There had been some work for Galan in managing the various handshakes between Arcturus and the remaining functional transporter rooms on Cardinal 1, but once the runabouts were off the deck and the evacuation was proceeding in earnest, he was able to leave his post and get some much-needed rest, or at least some much-needed ablutions. For all of its moisture-wicking and survivability qualities, the Type-B Starfleet Duty Uniform didn’t lend itself to being worn for nearly seventy-two hours without a break. That’s how long it had been since he’d been to and back from the Romulan ship, and he’d stayed on duty through their first layover, then through the attack, and then through the relentless flow of new responsibilities during the evacuation. The cloth practically shattered when he discarded his jacket and undershirt on the floor of his quarters, or at least that’s how grungy he felt.
Galan didn’t realize how much of a pallor had set over him until he looked at himself in the mirror, his already-pale skin looking waxy even under the very forgiving lights built into the vanity. He should have been exhausted—and perhaps he was, after a second, third, fourth, and fifth wind—but all he felt was numbness and shock over what had happened more than a day prior to Zaos Sarcaryn. To the Risian, their casual intimacy was probably not a significant occurrence, but Galan didn’t find himself one who was readily given to such indulgences. He was beautiful and kind, and the fact that Galan’s own people had been responsible for what by all accounts was a horrific injury had the Romulan cursing his own heritage and wishing for an exchange of fates. He also knew that had the timing been slightly different, it could have been him crushed under the structural support braces in the engineering bay on Cardinal 1 rather than Sarcaryn.
“That temperature is not recommended for your physiology,” the computer complained when he set the bath water to 42 degrees Celsius.
“Understood,” Galan replied, crossing his arms and waiting for the tub to fill.
Through the marvels of Federation science, his bath filled quickly. When Galan stepped in, he instantly felt the pinpricks of his skin complaining “no, no, no,” for being exposed to water just short of being scalding, even for a Romulan. He laid back until he was all the way submerged, with just his nose sticking out of the water. Eyes closed, he felt the heat on his body and the insistent beating of his heart as blood rushed to his digits and head, trying to cool him down. He counted to thirty and then to sixty. By that point, the pounding in his ears made him wonder if that’s what the all-encompassing sensation of being in the womb might have been like.
After two minutes, his body was starting to adjust to the water, and Galan had yet to really feel anything as he let his dark hair flow unrestrained behind him. He wondered at what point would the computer warn him again, but at three minutes, he had had enough. The young man emerged from the water and grabbed a towel to pat down the intermingled water and sweat on his forehead. Feet back on the floor, he cinched the cloth around his narrow waist and then walked into the sonic shower.
As with the bath, Galan set the contraption to the highest frequency his sensitive Romulan ears could stand, gritting his teeth as the sensory equivalent of cold jets of water hit him from all angles. The sonic pulses took the water out of his hair as well as cleaned what might have been imaginary grime off of his body. Still, all he could really feel was a gnawing emptiness inside him.
Galan punched the wall, and the connection between the flesh in his hand and the tritanium lattice material of the sonic shower partition made him briefly wince in pain. That was something, at least. He didn’t know what he was trying to accomplish exactly, but successfully causing a sensory reaction didn’t scratch the itch he was having trouble naming.
“Get ahold of yourself. You studied at La Sorbonne. You’re better than this,” the lieutenant muttered.
The mirror was still steamed up from the hot bath, so Galan wiped enough of it off with his hand so that he could see his face. His hair had gotten behind one of his ears, and he was reminded of Sarcaryn reaching over to style his hair just like that, saying that he shouldn’t be ashamed of his heritage even if it led to some stereotypes. After Vashti, he’d thrown himself into Earth’s culture in Paris and then gave the Vulcans a trial run before joining Starfleet, so he was used to being an outsider; he hadn’t fully realized what he was doing with his hair until Sarcaryn had pointed it out.
He took a deep breath and tapped one of the drawers to the side of the vanity, where he retrieved his barely used set of standard-issue clippers. They even had the Starfleet delta on them. To make sure that he would finish the job, the young man buzzed a strip of his hair off straight down the middle of his head. While changing his entire aesthetic with just a few minutes of coiffage didn’t shock him out of his funk, he found it perversely satisfying to indulge in such an impulsive choice. It’s not like it wouldn’t grow back after all. With his obsidian locks now lying at his feet, Galan no longer had a way of hiding his ears, and that did make him feel something: he wanted to look in the mirror and not see someone passing as Vulcan or Human but as a member of the race that was in the midst of a self-inflicted death spiral. When he helped Arcturus find and hunt down that last warbird, he wanted to do it as a Romulan.
“Lieutenant Galan, Passenger Oban would like to meet you,” the computer reported, as if on cue to his psyche.
Oban living in comfort and luxury aboard Arcturus when his refusal to hand over information either had likely led directly to the attack or was just a ruse to get himself better accommodations—even if he claimed otherwise—made Galan’s blood boil. It was especially galling now when he thought of Sarcaryn again.
While Galan had been part of Oban’s interrogations, it had always been from behind a screen to avoid tipping their hand that they had some amount of Romulan insight. What the other young Romulan wanted from him was beyond Galan’s guess—perhaps he was hoping for a sympathetic ear or someone to lobby the captain for his cause? Fat chance. Still, maybe he could exploit whatever assumed familiarity there might be there to his own advantage.
“Tell him that I will meet him soon,” Galan replied as he kicked the copious pile of hair he had created into the vacuum chute under the sink.
The lieutenant pulled on a fresh duty uniform after another quick sonic shower to make sure that he wouldn’t itch for the rest of the day. As it was apparently a day of impulsive decisions, he stopped by the equipment locker set into the bulkhead next to his door. He keyed in his access code, and the panel spun around to reveal a comprehensive set of handheld equipment nestled in custom-made foam rubber slots, including a type-II phaser pistol and the smaller type-I hand phaser. He grabbed the smaller one and slipped it onto his belt under the edge of his uniform jacket.
The turbolift journey from Galan’s quarters in the saucer section to Oban’s temporary space near the battle bridge was short. The lieutenant found two crewmen in gold uniforms standing next to the door, though their weapons weren’t concealed like his was.
“Our guest said he wanted to see me,” Galan said.
The two crewmen looked at each other before one turned to hit the chime on the door panel; Galan was sure that he could see a flicker of uncertainty on the young guard’s face, which Galan attributed to his being Romulan and wanting to see their Romulan passenger-turn-intelligence source. A moment or two later, Oban called from within that Galan should enter, so the same crewman unlocked the door and let the officer pass.
“You wished to see me?” Galan asked, crossing his hands behind his back once he entered the guest quarters.
Oban was much as Galan had expected him from seeing him on the security feed, but meeting someone for the first time in person always made him take a moment to reconcile the remote image with the real person. He seemed smaller and more desperate in person, though they were about the same height and build.
“Ah, you must be Galan. Jolan tru,” Oban said, gesturing towards one of the seats near to the couch.
Galan remained standing. “Jolan tru,” he replied, nodding. “Is there something I can do for you?”
Oban blanched and swallowed nervously, making a somewhat awkward pirouette to abort his own move to go sit down. Good, his nerves would work against him, Galan thought.
“The computer said that you were the only other Romulan aboard this ship, at least as a member of the crew,” Oban said. “I… guess I wanted some perspective on whether the Humans can be trusted.”
Galan chuckled. “Do you honestly think I would tell you if they couldn’t be? It’s not just the Humans, though,” he replied, drawling slightly as he studied the other man. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re the one whose trust is in doubt at this point.”
“Why would I lie?”
“Because you’re in a suite by yourself, and the rest of the convoy is being crammed into cots in cargo bays,” Galan replied, gesturing around the room. He chuckled. “I can certainly understand not wanting to go somewhere like Vashti. I lived through that before I moved to study on Earth,” he added, eliding some of the unhappier details of his childhood.
“Yes, well, I’d like to skip that step,” Oban quipped. “I have real information about troop movements and Imperial starships. Put me on a shuttle to the core worlds, and I’ll give it to you.”
“You know as well as I do that any Romulan forces lying in wait cloaked are more than a match for any of our shuttles and they are looking for precisely such a mistake,” Galan replied. “So, conversely, give us what you know, and we will be able to end the threat and send you along.”
Oban shifted on his feet as though that argument resonated at some level with him, but he shook his head. “I have the metaphorical equivalent of a disruptor with one shot. If I fire, I’m disarmed,” he said.
Galan shrugged. “Perhaps,” he said, moving a step closer and placing his hands on the back of one of the lounge chairs that neither of them was using. “The fact that it’s all or nothing is what leads me to believe that you’re telling the truth. You have a data cache with a single encryption key.”
“It was admittedly not my brightest choice.”
“I’m not finished: you clearly also think that your biggest threat is already aboard Arcturus—your fellow passengers—, so this is what’s going to happen: You are going to tell me exactly what you have and how to access it, or I’m going to broadcast your name, face, and location to every screen and PADD on this ship and I’m going to order the two guards outside the door to find something better to do with their time,” Galan said.
“You… You wouldn’t. You don’t have that kind of authority,” Oban stammered.
Galan shrugged. “Authority, no. Ability? Yes,” he said, looking Oban straight in the eyes. “My backup plan is shooting you and telling my captain to throw you back to the masses as a liar,” he said.
“About which part?” Galan replied, unclipping the type-I phaser he had on his belt and resting it on the chair’s back. He saw Oban studying the weapon. “Lucky for you that Starfleet weapons have a stun setting, I guess. The attack on the last ship in your flotilla left dozens dead and one of my good friends maimed, so… I guess you could say that I’m willing to roll the dice to see whether my captain cares that I’m pointing a phaser at you, right now.”
Oban crossed his arms.
“Computer, prepare to open a ship-wide channel.”
“Wait! Fine. Fine!” the other Romulan relented.
“Cancel request, Computer,” Galan said. “Good. Give me the information.”
“It’s not that simple. It’s in my blood proteins.”
“So, give me your blood, then. Computer, replicate one blood test kit and a PADD,” Galan ordered. On the table near them, the computer created the requested items. Galan gestured with the phaser, and Oban went over to get them, hands shaking a little. “It’s simple enough. Find a vein on the inside of your arm, and press the button on the machine.”
“I’m not an idiot,” Oban muttered. Galan watched as the other man extracted a vial of green blood from his arm. Without prompting, he tapped in a code sequence into the PADD, which Galan could tell was a decryption key. “I’ve given you what you wanted.”
Galan clipped the phaser back to his belt and went over to gather the materials. “We’ll see. I hope this performance wasn’t too… Romulan for you,” he noted, shaking his head before leaving Oban to his thoughts.