Chapter 31 - Inauthentic Living

ON: Deck 16

Evan stepped out of Sickbay but went no further as the doors slid shut behind him. He took a moment – needed to take a moment, in fact. He was surprised by that, but only until his thoughts caught up with his emotions and he acknowledged the reason.

It wasn’t his concern for his people, although there was plenty of that. He’d always taken it hard when people under his command had been wounded while following his orders, but Dr. Darney’s assurances had been concrete – only minor injuries had been suffered and most of those lying on biobeds in Sickbay would be right as rain again in no time. Regardless of his change in allegiances, he was still their captain, and a lifetime of service in Starfleet had engrained in him a deep respect for that role. Their lives were his responsibility.

No. The trepidation that still troubled him didn’t owe to the currently wounded, but to the spectre of an old wound rearing its head again. The Hiroshima-A had been lost through sabotage. Its deflector array, heavily modified for slipstream travel, had been rigged to tear the ship apart. There was no indication that the Foundation was acting against the Hiroshima-B, of course, but he worried. Worried that a similar malfeasance would cause more casualties and similar destruction.

And if the Foundation did try to destroy the Hiroshima with him on it? It was scary to think that he could end up dying at the hands of his allies. It would be for the greater good of the Foundation, of course, but that didn’t help his heart beat any slower. He just hoped he could save as many of his crew as possible.

A greeting snapped him out of his reverie. He didn’t put the voice to a name until he turned and saw their new counsellor, Savren Cielj. His hands parted. He hadn’t realised he’d been rubbing his gold-clad one.

“Ensign,” he said, not quite sure he hadn’t missed something. He glanced back the way Cielj had just come. The counselling offices lay that way. “No customers, I take it?”

“Not yet, once things calm down, I expect to have more than my share,” answered the Andorian.

Evan didn’t doubt it, not with the sudden reminder for some of their mortality. “I was just checking on the wounded,” he said, indicating the door behind him. “Doctor Darney says they’re all going to make a full recovery.”

“That is good news,” Savren said. “Beyond basic first aid, there is little I can do to be helpful in sick bay. I am feeling a bit adrift, I want to help but my skillset is not yet needed.”

“You’ve just described 99% of away missions while I was Chief Engineer.” Evan, trying to recover a little from those still-distracting thoughts, said, “I was actually about to get some food, if you’re care to join me.”

“That would be welcome,” agreed Savren. “Perhaps I can help you organize your thoughts. I have been told I am a good listener.”

Evan nearly started. Obviously, what else would someone standing pensively outside Sickbay be doing except thinking? And the captain, to boot. As long as Cielj didn’t find out what those thoughts were. “Useful skill in your profession, Counsellor,” he said, turning towards the nearest turbolift. “The officers’ mess is a good spot to get lunch at this hour.”

Evan led the way to the nearest turbolift/transporter junction, Cielj in step with him, wondering what nuggets of reasonable concerns he might display to the counsellor without seeming like a complete amateur. In his experience, counsellors were perceptive enough to detect deception in their subjects, so best to stick to the truth. That they were not his chief concerns didn’t make them any less pertinent.

“Our away team’s in trouble,” he said. It was possible that Cielj had heard some of the details already – news travelled fast and the situation on the planet had been prolonged – but the amount of information he had probably didn’t go beyond rumour and what he’d been told at the initial staff briefing. “Evacuating them’s proving difficult, but there’s a complicating matter – the Romulans are already here.”

“That does not surprise me, the Romulans are strong proponents of, as one of the rebellious cavalry commanders of Terra once said, ‘Get there first with the most men’,” said Savren.”It is a strategy that has served them well in the past.”

Which didn’t surprise Evan one bit. There’d been several incidents in recent years when the Romulans had annexed star systems in either a bid to secure more resources for their struggling civilian and military infrastructure or to prevent others from drawing too close.

They reached the turbolift/transporter junction. The transporter would be faster, of course, but Evan still found himself nearly choosing the other option anyway. He made an effort to step towards the transporter. “The Romulans are lending the away team aid, presumably because they’re in the same trouble, but I’m worried that it’s more a case of strange bedfellows and their interests will stop aligning with ours the moment it suits them.”

Savren steered him to the turbolift. “It will give us more time to talk.” He said, “Officers mess, merci.” The Andorian instructed the lift.

Turning back to the Captain, he said, “The solution is obvious, make sure the external threat remains threatening enough that keeping aligned with us. Of course to do that we need a better understanding of the threat. The Romulans are good at spotting lies, so it will have to be a properly constructed truth.” The Andorian’s antenna quirked in amusement. “A lovely challenge. Do we have a clue as to which Romulan faction they represent?”

“Unfortunately not.” Evan could see where Cielj was coming from with the ‘enemy of my enemy’ approach, but he’d hit the nail on the head when he’d pointed out that any deception risked being seen through and spoiling relations further. “Given how quickly they got here, then they have to be from the nearest Romulan-controlled sectors, but we don’t know who’s running those for sure. The Romulan Free State implied they did when Starfleet was trying to negotiate passage through their space, but we know it’s been claimed by other groups – various remnants of the Star Empire, the Romulan Republic, even a rump of the Tal Shiar. The only group we think haven’t claimed it are the Remans.”

“Which, given the Romulan love of duplicity, does not mean much,” says Savren as the lift doors opened. “Though I think we can make an educated guess they are not from the Free State, they would have asked for aid, if only to minimize their own exposure to risk. But we will have to analyze what information we have to try and work out which faction we have here. That will give us a clue on how to shape our appeal to their self-interest.”

“I am sure our intelligencer must have some solid guesses by now, non?” he said as they entered the officer’s mess.

The counsellor’s opinion had the ring of truth to it. It also had the benefit of concurring with Starfleet Intelligence’s read of the situation. If the Romulan Free State really was in control of this area of space, then it would have granted the Hiroshima access through its space. It was not friendly towards the Federation, but it was far from hostile, and while Evan didn’t doubt for a second they wouldn’t jeopardise that relationship if there was a prize worth winning out here, the Free State already had the Artifact. What they couldn’t learn about nanotech from that abandoned Borg cube probably didn’t amount to much.

“Lieutenant al-Khalid has gone over everything Starfleet had before we left communications range, but our intelligence on the situation out here’s unreliable,” Evan said, heading through the corridors of deck 3 towards the officers’ mess. “Our best guess right now is a Star Empire remnant, probably established by one of the more powerful military leaders or senators.”

“Agreed, the Romulan Republican faction would have likely tried to play on their supposed democratic credentials to secure aid from us,” mused the Andorian. “They are by far the most intriguing of the Romulan successor states to me.”

Evan was impressed by Cielj’s knowledge of Romulan affairs. There weren’t many aboard the ship who could delve into the topic in such detail. “A fan of Romulan politics?” he asked, stepping through the doors to the mess.

“How can any existentialist not be? The Romulan culture is a case study in inauthentic living, it is truly, deeply fascinating,” Savren says with a smile. “Even apart from the philosophical aspect, watching such a major political realignment happen is a unique opportunity to learn about Romulan culture, of which we are still ill-informed and the people who comprise it.”

‘Inauthentic living’ was as apt a description as Evan had ever heard to describe the dissembling that was the Romulan way of life. Some outsiders burdened by Pollyanna levels of optimism professed a belief that, now out from under the yoke of the old empire and its shadowy enforcers, Romulans would emerge into the light and embrace transparent living. People with a little more realism in their bones simply hoped for a less malignant aversion to openness.

Evan made his way to the bank of replicators. He had mentioned that the mess was a good place to get lunch, but the truth was he rarely came here. Most of his meals he took in his Ready Room or his quarters. It was a carry-over from his pre-command career when he’d eaten almost exclusively in Main Engineering.

“For the time being, I’d be satisfied to know what they’re doing out here and whether they know anything about the crew of the Lorrenz,” he said, inputting the code for a small lunch. An idea had occurred to him, though. “We might not get the opportunity to talk to them, but if we do, would you be willing to be a part of the team?”

“I would be delighted,” said Savren. “Though, until now, my interactions with the Romulans have only been through academic material. It would be a pleasure to meet some of them in person.”

Academic or not, Evan would take whatever advantage he could. “Did you participate on any away missions while you were on the Saint-Cyr?” he asked, perhaps a little belatedly. Safe, milk run missions permitted things like that for cadets and some experience was required, even for non-field staff, but this would be something else.

“Yes, but nothing overly dangerous,” said Savren honestly. “Gathering of botanical samples, helping with emergency shelter construction, basic tasks.”

Again, it was hardly ideal. Learning in the trenches it would be, then. “It won’t be as quiet a mission as those, but we’ll try to keep you out of harm’s way, Counsellor,” he said.

“I have the training, sir, and I knew what I was signing on for,” said Sevren. “Do not let me distract anyone from the mission.”

JP by:

Ens. Savren Cielj



Capt. Evan Yearling

Commanding Officer

USS Hiroshima-B