Elijah Katanga was absolutely convinced that he had hit the jackpot when he had chosen the relatively unknown world of Yura II as the shore leave destination for himself and is close friend Dezwin Sigus.
After all who could argue with the marvelous azure, cloudless skies, the pleasantly warm weather—just a little bit on the hot side—and the mild and refreshing breeze. And then, of course, there were the seemingly endless, sandy beaches, the water just as azure as the sky above.
More importantly perhaps were the people. Even though they were not used to many alien visitors, after having endured a dictatorial and xenophobic regime for the better part of half a century, which had only recently been disposed of following a long and bloody civil war.
None of this was obvious from the welcoming manner Eli, Dez and a small group of other offworld visitors had been received by not just the officials looking after the local region they had chosen for their shore leave but also by everyone else they had come in contact with from the shop vendors, the waiting staff in the restaurants and the hotel to the random people they encountered on the streets.
“According to this, Yura II was ruled by the Kindred, a religious minority with control over the military. The Kindred were able to maintain a kleptocracy for over two hundred years. A state of virtual civil war had existed for the last twenty years or so and came to an end only five years ago when the rebel forces took control of the government. Since then the transitional leadership has invited foreign delegates to help reshape their government, which is currently heavily modeled after a technocracy with the formerly repressed technical elite in power. According to Federation guidelines, all visiting Starfleet personnel is strongly advised not to interfere with any political activity or otherwise get involved in strictly internal affairs as defined by the Prime Directive or face disciplinary action.
Reading this, I don’t know if coming here was such a great idea considering this planet’s turbulent, recent history. We could have gone to Trill for shore leave. That’s a world a lot less complicated,“ Dezwin said without once looking up from his padd.
Eli rolled his eyes, having grown tired of Dez reading from the padd he had brought to the beach while they were lying next to each other on two comfortable deck chairs. “Every time we go back to Trill we spend half our time helping your parents on their farm. That’s not what I call shore leave.”
“I always found a bit of manual labor quite cathartic. Besides, it's fun to operate all that heavy machinery. And there is more than enough time to check out all the great sights on weekends.”
Eli reached over to him and with two fingers slowly pushed the padd downward. “There are plenty of great sights right here.”
“Hey, I was reading—“
That’s as far as Dez got until he spotted the two pretty young women who stood directly in their line of sight, in ankle-deep water, wearing revealing swim wear and watching the two offworlders with amused giggles.
“What does your padd say about the locals?”
“Friendly,” he said without having to double check and giving the two women a beaming grin. “Very, very friendly.”
“I think we should put that to a test,” said Eli and jumped out of his chair to head towards the two women.
“Never could say no to you,” said Dez and promptly followed.
It turned out the two women, Melna and Derla, were indeed extremely friendly and curious about Eli and Dez, intrigued by the human’s dark skin and the Trill’s leopard-like spots. And while the Yurians were humanoid and a fairly close anatomical match to both humans and Trill, dark skin and body markings were unknown on their world.
The two pairs quickly connected, Melna and Derla just as happy to talk to the two alien visitors about their world as Eli and Dez were to answer questions about the Federation and the galaxy beyond Yura II. They spent most of the morning and afternoon together, first on the beach, then exploring nearby caves, until they found themselves a local restaurant in the later afternoon where the two young women introduced them to the strange and exciting, new cuisine.
“So you’re both doctors?” Melna asked over dessert as the conversation had drifted to their respective occupations.
“Not exactly,” said Eli. “Dez here is training to become a doctor. I’m just a lowly corpsman.”
“With high ambitions,” the Trill quickly added. “Still thinking about nurse training, aren’t you?”
He just shrugged. “Maybe. We’ll see.”
“Such a noble profession. Being a doctor, a nurse or just any occupation where you are helping people,” said Derla
“Don’t be fooled,” said Eli with a smirk. “Dez here has been putting off taking his final medical admissions test for two years now. Some days I think he’s only studying to be a doctor so he can meet and impress women.”
“Hey,” Dez protested, “those tests are not easy, one needs to be prepared. Just because you’ve done yours already doesn’t give you the right to throw this into my face.”
Melna sidled up closer to the Trill sitting next to her, a wicked smile on her full lips. “Well, if the plan was to meet women, it seems to have worked.”
He reciprocated the smile with one of his own. “It does help.”
“That and being from another planet,” said Derla who clearly had taken a liking to Elijah.
Dez nodded. “And it would be a shame to end our joint, interspecies exploration so early. The night is still young. What’s up next? A walk on the beach under the moonlight?”
“Moonlights,” corrected Eli, referring to the three moons already visible in the darkening sky.
“Whatever you have in mind,” said Derla and stood, “I’m afraid it will have to be without me. At least tonight.”
“Say it ain’t so,” said Eli, clearly disappointed by her departure. “Is it something I said?”
She quickly shook her head. “Not at all. And I’m still eager to learn more about your Federation. But it’s my turn to look after my father tonight, I’m afraid.”
“Is he not well?” said Dez.
She shook her head sadly. “They say he’s got the Crimson Flu.”
“Oh no,” said Melna quickly. “I’m so sorry. Is he on the list.”
Derla nodded slowly. “Yes but not very high. We don’t think he’s going to hold out,” she forced a smile onto her lips. “I’m sorry, I wouldn’t be very good company tonight either way. It was a pleasure to meet you both and I hope we will see each other again. Have a good evening all.”
And with that she quickly left the restaurant, leaving the others behind.
Dez, his medical curiosity piqued, turned to the friend she had left behind. “What is this Crimson Flu?”
“I’m not entirely certain. It’s a disease that’s been around for a long time, I think. It’s gotten worse over the last few years.”
“But there is a cure?” asked Eli.
She nodded. “Yes, a vaccine. But it is rare and strictly rationed. If you have the Crimson Flu you go on a list for the vaccine. But unless you are part of the Technologist sect, your chances aren’t very good. They are even worse if you are a former Kindred like Derla’s family. It’s not fair, they never even supported the government during the war, but now they are being punished just by association.”
“Not just unfair,” said Eli, “sounds outright criminal if you ask me.”
“Maybe,” said Dez, “but keep in mind this is a different culture and we know very little about it”
But Eli shook his head. “Fair is fair, here or anywhere else. And this isn’t.”
"We thought it would be different after the war with the old regime gone," said Derla. "But sometimes it feels nothing has changed except the names of the people who make the rules.”
“Sounds about right,” said Dez.
“How can you say that?” Eli protested. “Nothing about this is right.”
"I know that. I just mean that I have heard about this kind of thing before. In a lot of places. After a big war, the common people are the last ones to ever benefit,” said the Trill.
"And in the meantime, they are left to die?"
"As much as I enjoy a philosophical discussion, particularly one about my own people, from the perspective of outsiders, no less, I think I really should go and look after Melna. Help her any way I can."
As she stood, Eli and Dez quickly followed suit.
“Please, accept my apologies. I didn’t mean to be judgmental,” Eli said quickly after realizing he might have been at fault for her decision to leave.
“No, that’s fine. And for what it’s worth, I do believe you are correct about what you are saying about our ways. We should catch up again soon and before you leave. Thank you for a wonderful day.”
“The pleasure was ours,” said Dez before she too left them behind.
The two of them sat back down and remained silent for a moment until Eli stood suddenly and walked off with a determined pace.
“I don’t think I like that look on your face,” said Dez and then followed him outside. It turned out that his friend was making a beeline back to their hotel room and by the time he had caught up with him, he found Eli already sitting in front of their desk and the computer terminal that had been provided for their use.
“What are you doing?”
He didn't speak straight away, to preoccupied with trying to figure out how this alien technology worked. But it wasn't long until he found what he had been looking for. "They have a publicly accessible information network here. Just wondering what they may have on this Crimson Flu.”
“Where are you going with this, Eli?” Dez asked, unable to mask the suspicion in his voice as he looked over his friend’s shoulder.
“We are medical professionals. At least one of us is trying to become one,” he added. “I think as such we should research a potential viral epidemic on the very same planet we are currently staying on.”
“Right,” said Dez, sounding unconvinced.
“Here we go,” said Eli once he had found what he was looking for, searching through the publicly available records. “The Crimson Flu is apparently caused by a negative-sense, single-stranded, segmented RNA virus which causes mild to severe influenza symptoms with a fifteen to twenty percent fatality rate with elderly persons most at risk.”
“Okay, that sounds a lot like a type-A influenza virus. Very common on most worlds with large humanoid populations. The fatality rate is high though."
"Well, listen to this. Apparently, an antiviral inhibitor is available for treatment but the distribution of the drug is strictly controlled and waiting times to receive the medication can be from six months to two years."
Dez moved closer to the screen. “Six months? That is way too long for an influenza virus like this.”
“Yes, it is. If untreated, the Crimson Flu virus can become terminal after three weeks of exposure. These records are not very clear but since this outbreak, it seems more than five million people have died from the Crimson Flu.”
“That’s a full-blown pandemic. At least class six,” said Dez as he glanced over the screen and trying to make sense of the translated text there. “Maybe even class seven. Is there even a class seven?”
“I don’t know but if there wasn’t before, there is one now. Right here on this planet.”
Dez sat down on his bed. “How did something like this not make it on our official Starfleet brief?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yurian government has been keeping this piece of information from the Federation. It also looks as if this region doesn’t appear as badly affected as some of the larger population centers on the northern hemisphere.”
But the Trill shook his head. “Hardly an excuse.”
“None at all as far as I’m concerned,” Eli said, doing little to hide his outrage. “And the fact that the government is doing nothing about this virus, hoarding the antiviral agents for themselves and their supporters instead of making it available to everyone infects, makes this nothing short of genocide.”
“That’s a strong word.”
"It's what's going on here," said Eli and stood, walking over to his large duffel bag and after rummaging through it for a moment pulled out a hand-held, gray device.
“You brought a tricorder on shore leave?”
Eli shrugged his shoulders. “You never know when it may come in handy,” he said as he began to manipulate its controls, the top section popping out and the device beginning to hum and blink. “The antiviral agents won’t be hard to find, they are based on protein inhibitors, something a medical tricorder should be able to pick up easily and—here we go. Found a large concentration just three kilometers from our location.”
“So what? You want to go and break into a medical store like some sort of drug addict and steal a whole bunch of medication? Have you lost leave of your senses? Who does something like that? Remember the Starfleet guidelines. Particularly the parts about the non-interference.”
“I’m not saying we’re going to steal it but at the very least I’m going to have a look what they are doing with these drugs. Dez, they are purposefully withholding medication to their own populace. You can’t tell me that you can sleep easily tonight knowing that people all around you are suffering because they are being denied the very treatment they need to survive. The least we can do is get somebody to explain to us the reasoning behind this. I’m going and that’s that. Up to you what you’re going to do.” Eli slung the tricorder around his shoulder and headed for the doors.
Dez watched them close behind him and then uttered a heavy sigh before he got up and slowly followed his friend. “I already know I’m going to regret this.”
Tazla Star leaned back in the guest chair inside the CMO’s office and scrolled through a padd. “Looks like all medical supplies are fully restocked, all facilities checked and operational and the latest crew rotations confirmed,” she said and then peeked over the padd to look at Elijah Katanga sitting behind his desk with his concentration focused on his computer terminal. “You have exactly zero patients, as to be expected while docked at a starbase containing the largest hospital in the quadrant, and none of your research requires any personal supervision at this point.”
The doctor simply mumbled an undecipherable response.
“So this begs the question why you are still onboard when the ship is almost deserted with the vast majority enjoying their greatly deserved shore leave.”
“Huh?” Katanga said but didn’t seem to pay attention to any of her words.
“Why are you not down on Earth?” Star said more forcefully.
Katanga, startled by her tone, turned to look at her. “Why aren’t you?”
“Don’t deflect. Besides I’m due to join the captain on his diving expedition in Australia tomorrow.”
“Right,” he said with a smirk. “You and the captain. Looks like you’re getting all chummy, spending your shore leave together. You sure have come a long way from the days I first got here and you couldn’t stand the man.”
Star quickly shook her head as she took her boots off the desk. “That’s not true. I mean, yes, we are much closer now but I never disliked Owens. If anything I’ve been incredibly grateful for everything he’s done for me.”
“Oh please, from what you’ve told me he had no choice in keeping you on. And for the first year or so you were a first officer in name only the way he kept you on his leash.”
She nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “There were… trust issues. But I don’t blame him for that. I had some baggage. Still do.”
“Whatever you say. At least he finally sees your true value.”
She offered him a wide, almost overdone smile. “So touching the way you look out for me. I remember a time when things were the other way around.”
Katanga uttered a little laugh to that. "You, looking out for me? When was that ever the case?"
“I can think of a few instances when you would have gone off the rails if it hadn’t been for my calming and reasonable influence. In fact, I wanted to speak to you about one of those times.”
He shot her a quizzical expression.
“Must we?” he said with a groan. “That was a million years ago.”
“That’s a lifetime.”
She shot him a sweet smile. “Yes, but see for us Trill one lifetime is actually not such a big deal.”
“Lucky you,” he said. “Still, the less said about Yura II the better. Hell, I hardly even remember most of it.”
Star became more serious as she sat up straighter in her chair. “Looks like we don’t have much of a choice in the matter. The captain spoke to me about this earlier this morning. It looks like there are some important mining rights that are due to expire and the Federation really cannot afford losing these to another bidder right now. Apparently the Yura system possesses dense gallicite deposits which are critical for the Starfleet rebuilding effort.”
“What does any of this have to do with us?”
Star hesitated for a moment, trying to find the best words for what she needed to say next. “Certain influential persons on Yura II appear to have better memories than you do. They remember our visit there quite well and will not agree to resign the treaty until certain concessions have been made."
Katanga fixed her with a dark scowl. “What kind of concessions?”
He looked dumbstruck. “An apology for something that happened over sixty years ago that most people—who are not Trill—have long since forgotten? This is ridiculous.”
“I completely agree.”
“Good,” he said and then turned back to look at his terminal as if this had put the matter to bed.
Unfortunately, Star knew better. “They expect us to issue a formal apology for our actions,” she said after he hadn’t said anything further on this. She stood from her chair. “Seeing that you don’t recall any of the details, I figured I just draft something for the both of us. I'll let you have a quick look at it when I'm done."
“Wait a minute,” he said before she could slip out of the door. “I didn’t agree to issue any kind of apology.”
“You implied it yourself, this is nothing more than silly political posturing by an old man who holds a grudge. We’re both above these kinds of things. Let’s just hammer something out quickly, get it issued and everyone’s happy.”
“I’m not happy,” he said with an exasperated sigh. “Who put you up to this? It’s Owens, isn’t it?”
She shrugged. “Honestly, it’s not a big deal.”
“Yes, yes it is, Dez,” he said, calling her by the name of her former host as he was sometimes wont to do. “What we did back then, it was the right thing. We were right and they were wrong. I’m not going to apologize for being right.”
“I thought you didn’t remember.”
“It’s coming back to me now,” he said. “And I stand by my actions. All of them. If you want to apologize for yours, that’s fine, but I encourage you to stand by your principles, I know I will. And I won’t compromise them to satisfy a starship captain who wasn’t even alive back when all this took place.”
“It’s not just that, Eli.”
“Really? What then if not to ingratiate yourself further with that man? I bet you didn’t even bat an eyelash when he asked you to do this. He probably mentioned this offhand and you just agreed, not considering for even a moment that what we did back then made a difference for a lot of people. That it was the right thing to do and if we were placed in that exact same position once more, we wouldn’t hesitate to make the same choices all over again.”
Star hesitated for a moment when she realized the truth of his words. At least as far as how Owens had approached her about the apology that had been demanded from her and from Elijah Katanga. And he was also correct that she hadn't thought much about it at the time. Maybe he was right, after all, maybe she had been too eager to please her captain to even consider turning down the request.
He carried on as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. "Don't compromise your own ethics just to humor others, Taz. If there is one thing I've learned over the many years practicing medicine, this is it. And you know who taught me that? A very good friend of mine," he said and pointed at her stomach where he knew her slug-like symbiont lived. "Why don't you go ask him to see what he would do?"
With the help of his tricorder, Elijah had been able to track down a surprisingly large stockpile of antiviral medications and other drugs to a warehouse located not very far from the hotel, but on Dez' insistence they had detoured to the seat of the local government instead, seeing what they could glean from the officials in charge of theses seemingly disastrous policies which exposed a large swath of the population to fend for their own against a deadly virus for which a cure seemed to exist.
The administrators they encountered were more than happy to meet with two representatives of the Federation, and were courteous and helpful, at least so far as to get them seen by somebody who had some real influence.
That somebody was a man called Horas Rah, currently serving as the chief alderman of the local province they were staying in.
“I’ve read about Rah,” said Dez quietly as they were being led towards his office. “He was one of the leaders of the rebellion against the government, practically a folk hero amongst the people. Probably just the man we need to talk to about this.”
“If he was so important, how come they put him in charge of a small seaside province half a world removed from the center of this planet’s power?” Eli asked.
Dez had no response to this but the answer to this mystery became a little more apparent when they stepped into what looked like a workshop of sorts—not an office, as they had expected—and came face-to-face with Horas Rah.
His most obvious feature was his youth. Handsome, by human standards, tall, square-jawed but also unlikely to be a year older than Eli. If he had indeed been a hero in this world’s revolution, it hadn’t been for long, which of course also must have meant that he had distinguished himself from an early age, and doing so very rapidly. Dez didn’t miss a certain intelligence in his bright, green eyes which seemed put him slightly apart from most Yurans they had met.
He was also clearly a hands-on kind of a leader, his sleeves rolled up, he was working along with other men and women on a large device of sorts, outfitted with numerous pipes and what looked like pumps and cylinders.
“Mister Katanga, Mister Sigus, welcome, welcome,” he said with a beaming smile as he turned towards his guests. “We are very much honored that you have come to our world, and this very province to enjoy all we have on offer.”
“You have a beautiful world and a great province here,” said Dez, “great people too from what we’ve seen.”
He nodded with a certain pride. “I am glad that you have been enjoying your stay here and I would very much like to take the opportunity to talk to you in a more … appropriate setting about your stay,” he said. “We’re all a little busy working on our latest project here but I’m sure I can take a few minutes to talk to you,” he added, pointing at the machine behind him that was still being tended to by a small army of workers and engineers.
“What is it?” Eli asked with curiosity.
He beamed, obviously proud of his accomplishment as he turned to look at it. "This is a prototype salt water filter. We are hoping to build dozens of these and place them near the ocean to provide fresh drinking water to most of the province." He turned back to his guests, allowing them a moment to look over the machine. "If you'd like to follow me, there is an area nearby where we can talk in private." Rah led the two off-worlders out of a workshop and into a currently empty rest area with tables and chairs. He poured each of them cups of water and handed them out. "Here, please have a taste."
Dez took a sip with Eli watching and when he didn’t immediately keel over dead, he followed suit.
Dez nodded. “Very refreshing.”
"Yes," he said, "you may even taste the faint hint of the added minerals the prototype infuses into the end product to fortify the immune system and general health and well-being."
“I’m relieved to hear that you are so concerned about your people’s health seeing how that is the reason we’ve come to see you,” said Dez.
“Is that so?”
Dez nodded. “We have encountered a few people who have been indirectly affected by the Crimson Flu and since we are both working in the medical field, this has piqued our interest.”
"In fact, you could say we are somewhat surprised that visitors haven't been made aware of this health issue before hand," interrupted Eli, "considering it is a serious pandemic affecting a significant percentage of the population."
Horas Rah nodded slowly, his facial expression pained. “Very sadly so. But let me assure you that as long as you stay within this immediate area, you are completely safe.”
“That’s not actually why we are concerned, Alderman,” said Dez. “We understand that there is a vaccine available. One with a very high rate of effectiveness, even to already infected patients. But it is not being made available publicly.”
Ras turned his back to the two men for a moment.
“Is this true?” Eli practically demanded.
“I would be lying to you if I told you it wasn’t,” he said, still not facing them directly.
“People are dying out there,” Eli said, doing little to hide the frustration he felt over this. “And from what we have learned, it is even more difficult to obtain the vaccine if the infected person is associated with a certain religious group or if their standing in society is not high enough.”
Rah very slowly turned back around. “You must understand, these are difficult times for all of us. We have just emerged from a century of oppression by a government whose primary purpose was to enrich itself and a few selected individuals but cared little about the common good of the people. We fought long and hard to bring about change and it cost us dearly. Not just in those who gave their lives for the cause of the people but also in vital infrastructure and technology. Many of the most basic systems to ensure our people’s welfare were destroyed when the government realized it was about to lose control and adopted a scorched earth policy. They wanted to make sure that when they were gone, we had to start over from scratch.
That is the unfortunate reality of the situation we find ourselves in and it means that we all have to make sacrifices while we slowly but surely rebuild our broken world.”
Eli looked at the man as if he had spontaneously grown a second head. “So what? You are saying this is sanctioned policy? That you are content with withholding life-saving medicine to the people?”
Rah quickly shook his head. “Of course I am not content with this. My heart bleeds for every single Yuran who succumbs to the Crimson Flu and many of my fellow colleagues feel the same way.”
Dezwin exchanged a quizzical look with his friend before he considered the young official. "I am not sure I understand. You claim that you don't like this policy, that most in your new government don't, and yet you withhold the vaccine to those who need it the most. Why?"
"Despite what some would have you believe, our supply of the vaccine is not limitless and its production is difficult. It must be strictly rationed. The Crimson Flu is a disease affecting this entire planet, not just my province."
Eli nodded. “I can understand that. What I don’t understand is why you make it so difficult for people who are in dire need for it to obtain it. Why are certain segments of the population considered less favorably when rationing the vaccine?”
Horas Rah looked at the two men as if the answer to Katanga's question was inherently obvious. "First and foremost we must secure the long term survival of our people and our society as a whole. In these difficult times, we cannot afford to consider the well-being of individuals. Our priority must be the entirety of the Yuran people. As such the vaccine must be made available to those members of the society who play the greatest role in securing its future. That means our architects, our engineers, our scientists, our policy shapers and our peace officers. All those people without which our society would collapse."
Elijah Katanga’s dark face noticeably reddened at hearing this. “And everyone who doesn’t fall into the category you have deemed to be vital to your society is considered expendable, is that it?”
“Expandable?” he said and then shook his head. “No. But certainly less valuable. And trust me some of the people who occupy the halls of planetary power have even more extreme views on this matter with which I strongly disagree. It is one of the reasons why I am working very hard to improve my own station and to one day be in a position to affect real change in planet-wide policy myself. I want to make sure Yura will one day be able to make a significant contribution to the intergalactic community and take its place among the many societies reaching out towards the stars.”
Eli couldn't believe his ears. "I'm not sure that you'll make it very far with those kinds of beliefs. And if you don't consider your current system extreme already, God help the people of this world once those other folks you mentioned get their way."
"How is any of this any better than what your old-regime practiced?" asked Dezwin. "From everything you have told us all you have done is replaced one form of government tyranny for another. What was the point of this war if in the end, only a select few prosper?"
Rah looked downright disappointed. “I see you still do not understand that we are trying to secure a better future for all our people.”
“Oh, we understand all right,” said Eli with obvious disdain. “It’s a great new future you’re all working towards. Except for those thousands, probably millions of people you left behind on the way to this great new future and who will never get the chance to see it because somebody in power decided that they were not important enough save.”
“I don’t expect you to understand what my people have been through over the last hundred years or so. I don’t expect you to like what we are forced to do in order to heal as a people but I do expect you to respect our ways and leave your moral judgments and politics back in the Federation where everything is handed to you on a golden platter and where struggling for survival is a purely intellectual concept.” Rah’s tone had taken a harder edge now. “Don’t presume that the two of you can come here and judge my entire people because the way we have decided to run this world offends your sensibilities.
Nobody made you come here, you’ve chosen to visit this world for our great hospitality and its natural beauty. So if you cannot enjoy it without restraining your moral outrage and self-righteous indignation, I am more than happy to arrange transport to take you back to your precious Federation.”
“I just want to be clear about one thing,” said Eli. “You were considered a hero among your people during the war, is that right? The very same people who trusted you to bring real change to this world.”
“And we did,” he said angrily. “And part of that change is to make difficult decisions others are unable to do. To decide whose life is more valuable than somebody else’s and act accordingly. For the common good of all of Yura.”
Eli nodded slowly as if the truth had finally sunken in. "I know of quite a few so-called leaders on my world who used a very similar argument to justify very similar decisions. For what it's worth, for the common good of all of Yura, I sincerely hope that you will never be in a position to lead anything more significant than this province. And should this world be unfortunate enough for you to succeed in becoming its leader, the lesson I would impart on you from the history of my own world is simply this: Those people I mentioned you remind me of, it never ended well for them."
Rah just stared at the human with a blank expression.
"I think you are right, Alderman," added Dezwin. "I think perhaps it was a mistake for us coming here. And as long as you continue to propagate these self-destructive policies, we'll be doing everything we can to convince anyone else in the Federation to book their vacations elsewhere." He continued before Rah could respond. "Don't worry about showing us out, we know the way. Have a nice life." With that Dezwin grabbed Eli's arm and pulled him along as he made a beeline for the doors. Of course, his friend offered little resistance, just as eager to put as much distance between him and this so-called hero as possible.
“What a totally insufferable jerk,” Eli said once they had left the building and then stopped to look at his friend. “I can honestly not believe half the things this fool was blabbering about. In fact, I think it made me physically ill just listening to that man talk.”
“You and me both.”
Eli considered him carefully. “Well, we did what you suggested and we talked to the powers that be, for all the good that did. Now what?”
“Now?” the Trill said. “We go find that warehouse where they keep that vaccine.”
She took a deep breath of fresh ocean air, once more surprised how much more invigorating it was compared to the atmosphere she breathed in daily on board a starship. Like many Starfleet officers, she had simply gotten so used to it that the only time she truly noticed the difference was when she was faced with the real thing. Even the holodeck couldn’t do it justice.
It was so much more remarkable when combined with her surroundings, the wide-open and colorful ocean and islands that made up the Great Barrier Reef. She had never been to this place before, and she wasn’t quite sure why she had never made time for this during her academy years on Earth.
Then, of course, there were many things Tazla Star had never made time for, which was surprising perhaps considering her symbiont was over three-hundred years old, and standing at the bow of the small trawler as it gently glided across the calm sea, she found herself regretting some of the choices she had made which had kept her away from places like these.
“Enjoying the view?”
She turned to look at Michael Owens who had emerged from the pilothouse, like her, dressed in casual wear, a loose shirt and shorts, very much befitting their surroundings. "Absolutely. I’m glad I decided to come along. Didn’t realize what I was missing.”
He nodded with a smirk. “It’s only going to get better once we dive in.”
“Shouldn’t you be at the helm?” she said with a smirk.
“Auto-pilot. You mentioned you wanted to talk. We have some time until we get to Osprey Reef.”
They sat down together on the deck, letting their feet dangle overboard and for a brief moment Tazla felt like a child again sitting on the dock of a lake she had frequented when she had been younger and dreaming of the stars, instead of sitting next to her commanding officer. She watched the azure-colored water rush by her bare feet. “I’ve been thinking about the Yuran request.”
“The apology they’re demanding? I don’t blame you; it’s a rather silly and immature request. Childish really.”
She smirked, looking up at him. “Maybe, but we weren’t much older than children back when all this happened so perhaps it is appropriate.”
“Yes, you were all much younger back then. But it was a long time ago and one would think you have all grown up and matured quite a bit since then. You and Elijah and certainly this Horas Rah who is so insistent that you issue an apology.”
“It’s odd,” she said. “When I look back at it now and through the eyes of Star who has seen and experienced so much over its many lifetimes, it all feels so distant and inconsequential. Dezwin wasn’t even joined with Star yet back then.”
“And yet thanks to Star they have become your memories, too, haven’t they?”
She nodded. “Yes, they have.”
“I suppose you could always argue that Dezwin Sigus was a different person, certainly back then and before the joining. I’m sure you cannot be held accountable for what he did before he became one with the symbiont.”
“Something tells me that Horas Rah doesn’t care for that distinction. Besides I am not the one to shirk away from responsibility or abandon my friends on the count of a technicality.”
Owens offered her a smile. “No, I didn’t think you were. It doesn’t change the fact that this whole thing is nothing more than a private grudge by a clearly prideful man unable to let go of the past.”
“You almost make it sound as if I shouldn’t be going through with it?”
Michael Owens looked towards the horizon for a moment before responding. “It’s your decision, Taz. Yours and Katanga’s. I can’t order you to apologize for the mistakes of your youth. Hell, if I did, I’d have to issue a few dozen or so myself.”
“But Starfleet wants this to happen?”
“I don’t have to tell you that the Federation is not in the greatest shape,” he said, even though one could have been forgiven to think otherwise judging purely by their current surroundings. “It will take us a long time to recover from this war, and a number of enemies and even allies are going to look to test and challenge us over the next few years. If you forgive the pun, the blood is in the water. And as much as I hate to admit it, we will need trading partners like Yura II and the resources they can offer us now more than ever.”
“You’re getting a lot of pressure from Command over this, I take it?”
“Let’s just say I had the pleasure to converse with enough politicians and senior officials on this matter over the last few days that will last me a lifetime.”
Star considered that for a moment as she kept her eyes on the beautifully clear surface below where she was certain she could see entire schools of fish zigzagging across the reef.
Owens put a hand on her shoulder. “I know this isn’t easy, Taz, and I’m not going to put you in a position to pressure you one way or the other. I’ve come to learn to trust your instincts. It took me a while to get there, but I’m confident enough to know that you’ll make the right choice in the end.”
She uttered a little laugh. “Not sure if that confidence is making this easier or harder on me.”
He clasped her back good-naturedly. “We both knew being my XO wasn’t going to be easy,” he said and stood. “Now, come on, we’re almost there. We need to change. And I can’t think of a better way to get a fresh perspective on things than a good long dive.”
The whole thing had been entirely coincidental and had certainly not been planned in any detail beforehand and much later when both Dezwin Sigus and Elijah Katanga had been formally deposed by officers working for Starfleet's Judge Advocate General, that had been exactly the testimony they had given. Of course, by that point, that fact had not been much of an excuse at all.
They had arrived outside the warehouse which Eli’s tricorder had pinpointed as a locations containing a significant amount of antiviral agents and had observed the oval-shaped building for hours, during which it became more and more apparent that the warehouse served as a major medical distribution center judging by the great amount of activity consisting of transport vehicles entering and leaving the facility.
Perhaps even more interesting was the fact that movement of the Crimson Flu vaccine was particularly high; a great number of vehicles transporting this crucial agent were seemingly constantly on the move to destinations unknown.
Eli suspected—even though there was no way of knowing for sure—that their visit to Horas Rah had spurred this sudden redistribution of resources, perhaps in an effort to move it away from prying off-worlder eyes who had developed a sudden and unwelcome interest in the way the local government was handling this medical crisis.
Eli was also the first to notice the pattern each vehicle followed and the opportunity it allowed. Every single transporter, all of them large and heavy wheeled vehicles pulling long white trailers, rolled up to a checkpoint, stopped there and with the engine left idling, the drivers and sole occupants left the vehicle to enter a nearby shack where they stayed for nearly two full minutes, possibly to complete paperwork or perhaps confirm their route.
When they finally reemerged, they quickly returned to their transporter, stepped back into the driving cab and promptly drove off. During those couple of minutes, the vehicle seemed to be left entirely unattended with nothing at all standing between the unguarded vehicle and the main road.
“Do you have any idea how many Starfleet regulations we would be breaking?” Dez had said when Eli had suggested they take advantage of this obvious security loophole. “Not to mention local laws. I’m fairly certain they don’t look kindly on grand theft auto around these parts.”
“It’s obviously not a major concern considering how comfortable they are leaving a transport filled with medical drugs just standing there for minutes on end. I’m beginning to think they want somebody to come and take it off their hands,” he had countered. “Besides, I’m okay breaking a few laws if it means saving people’s lives.”
Dez had tried to think of a counterargument; after all, he had been the voice of reason so far, preaching restraint and reverence to alien cultural practices. And yet the idling vehicle simply standing there, less than fifteen meters away, just waiting to be taken, was too inviting a target.
So once they had confirmed the latest transport was indeed filled with large amounts of the antiviral agent, the two of them took off as soon as the driver had predictably left the vehicle and disappeared inside the checkpoint.
They found the doors to the driver’s cab unlocked and they slipped inside with Dez sliding behind the main controls.
“Now what?” Dez asked as he looked over the various buttons and levers arranged around the pilot seat.
Eli shot him a disbelieving look. "I thought you could drive these kinds of things?"
The Trill shot his friend a blank stare. “What gave you that idea?”
“I don’t know, maybe the fact that you constantly talk about helping out on your parent’s farm back home? Operating the equipment.”
“Well, I’m sorry but this looks nothing like the harvester that we have back on our farm,” he said and glanced around the cockpit, trying to find something that looked familiar.
Eli activated the medical tricorder he had brought.
“This is not a patient to diagnose, Eli, this is a machine.”
He waved him off. “It’s all the same when you get down to it.”
"No, it's not. This is entirely—"
Dez stopped in midsentence when Eli leaned over and pressed a button on the instrument panel which promptly activated the vehicle’s engine and brought the entire console to life. He aimed a smug look in his direction. “You were saying?”
Eli smirked. “That and it’s the biggest, brightest button on the entire console.”
A large display projected on the windshield gave visual instructions on how to operate the vehicle which was immensely helpful, including which lever released the brakes, which one to use to engage the throttle as well as highlighting the control stick to determine the driving direction.
“It’s just as I said, they want us to take this thing,” Eli said as he watched the directions playing on the screen.
The driver who must have heard the engine of his own transport turning on came running out of the checkpoint building, shouting angrily.
Eli hit another button on the console which locked the doors to the cab and the driver began to angrily bang against the window when he was unable to open it.
The two hijackers looked at the upset Yuran for a moment. “Of all the crazy things we’ve ever done, I think this ranks at the top of the list,” said Dez.
“Top three, at the very least,” said Eli and then, ignoring the furious driver, turned back to look at Dez. “You know, it’s not too late to call this off. I’m sure we could still get away with calling this a cultural misunderstanding.”
He considered that for a moment, shooting one last look at the man outside insisting that they opened the doors before letting his eyes wander back to the screen and the controls. "We've come this far, might as well take it all the way now. Besides, I'm starting to think that maybe this isn't so different from our harvester after all. I always really liked driving that beast." And with that, he released the brakes and applied the throttle which caused the vehicle to set in motion. He gently manipulated the control stick and found the heavy transport responding smoothly to the change of direction and within moments he had it turning down the main road leading away from the warehouse.
It wasn’t long until he was comfortable enough with the controls to increase their speed until the driver who had started after his own, commandeered vehicle gave up trying to chase it. Not soon after the entire warehouse had disappeared from sight.
“Cultural misunderstanding,” Dez said, uttering a sarcastic laugh. “Yeah, right.”
Eli shrugged. “It did get us out of that thing back on Vulcan.”
“I don’t think this is any worse.”
Dez shot him a disbelieving look, taking his eyes off the road and very nearly steering the transport into a ditch before he could quickly readjust. "Are you serious? Vulcan was an innocent schoolboy prank compared to this."
Eli nodded after a moment. “I guess you’re right. This right here could land us in prison.”
Dez frowned. “Thanks for reminding me.”
"Hey, it's for a good cause."
“I’m sure a lot of crimes start out that way. Small comfort when we are sitting in a jail cell, staring at the bare walls.”
They decided that going on the run, and hiding the shipment away somewhere was pointless, especially considering the vehicle’s large size and slow overall speed. It was only a matter of time until the driver would alert the authorities and they’d catch up with them.
So instead the plan was to head straight towards the center of town and unload the vaccine right there, spending as much time as possible giving away the life-saving drugs to anyone who asked for them and before the authorities were able to put a stop to it. The idea had been first born when Melna and Derla had told them about the still very much alive local goodwill tradition of handing out food and other necessity to less fortunate people at the town square.
“Always wanted to play the role of Robin Hood.”
Dez just shook his head. He had never heard of the fellow.
The going was slow but traffic was light enough to avoid any unfortunate accidents with other vehicles with an inexperienced driver at the controls.
Apparently, there existed a rule, written or otherwise, to give transports carrying the official government seal the right of way.
“Looks like we’re in luck,” said Eli as they approached the city square and noticed the already growing crowds as well as other, albeit smaller transports, assembled there, in the process of handing out food and other supplies. “We’ll fit right in.”
But this didn’t turn out to be entirely true. The crowd quickly parted for the official vehicle, allowing Dez to steer it almost all the way to the very center of the large square and until they were almost entirely surrounded by a crowd of curious onlookers who had come here in the hopes of securing a few hand-outs. But apparently, a government vehicle was not a common occurrence during these events, certainly not one driven by a couple of off-worlders.
The crowd had pretty much come to a standstill, with all eyes focused on Dez and Eli as they disembarked.
“So much about fitting in,” said Dez.
Dez didn’t need to think very long. “Just follow my lead,” he said and headed towards the back of the vehicle. “People, listen up. Your new government has decided to make the Crimson Flu vaccine available to all and we have come from far away to assist with that task.” He pointed at the loading doors at the back of the transport and Eli swiftly managed to open them up to reveal crates upon crates of the vaccine stacked inside.
The crowd looked on skeptically, however, clearly not entirely buying this story. Not until Eli remerged from inside balancing a small tower of boxes.
Eli grabbed a couple from him and held them out. “Please, if you need the vaccine, or if you know somebody who is suffering from the Crimson Flu, take this and make sure it gets to them.”
After that it didn’t take long for the first group of Yurans to move up until they were close enough to receive one of the offered boxes, inspecting them carefully and once they were convinced that this was, in fact, the real thing, the excitement quickly swept across the crowd with Eli and Dez hardly able to hand them out quickly enough.
And yet even at the height of euphoria over this most unexpected giveaway, Dez was impressed how orderly the crowd remained, having feared a mob or violence, the gathered Yurans were mostly just thankful for their sudden change in fortune.
Eli had spotted a few local peace officers who were clearly not buying this act at all and who had attempted to interfere by attempting to reclaim some of the handed-out boxes. Eli wasn’t having this at all. He built himself up to his full impressive height and confronted them—it helped that Yurans were physically smaller than humans—insisting that the Federation had made a deal with their government for the release of the vaccine and that they had simply not yet been told about this change of policy.
Dez had to smile at Eli’s impressively convincing performance which caused the peace officers to hesitate and question their own orders, Dez knew it wasn’t going to be enough to prevent from getting shut down, but it was going to buy them time to distribute as much of the vaccine as possible.
They had almost cleared half the transport when things began to turn.
The local authorities had called in reinforcements and Dez could spot military-type personnel beginning to stream into the square from all angles, attempting to disperse the crowd as they made their way towards the center.
For Eli and Dez there was no escape and they backpedaled further and further until their backs were literally against the hijacked transport and they found themselves surrounded by armed and unhappy-looking soldiers.
“Show’s over,” said Eli.
Dez nodded. “Yeah, looks like it.”
Much of the crowd did disperse but many more stayed behind, now cut off from the vaccine by a ring of armed personnel, they seemed curious enough to find out what would happen next.
“We must be pretty big news,” said Eli. “Look who’s come all the way out here to handle this personally?”
Dez followed his friend’s gaze to spot Horas Rah emerge from a vehicle and quickly making his way through the crowd, surrounded by soldiers who functioned like personal bodyguards.
“Time to face the music,” said Eli.
Rah joined the two off-worlders at the center of the square, took a moment to look over the half-empty transport behind them before he considered them directly. “I’m very disappointed,” he said, keeping his voice low enough to not be overheard by the crowd. “I believed we had an understanding, that I had explained the reasoning for the policies we have in place here.”
“You explained alright,” said Eli. “Doesn’t mean we had an understanding.”
“I see. And that gives you the right to violate our laws and take matters into your own hands? I admit that I don’t fully understand the ways of the Federation but I find it difficult to believe that something like this is acceptable where you come from.”
“Compared to withholding life-saving medication to the people who desperately need it? Yes,” said Dez without hesitation. “Absolutely acceptable.”
Rah didn’t respond right away, taking another moment to take in the scene Eli and Dez had been responsible for. “I am surprised, for a people who pride themselves so much on understanding and respecting other cultures, that you two would show such blatant contempt for ours.” He stopped Eli from shooting back a response with a raised hand. “What’s done is done, I suppose. Make no mistake, there will be consequences for your actions. But, for now, perhaps we can still mitigate some of the damage you’ve done here today. Just play along,” he said and then before either of them could respond, Rah turned to face the crowd who was watching the interaction between their leader and these aliens with great interest behind the cordon of soldiers. “My fellow friends, what has happened here today was the result of an unfortunate cultural misunderstanding between us and our ways and those of our off-world guests.”
Eli threw Dez a telling look, mouthing the word he had used earlier himself.
“I have spoken with them both and they fully understand and accept the errors of judgment they have committed, and have apologized to me personally for what has transpired here today. They understand the great sacrifices that each and every one of us has to make to rebuild our great world after the terrible suffering and pain the old regime has caused us. Please rest assured that nobody will be punished for this, not you and certainly not our valued guests, for what has been nothing more than an innocent misconception which is all but expected when new cultures come together in friendship.
As an enlightened, caring and progressive society, we are more than prepared to accept the small bumps in the road which will not stop us on our journey to a promising future for all of us." Rah spoke with his arms wide apart, and clearly, like the skilled orator that he was, no doubt part of his role as a freedom fighter had been to work his charm and deliver speeches to rally the crowds.
He indicated for Dez and Eli to step forward and both did so hesitantly. Dez couldn’t stop feeling like he was being treated like a misbehaving schoolboy, being pulled up by the headmaster.
"Even though they have both apologized to me for their actions and failure to understand the intricacies of our culture, they have, more importantly, also agreed to apologize to all of you, for violating our most sacred and trusted laws, and I urge you to forgive them for their shortcomings as I have forgiven them," he said and looked towards the two off-worlders.
Dez and Eli exchanged quick glances and almost as one they shook their heads before Eli took a step forward. "Yes," he said loudly, "we are indeed sorry for what has happened here. We are sorry that you are being asked to live in a society that seems to value your lives so little, that they will purposefully withhold medication. We are sorry that they feel that some people in your society are more deserving than others and that your own leader, a so-called war hero, is just as happy to go along with this all this madness.”
Rah, beside himself with anger, reached out for Eli’s arm, pulling him back. “That is enough.”
“And I have his apology right here.” Eli whirled around with his balled-up fist and delivered a picture perfect right hook against the unprepared Yurian who dropped like a sack of stones.
Dez didn’t remember much of what happened immediately after Eli had knocked out Horas Rah. And nothing at all after the sharp bites of multiple stun guns dropping him and Eli where they stood.
The next thing he did recall was coming to next to his friend right where Eli had expected them to end up all along.
Inside a prison cell.
Their shore leave to the Great Barrier Reef had been interrupted unexpectedly when Owens had received the devastating news about his father’s sudden passing. He had half-heartedly suggested that she stay in Australia, find another guide, and take that dive which he had promised her, but she had seen the change in him straight away.
She knew little about his relationship with his father, except that they had not been particularly close, he had hardly ever talked about him since she had joined Eagle, and yet word of his death had shaken him noticeably and it was clear that he was no longer thinking about their expedition or her role in it.
He had left for the ship straight away after she had insisted on taking back the boat herself, even if she didn't know the first thing about piloting a vessel of that type. After some trial and error, she had managed to return the trawler to its home port and afterward had returned to Eagle, no longer in a vacationing mood herself.
She found Eli Katanga waiting for her in her office.
“You look awful, Dez. Don’t tell me Australia’s perfect climate doesn’t agree with you.”
She shook her head as she walked to sit behind her desk. “The climate was just fine. Having to steer a boat into a harbor while trying to avoid ships twice its size is harder than it looks.”
“I thought you were with the captain?”
She took her seat and looked up at him. “His father passed away. He got the news while we were out in the middle of the ocean, about to go in.”
“Oh,” he said. “I’m very sorry to hear that. How is he holding up?”
“I don’t believe I’ve ever quite seen him like this. It’s really hard to tell but I think he’s hurting. I think he’s hurting and doesn’t want anyone to see it. I suppose it’s too early to tell.”
“I should get in touch with Trenira.”
“Eli, no,” she said quickly. “The man only just found out his father is dead, let’s give him some time to grief in his own way before we sic a counselor on him. He might have his own way to deal with this loss.”
Katanga nodded. “Fine. And I suppose it helps that we are back here instead of somewhere in outer space, hundreds of light-years from the nearest friendly planet. It might help the healing process.”
“Doctor Elijah Katanga, physician of the human soul,” she said with a small, bemused smile.
“I’ve been known to heal one or two in my time.”
“Sure. Am I right in saying that your visit today was not merely to check up on me?”
“No,” he said and tossed a padd he had brought with him onto her desk.
“I was hoping you could tell me.”
She picked it up and looked at its content. It seemed to contain a number of messages he had received over the last couple of days. From what she could tell it was from important Federation officials. She recognized a few names. “Looks like you’re becoming popular in your old age.”
“Yes, and I don’t care for it. Especially since all these fools are bugging me about the exact same thing. Yura II.”
She nodded slightly as she read a few of those messages, reaffirming what he was telling her. The Diplomatic Corps was putting pressure on Elijah to issue a formal apology to Yura’s head of state, Horas Rah.
“Can’t these people get it through their thick skulls?” he said. “This little scumbag is getting exactly nothing from me except perhaps another knock to the head. You told them our position on this, why are they still pestering us?”
Star kept looking over the padd, anything really to avoid eye contact with her old friend.
“You did tell them, didn’t you?”
Her silence was equal to an admission of guilt.
“Why the hell haven’t you? We talked about this and we both agreed that this whole thing is ridiculous. That we are not going to bow down to a tyrannical little man who holds decade-long grudges.”
She finally looked up. “Yes, we agreed that this is ridiculous. But those mining rights are important for the Federation and Starfleet to rebuild our fleet and—“
“And what? To have a few more starships buzzing around, flying the flag and projecting force to the rest of the universe so that some other bully can come along to challenge us and find out who’s got the more powerful toys?”
She raised a hand to this. “We clearly have some philosophical differences when it comes to Federation defense policy and I’m certainly not going to argue with you the benefits—or rather the necessity—of having a strong fleet. I know we are never going to see eye-to-eye on that.”
Katanga took a chair to sit down opposite from Star. “Let me tell you something, we never needed a large fleet back in the day when Starfleet was a true science and exploratory agency. Before it was this quasi-military organization some people insist it has become.”
Star rolled her eyes dramatically. “Please spare me the good-old-days speech about how Captain Kirk took on the entire Klingon Empire by himself. You like to forget that I’ve seen those days, too, in fact much more of them that you ever did. And I can tell you right now, things weren’t always that rosy back then.”
“And I’m not saying that they were. I’m not yet that senile that I can only see the past through rose-colored glasses. But you know what I do know for a fact? I know that we did some good back then on Yura II. You saw the messages we got from random strangers afterward who were able to cure themselves of their loved