Prepping Szerenth III for re-habitation was not a particularly complicated assignment.
To Tallera’s surprise, the most complicated thing she’d had to do was land the Achana, and the ship was just about able to land itself with its main computer. Once that was done, she’d mostly spent her time with the rest of the crew unloading supplies like emergency power generators or industrial replicators to help the colony get back on its feet. She, Dreval, and the Caitian executive officer spent a bit of time hiking to the colony’s main power reactor to restart the thing, which was a welcome little distraction. Even if her role of “armed escort” was rather superfluous in a city without any people or dangerous animals.
To see a rather large-scale settlement entirely abandoned was an exceptionally unique and eerie sight to see, which Tallera had found some enjoyment in. It almost didn’t feel real – the inhuman stillness and emptiness of the settlement made her feel like she was on the set of a horror movie or something. Even better, neither of her compatriots seemed particularly interested in small talk.
After the long day of moving stuff around, Tallera happily found herself in the Achana’s aft lounge with Dreval, the room’s large windows offering a stunning view of the gas giant-dominated nighttime sky.
“One green smoothie, as ordered,” she said with a smirk as she returned from the replicator, plopping herself down on a couch next to the Vulcan and handing him the beverage.
“Thank you. What did you elect to drink?”
“Something called an ‘Imperial Pale Ale’. Human-made, I think. It was one of the only alcoholic drinks I could find where I knew what every word in the name meant.” She swirled the yellowish-brown liquid in her pint glass. Why were Human beers such gross colors?
“Our replicators do have Romulan Ale varieties, if you are interested.”
“Well, you have one variety,” Tallera playfully scoffed. “And it’s just labeled ‘Romulan Ale.’ How am I supposed to know what that means? We make all kinds of different ales.” She took a swig from her pint glass, and slightly scrunched up her face.
“Is something wrong?”
“No, it’s just hoppier than I expected. It’s not bad, but it’ll be an adjustment.”
“As I understand it, lager-type beers are the nearest Human analogue to Romulan Ales. The name ale is believed to be a slight mistranslation by both parties.”
“I’ll try that next, I guess. How do you know so much about beer? I didn’t think Vulcans drink.”
“I took a Beers of the Galaxy class as a university elective.”
“They offered that at a Vulcan college?”
“It was considered to be a practical way to expand one’s understanding of other cultures.”
That prompted a laugh from Tallera.
“You know Dreval, there’s something I don’t understand about your species,” she continued.
“I will provide an explanation if I am able.”
Tallera inhaled slightly.
“Why don’t Vulcans… just run the Federation?”
“I do not understand the context of your question.” Dreval said with a raised an eyebrow.
“I mean, compare yourselves to almost every other species in the Federation. You’re stronger, faster, smarter, and you live almost twice as long.”
“We are not smarter. We simply place a higher emphasis on rational problem solving and have a brain more suited to mathematical calculations.”
“…That’s functionally the same thing as what I said.”
“Not to us, it is not.”
“Whatever. What I mean is, in almost every way, you are superior to those around you. Yet your species is perfectly fine playing second-fiddle to Humans in Starfleet.”
Dreval sat in silence for a few moments, seemingly in contemplation.
“Do you believe yourself to be equally superior to non-Vulcan Federation species?” he finally asked.
“I… what? That’s not what I-”
“It is not, but it is a simple extrapolation to make based on your statement. Romulans share over 99.9% of their DNA with Vulcans, and share nearly all of the traits you listed as well. Therefore, it would be logical to assume that you think you stand alongside us in superiority over our fellow crewmates.”
“That… wasn’t really what I meant.”
“It was what you implied. Would you choose to save the life of a Vulcan or Romulan over that of a Human or Andorian?”
“Yes,” Tallera said after chewing on her cheek in thought for a moment. “That’s just basic, logical math, right? We live longer, so when you save someone like us, you’re saving more life.”
“What if it was an older Vulcan and a younger Andorian? Or if it was a group of Humans whose combined potential life expectancies was greater than that of a comparatively smaller group of Romulans?”
“Oh, come on Dreval, that’s just splitting hairs.”
“It is never splitting hairs to analyze the logic behind one’s ethical beliefs.”
“Whatever,” Tallera said softly and with a bit of a scoff.
“Additionally, when you state that Vulcans could run Starfleet, what manner in which do you see us acquiring this state of leadership? Are you implying that we could do so by force?”
“Well… not necessarily, but, I mean, you probably could. I’ve studied Vulcan history. Even after Surak’s revolution, you can still be conniving and pragmatic.”
Dreval nodded along as she spoke, then briefly remained silent.
“We do not assume control of the Federation because we have no desire to do so,” he finally stated, his tone surprisingly firm.
“Because all species within the Federation are dedicated to the betterment of ourselves and those around us. Most of us have left behind such simplistic in-group, out-group mentalities. We do not see the galaxy as something to dominate or fight over. It is simply something to exist in harmony with. It is rather alarming that you do seem to see it as something to dominate.”
“I had not considered the cultural ramifications that Romulans such as yourself must experience after generations of complicity in a totalitarian regime. It is logical to deduce that those who have only exercised the power of a boot will only truly comprehend the power of a boot.”
“Wha- I never knew the Romulan Star Empire!” Tallera said firmly, angrily slamming her pint glass onto the coffee table. “You’ve got some nerve saying that to a Republic Navy Officer. Our entire purpose is to fend off people that want to step on us, we’ve been fighting the Empire since we were founded!
“You did not know the Star Empire, but all those who taught you did. How many of your academy professors served in the Imperial Romulan Navy?”
Tallera stood up from the couch, scowling at Dreval.
“It’s no wonder my ancestors preferred moving planets to living with Vulcans,” she stated, nostrils flared. “You can have the rest of my beer. Maybe write a paper to your university professor, I’m sure they don’t have to worry about things like orbital bombardments from an Empire invasion, or Free State terrorists blowing themselves up in your town square.” She stormed out of the lounge without another word.
Tallera laid prone on her bed, fuming.
How dare that Vulcan bastard try to compare her Republic to the Star Empire. She’d wanted to rip his scruffy head off as he’d sat there judging her entire nation from one completely innocuous question.
I bet that’s how all these Federation types are, she thought. Sitting around in their comfy, private rooms, judging people for having to fight for a tenth of the luxuries that they don’t even notice they have. Hell, the fact that she had the privacy to throw herself her own little pity-party was just further proof of Starfleet’s cushy life of luxury.
Tallera rolled onto her back and sighed, staring up at the dimmed light in the center of her ceiling. She missed home. She missed the Republic fleet and its cramped warbirds that were maintained with whatever they could find. She missed staying up late with her best friend Veri until a Sublieutenant would yell at them to turn the lights off. She missed not feeling guilty every time she took a private shower.
Of course, longing for the familiar wasn’t just what was eating her up inside. One of the things that bothered her most was how much of Dreval’s words reminded her of something her favorite professor had said.
July 19, 2399
New Romulus Naval Academy
“Antecenturion Tallera, reporting as ordered, Sir.”
“At ease, Antecenturion,” Commander Ayenak said to Tallera, motioning to a chair across from his seat at his desk. “Take a seat. I’m guessing you have some questions.”
Tallera did as she was told, still maintaining a stiff, professional posture even though her mind felt like it was collapsing in on itself.
“I would never be so bold to question my assignment, Sir.”
“I know you wouldn’t, kid,” he said with an ever-so-slight sigh. Kid? Ayenak had never called her that during a lecture. “But also I know this is a little different than what you were expecting.”
“I’m… just a little confused, Sir. We learned in our classes that Officer Exchange Programs are usually done with senior-grade Officers. I’m… I don’t understand what the Federation would want with an E1. I’m a blank slate.”
“A blank slate is a good way of describing what you are,” Ayenak nodded. “And it’s why we’re sending you to the Federation.”
Ayenak took on a melancholic look and rested his elbows on his desk.
“I never told the class about the first time I saw action in the Navy, did I?”
“It was a little less than a century ago,” he said with a resigned sigh. “On Armirus.”
“Isn’t that a Star Empire mining world, Sir?” Tallera asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes it is, Antecenturion. My Warbird was sent to quell a Reman slave uprising there.”
Tallera furrowed her brow, a twinge of nausea swelling in her gut. She’d attended academy with Remans; her best friend was a Reman. That they had been so thoroughly subjugated by her own people for so long was still a thought that cut her to her core.
“When we arrived, the Remans had already killed all the Imperial personnel at the mining site. To my Commander, that meant that we didn’t need to worry about collateral damage. So I was allowed to watch from the bridge as disruptor beams turned over 5,000 Reman men, women, and children to ash. They thought it was good to let some junior officers see things like that. And we didn’t even think about it, what we’d seen done. It was just another day in the life of service, right?”
Tallera clenched her jaw and swallowed hard, pretty sure most of the blood had drained from her face.
“Why are you telling me this, Sir?” she said softly.
“Because everyone that taught you what you know has a story like that,” Ayenak continued. “Because that’s what the Star Empire was, and that’s what all of us grew up with. To question orders was treason. To think too hard about orders was treason. To extinguish thousands of souls for daring to want a better life for their children was just honorable duty to the Empire. We may have grown as people, learned the value of sentient life since then, but the things that we were taught in our academy? They linger, like a sickness in our minds. Hearing junior officers question orders bothers us. Taking time to think long and hard about the ethical considerations of our actions doesn’t come easy to us. And if it doesn’t come easy to us, how can we really, truly make it come easy to you?”
“I’m not sure I understand, Sir.”
“Tallera, everyone here did our damndest to give you the best Naval education we could give you. Your generation – people that grew up without the shadow of the old regime – are a beacon of hope for a democratic Romulan people. But we just don’t know how much of the old Empire ways we let leak into your minds. And we truly have no way to know.”
Ayenak placed a Federation combadge on the desk between them.
“They don’t have that problem,” he said firmly with a mix of admiration and subtle envy. “The Federation Starfleet has been a shining star of democracy for generations upon generations. None of their officers have put down slave rebellions. None of them have fired on civilians to keep them in line.”
“They didn’t help us evacuate Romulus.”
“No, they did not, and they will bear the shame of that for as long as the Federation exists. They are not perfect. But they are a long-established symbol of freedom to trillions within this galaxy. So, we want some of our best and brightest young people working with them. Learning what service looks like in a long lived, healthy democracy that we aspire to emulate. And maybe even un-learning some of the things we taught you that we didn’t even know were wrong.
Tallera put her pillow over her head and groaned. Damnit damnit damnit, she thought, then stepped out of bed, fixed her hair in the mirror, and strode down the hall to knock on Dreval’s door.
When his door swished open, he still had the smoothie in his hand.
“Hello Tallera,” he said. “You were correct. The ale was too hoppy.”
“Yeah,” she chuckled.
“Additionally, I would like to apologize for-”
Tallera held up a hand to silence him.
“Nope. No apology. Because you were right.”
Dreval shot her with a confused, inquisitive look.
“That is not what I expected you to say when you knocked on my door.”
“Well, it’s true. The way I see the world is clouded by the centuries my people spent serving a totalitarian, xenophobic police state. And that’s why I’m here.”
“That is why you’re outside my door?”
“No,” she replied. “That’s why I’m here in Starfleet. The Republic wants officers that understand how a force for good in the galaxy works so I can help make the Republic into that, too. So, the next time I say something too Empire-y, call me out like you did today.”
“I… can do that,” he said, still seeming a bit taken aback.
“I would kind of prefer that you not insult the Romulan Republic, though.”
“That is what I was going to apologize to you about.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
The pair stood in silence for a few moments.
“I think Travers and Vahl are playing that swim game in the central lounge,” Tallera spoke up. “Want to join them?”
“Yeah, the game with all the numbered balls.”
“That game is called pool.”
“Same difference,” Tallera said with a smile. “So… want to join them?”
“That would be agreeable,” Dreval nodded, and the pair made their way down the hall.
“Oh, hey,” Tallera said, scratching at the back of her neck as she walked. “Back on New Romulus, my friends call me Tallie. You can call me that if you want.”
“I can do that. However, I do not personally have a diminutive familiar version of my own name.”
“That’s fine,” Tallera laughed.
“So I suppose we are friends, now.”
Tallera looked up at Dreval, smiled, and affectionately punched his arm.
“Seems like it.”