacophony of metal on metal, of rock on rock, of voices and machinery and labour. Lindgren realised only here that their guide was nothing but a simple miner himself, as the supervisors – Remans she suspected only recently elevated to run these facilities – worked the processing wing’s floor.

This time she stood by as Graelin spoke, cross-examining them like a prosecutor seeking a defendant’s guilt in the slightest gap in their words. The work shifts, the safety precautions. Here and there he instructed people to put on masks, then demanded to see the equipment storage, see the masks and the other safety gear itself. Lindgren was just beginning to wryly think of her parents hard at work supervising the yards at Providence when Graelin looked down one more corridor and said, sharply, ‘That habitation wing. Are there families here?’

Their guide gave a broad shrug. ‘We work here, we live here. Families happen.’

Graelin stopped and turned to Lindgren. ‘Lieutenant, I want you to do a full systems assessment of the main communications of this facility. I need to be confident that if an emergency happens, the mine can send word back to the Husk within moments.’

That was six hours’ work. Six hours sweating in her breathing mask, sat in a dingy control centre, running diagnostic after diagnostic on each point of communication across each section of the zenite mining facility, both labour and recreational. Four times she had to flag up a problem, and four times was assured by the supervisors it would be seen to. Each time she made a note on her PADD about sending staff back here, because she was not confident these people had the expertise to manage it themselves.

‘How long have you been running safety systems here?’ she asked the rangy young Reman woman at last.

‘Three weeks.’

Lindgren hesitated. ‘Romulan supervisors used to manage this?’

A toothy smile. ‘They’re gone now.’

Lindgren could not imagine living and dying within the bulkheads of this facility, and she had spent her life in space, grew up on a starship. But this was a far cry from a Federation craft, the air slick with the sweat of workers, and even through the filter she fancied she could taste the closeness of everyone. But here, as they spoke of their work, they sounded proud. Satisfied.

If she couldn’t imagine living here now, she did not want to try to imagine living here as a worker who was as good as a slave.

Though she had checked her tricorder all along, at no point was there a summons from Graelin to return to the shuttle. So she worked until she was done, until she felt the most efficient solution would be to send a small communications engineering team down here to correct the errors she was finding, give these workers some basic training to maintain this themselves, and was not that surprised to find him already sat in the pilot’s seat on the Agravaine when she made it back to the shuttle.

‘Did you see to it all?’ was all Graelin said, and he did not remove his own filtration mask until the hatch had been sealed and life support had done a complete cycle.

‘All I could do,’ she said quietly. Now she stood in the gloom of the cockpit, staring at the back of his head as he began the pre-flight sequence, and still he did not look at her. ‘I’ll be sending back a comms team to make some repairs, streamline some of this, teach some of them…’

‘A waste of time,’ Graelin grunted, and the Agravaine lurched as he commanded an ungainly launch.

Grabbing a hold, she hauled herself to the co-pilot’s chair. ‘These people need help -’

‘These people have been using sub-par equipment for years,’ he snapped. ‘Perhaps Remans are resilient, but they only use semi-functional breathers in work spaces. Their living spaces have inadequate air cycling processes and in there, nobody wears masks. Many of these people are plainly suffering from at least a mild level of zenite poisoning.’

‘Then we can work on that,’ she said quietly. ‘Repair their equipment -’

‘The comms systems alone.’ As the Agravaine rose from the turgid brown dark of the zenite mine facilities, the vacuum of space felt like a cold, cleansing, but ultimately lonely bath. ‘How much work will that take to bring it up to safety standards?’ As she hesitated, his eyes snapped up to her. ‘And do these people have the technical training to maintain it?’

‘I can make sure they’re given crash-courses…’

‘They killed the people who were keeping them half-alive,’ Graelin snapped.

‘Because those people were also keeping them enslaved.’

‘Both things can be true. Both truths can be monstrous,’ was his level reply. ‘This entire facility needs overhauling. The civilians need relocating. Transport infrastructure is needed so nobody is living here long-term. Equipment needs replacing. Comms and safety systems need upgrading. And everyone using it needs to be fully trained in inspecting, repairing, and maintaining every technical process.’ Graelin rolled a shoulder. ‘We will be here for weeks at best. Can you do it within weeks?’

‘I can -’

‘And in every other corner of this system? This sector?’ His voice grated now. ‘We’ve come here to help. This is months of work. Years of a commitment. Starfleet has been so busy feeling guilty that it’s sleep-walked into being embedded in the Velorum Sector for years.’

Lindgren looked down at her hands. ‘Would you rather we left them to die?’

‘I would rather,’ he sneered, ‘we stopped lying to ourselves about the scale of commitment. And acknowledge that Starfleet lives will be spent here, working in these conditions – and fighting when the Star Navy comes back. People deserve the truth.’

She let out a slow breath, watching him focus far too much on the simple shuttle ride back to Endeavour. ‘Then what did you see down in the habitation section, Petrias? Children affected by zenite, their development stunted? This can be hard because it’s horrid, not just because of – of vast duties.’

His gaze only flickered to her. ‘Because it is horrid, we will stay here. And because of that, people will die. And all we will do is say that it’s duty. And not shifting horrors from one person to someone else.’

‘I can’t imagine what it’s like as an Ardanan to -’

‘You cannot imagine, Lieutenant.’ His voice turned to ice, and his eyes were fixed on the canopy. ‘I do not invite you to.’

And with the door slammed on her face, Lindgren sank back onto the seat, pulled off the sweat-slicked breathing mask, and watched a man she’d been warned against becoming involved in slip further and further from her grasp.

Chief Communications Officer’s log, supplemental: With my observations complete, my assessment is, admittedly, grim. It will take weeks, if not months of work, to make the mining facilities of Agarath safely self-manageable.

Comments

  • Okay now, THIS is how I've imagined these Reman mines across the Velorum Sector (and haven't half known how to articulate it). I feel like I'm wading through the mire, reading about the harsh living conditions, how dirty and dangerous and lived-in everything is. The brilliant economy of words in "A toothy smile. 'They're gone now.'" It communicates this blissful relief from everything they endured, and yet served as such a grim reminder of what mortal consequences might come from that freedom. I was enraptured by the central debate over the vast scope of what the Remans actually need to improve their living conditions to Federation standards and the way Starfleet's guilt over the supernova is clearly bleeding into all of their actions. I nearly had a panic attack at the logistics required, but then I felt extra gross at relating to Graelin through most of the story, because he made such good points about the SHEER EFFIN' HUBRIS of this glorious mission. But what little empathy I was feeling sure bored up fast with ‘You cannot imagine, Lieutenant. I do not invite you to.’ Like, wow. That knocked the wind out of me. Clearly Lindgren too with the state of her perfunctory log at the end. Brilliant work!

    June 17, 2022