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Posted on Fri Sep 10th, 2021 @ 5:47pm by Lieutenant Hatham tr'Krotash & Subcommander Kaiae t'Lien

Mission: Chapter V: The Calm Before The Storm

The removal of the Tal Shiar banner behind Raven's desk had been in truth the only piece of the changes set in motion just prior to their arrival at Drozona that didn't make Kaiae feel adrift in a large, dangerous storm. It had been all well and good to be told the Colonel no longer saw them as serving the Empire; and intended to officially record said fact; or to try to make understood her own view that she did still; that in their mission to save it's people, she kept the depths of her oath more while technically breaking it, than the leaders who judged them as having done so, while betraying their own.

But when she had come to those decisions, originally...she had not done so alone, nor had she intended to be such. She had been a lieutenant who had followed her commander, and had expected to still; minor scion of a distant branch of a minor noble house following the daughter of a more elevated one in a chosen cause. But he knife-edge danger that was political misadventure seemed for all evidence to have seriously mislaid those plans. And; there was no one to follow or to guide her in the delicate balance of allegiance and duty and service via disobedience; and Kaiae was aware that she was now if not past out of time to keep waiting or hoping for Areinnye to return or send a signal, or find her way clear of whatever trap had ensnared her. Now, she was alone; with the choices she had made and the unexpected landscape before them to try to somehow carry them out, not just for herself but for the rest of those who had followed the commander in this cause; who now landed in her charge; and the people back home depending on them.

Humans, she recalled from her time on DS9 handling comms for their delegation during the Doninion War, had s sort of tinted cream they applied, capable of disguising some of the signs of situations such as this; the dark, forest-green circles under her eyes or greyish case of skin. Lately, Kaiae had been considering the merits of attempting to find a similar product in the shops on the base, around the work she had been doing to--hopefully--further the evacuation.

Kaiae straightened her tunic again by reflex as she came to the door to Hatham's quarters and reached out to signal her presence; she had carefully tracked schedule and movements as best she could, aiming to catch him in a space where the pair could speak securely: Of all those aboard both the Ourainavassa and the Terran ship; he alone fit the bill for one who might understand the present dilemma, or be appropriate to discuss it with--the humans and Trill and such were out by default; as were the more junior Romulan officers and crew subordinate to her; and Raven lacked the cultural nuances and background, she suspected, to fully grasp it all. That left the one person aboard either ship who had such, but had not followed the same banner such as she had inherited here.

Inside Hatham had been considering a different but related issue - the refugees recovered from Vulture. They were currently still in stasis, but some at least would need to be revived if there was to be a crew for the salvaged ship to use to deliver the rest to safety, or such safety as they could find. Therein lay the issue - ensuring that whatever plants Vulture or the Zhat Vash had left among them were identified and neutralized, and finding a planet to deliver them to, whether one they could colonize or one willing to accept them into an established settlement. Both required planning and contingencies within contingencies.

The interruption of his door chime was almost a relief. He unlocked it, allowing admittance, but since half the crew wasn't Romulan, he vocalized "Come."

As the door slid shut behind Kaiae, she noted the work spread out in front of Hatham. "Apologies if I am...interrupting." It was not exactly the sort of thing a subcommander generally said to a lieutenant; but then again the dynamic between them had begun quite differently from such originally; as pair of lieutenants, one outside the command structure of the other even at the time.

"The interruption is welcome, Subcommander," Hatham replied with a precise nod. It was the response he would give to a higher ranked officer even it weren't the truth, but in this case it was. "How may I be of service?"

"You are...aware, I assume, that the Colonel intends to change the registry of the ship; to announce and operate more...openly?" To end their cover as in service to the Tal Shiar; yes; but to end their official listing of service to Empire itself, and in doing so likely lead to swift and official announcement and condemnation of the Romulan personnel aboard as traitors.

His head tipped slightly to the side. The move had been rumored, but was now confirmed. Operating openly was not a plan he agreed with - 'openly' in general with respect to nearly anything was something that ran counter to his Romulan sensibilities - but he had to assume Kaiae had made the case against to Raven and been dismissed. However, the Tal Shiar had likely already put targets on their backs, and mutiny was hardly an option at this point, so all that could be done was try to get ahead of the danger to their families. "Has it already been done or is she allowing us a space to warn our kin?"

"The latter." The headache could almost be heard in Kaiae's voice. "The window of opportunity to extract everyone has narrowed considerably. We need to begin to move people out now" Her next words were spoken tightly; the risk they implied had been a choice she felt forced into, cornered; but the choice was hers nonetheless, and the risk she had therefore taken with all of them. "I made contact with my mother. She believes she can...acquire...any funds we might need; so long as the window of operation is short." In other words; so long as they could finish the extraction and remove her as well; before it was discovered that a senior vice president at an esteemed bank had been shaving funds off the top of various transactions...

Hatham frowned. Having any window was good news, but the window they had had already been narrow and now there were other moving parts as well. "This complicates our other problem." He gestured to the maps and PaDDs covering his table. "The refugees we liberated need to be moved, but the Major is asking the people Renee had brought in to help with extracting our families to fly escort for their relocation."

"...How much room is available on that ship; assuming we didn't take the refugees off it first?" It was a potentially insane idea; but Kaiae was beginning to feel as if they had crossed the line from insane to surreal recently regardless: As a child, she and her brothers and her friends had played at being heroes of myth and legend and history, or imagination alone; none of what they had conjured then came close to what it seemed they found themselves embroiled in here. "If we got decent false papers for it; if we could get everyone to a few discrete pickup points--" This alone was a loaded statement; such a thing was not easily done "--could it do the job itself?"

He considered it for a hot minute, then shook his head. "Not unless there is no other choice. The ship is an old Starfleet hospital ship, so not easy to create falsified papers for it. Also, it needs crew. The plan was to revive and vet those in stasis most likely to have had Galae training to handle that - which presents risk in itself since we don't know who or what Vulture may planted among them - but the legitimate ones are refugees from the Empire. Returning them is a serious risk even if they were willing to take it."

"So we'd still need to acquire an additional ship. Which is...difficult. But feasible if the funds come through. Meaning our biggest problems are personnel and setup." 'Setup': Internal movement of the people in question; something most Romulans grew up learning was difficult, and even those for whom it was less difficult officially--Kaiae herself for that matter--instead grew up learning that it was carefully watched and noted. And at the moment both facts were against them. "I have a cousin in the government, at the staff level in the internal affairs ministry but with decent access. My mother thinks he'd be willing to issue papers for people to get to pickup points, if she takes his son and daughter with her."

The unspoken was loudly implied in the sort of ruthless practicality the species was known for nearly as well as schemes and strategy: No staffer in the capital of a level to have any such access had much hope of making it out themselves; such a man was trapped by the combination of just enough power to have knowledge or access...and yet not nearly enough of it to effect an escape with that knowledge. A man willing to make a deal for the lives of his children and kin; that if enacted would most likely see him executed for it before even the impending death of Eisn. Once again, the sort of stories Kaiae had fallen asleep to as a young child; brought to life with a twist for the modern age.

"That's good. Undoubtedly the passes Raven wrote using her father's commission will no longer be valid." Hatham noted. "Last I spoke to Renee and her friends they were going to arrange for a second ship. Or try to. With all the ...excitement... recently, there's been no opportunity to follow up on that. We will need to have back ups in place in any case."

"Each contingency also presents another chance to be discovered." Kaiae grimaced. "Chasing a pack of untrained fvai would be easier than coordinating this endeavor."

"It would," Hatham agreed, running a hand over his bald pate. "For the moment, the best e can do is find ways to extract whomever we can ahead of the main run. I can contact Nveid, my last captain. He was willing to help with refugees the first time we tried to take on Vulture. I think he could be persuaded to take on 'crew' from among those without young children they can't leave behind. We should go over the list and find the best candidates - those who wouldn't stand out in signing onto a merchant ship."

"Good idea. Find out how many he thinks is feasible and we can select the best fits to fill the slots." Kaiae started at the PaDDs and papers on the table; for a moment her eyes seemed as close to a display of staring into oblivion as you might expect a Romulan to ever show. "...What do you suppose your family will think; when the declarations and sentences are announced?" When their names would be in disgrace outright with the Empire and anyone who happened upon the morning news, for that matter. She had known it would happen, eventually; the moment she had agreed to follow Areinnye in the original plan and endeavor. But she had never thought it would be her own name and face at the head of the list.

"My family will think they need to go further to ground." The words were curt, but Hatham's heart went out to her. His family's situation was perilous but it had been for longer and would not alter as quickly. "My parents have been aware of my aim and the risks, so they'll publicly denounce me if necessary, but that's less likely in my case. I was honorably separated from the Galae years ago. I'm sure I'll wind up on a list eventually, but right now I'm just another veteran hiring out as merc."

"My mother and father know now, probably my grandparents who live with them...not sure if much anyone else does. Likely they're trying to play things closely until doing otherwise is unavoidable." Much like they themselves were, with the endeavor overall. "...May want to consider what you would say, though. Just in case." What he would say, if unlucky enough to both wind up on the list, and in the hands of the Empire. Like the speech she'd had mostly-written in the back of her head herself since the night on the Dominus she had first been approached by the commander to join this cause. The final contingency plan, to cap all the different ways and plans with which they might shift to still accomplish their mission or to avoid detection or capture: How to make the most of her Right of Statement, if all the plans before went ill.

"I've had my Statement written and memorized for over a year," Hatham assured her. He had no intention living long enough to for any serious questioning from the Tal Shiar, but if somehow the state got to him first and wanted a show trial, he was ready. More than ready now. "Though I've recently added a whole section about the Zhat Vash and their collusion with a pirate preying on refugees."

"Assuming of course anyone listening does not write off as having lost touch with reality anyone making such a mention..." That was perhaps among the most surreal of the recent jolts to their lives; as if a campfire story had come to life to haunt them.

Hatham shrugged offering a slight smile. "Ought to discourage them from arresting too many from the list who will tell the same story then."

"Never imagined I'd be the one making these decisions, or the one whose name will be first on the charge sheet." Kaiae fingered her rank insignia absently; it was not a unheard of rank for someone who was not yet even a half-century; but it was exceedingly rare; with such instances almost always owing to a combination of wartime losses and extreme heroism, added to connections and notice. Even a centurion's rank was very rare; most all her agemates who were officers were no more than lieutenants, like she had been only a short time ago. "But if she was still alive, or free, or able to communicate, by now she would have. And even if that were to change later, it would be too late." There was sorrow, anxiety, disbelief in Kaiae's voice; but it shifted towards the end more to a solemn if exhausted resolve: If the fate of so many of their people demanded this of her, there was no question she would do her utmost to answer that call.

At the thought of Areinnye, Hatham compressed his lips, flattening a frown. She was leagues above his station, but there had been a ...shadow... of a connection. He shook his head, a single firm negation. "We cannot change what is, where we are at. We can only seek the best path forward."

"Which at the moment is mired in mud." Kaiae sighed; considering the seemingly insurmountable issues and conflicting needs before them. "I think we need to talk to the chef again. See if she has any other tricks in her bag she can recommend."

"Then we will dig through the mud," Hatham said firmly. "I will reach out to Nveid, and we will look for other such means to move those we can, but I agree. We should speak to the chef again."

"As to the next issue then...Any leads of where to perhaps send people?" Simply moving them to another world in the Empire outside of the projected path of destruction was infeasible; by that point everyone involved over the age of majority would be a criminal in the eyes of the law; they would need somewhere outside the Empire entirely, or at least devoid of official governance.

Hatham nodded, glad to move on from lamenting problems to considering potential solutions. "I have been giving it some thought. Any with kin among other settled refugees could try to join them, but I expect that leaves still well over a hundred that will need a place. There is a system at the edge the Neutral Zone, Oriens Delta. Its star's luminosity is only a fraction of Eisn's, but it has a high magnetic field that makes it difficult to scan the closer planets. Two of those could support life; one I know has been used as a drop site for smugglers."

One of Kaiae's elegantly manicured eyebrows crept upwards slightly. "If it is in active use for such still, we'd best make sure anyone we dropped there is equipped to defend themselves from intruders if need be. Still. It could work, at least for a temporary holding point." Though the Mogai class was a smaller, more nimble design than its predecessor, Ourainavassa was very lightly crewed at the moment; and Kaiae suspected if push came to shove, the ship itself could serve as a temporary holding point as well, at least for a reduced number like that. But the prospect of having their young aboard a warship - even, perhaps especially a mercenary one - sat poorly with her, especially now.

"So our one true obstacle at the moment then is the personnel." She began to lay out in summary. "We can likely get ahold of funds to acquire another ship if need be, and replacement papers for travel. We have a potential location to at least stash people while a more permanent one is found. But we lack a pilot or crew for any ship for the journey, if the expected ones are indispensable for the refugee transport." She paused a moment, considering, a few fingers aside her chin in a gesture humans and Romulans alike shared when pondering. "Are they indispensable for that project? Could we put or find someone else for that detail?"

"No one is indispensable," he stated flatly. "But I don't know who else would be trustworthy, or have the experience facing Vulture." Much he wanted people he knew and had at least begun to trust handling his family's extraction, he wasn't willing to potentially sacrifice the refugees they'd just liberated.

"Then if they can't be moved off that detail, we have to find someone else to handle the extractions. We've lost the time to consider a sequential approach. I would suggest detaching some the crew here for the cause, but at any moment now we will become the very worst choices for a covert operation in our space." Through her life and career, Kaiae knew, among other things, bankers, legal professionals, merchants and shopkeepers, even a few Federation officers. One thing she did not tend to know was smugglers and outlaws. The humans, however, had a saying if she recalled: 'It takes one to know one'. "Let's approach them directly. Along with the chef. Set up a meeting, soon. Lay our cards on the table. Between the three of them hopefully they can lead us to an alternative pilot and crew." It was a bold, risky, somewhat unconventional suggestion. But anything with more caution of finesse would take time, and time was what they had the very least of now.

"I think either of the doctors here could change a face enough to allow the Romulans here to pass unnoticed, especially in civilian garb," Hatham noted, considering their otherwise limited options. It might be a wise precaution for the more prominent among them in any case. "In fact, it might be better to detach a few of us to escort these current refugees - if we take them to Delta Oriens, it will give us an opportunity to survey the planets. At worst, we can leave the hospital ship in orbit. The star's magnetic field will hide it and the refugees can live aboard for months if no suitable settlement site is found on either world." The question of course was obtaining the escort ship if Renee's friends were retasked with extracting their families. "We would need a ship sufficiently armed to work as an escort though. Yes, let us set us up a meeting. Raven should be approached directly as well. She needs to be informed of our plans and perhaps she can help obtain a ship, even temporarily. Delta Oriens should be only 5 days out and back."

"Alright. Let's meet tomorrow morning at 0600 and go together to see Raven; we can set up the other meeting afterwards with anything we come out with." Kaiae stood and stretched slightly; about as much as dignity and propriety would allow for, a motioned to the collection of paperwork and information on the table. "If you don't have other tasks still, stash that and get some sleep. Once we've addressed the most immediate issue though, I'd like your help at some point designing an exercise and combat practice routine for my people. I fear fitness and skill levels - or the synchronicity of them between crew - may fall if they go much longer without the sort of practice they would have aboard most warbirds. And going up against the Vulture would be bad enough, the potential for going up against the Zhat Vash..." Once again the word was spoken with a slight degree of incredulousness, as if she couldn't quite believe she was having to say what she was saying.

"0600, rhain [agreed]," Hatham replied, but made no move to consolidate the items on his table. "But I'll put together a bit more information on Delta Oriens and some alternates before I turn in." His brows had lifted slightly at the idea that the Galae crew had not been training sufficiently - he had imagined that they would have had maintained such practice and exercises as they could, though perhaps quietly and privately so as not to raise fears of potential mutiny. "I don't know there is any good program to prepare the crew to face the Zhat Vash, but certainly it would be a good idea to run combat drills coordinated with the rest of the ship's crew to prepare. I'll put together a proposal and run it by the Major as well."

“Good.” Kaiae noticed the lifted brows and guessed what, in general, might be behind them, given both the subject and the topic. “I’m certain no one is letting their fitness slip on the individual sense; but…it is essential to know the capabilities, the skills, the movements even of your comrades; be able to anticipate them in combat and vice versa. I fear individual training alone will maintain that poorly. But yes, including the local crew would be ideal; to expand that precision.” She gave Hatham a considered dip of her head; the level one might give to one almost an equal, and made her way to the door. “Jolan‘tru.” She stepped out into the corridor, letting the doors close behind her.


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