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

Rise Like Lions – 14

Sickbay, USS Endeavour
June 2400
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Rourke came into sickbay to find Kharth in the middle of dressing down pilots in severe medical condition.

‘…impetuous, reckless, absolutely against orders, rash as all hell -’

‘Being a bit tautologous there, Lieutenant…’

Kharth’s finger came snapping up at Lieutenant Whitaker, even while Doctor Sadek was busy with what Rourke knew were latter-stage care scans of the young pilot. ‘Does this look like the time to be clever? The time to be clever was before you chased after a rogue ship at three-quarters strength!’

Swallowing, Rourke advanced on the knot of activity around the biobeds. ‘How’s everyone doing?’

Lieutenant Whitaker, tall and lanky and effortlessly handsome, gave a toothy smile like he hadn’t nearly been blasted to oblivion and wasn’t presently laid out on a biobed. ‘Right as rain with the doctor’s tender ministrations, sir.’

‘That’s a lie,’ Sadek drawled. ‘I’ve never been tender in my life. But he’ll make a full recovery. Ensign Osman, too, though she’ll need longer care.’

‘How soon before I’m back in the cockpit, Doc?’ Whitaker said quickly.

She rolled her eyes. ‘You can be back in forty-eight hours. I can’t recommend it.’

‘Can you recommend the Star Navy hold off a little longer? I’ve got more cruisers to shoot down.’

Kharth looked like she might blow a gasket. ‘Did you learn absolutely nothing from this?’

Whitaker shrugged. ‘Any fight you walk away from, right?’

Rourke cleared his throat and looked at Sadek. ‘Lieutenant Rhade?’

Her expression tensed, and she nodded to Lieutenant Li, her Head Nurse, to take over as she ushered Rourke and Kharth to one side. Although Rourke’s chest was tight, after all these years he could read Sadek like a book; this was not grim news. But it was probably not good news.

‘He’s in surgery with Doctor Elvad,’ Sadek said levelly, and a little like she disapproved; Rourke suspected her perfectly-qualified colleague had simply been first on the scene, while a trauma surgeon like Sadek wanted to be in the thick of it anyway. ‘He’s optimistic, but there was penetrating abdominal trauma and we’ve had to regenerate one kidney already. I want him to take it slowly.’

Kharth folded her arms across her chest. ‘Slow isn’t something we have the luxury of right now.’

Sadek shrugged. ‘Medicine doesn’t care about politics. What happened down there?’

‘It’s what we expected, but not on this scale,’ Rourke sighed. ‘Some of the old ruling families kept their private guard forces in reserve and sheltered loyalist naval officers. They have links and contacts across the system. This was their attempt to strike back. It failed.’

I’ve taken the crew of the cruiser into custody,’ Kharth said tartly. ‘Vakkis is questioning as we speak. We’ll get names of where they came from. And who helped them get a Malem-class “lost” at the refit station.’

‘My priority is immediate security,’ Rourke admitted, ‘not a witch-hunt for loyalists.’

‘If we leave witches un-hunted, then Korsk will come for them next. And he won’t ask as nicely as me or Lieutenant Vakkis.’ She straightened. ‘Korsk is going to want those people.’

‘He’s not going to get them.’ But Rourke grimaced. ‘Hiran is coming aboard for us to discuss this. I expect him to bring Korsk, if not Relekor, if not Zaviss. I hope he brings Zaviss. It was going to be me and Ms Hale, but you should join us, Lieutenant.’

‘Then I,’ said Sadek in her sing-song voice of escaping responsibility, ‘will keep patching everyone up ahead of this getting worse.’

Rourke waited until he and Kharth had made it to the turbolift whisking them towards the diplomatic suites before he turned and said, ‘How are you doing?’

She gave him her usual guarded look, and his gut twisted. She’d trusted him, once. ‘It wasn’t a hard fight for us.’

‘I mean with all of this-’

‘Romulan among Romulans and Remans?’ An acrid tone entered her voice. ‘It’s just another homecoming, sir. I seem to get a dozen of them a year. The only thing is that none of them are home, they’re just places trying to sink hooks into me so they can tear back out again.’

‘That’s why I’m checking in.’

She sighed. ‘I see myself in the people. And not just because they’re desperate and dispossessed, but because they’re Romulan, yes. They are my people. But they’re also not; I have nothing in common with a group of miners rising up in insurrection. And I still get the filthy looks from Remans as if I was part of their oppression.’ She scowled. ‘Even if I had a better lot than they did back on Romulus.’

‘It must be a lot to take in,’ he said carefully. ‘You know I’m relying on you not because you’re our on-board Romulan, but because you’re my Security Chief, right?’

‘I believe you. But it is also because I’m a Romulan.’

The turbolift doors slid open at that, banishing any chance of continuing the conversation. The VIP Bodyguard, Petty Officer Tarran, gave them a curt nod as they reached the diplomatic conference suite, and stepped through the doors into a raging row.

To Rourke’s surprise, it was not between Hale and the representatives of Agarath. She sat at the head of the table, sipping her drink with a look like she was happy to wait for this to burn out, an energy somewhat matched by Hiran beside her.

Further down, Korsk was on his feet and leaning across the conference table as he yelled at Zaviss, who looked up with arms folded across her chest and a defiant jut to her chin.

‘…should string you up as a traitor right here and now -’

Rourke advanced to slam his palm on the table. ‘That’s enough. I won’t have threats like that on my ship.’

Korsk rounded on him, the big Reman a taut ball of fury. ‘You’ve let this snake aboard in the first place, Captain -’

‘I’m here,’ Zaviss snapped, ‘to give explanations. Not to have a yelling match.’

‘I didn’t come here for a yelling match either,’ Korsk sneered.

Again Rourke raised his hands. ‘One step at a time. Do we know where these people came from?’

Zaviss rolled her eyes at Korsk’s pointed look. ‘I do now,’ she sighed. ‘The Yenaran household. They went into lockdown the moment the uprising started, they’ve been keeping their private guard on standby, and they have assets across the system. They sheltered naval officers and clearly still had allies among the staff of the refit station.’

‘Who’s at the Yenaran household now?’ said Kharth.

My guard,’ said Zaviss, to a hiss of indignation by Korsk, and she looked up at him. ‘They’re surrounding and containing the building. And I will not hand their security over to you until I’m confident they won’t be summarily executed.’

Hiran leaned forward at last. ‘That’s not what we do,’ the weathered old Reman said. ‘It’s not what we’re going to do.’

‘Not summarily,’ Korsk growled. ‘But this is just a patrician household protecting another. You’re looking after your own.’

‘I am looking after the people of Agarath – all of them. The Yenarans can’t hurt anyone now. Their comms are monitored, their guards are in Starfleet custody, their allies in space are being rooted out and locked up,’ Zaviss pointed out.

Kharth gave a small shrug. ‘We are making in-roads in figuring out who helped them get their hands on the Jontu,’ she agreed.

‘So it doesn’t matter what happens to people who aren’t the family themselves,’ Korsk sneered. ‘But you had best keep the important people safe.’

Hale got to her feet. ‘Will you allow, Ms Zaviss, for Starfleet to secure the Yenaran family?’

Zaviss shrugged. ‘They can. That sounds like an absolute waste of my private guard, though. Are they to braid each other’s hair while we see to the fate of Agarath?’

‘There are people here who’ll slip a knife between our ribs the moment we turn our backs,’ said Korsk. ‘We have to root them out.’

‘I agree,’ said Hiran, and Rourke watched Zaviss stiffen at that. The old Reman got to his feet and squared his shouldered. ‘Lady Zaviss. You must have information on the other assets of the Yenarans. Other means they have of exerting pressure. I request you give us everything you know.’ At her hesitation, he inclined his head. ‘You can in the meantime keep your guards in-place at the household. Once we have dismantled the Yenaran assets, and you see we are not slaughtering them -’ Korsk was given a curt look, ‘-then I will ask you to stand your people down and let the Agarath Guard secure the family.’

Zaviss hesitated. ‘As I said, is that not a waste of my guard?’

Your guards will continue to secure the Upper District. But I will need you to be more forthcoming with suspicions as to who else can be a threat. I’ve given you and your kind a long rein. I am not going to bring the fist down on those who do not oppose us. But damage to the power relay station could have brought down the habitation dome’s containment fields. Thousands could have died.’ Hiran planted his hands on the desk and leaned down. ‘Do we have an accord?’

She wetted her lips and looked to Rourke. ‘I am sure Starfleet will not stand for mistreatment of innocents.’

‘Starfleet doesn’t stand for the mistreatment of anyone,’ Rourke said. ‘This is a good solution, Ms Zaviss. I can’t defend this system if we’re going to be backstabbed from within.’

‘The First Secretary has made headway with the patrician families,’ Zaviss said, nodding to Hale. ‘There are many reassured by the Federation and Starfleet’s presence. I am sure that more time seeing the best of Governor Hiran’s rule will encourage them to participate in Agarath society.’

Korsk rolled his eyes and scoffed, but Hiran shook his head at him. ‘Thank you, both of you. As I have said: if you do not take up arms against me, or aid those taking up arms against me, you are not my enemy. But I do not want to see Agarath continue in such a splintered manner.’

‘So long as the Upper District remains in all its luxury, and everyone else rests in squalor, we will be splintered,’ Korsk pointed out.

‘You have two options to resolve that,’ Kharth said to him. ‘You give time or you take blood.’

‘Nobody gave my people the luxury of adapting to hardship at their own pace and comfort,’ came his quick retort.

‘And we are better than the people who did that to you, to us,’ Hiran reminded.

‘Ongoing relationships with the Federation will make this easier,’ said Hale gently. ‘We protect Agarath first. Then once we’re secure, the Velorum Sector is secure, I promise you there are opportunities for reforming this place and making it somewhere everyone is safe and happy.’

‘Under Federation rule,’ said Korsk, and for the first time Rourke thought he saw Zaviss look like she might agree with him.

Hiran shook his head. ‘Speaking of our defences, what is their condition?’

‘Two weapon platforms on the inner asteroid belt destroyed,’ Kharth reported. ‘Only minor disruption in the habitation dome. This could have been a lot worse. Commander Cortez already has teams building replacement platforms.’

‘And continuing this work is something I should get back to,’ Rourke said with a deep incline of the head. ‘I’ll ask Lieutenant Kharth to stay to help liaise and plan what the Agarath Guard needs to do next to contain this situation. Thank you all for meeting on board.’

Kharth did not look overburdened with gratitude as he left, but someone had to liaise, and she’d shown herself able to handle Korsk, at least. He suspected Zaviss was somewhat eased by talking to a Romulan officer, and had to quietly admit that maybe Kharth had been right, after all. He didn’t use her because of her heritage – but her heritage did influence how he used her.

When he got to the bridge, Lindgren rose from the command chair with an anxious look. ‘Good timing, sir. We’ve just been contacted over subspace.’

Rourke frowned. ‘Command?’

‘No, sir. These are Romulan Star Navy frequencies.’ She bit her lip. ‘They want to talk to you, specifically.’

‘Put it through to my ready room.’

It was not a particular surprise to see the face that greeted him once he’d settled behind his desk and brought the screen to life. Sharp-featured and severe in comportment and manner, Commander Lotharn remained every inch the Romulan officer Rourke remembered. It had been long months since last they had met, last they had spoken, but their time together in Tagrador Prison Camp was burned into his heart.

Lotharn inclined his head and spoke with surprising courtesy. ‘Captain Rourke. Thank you for receiving my call.’

‘Commander Lotharn.’ Rourke hesitated, lips twisting, then leaned forward. ‘Nah, let’s not piss around acting like we’re gentlemen at war. You’re coming here to slaughter people, after all. What do you want?’

‘To the point as ever.’ Lotharn shook his head. ‘I’m not here to slaughter anyone. My orders are to restore the rightful government of Agarath, bring it back under the authority of Rator, and bring the criminals who staged a bloody uprising to justice.’

‘You mean, the officers of the Star Navy who removed the legal government of the Senate of Rator? Those criminals and that bloody uprising?’

Lotharn’s expression didn’t shift. ‘I have my orders, as you do. Let’s not pretend you’ve not committed atrocities in the name of Starfleet. I might not be hunting you for the Erem any more, but I have not forgiven or forgotten.’

The Erem, the Romulan ship he’d ordered destroyed, even as it was trying to flee, for seizing dangerous Omega particles against all of his warnings. The bounty on his head had not been formally lifted, but Rourke knew it was likely down to Lotharn that the Star Empire had eased in its desperation to bring him in.

‘You said to me once,’ Rourke mused, ‘that all the rules crumble in the face of annihilation, except for the ones maintained by those who never have to look that destruction in the eye. Your empire is falling, Lotharn, and yet again in a crisis you are demeaning yourself, your honour, your uniform, for the sake of superiors who don’t have to live with the choices you make.’

‘My empire is wounded,’ Lotharn allowed. ‘But I will not stand idly by as it falls. What would you do for your Federation, Rourke? Run?’ He shook his head. ‘The odds are against Rator. But what else can I stand for? The Free State, with the Tal Shiar’s claws sunk into it so openly, with not even the back-and-forth of politics and a chance to wrest back control as in the days before the supernova? The rabble of the Republic? I do not have a choice. I take no pleasure in marching on our own worlds, on our own people. But it is this or the life of a renegade.’

‘There is always,’ said Rourke, ‘the Federation.’

Lotharn gave a low chuckle. ‘I do not remember you being funny, Rourke. I am not a traitor.’

‘Then why are you calling me, Lotharn, if you’re so damn implacable?’

‘Because you do have a choice.’ The Romulan leaned forward. ‘You have one ship. A mighty ship, for sure; mightier than when we last met. But one ship. The desperate scraps of Agarath’s defenders. And that is it. I have a strike force. You cannot hope to win.’

‘Oh,’ said Rourke. ‘This is the bit where you play at being a man of honour and offer me the chance to walk away, save my skin, save my crew, and let you just slaughter the defenders. Because you will have to kill these people to stop them. I think that means you’re actually worried about going toe-to-toe with me, Lotharn. We never did that before, did we.’

‘We did not. But the odds are not on your side. I have no issue with the Federation if you stay out of my way. But if you will stand your ground, then…’ He drew a slow breath. ‘Perhaps you will answer for your crimes after all. You have seventy hours until my strike force arrives. Make the right choice, Rourke.’

‘Don’t worry. I will.’

But for all of his defiant words, for all the bravado he could put up, once the screen went dead and Lotharn’s face disappeared, Rourke could only slump back in his chair, scrub his face, and feel the boiling dread rise before him at the oncoming storm.